Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Catmas

Merry Catmas
A little late I know but I've got nothing ready to go, so here is a picture of my Mother-in-Law's cats snuggling in a seasonally appropriate fashion.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ruhlman's Braised Lamb Shanks

Out of the Oven III
Made these braised lamb shanks out of Ruhlman's Twenty (an excellent gift if you are still looking) over the weekend and they turned out great. Super simple to do, but they do call for what Ruhlman refers to as "lemon confit" but I think most non French people would say is "preserved lemon"... but whatevs I guess. Twenty does have a recipe for preserved lemon (and my linked blog post works from this recipe from the New York Times), but being that it takes somewhere on the order of 2 weeks to a month for the confit/preservation thing to happen, you'll need to plan this dinner out pretty far in advance to make it that way. You could try Bittman's quick 'preserved' lemons in a pinch, or instead go ahead and buy them. They appear to be available online, but if you have a Mediterranean store nearby... or perhaps even a well stocked Whole Foods... then that's certainly an option worth exploring. Preserved lemons have a pretty unique flavor, so I think any curious cook should probably mess around with them at least a little bit.

Braised Lamb Shank and Moroccan Rice Pilaf

Preserved lemons aside, the lamb shank recipe is available online at Food Republic. Not much to comment on here, as the braising is pretty straight forward. In the linked recipe he says to use half of the preserved lemon in the braise and save the rest for serving, but I used two thirds and put the remaining third into a pilaf I made with some Moroccan spicing (garlic, ginger, tumeric, cumin).

For leftovers I just removed the lamb from the bone and mixed it in with the braising liquid for a pretty awesome stew. I would definitely make this again, but given the expense of lamb shanks probably only if I'm entertaining.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Chloe's Kitchen: Crispy Orange Tofu

Orange Tofu
Chloe's Kitchen, which I've blogged about before, has become one of my favorite vegan cookbooks. Her recipes are simple enough to pull together on a weeknight after a long day at work, but still manage to be full of flavor. We've made a handful of dishes from the cookbook, and have yet to come across one that we haven't liked... so consider that a recommendation if you are looking for a gift for a vegan on your list.

What you see above is what she calls "Orange You Glad I Made Crispy Tofu?"... which... well... nobody buys cookbooks for the jokes, right? It's essentially just cubes of pressed tofu coated in corn starch that are deep fried and covered in an orange sauce. You know, orange chicken but with tofu.

Note: The only thing I've really changed about the recipe is to try to clarify how you should deal with the orange peel. The pith of an orange is quite bitter so you need to be careful with how you zest it. You can  either use a zester tool (or microplane) or use a vegetable peeler to get pieces that you trim of pith before slicing thinly. The later will get you vastly more orange peel, so you might only need to do it on a 1/4 to 1/2  of an orange while the former will likely require an entire orange. The cookbook instructions say to just cut the peel of 1/4 of an orange into 1/4" strips with no instructions about the pith... which could lead to some bitter bites of tofu if you don't know any better.

I should also note that you probably want to double this recipe if you want any leftovers. Chloe seems to portion things for birds or small animals.

Fried Tofu Cubes

Crispy Orange Tofu

Ingredients

  • 14 oz. extra firm tofu
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • Zest from an orange (see note above)
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Canola oil for frying tofu
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice

Directions

  1. Press your tofu: Put it between too plates with some weight (cans, cookbooks, etc) on top. Dump off accumulated water every 5 minutes or so over the course of 20-30 minutes.Cut the tofu into 1/2" cubes and set aside.
  2. Mix orange juice, orange zest, agave syrup, soy sauce, grated ginger, garlic, and ground coriander in a small bowl.
  3. Combine cornstarch and salt in a small bowl and then toss in the tofu cubes. Remove the coated cubes while shaking off the excess cornstarch.
  4. Heat canola oil in a large skillet, so that oil is about 1/4 or 1/2 inch high. When oil is heated drop tofu cubes in oil and fry until golden, flip throughout until all sides are crisp. Remove to a plate with layered paper towels.
  5. In another skillet heated on medium high. Cook fried tofu and orange juice mixture until the liquid is thick like a syrup. (about 5 minutes).
  6. Mix in the cilantro and serve over rice.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Shiitake Tacos with Asian Pear Slaw

Shiitake Tacos with Asian Pear Slaw
This was a recipe where, as it was coming together, I was shaking my head and figuring it was never going to work... and wondering how I was ever going to salvage something that I was sure was going to be bland as all get out. Turns out I was completely wrong! It's a little disturbing to find out my cooking Spidey Sense is completely miscalibrated, but I would say that is more than compensated for with the discovery of this simply prepared dish that has surprisingly complex flavors. I got the recipe from The Washington Post, but it's really from Michael Natkin's Herbivoracious... and given that I read his blog regularly you'd think I'd have a little more faith in his recipes. Well what can I say? I didn't think two jalepenos would give it enough heat, and I was skeptical that a dash or two of cumin and cinnamon was going to interesting enough to keep this from being a drab mixed vegetable medley wrapped in corn tortillas. I thought I would need to whip up some sort of salsa or other sauce to top it, but... live and learn... because the roasted jalepenos really did give a respectable amount of heat, and that Asian pear slaw really did brighten the whole thing up and highlight the different flavors and textures involved.

There were only two things that confused me about the recipe. He doesn't say what to do about the bok choy leaves, so I did a chiffonade of them and added them with the rest of the bok choy. I used a regular clad skillet, not a cast iron or non-stick, and a fond developed as I was cooking... so I just deglazed it with a little water. Seemed to work pretty well, but his recipe doesn't really entertain such a thing as a possibility.

I would definitely make this recipe again... and look forward to checking out the cookbook (we have it from the library)... but I think next time I would probably up the Shiitake to bok choy ratio so the mushrooms dominate a bit more. They looked pretty even when I started, but obviously mushrooms cook down and it seemed almost more like a bok choy taco than a Shiitake one. Still very tasty though.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Buffalo Smashed Fingerlings

Buffalo Smashed Fingerlings

Not really a recipe here... more of a continuation of musings from a few weeks back. To make these I just did Kenji's Fried Smashed Potatoes, but fried them in vegetable oil instead of duck fat and then whipped up a quick buffalo vinaigrette (2:1 oil to Frank's RedHot) and scattered some blue cheese over top. Really good stuff! This is the way they serve them at JAM Bisto in Rehoboth, and I totally recommend giving them a shot.

The problem remains that the recipe takes a lot of hands on time to execute. It generally takes something on the order of an hour to get your perfect crispy yet creamy roasted potatoes, so the time itself is not such a big issue... but thirty minutes of frying in batches makes it hard to multi task with this recipe. Granted, you can make the potatoes ahead of time and warm them up in a 400 degree oven but I think the holy grail would be to figure out a way to do this entirely in the oven. I tried parcooking them on the stove and then roasting them, but wasn't entirely pleased with the results. Anna suggested doing it the old Cook's Illustrated way (roast in a foil covered pan to parcook, then take off foil and roast to brown) but to use a potato masher to smash them down when you take off the foil. It's worth a shot at least, and if I end up happy with the outcome I will post the recipe.

Frying Smashed Fingerlings

Friday, November 30, 2012

(Slightly Burnt) Fried Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha-Honey Sauce

Fried Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha-Honey Sauce
This is another Thanksgiving 2012 side dish for us, but it's not like we're talking about pumpkin pie... nothing about this dish screams Thanksgiving. Indeed, I think the Puritans would probably give you a week in the stocks if you brought Sriracha to the the apocryphal first Thanksgiving. As you'll note by their very dark color, they are overdone (though not as burnt as you might expect) in a somewhat worrying recent trend of me overcooking things.

The recipe comes from Food52 via Serious Eats. We used the recipe on Serious Eats, but in looking at them now I kind of wished I had consulted the one at Food52 before making them. For one thing, Food52 tells you what to do with the heart of the sprouts after peeling off leaves (just add them in with the leaves) while Serious Eats is strangely mum (thus we ended up reserving them for another use). Further, Food52 gives you a time guideline for the frying (30 seconds to a minute) while Serious Eats gives none... though neither gives a temperature for the oil for us Thermapen obsessives (I used 350).

My #1 piece of advice for this dish: USE A BIG POT WITH TALL SIDES AND A SPLATTER SCREEN. We just used a straight sided skillet (and a splatter screen) and it created a huge mess to clean up. Those Brussels sprout leaves have a lot of water in them, and will flare up right quick. This is actually the first thing I've fried that actually made me miss my defunct deep fryer... though not enough to think I really need to own one... though if you do own one these fried sprouts would really be a snap.

As it is they're not really that hard, but it is important to note there will be some residual cooking after you pull them out... so if you want to avoid leaves as black as mine I think you want to take them out as the leaves are browning on the edges. If you wait until the leaves are fully brown you'll end with some blackness. Now, they're still really delicious even when slightly burnt, but ideally I think you should see more green in the picture above... so I would err on the side of taking them out early.

We will definitely be making them again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mini Pommes Anna

Mini Potatoes Anna
I doubt I will do a full on retrospective of every dish we prepared this past Thanksgiving holiday, but I do want to comment on a couple over the next week or two. Here is a picture of the (almost) full spread we prepared with links to recipes. I will update the descriptions of the photos in the Flickr album with my thoughts on how they turned out and what I might do differently next time etc... especially for the ones that don't get turned into blog posts.

What you see above are the Mini Herbed Pommes Anna from Bon Appétit. I thought these came out quite well, and were... as expected... cute as a button in their individual little piles. The downside is pretty steep, however, as they are a huge pain in the butt to make... especially when you consider how simple traditional Pommes Anna are: layer potato slices slathered in butter and essentially bake for an hour.

Mini Potatoes Anna Muffin Pan Prep

These babies required a weeeee bit more effort and individual attention however. First you've got to cut out little parchment paper circles for the buttered muffin pans, and then decorate with sprigs of thyme.

Buttered Slices

Then you've got to layer the 1.75 lbs of potatoes you've sliced to a 1/16 of an inch (or less!) and coated in herb butter. Note that you'll be flipping these stacks of potatoes three times between now and the finish line, so any stability you can impart with clever stacking would be welcome at this point! Perhaps consider recruiting any OCD engineer type family members that are hanging around the kitchen for the stacking. In addition, the recipe called for "golf ball" size potatoes, but maybe what you want is actually muffin size potatoes? Then you wouldn't need to have uneven layers of potatoes that are prone to falling over?

Out of the Muffin Pan

They go into the oven... pans covered in foil... for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees. The idea being to get them cooked through before you brown them, which is a standard step in any Pommes Anna recipe. The annoying part comes in when you have to flip them out of the muffin pans (see above), and then have to flip them back over (so the thyme sprigs are at the bottom again) before returning them to the oven to brown.

To answer your questions, no, they do not stay together in little piles when you flip them back over and, yes, you will probably have to rearrange nearly every single one. The good news is that if you enjoyed that, you get to flip them back over in 25-30 minutes!

Nicely Browned

That 25-30 minutes takes place in a 425 degree oven after you've arranged all those little piles of potatoes with thyme sprigs face down on a cookie sheet. Once they've gotten nicely browned on top you take them out of the oven and flip them back over... the results of which you can see above. A nice browned crust has formed on the tops that were touching the cookie sheet, as you'd expect.

And they were good, I'll grant you... but were they any better then just making them in a baking dish? Not a chance. Way too much effort and frustration for too little payoff. I would not make this dish unless you were really trying to impress someone.

The natural question... to me at least... is what happens if you eschew the parchment paper and leave the potatoes in the muffin pans until the very end. Will they brown enough? Will you be able to get them out of the muffin pans at the end? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I presume the answer is "no" to at least one of them and that's why the recipe writers at Bon Appétit chose to do it this way... but the only hope for this recipe is to figure out some way to streamline it, because it's totally not worth it otherwise. Not a recommended recipe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Inspired By... (or A Meditation On the Myriad Uses of Duck Fat)

If you even take two minutes to glance through this blog it is quickly apparent that I'm a very recipe oriented cook at this stage of my culinary education. I don't just "whip things up" on a whim and I'm not really the type of cook who goes to restaurants and thinks "I've got to figure out how to make this at home." Well my approach seems to be (gradually) changing as I get more confident in the kitchen, as today's post has examples of two types of inspiration and experimentation... a specific type of crispy potato that captured my cooking imagination, and a situation where I got excited about the basic concept of a "duck confit taco" by simply having it out. Both are from a restaurant in Rehoboth called JAM Bistro that we've made a point of stopping at for lunch the last few summers at the beach. While it doesn't have especially extensive vegetarian offerings for Anna she does enjoy their salads and we both love their crispy smashed fingerlings. Like the perfect roast potato, they are crispy on the outside and creamy smooth on the inside, but by smashing them up first you get even more surface to crisp. I've been meaning to make them at home since I first had them, but never really got around to thinking about the methodology of how they are made beyond the obvious of par cook, smash, and then fry or roast 'em. They were on "the list" of things I wanted to make, but it was becoming clear that they were going to stay on that list unless I got a little outside push. Fortuitous timing had Kenji post a recipe for smashed potatoes fried in duck fat at the exact time I was gathering together tubs of duck fat for my Thanksgiving plans (more on that in a second).

Fried Smashed Fingerlings

He calls for small red or Yukon potatoes, but I naturally went with fingerlings since what I'm looking for is to recreate the dish that reminds me of summer afternoons at the beach. I did indeed fry them in glorious, glorious duck fat, but next time... in the interest of marital harmony (surprisingly vegetarians are not huge fans of vegetables prepared in animal fat)... I will likely switch to vegetable oil, and probably roast them instead of fry them simply so I don't have to do them in batches. Ultimately in further iterations I will dress these crispy smashed potatoes in a buffalo vinaigrette and a crumble of blue cheese, but make no mistake: these potatoes are really great completely plain. In my opinion it's a really good technique that is worth trying and, as sacrilegious as this sounds, this is true even if you don't have any duck fat. Though you should really get some duck fat.

Duck Confit Tacos

Speaking of duck fat, as I mentioned above I need said fat for my Thanksgiving plan of doing turkey leg confit... but all of my duck fat was currently occupied in covering four pieces of duck confit that were patiently waiting to get made into cassoulet. It's obviously the perfect time for a big pot of the stuff, but it's not always easy to find time for a four day cooking project, and it was really getting too late in the game to make some in time. Thus enters my second inspiration from JAM Bistro: duck confit tacos. I've been on a serious taco kick... well, basically my entire adult life, but especially since I got back from San Diego... and the idea of combining the greatness of the taco with the awesomeness of duck confit was pretty exciting. Yet once again it was something that was languishing on my "to cook" list until the right circumstances emerged. In this case, however, there really wasn't a go-to recipe to consult. We've got a Food & Wine recipe from José Andrés here, and a blog post here which I combined to make the tacos you see above. I warmed the duck legs enough to be able to pull of the skin to make cracklings, shredded the meat into pot with a little stock, soy sauce, and five spice powder, and made a cilantro-jalapeño sauce to top it off. Really good stuff and really easy (assuming you have the duck confit already, which is admittedly probably not a reasonable assumption).

I finally feel like I'm starting to get to the point where I'm ready to start making recipes my own... where I know enough to make changes to suit my own preferences. It's a long journey, but it's nice to notice the progress.

...


This will likely be my last post before we head up to Maine Wednesday morning, so all of my fellow Americans out there have a nice Thanksgiving holiday! I'll be back next week with a recap of the dishes that we made, but for anybody looking for last minute Thanksgiving inspiration, our menu includes: mini herb potatoes annafried brussel sprouts with siracha honeyharicot verts with sauce ravigote, and roasted cauliflower with tahini and preserved lemon dressing. The main course for the vegetarians will be pumpkin seed crusted cutlets with cabernet cranberry sauce while I will be making turkey leg confit

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pressure Cooker Pho

Election Night Pho

Beef broth is something I've never ever made from scratch... tracking down marrow bones, beef shanks, and/or oxtails has always seemed intimidating and kind of a hassle. Something I don't think experienced cooks truly appreciate is how confusing the meat counter can be to a novice... you don't necessarily know that two different names refer to the exact same thing, or what other random cut might substitute for something you can't find. It can be really frustrating! There were countless times early on where I came back from the store empty handed simply because I didn't know the lingo. This is why it's nice to go to an actual butcher instead of a grocery store that is just rows of meat wrapped in cellophane with nobody in sight to ask questions. You won't save any money shopping at Whole Foods or a local fancy butcher, but you'll have a much better experience and hopefully pick up some ethically sourced meat in the process... and asking a butcher is probably what you are going to have to do to make this recipe. The primary ingredient in pho and/or beef stock is beef shanks (or shins - same thing) which are not something I see sitting out at the average grocery store... indeed, my local butcher didn't even carry them (though he could get them with a couple of days notice)... but I lucked out seeing them at Whole Foods.

Beef Shank (with bones), Brisket, and Chuck

Unfortunately, that means if you are paying Whole Foods prices then this recipe is not particularly cheap... $6 to $7 a pound was what I paid for my beef shanks (if I remember correctly)... which, if you live near a good Vietnamese restaurant, may make you question whether all this effort and money is really necessary when you can just get a big bowl of pho for a price only a little north of one of those pounds of beef shin? Well, if that's the way you think then what are you doing reading a cooking blog? Shouldn't it all be about the joy of cooking? Jeez!

In fact, I do think it's a pretty legit criticism and in the future I'd like to sub in (much cheaper) marrow bones for some of the shanks. The economics of this dish are still pretty favorable though, as even if I round up the prices of the 5 lbs of beef shank, 1 lb of chuck, and 1 lb of brisket involved here it's still going to be about $40 for 4 quarts of stock which is going to provide somewhere on the order of 6-8 bowls of pho. Given that I ended up thinking that those 7 lbs of meat and bones gave me waaaaay more meat than I needed (I saved some of it for sandwiches even), I did not even bother with any additional flank steak (traditionally it is sliced very very thinly and added raw to the hot broth when served so it is rare by the time you eat it). The broth is amazingly good, which I imagine is in large part due to the quantity of beef involved, but I'm thinking I could cut it back and still do well... which is what suggests to me subbing in a couple of pounds of marrow bones. I'll try that next time and hopefully be able to update this recipe.

Note that as mentioned above you can freely sub in oxtails for some portion of the beef shanks, but they are even pricier than the shin and sometimes even harder to find... a very popular cut of meat these days it seems... lot's of "Oh yeah we carry them, but we're all out right now." Your local situation may be completely different, however, so if oxtails are easy to get then by all means get them. This is why I say it's nice to be able to talk to a butcher and ask questions.

Broiler Charred Onions and Ginger

The key for me in this recipe was getting the traditional flavors of pho, but to avoid six hours of simmering. So I adapted Kenji's recipe at Serious Eats and this one from DadCooksDinner to get what I wanted. They are fairly similar recipes with the key differences being that 1) Kenji has you char your onions and ginger which is more traditional, and 2) the guy at DadCooksDinner uses a pressure cooker to get his broth done in about an hour or two instead of 6. Kenji also introduces a quick boil of the meat/bones with a subsequent water dump to get rid of the gunk and improve the clarity of the stock... which sounded like a really good idea. Pressure cookers are supposed to make clearer stock than normal, but how could it hurt to be extra careful?

Quick Boil to get rid of Scum

It adds another 20-25 minutes of work to the beginning of the recipe, but you have to char the onions and ginger anyway, so it's not too significant of a burden.

Another important consideration is what to do if you don't have a gigantic 12 quart pressure cooker (mine is 8 quarts), as it's going to be pretty tight in there with all that meat. You definitely want to err on the side of caution (I was almost certainly pushing it) and not go past 2/3 full or whatever your instruction manual says... your stock will just be more concentrated and can easily diluted to the target of 4 quarts afterwards.

Pressure Cooker Pho

Ingredients

Pho Broth

  • 2 large onions, split in half
  • 6" piece of ginger, split in half lengthwise
  • 5 pounds beef shin/shank, with meat attached
  • 1 pound boneless beef chuck
  • 1 pound beef brisket
  • 3 whole star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Kosher salt

Condiments

  • pho noodles and/or vermicelli (aka rice stick) -  both are sold in packages with multiple servings
  • basil
  • bean sprouts
  • sliced scallions
  • sliced chiles (Thai or serrano)
  • limes, cut into wedges
  • raw flank steak, thinly sliced (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat broiler and place onion halves and split ginger on a foil lined broiler pan. Broil 3-4" from heating element, turning occasionally, until nicely charred - about 25 minutes. 
  2. While the onions and ginger are broiling, cover the shanks, brisket, and chuck with water in your pressure cooker and bring to a boil. Dump the water in the sink and rinse the parts with cold water.  
  3. Cover the meat with water again (but don't fill your pressure cooker past 2/3rds full!) and add the onions, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves, coriander seeds, fish sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt.
  4. Put on the pressure cooker lid, bring it up to high pressure, and then lower the heat to maintain the pressure. Cook at high pressure for 50 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pressure to release naturally (20 minutes or more).
  5. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer. Pick meat from beef shins then discard bones and aromatics. The target is 4 quarts broth, so dilute with water or reduce as necessary to reach 4 quarts.
  6. Slice or chop up the mean, skim fat from broth, and season with salt, sugar, and fish sauce.
  7. To serve, place rehydrated noodles (follow package directions) in a bowl and ladle soup over bowls. Allow guests to add their own selection of cooked meat and condiments.

After 45 Minutes in the Pressure Cooker
The broth came out with both great flavor and clarity, so I was quite pleased. Kudos to both Kenji and DadCooksDinner for writing such great recipes.

Instead of skimming fat I cooled the broth in the fridge and then spooned off the congealed fat on top the next day. I made bowls of pho throughout the week by heating up the broth and some of the meat together in a small saucepan. If you are thinking more long term you could also freeze the broth in individual servings (2-3 cups based on how big your bowls are).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Squash and Fennel Soup with Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Squash Soup
This wonderful fall soup was made by my lovely wife Anna on Sunday night. As you can see, she does take some pride in her plating: those are candied pumpkin seeds along with a drizzle of Greek yogurt and some minced fennel fronds. The recipe is originally from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, but it can also be found at Serious Eats. I thought it was a really delicious soup, with a nice note of heat (but not overwhelmingly hot) and a good balance of creaminess without being too heavy. Worth making (or if you can finagle it, having your significant other make it).

Vote!

If you are a US citizen today is election day and you should go vote. Here is a cool little Google page that will tell you where your polling place is and what's on your ballot.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo

Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo
This one is from Cook's Illustrated (sub required), but you can also find it free here. Pretty simple recipe where the main change towards lightening things up is subbing in half and half with some corn starch to mimic the mouth feel of a heavy cream based sauce. A very successful adaptation if I am any judge, as it didn't taste "light" to me at all.

All you need is pasta, half and half, nutmeg, and some corn starch so we were going to make this during Hurricane Sandy when the restaurants started shutting down, but we didn't take out the ingredients before we lost power... not the best planning. We only were without power for about 4 hours (but we both had already had instant ramen in the meantime), so we were pretty lucky... and obviously my thoughts go out to all the people in New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere still dealing with the aftermath. I don't imagine any of those effected are really looking for recipes on the intertoobs, but, hey, if you've got a working burner you can make this... and for the rest of us, it's a really great weeknight dinner option.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Maine Beer Company

Maine Beer Company Lineup
We were Downeast for Anna's birthday (29 again! What are the odds?) and so I was able to stop at Global Beverage Warehouse in Ellsworth and pick up some bottles of Maine Beer Company's latest offerings... most of which I have not seen in Boston. I've had the Peeper Ale on numerous occasions, and Zoe at least once, but never tried any of the others. Looking forward to slowly working my way through the collection.

The beers above are: Lunch, King Titus, Mean Old Tom, Peeper Ale, and Zoe.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Well Done But Not Done Well

Overcooked But Still Tasty
After 4+ years of food blogging I have achieved a level of kitchen competence where my successes far outweigh my failures, but even so, I can overcook an expensive steak just as easily as anybody else. Always frustrating and embarrassing to screw something up, but I wouldn't be fooling anybody by trying to pretend I am infallible... and I like for this blog to commemorate both the good and the bad products of my kitchen.

And here we have one of the bad (but not as bad as you might think).

I was following this recipe from Food52: Steak with Arugula, Lemon, and Parmesan... and didn't compensate enough for my relatively thin cut of New York Strip steak. The recipe called for 2-3 minutes per side to brown the meat and then 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven for medium rare... I thought I was being careful by checking the meat temperature at 8 minutes, but we were waaaaaay past medium at that point already. Cooking steaks is not something I do often, so I guess I just don't have any kind of feel as to what's long enough... someone with more experience would have known better. But how do you get experience? Burning the occasional steak and learning not to do it that way again.

Despite all that, as I teased above, it was still actually quite tasty even though I much prefer my steak medium rare... which I think speaks towards the excellent collection of flavors involved here. In addition, I guess a nice caramelized crust and softened fat can make up for dried out meat to some extent.

What drew me towards this recipe initially was the simplicity... grab a couple of steaks, a lemon, a bunch of arugula, and some Parmesan and you have dinner... and as an omnivore married to a vegetarian I could easily scale that down to serve one.

So I'll make this recipe again, and who knows? If I ever figure out how to not overcook my steak... maybe it will be a good choice for when I want to treat myself to an extravagant, but simple, dinner.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Raison D'Etre Braised Chicken Thighs

Raison D'Etre Braised Chicken Thighs
The craziness of getting married has mostly subsided... the only things lingering are writing thank you notes and finalizing Costa Rica stuff... so that means I'm back in the kitchen and hopefully back to regular blogging.

Nothing too elaborate on the cooking schedule though... just trying to ease myself back into it so I can break the cycle popping frozen pizzas into the oven or grabbing burritos on the way home. This one is straight from Simply Recipes, and is one of the many food posts that I starred in Google Reader while I was too busy to do much in the kitchen myself. Hopefully I can work my way through the backlog and turn that into some nice content for the blog over the coming weeks.

Braising Chicken Thighs

These beer braised chicken thighs take a couple of hours to come together, but except for slicing the onions and browning the chicken, it's almost entirely hands off cooking. So you can do it on a weeknight if, like me, you don't mind eating on the late side, but for most working people this will probably be a weekend dish. It's dead simple, with the only arduous aspect being the volume of tears shed while you slice three pounds of onions pole to pole. Just brown the chicken (as you can see from my picture I was probably didn't brown mine long enough), cook down the onions, deglaze with a bottle of good malty (no 60 Minute IPA here) beer, and simmer for an hour and a half. Serve it on a bed of egg noodles.

The chicken is fall off the bone tender and the onions and broth are just delicious (thank the FSM for chicken fat). In fact, those onions and broth are so tasty I could eat them (with the noodles) on their own. Definitely recommended.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hip Pressure Cooking Domain Name Stolen

An irritating story of some of the perils of that accompany building a successful website... people will try to steal your domain name and blackmail you for it. Laura seems confident she'll be able to get the name back eventually, but in the meantime be sure to update your bookmarks etc.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Marriage and Weekend Eats in Portland Maine

I'm officially a married man now, which coupled with the Orioles improbable playoff run may provide all the evidence needed that the Mayans were right. I never really thought Anna and I came across as "anti-marriage" or especially afraid of commitment, but it appears once you are of a certain age and in a committed relationship people start countdown timers... and as the years tick by with no nuptials, those same people start thinking you must just be opposed to the concept in general... because what else could it be? Or at least that's what they've been telling us. Well, it that is not the case that we are marriage haters... but both of our parents are divorced... and I suppose I can't argue that we took our time about it.

So, on Friday September 28th 2012, we just walked into City Hall and walked out twenty minutes later as a married couple. Neither of us dreamed of our wedding day as children, and to our minds this was much, much preferable to an elaborate wedding with swans, ice sculptures, and string quartets. However I was not quite able to pull the trigger on full frontal elopement, and in a nod to the traditional approach we told people ages ago we were going to get married... and will even have a reception dinner in Baltimore to celebrate with family and friends this coming weekend. We are also going to have a honeymoon in Costa Rica, but not until February (to take best advantage of the intersection of Central American seasons and Boston winters)... and we still wanted to make the weekend we got married feel special... so instead of just going down the street to Cambridge City Hall, we decided to make a weekend of it up in Portland Maine. Maine is a place we visit a lot given that my (now) mother in law lives there, but beyond that, early on in our relationship Anna and I would meet up in Portland for random weekends fairly frequently... so it has a bit of a special meaning to us.

Over the weekend we hit Vignola/Cinque Terra, Bintliff's, Fore Street, and Duck Fat. Except for Bintliff's these were all places that we had never visited. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of our meal at Vignola/Cinque Terra, but it was quite good nonetheless. More food than either of us was expecting based on similar "high end Italian" experiences we've had at local places like Dante. We got an awesome cheese plate with four cheeses to start, and were practically stuffed before the next course even came. As I am sure we will be visiting there again, hopefully I will be a little better prepared for documentation next time.

Roasted Rabbit

The following evening we had another fancy dinner, this time at a Portland institution in the form of James Beard Award winning Fore Street. Given that the place is usually booked two months in advance and we had no reservation, how did we get a table? Well locals know that the restaurant leaves a pretty high percentage (not sure if it's a third or half) of space available for walk-ins. So what you can do on a Friday or Saturday night is queue up around 5 (when the restaurant opens - and, yes,there will be a line) and put your name down. If you're at the front of the line you might get seated right away, but otherwise they'll tell you to come back at time when a table should be ready (for us 7:15) and you can go have drink at Novare Res or do some shopping. Works out especially well if you are already staying downtown.

Side of Mushrooms

Dinner there was great... certainly worthy of its sterling reputation... and surprisingly reasonable price-wise (relative to Boston anyway). Unfortunately I forgot that they don't post their menu online so I can't remember what the dishes pictured above were except "rabbit" and "mushrooms"... but they were good! I had actually never had rabbit before this, so I had some trouble figuring out how to eat it... and after leaving a lot of meat on the bones, I shamefully confessed my ignorance to the waitress. She told me that she normally tells people to just pick it up and eat it with your hands... so a tip for next time. I guess that's not super classy, but I can certainly confirm that a knife and fork is not terribly effective.

Fore Street isn't the greatest place for vegetarians, but it's still pretty solid. They had salads and larger dishes that were vegetarian, but you could also assemble a meal from sides... kind of tapas style... which was what Anna did. Our waitress said they fed 2-3 people, which is probably true if you get a big ole' rabbit like I did, but as you can see above you'd need at least 2 (and probably 3) of them to make an entree.

Lobster Eggs Benedict

We also made a brunch visit to Bintliff's, which I would guess also qualifies for the "Portland institution" label... or at least I would hope so given the perpetual wait times on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Another insider tip I have for you here is that they reserve a table specifically for large groups... one morning I was waiting for a seat by myself at the bar and saw a group of six waltz past a line an hour deep because they were the only big group looking for brunch that morning. Strange but true (unless they change their policy - no promises).

Anyway, I really enjoyed my lobster benedicts and seafood bisque, while Anna loved her pecan caramel waffles. If you think brunch is the dumbest meal ever, then Bintliff's is not going to change your mind. They're not pushing boundaries, but if you enjoy a classic American style brunch then this is a great place to visit. It's crowded and noisy and you have to wait ages to sit down, but isn't that what The Brunch Experience is all about? But seriously: the food is good and it's worth a stop.

Duck Confit Sandwich

Duck Fat was our last stop on the way out, and it plays a particularly cruel joke on vegetarians: awesome french fries, beignets, and churros fried in... I bet you can't guess... oh alright, yes... it is indeed glorious, glorious, duck fat. Other than that notable issue, vegetarians do fine here with soups, salads, etc... but you may have a tough time convincing one (I certainly did!) that it will be totally cool for them to watch you stuff your face with fries they can't eat.

It's a pretty small place, and at least on the Sunday afternoon we were there, it was "communal style seating"... i.e. they will squeeze you in wherever there is space. This was my least favorite meal of the weekend... though the fries were good, the duck confit sandwich pictured above was overpowered by the condiments involved. I'd go again, but it didn't live up to the picture in my head at least.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

JMueller BBQ in Austin

Side of the Truck
This past weekend I flew from Boston to Austin to hang out with some college buddies before my impending nuptials (tomorrow!). One of my goals for the weekend was to hit up some Texas BBQ, preferably without having to find out how to get 8 people to Lockhart. Rudimentary research quickly showed that there are two high end BBQ options within Austin city limits: Franklin BBQ and JMueller BBQ. While John Mueller has been at it longer as a third generation barbecue man, he closed up shop in 2006 and sold his pit to Aaron Franklin. Franklin has since risen to prominence as the media darling of the most beloved BBQ joint in Austin... but getting brisket there comes at a cost. Not exactly a monetary one (though it's not like the food is free) but instead as some serious time investment... like two hours plus in line. On the weekend in particular you need to be in line well before the restaurant even opens if you are expecting to get food.

Seeing all the accolades for Franklin pile up with lines down the street must have spurred Mueller into action, since he reopened his own venture in October 2011. When it first opened, JMueller was a nice and quick alternative to Franklin's... similar quality but with a fraction of the line length. Unfortunately, as you can see on Yelp, this has changed (not the quality - the line)... probably due to Anthony Bourdain.

Line for JMueller

Speaking of a line... we arrived directly from the airport (no time to check in!) on Friday at about 11:15 AM and said line was already all the way out of the lot. Mueller handed everybody a Lone Star and we settled in to wait. The pros suggest bringing along additional beer to sip while you work your way towards the front, but I was trying to pace myself at this early stage of the weekend and was content to just chat with my friends. I noticed that the line barely ever seemed to change length... always to the edge of the lot. The only time it dwindled was at about 1:30 when they cut it off since they were going to run out of food (a daily occurrence - they serve until they run out).

JMueller Offerings
We were quite lucky that they had not crossed any items off the menu by the time we made it to the front of the line. There were only three of us... so we could not (sanely) sample everything... but we ordered brisket (1 lb), beef short ribs (1.5 lb), pork ribs (0.5 lb), and beef sausage (1 lb). We did not waste any stomach capacity with sides. Note that the one and a half pounds of short ribs resulted from the fact that each rib is about half a pound... but while the short ribs were second only to the brisket in my mind (Bourdain says they are king), I'd say that's a fair bit more beef rib then three people really needed. If I were to go again I'd probably skip the beef sausage and pork ribs, which were both very good but not nearly as transcendent as either the brisket or short ribs... and give the pork shoulder a shot.

Brisket and Pork Ribs

I'm no BBQ expert by any measure (I live in New England after all)... and we couldn't visit Franklin for comparison (it was closed for the weekend)... but I thought that was some damn fine BBQ and certainly worth standing in line for. I would definitely do it again, and I recommend it to any tourists looking for culinary adventure.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Duck Confit @ JAM Bistro

Duck Confit Tacos
Getting married in about a week, so things are starting to get too hectic for very much cooking or posting... though there are a few posts in the hopper that I've got to bang out and I'm hoping to document some real live Texas BBQ during this weekend's trip to Austin with my college buddies... but I thought I'd put up this photo from lunch at JAM Bistro during our vacation in Rehoboth. Pretty simple dish... basically just duck confit, some lettuce, queso fresco, and house pickles (including some jalapenos)... but really a dynamite flavor combination. I suppose it's hard to go wrong with duck confit. You could easily throw these together yourself with store bought duck confit or homemade... and if you don't have fun pickles, you could instead top with a nice fresh tomatillo salsa.

EDIT: For some reason this didn't post when it was supposed to... oh well, I'll fire up the time machine.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Glazed Pork Spare Ribs with Shichimi Togarashi

Glazed Pork Spare Ribs with Shichimi Togarashi
After spaghetti with dried chile and garlic last week, we have another Bon Appétit recipe (here) all up in this blog. I always find it odd that I'll go months without making anything out of the food magazines I subscribe to and then... just when I start wondering why I'm paying for them... I'll go on a tear like this and be all "Bon Appétit has so many great recipes!" Seems verrrry suspicious, but I suppose it is unlikely their editorial offices have developed mind reading technology.

The recipe calls for St. Louis style pork ribs... which are spareribs with the tips cut off so you end up with ribs of (relatively) uniform length with no awkward cartilaginous areas at the end. The confusion I had is that I thought "St. Louis style pork ribs" and "pork spare ribs" were the same thing... that's what happens when you don't grow up in a barbecue area... so when I saw that the recipe called for 2 racks that totaled 4 pounds I was stumped (since one rack of spare ribs weighs about 4 pounds by itself). I later learned that butchering them down to St. Louis style by cutting off the ends accounts for the difference. You end up wasting (or finding some other use for I guess) some tasty meat at those ends, but I guess it makes them easier to eat.

So what did I do? Well I was just feeding myself, and since I didn't know about the trimming, two full racks of spare ribs was just way too much. Thus I just cut a 4lb rack of spare ribs in half so I had something to stack to make the little rib rack pocket described in the recipe. Worked fine for me... probably enough to feed two people, or in my case produced enough meaty ribs to gnaw on for a few days.

Out of the oven

I cooked the ribs in the oven on Sunday, but then put the rendered liquid and ribs in the fridge to finish a few days later. This way I was able to make the glaze and brown the ribs under the broiler in like 10-15 minutes for a quick weeknight dinner.

Anyway... I liked it. Thought it was pretty easy and tasty, and I liked that you can do it in stages. Star of the show? The shichimi togarashi, which I've had sprinkled over ramen at our local ramen stall, but never had as a part of my spice rack. Has a nice kick with some citrus notes... like it a lot. You can read more about it here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Crabbing on the Choptank

Steamed Crabs 2

My father grew up in Sherwood Forest (no really!), up the Severn river from Annapolis and the US Naval Academy, and, until I was in middle school, had a small sail boat he would take us out on for the weekend (it was small but you could sleep in the bow). In those days we would take handful of raw chicken parts, tie them to string, and then catch crabs (Chesapeake blue crabs) off the side of the boat. You would go from line to line and check to see if you could feel one nibbling, and if so, very slowly pull the line up towards the surface so you could net the crab. That method is called crabbing with a handline, and you can do that in Maryland without a license as long as you don't catch any more than 2 dozen crabs in a day.

Laying Out The Trotline

Nowadays my pops has a house on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay (on the Choptank river) and has a boat with a recreational crabbing license which allows him to set out a trotline. A trotline is just a long line with bait (chicken necks typically) tied onto it every couple of feet. It is anchored at both ends, lays on the bottom of the river, and has floats that mark each end. He has two spools, each 500' long, that he links together. These get fed out over the y shaped piece of pipe that you can see in the picture above. There is, of course, a lot of art as to when and where to place the line... whether or not the tide is coming in and all sorts of stuff I don't really understand. In our particular case it was a windy and gray day, so my dad chose a more sheltered area with fewer crabs but where the wind wouldn't be a huge hassle.

Starting Down the Trotline

Once the line is all laid out you take the boat back up to the start of the line (giving the crabs some time to find the bait) and feed it over another set of pipe that will bring the line up towards the surface as we drive the boat down its length. As long as you go slowly enough the crabs will be so intent on their chicken dinner that they won't sense that they are moving towards the surface.

Anna Crabbing

Now, the guy driving the boat can also net the crabs (my dad did this on the first pass and it looked pretty hard), but it's a lot easier to have somebody else to it. The officially recommended way to hold the net is not how Anna has it above... you want your right hand at the top and the pole in front of your body... but for whatever reason it seems the natural instinct is the opposite. As the line is brought up to the surface you keep your eye out for crabs clinging to the bait and net any you see with a side to side action (as opposed to up and down) and dump them into a bushel basket. It's pretty fun actually... though I suppose less so for the crabs.

Measuring

At the end of the line you head back up to the beginning so you can start again, but on the way you need to check to see which ones you netted were keepers. So you grab them with tongs (not hands! those claws hurt) and compare them to the above handy dandy crab measuring calipers... the notch higher up is 5" for early in the season and the one at the bottom is 5 and 1/4" for latter. If they are too small you throw them back and if they are keepers they go into a second bushel basket. In addition, recreational crabbers like us can only take males, so all females get thrown back. How can you tell? It's as easy as distinguishing the Capitol from the Washington Monument.

Why They Are Called Blue Crabs

The guy above appears to have lost a fight and one of his claws with it. Crabs are pretty ornery... as you might have heard. You can see why they are called blue crabs though... the amount of green in the shell varies a lot it seems, but they always have a lot of blue in their limbs.

Not a Good Sign for the Crabs

Back at shore after a successful couple of hours (though not especially so... we only caught about a dozen, whereas my dad says on a good day he could come back with a full bushel in that time) we prepped them to cook. Couldn't be simpler... put them in a steamer basket and dump a bunch of Old Bay and salt on them... then steam them over a mixture of water and vinegar.

Additional photos of the excursion can be seen on Flickr.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Alton Brown's Pressure Cooker Chili Revisited

Alton Brown's Pressure Cooker Chili

While I posted about this recipe a few years ago... just a couple of weeks after we purchased our pressure cooker... I'm going to post about it again as a kind of pressure cooker retrospective. At the time of that first post I was both confused and excited by our new kitchen gadget, but in reality not a whole lot has changed since my original assessment. I'm not really sure whether I should be pleased that my instincts were good, or disturbed that I'm not evolving as much as I did when this blog first started. Probably a little of both. Still, I think a couple of years of owning a pressure cooker has added a little perspective.

What I love both about this recipe (and pressure cooking in general) is the ability to decide to make a stew on a whim for lunch or dinner that day. This past weekend I woke up on Saturday with a freezer empty of easy options and no leftovers to munch on. With Anna out of town, this was the perfect opportunity to cook up some big meaty stew "project" to feed myself through mid week... and I sat down with my cookbooks, cooking magazines, and the internet to write up a grocery list to do just that... but then it occurred to me that while sitting around watching the O's (Whoohoo!) during a four hour braise would be an enjoyable afternoon, I'd still need to grab a sandwich from somewhere for lunch. Enter the pressure cooker and this exceptionally simple recipe from Alton Brown.

Before

All you need is three pounds of stew meat, a jar of salsa, tortilla chips, chipotles en adobo, chile powder, cumin... and a bottle of beer. Not too hard to come by. Now, I tend not to be all that interested in short cuts for convenience that come at the expense of flavor development, but the speed here mainly comes from the pressure cooker, and I doubt you'd find too many people who'd argue against this being a fully flavored chili. I suppose instead of jarred salsa you could take it to another level by being creative... and, indeed, I plan to do something like this with tomatillos for a Chile Verde variation... but I think it's pretty great as is, especially if you have a favorite brand of salsa whose flavor profile you enjoy. That latter point is pretty important, as with so few other ingredients that salsa is going to play a key role in the final flavor of the chili.

After

The only step here that takes any time at all is browning the stew meat in multiple batches... after that it's the 5-10 minutes it takes to get up to pressure and then about 25 minutes of cooking. Note: several pressure cooking authorities (like Lorna Sass) say to never use "quick pressure release" when cooking meat as that quick pressure drop allegedly squeezes the moisture out of the meat leaving it dry and tough. Not sure if that it true or not, but instead of Alton's instructions I cooked at high pressure for 18 minutes (instead of 25) and then let it release pressure naturally... which takes maybe another 10 minutes... and it the meat was perfectly tender and not at all dry.

So in the end I still got myself a full flavored stew with tons of leftovers but was able to get it on the table in less than an hour. Pretty cool. I'll never consider a pressure cooker an "essential" kitchen device, but it's pretty damn handy to have. For the most part I use the pressure cooker for non-blog worthy things, like beans or mashed potatoes... and I should probably be using it to make stock... but it's also great to know that if I am in the mood for a braise I can just stop at the store on the way home on a weeknight and not end up eating at midnight.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Spaghetti with Garlic and Dried Chile

Spaghetti with Garlic and Dried Chile

This recipe is a take on your classic garlic and oil pasta (aglio et olio) and can be found in this month's Bon Appétit (the recipe is from Luce in Portland). It's a bit more refined than the latter as you infuse the oil with garlic and chile flavor, but discard everything but the seeds for the final dish. If you're like me and have a bag of chile de árbol sitting in your dried pepper stash (what, everybody doesn't have a dried pepper stash!?) then you probably have all you need to make this dish sitting in your pantry. Given how easy it is to pull together I'd advise knowing how to make at least once version of this dish... in fact, the classic red pepper flake version linked above was one of the few things I knew how to cook before I took cooking seriously.

As for this particular rendition, I liked the dish, but found it to be a little on the subtle side. If/when I make it again I'd increase the amount of garlic and peppers involved. Note that the seeds really are a key component of the flavor... they're not especially spicy but they impart a nice toasty flavor.

Vegetarian and can obviously be made vegan by not finishing with parmesan.