October 4, 2011
Preparing for the End Times the Tastiest Way I Know!
Probably you are tired of this by now, but I’m not:
A gorgeous and long-awaited fall has graced Chicago, and consequently I am girding up for winter’s terrible onset. Actually, I’m excited. Carolyn is terrified, and already misses summer. I scoff at her, and put on my favorite KWUR hoodie.
I’m so ready.
The change in seasons has me collecting food like a chipmunk. I recently purchased a chest freezer off Craigslist – a big one, but not the biggest one. It’s, uh, noticeable.
See, I kept on running out of room in my freezer. I’d cook in quantity, and then run out of space for ice cubes. I made a large quantity of leek and potato soup, and froze 3/4ths of it, and with the chickens I’d recently de-boned, the stock cubes I made from those bones, and the bottle of homemade limoncello that my friend Aaron gave me a year ago, there wasn’t room for much of anything else in my freezer. And, having just eaten a quart or so of the stuff, I was in no hurry to defrost and finish the soup.
Now I have space enough to store a hundred meals (and, to anticipate a few wags, yes, a coupla corpses. Don’t cross me.). Finally, with room to store anything I could ever want to make, I’ve finally found my calling – COOKING IN OBSCENELY MASSIVE QUANITY. My new friend Terri works at the Chicago Food Depository as a cook, and if I asked her, she’d probably say that my exuberance for that very thing might wane the moment I had to stick my gloved hands into “a massive bucket of mayonnaise.” Despite my hearty Defense of Mayonnaise, I think she’s right. And I shall have to avoid buckets of the stuff.
Anyway, having storage space like this means that I can save money by buying in bulk and not having to worry about spoilage. It also means spending a lot of money up-front for long-term savings. That pork shoulder is $1.99 per pound, but it only comes as a full 20-pound shoulder? Well, okay! Lemme just throw down 40 bucks and we can do business!
It was this kind of thinking that led me to the realization that I could (and should!) make approximately 18 pounds of my mother’s spaghetti sauce. I mean, after all, what else are giant stockpots and chest freezers for?
This is the spaghetti sauce I grew up with; it’s not a bolognese or anything – it’s just a chunky tomato, beef, and Italian sausage sauce with a whole load of fennel. I’ve modified it slightly to fit my more fennel! more red pepper! tastes.
I understand that probably you don’t have an enormous freezer, or even a stockpot the size of your torso, which is why I present this recipe in normal proportion, with wildly incongruous photographs.
Mostly My Mother’s Spaghetti Sauce
Makes enough for two pounds of spaghetti. Freezes like a champion.
If you like, I’ve made up the (roughly scalar – I recognize that 24 ounces is not 3/4th of 28 ounces, but it makes sense as you scale up the recipe that the tomato outpaces the meat) part-to-whole ratios, although I’ve got to admit that they get a little ridiculous as we get to the spices, because they’re by weight, not volume.
You will need:
- 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (1 part)
- 1.5 pounds ground beef (3/4th part)
- 1.5 pounds hot italian sausage (3/4th part)
- 1 large onion (1/2 part)
- 4 or 5 cloves of garlic (1/50th part)
- 1 cup red wine (1/6th part)
- 1 6-oz can of tomato paste (1/6th part)
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed (approximately 1/100th part)
- 2 tablespoons italian seasoning (1/200th part by weight)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper (1/850th part)
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (1/850th part)
- salt to taste (the sausage is probably going to be fairly salty, just warnin’ ya, so maybe don’t salt until after everything’s all together)
1. Dice the onion or onions and set aside. Then peel and chop the garlic fine. My friend Aaron was the first person to show this to me, so he gets the credit – there’s this video from Saveur magazine floating around lately that details a technique for quickly peeling an entire head of garlic. Since I was using an entire head of garlic, I decided to try it – it certainly worked, but I think it’d be silly to do for fewer than eight cloves of garlic. Don’t bother unless you wanna cover the insides of two bowls with garlic peels.
2. Start browning the beef in a big, 6-quart pot (and, y’know, if you’re making it with 10 pounds of meat, use a great big multigallon stockpot). Drain the fat (optionally, into a measuring cup) and set the meat aside. I used a wire-mesh spider to get everything out of the pot.
4. Deal with the sausage. I actually liked that the sausage was still semi-frozen, because it made it easier to cut and portion evenly.
Still. That’s a lot of sausage. I mean, we’re looking at a mountain of meat, here. Cut or squish the sausage into 1/4-inch chunks and cook it in the same pot as the one you browned the meat in; remove the sausage from the pot once it’s evenly cooked through, and set it aside with the beef.. At this point, switch out your slotted spoon or wire spider for a Trusty Wooden Spoon.
5. Dump the onion and garlic into the rendered sausage fat, add the fennel seeds, and cook over medium heat until your kitchen smells like heaven. The onion will get yellow and soft, the garlic will melt like it’s sinking into a comfortable bath, and you will then…
6. Give your sous chef, co-chef, guy- or gal pal a high five because it’s step six. And Step Six always has a high five in it. Secret handshakes, too, are admissible.
7. Pour in the red wine and stir it into the aromatics – let the wine vapor fill your kitchen, and breathe deep: if it makes you feel special, you may pretend that a Calabrian has just burst. (No, they aren’t from Star Trek.)
8. Measure out your canned tomatoes and dump them in on top of the aromatics, the wine, and the fennel. Wash the cans out with water (or more wine) and add their contents to the pot. Stir to combine.
9. Add in the cooked beef and sausage, as well as the red and black pepper, stir with your Trusty Wooden Spoon, and bring the mixture to a gentle bubble – reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour to forty-five minutes.
10A. For service: Fill your pasta pot with water (I’m assuming you’ve got a 6 to 8 quart pot) and a tablespoon of salt, cook the pasta of your choosing al dente (I like how this goes with spaghetti, even if it’s senseless and nontraditional to have a thin pasta with a chunky sauce. However, nothing about this is traditional, or even Italian. If you’re not into the long, thin pastas, the sauce goes nicely with penne rigate or rigatoni. Crucially, reserve a cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.
Drain the pasta, put it back in the pot (over low heat), spoon over the sauce (a little at a time. By god, not all of it – you’ll probably end up tupperwaring 3/4ths of this anyhow), and splash some of the pasta water over everything. The starchy pasta water will thicken up the sauce, and lend a really full-bodied mouthfeel to the already quite-substantial sauce. Cheese is, at this point, almost superfluous. But feel free to be superfluous.
10B. For packing up and freezing: As soon as it’s cool enough to pack up, portion the sauce into pint and quart-sized containers (leaving at least a half-inch of headroom to allow for the sauce to expand as it freezes). Cover and let stand until they’re cool enough to put in the refrigerator. Let them hang out in the refrigerator overnight (or for a few hours) – you don’t want to melt the stuff in your freezer. Then label them, pop them in the freezer, and let them freeze into lovely hard pucks of sauce.
Then stack them to show how much there is. Because you’re smart. And stacking them is definitely a clever and intelligent thing to do.
The sauce should keep for up to 9 months, and then get slowly less good as the months wear on, but let’s be real, here – unless you make an actual literal metric ton of the stuff, you’re probably going to eat it all inside of six months anyway.
11. To thaw and reheat: run hot water over the bottom of the container for about 30 seconds, until the saucepuck detaches from the container. Plop the saucepuck into a smallish saucepan and pour a tablespoon or two of water over it. Turn the heat up to medium, cover the pan, and go do something else for about ten minutes. Uncover the pan, break up the saucepuck as it melts, and stir it around until everything’s warm and bubbly again.
Enjoy, and happy cooking!
September 2, 2011
or, Moribund the Hamburgermeister
One of the many marvelous things I acquired on the single greatest day of garage sale-hunting in American history was a meat grinder. Not a hand-cranked jobbie, no: I’ve got one of those – an ancient piece of work from the 1930s. I’m sure it works, but it’s more decorative than anything, and, more than that, I can’t really find any surface in my apartment to attach it to.
No, what I acquired was a never-before-used Krups Butcher Shop – a fully-automatic, electric plug-in combination meat grinder, pastry extruder, sausage-maker, and ice-crusher. Also makes julienne fries (no it does not). They don’t make the Butcher Shop anymore, which is a shame. Krups pretty much only makes coffee machines now, and coffee-and-spice grinders.
But I bought this fabulous workhorse, capable of grinding 2.2 pounds of meat per minute (it says so on the box!), and my mind flooded with ideas.
When you use it as a pastry extruder, it’s possible to make cookie sticks, which is probably one of the most dangerous phrases you will read in your entire life. We’ll cover cookie sticks when the weather gets cooler and I can start baking again in earnest, as opposed to what I do now: hatefully turning on the oven, giving myself a sweat-bath, and pulling some hard-won chunk of breadstuff out of the hotbox, cursing all the way.
But the best idea yet came to me after Michael and I cased a museum. My friend Michael stayed with me for a bit, recently: we made beer together, beer from which I developed my spent-grain bread recipe. I’d send him out on the town during the day while I worked, and we’d adventure at night. I should explain about the casing the museum: I’m writing a book, a YA book in which teenagers have to pull off fabulous heists in famous Chicago locations. To that end, Michael and I went to a Particular Chicago Museum that houses a Particular German Sea-Vessel. My friend [redacted], who was kind enough to give us a tour, was wise to our scheme, and pointed out various things on the U-505 that we could steal. You know. In the book.
Anyway, Michael and I were in the car, windows down, headed north on Lake Shore Drive up from the museum, on the way to meet his friend (now my friend) Sharon, for dinner. And out of nowhere I hollered, “MICHAEL!”
He went, “What!?”
I said, “TINY HAMBURGERS.”
“What about them?” His long hair seemed to form a question mark in the breeze.
“WE’RE MAKING THEM. TOMORROW.”
“From scratch?” he said.
“Oh yes,” I said. “Everything from scratch.”
It should be noted that, when it comes to food, Michael is almost as, but not as insanely, devoted as I am. Like me, he keeps a jar of schmaltz in his fridge. Like me, he’s willing to take on absurd food adventures at a moment’s notice. Unlike me, he’s apparently pretty good at making pork chops.
Needless to say, sliders were nothing the two of us couldn’t accomplish with our combined powers.
First, a definition:
Slider. /ˈslaɪ.dər/ Noun. Americanism. A small, round sandwich, usually two to three inches in diameter, generally with a ground-beef filling. Named for the way they are said to slide down one’s gullet. Slyder™, with a y, was once a trademark of the fast food company, White Castle, which is known for its tiny hamburgers.
2011: D. Rheinstrom, The Clean Platter 9/2/2011, “Let’s go make some friggin’ sliders.”
We knew we wanted to grind our own meat. It’s safer, because you know what you’re putting into the meat, it doesn’t stay compromised and uncooked for long, and you get to control precisely the proportion of fat and lean tissue that goes into the mix.
We decided we were going to do several different kinds of sliders – The Classic – American-cheese and grilled onion burger – the Beet’n and Bleu, which, well, features sliced, cooked beets and bleu cheese, and the You Go Your Way, I’ll Gomae Way, which features wasabi mayonnaise, Japanese gomae spinach salad, and a single slice of pickled ginger (gari).
We also did a last-minute Edamame Burger, which I wanna call Ed’yo-mame’s-so-dumb-she-doesn’t-know-veggie-burgers-are-delicious. But I won’t. Because it’s too long.
Slider Day had four components:
1. The Buns
2. Curd-istani Corn Salad
3. Cheater’s Gomae
4. The Burgers
Setup 1: Buns
You certainly don’t have to make the buns, which we made from this King Arthur Flour recipe; just make sure to make the buns half as small as the recipe directs you to, and when it says 2 tablespoons of butter in the ingredients list, it means 2 tablespoons of melted butter.
But you could totally just buy slider buns somewhere. They definitely sell them everywhere.
Setup 2: Curd-istani Corn Salad
A spicy side dish for Wisconsinites, or those who wish they were
A brief prefatory note: I understand this has nothing to do with Kurdish food. I don’t think the Kurds have corn – I would assume that cucumber would predominate more. No, this recipe came about because Carolyn acquired some cheese curds, and, despite not being from Wisconsin (ahem, honey), professes a profound love for them. Okay, fine, she has Wisconsin roots, but she also has a tiny rack of antlers mounted on a wooden outline of the state of Ohio. You can’t serve two masters, Carolyn.
A secondary prefatory note: Some of you may not know what Wisconsin Cheese Curds are. They’re the fresh byproduct of cheese production – small hunks of mildly-flavored curd that squeak between your teeth in a really pleasing way. I popped them into this hot corn salad for fun, and Carolyn was delighted.
- 3 cups fresh corn kernels (about two ears of corn)
- 1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded (or not!) and chopped fine
- 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup fresh cheese curds, or Chihuahua cheese (if this, then cut into smallish chunks)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- juice of half a lime
1. Divest the ears of their kernels: I like to do this by breaking the cob in half, placing the broken, now-flat side down on the cutting board and making stable, slow cuts down the length of the cob.
2. Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet or pot, and saute the aromatics – the onion, the garlic, and the hot pepper. Stir briskly until the onion has softened, 5 minutes or so.
3. Dump in the corn and heat everything through – you’re looking for a slight change in color, but not much – you don’t have to cook the kernels until they turn brown, just till they brighten a bit. It doesn’t take much to cook corn; I can eat it raw. This should take maybe two or three minutes.
4. Add in the tomatoes and stir to combine. Once they’re heated through, about a minute, kill the heat.
5. With the heat off, add in the cheese and stir – the residual heat should make the cheese slightly melty, but they should retain their essential shapes. Add in the lime juice, as well as some finely-chopped cilantro, if you’ve got it.
Setup 3: Cheater’s Gomae
A traditional dish for people who hate tradition
Horenso no goma ae (spinach in sesame sauce) is a traditional japanese salad. You boil the spinach and then grind sesame seeds with sugar in a pottery mortar (suribachi) with a wooden pestle (surikogi) and add water and soy sauce until they become a fine paste. Then you dress the boiled spinach with the paste.
Well. I have neither pestle nor patience for that kind of tradition. Not when I’ve got pre-made sesame paste in my fridge. That’s right. Tahini!
A very not-Japanese thing.
This is how I make gomae, which, by dint of its inauthenticity, I call Cheater’s Gomae. Let’s go steal a tradition.
- 10 ounces frozen, chopped spinach, or 1.5 lbs fresh spinach
- 2 tbsp tahini paste
- 1 to 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp soy sauce, or to taste
- 2 tsp black sesame seeds (kuro goma)
- 2 tsp white sesame seeds
1. Either blanch the fresh spinach in boiling, salted water, or defrost and drain the frozen spinach. Squeeeeeze as much liquid as possible out of the spinach.
2. Slice the spinach into ribbons with a knife, or, if you’re using frozen, chopped spinach, skip this step.
3. In a bowl, mix the tahini, the honey, and the soy sauce, until it tastes how you desire it. From here, you can either toss the spinach with the dressing, or keep them separate until service. Regardless, keep them both in the fridge; gomae is best when it’s nice and cold.
4. When you’re ready to serve it, either A) take a clump of spinach and drizzle it with the dressing or B) take a clump of already-mixed spinach and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds.
Setup 4: The Burgers
For people who love themselves very much
For the burgers, Michael and I turned to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, a man who takes his hamburgers very seriously. We’re talking about the man who had an In-N-Out burger dissected, divided into zip-loc bags, and air-freighted from Los Angeles to New York so he could study the thing in his burger lab.
So when it comes to making hamburgers from scratch, Lopez-Alt is the man to consult. After reading a number of his perfect-mix recipes, we decided to use a mix of chuck, short-rib, and brisket, but when I went to the (glorious, marvelous, WHOLESALE) Chicago Meat Market, they were fresh outta brisket. So chuck and short rib it was.
You could totally just use chuck (which is the beef shoulder and neck primal cut), but Lopez-Alt likes the mix of fat and connective tissue that you get from the three meats in combination. To make up for the lack of brisket, I asked politely for some beef fat, and received it in abundance, for something like 20 cents a pound (“what the heck were we gonna do with it anyway?” the butcher said to me. But more to the point, what the heck am I going to do with the rest of it?).
Slider Pre-Fab Meatmix
- 2 parts chuck
- 1 part short rib
- 1/4 part unrendered beef fat
1. Before you begin, freeze everything for at least an hour, including every component of your meat grinder – the die, the chute, everything. It should be as cold as possible so as not to smear the meat, and make sure that everything comes out cleanly.
2. Cut up the meat and fat into one-inch cubes; separate the short ribs from the bones; reserve the bones for stock and throw them into the freezer for later.
3. Grind the meat. Michael and I could only watch, awestruck, as the magical grinder churned out fluffy pink snowdrifts of meat. I was in love.
4. Form the meat into smallish, loosely-packed pucks of meat, and lay them in piles, on a plate. They should weigh no more than two ounces.
Here’s the edamame burger recipe I used, except I switched out the millet with quinoa – it takes the same amount of time to cook. Also, lose the panko – it’ll make them crumble and fall apart. Make this mix well-ahead of time (maybe the day before), or your kitchen will be a god-awful mess.
Now you’ve got everything in order. It’s time for…
I’m pretty sure there’s only one way to cook a hamburger indoors, and that’s in cast iron. You might want to consider getting a splatter screen, though, because these burgers will generate a lot of hot fat (in fact, it might behoove me to eliminate the extra fat in the mix, but I doubt it will), and it will spatter all over your cooktop.
1. Let the iron skillet get nice and hot.
2. Lightly salt and pepper them, and then cook the patties for 2 to 4 minutes a side, until they reach your desired doneness.
3. When one batch of burgers is complete, shunt them off to a waiting (nice and hot) plate.
4. Begin assembly!
The Beet’n and Bleu probably should have had less bleu cheese on it.
The You-Go-Your-Way-I’ll-Gomae-Way’s wasabi mayonnaise requires about a teaspoon or so of dry wasabi powder stirred into a quarter-cup of mayo. Maybe less, maybe more, depending on your preferences. I like to spread mayo on the lower bun, and hot Chinese mustard on the top, with a lil’ bit of gari atop the patty for fun. Plop a little bit of gomae onto the bun and go to town, my friend.
Here’s the veggie version of the Japanese slider! Hello, there:
These sliders will all disappear. Like, immediately. So secure some for yourself, to explore the various flavors you’ve created. And branch out! Invent all sorts of crazy toppings. In fact, don’t even stick to beef, or even hamburgers! Make tiny sausage patties out of pork! Or shrimp! Put crabcakes on a bun! Zucchini latkes! Polenta! The world is your oyster. Oo! Oysters! Make tiny po’ boys.
Whatever you do, tell me about it in the comments.
Enjoy! Have a lovely Labor Day Weekend, America, and happy cooking!
* ON THE SUBJECT OF MAYONNAISE ON HAMBURGERS
It’s really popular to hate on mayonnaise. It’s fun to look at mayo and be like, “Ew, that’s a horrible, boring white-people condiment.” Fine. Whatever.
You know what’s really sexy and cool right now? Aioli. It’s everywhere. It’s on the haughtiest haute-cuisine menus; it’s in neighborhood bars gamely attempting to turn themselves into gastropubs; it’s got 222 hits on the Food Network website.
Guess what aioli is.
Yeah. I dare you.
IT’S GARLICKY MAYONNAISE.
Now get over yourselves and start putting mayo on the bottom buns of your hamburgers. Here’s why – fat repels liquid. A thin layer of mayo will protect the bun from the gradually-seeping meat juices of the burger, which prevents it from getting all soggy, and, as a bonus, creates an amazing, savory sauce that acts as another note in the meat-chord that is burger.
August 26, 2011
Or, “Beer Bread, Minus The Beer”.
Homebrewing is on the rise. In 2010, according to a press release from the American Homebrewers’ Association, 82% of homebrew supply shops “saw an increase in sales of beginner [homebrew] kits”, which means, well, more folks are getting into the hobby.
Last summer, I started homebrewing, also from a beginner’s kit. My friend Jack and I journeyed over to Perfect Brewing Supply in Libertyville, and I snatched up Jack’s father’s old carboy, as well as some of his other old brewing supplies. Jack and I made a hefeweizen I named Too Clever by Hef, which was followed by a lemongrass and ginger-infused black ale I called Fit to be Thai’d, and that brewing season finished up with some hard apple cider (made from apples I picked with my friend Josh at his family’s home), which I dubbed Justifiable Applecide.
I am not a nice man.
Anyway, this year I’ve also been brewing – whenever a friend of mine visits, I put him to work in the brew-forges, crafting beers with me. When Dave visited, we made a wheat beer. When Michael visited, we made an October Ale (just like Foremole Diggum would have drunk – oo er aye.).
Now, when you make beer, you’re essentially making a sweet grain tea (the wort), which is a tasty substrate for your yeast to swim around in, eat up, and convert to alcohol and CO2. You can make wort by adding malt syrup concentrate to a large quantity of water, or you can do a whole-grain mash and soak grains in hot water until they release all their sugars. Basically.
Doing a whole-grain mash, as I do, leaves you with a lot of leftover, somewhat soggy grains – they don’t remain in the wort for fermentation. And, if you’re like me, you might end up with quite a few pounds of spent grain.
DON’T THROW THIS STUFF OUT.
Everyone’s always telling you to eat more whole grains. Now you’re sitting on eight pounds of it and you just wanna chuck it out the back door? No, sir or madam! No, indeed!
Most of you are probably not homebrewers. That’s okay! Most of the people I know aren’t, either. But, with the rising popularity of the hobby, I’m sure you have a friend or neighbor that brews. I can think of two or three of my Chicago friends or neighbors who make beer, and I’m not even in any clubs.
My local homebrew shop, too, makes a lot of beer in-house (unsurprisingly). I might call them, to see what they do with their spent grain, if I get the urge to make this recipe again.
Anyway, this recipe: it’s dense, it’s chewy, and it’s not too sweet. I think a lot of bakers go wrong in their wheat breads by making them nearly dessert-cake-level sweetness.
I developed the recipe myself, after trying and failing to produce good bread with the spent-grain bread recipes I found online. I have made this bread twice, and I am delighted to say that, for having developed a bread recipe on the fly, it works quite well. (I followed my recipe to the letter the second time, so I know it works.)
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: this bread would taste awful if hops got into it. Make sure that you get spent grains that haven’t touched any hops. (This shouldn’t be an issue, if you’re brewing in the right order.)
makes one large loaf
- 2 cups spent grain from all-grain mash, milled to a fine pulp in a food processor (measure after processing)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. First, if you haven’t, mill your grains in a food processor. If you’ve got a lot, as I did, this may take several batches. That’s fine. You’ve got all the time in the world.
2. Mix the water, the yeast, the honey, and the vegetable oil in a measuring cup, and let it sit until the yeast wakes up, about five minutes.
(Photo note: these photos are from two separate sessions, which is why it’s night outside in some and day outside in others. You don’t actually have to work from dusk till dawn to make this recipe.)
3. Take two well-packed cups of spent-grain mush and plop them into a great big bowl. Mix in the four cups of AP flour, as well as the salt, and mix until everything is incorporated – it might get a little ropy or clumpy, but that’s okay! Break it all up with your fingers until everything comes together. It should feel a little like wet sand, honestly.
4. Make a well in the center of the dough and pour in the liquid ingredients; mix until everything is completely hydrated and doughy, but not sticky. If it’s sticky, add flour, a little at a time, until the dough becomes workable again.
5. Oil the bowl, cover it, and let the dough rise until it doubles in volume, about 90 minutes later. Punch it down, and transfer it to a well-greased 9-inch loaf pan, which you should also cover. Let the dough rise again for another 90 minutes to 2 hours.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and, once it’s ready, bake the bread at that temperature for 50 minutes. If you’re a stickler for doneness, and who isn’t with bread, you can check the internal temperature of the loaf when you pull it – it should be hovering around 190 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Now, you don’t need to put anything on this bread, as bread that requires butter to taste good is scarcely a bread at all. However, bread that asks politely is rewarded with a pat on the crumb:
Good bread. Good little bread.
This hearty bread makes fine sandwiches, but I like to just cut hearty slabs of it, spread it with mustard, and top it with a few pieces of strong cheese. I had some for lunch today with a few slices of freshly-cooked beet, and it was marvelous.
August 12, 2011
It was at Volo in Roscoe Village where Carolyn and I beheld an exceedingly awkward first date: he was a public servant, she was a Tea Party equity manager. He smiled at her blandly, steering the conversation away from politics in an attempt to be civil. She, upon learning that he worked for the government, snarkily retorted, “oh, so you’re part of the problem.” Despite agreeing to meet him at a wine bar, she confessed not just an ignorance of (which would be forgivable), but a disdain for wine. He had traveled to France during Beaujolais season. You can see where my sympathies lay. Waiting for the check, Carolyn and I completely ignored each other to eavesdrop on this date. I gamely pretended to listen as she gamely pretended to comment on the attractiveness of the hydrangeas. But really, who were we kidding? Carolyn wanted to give the guy a pep talk while the girl was in the bathroom, but she never got the chance. I also think the pep talk would have largely been, “Run for your life, handsome lawyer guy!” Watching their awkward meal was the highlight of ours.
However! The second highlight of the meal was the meal, during which we were served a fabulous flatbread, bursting with verdant power, punch and perspicacity; the perfect pairing for pinot noir. Yes, friends: a springtime flatbread. A flatbread that was a paean to pea. It was a smallish, pizza-like disc of dough, slathered with a dollop of shockingly-green pea puree, slightly buttery peas, pea shoots, garlic, and little curlicues of Manchego. It was as appealing to the eye as it was to the palate. Nibbling a piece, I said to Carolyn. “It can’t be too difficult to make this at home.”
And it is not!
Essence of Springtime Pea-Puree Flatbread
makes four flatbreads, which is a cheery main course for four people, or a pleasant first course for eight.
Equipment you will require:
- one saucepan
- an oven
- a food processor
- baking sheets
- a spatula
For the flatbread:
- 1 recipesworth of pizza dough, or enough for two pizzas.
- 1 lb frozen peas (or, oo! Fresh! If you can get them, and it is springtime, and you are lucky)
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 Tbsp butter – one Tbsp out on your work area, the other reserved in the freezer
- a touch of crushed red pepper flakes
- a lemon
- a hunk of hard, fragrant cheese, like Parmesan, Romano, or Manchego
- a handful of spunky salad greens, like mâche or arugula (or pea shoots!)
- 5 to 10 mint leaves, depending on your preference and their size (optional)
- Having made, risen, and rested your dough, form it into four small, equally-proportioned balls and let them sit under a kitchen towel for half an hour while you preheat the oven to 450 and prep everything else.
- Cut the top of the bag of peas – I assume you are using shelled frozen peas (get the sweetest kind you can!) for this recipe. Otherwise, y’know – shell, wash, and weigh out a pound of fresh peas, and lucky you for acquiring them! Slice the garlic thinly, and melt the one tablespoon of butter in a saucepan. When it has all melted, add the garlic and cook over medium to gentle heat, stirring continuously, for thirty seconds to a minute.
- When the garlic is fragrant, add the peas, frozen or not, straight into the saucepan, and stir until they are A) thawed, B) fragrant, C) soft, D) cooked through, or E) all of the above.
- Remove 3/4ths of the peas from the saucepan and put them in the workbowl of your food processor. Puree it finely, and, here’s the fun part – add in that frozen butter! If you want,you can cube it up really small before you freeze it, or after you freeze it, or not at all. This is sort of a takeoff on the traditional monté au beurre. Sort of. Not at all. The idea behind a monté au beurre is that you add a chunk of cold butter to a finished sauce to give it body and sheen, as the butter emulsifies the sauce. The principle is the same here – the cold butter will give the pea puree a little more body and shiny pleasantness.
- Season with salt, pepper, and the red pepper flakes, until it is DELICIOUS.
- Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, a tiny dowel, or by tossing it in the air like a champ. Lay it on the baking sheet or pizza pan. Now throw the rounds into the oven until they’re lightly browned – about six minutes. Remove the pans from the oven, dose with three or four spoonfuls of the puree, a few spoonfuls of unpureed peas, and a few shavings of cheese. Then throw it back into the oven again for another four or five minutes, until the puree is heated through and the cheese, while not the melting sort, should have begun to perspire a little.
- Finish the flatbreads with the greens, and either a little fresh lemon zest, a fairy-dusting of torn mint leaves, or a combination of the two (let it be known that both of these additions were Carolyn’s ideas. And fine ideas they are). Let them cool, cut them into segments, and serve to a grateful public.
August 5, 2011
While my parents were in DC a few weeks ago, I was tasked with watching Penelope, the familial springer spaniel. She’s a very cute critter, and last summer she stayed with me for a time at the House in Indiana. She served as my amanuensis, and even took dogtation.
She’s very smart.
Anyway, I was dog-sitting in the suburbs for a week – my fabulous job (as a game-writer, not a professional tweeter) permits me to work from anywhere with an Internet connection. My girlfriend, Carolyn, came to stay for the weekend, and that Saturday, we went garage saling, where we found some TREASURE.
- Two unused yoga mats in a carrying case: $7
- One bamboo jewelry-organizer: $2
- Some lovely wrist bangles for Carolyn, including a chunky brass one that will be All The Rage next season (so she claims. I think it makes her look like Wonder Woman. No complaints there.): $10 or so
- A lovely green glass vase, which was: $free
- A never-before-used Krups Butcher Shop, still in its taped-up box: $5
which is what I have taken to calling this gorgeous Marcato Atlas pasta maker, which goes online for €51 (about $73 USD), which Carolyn and I acquired for … yes. Five dollars.
LOOK AT IT.
Ah! Che bella macchina! I behold you and I hear the swelling chorus of a Morricone score.
Carolyn and I looked at each other. There was no way we couldn’t make pasta for dinner. I had to know if it was hard to do; I’d tried to make pasta without a machine a few years prior, and I had a hell of a time (using a rolling pin) getting it thin enough without tearing. It was also obnoxious to cut the pasta into fettucine with a knife, because it wasn’t thin or straight enough, and I didn’t have a food-safe ruler to use as a straight edge. (And frankly, the idea of rubbing a metal ruler against one of my knives makes me cringe a bit.)
I’m not a food gadgety person. It’s taken me a long time to embrace Carolyn’s strawberry huller, her cherry pitter, and her totally adorable water-carbonator, but I knew I would love LA MACCHINA immediately. It had such a handsome shine! It clipped to the table! It could roll and cut pasta to even thicknesses and dimensions! I was in love. (For the record, it only took me three dates to embrace Carolyn herself, who is cuter than a water-carbonating device.)
But while I do love some gadgets, I’m also frugal (or a skinflint. you decide), and although a new handcranked pasta machine certainly won’t break the bank, I guarantee you can find an unwanted pasta machine no matter where you are. A pasta machine is just the sort of thing a couple might receive for their wedding, regardless of whether or not they put it on their registry. Where there are garage sales, you will find pasta machines at reasonable prices. And even if you did buy a new one: in the past two weeks, I’ve already created enough pasta to exceed its retail price – three different ravioli dishes, enough to serve four, assuming an average restaurant price of $14 per plate comes to (3 x 4 x 14) $168. And that’s not counting the other pastas I’ve made.
We decided we would make ravioli, and so I decided to do what I generally do when I’m staying at my parents’ house: mount raids on the freezer, the pantry, and the liquor cabinet. I found a pound of frozen, uncooked shrimp, a can of tomatoes, and a handle of Stolichnaya vodka.
“Carolyn?” I hollered up the basement stairs, “Do you like vodka sauce?”
I couldn’t find a recipe for shrimp ravioli in my parents’ capacious cookbook library, but I found and tweaked a basic recipe for pasta dough from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. Then I hunted around on the internet, and found this recipe for shrimp ravioli in a vodka sauce, which I have slightly adapted, defatted, and seriously copy-edited.
This recipe has a lot of steps, but isn’t altogether that complicated. You can make the filling and the sauce well ahead of time, but the dough should probably be made the day you intend to assemble the ravioli. However, they freeze beautifully, and we’ll get to that later.
Let’s get started!
Ravioli/Tortellini di Gamberi alla Vodka
The Vodka Sauce
- 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in puree
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1/4 cup basil, ribbon-cut (chiffonade)
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and lightly fry the garlic until fragrant. Kill the heat.
- Add the vodka. You don’t want to add liquor to a pot over a live flame because there could always be a wayward splash, a sudden flare-up, and then it’s goodbye, eyebrows (and possibly goodbye, face). Bring the vodka to a bare simmer and let it cook over low to medium heat for about five minutes.
- Add in the tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add in the cream, bring to the very barest of simmers, and stir. It should get somewhat thicker after a few minutes. At this point, add the basil and kill the heat.
Pasta Dough (for Ravioli)
makes enough for about 50 ravioli or so
- 2 egg
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp milk or cream
(So, one half-cup of flour and one teaspoon of milk per egg)
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and make a little well with your fingers, or a fork.
- Crack the eggs into the well, and pour in the cream.
- With a fork, beat the eggs and the cream, first into one another, and then gradually begin introducing the flour into the egg mixture, until it’s fully incorporated.
- Clean off the fork and begin kneading the dough with your hands until it has picked up most of the flour and is relatively unsticky. Pad the dough into a flattish round, and perhaps cut it into thirds or quarters with a knife or dough scraper. Put another half cup of flour into the mixing bowl, because you’ll be using it later to dust the pasta.
- Cover the dough with a towel and let it hang out while you make…
The Shrimp Filling
- 1 lb shrimp, defrosted, peeled, and deveined*
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup ricotta
- 2 eggs
- 3 tbsp parmesan cheese
- a generous handful of parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp butter
- salt and pepper
* Save those shrimp shells for a shrimp velouté for your SQUIZZA! Or, if you like, incorporate them into the vodka sauce with the garlic – but be sure to strain out the shells before serving.
The shrimp don’t need to be big, or even that attractive-looking; they’re going to be minced into tiny little pieces anyhow. Ah-ha-ha-ha. But seriously, the part of this dish that looks good isn’t the shrimp filling; nobody can see that bit.
1. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a pan, and gently cook the garlic until pleasantly scented, about 30 seconds to a minute.
2. Drop the shrimp in, and sauté until the shrimp curl up (which they do because of proteins contracting during cooking. Shrimp cocktail pro-tip: if you want to prevent shrimp from curling, make little slits on the ventral side of the shrimp; it’ll hamstring that muscle and curtail the curling.
3. Remove from heat, and either mince the shrimp finely, or quickly pulverize in a food processor. Move the shrimp to a mixing bowl and add the ricotta, the eggs, the cheese, and the parsley. Season to taste (yes, I know there’s raw egg in there. It won’t kill you.).
4. Pass a chunk of your pasta dough through the machine, on its widest setting. Fold it into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat two or three more times, until the dough is glossy, pliant, and cheerful.
5. Begin passing the dough through the rollers at increasingly thinner settings – just once through on each setting will do. I tend to stop at the penultimate thinness.
6. High five your significant other, for finding a pasta maker. *
7. Lay out a sheet of dough on your work surface – maybe one foot long by six inches wide (depending on how wide your rollers are). Lay out another piece with similar dimensions beside it.
8. Take a 1/2 teaspoon measure and dollop out the filling onto one of the sheets, about an inch and a half away from each other, and from the edge. This means that if your sheet is 6 inches wide, place one dollop at 1.5 inches, the next at 3 inches, and the third at 4.5 inches.
9. Wet a finger or a pastry brush with water or egg wash and brush down every part of the dough that doesn’t have filling on it. Lay the other piece of dough on top of it, and crimp the dough around the filling. Then press everything down so that the dough fuses together. You can see Carolyn and I were doing something slightly differently, and making tortellini andravioli, but mostly because we weren’t sure exactly how to do either, at first.
10. Take a knife, or, if you have it, a scalloped pasta roller (I don’t have one yet, but I think I’d like one. They can’t be hard to find) and cut the ravioli close enough so that you’re not just eating a sheet of dough, but not so close that you expose the filling, either. Recover the dough, ball it up, and put it aside – you can mix it with the remaining dough to make the rest of the ravioli.
11. Sidenote 1: as you cut each raviolo free, dunk it in flour and shake off the excess; you don’t want them to stick to each other as you prep them for cooking – trying to separate stuck-on ravioli will rip their skins and expose the filling, which will cause you to curse assiduously.
12. Sidenote 2: if you wish to freeze the ravioli, line a baking pan with parchment or wax paper, and plop the floured ravioli on as you complete them – let them sit in the freezer for at least 40 minutes before removing them from the sheet, putting them in a freezer bag, and throwing them back in cold storage.
13. Bring salted water to a rolling boil and cook the ravioli until they float, and the filling is hot throughout, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size, quantity, and thickness of ravioli. Frozen ravioli take 4 to 6 minutes to cook, on average.
14. Toss lightly with sauce, and serve.
* Just so you know, from now on, Step Six is always going to be “Give the person you’re cooking with a high five.” I jokingly put in the original step six when I was writing out this recipe to myself in an email, while Carolyn read over my shoulder. Now, whenever we reach Step 6 in a recipe, we high-five. We have even gotten to the point where we refer to high-fiving as “step six”.
Sure, it’s ridiculous, but I think it’s also important, in a way: cooking is always more fun with others, and it’s important to acknowledge your co-chef now and again.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Never high-five your co-chef while holding a sharp object.
Contra odii (a note to the haters):
I am aware that the images in the photos above do not depict ravioli, but rather tortellini. Yes, they are not square. Yes, they’re somewhat ring-shaped. I got better at making them; more photos to come.
For additional guidance on making ravioli, I refer you to this video featuring Sergio Maria Teutonica (which is a pretty excellent name) making shrimp ravioli and a ragù di mare (a sauce of the sea – here grape tomatoes, shrimp, pine nuts, and basil). It is, unsurprisingly, entirely in Italian, which I do not speak, but the technique is pretty self-explanatory.
I’m just starting to get into pasta; we’ll see where this takes us. Probably weirder places than this – just warning you. (I see more squid in my future.)
Enjoy, and happy cooking!
June 12, 2010
I mean, not entirely. But if I’m going to call it a food blog, then by crumpets I’d better start writing about food again.
So, to the question of the week: What do you do with sixteen pounds of pork shoulder?
The answer is: EVERYTHING. But of course, freeze it.
We’ll get into how I acquired that amount of meat in a minute, but I’m designing this post around another Kitchen Axiom of mine, or maybe it’s a Recession Tip, or maybe it’s both.
David’s Guide to Living in a Recession Tips #2 and 3
#2: Buy in bulk (when it makes sense).
#3: Process it yourself.
Let’s address these in order. If you’re like me, and you’re not a 9-to-5 worker (for me, it’s more like 8 to 8, in two-hour chunks), you’ve got the time to save yourself money on food purchases. So if you’re driving by the Save-A-Lot and you see a sign advertising pork shoulder for $0.99/lb, perhaps you, Gentle Reader, will react as I did, and immediately acquire some.
Having never been to the Save-A-Lot before (which is a discount grocer like ALDI), I suppose I should have expected the pork shoulder to come in this quantity:
It ended up being about 16.5 pounds, of which perhaps only a pound or two was bone (I checked).
June 7, 2010
I woke up uncommonly early this morning. 5 AM. Sun was scarcely up. Thinking now, I’m not sure if it even was. I left Highland Park at 6:02 AM, and reached Michigan City at 7:44. The Skyway was completely empty. I felt like a road god – it was fantastic.
Now, it’s been about two years since I last posted on this blog, but let me tell you: things are about to change around here. I’m going to try blogging – if not every day, then at least three times a week.
May 16, 2008
Pizza is the single most divisive culinary concept in American society.
Not the proper construction of Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, not whether or not to put ketchup on your all-beef hot dog (the answer is ‘not’, if you were wondering.), not whether or not to serve pretzels with cheese or with mustard or whatever. No, America. The sectarian conflict that haunts our nation is a fight between three mighty factions. Friendships have crumbled along these fault lines, my friends. Marriages have rent themselves to shreds: Cheese goes on top! No, sauce goes on top. Floppy crust. Crispy crust! What about pineapple? No pineapple. No pineapple.
Well, you know where my sympathies lie, and that’s with the unformatted text. I’m a Chicagoan and my heart lies with deep-dish pan pizza. But I think I have moved past hometown allegiance to something a bit closer to objectivity. It is not news that Chicago-style pizza and New York-style pizza have a rivalry as big as, oh, I don’t know – Martin Luther and Catholicism, or Sunni and Shi’a Islam. The third Mighty Faction, by that token, is California-Style Pizza, which is sort of like Sufi mysticism, and it’s all like “chill, dudes; hit some charras or something.” (see, cause it’s tokin’. By that token. … Shut up, all of you.)
What my family does, because we’re economical, is when we order pizza, we tend to order cheese pizzas. Unless Dad gets sausage. A Lou Malnati’s deep-dish sausage pizza is a frightening thing to behold. God is it delicious but what an artery-stopper. We’re talking about a good quarter-inch thick disk of sausage, about 5/6ths the diameter of the pizza itself.
But what we do, because we’re cheap, is spruce up the pizza at home. Think about this: depending on where you live or the size of the pizzas you order, it might be anywhere from 50 cents to 1.50 for a topping. Now, that topping could be garlic, it could be pineapple, and it could be Canadian bacon. The cost is all the same for you, the consumer, regardless of the ingredients.
That’s a cheese pizza from Lou Malnati’s, back home. … There might be mushrooms on there. I might have violated my own rule. But don’t think about that too hard – David’s Kitchen Axiom No. 1*: do as I say, not as I have only partially done. Save yourself a buck or three and sauté some onion and mushroom with some garlic, or wilt some spinach.
Garlic and onion. And, apparently, mushroom. Look at that. I figure that’s mushroom in there; I don’t know – I took that picture back in December. But here’s the point:
David’s Living In A Recession Tip #1: If you must order takeout, do what you can to improve it at home without incurring greater cost on yourself.
(Or if you have the time, make it yourself.) Thus. Since December, I’ve been branching out and trying to make my own pizza with the help of my friends. We hit on a dough recipe that worked, from my roommate’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (don’t ask. He won it.).
flour, olive oil, water, yeast. We used aluminum foil plates to cook the things in our dormitory’s kitchen. Next year, when my two roommates and I have an apartment, we will have Pizza Day with some form of regularity. I’m not going to hold any of the three of us to any promises on that front, but once every two weeks would be neat. Behold the dorm kitchen we wrangled with this year:
They baked, in this oven that looks sort of like a shantytown if you squint:
And when they came out, they were, well, fairly crunchy. Quite nice – it’s how I like thin crust pizza, myself (but I am not, for the record, immune to the charms of a floppy New York slice. Trust me.)
When I got home, though, about a week and a half ago, my roommate, who had shipped many of his possessions home, had not yet received the box with his Better Homes cookbook, so I had to fend for myself.
Luckily, my house has about a metric boatload of cookbooks, and I found a willing and able hand in The Great Chicago-Style Pizza Cookbook, by Pasquale Bruno, Jr. I set about making my dough, which was, as I recalled it, only slightly different from the BH&G recipe.
We’ll continue with that in the next entry: “A Slice of Heaven, Part 2”.
* yeah. There’s gonna be a bunch of these. Help me keep count.