Friday, February 25, 2011

Bittman's Beer Glazed Black Beans with Chiles

Beer Glazed Black Beans with Chile
As much as I always make pains when linking to Mark Bittman's recipes to say things like "I'm not much of a minimalist, but..." I have to admit the guy has some really fantastic recipes. However, despite how good they are, in the past I've seldom had much interest in making them, since he focuses so much on simplicity... whereas I like cooking "projects"... things that take at least an afternoon (preferably days) to come together and likely need trips to specialty shops or ethnic markets to assemble all the ingredients.

Since this past weekend in Maine, however, I've come to realize that much more than a three day cassoulet, the thing I need to work on in cooking the most is: bringing a main dish and a couple of complimentary sides to the dinner table on time and hot. I need to improve my multitasking and planning, and I need to start thinking about the whole plate, instead of just focusing on what's going to be sitting in the center. Too often I find myself just making rice...  or egg noodles...  or a simple green salad...  or, hell, absolutely nothing...  to go with whatever I spent all day making. Room for improvement there, certainly.

So to that end, I've decided I'm going to start making more Bittman sides to ease myself into multi-tasking cooking... trying to take advantage of the simplicity and flexibility of his recipes. This one is a variation of his Beer-Glazed Black Beans from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

You could obviously use fresh chiles, but since I have a bit of a dried pepper obsession, that is my preference. I like chipotle or ancho as the powder, and thai, cayenne, or pequin as the re-hydrated addition.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup beer
  • 3 cups cooked/canned black beans, drained but moist
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder, preferably one made with a single type of chile
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1-2 dried chiles, soaked in boiling water, seeds removed, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Put the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Once the oil is shimmering add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft - 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a 1 minute. Add beer, beans, chili powder, honey, sliced re-hydrated chiles, and salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Bring to a steady simmer and cook until the liquid is slightly reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Food Blogging Tips from David Lebovitz

Some really good stuff here. As a blogging hobbyist who occasionally wishes he had more traffic (but who also fears the headaches that would come with it) I found his advice to be quite good. Probably one of the biggest things I need to work on is letting big posts simmer as drafts longer, so that I have time to go back and edit them. I don't know how many times I've looked at an old post and cringed at how stilted the prose was... something that could have been avoided by taking time to edit, instead of just banging it out and hitting "publish". I already do a lot of advanced publishing (writing a post and having it show up hours and/or days later), but I don't often look at posts once I hit "publish"...  I need to work on this.

The suggestion of having more photos than just the finished product seems good as well...  I used to do that more, but frankly it's fairly challenging to get solid, illustrative process shots in the middle of cooking. I recently got a new tripod that I might set up around the stove when cooking to make that a little easier.

The one thing I don't agree with is the idea of "niches"... maybe if you are trying to make money, I guess...  but otherwise I don't see how you can stay motivated to do all the work involved if what you're doing is too contrived. However, it may be that he just means that you need to find what it is about food/cooking that you enjoy writing about... harder than it sounds... and simply accentuate what sets you apart from the crowd. Hard to argue with that, but if you try too hard to find "the next big thing" or a sparsely blogged topic I think you run a real risk of writing about things you aren't that passionate about... and how long can anybody keep that up unless there is a paycheck involved?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roasted Mushroom Torta With Goat Cheese And Refried Black Beans

Roasted Mushroom Torta With Goat Cheese And Refried Black Beans: Cut
I had never even heard of a "torta"... essentially a Mexican sandwich... before a year or two ago: it's more street food that anything else, so you're unlikely to see it in a sit-down Mexican restaurant and our Mexican fast food up here in New England is totally burrito dominated. In fact, I suspect if I put a hallowed out roll  filled with carne asada and guacamole in front of some people they'd assume I was "Americanizing" traditional Mexican cuisine.... as if they don't have bread in Mexico. Not everything "authentic" has to be wrapped in a tortilla guys.

Regardless of any tiresome authenticity debates... tortas are awesome.  This particular vegetarian recipe is from Rick Bayless, and was featured on Serious Eats a week or so ago... which is where you can find the recipe itself. The highlight of the dish for me was definitely the mushrooms...  the technique of roasting them with citrus being something I'd like to experiment with separately: they were absolutely fantastic. On the slight negative side, I thought our goat cheese was a little strong and overpowered some of the other flavors with a full ounce (Anna did not agree with this). As in all things, just use your judgement.

We didn't get nice bread here, settling for simple supermarket whole wheat hoagie rolls...  and they worked fine... however, you might be better off with bread with a harder crust. It will hold up better during the scooping out of the bread guts phase.

Roasted Mushroom Torta With Goat Cheese And Refried Black Beans: Close Up
One highlight of the methodology is that it works just as well with cold ingredients pulled from the fridge as it does if you are doing it all in one go to get food on the table ASAP.... so leftovers are great. Since you heat up the bottom half of the torta with the the mushrooms and refried beans for five minutes in the oven (plus another 2 minutes with the top, goat cheese, arugula, and salsa) the sandwich is delightfully toasty and warm regardless.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vegan Chorizo

Homemade Vegan Chorizo
This "chorizo" recipe will fool absolutely nobody into thinking it's actual chorizo... but that's not really the point is it? This is a way for a vegan or vegetarian to add some fun flavors and textures to their food without relying on heavily processed store bought alternatives that are full of chemicals. This quick and easy recipe is from the excellent Vegan Brunch.

  • 1/2 cup cooked pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated or finely minced
  • 1 and 1/4 cups vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dry rubbed sage (not powdered)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

  1. Set up your steamer apparatus, bring water to a full boil, and ready four sheets of tin foil.
  2. In a large bowl mash the beans until no whole ones are left. Add all other ingredients in the order listed and mix with a fork.
  3. Split the dough into quarters and place on individual foil sheets. Mold each piece of dough into a 5 inch long log and wrap it up in the foil like a tootsie roll. You don't have to worry too much about shaping it since the steaming process will do most of the work.
  4. Steam the wrapped sausages for 40 minutes and they are ready for use... or they can be refrigerated for later in their foil wrapping.

More on GMOs

Forbes makes the legal case against labeling:
Courts have evaluated government’s authority to impose labeling on products under the jurisprudence of commercial speech. A key part of this jurisprudence is to determine what is the state’s interest in restricting or requiring certain speech. In the 1996 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruling IDFA v. Amestoy, the court held that a Vermont law requiring milk producers to affix a label if the milk came from herds given bovine growth hormone (rBST) violated the First Amendment. The court explained that Vermont’s stated interests in adopting the law – strong consumer interest and the public’s right to know – were not substantial enough to justify “the functional equivalent of a warning about a production method that has no discernible impact on a final product.” Had Vermont advanced a public health or safety purpose for the labeling law, the court would likely have held it to be substantial. But the state could make no such case, as FDA had definitively concluded that rBST “has no appreciable effect on the consumption of milk.”

The situation in Amestoy parallels the GE food labeling matter. If FDA or the Agriculture Department had determined that genetically enhanced foods were different, then such a finding would provide the substantial interest government needs to compel a “warning.” But that is not the case, and the fact that people may be “leery” of GE foods would be, under the reasoning of Amestoy, an insufficient justification for mandatory GE labels. If the government imposed a label to support some inchoate “consumer interest,” there would, as the Amestoy court put it, be “no end to the information that states could require manufacturers to disclose about their product methods.”
And Samuel Fromartz counters McWilliams on the risks of GM drift with lots of links to instances of past GM contamination, but I want to highlight the issues he brings up for organic farmers:
Then there's the organic sector, where buyers are already refusing crop shipments due to GM contamination, certifiers have told me. McWilliams stated this shouldn't be a problem. "The organic industry already allows less than 5 percent of its crops to be contaminated with synthetic pesticide drift," he wrote. This is just flat out wrong.

According to the USDA organic regulations, a product can't be labeled organic if it is found to have a prohibited substance (such as synthetic pesticides) at greater than 5 percent of its EPA tolerance level. What does that mean? Say the EPA allows a pesticide residue at up to 100 parts per million (ppm). If testing detects more than 5 ppm of that pesticide on an organic crop, it can't be sold as organic. That does not mean 5 percent of your organic crop can be contaminated with synthetic pesticides. And if synthetic pesticides are found, even from drift, the farmer has to find ways to mitigate the problem or risk losing certification.

In any case, that point is irrelevant, because genetic engineering is not a "prohibited substance" under organic regulations, where such thresholds apply. It's a "prohibited method." There is no stated threshold for its presence, so it's really not up to the organic farmer to just accept it. If organic seeds test positive for genetic modification, they can't be planted by organic farmers to feed their organic cows. That's just the law.
I'm not a lawyer, but I find the Forbes argument fairly convincing... unless opponents can prove (with well controlled and executed scientific studies) that GMO's present some kind of danger to consumers I don't know that it's the government's place to warn against it.  That people find them "icky" doesn't seem to be enough. Perhaps a food policy reformer lawyer will come forward with a counterargument, but I'm willing to accept this as valid reasoning until informed otherwise.

The second part I find both encouraging and troubling... encouraged since it seems the organic certification protects you completely from GMOs, but troubled that this means any GM drift is a real threat to that business model. I claim no expertise on this issue, so I'd be very interested to see a rebuttal from the pro GMO camp as to how organic farmers can protect their crops.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shepherd's Pie: Rockport Maine

View Larger Map
As I mentioned on Friday, we made plans to hit Shepherd's Pie in Rockport Maine for dinner after noticing that it was a semi-finalist for a "Best New Restaurant" Beard award and was only slightly out of our way on the road from Boston to Bucksport. It's so new that it's not on Google Maps and doesn't have a webpage yet, but not so new that it hasn't been written up...  with reviews out there from The Globe and Maine Magazine. Those are going to be your best bet for information from actual qualified restaurant reviewers, but I will share my non-expert thoughts nonetheless... because what else is the internet for if not that?

The current menu is located here, and seems to change seasonally, so it's possible that when you read this the dishes I mention won't be available. Your loss, since they were all excellent. Vegetarians will notice that the menu does not appear particularly veggie friendly, with no main courses without meat, however they do offer vegetarians the option of a plate of 5 sides for $20... and the sides are all really good. Some of them are made with chicken stock (like the grits) or animal fat so make sure you ask. The restaurant itself is quite cute with a lovely tin ceiling, dark wood all around, and an open kitchen. We arrived at 5 o'clock on a Friday and the place was unsurprisingly empty that early, but by the time we left around 6:30 there was a two table deep wait... and this was in February, not July (admittedly a day or two after they were probably all over the local news for being semi-finalists for a Beard award). Regardless, I would advise arriving early, as I suspect it's going to be The Hot Thing in the area for a while.

I had the fried clam tacos with avocado, cabbage, green tomato and a side of potatoes confit with crème fraiche, while Anna got the aforementioned plate of side dishes, selecting: refried chickpeas in lemon, parsley, garlic... heirloom cauliflower with tomato, olives, sheep's milk feta... shoe string onions... fried brussel sprouts in a chili vinaigrette and a bibb lettuce salad with fennel, shallot dressing. Everything was excellent, though the shoe string onions, while quite well prepared, suffered from comparison to the other... more interesting... side dishes. Note that the side plate is quite a bit of food...  if you're not famished you might want to stick to 3 or so sides to make out your meal. I particularly liked the potatoes confit (not vegetarian), though they made me feel silly for having a fridge full of duck fat and never making them myself.

They had a number of interesting beers available, a good wine list, and several specialty cocktails. The overall impression I got was one of a neighborhood bar made a bit fancy...  not fancy in an pretentious way, but  more in how they've taken a pub's comfort food and elevated it into snazzy bistro fare.

Worth a trip if you are ever "Down East". 

Friday, February 18, 2011

New England 2011 James Beard Award Semifinalists

You can find the full list here, but I'm just going to highlight the ones in places I could conceivably visit... though truth be told, I'm unlikely to visit anything in Connecticut or Rhode Island, but technically they are in states in New England so I guess I should show some flinty New Englander solidarity. I skipped the non-food categories like service or wine:

Best New Restaurant
  • Community Table, Washington, CT
  • Cook & Brown Public House, Providence
  • Menton, Boston
  • Shepherd’s Pie, Rockport, ME
Outstanding Chef
  • Sam Hayward, Fore Street, Portland, ME
  • Melissa Kelly, Primo, Rockland, ME
Outstanding Pastry Chef
  • Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery + Café, Boston
  • Maura Kilpatrick, Oleana, Cambridge, MA
  • Cheryl Maffei and Jonathan Stevens, Hungry Ghost Bread, Northampton, MA
Outstanding Restaurant
  • Fore Street, Portland, ME
Rising Star Chef of the Year
  • Will Gilson, Garden at the Cellar, Cambridge, MA
  • Bjorn Somlo, Nudel, Lenox, MA
Best Chef: Northeast
  • Tim Cushman, o ya, Boston
  • Krista Kern Desjarlais, Bresca, Portland, ME
  • Brian Hill, Francine, Camden, ME
  • Matt Jennings, La Laiterie, Providence
  • Megan Chase, Penelle Chase, Phoebe Chase, and Ted LaFage, Chase’s Daily, Belfast, ME
  • Evan Mallett, Black Trumpet Bistro, Portsmouth, NH
  • Tony Maws, Craigie On Main, Cambridge, MA
  • Peter Platt, The Old Inn On the Green, New Marlborough, MA
  • Demos Regas, Emilitsa, Portland, ME
  • Bjorn Somlo, Nudel, Lenox, MA
  • Champe Speidel, Persimmon, Bristol, RI
  • Bill Taibe, LeFarm, Westport, CT
  • Nathaniel Wade, ¡Duino! (Duende), Burlington, VT
  • Eric Warnstedt, Hen of the Wood, Waterbury, VT
Obviously Best Chef: Northeast is a little New England dominated since their definition of "Northeast" is New England +  New York State - New York City, but it's a handy list of "best restaurants" in the area. I must say it's very nice to see one of the best vegetarian restaurants I've ever been to make the list, but it's hard enough to get a table at the place as it is...  FSM knows how it would be if they won. But they deserve the props.

We're going up to Maine this afternoon for the long weekend for some relaxing, cooking, and maybe some snow shoeing (if it hasn't been too warm lately)... so maybe I'll see if Anna wants to make a detour to Rockland on the way up and hit Shepard's Pie. It'd be better than takeout Thai methinks, and we should hit it before any Friday rush.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Should G.M.O crops be labeled as such?

Bittman makes the case. Much to Anna's chagrin, I tend to think that G.M.O.'s (genetically modified organisms) are likely to be a more serious answer to the environmental degradation caused by food production than the idea of completely abandoning economies of scale and relying solely on locally sourced food. It's a source of contention in our otherwise harmonious view on food policy. Obviously there are many people like her, who would never ever dream of buying a G.M.O... this is one of the reasons they shop organic after all... and stores like Whole Foods have ably moved in to serve this market niche. So it's hard for me to believe they will threaten their position here by trying to pass off a G.M.O. salmon as anything other than what it is. It just wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. If, on the other hand, you're worried about G.M.O. alfalfa cross-contamination you need to have a rebuttal to James McWilliams, since he brings data suggesting the risk is very, very low. Regardless, the designation "organic" comes with the promise that no more than 5% is G.M.O., so as long as you stick to that you shouldn't have any trouble avoiding it.

All that said, Americans clearly want G.M.O.'s to be labeled, and I don't really see a compelling reason not to do it. It's a perverse sense of paternalism that protects corporations from the image problems of their products. It may be that all the concerns raised by opponents are invalid, but it seems to me that the purpose of labeling is to let people make that choice on their own.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seafood Watch App

Unfortunately for me, this App is only for the iPhone and not Android, but apparently it uses your GPS to load the appropriate guide for your area and then sorts options on Best/Good/Avoid. For those of us without iPhones its either or simply printing out the pocket guide for your region before shopping/eating.

Mustard Tart

Mustard Tart 2
This was the key element to our Hallmark Holiday dinner; celebrating card and flower sellers everywhere! Actually, to be honest, I'm not really that anti-Valentine's Day... in many ways it seems manufactured, but whatever... it's just another day to do something nice for someone you care about.

Regardless, this is yet another recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, which I've been blogging a fair bit lately. This is probably the recipe from that cookbook I've seen around the intertubes most, so I won't get too in-depth here... especially since I was Anna's sous chef, not the prime mover and shaker (as is often the case with dishes that require pie crust).

The best recipe online, complete with Greenspan's tips, is at the New York Times. One observation from Emily Weinstein that we shared:
The mustard flavor was not as sharp as I anticipated it might be — I used only smooth Dijon, not grainy, which could account for it, but mostly likely my mustard was not at peak freshness.
We bought new mustard (smooth and grainy) specifically for the recipe, so I don't think it was freshness (though I guess who knows how long mustard sits on store shelves). If you are feeling adventurous and looking for more assertive mustard flavor I would up the mustard by 1/2 to 1 tablespoon per mustard (i.e. 5-6 tablespoons total).

Not as awesome as a true deep dish quiche in my opinion, but less fussy and still really good.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Good News For Vegetarians

The truth is that for the last year or so, Chang has become obsessed with vegetables.
Yes, that David Chang. From a very interesting article about Chang's recent trip to a Buddhist monastery in Korea.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Baking stone on the top rack?

Still Burned the Bottom
The Pizza Lab looks at Cook's Illustrated's recent suggestion to use the top rack for baking your pizza:
In his recipe for thin crust pizza from Cook's Illustrated, Andrew Janjigian takes the novel approach of placing the stone on the top rack of the oven. This is totally contradictory to what most pizza authorities recommend: putting the stone on the bottom rack (or even the floor of the oven) in order to maximize the amount of heat it absorbs.

For NY-style pizzas, I've recommended using the middle rack, but I may well switch over to the top now that I've tried Andrew's method with success. This week I decided to explore a bit of the thermodynamics of pizza stone placement.
You should click through for the detailed analysis and fancy diagrams... but the punchline is that, yes, the top rack is the best position for your pizza stone when making a New York style pizza.

As someone who has a long history of burning the bottoms of his bread (see above)... and yet has doggedly stuck to what pizza and bread authorities recommend... I would go further than that and suggest that the upper third of the oven is likely optimal for all pizza stone based baking.  I don't have any SCIENCE! to support this conclusion, but hopefully I'll at least start producing some nice loaves for the anecdotal kind of evidence.

Annals of Internet Atrocities

It really is awful. As a PSA to anyone who peruses sites in "the Gawker Media Empire", here is how you can make your browsing experience less suck:
I still think their design team should probably be arrested.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


B.R. Myers makes a pretty strong case in the Atlantic that today's foodies are just your typical glutton/gourmand re-branded for the 21st century. The entire article is well worth reading, but his best argument is that much of the attraction to free-range grass-fed meat may simply be how expensive it is:
It has always been crucial to the gourmet’s pleasure that he eat in ways the mainstream cannot afford. For hundreds of years this meant consuming enormous quantities of meat. That of animals that had been whipped to death was more highly valued for centuries, in the belief that pain and trauma enhanced taste. “A true gastronome,” according to a British dining manual of the time, “is as insensible to suffering as is a conqueror.” But for the past several decades, factory farms have made meat ever cheaper and—as the excellent book The CAFO [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations] Reader makes clear—the pain and trauma are thrown in for free. The contemporary gourmet reacts by voicing an ever-stronger preference for free-range meats from small local farms. He even claims to believe that well-treated animals taste better, though his heart isn’t really in it. Steingarten tells of watching four people hold down a struggling, groaning pig for a full 20 minutes as it bled to death for his dinner. He calls the animal “a filthy beast deserving its fate.”

And further, in reference to Alice Watters:
“Her streamlined philosophy,” Severson tells us, is “that the most political act we can commit is to eat delicious food that is produced in a way that is sustainable, that doesn’t exploit workers and is eaten slowly and with reverence.” A vegetarian diet, in other words? Please. The reference is to Chez Panisse’s standard fare—Severson cites “grilled rack and loin of Magruder Ranch veal” as a typical offering—which is environmentally sustainable only because so few people can afford it.
Emphasis mine. There is definitely something to this, and it presents a very real contradiction to people like me who largely subscribe to the Pollan/Bittman food policy model. It's one of the drums I beat whenever I talk about food politics: advocates for small farms/locally sourced food don't talk enough about how Niman Ranch scales up to feed 6 billion people. If we don't figure that out, then all this talk about "sustainable food" really is just another way for yuppies to feel superior. If in ten years sustainable meat is still only eaten by the affluent, you'd have to count that as a pretty big failure... but I suspect there is a significant portion of foodies who simply wouldn't care... and for the foodies who do care, I worry that often the perfect is the enemy of the good. When I see people like Bittman bash Wal-Mart's (obviously profit seeking) moves towards healthy and local food, I wonder what they think is a plausible alternative. It's pretty hard for me to imagine a food distribution system that doesn't involve Wal-Mart and its ilk. It's not that there aren't numerous legitimate critiques of Wal-Mart's efforts and their general business model... but to circle back around... how much of the disdain is rooted in elitism?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

30 Course Modernist Dinner

If you want to see what kind of dinner the minds that came up with Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking would prepare, now is your chance. (Menu here) Crazy stuff. I'm not a huge fan of modernist cooking... I prefer real food to chemical stabilizers... but Kenji makes a good point when he says this about his feelings on the Modernist cooking movement:
Chances are, if you've eaten at a fancy restaurant in any major city recently, you've had food that was cooked sous-vide, a sauce that was stabilized with a hydro-colloid, or an ice cream that's been set with stabilizers and churned in a Pacojet—you just didn't know it.

And that's where the real usefulness of some of these techniques come in: when they are used to augment a good cook's repertoire of techniques and ingredients, not take them over.
I go back and forth with whether I want to hack a slow cooker for sous vide or not, but for the most part I'm not looking to replicate the fancy restaurant experience at home...  so I don't know how useful modernist techniques are to me as a cook, but it's hard to argue against their utility in general. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Wine and Cheese Dinner

A Wine and Cheese Dinner
Since Anna has embraced the dairy and made the switch from vegan to vegetarian, we've been trying to become a little more knowledgeable about the intricacies of cheese... so that maybe we'd have a vocabulary for tasting a little more sophisticated than "Mmmmm cheese" when we eat it. To that end we've started ordering cheese plates when we go out for nice dinners and interrogating our poor waiters on the selected pairings. We've also gotten some cheese guides from the library and even enrolled in a famous cheese making course... but we've never tried to do any kind of cheese tasting at home. At least not until our friends Lauren and Jaime got us a cheese plate for Christmas (thanks guys!). So this Saturday we headed up to Formaggio Kitchen and basically just asked one of their cheese experts what we should get for a newb cheese plate for two. They told us you generally want to hit all three types of milk...  cow, sheep, and goat... and you also want a range of hardness. So after a few samples we ended up with a hard sheep's milk cheese (Paglierino - picture, description), a semi-firm cow's milk cheese (Gorwydd Caerphilly - picture, description), and a soft goat's milk cheese (Mothaise Sur Feuille - picture, description). We also asked for some advice on what we might serve with the cheese, and were steered in the not terribly surprising direction of wine, bread, fruit, nuts, and honey. What was surprising was the suggestion of mostarda: an Italian condiment of preserved fruit in a mustard based sauce. I know that probably sounds a bit weird, but it was a really amazing flavor combination and quite unlike anything I've had with cheese.... heartily recommended.

I won't bore you with any neophyte attempts to talk like a cheese expert, but all the cheeses were excellent. Though my favorite was the goat cheese spread on a piece of bread and topped with some mostarda. Man, that sounds delicious just typing it out... good thing we still have some left over. But like I said, they were all great, and it was pretty intriguing how having a cheese with honey and nuts accented quite different flavors than say... a grape... or some mostardo. I'd definitely advise having a few different condiments to try with any cheese.

Anyway, it was a really fun experience and a solid "date night" at home... and with no cooking required, so that's a nice bonus. Perhaps a good Valentine's Day idea?

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Mac 'n Cheese Dinner

Artisinal Mac and Cheese, Tahini Collards, and Crusted Tempeh
Nothing exciting today... just a photo of the dinner Anna and I made after an expensive trip to Formaggio Kitchen this weekend... everything there looks so wonderful but is unfortunately priced accordingly... not an ideal place to impulse shop unless you have some deep pockets. Anyway, going counterclockwise from top left it's Bittman's tahini collards (really good), the "artisinal" mac and cheese from Saveur that I blog about constantly, and some marinated and crusted tempeh. As mentioned the collards were great... though the only recipe I could find online was this one, which seems to have the author's own additions, so I might come back and post the basic version.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Duck Confit - Low and Slow

Confit After Party
I've posted quite a few times about making duck confit... normally in conjunction with making cassoulet. In every case I've followed a Cook's Illustrated recipe... most recently this one. However, while I liked the crispy skin and assertive flavors in the context of a salad prepared with it as soon as the confit was cool enough to touch... after a few weeks curing in fat I found it to be a little overbearing and dried out. So I've been looking around for some alternatives that were more gently cooked and seasoned less aggressively. After a little research it became clear the Cook's recipe was very much an outlier in its suggestion of cooking a temperature of 300 degrees. I could only find "easy confit" recipes with oven temps that high, but part of the point of those recipes is to cook the duck in minimal oil and crisp the skin simultaneously so that you can serve it immediately (or immediately put it into cassoulet). I'm not really sure if the need for immediacy is the definitive difference, but for duck confit that's meant to be stored for a bit it seems low and slow is the universal rule. Indeed, Ruhlman calls for a temp of 180.  However, I didn't really want to do the 10-12 hours of cooking his method demands... and because my duck legs never stay submerged in the duck fat, I was a little worried that the exposed parts would be overdone if I didn't turn them every couple of hours...  which is a little fussy, even for me. So I compromised based on this recipe posted on Cookthink. 200 degrees for 4-5 hours and turning once after 2. I didn't bother to cure it (though I did salt it for an hour) since I'm not storing it for months on end...  and I think it came out quite well. The meat was barely holding on to the bones and nothing got over browned.

I guess we'll find out when I make cassoulet in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

There are no jackbooted foodies coming for your pepperoni

Matthew Yglesias willfully misreads a New York Times article about pepperoni in the interest of picking a fight with mythical "food authenticity police":
Apparently the food authenticity police are coming for our pepperoni on the grounds that there’s “one thing it is not: Italian.” John Mariani is quoted as saying it’s “Purely an Italian-American creation, like chicken Parmesan.” And like chicken parm, it’s delicious!

The re-discovery of authentic Italian cooking was an excellent corrective to a somewhat bastardized cuisine that had become compromised by weak access to ingredients and an ill-informed customer base. But the idea that the upshot of that rediscovery should be to throw out decades worth of Italian-American innovation is ridiculous. At the end of the day, tomatoes are from the Western Hemisphere and thus not “really” part of Italian cooking, but that would be a nutty way of looking at the situation.
I guess it's good that nobody is looking at it that way then! While the article does cite Ruhlman bashing pepperoni early on, the rest of the article is about attempts to produce high end artisinal pepperoni by taking out the nitrates and using better quality ingredients. Oh, the horror. How can we ever be free of this menace to our culinary freedom? Now it's true that people can be snobby about the concept of authenticity, but I don't really comprehend how desiring to eat a dish prepared as it would be in Tuscany is any kind of indictment of the distinct cuisine created by Italian American immigrants. It's even harder to understand how high-end restaurants and artisinal meat curers trying to upgrade Italian-American cuisine with better ingredients is "throwing out decades worth of Italian-American innovation."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bruce Ezzell on Homemade Bagels

Ruhlman has a guest poster, a professional baker from North Carolina, give his bagel recipe. It's slightly different from the Reinhart one I've made, but not in very substantial ways. The important thing here is simply that making your own bagels is really quite easy and the result is substantially better than what you find at most bakeries (at least in New England) and certainly any grocery store I've been to. Totally worth doing (on a snow day perhaps?), and if you follow Ezzell's recipe he even suggests substituting molasses for malt powder still produces good results, so you might have everything you need in your pantry already.