Monday, February 22, 2010

A Poached Pear, A Tapped Maple, and Some Momofuku-like Homecookin'

By now you might have recognized that I like to make things from scratch. So, the first of many announcements for today is that I tapped some maple trees at my grandfather's house this weekend. I've got my mom and grandfather recruited to the cause of homemade maple syrup, and will be back at the house to check on the trees sometime over this coming weekend. I don't have extremely high hopes for this project, but it seemed easy enough, and if it works, what a grand success! Of course, my Vermont-based family members have all made syrup before and are not at all impressed. But, the NJ crowd will surely be in awe when I douse my blueberries pancakes with syrup that's fresh from Lake Hopatcong.

In other news, you may find that many of my recipes over the next couple months are vegetarian or pescatarian in nature. I've given up meat for Lent, so there it is. I did it partially because I like to really challenge myself for Lent and give up something that is very dear to me. Additionally, I've been struggling to reconcile my love for the taste of animals with the ethical implications of supporting an industry that profits off of disease and torture. I'll kill animals and eat them, but that doesn't mean that I don't care about how they are treated.

Apparently David Chang of Momofuku fame agrees with me. He had something really interesting to say about sustainable meat in his new cookbook, which I got a chance to peruse over the weekend:

"Pigs have heads. Every one of them does. Farmers do not raise walking pork chops. If you're serious about your meat, you've got to grasp that concept. And if you're serious about sustainability and about honestly raised good meat-which is something we're dead serious about at Momofuku and we try to get more in touch with every day-you've got to embrace the whole pig.

A farm turns out a head on each beautiful, well-raised pig, but nobody's rushing eat it. That's where the cook steps in: you take it, cook it, make it delicious. That's the most badass way you can connect with what you cook: elevate it, honor it, lavish it with care and attention-whether you're slicing scallions or spooning out caviar or boiling up half a pig's head. Turning ingredients into food, and sometimes almost literally turning a pig's ear into a silk purse, is what cooks do in the kitchen" See Momofuku Cookbook, p. 201.

Chang goes on provide a recipe for "pig's head torchon" which looks nothing like a pig's head and sounds pretty amazing.

Speaking of Momofuku, I did make a Momofuku inspired ramen with shrimp, some scallions, and a slow-poached egg. The slow-poached egg concept is another thing I pulled out of that cookbook. Pretty cool. Basically, you put an egg in hot water, kept around 140 degrees or so for 40-45 minutes. Keep the egg off the bottom of the pot though to prevent overcooking. I put it in a metal vegetable steamer-type colander. Whenever you're ready, crack open the egg and you've got a perfect poached egg that is cooked whites and goey, beautiful yolk. Made me feel like a rock star when I tried it.

The shrimp ramen came out really, really good. I have become somewhat of a master broth maker, and this time I used a mixture of chicken broth that had also simmered with some mean-as-hell roasted Jamaican hot peppers, combined with some shrimp shell broth. It just made it extra-seafoody. You could try it with the shrimp broth or just regular broth.

And since we're sharing pictures. I took a picture of a super freak of a mushroom that was in the package of mushrooms that I bought from Whole Foods. It was too weird not to take a picture of it and share with you.

The recipe that I want to leave you with, though, actually comes from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. It is really simple and, if presented well, an absolutely beautiful dessert. Did I mention that it's freaking delicious? Here it is:

Poached Pears
Adapted from Les Halles Cookbook

1 bottle of somewhat cheap red wine
1 cup of sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise pieces
4 pears, peeled and cut lengthwise

In a medium pot, combine wine, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, and let boil for 5-10 minutes. Add the pears, cover, and let simmer for about a half an hour or until the pears are soft and could be eaten with a spoon. Remove from heat, uncover, and let cool. Serve the pears with the sauce they were cooked in and/or with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8 meager appetites, or 2-4 gavones.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Winter Root Stew

After our rich Saturday eating extravaganza, beginning with lunch at Les Halles (which is my new favorite restaurant by the way) and ending with dinner at Egan & Son's new location in West Orange, NJ, I figured I would make something less rich and more wholesome for Sunday dinner. Based on what I had left around from the food co-op, I decided to make a stew of various winter roots. My only concern was that it could end up being somewhat boring.

We've all made those dishes before where you know that it will be edible and you know that it will be more or less good for you, but you don't know if it will be exciting or something that you'll want more than a few bites of.

So, in the quest for flavor, I ended up using my chicken broth and about a pint of beer to give the stew a hearty, yet tasty flavor. Once that broth and beer mixture combined with the juices of the carrots, parsnips, onion, celery root, etc, it was pretty damn flavorful. I was also a little stumped on how to season it. I could toss in some maple syrup, maybe throw in some apples and cinnamon. I ended up with salt, pepper, some cinnamon and some nutmeg. Not too much though! The spices were subtle, which made it really nice. Boring, it was not. Although, it was interesting how the flavors of the root vegetables all seemed to blend together. It was difficult to tell whether you were eating a piece of turnip or a piece of celery root. It all sort of blended together into a delicious flavor; one that is sweet, but savory and evokes sitting by a nice warm fire on a cold winter day.

Next question was whether or not to add a meat. I happened to have a really nice piece of smoked Kielbasa that my upstairs neighbor gave me after a trip to the Polish butcher. I chopped into bite sized pieces and threw it in there. This way, there really wasn't enough meat to take over the thing and turn it into a meat stew. The Kielbasa just added a little something, turning the stew from a side dish to a main course. Vegetarians could totally go without the Kielbasa and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. Carnivores can go crazy and throw in a slab of bacon-which I had considered, but decided against in light of the order by the Mrs. to "don't make anything rich". Another idea would be some beef to stew in with the veggies. You get the idea here. There is ample opportunity for improvisation.

Winter Root Stew

1 pint of dark beer (I used my homemade brown ale)
About 1 Quart Chicken Stock (can substitute with any stock, including vegetable)
1 onion, minced
3-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 celery root
2 sweet potatoes
1 turnip
1 acorn squash
2 white potatoes
2 red potatoes
4 carrots
4 parsnips
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp olive oil OR butter
1 Kielbasa sausage (or 1 lb of thick cut bacon)

Note: You'll want to use a dutch oven for this. If you don't have a dutch oven, you could just use a pot and keep it on the stove, although I liked not having to tend to it by putting it in the oven.

In a large dutch oven or large pot, warm the oil (or butter) on medium-low heat on the stovetop. While the pot is warming, mince your onion if it is not already minced. Add the onion and saute while mincing the garlic. Add the garlic and saute until golden brown. Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Chop the root vegetables into pieces approximately just small enough to fit onto a tablespoon. They will soften up after they are cooked and can be broken into bite-sized pieces with a spoon by the eater. Add the root vegetables to the pot. Next add the chicken stock and beer to the pot so that it just about covers the vegetables. Use as much stock as necessary to cover most of the vegetables.

Next, chop the kielbasa into spoon-sized pieces and add to the pot. Stir all of the contents of the pot around so as to mix them up and disperse the sausage throughout the pot. Now turn off the stovetop and put the pot into the oven for about an hour. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the vegetables and amount of liquid added to the pot. Cook until the vegetables are soft and steamy. Add salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg after removing from the oven and then stir the contents again. If you do not have a dutch oven, simply the pot the on low heat, stirring occasionally for about an hour.

Serves 4-6

Don't forget to save any leftover broth from the pot. Freeze and add it to your next dish!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Obsessions of a Mad Man

I might be losing my mind. Or, at the very least, I am getting recklessly disorganized. This is a really bad thing for me, because I'm somewhat absent-minded to begin with.

Today, I really really thought that I had to go to school for a symposium that my law journal was putting on. So, as I saunter in to school, imagine my surprise when I arrive at a different symposium, put on by a different journal. Oh no.

So now I've taken about an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the city for apparently no reason at all. For the first five minutes after realizing this, I was pretty peeved with myself. But then I thought, wait! I've stolen an afternoon in the city with nothing to do. Sweet! I decided to treat myself to a nice lunch and then do a little shopping.

Now, when I say shopping, I'm not talking about Madison Ave. here. No, I'm more interested in Murray's Cheese Shop on Bleecker St and Patisserie Claude on West 4th St. I wandered around with two aims, 1) I wanted to eat good food and 2) I wanted something to read.

When I first came to the conclusion that I would be attending law school in Greenwich Village, I was less than thrilled with the neighborhood. Those who have visited New York City before might be surprised to find out that I didn't want to spend all of my time in the Village, but that is precisely the point. So many of my experiences in the Village, before going to school there, involved being mobbed by tourists and the bridge and tunnel crowd. Never mind that I am now the bridge and tunnel crowd myself. I wasn't always. I was hip once. Dare I say a hipster! No, I didn't wear an ironic trucker hat but I sure did have a band in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and it doesn't get much more hipster than that.

But since spending nearly three years in the Village, I've come to find places to call home. Places that are neither overrun by NYU undergrads, nor stinking with the foul stench of tourists who think that Bob Dylan still plays at the Cafe Wha?. Not that I'm against tourists or tourism per se, in fact, sometimes I am a tourist (although not in New York). But they sort of have a way of destroying the thing the makes people want to come in the first place, don't they?

Anyway, today's meander through the Village in search of happiness and something to eat was a really nice escape from everything going on in my head. And I returned home with all sorts of goodies.

My first stop was Pearl Oyster Bar where I had a nice glass of wine and 6 raw oysters. These oysters were really good, although I can't say that I've gotten over my squeamishness from chewing a snotty shellfish. I'm trying though. I ate an oyster only once before, but it was more like taking a pill than enjoying a fine delicacy.

After reading Anthony Bourdain describe the taste of his first oyster, I've resolved to try again and to learn to love them. People think that if they don't like something that they are forever imprisoned from enjoying that thing, but they are so wrong. You can learn to like almost any food if you try it enough times. Case in point, I used to despise olives. So many people whose opinion I respected loved olives, however, so I resolved that I would learn to love them. First I started by eating olives soaked in vodka. I had already learned to love vodka. Soon, I was tasting good quality olives, and enjoying it. Now, my mouth waters at the prospect of a fine olive. I suspect that oysters will be no different. Smart people seem to enjoy them, and there must be something to it. So why shouldn't I learn to love them too? If nothing else, it is an admirable approach to life.

The Mrs. says we already like enough expensive things, and so we shouldn't be going out and looking for more costly habits, but I disagree. The world is a richer place the more things that are in it that I love. Let oysters be one of them!

Next I went to Patisserie Claude, a small French Bakery staffed by small Spanish people. Both are charming. I love the Napoleons, so I got two to share with my wife. They also make a little quiche that I have gotten twice now and have never intended to take home. I have them warm it up and I eat it immediately, walking down West 4th St. with the sort of satisfaction that is normally associated with getting one's back scratched.

After Claude, I went to Murray's cheese shop where I bought a triple creme soft cheese to spread over my homemade bread this evening, and a French Onion Melt sandwich, which is Gruyere and caramelized onions on whole wheat bread. I ate the sandwich on the PATH train back to NJ. This made me feel a little guilty, especially when I saw the pregnant woman sitting across from me look at my sandwich and sigh in quiet resignation. I would have gladly offered her some, but who was accept half a sandwich from a total stranger on the train? Sorry!

I then stopped in a book store and bought a book for me, Anthony Bourdain's The Nasty Bits, and a book for the little man, This is Texas.

Last, I stopped for some flowers outside of the PATH station. Turns out everyone gets presents today. We had homemade fettuccine, served with butter, sauteed garlic, some fresh chopped basil, and Parmesan cheese. My fettuccine needs work but I'm getting the hang of it. Delicious nonetheless,

Tomorrow should be even better! The Mrs. and I are going back to the city tomorrow to see Wicked. We got tickets for Christmas, babysitter included. What good fortune! Before the show, I made reservations at Les Halles for lunch, the bistro where Anthony Bourdain calls home. Ok, Ok, I might be obsessing on Anthony Bourdain a little bit. But the guy sure can write (which I try to do), and he travels a lot (which I'd like to do), and he is supposed to be a damn fine cook (which I try to be). So, it's hard not to sweat the guy a little.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Header (Again)

Ok, I'm still just trying things out, but so far I think this header is the best by far and will probably stay for a while. Any objections? Praise?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day!

After two predicted snow storms that never materialized, we finally got hit with some snow. School is canceled and I have all day to cook whatever I can think up. I really hit all of the bases since I have an extra day now that I wasn't expecting.

First, I mixed some bread dough and am letting it rise. I've been tricked before with dough that is slow to rise, so I'm planning on letting this one go crazy until Friday when I'll bake it during the day and enjoy it shortly thereafter. It should be light and fluffy, not dark and dense like the last time.

Next, I started up a new batch of beer. I used a few different kinds of malts from the ones that I used the first time. I used some "Munich" style malt from an Oktober Fest kit that I had, and I used an entire English Brown Ale kit worth of Amber malt extracts, spray malt, and chocolate crushed malt. There are a lot of sugars in this batch, but not as much of the weird stuff. My last batch had a lot of molasses, brown sugar, and maple syrup. I added the brown sugar, but I didn't have any molasses. I might add the maple syrup at a later point in the fermenting process, but honestly I haven't decided yet. The maple syrup really raises the cost of the brew. As it is I'm putting about $50 worth of materials into 5 gallons of beer. That's almost $1 per bottle of beer. Not cheap considering its homemade. Then again, the sort of beer that costs you a dollar is not the sort of beer that you're likely get from a home-brewer. My stuff is of much higher quality than your average Coors Light.

My batch should be ready to go for St. Patrick's Day. It's a good thing too, because we just might end up going through 5 gallons of beer on that day. I made a gallon of Mead as well. This is my first attempt at Mead making but it seems pretty straight forward. I added a giant bottle of honey to about a gallon of water, added a splash of orange juice and a few sticks of cinnamon. The yeast I used for the Mead was a little on the old side, but I proofed it in some sugar water and lo and beyond it foamed right up. Before putting the Mead wort into my 1 gallon mini-keg and sealing it up (with an airlock on top), I checked the gravity of the wort. It is pretty high gravity and should end up at about 10% alcohol. It is fermenting very slowly though. I figure it'll also be done right in time for St. Paddy's. It doesn't have to be bottled and carbonated, so that buys me some time, but since its fermenting so slowly, it might be a while in that little mini-keg.

For my next trick, I made some chopped salted chilies. This is a staple in Hunanese cooking, and is really easy to make. You basically chop up some fresh chili peppers, mix them with a few tablespoons of Kosher salt, put 'em in a jar, and then cover the chilies completely with salt. You seal up the jar and wait a few weeks. What comes out of that jar is, if you like things that are spicy and salty, absolutely amazing. Sure, you can use them just for making Chinese food, but there is a lot more available to you than that. My favorite: Throw a few in your salad. While fresh chilies are really really hot, once they've been cured by the salt for a few weeks, they are significantly less hot. And they get a really great crunch to them that makes them fantastic for salad, or eggs, or pizza, or really anything that you would put hot sauce on. If they are too salty for your taste (and if you are like me and want to just eat them straight, they might be), you can always rinse them off with water before serving. Plus, they are just pretty to have a jar of the stuff sitting in your kitchen. You're supposed to refrigerate it once you've opened the jar, but I just keep it on a shelf over my sink and it is as much decoration as it is condiment.

So now my beer is brewing, my bread is rising, my chilies are salting. What's left? Oh yeah, what are we going to eat for dinner? Chicken and Pasta Rags. I saw a recipe for something similar to this on the Essence of Emeril show a few months ago. The "Pasta Rags" concept sounded really great and right up my alley. Of course, I made the pasta from scratch and got another chance to break in my pasta maker. Tasty Trix had a post recently where she made homemade fettuccine, and that was a pretty good guide for where to start with the pasta making. I think I still need a bit of practice. My "rags" looked pretty ragged.

Before I made the pasta dough, I put a chicken confit in the oven. Now, I know in some circles I'm supposed to cook the thing for 10 hours. I didn't have 10 hours. I had about 2. So the thing cooked for 2 hours. It was still great. I put some garlic cloves in there too late in the game with the hopes that the oil would absorb some of the flavor and also that my garlic would be pretty mellow when I put it in the pasta dish. The whole process is fairing straight forward. I took some chicken, I added some salt, pepper, and fresh thyme and then put the chicken (I had chicken thighs, but you could use any cut) in a saute pan and covered the chicken with fat or oil. I used mostly bacon fat, but I had to also use some chicken fat that I scraped off of my frozen broth and a little bit of olive oil in order to fully cover the chicken. Then cook on low heat until you can't stand it anymore. I used some of the oil/fat as the oil in the pasta, adding scallions (for crunch), crushed red pepper (for color), and Parmesan cheese (for obvious reasons). Magnifique!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fish, Chips, and Other Fried Sources of Delight

Many great meals are the result of careful planning, but some others follow the spaghetti on the wall strategy: let's throw everything we've got at it and see what sticks. I find that some of my best work is of the second category. Not to say that I don't do careful planning. I do. But, here's the thing. I LOVE to cook. And not it's because I love following directions, wandering aimlessly through the grocery store, or slicing and burning my hands on a near daily basis. No, I love to cook because I love the freedom that it brings me. It is an escape with a fantastic reward at the end. It's also a way to express myself. My personality definitely comes through on the plate. Not to say that I think that I am like the food I make. I recently saw an episode of Chopped where one of the cooks kept saying that she is like a spicy fish or something like that. It made her sound insane.

I don't purport to be sane, but I do know that I'm not similar to fish and chips. That said, my personality definitely comes through in my cooking. It is bombastic, it is bold, and it revels in experimentation.

Last night was definitely a night of reckless experimentation. I caught a deal on wild-caught Cod and figured that I'd try my hand at some fish and chips. My mom came over for dinner, so I wanted to make something nice.

Let me tell you. It kicked ass. I've had fish and chips all over New York City. It is the go-to dish when my wife goes out to eat and doesn't know what to order. Mine was superior to anything we've had out. Now, granted, this was an exquisite piece of Cod. It was really nice. It was such a beautiful piece of fish before I even touched it that it made me want to rent a boat to find some fishermen and thank them. But, even still. My fish and chips is the bomb. I suspect I'll be asked to make it again at least 5 more times by the end of the year. Killer fish dishes aren't always easy to come by, so when you get one, you gotta hold onto it like, well, like you got a fish on the line.

Since I already had a vat of hot oil and a bowl of flour batter, I figured it was a good opportunity to experiment after dinner. I added a whole bunch of sugar and a little vanilla extract and tried to make a funnel cake with the beer batter. No, it did not taste like fish. What did happen was that I put too much batter in there at one time, and it cooled the oil too much and wouldn't turn golden brown until it turned almost black. I burned it.

Next I made a new batch of batter, added A LOT of baking powder to that mixture, and instead of putting strings of batter in the oil, I just plopped a ladle full of batter all at once. That was the key! The baking powder made it puff out while it cooked. The batter blob was big enough to not get burned on the inside, but small enough not to overcool the oil. I took my fry cake out of the oil, put it on a paper towel and sprinkled it with a good amount of powdered sugar. Awesome! Of course, by this time I had eaten fried cod, french fries, a burned funnel cake, and two delicious fry cakes. I ended the night with a tummy ache, but satisfied in the knowledge that I had mastered the baking powder/hot oil combo technique. Make sure you eat a salad with this meal. Or better yet. Make the fish and chips on one day, and the fry cake on a different day. Nobody should eat that much oil in one day.

I've made a few other things since I last wrote, and I'm trying to take some nice pictures, so there's a few of those around too. That salad picture really gets me excited about taking more pictures, although I have to admit that I just went to Whole Foods and bought salad greens and then very thoughtfully and carefully drizzled store bought salad dressing on it. Goes to show how nice something can look even if you didn't do shit to make it be so beautiful.

The noodle dish is sort of a Thai chili-basil chicken concoction based on a recipe in the January/February 2010 issue of Cooks Illustrated. It was delicious. I couldn't stop eating it. I ate it until it was gone, and then I paced around the apartment thinking about going to the store to get more chicken. My only gripe was the lack of color in my version. It looked dull for such a spicy, sweet mess. Also, I could have used more basil or at the least the right kind of basil, but that's for another day. My basil plant is growing tall and strong and I'm not going to kill it over one noodle dish.

Today I made my own Yogurt, which was shockingly easy. Be that as it may, I still managed to mess something up. I was keeping it warm in a warm oven when I turned the oven on to keep it warm and then got distracted with the rest of my life and forgot to turn it off. Plastic yogurt cup. Melted plastic yogurt cup. But hey! It still made yogurt, and I saved it before the Yogurt couldn't be salvaged. Next time, I'm going to use hot water. Then I strained the yogurt through some cheesecloth to make it more like Greek Yogurt. I actually overstrained it and add to go back and add a dab of milk before eating it. It is sort of weird to have dry yogurt, but its possible. Anyway, it was good and really easy to make. You can use just about any kind of milk too, so, you could use goat milk if you want or skim milk or lactose-free milk or whatever. I used organic whole milk. That's how I roll.

I'm still working on the header picture up at the top of the site. Let me know what you think. I suspect this new one looks more professional than the last one, but it might hurt your brain to look at for too long. Let's see how it goes. I like it because that is the pattern of my apron, although if you didn't read this post you'd never know that and you'd always wonder why I chose such an odd pattern as my header. Of course, if anyone wants to donate a header for the site, by all means, hook me up!

Classic Fish and Chips


2 lbs. cod
2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 bottle of beer (preferably dark beer)
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tsbp. pepper
1 quart peanut oil
4 white potatoes, skinned

In a medium-sized pot, warm the peanut oil on low heat. While the oil is warming, slice the potatoes, lengthwise, into half-inch thick slices. Next, turn the potato and slice it lengthwise again, to form french fries. By the time you've completed slicing the potatoes, the oil should be warm to hot. Now heat the oil on high heat until the oil is 300 degrees F. In small batches, approximately a full handful of potatoes per batch, cook the fries in oil for about 3 minutes. Batches that are too large will cool the oil and prolong the cooking process, if not ruin it entirely. Remove the fries with a slotted spoon and spread the fries on a baking sheet. Once all of the potatoes have been fried the first time, put the baking sheet in a warm oven about 200 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, 1 tsp of salt, 2 Tbsp. of black pepper, 1 Tbsp. of baking powder, and a bottle of beer. Mix the ingredients with a whisk until they form a thick batter. Slice the cod into approximately 2-3 inch thick pieces by cutting across the width of the fish. With tongs, coat the fish with the batter by dipping the fish into the mixing bowl. Be gentle with the fish while ensuring that the entirety of the fish is coated with batter. Next, carefully put the battered fish into the oil in batches of no more than 4 pieces of fish at a time. Cook for approximately 4-5 minutes, being sure to turn the fish over halfway through cooking and removing the fish from the oil only after the batter becomes golden brown. Cooking times will vary depending on the the size of the pot, the heat of the stove, the amount of oil used, and the size of the fish. When the fish is cooked, place the cooked fish on a plate covered with paper towel. The paper towel will soak up excess oil.

Next, return to the baking sheet and re-cook the fries in oil until they are golden brown. Small batches should not take more than 5 minutes. Remove the fries to another paper towel covered plate, coat with the remaining salt, and serve.

Serve the fish with malt vinegar and/or tartar sauce. Serve the chips with ketchup and/or mayonnaise. Serves 4.