Or, Let baigans be baigans.
I’ve got another wine to pair with food for Raffi and Margaret over at Tuscany Distributors. This week, it’s the Graffi white Pinot Noir, which has a pleasant, apple-y taste and scent, and a nice crispness when we drank it at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is maybe 20 minutes out of the fridge.
I planned an Indian meal around this wine: Madhur Jaffrey’s Baigan Bharta, from her lamentably out-of-print An Invitation To Indian Cooking, a book which I first encountered at my college roommate’s home in New Jersey; his mom served us some delicious chana masala – spiced chickpeas – and I eagerly inquired after their provenance. Her copy was battered, taped-together, and falling apart. If I were a cookbook, I don’t think I could imagine a greater honor. Last year, visiting Heather and Kyle in Seattle, I found a copy in excellent condition in a used bookshop. I pounced on it, explaining unnecessarily to the clerk that I had been looking for this book for some time. She made a noncommittal noise of congratulation and indicated toward the register, as if to say, “So? You gonna buy it or what?” I purchased the book and left, feeling a little embarrassed. And then I recalled a story from earlier in the week: I was taking the bus back to West Seattle from downtown, and I found myself seated across from a man reading a book titled How to Talk to People. I tried, and failed, to strike up a conversation with this man:
“Hi, how’s it going?” I said.
“I noticed your book.”
“My book?” he said, somewhat alarmed.
“Yes. It, ah. It’s called How to Talk to People.”
“Oh. Heh. Yes it is.”
“How is that going?”
“Not well.” He smiled weakly and looked away.
Basically, either Seattle is demonstrably weird and full of introverts who don’t like to be bothered, or I just kinda suck. Either or. Heather and Kyle have since moved to Los Angeles, if that’s any indication. ANYWAY. EGGPLANTS.
I also served a rajma dal, which is nothing more than slow-cooked red kidney beans and lentils, some steamed brown rice (throw in a half-stick of cinnamon and three cracked cardamom pods for a delicate fragrance – it doesn’t have a strong taste on its own, but it complements other Northern Indian foods nicely.), and some roti, although this would go quite well with naan.
The Graffi white Pinot Noir isn’t particularly dry, but neither would I call it sweet – it tastes of apple without being apple juice-y. The heat of this dish blooms on your tongue when you follow a bite with a sip of wine – I wouldn’t use it to kill the heat; that ain’t what wine’s for anyhow.
You’re probably wondering, too: “Wait a second – I thought Pinot Noir was a red wine grape. How is this a white wine? Wouldn’t that make it a Pinot Grigio?”
That’s what I thought, too – but it turns out that Pinot Grigio is another grape varietal entirely. You can, it turns out, make white wine from red grapes. It sounds like a somewhat fiddly process, and apparently Pinot Noir is the most popular grape varietal to do this with. To the recipe!
Madhur Jaffrey’s Baigan Bharta
Serves 4; adapted from Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking
You will need:
- 3 large eggplant, washed and dried
- 1 large onion, cut into quarters or eighths.
- 2 inches of ginger
- 3 cloves of garlic
- vegetable oil
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 smallish jalapeno chile, with or without the seeds (depending on your heat preference)
- 1 can diced roasted tomatoes
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
- Lemon juice
- salt to taste
Part of the traditional way in which this recipe is prepared is to take the eggplant and sear them over an open flame, or cook them in the ashes of a fire; I find that you still get an excellent smokiness when you broil them, but to assist that flavor, I like to use those ‘flame-roasted’ canned tomatoes that pretty much everyone makes nowadays.
Also, feel free to replace the vegetable oil with ghee (clarified butter), although I can honestly say I’ve never even tasted the stuff. As it stands now, however, this recipe totally counts as Vegan. Oh man, and I didn’t even do it on purpose. Incidentally, if you buy dairy-free products online, check out my friend’s Amazon store, All Dairy-Free.
1. First, set your oven’s broiler to “HIGH”. While it heats up, start prepping everything – you might as well! Open the can of tomatoes; measure out your spices; quarter the onion, and peel the garlic and ginger. When the oven hits temperature, put your eggplants (be sure to remove those produce stickers!) on a broiler pan and put them under the heat. Broil for 20 to 25 minutes. You could check on these every ten, and turn them with tongs (which I recommend, to keep ‘em from sticking), or you could simply let them go for the whole time – it’s not the end of the world if they get stuck to the pan; you’re trying to get the skin off anyhow. Make sure your sink is empty.
2. While the eggplant is broiling, plop a few of the onion pieces, as well as the ginger and garlic, into the beaker of an immersion blender or a regular blender. Pour in a few tablespoons of water, and blend into a paste – get everything incorporated, once the first big things of onion are all annihilated. You’re going to want this to be nice and smooth and even.
3. When the timer goes off, and the skin of the eggplants are nice and blackened, pull them out, and put the broiler tray directly into your sink and let the water run over the eggplants. As the water cools them off, peel the burnt skin off with your hands, keeping the stem ends of the eggplants attached. Put these in a colander or a deep bowl or a colander set over a deep bowl. They’re gonna be a trifle wet.
They’ll look like this when you’ve peeled ‘em:
4. Get out a nice big saute pan – nonstick is probably best – and heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in there (I would recommend something neutral like canola or peanut oil, rather than olive oil). When the oil is nice and ribbony-hot (waggle the pan around and watch to see what it does), pour the onion-garlic-ginger paste from your beaker/blender, add the turmeric and garam masala, and cook over medium heat, poking it about with your spatula intermittently, for about five to seven minutes. While you’re doing this, chop the cilantro, reserving half of it for a garnish. Then chop the jalapeno pepper.
5. When the aromatic paste has reduced a little bit, and turned somewhat brown, add the jalapeno chile and the tomatoes (with all their juice), as well as the cilantro. Cook this for about ten minutes, and while it’s working, cut the eggplant into smallish pieces.
6. High five! You’re almost done. Add in the eggplant and cook for 15 minutes. Add salt and lemon juice to taste, as well as cilantro for garnish.
7. Serve promptly: spoon it onto a plate, scoop it up with a piece of naan and some rice, and chase it with a sip of wine.
Enjoy! Or, as they say in Punjabi, भोग कीजिए! (bhog keejeeae – have a pleasurable meal!)
March 4, 2012
A quick procedural note: this entry will begin a series of recipes commissioned by my friends Margaret and Raffi, who run the Ohio arm of an Italian wine distribution company. They gave me and Carolyn a rather staggering quantity of wine, and in return, I’m going to write a series of recipes that pair each of those wines with a dish or a meal. (If you ask me, it’s a pretty excellent deal.) To those of you who have come here because of a Tuscany Distributors wine tasting hosted by Margaret and Raffi, welcome! I hope you enjoy this recipe, and stick around for the rest of this series.
These are wines designed to be weeknight dinner wines – something to replace the somewhat blah, mass-market sameness of Barefoot or Yellow Tail wines. Those wines have their place, and it’s when you’re hosting a party and you don’t want to blow a lot of money per bottle. I’m no expert in pairing (although Margaret is; she’s a trained sommelière), but I’ll try to match these Tuscan wines with foods that complement their flavors.
Let’s get started!
This Chianti is spicy and full-bodied, and I suppose tradition dictates that you pair it with rich red meat, but Margaret said it’d be perfectly fine to pair it with roasted poultry. I wanted to play the peppery spiciness of this wine off of something fun and different, and that was the impetus behind this recipe. I know aioli is a Provençal thing, and this wine is Italian, but that’s the point of this exercise – you already know to pair a Chianti with a Tuscan-style roast pork loin; I’m here to expand your horizons!
You might find it a little strange to smear mayonnaise on a raw chicken, and I want to address that up-front. Mayonnaise, or, in this case, aioli, is nothing more than the colloidal, emulsified form of olive oil. It’s just fat with a little egg yolk, and the reason I’m having you rub it on a chicken is twofold: first, it’ll stay in place better than a drizzle of oil, which will simply run off and pool under the chicken; and secondly, it will protect the garlic from burning – if there were no mayo, you’d have to put all that garlic under the chicken’s skin, which is more work than I’d generally ask you to do.
Still with me? Great!
Serves 4, with leftovers a’plenty, or 6-8, with scant leftovers
You will need:
- One chicken, 3-4 lbs, ideally whole or butterflied
- one large head of cauliflower, OR
- 1 large carrot, 2 parsnips (or 1 big one), and 1 sweet potato
- 1/2 cup of olive oil-based mayonnaise, like Hellman’s, or homemade aioli
- 3 to 5 garlic cloves, depending on preference
- 1/2 to 1 tsp coarse-ground black pepper
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3/4 cup water
- A roasting pan
Note: if you made your own mayo or aioli, first of all, good on you!, and second of all, you may see fit to reduce the amount of garlic (but I certainly wouldn’t.)
1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Take your chicken out of the refrigerator and put it on a plate – dry it off completely with paper towels. Wiggle it around. Get used to its presence. Then push the plate aside, and wash your hands.
3. Do your veg prep. What you’re going to be doing is creating a bed of vegetables for the chicken to roast on, and they’re going to roast for about an hour; they’ll get very soft and squishy, and the parts beneath the chicken will taste exceptional. You could use cauliflower here, but if you’re worried that the meal will turn out a little bit too white, feel free to use the root vegetables. You can go either way, and it’ll taste delicious.
But choose one. Don’t overfill the roasting pan – I had a rather small (and expensive!) cauliflower, and I compensated on the second run of this recipe by using too many vegetables. I scooped the excess out of the roasting pan and made a soup from them later (and I’ve made the necessary adjustment in amounts for you; don’t worry). I’ll be posting photos from both recipe tracks in parallel, so you can compare and choose, depending on the season or the availability of various vegetables.
4. Mince the garlic as fine as you can – you want it to be as powerful-tasting as you can make it, and small garlic is strong garlic. Mix it in a small bowl with the mayonnaise, the black pepper, and the cayenne. You won’t need to add salt unless the mayonnaise is uncommonly bland. Taste for seasoning, and if it’s not garlicky enough, add more garlic! And perhaps a touch of rosemary or basil, or both.
5. Nestle the chicken on top of the vegetables.
6. Now, with a spatula, or, if you’re feeling brave, your hands (do it! it’s so much fun!), spread the seasoned mixture on the chicken, inside and out – dollop any extra on top of the vegetables. Wash your hands again!
7. Pour the 3/4 cups of water over the vegetables and wiggle the pan around to distribute it all. Pop the roasting pan in the oven for 50 minutes to an hour, or until the thickest part of the thigh registers 160 degrees F, and the juices run clear.
Here’s the Cauliflower Chicken, which took about an hour:
And here’s the Root Vegetable Chicken, which took under an hour to cook through:
That aioli will form a delicious crust, and it’ll keep the chicken nice and juicy. Let it rest for a few minutes as you get the table set and the wine opened. I used this time to quickly sauté some asparagus, because the first run of this recipe was, though scrumptious, a little unremittingly white.
The vegetables become incredibly soft and yielding – particularly the cauliflower; it’ll absorb the chicken drippings and become rich and silky. I ate about half of it before I even tasted the chicken, which is succulent and garlicky and everything you’d want from a good roast chicken.
The root vegetables also take on a rather silky cast, but the carrot and parsnip will still have a pleasant enough bite after an hour in the oven. And look at that crust:
Doesn’t seem so weird to put garlicky mayonnaise on a chicken now, does it? Bon appétit! Drink deep and enjoy the spicy interplay of flavors.
A final note: I worked on this recipe while spending a long weekend at my parents’ place, while I was dog-sitting for them. I wanted to point out my holiday gift to them, which they had framed in a really beautiful way, and put up in their kitchen.
I say this not to pat myself on the back about how excellent of a son I am, but to draw your attention to the artist behind these lovely prints – my friend Adriana, who really wants to paint your dog. These four paintings constitute the Four Seasons of Food; she’s got Summer Red Pepper, Autumn Pumpkin, Winter Onion, and Spring Asparagus. I have Spring Asparagus in my apartment, and so should you! If there’s a beautiful animal in your life that you’d like to commemorate, take a photograph and send it to Adriana; she’ll make it a beautiful portrait.
January 14, 2012
And its multifarious uses!
I adore mushrooms. I love shiitakes stir-fried with strips of flank steak, I love the earthy funk of fresh morels in cream sauce, I love porcini-and-pea risotto – I even love the unjustly-maligned white button mushroom (which is, you may not be aware, the exact same thing as a brown crimini or portobello mushroom – they’re all agaricus bisporus, and they don’t taste different in the slightest.).
I also love that my parents have a membership at Costco, where rather large quantities of dried mushrooms can be had for not too much money. They recently picked up a big ol’ jar for me, at my request, since I’d used up most of the Chinese Black Mushrooms (same species as the shiitake, Lenintula edodes) that my friend Allison gave to me as a host present. Thanks, Allison! They were delightful, and giving people dried mushrooms is the best tradition.
12 B M G F l a t b r e a d
Berkshire bacon, mushroom, goat cheese
There’s no way that could be bad! And of course, it wasn’t. There were chunks of cooked mushroom, little batons of bacon, and half-teaspoon-sized dots of goat cheese – and simply typing that makes me salivate. But the interesting part was the smell. Cooked, fresh mushrooms don’t have a particularly intense flavor most of the time. It’s the dried mushrooms that have that intense, musty flavor. There was, I noticed, a dusty coating on the flatbread. I asked the waitress, “Is this powdered mushroom?” and she was like, “Good eye, yes it is!”
So that was one of those things that I tried and immediately knew I wanted to steal.
Not exactly a spice, not exactly a condiment
You will need:
- 1 cup (by volume) of dried shiitake mushrooms (or other dried mushrooms, but shiitakes are relatively inexpensive)
- A clean and odorless coffee or spice grinder
1. In batches, grind the mushrooms into a rough powder, and gradually add in the mushrooms until they’re all ground up, and continue to process until they become a relatively fine powder. You could grind them into a superfine, almost cakey powder, if you wanted, but I think you’d have to add salt (the added agitation of the salt helps grind other, softer stuff).
2. Put the resulting powder into a bowl – you should have, by volume, about a half-cup. Store in a tightly-lidded plastic container, out of direct sunlight, for a few weeks to a month or so. Whole dried mushrooms have a shelf life of about half a year before they start to lose a lot of their flavor, so I figure the ceiling on this powder is maybe two months.
It won’t last that long, however, because once you make a batch of this stuff, you’ll want to put it on everything, like…
You will need:
- 4 parts mushroom powder
- 2 parts kosher salt
- 1 part black pepper
- a large, heavy pot with a lid
1. Combine the mushroom powder, the salt, and the pepper in your spice grinder and process until everything turns into a fine powder. For a half-cup (unpopped) serving of popcorn, I’d use 2 teaspoons of mushroom powder, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper (and feel free to use the whole peppercorns here – they’re getting scrunched up anyhow)
When combined, it’ll look kinda like this:
That is, rather like sawdust and pencil shavings. Never fear, though; this stuff is delicious.
2. Get some potholders ready. Heat a few teaspoons of oil in your heavy pot, measure out your popcorn (more than 1/2 a cup of unpopped kernels in a 6-quart pot will result in I Love Lucy-esque overflow hijinks, so be forewarned.), and stir briskly over high heat for a minute or so, until the kernels begin to turn opaque.
3. When this happens, cover the pot, and wait for the sound of popping kernels. At this point, take hold of the pot’s handles with your potholders, and shake the pot vigorously, making sure it stays in contact with the heat. Don’t shake it up and down, just side to side. Give it a good shake at least once every ten to fifteen seconds so nothing gets stuck on the bottom.
4. When the space between pops exceeds, oh, 10 seconds or so, turn off the heat, and let the pot stay covered for about a minute to protect yourself from rogue poppers. Then decant into a large bowl, and from a relatively high height, sprinkle the mushroom seasoning mixture over it, and toss until coated and tasty. You probably won’t need any additional oil to make the mixture adhere to the popcorn, since the grains are so small they’ll fit in the nooks and crannies of the popped kernels. Health food!
I guess lots of upmarket restaurants, at least in Chicago, are giving out pre-dinner popcorn instead of bread. Graham Elliot is known for it, and so is decorated newcomer Ruxbin. It makes sense. Popcorn is cheap, not particularly labor-intensive, and easier to customize on the fly than bread is. It’s also less filling than bread, but it takes as long to eat. Graham Elliot does theirs with parmesan and truffle oil; Ruxbin does it with furikake. I’d like to put my mushroom popcorn right up against theirs. I also love to douse popcorn in garlic oil, but we’ll get to that.
If popcorn’s not your speed, then allow me to return to a Clean Platter standby: Macaroni and Cheese!
A recipe identical to the Essential Stovetop Mac and Cheese, with emendations in bold text.
- 1 stalk of celery
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/4 of a medium onion – about 1/4 cup, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk, any type of fat (I used skim and it was fine.)
- 3 ounces, by weight, grated/dry mexican cotija cheese (or parmesan)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons mushroom powder
- 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced (optional but awesome; I didn’t have any fresh on hand)
- 1/2 pound of elbow macaroni noodles
- a 2-quart saucepan
- a 6-quart pasta pot
- a colander
Prepare identically to the Essential Stovetop recipe:
1. Dice the celery, garlic, and onion; measure your milk, cheese, fat, and flour. Slice the mushrooms.
2. Start heating the pasta water.
3. Melt the butter in the 2-quart saucepan and cook the celery, garlic, and onion until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add in the flour and mix into a paste over medium heat, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Add the milk a little at a time, and stir vigorously but not extravagantly, until all traces of roux-lumps are gone. Continue to stir and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the mixture is pleasantly thickened. Reduce heat to low.
5. Add in the mushroom powder, stir, and taste. Don’t add any salt, because the cheese is plenty salty.
6. Yeah! Add the cotija or parmesan cheese. High-five the person nearest you. Kill the heat, stir to combine.
7. Cook the sliced mushrooms in oil over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until they’ve lost most of their liquid, shrunk, and browned. Cook in a single layer.
8. Cook the macaroni in the boiling, salted water, and cook until al dente – then drain and incorporate into the cheese sauce. Add the mushrooms, stir to combine, and serve.
But with tasty chunks of mushroom on top.
Anyway. I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a version of Volo’s bacon, mushroom, and goat cheese flatbread, but with an addition of my own – garlic oil!
You will need:
- a head of garlic or two
- a cup of good-quality olive oil
- a clear plastic squeeze bottle – these should usually cost about 1 to 2 bucks.
- a small saucepan.
1. First, separate and peel all the cloves of garlic and, once peeled, tumble them into a saucepan. Fill the pan with oil to cover the garlic, and put it on the stove over low heat – at the barest simmer. You don’t want to really cook the oil here; you want to heat it enough to soften up the garlic, but you want to keep the oil as bright-tasting as you can.
2. Let it go for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the kitchen smells magnificent. Hot olive oil smells surprisingly fruity, so you may find yourself sniffing around for an unexpected banana (like ya do).
3. Once the garlic is soft, remove it with a slotted spoon. Let the oil cool off, and then pour it into a measuring cup, then a squeeze bottle. Keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
4. Do something wonderful with the oil-poached garlic cloves. Slather them on a toasted baguette, eat them plain, throw them into a batch of mashed potatoes, dab them behind your ears – I don’t care. They’re going to be delicious, whatever you do.
Bacon, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Flatbread with Garlic Oil
Makes either 2 full-size pizzas or 4 little flatbreads
You will need:
- A recipe of pizza dough
- Garlic oil (see above)
- Mushroom powder (see above)
- a 4-ounce log of goat cheese
- 4 ounces of bacon, cut into little sticks
- 4 ounces of mushrooms, sliced thin.
1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Cut your dough into either two or four balls, depending on your preference, and roll them out; place them on an oiled baking sheet.
2. In a small skillet, cook the bacon over low heat until cooked through but not crispy. Reserve the bacon, and cook the sliced mushrooms in the fat until they give off their liquid and turn brown. Take off the heat and place in a bowl.
3. Drizzle each flatbread with a teaspoon or so of garlic oil, then dot them with bacon pieces, mushrooms, and half-teaspoons of goat cheese. Dust generously with mushroom powder!
4. Bake in the 450-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the dough is crisp and brown around the edges. Let cool for two minutes, then cut and serve.
Well. I think that’s enough for one day, don’t you?
December 23, 2011
It didn’t start out this way.
Adam and Zev wanted to have a cooking double-date with me and Carolyn. I would, based on their prompting, come up with a couple of recipes based on their suggestions, and then we’d all hang out in the kitchen and cook together. We’d judge whether or not I’d done an accurate job sketching their relationship in recipe format, Z and A would take the recipe home with them, and we’d all learn something about each other. Hooray.
Zev and I had a better idea.
When I asked him to think up a suggestion for me, he couldn’t summon up anything on the spot, so he impulsively challenged me thusly:
“So, I should just say ‘we have these five ingredients’ and you go all Lynne Rosetto Kasper on us?”
I said, “… A Stump-The-David Challenge sounds awesome. Let’s do it!”
“I accept,” he said. “Prepare to die!”
He did not say that last part.
For the uninitiated, Lynne Rosetto-Kasper has a fantastic PRI food show called The Splendid Table, and one of her occasional segments is called the Stump The Cook Challenge – a listener calls in with five ingredients, and Lynne has to theorize a meal that could be made from them – she gets to pick three other ingredients that the caller has lying around her kitchen; water, salt, pepper, and oil she gets for free. Usually Cook’s Illustrated host Christopher Kimball serves as Celebrity Stumpmaster, to help judge the proceedings.
Well, Zev and Adam were going to be the Stumpmasters, and I was to be Lynne. They gave me 24 hours’ notice of what they were bringing, and I was allowed to incorporate a few more ingredients into the mix – spices were free, but I couldn’t 1) use too many extra ingredients or 2) try to hide the ingredients that Adam and Zev brought. I’d also have to use 3) three kitchen gadgets in the course of making the meal – something I’m not particularly used to doing. I’m not really a gadget person; that’s more Carolyn’s territory, with her collection of culinary Happy Meal toys that include the Garlic Zoom and the Vegetable Chop (which seems innocuous enough, but watch the video – it’s like watching the Slap Chop’s violent stepdad.)
So what did they bring me?
From left to right we have:
1. A 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries
2. 2 pounds of boneless beef ribs
3. 1 pound of young turnips
4. 3 bars of dark chocolate
5. A 2-pound sack of Tater Tots.
“Um,” I said, “Do I have to use all of the chocolate?”
“No,” said Adam. “Just use enough of it.”
“And whatever Tots you don’t cook, we get to take back,” Zev said, a trifle unnecessarily. I’m not so crazy ‘bout Tater Tots.
BUT! In the interest of friendship and SCIENCE, I was willing to try my level best to make a meal for my friends that they would not only 1) enjoy but 2) be willing to recreate!
I had a plan. It was time to put it into action.
I decided to make a salad, braise the beef with the chocolate, mash the turnips with potatoes, and make the cranberries into a gastrique sauce. The tots? I’d… I’d figure something out with the tots. With the help of my faithful assistants David and Carolyn, I knew we’d kick some ass.
Boeuf braisé à la Cincinatienne
Braised beef in the Cincinnati Style – serves 4 to 6
I knew that, if I had beef and chocolate, I was probably going to have to return to the conceit of a Cincy-style chili (which, if you recall, contains chocolate, chili powder, and other non-traditional chili spices like clove, cinnamon, and allspice), because I’d be damned if I was attempting a mole. Those things take forever, and I just didn’t have the time – Adam was picking up the ingredients from the apartment on his way back from work, so I was going to have to start cooking the meal around 6. I wanted to get it on the table by 8:30 at the latest, so I figured I’d start with the thing that took the longest – the beef.
You will need:
- 2 lbs beef ribs
- 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
- 30 g/ 1 oz dark chocolate
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp David’s Homemade Weaponsgrade Chili Powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/.2 tsp clove
- 1/2 tsp allspice
1. Set your oven for 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Pat the beef ribs dry with paper towels, and sear them in a 6-quart dutch oven over high heat (with a touch of canola oil), two to three minutes a side.
2. You certainly don’t need to do this, but at this stage I used a Microplane (Gadget #1) to grate the chocolate. Again, this is unnecessary – you can simply break up the chocolate and throw it in; it’ll all melt and incorporate anyhow. Chop the garlic finely, and measure out the spices.
3. When the beef ribs are browned on each side, throw in the garlic and cook, stirring briskly, for a minute or so. Then add the tomato sauce, the spices, the chocolate, the salt, and the water. Mix this all together, and heat until bubbly – then take it off the stove, and put it in the oven for as long as you can stand to, adding water, if necessary, every hour or so, for a minimum of two hours. You cannot overcook these ribs – not at this temperature – but somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 to 4 hours is probably ideal. I wanted them to stay together and not flake when cut, so I hewed closer to the 2 hour mark. When finished, they’ll look something like this:
I’d never made a gastrique before. But I knew that I wanted to use the cranberries to bridge the gap between savory and sweet, so it wouldn’t be so impossible. I hoped. A gastrique is basically a caramel sauce with vinegar in it, which may sound horrific to some of you – it is, however, delicious – tart without being painful, and sweet without being cloying.
You will need:
- 12 oz cranberries, washed
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup port
1. Place the cranberries in a small saucepan with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, put the lid on, and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the cranberries are soft.
2. With a potato masher (or a stick blender! [Gadget #2]), squash the berries into as fine or as thick a pulp as you desire.
3. In a non-stick skillet, combine the sugar and the water, and mix, over medium heat, with a heat-proof spatula. Stir briskly and cook until the mixture thickens and just begins to turn tan around the edges.
4. Turn off the heat, add about a quarter-cup to a half-cup of cranberry pulp, and incorporate. Turn the heat back on, and add the vinegar; stir and reduce over medium heat until thick again.
5. Turn the heat off again, add the port, and resume cooking until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of your spatula, but not so thick that it can’t be poured (add more water if that happens, or more cranberry pulp).
6. High five! You made a gastrique! Place in a ramekin and put that ramekin on a plate because this stuff is sticky and you don’t want it to get all over your nice tablecloth.
Neeps and Tatties
Mashed turnips and potatoes
I swear to God that’s what they call it in Scotland
Turnips have a powerful, radishy taste that I wanted to temper with potatoes. I think 1:2 is a good ratio for that. Baby turnips don’t need to be peeled, but big old turnips do, so keep that in mind. You’ll also want to cut the turnips smaller than the potatoes, because the turnips will cook more slowly and you want to get them to finish boiling at the same time.
- 2 lbs potatoes
- 1 lb turnips
- 1 cup milk
- 4 tb butter
- 1 tb sour cream
1. Cut the turnips into 1/2-inch pieces, and the potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Tumble them into a big pot and cover with water – add some salt to the water, or the mash will taste fairly bland, and you’ll have to compensate with way more butter than you’d otherwise want to.
2. Bring to a boil on the stovetop and cook until the roots are tender, about half an hour.
3. Drain the veg, return the pot to low heat and mash with a potato masher (I think they counted that as Gadget #3), then add in the milk, the butter, and the sour cream, as well as additional salt to taste. Add more sour cream if you think it hasn’t got enough tang to it.
I decided to make something approximating a salade lyonnaise, which means frisée lettuce, little sticks of bacon called lardons, and a poached egg. I also decided to put in fresh croutons and a bacon dressing, because why not? I used Alton Brown’s bacon vinaigrette recipe, because, even if I don’t like him that much anymore, he still knows his stuff.
- 4 ounces of bacon, preferably thick-cut or slab (ideally homemade. But let’s be real here)
- Half a baguette, cut into cubes
- half a head of frisée lettuce
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tb bacon fat
- 1 tb brown sugar
- 1 tb mustard
- one egg per person
1. Cut the bacon into small, thin sticks, and slowly crisp them in a pan. Reserve some of the fat. In fact, reserve it all, but put aside 2 tablespoons specifically.
2. In another pan, crisp the cubes of bread in olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Set them aside.
3. Wash and dry the frisée.
4. Whisk together the 2 tablespoons of bacon fat with the olive oil, the cider vinegar, the mustard, and the sugar, and toss the frisée with it just before you’re ready to serve.
5. In the pan that held the bacon, fry the eggs, one at a time, until their whites are set but their yolks are warmed-through but runny, about a minute and a half. Plop the egg atop a pile of dressed frisée, sprinkle with bacon lardons and croutons, and serve!
Plating the finished meal
I decided to start off each plate with a mound of neeps and tatties – I made an indentation in the center of each mound with my ladle, and plopped in a single beef rib, with the gravy-like sauce surrounding it, along with a drizzling of gastrique.
“What about the tots?” said Carolyn.
"Crap,” I said, and pulled them out of the oven.
Hold on, that needs more gastrique.
Everything was well-received – we washed it down with a few half-bottles of remarkably bad wine (I don’t know where they came from. They were ancient and corky and I think someone snuck them into my wine rack during a pizza party), poured the rest of the wine down the sink, and enjoyed ourselves despite it. I happen to know that Zev is waiting for this entry so he can snatch up the ribs recipe (which, I suppose, for simplicity’s sake I ought to just call Cincy Ribs) – but I’m pretty sure I didn’t win the Stump the Cook contest. A and Z were generous in judging me a success, but I think I failed on a tot-related technicality. I could not, for the life of me, think of something fun to do with the tater tots – later, my dad gave me this idea:
“What if you put them in a muffin tin?” he said.
“Let them come to room temperature, smash them flat, and make them into a tater tot bowl in the muffin tin, and bake them that way.”
So, I could have done that, and it would have been kind of fun! Potatoes within potatoes, cogs within cogs – a cup of Tot full of turnips and beef. Oh well.
Next time. Because you can bet your ass I’m doing this again. Adam said that turnabout was fair play, though – Carolyn and I could come up with a list of five ingredients for him and Z to use, the next time we’re over for dinner. What should I choose? What kind of mood am I in? Am I a good friend, or am I a conniving bastard? (Am I both?)
You decide. I look forward to your suggestions.
Have a marvelous holiday season, everyone. I think I completed my last New Year’s resolution from 2011 just a few weeks ago, when I finally figured out how to pleat guotie (potstickers!), by reading and rereading my new favorite Chinese regional cookbook, Feeding the Dragon – it’s a travelogue by a pair of globe-trotting siblings, Nate and Mary-Kate Tate. Their writing is solid, and their recipes are reputable and easily reproduced – and what else can you ask from a cookbook? They tell a great yarn, and I got a good sense for the incredible breadth of Chinese cookery.
Which gives me just enough time to start thinking about what my 2012 New Year’s resolutions are going to be. I’ve been preempted – topping the list will have to be learning how to butcher a squid, thanks to the spunky and marvelous Susan of SusanEatsLondon; I mentioned in a comment on her Malaysian Squid Curry recipe that I’d love to know how to do it, and lord, did she deliver! This entry is, perhaps, not for the squeamish, but if you’re a Fearless Midwestern Cook like me (*beams*), you’ll want to dive right into that squishy, baleful-looking cephalopod, and rip it apart with your bare hands, to remove, as Susan accurately puts it, “the squoogy bits.” Happy Hanukkah, Susan! Merry Christmas, folks!
Probably I won’t see you until the New Year. Until then, remember, SQUID. I’m doing something with it.
Happy cooking. Stay warm.
October 21, 2011
So, with the onset of the colder months, like I’ve been saying, I think it’s time to hunker down. The winds of winter are going to slice through the cracks between the wall and the windows, shred through your clothes, and freeze your blood, so you might as well fill yourself with food that keeps you warm. To that end, I’ve decided to begin a new series on macaroni and cheese.
Actually, I think this was Editor Girlfriend’s idea. Carolyn’s really good at saying, “Hey! You should write about Thing X,” and providing an excellent rationale for it. It’s not like she tricks me into thinking that something was my idea in the first place (that’s not her style), but she can just be very quietly persuasive. Anyway, one of my most popular recipes on the blog is my Thai Red Curry Macaroni and Cheese. I didn’t advertise it or anything; people just find it through Google searches. And I want to provide recipes that people are looking for. So I’m doin’ this series. Let’s get to it!
There are three schools of mac and cheese in this country:
Type I: Blue-box Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. You cook the pasta, you drain the pasta, you add milk and a powder mix. This stuff is well-loved for its comfort value, but I didn’t grow up on it, so I find it rather grainy, gummy, and glossy in that plasticky way, for my tastes. Besides, making it barely counts as cooking. But it is in a class of its own, and I’m sure it’s by far the most popular school of mac and cheese in the United States. From 2008 to 2010, sales of packaged macaroni and cheese rose by 25%.
Type II: Macaroni Casserole. You undercook the pasta, drain and rinse it, and toss it in a cheesy, eggy custard, and pour it in a casserole pan, dust the top with bread crumbs, and bake it until it firms up. This is the sort of macaroni and cheese you’re the most likely to be served in a restaurant, because it’s really easy to do the prep on it, portion it out, and “bake it off” in individual servings. It’s also easy to do in a cafeteria setting, because you can do exactly the same thing with an enormous aluminum tray of the stuff as you could with a single ramekin. It’ll keep in the fridge, unchanged, for hours or even days until it needs to be baked.
Type III: Stovetop Macaroni. I like to imagine that this was the version that Thomas Jefferson commissioned in 1802, although it is most assuredly not. It was, however, in the early 19th century that Antonin Carême developed his classifications of the Four Mother Sauces, which Éscoffier would later revise and expand into five sauces. Stovetop macaroni is dressed with a Mornay sauce, which is a cheesy version of the milk-and-roux-based Béchamel mother sauce. This is the version we’re gonna be working with.
This is going to become a series on macaroni and cheese, and so a number of recipes are going to be referring back to this page quite often. After a lot of testing, I have determined that this is, to be certain, my master recipe for Stovetop Mac and Cheese. I may, at some point in this series, try and come up with a good Type II recipe, or even a Type I knockoff (although I don’t think I have the materials and wherewithal to make cheese powder. I could be wrong! I haven’t even begun to research that.). But I’m going to stick with Type III for now.
I’m not going to wax political for particularly long here, but I think the global recession has affected our stomachs. It may just be how it looks from where I’m standing, but El Bullí is closed now. It’s not 2007 anymore, and although sous-vide cookery is probably here to stay, and it’s still a nine-month wait to eat at The French Laundry, I think the era of conspicuously consumptive food is over. At least until the next boom cycle. America is aching – hurt, unemployed, uninsured, unhappy. Now is the time for meatloaf, macaroni, cupcakes. We just want a little comfort, something to take solace in while, bruised and brooding, we sit, blanket-huddled, with our friends and loved ones. Something to allay the gnawing feeling that nothing’s going right for you.
Well. I’m looking out for you, America. Mac and Cheese is food for a period for austerity, but it sure as hell won’t feel like it. Not the way I make it. Make this recipe, close your eyes, take a bite, and allow yourself to feel, for a moment, that things are going to be okay. Then lift your head high, get out there, and kick some ass.
Essential Stovetop Mac and Cheese
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish
You will need:
- 1 stalk of celery
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/4 of a medium onion – about 1/4 cup, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk, any type of fat (I used skim and it was fine.)
- 3 ounces, by weight, sharp cheddar cheeze
- 1 ounce (by weight) of parmesan cheese (or 1/2 teaspoon salt)
- 1/2 pound of elbow macaroni noodles
- a 2-quart saucepan
- a 6-quart pasta pot
- a colander
1. First, do your mise-en-place. Dice the celery and the onion very small – 1/8th-inch dice, if you’re up for it. Hell, if you can, brunoise them. Why not, right? And mince the garlic, too. Measure everything out now, because sauce-making can be kind of tetchy work, and you want to have your full attention on making sure nothing burns, so what’s the harm? Measure your flour, your milk, and your cheeses.
2. Start heating the pasta water, too.
3. Melt the butter in your saucepan and cook the aromatics (the celery, the garlic, and the onion), stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until the onion is translucent and smells cooked – approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add in the flour, and stir briskly until everything begins to come together in a chunky paste, about two minutes’ worth of stirring.
5. Add the milk, and stir briskly (but not overexuberantly!) for about a minute or so, until all the lumps of roux-paste are gone. Continue to stir and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the mixture thickens to the point where it coats the back of your spoon or spatula.
6. Give the nearest person a high-five.
7. You may wish to season the mixture further, here. I’ve added a teaspoon of homemade chili powder. For funsies.
8. Once thickened, kill the heat and mix in the cheddar cheese and parmesan (or salt, if you don’t have – or want to use – parmesan). Stir until it’s all incorporated and melted.
9. Cook and drain your pasta, and then plop it all in! You’re done.
10. Eat with pride. You’re going to come through this just fine. There’s macaroni and cheese and you’ve made it. We’re all going to make it.
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.
April 30, 2011
(or, Pumping Up Your Mussels)
You’ll never see a can of coconut milk for under a dollar. Not the good kind. -Sure, there’s the Roland Classic kind, which sometimes sells for 99 cents, but that brand has guar gum in it, which artificially thickens and emulsifies the coconut milk. A sign of good coconut milk, surprisingly, is that it doesn’t emulsify – when you open the can, you should see a nice, chunky cap of solid coconut fat. This is called the head. What’s great about this is you can use this head to start a curry – you gently fry the curry paste in the coconut fat and let the aromatics bloom. The rest of the can – the thinner, more watery milk – is used to make up the liquid body of whatever dish you’re making.
Anyway, a good can of coconut milk, like a 14-ounce can, will probably run you about $2.19, in 2011 dollars (assuming that, y’know, those of you reading in the future haven’t switched over to beaver pelts or the bimetallic standard, and you still know what a U.S. dollar is). I wondered about coconut milk – why was it more expensive than a can of chicken broth? Well, probably, first of all, economies of scale and the relative popularity of chicken broth (as well as a surplus of unused bones from all those boneless-skinless chicken bits) account for that. But perhaps, too, it was more effort to make a can’s worth of coconut milk than a can’s worth of chicken stock. I resolved to find out.
A single coconut at HarvesTime, my local grocery store, cost $1.29. Cackling, I drove a screwdriver into one of its three eyes – those sunken, dimply patches on the coconut, and drained the water.
Here’s an important distinction: many people think that if you poke a hole in a coconut, coconut milk comes out. This isn’t so; a coconut is full of water. What we call coconut milk is the meat of the coconut, which has been ground into a pulp with plenty of water and strained.
This is what comes out of a coconut:
It seems like there have been al sorts of coconut-based drinks cropping up these days – coconut water has lots of potassium and electrolytes, so it’s being touted as a sort of low-carbohydrate, all-natural Gatorade. People have been drinking coconut water in Southeast Asia since the earth was young, but I’ll say this: a mature coconut is probably not your ideal vector for coconut water. You want to get your coconut juice from a young, green coconut, because this stuff was – I’ll be the first to admit it – slightly vile.
It was bitter, salty, and kinda funky. Not one to waste anything in my kitchen, I quickly realized that the only way to make it potable was to make the coconut water into a cocktail.
The Man Friday
- The juice from one mature coconut
- 1 oz heavy cream
- 2 oz Malibu coconut rum
- Mix or shake ingredients together until well-blended.
- Serve over cracked ice.
Fortified with my cocktail, I picked up the coconut’s worst nightmare – a claw hammer. Having made sure that the coconut was mostly empty of juice (this is best done over the sink, or outside), I rapped the coconut sharply around its circumference with the claw portion of the hammer, until I had made enough cracks in the shell to peel it off, or twist the thing in half.
What remains is a ball of coconut meat, slathered all over its surface with what looks like Crisco – this is raw coconut fat.
With a knife or a pastry scraper, cut the coconut in half and start breaking it into pieces. You can see the big hollow where the coconut juice had been.
At this point, the coconut goes into a food processor; I used my girlfriend’s 3-cup mini-prep, since it lives at my apartment now. She used to work at Williams-Sonoma, and suffers from an unfortunate condition; she possesses altogether too much kitchen equipment for her apartment. I swear this isn’t why I’m dating her. (Hi, honey.)
Mix the coconut meat with water until it’s a completely smooth, blended mixture, about the consistency of thin pancake batter. This needs more water:
Eventually it’ll get to looking like this.
Now, this coconut milk still has all of those pesky coconut solids in it, and you’re going to want to isolate those for later. This means you’ll have to strain them, through a method that I have become more and more comfortable with – pouring the whole mess into a (clean!) kitchen towel and squeezing it dry.
It’s sort of unfortunate, y’know; I blame my old college roommate David for this – every time I pour some kind of chunky solution into a container, I will invariably think, or make aloud, some noise similar to “Bluaaaargh,” as though the first container is throwing up into the second one. Thanks, Dave.
Now you’re doing it too, aren’t you? I’m sorry. I’m a jerk.
Now, squeeze! Squeeze for great justice! What goes into the bowl beneath is marvelous, fresh, fatty, and fine: it’s coconut milk, and you did it! You did it, you son-of-a-gun in your gray flannel suit. You’ve created coconut milk, and it only cost you about half an hour of your time, as well as the use of a hammer, a clean towel that you’ll have to wash, and the use of a food processor. Time is your greatest currency in the kitchen, next to, y’know, actual currency.
So is this really worth it to do on a regular basis? I certainly don’t think so. Might be if I’d started with, like, ten coconuts – but really! What would I do with all of that at once? The argument for canned coconut milk gets pretty compelling; you start to see where that cost comes in. But every once in a while? Heck! Why not? It’s fun to do!
Reserve the coconut meat for later. It’s unsweetened, so it’s got this sort of nutty, raw flavor. It’s good, but best if you mix it with things. We’ll come back to that.
Let’s take an abrupt left turn to talk about mussels. Mussels are cheap, plentiful, sustainable, and delicious. I’m not exactly sure when I first started eating mussels, because I’m pretty sure I found them sort of terrifying for most of my childhood. At some point, I came to the realization that they were, in fact, fantastic – briny, rich, tender, and pretty easy to do well. I’ve been making them in my own kitchen for just under a few months, and I have yet to screw them up.
It just so happens that the Fish Guy Market on N. Elston has a special on mussels every week – I’m actually hesitant to tell you the day, because I’m worried you’ll snatch up all the mussels before I get there.
So I’ve started making mussels every week, because, for goodness’ sake, they’re 5 bucks a pound, and far cheaper than that on the coasts. Two pounds of mussels easily serves four people, given a loaf of good bread and a tasty vegetal side dish.
So I’m going to do just what Francis Lam says (click the word sustainable three paragraphs up) and explore pretty much every flavor combination I can possibly throw at the mussel.
This week, it’s red curry mussels!
Red Curry Mussels with Coconut Milk and Prosecco
Adapted from this Bobby Flay recipe
- 2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and cleaned
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (I used Maesri brand)
- 1 1/2 cups painstakingly-prepared coconut milk, or one 14-oz can (like Chaokoh brand)
- 1/2 cup prosecco, or slightly less-fizzy white wine, like vinho verde.
- 1 to 1-and-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- one big handful basil leaves (thai or italian will do)
- Heat your favorite dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add some vegetable oil of your choice or melt a bit of the coconut milk’s fatty head. Once it renders, add the ginger and curry paste and fry till fragrant, about a minute and a half.
- Add in the fish sauce – the original recipe calls for a full two tablespoons, and I feel that this makes the pursuant broth rather a bit too salty for my liking.
- Add the coconut milk, and smile as the fragrance of the tropics wafts through your kitchen.
- Add the wine. I used prosecco, because it’s what was available – it was pleasant and dry! I’m not sure if the bubbliness does anything, but prosecco has a nice dryness to it – a mild bitterness that does well here. Bring everything to a boil.
- Once the liquid is at a boil, add the mussels and heat till boiling again.
- Cover and cook for five to ten minutes, shaking the pan every once in a while. Lodge, send me some money.
- You’re looking for most of the mussels to open, but not all of them have to. If you like, separate out the cooked ones and leave the closed ones in the pot for more cooking. Don’t waste your time if they don’t open after that, though – chuck ‘em.Chiffonade the basil (cut it into ribbons) and toss it into the pot, and mix everything together.
- Ladle mussels into serving bowls, pour the lovely, fragrant broth over it, and serve with slices of crusty bread. Enjoy with the rest of the Prosecco.
There’s certain to be more mussel posts on here; I don’t know where they’ve been all my life, honestly.
Oh! And that leftover coconut meat from earlier? I used some of it in some tembleque. Tembleque is a Puerto Rican dessert I first learned about when I made it with my friend Rafa last Thanksgiving; it’s a delicate coconut pudding. You make it by cooking coconut milk with cornstarch until it sets up; I cheated and used the Goya box mix, because it was a last-minute impulse buy. It’s basically stovetop just-add-milk pudding mix; I added some coconut meat to give it some more body, portioned it into ramekins, and unmolded it like a flan. It’s called tembleque because it trembles so much when you jiggle the plate. It’s kind of fun just to poke it with a spoon. Makes y’feel like Dr. Cosby. Kinda.
June 17, 2010
The Blind Leading The Blind*
*except there’s alcohol involved, which kinda makes it worse
As I mentioned, Jack came to visit on Monday, and I pressed him into service, painting parts of the basement, and starting a batch of beer with me. Jack was such a fine guest, and such an able hand around the house, that I wonder if I might not slip some of my other friends the king’s shilling, and trick ‘em into coming out here to help me work on the house.
Honestly, though, by the time that happens, I’ll probably have finished excavating the basement and turning it into my workshop. I never really imagined having a workshop before moving out to the house, but now I’m enthralled with the idea.
ANYWAY beer. The home-brewer makes beer not in an enormous steel tun, but rather in the smaller, handsome glass vessel known as a carboy. Jack’s father, Jim, lent me his long-unused brewing kit, in exchange for a six-pack of whatever I make (I think this is a fine arrangement). Here is that carboy, a five-gallon model:
Five gallons is pretty standard for home-brewing, because, for chrissake, how much more would you want? 5 gallons is 640 ounces, is 53 12-ounce bottles of beer, and if I didn’t have eager friends to descend upon the damned things like locusts, I’m not even sure I could drink 53 bottles of anything in a summer. Could I? Not beer. I like beer, but not enough to drink one a day for two months. That’s just not the sort of drinker I am; I might have two beers in a week, but even that is rare.
Then again, I’ve never really had much beer in the house before, so I may yet drink my words.
That’s sort of irrelevant at present, though – I’m sure I’ll meet enough people out here, especially in the local brewing crowd, who won’t pass up free home- brew. I make that statement assuming everything comes out all right with this batch.
June 15, 2010
And we had numerous adventures.
It’s raining now, and Jack took off for home, but it was a big day!
An expanded post and pictures to come, but, today we:
- went to goodwill and bought some crummy clo*thes for painting in
- bought some spray paint
- started a batch of beer (! a post to come)
- painted a titanic number of shelves in the basement (so that I can finally unpack all of my books, by god!)
- went for a lovely little walk on the beach
- and had some really, really fantastic fish-and-chips and beer at Shoreline. I think I’m going to love this place. It’s two minutes from the house, a pint of one of their ten (TEN) home-brewed beers is $4, and their fish and chips ranked among some of the best I’ve ever had.
Anyway, I’ll post soon about the projects that Jack and I worked on, as well as my own progress on the garden (because, Gentle Reader, I’ve started a garden, and I’ve got the aches to show for it).
For now, I give you the Beach Glass Count.
Beach Glass Count, June 15:
72 pieces. I’ve been beachwalking every morning for the past few days, but I haven’t been a’blogging. But at last count, it was 36. So the BGC has doubled!
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 11, 2010
Because those cabinets are complete. Aren’t they fun?
June 8, 2010
I just drove half an hour each way to Valparaiso, IN, and back, to buy an empty 55-gallon plastic pickle barrel from a guy named Bebo. It was so big that it wouldn’t fit in my trunk, so I had to stash it in the backseat of my car.
And what did you do today?