Friday, September 30, 2011

Curry Leaves?

Curry leavesFrom NPR's Kitchen Window series (definitely check this out if you haven't), Monica Bhide talks about curry leaves:
Curry leaves have nothing to do with curry powder. Nothing at all. Curry powder is ground spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and coriander. It may or may not include curry leaves.


Though they look similar, unlike bay leaves, curry leaves are edible. Traditionally, curry leaves are used in multiple ways. First remove the leaves from the stem. You can add the leaves at the beginning of a recipe, sizzling them in hot oil and then adding ingredients such as vegetables, cooked basmati rice or poultry. As the final seasoning to a dish, the leaves are sizzled in hot oil along with other spices such as black mustard seeds, and the hot seasoned oil is poured over a prepared dish — for example, a bowl of plain yogurt or stewed lentils.
I definitely have never seen or heard of these, but I am somewhat notable in being the one person in the world who doesn't totally crush on Indian food. I can't imagine we'd have a lot of luck finding the fresh leaves in Boston, but there are a fair number of Asian grocery stores in the area that have all sorts of things that I am oblivious to and probably wouldn't comprehend even if I was made aware of them. So who knows?

Click through the link for a more full description and some recipes, including the intriguing curry leaf mojito.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wild Mushroom Ragout on Creamy Polenta with Beer Braised Cabbage

Mushroom Ragout on Creamy Polenta with Beer Braised Cabbage

It's been a bit of a crazy week, with a trip down to Baltimore with some Red Sox fan friends (whoops, sorry guys!), all of my work computers seemingly exploding at once, and the kitchen in our apartment getting replaced. So that's why I've been completely silent on the blog front... and why this post will be on the terse side... but we did cook a few things this past weekend... not so much to say farewell to our old kitchen (which I will not miss) but so Anna had something to eat while they were ripping out cabinets.

Above you have pictured the meal Anna and I made together out of Emeril's Farm to Fork, which, for as cool as it used to be to hate on Emeril, seems to be a damn fine cookbook. He really does seem to have an honest interest in sustainability and the environment, and I guess Guy Fieri has replaced him as the celebrity chef everyone loves to hate... so maybe now we're allowed to like Emeril? Regardless of the ruling  from the foodie thought police on that one: we made a great meal from his cookbook.

We had to go to the Whole Foods in Fresh Pond to get access to a fun selection of wild mushrooms (bluefoot, oyster, shiitake etc.), and I like my polenta a little wetter than Emeril (necessitating adding a little extra liquid)... but otherwise everything came together pretty easily and tasted great. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Charred Corn Tacos

Charred Corn Tacos

As a last gasp of summer, before turning to root vegetables and heartier dishes, I made these charred corn tacos from Smitten Kitchen. Smitten Kitchen is one of the most popular food blogs on the planet, but sometimes I've seen "real" cookbook writers grumble a bit that she's gotten so famous not (often) writing her own recipes. As someone who writes about food and also doesn't write recipes, perhaps I take such criticisms more personally than I should, but I can't help but point out that such criticisms really miss the point of her appeal: the lady has really good taste. Beyond the snappy writing and beautiful photos, it seems any dish you pick from her is a guaranteed winner, and her narrative and instructions seem to be prescient in anticipating mistakes... much better than many of the celebrated cooks and cookbook authors we've had some trouble with in recent months (Ottolenghi I'm looking at you). Anyway, looking forward to her cookbook... but on to the cooking results:

Squash and Radish Slaw

The City Hall Farmers' Market had corn, radishes, and squash in abundance... so ignoring limes, cilantro and the like, it was a relatively locally sourced meal. I'd love to claim that the knife work you see in the radish-yellow squash slaw above was my own, but I really have to credit the mandoline/v-slicer on this one. I enjoy julienning a carrot or two, but a half pound of radishes plus a squash enters into tedium... and there is just no way I could approach that kind of regularity in a 1/8 x 1/8 inch cut (though I suppose practice makes perfect). A mandoline is not something I think anyone needs, but if you have one you'll use it quite a bit. If you get one I'd recommend a cut resistant glove to save fingers.

The one thing I was a little dubious about when executing the recipe was that she calls for an entire medium white onion... which seemed like a whole lotta onion... but if you look at her picture that is indeed what she wants. Despite my skepticism, it really did work out well as they cooked down and paired nicely with the sweetness of the corn.

Charred Corn

One tip I have for charring corn portion of the recipe: do not remove the stalks. If you just remove the husk and silk, you'll leave yourself a nice little handle so you can char the corn quite easily. While you can put it directly over the burner, that is a) a little gross depending on when you last cleaned it b) fairly inefficient since the flame comes out of the sides of the burner.

Anyway, a really good vegetarian recipe that can easily be made vegan by omitting the cheese.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beer Cooler Sous Vide: Some Thoughts

Beer CatI might put up a more substantive post on Kenji's concept of Beer Cooler Sous Vide, but I don't think I have it totally perfected yet... so I thought I'd just throw out some advice/issues I've had so far. Tried it twice, both times just making burgers. I thought using sandwich bags and slowly immersing them in water to force the air out worked pretty well... though you probably get a tighter seal using plastic wrap like Thomas Keller suggests, it's a bit more wasteful. The biggest problem was that my cooler lost about 10 degrees by the end of 45 minutes. I used water that started over a 130 degrees, so the food was still cooked fine (120 degrees is rare)... but it's obviously not ideal. Now the cooler I was using is not very big, so maybe the initial addition of the meat caused the drop... but I made sure the second batch of burgers was at room temperature. However some of the comments of Kenji's post suggests that the top of beer coolers tend not to be insulated (mine does feel pretty flimsy and possibly hollow)... so I should have used a blanket on top to hold in some more heat... apparently home brewers use beer coolers for a similar purpose (making a mash tun) and drill holes and use expanding foam to make their coolers more effective. I'm not particularly handy, so I think I'll skip the latter solution, but a blanket is fairly doable. The second idea to combat temperature loss is "preheating" the cooler with hot tap water for 10-15 minutes, which is also suggested in Keller's piece.

Oh, so how were the burgers? Not perfect obviously...  but still pretty great. The best part being that they only take a couple of minutes to make after they've been cooked in the water bath, so it's much easier to bring together a meal with multiple moving parts. I'll probably have some more posts on this in the coming weeks as I experiment some more with perfecting beer cooler sous vide. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sweet Paul

Just found this online food magazine called Sweet Paul from a link in The New York Times Dining Section. The photography is top notch (better than what I could achieve even in my dreams), the design seems great, recipes look good... and, hey, it's free. Haven't looked at it long enough to see how good the writing is, but did I mention it's free? It appears to be quarterly and their archives go back to Spring 2010.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Korean Barbecue Meets Sloppy Joe

In what I presume will be Sam Sifton's last recipe column, he details the preparation of a pretty natural fusion:
The dish is the Korean barbecue standard known as bulgogi — “fire meat,” is the literal translation — transformed into a sandwich filling, a sloppy Joe for a more perfect union. (File under “Blessings of Liberty.”) Fed to children with a tall glass of milk, the sandwiches may inspire smiles and licked plates, rapt attention and the request that the meal be served at least monthly — they are not at all too spicy for younger palates. Given to adults accompanied by cold lager, cucumber kimchi and a pot of the fermented Korean hot-pepper paste known as gochujang, they can rise to higher planes.
I guess I should make this dish in memoriam: one bite for me, one for my promoted hommies.

What I like about this dish, and what suggests it could be a keeper, is that it looks like you can put together the marinade, spicy mayo, and salsa (minus the scallions) on a Sunday and then finish it off pretty quickly on a weeknight. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yes, You Really Should Buy A Kitchen Scale, Part XXXVII

My First Ever Digital Kitchen Scale
The New York Times on the case. I think I've made pretty clear my preferences on the topic, but it's always worth saying again: it's most essential for baking, but it's also really handy for anything where weights are involved (like cheese). The only thing remotely new to me here is this tip:
Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute, recommends that you make a chart with the standard equivalences, and tack it up next to the scale. The conversions sometimes require some math, but there’s a payoff if you can brave it.

“If you start cooking that way, it makes your life so much easier,” Mr. Arnold said. “You’ll do everything just so much faster.”
Hey, I know math! Hmmm.

Obviously kind of weird Ruhlman's book Ratio... entirely about cooking by weight... is not mentioned at all. Not exactly the greatest due diligence in evidence there New York Times.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"They are chefs cooking dinner for very, very rich people."

Yesterday, a group of top chefs (René Redzepi, Ferran Adriá, Heston Blumenthal, etc) released an "open letter" to future chefs, talking about "nature's gifts" and serving as a "important bridge to other cultures"... among other things. Jay Rayner unloads:
Yes, of course good chefs ought to be serious about their ingredients. Yes they have a responsibility to source stuff ethically. But they also need to remember that they aren't secular saints. They are chefs cooking dinner for very, very rich people.

Just before it closed a couple of months back El Bulli flogged the entire restaurant for a night to a champagne company, who flew in some of their invited guests on a private jet, before helicoptering them in to dinner. (You also might enjoy Adrià's advert for Estrella beer; ah, how humanity sighed with pleasure at that one). Likewise, guests have regularly come to eat at Blumenthal's Fat Duck by helicopter (they tend to land on the cricket pitch at the end of the village of Bray). Huge brigades of cooks are involved in the preparation of the world's very best ingredients, often sourced from some distance away. A single meal at one of these restaurants will leave a carbon footprint an elephant could sleep in. All of which is fine. It is what it is. It's an expression of the market for gastronomic luxury. There are lots of things it isn't, among them, a prescription for world peace.
I agree that the world's food an environmental problems will not be solved by where some future René Redzepi forages for pine needles, but tend to err on the side of raising awareness. Rayner's argument shares a lot with anti-environmentalists who think that if you've ever flown on a plane you aren't allowed to comment on CO2 emissions, but on the other hand the "open letter" is pretty nauseating so I guess it deserves to be made fun of. Couldn't they have just done some bullet points about local sourcing and called it a day?

More Twitter Food News

 Sam Sifton 

Aaaaaand.... the official announcement.

Umami Vegan Broth?

Michael Natkin wanted to highlight umami (savoriness) in his vegetable broth:
Umami, of course, is that famed fifth flavor, sensed by receptors that look for glutamate and various ribonucleotides - basically indicators that a food contains protein. It isn't so surprising that we'd be wired to like protein, right?

I want to pack so much umami into this broth that you have one sip and feel your eyes roll back in your head involuntarily. I want to evoke a guttural groan, and in my small sample of testers, that is exactly what has happened.


The vegetarian ingredients best known for high concentrations of glutamates are tomatoes, dried shiitake mushrooms, marmite, kombu seaweed, and parmesan cheese. I decided to include the first four, but omit the parmesan to keep this broth vegan.
Pretty informative. I don't think I'd ever considered what the "umami" ingredients for vegetarian cooking were. The recipe looks good too, but does require a pressure cooker.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ruhlman's New Book

I'll have to add this to the library list to see if it's worth owning. I like the idea behind this one... focusing on techniques with recipes to illustrate.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Inside Some Cheese Caves

In a very informative blog post, Jessica Sennett, Cave Manager (cool title, eh?) at Formaggio Kitchen (Cambridge), visits the cheese caves of Jasper Hill. Perhaps only interesting if you're a cheese nerd, but I thought it was fun. We've known about Formaggio's cheese caves from our course with Ricki Carroll, but don't really know a whole lot about what goes on there. I don't see us aging cheeses anytime soon, but it's still cool to read about.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sous Vide without an Immersion Circulator

Steak sous vide
Thomas Keller at the LA Times has the details:
Rather than cooking the food using an immersion circulator, you can achieve similar results using a large picnic cooler and a probe thermometer.

Here's how you do it: Fill the cooler with hot tap water to preheat for 10 minutes and then drain. On the stove, bring water to the desired cooking temperature (you'll probably need to fill a couple of stockpots). Then transfer enough hot water to the cooler to fill it nearly to the top, reserving some water for later temperature adjustments.

Add the food and then check the temperature of the water and adjust as needed. If the temperature is too high, pour in a little cold water. If it's too low, add in some of the reserved hot. A good-sized, well-insulated picnic cooler with its lid on (we use a 28-quart picnic cooler) should maintain an even temperature for around one hour. For slightly longer cooking times, check the temperature periodically and adjust with fresh hot water as needed.

For even longer cooking times, you can use a pot of water on the stove, though it will be more challenging to control the temperature. If you do elect to cook on the stove top, keep in mind that a larger body of water will maintain a steadier temperature, so select a pot that is large enough for the meat you're cooking and an ample amount of liquid. Depending on how much control you have over the burners on your range, you may want to purchase a tool called a diffuser from your local kitchen store to provide separation between the pot and burner, making it easier to keep your water at a sufficiently low temperature.
It's worth clicking through since they also have a video from Rory Herrmann showing how to wrap and prepare some fish and chicken in a water bath on the stove (though I might call it poached, there is no need to quibble) and some additional tips and recipes.

While I've always been more of a project oriented cook who enjoys a nice long afternoon working in the kitchen, it's hard not to see the benefit of sous vide for a perfectly cooked burger or chicken breast... and I've been meaning to try the beer cooler method since I saw it on Serious Eats over a year ago. Seems like a good thing to try out before going all in on something like a Sous Vide Supreme or even a PID controller and a rice cooker.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Didn't Even Know These Existed

Winged beans - fresh from the vines
Stir-Fried Winged Beans from Michael Natkin at Herbivoracious. But I guess I wasn't alone:
I ran into a vegetable I'd never seen before at a farm stand in Kawaihae on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the middle of a preposterous but amusing adventure that involved driving back and forth over the same stretch of coast approximately seventy-three times. These pods were about 8 inches long, with ruffled leaves, somewhat crunchy like romaine lettuce, but with a central seed pod a bit like a green bean. Most unusual.
Worth clicking through just to see them, since they look like some kind of Star Trek vegetable to these Western eyes. Kind of neat to see someone who knows what they're doing experiment with something new.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The End of Good Eats

Kind of sad:

 Alton Brown 

 Alton Brown 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cooking with Beer

Belgian Beers
Mark Bittman in this weekend's New York Times Magazine:
Cooking with beer makes sense: not only is it more flavorful than water, but it’s also more flavorful than any store-bought chicken stock and less ethically objectionable as well. And unlike wine or liquor, you can substitute beer cup-for-cup for stock or water when you’re braising or making soup. Yet like wine, beer is acidic, which comes in handy when you’re baking quick bread, cake or fried foods, because you need a little acidity to activate baking soda. 
In fact, beer’s flavors are arguably more varied and complex than any ready-made liquid besides wine. And like bread, to which it’s closely related, beer loves to team with meat, cheese and strong flavors like onions, garlic and spices.
None of this is really earth shattering... people have been making bread and cheddar soup with beer forever, but you don't see quite as many braises with beer it seems. One of my favorite stews is carbonnade à la flamande, which is simply beef and onions braised in Belgian ale, but the sum is many times greater than its parts. I'll probaly try his cheddar and cauliflower soup, but you might be interested in his Dopplebock bread or carnitas. It certainly makes me anxious for Garrett Oliver's Oxford Companion to Beer.

EDIT: Hmmm... Blogger's new posting interface seems to have broken timezones, as this was supposed to post at 4:30... oh well, back to the old interface I guess.

Morning Pickles

Morning Pickles

What you see above is a lot of cut up watermelon rind sitting in a vinegar syrup with spices in cheesecloth (allspice, clove, cardamom, ginger, and lemon). Poor planning led to me getting up early this morning for the second stage of watermelon rind pickle making... the first stage being simply cutting off the green skin and pink flesh (more tedious than expected) and brining the roughly 1/2 by 1 inch chunks for 6-12 hours. This morning it was simmering the rind for five minutes and making the syrup... and now it's another 12-24 hours of the rind and spices in the syrup before I actually jar the stuff. Kind of involved! Being that I've never even had watermelon rind pickles before, all this work for something I might hate has me a little apprehensive... but, hey, I like to live dangerously.

I haven't seen the recipe I'm using online, but it's from The Joy of Pickling and I'll post it once I've got the damn things in jars.