Thursday, November 18, 2010

the gratin variations: corny pueblo style

This starts from the same place as the ramps/morels recipe from the other day, with potatoes and bechamel as the basic vehicle for actual flavors. But it takes a right turn at Albuquerque and gets fallish instead of springy.

Makes 16 healthy servings
3-4 poblano peppers
3-4 cobs worth of corn (2c or so)
1 onion, diced
1 minced shallot
plenty of minced garlic
4lbs potatoes
milk or light stock
1c shredded cheddar/jack/whatever

Heat oven to 375. Roast, seed, and peel the poblanos and dice to about 1/2". Melt some butter in a heavy pan and start to slowly saute the onions over low-medium heat. When they're really soft and starting to carmelize add the shallot and garlic. When things get fragrant, turn up the heat and add the corn and cook for a while. If the corn gets burnt in places, that's great. Season and toss everything in a big bowl with the potatoes, which you have meanwhile peeled, quartered and sliced about 1/4" thick, then put the mixture into a baking dish or two. (You may need more salt than you'd think, as all the starch in this will really soak it up.)

Make a bechamel with 3T butter, 4.5T flour, and 3c milk or light stock. Off heat, whisk in 1/4-1/3c shredded cheese (much more and the sauce may break in the oven) and season to taste, then pour over the potato mixture. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake uncovered 45 minutes. Eat it in tacos with chorizo.

Monday, September 27, 2010

autumntide pork chops with apple cider-sage-jalapeño glaze

Summer has passed in a haze of bottles and bodily fluids, but I'm finally awake enough to cook something again. It's fall. Hay manzanas.

1.5 cups or so of fresh apple cider. 1/3 c dry sherry. 1/4 c apple cider vinegar. 1/4 c olive oil. Several garlic cloves, a whole fresh jalapeño, a goodly amount of sage (I had bags and bags of it dried, left over from some apothecary applications, and used probably 1T, though it was very course and fluffy), and a brineworthy amount of salt (1.5T, I'd say). All of these into the processor, then pour it over a couple of pork chops and let sit for at least an hour. If these are "enhanced" pork chops from the supermarket, leave out or dramatically reduce the salt.

After an hour or more in the juice, take the chops out--reserving the marinade--pan fry and then finish in a hot oven. Meanwhile, strain the marinade and bring to a boil to reduce. Skim what rises (which will mostly be the olive oil), and gradually lower the heat as it reduces and thickens to a glaze. If you like, add more more sherry as this is taking place. Apply the glaze to the chops and the plate before eating. There you are.

This same thing works with pretty much any combination of juice, acid (if the juice itself isn't too acidic), and sugar (depending on how sweet the juice is), varying the other flavors as appropriate. The other day for more of a mojo thing, I did it with orange juice, white vinegar, even more garlic, oregano, and some sugar, and that worked great too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

potatoes gratin with ramps and morels

The wild forests of Chicago are lousy with morels and ramps for a few days around now. As any woodsman knows, these life forms are about as seasonal as you can get and will probably be gone from the region by the next produce box. Here is a simple vehicle to move them (or pretty much anything small and fragrant) quickly and efficiently from forest floor to belly.

Invoke a 375 degree oven. Peel and thin slice 4-6 potatoes (these were russets). Toss the potatoes with a little oil, s&p, and any extra ingredients like shallots, garlic, herbs, mushrooms. This here had 4-5 whole ramps cleaned and chopped (green parts and all), and not quite an ounce of chopped fresh morels, which had dried out in my cabinet, reconstituted for a few hours in salted water. I was afraid this wouldn't be near enough morels to taste anything, but when the woodland nymphs wear these caps to sleep in the oak hollows they endow them with great fragrance and meaty fungal flavor, so it was plenty.

Make a textbook bechamel/veloute, like the recipe in Julia's Mastering the Art Vol. 1, which is 2T butter, 3T flour, and 2c heated-just-to-boiling milk, plus seasoning. No need to precook the potatoes, as the bechamel holds a lot of heat and will start the potatoes cooking right away. I was thinking you could also stir in a nice stinky blue cheese to the sauce at this point if you wanted to go that direction, but that would overwhelm the flavors at hand today.

Put potatoes in a greased gratin dish, pour the heated bechamel over to just cover, and grate a dry cheese over the top. I used some kind of parmesan from the back of the drawer. Bake 45 mins. and then start checking doneness, as it should be about ready at that point.

Friday, April 2, 2010

roasted fennel & tomato salsa

Smokey, sweet, and spicy. The roasting mellows out the fennel's fennelness and sweetens it up.

Fire up a grill with two levels of heat. Cut a fennel bulb crosswise into 1/2" sections. Put some s&p in some olive oil and use it to lightly coat the fennel, 8-10 ripe tomatoes, and half a bulb or so of garlic with the pointy end cut off. Start them all on the hot side of the grill and then move them to the cooler side once they get some nice burnt bits. Put 4 dried cayenne peppers over the heat and keep them moving around till they're mostly blackened, then to the cool side with them as well. Cover the grill and let it get smokey. When the fennel is starting to get sorta clear and sweaty, and the tomatoes have all split their skins, remove them and the garlic to a bowl to get to handling temperature. Set the peppers aside too.

Peel the skins off the tomatoes and garlic, then finely chop them and the fennel and put them all together in a bowl. Finely chop an onion and add it, too. Grind the cayenne as fine as possible and add it to the mix. Season with salt and and the juice of a lime or two. If possible before serving, let this all sit for a few hours and think about what it has done.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

disposing of a coney in the springtime

Bari had a little sign in the butcher case for rabbit for incredibly cheap the other day, like less than the price of anything except whole chickens, so I picked up a two pounder and figured I'd see what it was all about. Back home I was rewarded to learn from Larousse that you can also call a rabbit a "coney," a word I had thought JRR Tolkien had made up solely for homesick hobbits to pine after. Perhaps also a clue to Coney Island's pre-amusement park fauna.

First, butchering. This was my first brush with a raw bunny. It has your basic mammalian body plan, but with a fairly long back and two disproportionately large loins, almost an inch in diameter, running down it. I guess they get a lot of their running power from big dolphin-like backbone-flexing moves rather than just their legs. There was no visible fat, either in layers or distributed through the muscle. You end up with six or seven pieces: two forelegs with some fairly meatless breast/ribs, two hind legs (each roughly the same size as a small chicken's hindquarters) and then two or three saddle pieces, which are sections cut across the loins and backbone. I got two 2.5-in square saddle pieces, from the section of back behind most of the ribs (which end soon after the legs) to the start of the hindquarters. These also had thin flappy flank pieces attached to them, which I left on because they had a good bit of muscle in them and if nothing else would contribute flavor. For future reference, the flaps seemed like they would be good to wrap around something fatty and tie and roast.

Figuring braising is a good way to start if you have no idea what something tastes like, I followed Bourdain's suggestion and soaked the pieces overnight in white wine with mirepoix, garlic, peppercorns and fresh parsley/rosemary/thyme (which, by the way, is what I want to be marinated in for my cremation). Next, drained and reserved everything, dredged and browned the pieces, browned the vegetables with some tomato paste, added the pieces back in along with the reserved wine, then covered and stuck in a low oven for three or four hours. The neck/backbone and other bony pieces also went in for the braise.

All of this went back on the stovetop on a high flame to start reducing while the pieces came out to cool for handling. I removed the meat from the bones (most of them, though a lot of small flat ones got past me), shredded it with forks and kept it aside while the liquid continued to reduce and thicken. The grain of the meat, especially the loins, is much finer than chicken or pork; in places the shredded texture was more along the lines of small fish, like anchovies or sardines.

When the liquid was a sauce and seemed about right, some chopped olives and capers went in along with a few tablespoons of fresh herbs and the shredded meat, then this all went over a coarse buckwheat fettuccine and down my gullet as quickly as I could get it there. Distributed thus over the pasta, this could have easily fed six, but serving individual pieces, four would be pushing it. The only thing I might change with this is to maybe use red wine at the start, the same one I drank with it at the end.

The flavor of the meat was fairly mild, but seemed like it could stand up to some bigger herby flavors like sorrel or ramps. It suggested other earthy, slightly bitter flavors like brown mustard or molasses. Next time I might roast it to see what a little char will do.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

rooty salad

Made a pretty colorful salad last night. It's the time of beets in the produce box, so I roasted a few, boiled some potatoes, shredded some leftover chicken, chopped up some dates, and tossed it all with spinach, chevre, and a warm duckfat/sherry vinegar dressing. That was dinner.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

ain't made shit for nohow

Jesus shit, man. I haven't made shit since 2009. I'm making a turkey sandwich now, at 11 p.m. on a Saturday, with mustard and (possibly rancid) sauerkraut, after two rather powerful bourbon-and-ginger-ales.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

olive and roasted red pepper pasta sauce

Way back in the fridge from having people over a couple weeks ago, we had some spicy olive tapenade (mix of mostly nicoise and kalamata olives, capers, garlic, ground red pepper, lemon juice, lots of black pepper) and roasted red pepper coulis. Not technically a coulis, I don't think, but that's what I've always called this stuff: roasted/peeled red peppers, garlic, green onions, parsley, sherry vinegar, s&p all blended together and then olive oil slowly drizzled into the blender to make a thick vinaigrette that somehow stays emulsified for days and weeks--good for pumping up (and, in a squirt bottle, making colorful designs on top of) dull winter veggie soups.

So: throw 1/4c pine nuts, very coarsely chopped, into a dry saucepan to toast for a while. Then chop/mash a couple of anchovy filets (mine were packed in olive oil and I didn't rinse them), and mix them in with the nuts and briefly cook till umamtastic. Next, 1/3-1/2c of tapenade, and a cup or so of non-oaky dry white wine (I used a cheap Soave). Reduce by about half, then add maybe 1/4c of the coulis, simmer for a couple minutes, finish (off heat) with 1T or so of butter, and toss with pasta right out of the pot. Seasonings should be fine, but check just in case. This went great with fresh herb fettuccine from our local pasta whore by way of The Ladies.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

split pea and pancetta soup

Pancetta's fermented porkbelly power means you need a lot less of it than normal weak ham, and can also get to the eating more quickly than pigfoot-based pea soups. Also, get some garlic and heat in there. 

1-2 small onions, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 carrots, diced
1-2 ribs celery, diced
red pepper flakes
0.5 lb pancetta, 1/2" dice
8 oz dried split peas
~6 c stock/water (I used roughly equal parts, with a pretty strong chix stock)
bay leaves

Sweat the vegetables in a little oil, then add red pepper flakes to taste and cook for a couple minutes more. Turn up the heat, add the diced pancetta, and keep everything stirring for a while. When the fat in the pancetta starts to liquefy, add the peas, stock/water (I just guessed at the amount--should be enough to cover by 1.5 in. at least), and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer partially covered for 1.5 hrs or so, until the peas lose their individuality and resolve into a generalized green medium. Then, and only then, check and, if necessary, adjust seasonings. The pancetta brings a lot of salt to the picture, so if you season too early you can really mess things up. Serve with toasted crusty bread in a bar in Amsterdam.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

corn and goat cheese enchiladas with reddish brown "mole"

This is adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and know I should have gotten suspicious when I saw that it took less than a day to make. Now, I've never been a big mole person myself, but I have friends who've gone far down that path, and it's rare that a good one takes under a good farm workday over slow heat to really come into itself. This recipe gave that part of the cooking like 20 minutes or so, in no way enough to get the flavors all grooving together. It also involves no seeds or nuts or whole chiles. But then again, I don't really like mole enough to care how pure it is, and it's a weeknight, and I had some extra red chile sauce on hand from a trip to ABQ, so everything's fine. There's lots of cheese, there's piñons and corn and onions and garlic and cilantro, how bad can you fuck that up?

1.5t each: coriander, anise, cumin, Mexican oregano, all toasted and ground
1 onion, fine dice
2-3 cloves garlic
1 oz. Mexican chocolate
cinnamon to taste
1/2c red chile sauce, plus more to taste
sherry or red-wine vinegar

Cook onion till it's getting clear, then add garlic and spices and cook till fragrant. Remove from heat, add chile and some water, and bring to a boil. Cook it down slowly, then when it's getting pretty thick add the chocolate in chopped up pieces, stirring to incorporate, and then a little vinegar. Keep cooking, very low, then when everything is soft as can be, puree it all in a blender and then put it back on the heat. Depending on preference (and remembering that this is going over enchiladas) thin with water or thicken with time, and adjust seasoning. If possible, put it away for a few days to allow the magic of compound interest do its work.

1/4c raisins, soaked in brandy and/or warm water
1/3c pine nuts, coarse chopped and lightly toasted
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1.5c corn off the cob
1.5c shredded pale mild cheese (I used a tasty morel mushroom jack)
2 c soft goat cheese/chevre/chopped and screwed feta
12 corn tortillas
oil for to fry in
sour cream
chile powder

Once the raisins are tumid, drain and then briefly go over them with a knife and add them to the piñons in a bowl big enough for everything else. Saute the onion, then throw in the garlic, then the corn. Cook for a bit over reasonably high heat, to get some brown on the corn if possible. Season as you see fit with salt, pepper, chile powder, whatever else. Add to the bowl, along with the goat cheese, a cup of the shredded cheese, and good amount of chopped cilantro. Check seasonings.

Preheat oven to 375, and start heating a good amount (at least 1/4") of oil in a pan than can handle it. One by one, dip the tortillas in the oil for a few seconds, just long enough to saturate and soften, and remove to drain the oil. (Lower fat method: use a pan of warm red chile sauce diluted with water for to dipping. Since red chile is precious to me, and I'm a fat fuck, I went for the more traditional oil method.)

Put filling into tortillas one by one, rolling and setting seam side down in a casserole (a dozen fits a 9x13 perfectly). Pour/spoon mole over the top, then the remaining shredded cheese. Bake uncovered 25-30 mins. Plate, fork, sour cream.

Monday, January 4, 2010

quick and dirty chicken soup

We are sick people. It probably originated with a Georgia 3-year old before Christmas, but it started getting bad on the far too relative-filled trip to Vegas. It was all we could do to stumble across the street for either wildly overpriced or absurdly cheap food-court meals, depending on which end of the specials we ended up; any kind of real gambling at a table with other humans would have been a deeply antisocial move. Weaving down the Strip with a comically oversized frozen drink? Unfortunately, this was impossible. For my part, it could be the H1N1 or the seasonal or some vicious hybrid, but E was supposed to be inoculated against all of this. All I know is that for a few bedridden phlegmy days, it looked like the microbes might take this one. Whatever the essence of Las Vegas is, we either slept through it or were too sober to notice.

In any case, when we straggled home on New Years Eve there was only one clear path, and thankfully The Ladies were still open to supply most of what we lacked.

1 small onion
2 carrots
2 ribs celery
a lot of garlic
2 chicken breasts
1 qt dark chicken stock
white wine
red pepper flakes

1. Peel and cut onions, carrots, and celery into roughly uniform soupy-sized pieces, and start sweating them in olive oil. Coarsely chop a bunch of garlic and throw that in, too, and shake some pepper flakes in as well. Sneeze repeatedly.
2. Dice the chicken and brown it with s&p in some oil elsewhere (assuming it's raw--otherwise the juices will all run out and cloud up the soup as they cook). When it's browned enough, deglaze with white wine, scrape the goodness, and pour this all in with the vegetables. Add the stock, which thank god you had plenty of in the freezer.
3. Cook this until the chicken is tender but veggies still have some bite. Add a bunch of chopped parsley and adjust seasonings.
4. Squeeze lots of lime in it as you eat. Keep some cock sauce at hand just in case the pepper flakes don't get the juices running.
5. Feel the healing power as viruses and bacteria flee in terror.

Friday, January 1, 2010

moi je suis le paysan

Not a bad start to the year. This morning we had baked beans on toast; tonight we had French lentil soup along with a loaf of bread I made last night. We were pretty ragged from travel, having just come back from ABQ the day before, and with nothing terribly thrilling on offer for New Year's Eve, we decided to stay in. I started a loaf of that no-knead bread of yore (18 hours in the laundry room), made sweet potatoes, kale and barbecue seitan for dinner, and got drunk off blood-orange-and-prosecco cocktails -- which were bitter, like my 2009. Today I baked the loaf, went on a bike ride, started a company and got halfway to patching a hole in our bedroom wall. And then, tonight, French lentil soup.

Easiest thing you ever did on a stove: 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 garlic clove, 1 bay leaf, 1 cup of lentils and some thyme, plus 6 cups of stock or water and some salt & pepper; veggies are your classic country-boy chop. Everything but the onion and garlic go into a pot, bring to a boil, let it simmer for 30 minutes. Meantime fry up the onions and garlic til soft; once the lentils are done, add onion mix to the pot. Et voilà!

Part of my parents' Christmas gift to us was a stock-up trip to Trader Joe's. The bulk of our haul was cheap booze, but also onions and boxes of stock and a slab of prosciutto for me. For my soup, I added a little parsley chop and a half slice of prosciutto all torn up. Serve with five-dollar TJ pinot noir, and life is beautiful. No, it's nothing fancy, but tomorrow you'll wake up in time to feed the truffle-hunting swine, clean your Chapuis rifle and recherches tes temps perdu.

rillettes, end of it all

Miraculously, the rillettes are fine, all 2 porky quarts or so of them. Some kind of cross-membrane sodium exchange must have happened as they sat quietly beneath their lard blankets for a week, because they ended up meaty, mellow, and delicious. Slightly salty by themselves, but spread on bread or a cracker they're fine. Since we had to cancel the party they were meant for out of lingering fluey nast, we will also get to see how they evolve over time.