Friday, April 30, 2010

Wok Hai

Wok Hai (or Wok Hay) is a Cantonese expression that means, roughly, "breath of the wok." "Hay" is "Chi" in Mandarin, so it's as much "energy" or "spirit" as "breath," but the idea is the same: the food has a particular flavor that can only come from quick cooking in a wok. It's something I've known about for a long time, and it's one of the qualities that has eluded my Chinese cooking for even longer. No matter how good, it never tasted authentic. Until now. See, our gas range in Brooklyn was OK, but not great. And the execrable piece of shit of a hotplate that came with this house, well, let's never speak of it again. But the new stove–the gleaming, stainless beast that it is–was the missing ingredient. All of the circular cast-iron grates lift out, allowing a wok to sit down low and get very close indeed to the burner. And when the burner in question is 22,000 BTUs, that wok gets obscenely hot. The thin steel becomes a highly conductive membrane bathed in fire, so your food is cooking right in the flames. It's bad-ass, and it makes the best Chinese food possible.

Even if you make shit up that's not even close to traditional, like I did tonight. There was a good bunch of asparagus to be picked, so I did. I got a fair amount of other gardening done today, too, including hooking up a free old stainless restaurant sink outside the house so we can give vegetables the first wash out there, saving our kitchen sink drain from a lot of dirt. I inaugurated it with the asparagus, which I then cut into pieces and tossed in the wok with a little oil. After about 45 seconds, I added a beaten egg and some garlic, then a splash of smoked chicken stock. I scooped it all into a bowl. After a quick rinse, cubes of tofu followed, with a bit more oil plus onion and sliced fennel stalk. They browned in no time, and then I added shredded coconut, smoked stock, grated garlic and ginger, and some soy sauce, letting it bubble for a minute before pouring it into another bowl. Last up, tempeh, also cut into small cubes, browned hard and followed by chopped kale and a sort of barbecue-type sauce made with miso, tomato paste, and smoked stock. I let the sauce reduce for a minute, then removed it to yet another bowl. Last up, I made quick fried rice with leftover rice and a few bits and pieces from the fridge, and dinner was served.

These four dishes took a total of about 10 minutes to cook. Add in a bit of chopping, and figure double that. Even with a less-powerful stove, as long as the wok is as hot as it can get, the results will be similar–hell, they'll almost certainly be more authentic. The heat and speed allows for the most wonderful contrast between almost charred and nearly raw, especially in the vegetables. The asparagus tasted almost grilled, but was still al dente. And the tofu/fennel/coconut thing was out of this world, tasting like some sort of Malaysian mashup in the best possible way. When we have fennel and onions (both planted today) I'm going to make tofu from scratch and cook the definitive version of this; it's good enough to be served by itself as a course in a fancy dinner to be named later.

This post is a sort of a response to a conversation that's been bouncing around for a few days, in response to Ruhlman calling bullshit on the "30-minute meal" concept that has made food TV so utterly unwatchable over the last few years. (Personally, I think they should have called Ray-Ray's show "Cousins shouldn't marry," but nobody ever listens to me). You should read it, but in essence his point is that we should all spend more time cooking, and not less. And there's been some pushback by working people, saying they can't possibly. To which I say: eh. It's really all about the wanting to. Also, cancel your cable. Today. You'll be amazed at how much more time you have for actual activity. I made this dinner in 20 minutes using about 9 ingredients, none of them even a little bit complicated. And there was one dish to wash at the end.

This thoughtful response to the Ruhlman piece got me thinking, as I like to do occasionally, so this post took shape around the idea of the overlap of quality and quickness. I'm fully aware that most people don't have their own personal jet engine to cook on, since I have only had mine for two months. And I know that most people don't work at home, like I usually do, which makes a big difference. But the busy, late evenings are why pasta was invented. There's nothing but pleasure in a bowl of fettucine, especially if you grow the herbs, or the tomatoes, or buy the pasta locally and freeze it. Simple is good. What matters is that dinner doesn't come out of a box, go into a microwave, and then onto the table. That's not simple; it's the end of an extremely complex and destructive industrial food system that only appears to be convenient.

The part of Anita's piece that I don't really agree with is her vow to post–and have her readers post–about all of the half-assed quickies they wouldn't normally blog about, as a way of showing that we're all hard-working people who do it fast and dirty on the regular. And OK, I get the point: solidarity, helpful shortcuts, inspiration to be found in other people's phone-in repertoires. But here's the thing. I don't post those kinds of meals for a couple of reasons. One, they're not that interesting. I don't have anything to say about penne that I haven't said before. The same is true for lackluster stir-fries, (though they're much more lustrous now) or another fucking chicken curry, or any of two dozen other workhorses.

Two, have you SEEN the internet lately? There's so much content even just in the food court that it boggles my tiny mind. The fact that so much of said content is provided by people who can't cook, can't write, and can't even take a picture of a plate of food makes it a little bit easier to navigate, but still. The many great food blogs are impossible to keep up with. I think we should all be striving to write the best posts we can, not cluttering up infinity with mediocrity. Even if the goal is noble, which in this case it is, I'd prefer if people wrote less often about good food than more often about less-good food. But that's just me, and I've been sick all week, and have to go to Brooklyn for a week on Sunday to do a bunch of unfun shit. I may try posting from my phone, since I'm hoping to have a few good dinners, but I may wait until I get back. Be sure to sit at the very edge of your seats, quivering in anticipation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


We're still sick. It's not too bad, really–just a cold. But the timing is not so good. I had big plans for this week, big plans. Now my plans consist mostly of making an increasingly impossible to-do list for next week. On the plus side, though, I get to drink rum whenever my throat hurts–day or night–so there's that.

I did manage to rally this afternoon and get some chicken stock going with frozen thighs, adding fennel, ginger, garlic, and carrots to the mix. Later, I strained it into a smaller pot, and added shredded lime leaves, galangal, nam pla, the meat from the chicken thighs, and a dab of green curry paste, then let it simmer for a short while. The herbs on top were just-picked chervil, scallion, and bolting cilantro (I love the way the leaves get all lacy when they bolt) and some minced fennel fronds. This was pretty authentic tasting and all the way delicious. I added a ton of our homemade pink hot sauce from last summer.

Best of all, since there was pie crust in the freezer (I always make a double order) I busted out a quick strawberry-rhubarb tart for dessert, sweetening it only with maple syrup and honey. We ate damn near all of it, for medicinal purposes. The rest is for breakfast.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'd Gladly Pay You Tuesday

A pretty standard burger, though with minced homemade prosciutto and fresh herbs added in. On top, a sautéed mixture of maitake mushrooms and mustard greens. I didn't make the bun, or the ketchup. I'm sick, so that's all you get for today, you slavering jackals.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Haste Makes Taste

Since writing about pappa al pomodoro a while back, I've been keen on it as an excellent way to eat up otherwise obdurate heels of homemade bread. It's also well-suited to a brainlessly quick and easy lunch, and highly tweakable. In the case of yesterday's lunch, it benefited from the homemade prosciutto and smoked chicken stock, two items which I venture to say come awfully close to being essentials.

So I sizzled minced ham, garlic, onion, and some herbs for a minute, deglazing with random red wine, then adding tomato purée and stock. While it simmered, I cubed and browned the bread along with salt, smoked paprika, pepper, and some rosemary from the big plant that I just moved outside into the herb garden along with all of its overwintered peers. Once brown and fragrant, I ladled soup into bowls and then added a healthy mound of croutons. It was a nice variant; apart from the smoky porkitude, the croutonic progress from crisp to soup-sodden was an enjoyable one to follow.

Not so different from the traditional way, though, at least not enough to deserve its own post. Where it got fun was in the using of the small amount of leftover tomato soup. Yesterday we went to a birthday party, and it ran late, so by the time we got home there was precious little time to get dinner made. And C had bought some country-style pork ribs, and had her heart set on my braising thereof. Enter the pressure cooker (that will SO be the title of my martial arts film debut). I browned the ribs, (dusted in flour, salt, and 5-spice) then added our very own carrots, the rest of the tomato soup, more smoked chicken stock, and minced onion before capping it and letting it his for 30 minutes. While it did, I pulled leftover quinoa and some whole-wheat couscous out of the fridge, combined them, added broccoli, scallion, ginger, and smoked stock, simmering it all together until the broccoli was tender. Then I mixed in rice vinegar, fish sauce, and a bit of sesame oil to finish. Served the former on the latter. Freaking fantastic. Rachael Ray can kiss my catchphrase-free ass.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Salad Soup

Man, this time of year is fat with optimism. It's on the leaner side with food, though the greens are coming along handsomely, and we're lousy with wild foragables right now, so a good supplement can be found in my first-ever hunk of homemade prosciutto. It's ready, because it's only half a ham, and mostly skinless, so it dried quite quickly. It's also bone-in, meaning it's going to be tricky to slice it well into paper-thin slices, so I'm just sort of hacking it to different thicknesses depending on whether I want a sandwich or a soffrito. Last night I made a whopping big pot of stock from all of the smoked chicken carcasses, which is also important to know about later on.

Last night, it was for the very first of our asparagus. Turgid and purple (it's called Purple Passion™) it's bursting forth with wild abandon from the bed on the North side of the garden. I cut eight spears, and in a day or two there should be as many more. Then it'll be a free-for-all for a while until I finally leave them alone in June. I wrapped them in ham and gave them a quick sear on two sides before squeezing half a lemon into the pan, adding a ladle of smoked chicken stock, and covering it for a minute or two to let them steam.

Next up, the nine-millionth iteration of noodle soup. Smoked chicken broth, saifun, the remnants of the asparagus sauce (frugality ftw) and a heaping mound of thinnings from the red kale and spinach in the garden, seasoned with some soy sauce, made for a light yet hearty bowl of dinner. I got a bunch of things planted today, too, after finishing my article; they're late, but we'll be rolling in brassicas come June.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Natural Light

The best part about surprise parties is getting the surprisee good and pissed off prior to the fête to ensure maximum hilarity when they realize they've been had. Such was the case this evening, when a team of experts conspired to make Debi good and cranky prior to being ambushed by her closest friends in our dining room. And there was food, surprisingly. I didn't take pictures of any of the main dinner things, partly because potluck buffet-style dinners are not so photogenic and partly because I like to enjoy life rather more than I like to photograph it so that strangers may vicariously get off on it. Once the party gets going, I put down the camera. Sue me; I'm over 30. I also return phone calls rather than texting a misspelled sentence fragment. I'm a dinosaur. Moo.

I do have pictures of the first and last things we ate–the alpha and omega, if you will. To begin, as my Facebook chums already know, I made bread and rolls, originally planning to use the rolls for a first course kind of thing. But I changed my mind, since the rolls were too good to share (being ideal for family-pleasing lunchtime fare in coming days) and were also not overly conducive to crostinization, which was my intent. So I sliced up the big boule, grilling the slices in the bare iron skillet and then schmearing them with some ramp aioli I whipped up this afternoon, followed by a slice of the cured duck breast. I topped them all with a bit of chervil, which added a nice bright note above the luscious, complex fats.

Dinner was smoked chickens, plus curried lentils and raita, rice, a radicchio salad I made just like the other night, John's leek and potato soup served in little cups with a dollop of ramp pesto, roasted roots from Phillipe, John's roasted ramps and asparagus, and Liz and Duncan's quinoa salad with fiddleheads. Brilliant food all around. There was wine, too, but I'd have to go downstairs and rummage through the recycling to give you all of the info right now. If you're good, I'll make some notes tomorrow and get back to you with them.

We had a nice local cheese assortment, then moved on to dessert: flourless chocolate cake from the local bakery, and a chocolate custard fruit tart I made. It's important to remember here that I know how to make approximately three desserts, and that this one combines two of them; it's basically my chocolate ice cream recipe (only not spun through the machine) on top of my Grandmother's pie crust (which is as good as anything anybody has ever made) and then covered with non-local, out-of-season fruit since we're in the Dark Times for fruit around here. Even the apples and pears are tired and pulpy, like they fell down the stairs. I made a quick glaze from apricot jam and local currant brandy to give the whole thing a luscious sheen. I added a bit of espresso to the mousse for extra chocolate-enhancement. Isn't this picture sexy?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Sweet, And Yet Sour– At The Same Time!

Improvising dinner is a funny thing; sometimes–like two posts ago–it fails utterly in the absence of attentive preparation. Usually it works fine, especially when it treads familiar, well-worn paths of technique and ingredients. And sometimes it exceeds wildest imaginings, making for a perfect plate of food. Happily, last night was such an instance.

I did the usual pre-dinner survey, pulling various containers and vegetables out of the fridge, and took stock. (I actually took stock out of the fridge, so it's funny 'cause there's a double meaning). There was half a butternut squash that surely needed eating, a quarter onion, a bunch of scallions from the garden, and a big bowl of radicchio and curly endive I had picked the day before. And some very nice thinly-sliced Berkshire pork loin from the freezer. I stood there for a minute, prepping the squash, and figured out what I wanted to do.

I diced the squash and cooked it with minced onion and whole wheat couscous until all was tender and fluffy, adding olive oil and scallion at the end. I chopped the radicchio and endive finely, tossing it with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. And I browned onion and carrot in hot oil for a minute, then added the pork for a minute, then poured in stock, honey, rice vinegar, juice from half a blood orange, soy sauce, and a drop of sesame oil, letting it reduce to coat all the goodness. And that was it. Everything played exceedingly well together, and this was one of those meals that fit perfectly into the mood and weather of the day, summarizing and embodying the happiness of a sunny afternoon spent outside with the family in the yard and garden.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Post-Structural Critique Of Cultural Hegemony

I was out of town for a few days, visiting Providence and Boston. Most interesting culinarily was a trip to a Burmese restaurant in Brighton (or Allston, maybe) right near where the greatest Vietnamese restaurant in Boston used to be back in the 80's. Viet Huong (in Allston) had about 4 tables, seated 8-9 people at very most, and had a lovely old couple who did everything: she cooked, he served. It was freaking genius. I miss it; it was easily my first food-geek experience. I'll write a bit more about the Burmese food in a bit after I try something here at home.

The other night we had a mutated version of the chicken thigh escabeche I made a few posts ago, so tonight I cooked those bones with carrot, onion, garlic, ginger, a dried shiitake, and a scallion to make a fragrant stock. I pressure-cooked mung beans in the stock with a piece of bacon skin, removing it and puréeing the cooked beans with more stock when soft. I whisked in some miso, and let it sit while I crisped up little lardons of the latest batch of miso bacon. The result was very much what I had hoped for: an Asian-flavored take on split pea soup that was dense, creamy, earthy, and with smoky pork to set it all off. I sprinkled the top with scallions and togarashi.

On the side, we had king oyster mushrooms sautéed with garlic and deglazed with soy, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. I wilted some kale in the mushroom pan and deglazed again with a bit of the stock. Each made for a compelling and savory companion to the soup, and the combination made for good rainy spring evening fare.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Ate Fried Food Again

Today was sort of stressful. I actually had a pretty sharp idea for dinner, and was excited to make it. But by the time I was in the kitchen trying to get it going, I was tired, and grouchy, and the kid was making an unholy mess with flour and water and a bunch of other things, and I messed up my idea, which was yam and nettle dumplings stuffed with braised pork.

What we actually had, as a result of poor attention to detail, was a truly half-assed save that nonetheless managed to taste OK and used up some of the leftover french fry oil from the other day. The dumplings started off well enough, with steamed Japanese yam puréed with just-picked and blanched nettles from the edge of the yard. The result was a gorgeous, velvety, deep green. But then, distracted by Milo, I cracked in a whole egg instead of just the yolk, and that's where it all went to hell. Some flour, leftover brown rice, some more flour–there's no way to bring this kind of soggy mess back to a stiffness without steaming a whole other yam. And there was neither a whole other yam nor the time to deal with something else. So I dumped the pork in, too (minced loin seasoned with garlic chives, sesame oil, ramps, soy sauce, and rice vinegar) and made the whole gloppy mess into little cakes that I dredged in panko and then fried until crispy and brown.

The pile of greens is more garlic mustard that I sautéed quickly in oil with garlic and lemon. It's so good this way, like bitter spinach. And it's free. I've decided that we're not buying any greens from now on; between the wild stuff in our yard and the domestic ones coming up fast out in the garden, there's no need any more. It's already more than we can eat. I spooned some of the ramp aioli on the plates along with some tahini-miso sauce that we had mixed up earlier for something else, and sprinkled some of the tasty little cabbage flowers around with togarashi for gratuitous internet appeal.

One upside to this fiasco was that an extra fritter will make a pretty good lunch for someone at school tomorrow:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mussels From Brussels

Well, not really. Prince Edward Island, actually. But I was channeling our Belgian brethren, inspired by the bag of fat, juicy bivalves in the fridge and the memories of all the moules frites I used to enjoy at my favorite spot in République back when I got paid to go to Paris every fall. Sigh. Keeping it simple, I steamed them in beer with our very own carrots, beet greens, garlic mustard, and ramps. I made a ramp aioli with olive oil and yuzu juice, and to dip in said green goodness, a big-ass bowl of twice-fried Yukon Gold batons.

And, as the observant among you can discern, a foamy glass of Cooperstown's own Ommegang Rare Vos (Sly Fox). The good people there are so good at making traditional Belgian ales that Duvel, the Belgian beer giant, bought them a few years back. So I get to enjoy the fragrant complexity of something very like the real thing without breaking the 100 mile rule. Win/win.

Those yellow flowers with the mussels are from last fall's bolted Asian cabbage. They taste like broccoli. Also, ramp aioli for fry dipping? Fuck yeah.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kvetcher In The Rye

So, after much finagling, Claudia and Michael came for dinner. I know that this has been something she's been waiting for for ages, mostly because she lives in freaking Kentucky and has WAY too much time on her hands, and I'm all about charity. But we pretended that we were happy too, and there was only a small amount of awkward throat-clearing, foot-shuffling, and sidelong watch-glancing while I scrambled to make like a million courses to keep them amused.

I'm deep into working on an important project in the studio right now, so I was stressed out and impatient prior to their arrival (which, you know, always makes the food taste better) and even more so after they arrived, on account of she's a giant pain in the ass. But, because I literally lie awake at night thinking about dinner parties, I even had something ready in the fridge: tartare of miso-cured Arctic char with ramps and crispy skin. I had rubbed the char with miso a couple of days ago (these were the trimmings from the sushi) and gave it a rinse this afternoon, then cut off the skin. The flesh I chopped super-fine–too much, really; it got a bit gluey–then mixed it with finely chopped ramps, and the skin I put in a hot skillet with sesame seeds until it was well-browned on both sides. Putting it skin-side down first helps keep it stuck to the pan long enough to stay flat, so that it makes a good cracker for tartare-eating. I also added sesame oil, usukuchi, sudachi juice, and white pepper to the mix for a nice complex flavor profile. Garlic chive, red mustard, and the crispy skin cracker all added contrasts flavoral and textural.

Next up, the immaculate sea urchin they brought, overnighted from California, because that is the manner in which they roll. We messed around with possible garnishes, settling on the gorgeous artisanal ume vinegar and a pinch of kinako for maximum sensual pleasure.

We scooped them up with a spoon, dripped on some vinegar, and ate them. Nobu it wasn't. Good it was. Then I took the scallops out of the fridge that I had marinated in kimchi brine overnight, patted them dry, and seared the shit out of them on one side, dressing them in a sort of insta-Spanish™ sauce made from saffron and pimentón simmered in white wine and sherry vinegar supplemented with the pan juices deglazed with sherry. Then we had little oshitashi rolls I made with garlic mustard and beet greens from the garden, swabbed in the same sauce because we're peasants and we don't waste food.

Then, as a place-filler because my wife was upstairs trying to get the kid to sleep, I caramelized some maitake with garlic and deglazed them with usukuchi, adding in parsley at the end. Not bad, but they would have been better if incorporated into another dish. Like the sablefish we gave a quick miso rub to and then seared, serving it with kimchi and wilted arugula.

Or like, for example, the venison we had next. Locally bagged deer, marinated in a bit of wine and pepper, seared hard and then pulled off the heat to rest when still rare, served with homegrown carrot mostarda (mandolined red carrot slices sautéed with mustard oil and deglazed with honey and blood orange juice) pickled strawberries (macerated in salt, ume vinegar, and local grappa) leftover risotto cakes, and a red wine-strawberry sauce of wine cooked down with sliced strawberries, a clove, maple syrup, and cider vinegar.

Then we had a local sheep's milk Roquefort (inoculated with the same bacteria) and the sublimely stanky local Camembert that I love, with thinly sliced local baguette because I couldn't get my shit together to make bread. then we had dessert proper: vanilla ice cream, made from scratch by my wife and child. It was very good, and all the more so because they did it while I worked, involving zero participation on my part. I garnished it with a spoon.

We worked our way through some good wine, too: they brought Scharffenberger bubbly, and we had some Mas de Gourgonnier rosé, a 2002 Kistler Hudson Vineyard Chard, and a 1999 Lisini Brunello. Here's hoping it was the first of many such occasions.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Spring Fever

I took the bone from Sunday's lamb leg and put it in our huge stockpot with some aromatics with a goal of producing many quarts of some highly flavorful and polyvalent stock. I love lamb with phở flavors; since there's significant overlap with many Moroccan spices there's a natural sympatico with the rich, gamy meat. So to the pot I added the following: a charred onion, a charred thumb of ginger, a carrot, some fresh parsley, some fennel stalks, a few cloves, two star anise pods, coriander seeds, a cinnamon stick, and black peppercorns. I brought it to a bare simmer and held it there for about five hours, skimming it when I came in from the studio to pull an espresso and refill my water glass. This new stove can do such miraculous things with two gallons of liquid.

I froze most of it (already loving the new chest freezer) and put some aside in the fridge for various purposes. First up, dinner: a risotto made with the recently dug carrots and the newly arrived ramps. I added garlic mustard, which is up in abundance and easily exceeds anything one would hope to find and pay money for at a store right now. It has a short season, but man–along with lamb's quarters, it's right up there for delicate elegance in the free and forageable category. All of these early spring arrivals are so tasty and cleansing; it's a helpful reminder that we're animals and evolved to need such things after a long winter. I started the carrots just after the rice and added the minced greens at the very end so they'd keep their color.

And I made too much, on purpose. Leftover risotto is just a wonderful thing to have at one's disposal in the fridge; arancini, sushi, soups–it's a magical thing that gets one halfway home without lifting a finger. In this case, sushi. I Picked Milo up from school and we kept going, across the river, to pick up our fish order from Gerard. This time around, we got Arctic char, mussels, and scallops, figuring that we could get at least three dinners out of the order. I put the mussels on ice for later on (thinking moules frites for tomorrow) and trimmed and rubbed the char with miso, putting it back in the fridge for about half an hour to pick up a bit of flavor; because it looks like salmon, I always find char to be a letdown since my brain is expecting the fatty richness and instead gets the subtle sweetness. It's my brain's fault, really, since it is actually quite tasty.

I put a few scallops into a small jar with kimchi brine to firm up and flavorize, also for just 30 or so minutes, since the hour was latening, and ran outside to pick some things to help make it even better: a ramp, garlic chives, red mustard leaves, and spinach sprouts. Since I recently got a sushi mold, I figured I'd try to make a pretty plate. Also, I bailed on dinner last night because I was tired and worked late and it did not go over particularly well, so extra beauty was in order.

I seared the scallops ferociously hard on one side, removing them before they cooked more than a quarter of the way through so they were silky raw on the other side. I cut them in half, and nestled them into little gunkan-maki (battleship sushi) with a dribble of their pan juices. The char, trimmed to size, fit into the mold to make battera sushi. And I made two rolls: avocado and ramp. All the above used the risotto in place of plain rice, and the delicate phở notes added a certain something. The chives, cabbage flowers, and spinach made for some very interesting garnishes, both visually and gustatorily. A very satisfying combination, and well-complemented by an unoaked Finger Lakes Chardonnay: Red Tail Ridge's sans oak 2008. I like their approach to winemaking, and they do decent work given their tricky climate. Unoaked Chardonnay makes a good match with this sort of clean food, because the vanilla and pineapple qualities from oak (especially American) can overpower the food.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


On Sunday we cobbled together a good group on rather short notice. We went back and forth during the week about whether we wanted to have a thing or not, and eventually decided to go for it. Not that we like people, really; I just wanted to show off the new kitchen. I did not have a ton of time to do anything ambitious, so we stuck to basics, centered around a beautiful local lamb leg. I pulled it out of the fridge in the morning and poked it all over with a paring knife, tucking pinches of rosemary and a garlic clove into each hole. Then I rubbed it with a freshly-ground mixture of coriander, cumin, 5-spice, coffee, smoked paprika, oregano, marjoram, thyme, lavender, fennel, and black pepper and let it sit, glistening, on the kitchen table until it was time to go on the fire.

My lovely family peeled all of the hard-boiled eggs we had dyed earlier in the week, and we sliced and de-yolked them. I made a simple mayonnaise and mashed the yolks together with some of it, along with paprika, curry powders, salt, mustard, and a little kimchi brine. We piped the filling into the halves and anointed the plate with parsley, garlic chives, and more parika.

Meanwhile, I steamed and mashed a ton of Yukon gold potatoes, beating in an egregiously splendid quantity of good olive oil and a little melted butter along with ramps, nettles, and garlic chives I had just picked from the spot where all three plants thrive in close proximity for extra convenience. I had thought to make gnocchi, but then thought instead about doing less work and just spread the spuds in a baking dish, covered them with panko, and put it in the oven on low until it was time to eat. I also braised a head of cabbage left over from the pickling class with cider vinegar, wine, and some beet greens also left from the class.

When the fire was hot, I put the leg right over it and covered the grill. After about 20 minutes, I flipped it over and covered it for another 20. Then I checked it, and just let it sit in there some more while the fire died down. After about 70 minutes, a thermometer read 120˚ at the bone so I took it out and let it sit on a board while we got the other stuff together. There was a lovely gradient of doneness from crisp and smoky on the outside to luscious rare lamb pudding in the middle. There was barely any left by the end of the meal. I also made tapenade with preserved lemon and a pesto from all of the greens in the yard and garden: radichhio, pan di zucchero, chives, ramps, oregano, parsley, chervil, dandelion, and garlic mustard.

It all made for a compelling plate of food. We worked our way through some good wine, too; in particular a Mas de Gourgonnier rosé, which I always love (it's organic, too) and then a 1999 Ciacci Piccolomini "Vigna di Pianrusso" Brunello and, because this Provençal Carignan wasn't doing it for me (though it woke up the next day) a 2000 Clos du Marquis. Both reds had a suitably burly elegance that was well-suited to accompany a charred and bloody hunk of animal.

I did not make a blueberry tart for dessert, though in retrospect I really should have. We had a bunch of the coconut milk-based "ice cream" that our crew is all gaga over instead.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Kind Of Blew

Sometimes everything is in place for a wonderful meal to happen, and yet it does not happen. I defrosted some local, grass-fed ribeyes and assembled the supporting cast. Leftover pressure-cooked beef stew with sweet potatoes from last week (the meat had just about all been eaten, so it was mostly a silky, beefy orange goop) was already halfway to being a nice purée, so I finished the job, adding a bit of pork stock to thin it. I had visions of a gorgeous spring vegetable ragout, so I cut fennel onion, leek, daikon, and potato into large dice and sautéed it all for a while, adding wine to steam it soft at the end. I took some green mash from the fridge (made with our own pan di zucchero and radicchio) and added brown mustard to it to make it even meat-friendlier. And I wilted pea shoots in the steak pan after putting a good hard sear on both sides and removing them to rest.

But it wasn't very good. The meat was, by itself, but all the other flavors were just sort of drab and dissonant and out of focus. It was a pretty joyless plate of food. And I can't really figure out why; the ragout was mushy, true, without the crispness that the season would seem to insist upon, but more than that it just didn't taste like much. The purée was just sort of wrong, and the mash didn't work at all with anything besides the meat. Some days the mojo has left the building, I guess.

On the plus side, though, the bones from these steaks and those from the chicken escabeche made a fabulous stock, with which I made a minestrone using this ragout, the vegetables from last week's braised pork belly, pesto, a bunch of fresh vegetables, and Israeli couscous, and it was just wonderful. I'm having more of it for lunch today, along with some of yesterday's lamb leg before I put the bone in the big stockpot to make a ton of lamb phở which will end up stacked neatly in the new chest freezer.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Roll Playah

As I mentioned in the last bread post, lately I've been feeling much more comfortable with baking–at least bread. So much so that I got all crazy-like and just straight-up improvised some pretty tasty rolls. See, Milo was keen to make some bread with me, only he wanted to make his own. So I helped him measure out the stuff, but with an eye towards a different dough that would be good either for rolls or pizza dough the next day. The loaves I make are plenty big enough to last us three or four days, so I didn't want any more bread lying around.

I did the plain old regular with my dough, but with his I made it stiffer by using less water. Both doughs sat overnight in the laundry room where the furnace keeps the temperature nice and warm. Mine I baked in the Dutch oven per usual, his I divided into eight pieces and shaped into rolls. Once proofed on the counter for an hour, I brushed the tops with egg and then sprinkled on some crunchy salt and minced rosemary from the plant in the dining room that's very close to being put back in the herb garden. I baked them on a cookie sheet right next to the iron pot with the bread in it (our baking stone–a $3 floor tile–broke) since our new oven is so freaking huge.

After 20 minutes, they were perfect. After a brief cool-off, we lit into them, armed with luscious cultured butter and sharp cheddar. Damn. Later on, we had them for lunch, making little sandwiches with the leftover escabeche chicken thighs tossed with capers and homemade pimentón mayonnaise to make an obscenely tasty chicken salad. These rolls are henceforth a must-have item. Tomorrow, after I teach another pickling class, I'm making a big batch of dough so we can have many more of these on Sunday.

I've submitted this post to yeastspotting, where they loves them some good bread.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

These Are Chickens Who Died, Died

For this month's issue of Chronogram I spent some time talking to local animal farmers about humane and sustainable meat production. Read all about it.

Photo as always by Jennifer May.