Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bryan and I were at Redd's the other night, and we got into an interesting conversation with Eric the Plug-Eared Bartender. He told us, in between puffs n chugs, about what I think sounds like an interesting way to make chile. Rather than soaking the beans overnight, Eric's venerable ol' southern granpappy put the beans into a pot with some vegetables - one would presume, onions, peppers, garlic, mayhaps carrot and/or tomato - brings the mess to a boil, simmers for a few and puts it in the fridge to THEN soak overnight. The next day he proceeds with the usual day-long cooking. A subtle difference but one I appreciate. Akin to undercooking pasta and finishing it in the sauce. One can imagine small but relevant gains in flavor.
I made a tasty Provencal pepper today. Well, over a week.

Take some small sweet green or red peppers, make an incision in the side and deseed. Soak in white vinegar for a week.
Finely chop a yellow onion with a 2 handfuls black olives, 3 anchovy fillets and a half handful of capers. Stuff peppers. Place in jar and cover with olive oil. Cover. Marinate overnight.
Yum city! serve with bread and a soft cheese, not too rich. My boss told me about it and it's delish, quite pungent and salty.

Also, I made artichokes this way.
Place artichokes upright in a deep cast-iron pot. Fill with olive oil half-way up 'chokes, then fill to cover with water. Turn heat on high and bring to a rapid boil, cover and boil at only slightly lowered heat for twenty minutes. You hear lots of sputtering as the 'chokes suffer. Finally, all the water evaporates, and the oil is left, so the sputtering stops. Serve with salt and lemon juice and a dish of the cooking oil.
The leaves get crisped on the edges, it's delicious! V. luxurious.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Whole raw goat milk

I know it has been absolutely ages, and that reason is that I simply have done very little cooking as my new job is extremely time-consuming. Hence I though maybe I'd reflect instead on the ingredient I am most involved with, for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week; namely cheese.
I am totally agog over this rad cheese, La Lingot de Quercy. It's this lil French made of raw goats' milk, shaped like an amusing moldy rectangular prism of butter. When you pick it up the outside is faintly springy and elastic, kind of like a mold-sack, and the sensation as you lightly squeeze is like it's sacky walls house an interior of weight and liquid. When you cut off an end, the inside is of course white, and all around the interior, there is a surrounding quarter inch of a slightly less opaque white with a decidedly oozey character, as opposed to the majority of the interior, which, while far from crumbly, is of a firmer attitude. The taste is goatey but blessedly un-barnyard-ish, with a lovely aged pungency that makes seventeen-year-olds gag and reach for the Mountain Dew. It's quite buttery, not as firm as butter or a cheese like La Tur which feels almost exactly in the mouth like butter - it leaves a more melty, coagulated sensation. It's very rich, very creamy, and very good.
Now - the really interesting thing about this cheese, is that the longer you leave it kicking around - go ahead, let it mold, even GREEN mold - the more it develops. A lot of cheeses are rendered inedible by actually molding - well, rotting, really, as opposed to molding - but this cheese just gets harder, drier and more complex. After 2 weeks, it's as firm as, say, a very creamy feta, but the flavor, and in particular the flavor on the back of the tongue as you swallow, is HOT. As in peppery hot. Isn't that wierd? It's very exciting to eat. Apparently in another two weeks it is hard enough to microplane onto salads or toast, like a proper hard cheese, at which point I can only imagine it must be like a sort of goat wasabi. I was sneezing at the bite of the two week old stuff. The thing is, it tastes GOOD, I mean, it's peppery yes but so goshdarn flavorful and complex you just want to take the whole little log and hide it from your co-workers so you can gorge alone when they all go out on a smoke break. And then demurely blink and deny all knowledge of said cheese.
It's affordable too, relatively, I really think you should try it. Try a little bit every two days and engage with it's maturation. It's like having a kitten!

Monday, June 2, 2008

darn ham!

It has been a while, I got a fascinating new job as a fromagiere, or 'cheez girl', that has been extremely consuming.
I had these scallops, see? And some pancetta left over from Max cutting it too thin that was going begging. I was browsing online for suitable recipies and was, like, totally stymied. Why is everyone - well, all those middlin' cooks who post stuff online, ahem - so obsessed with wrapping stuff in things? Scallops wrapped in pancetta seems a) cliche b) fiddly and c) a bad idea to execute in reality as those two things have different cooking times.
So here is what I made:
Scallops with fried pancetta, tarragon and orange
Dry scallops. Salt and pepper both sides.
Take maybe 12 slices very thinly sliced pancetta, like proscuttio thin. Fry it up, mostly done, and finish till crispy-edged with a tablespoon minced fresh tarragon, minced zest one orange, ten halved green grapes, one clove garlic put through press (why can't there be a verb for that? 'Machined'?)- only brief cooking, a minute. Remove pancetta mixture. Keep pan hot, flame at med high. Gently place scallops not touching each other in pan. Wait, without messing with them, for two minutes. Gently spatula one up and peek. Does it look nice and carmelized, with crispy edges? If not wait another minute. When yummy edges are right, flip each scallop with tongs and do the same to the other side. Remove scallops and put on plate. Deglaze pan with 2 teaspoons bals. vin. unless you're getting tired of it, or maybe sherry, then turn heat to high and toss pancetta with a handful pomegranite seeds for a minutes till all tangly and hot. Pour and arrange over scallops. Chopped parsley on top.
It's good. Also, finally now you have a way to get rid of that pesky extra pancetta that's always around the house!

Friday, May 23, 2008

stock and wings

In response to the lovely Charley's comment, I think I'll take a second to discuss the mindblowing ease of making stock. It's really easy. Mindblowingly so.
I start all stocks, veg. or other, the same way. Fry as much chopped garlic as you can be bothered to peel. At least 2 cloves, you lazy sod! In a little olive oil.
For veg. stock - then add some veg. Cleaned and peeled. Carrots, onion, clean potato peel. Add very sparingly celery, pepper. Like, half a stalk celery or a quarter of a pepper. Their flavor is too bossy. Leeks are nice. Don't use leafy greens, cruciferous veg, or mushrooms. Just don't. Corn cobs work. Fry away. Cover completely with water. Add a bay leaf. Simmer for 25 min. Strain. Salt. Add seasonings during soup making. This is nice and basic.
For meat - Actually I lied above, for meat - which is usually chicken, you can use the cheapest parts, wing tips, etc. - add garlic AFTER you've put the meat in as it burns before the skin browns. Bash meat a lot, you want to crack the bones, that's where the flavor is. Remove excess fat but LEAVE ON SKIN for the love of god. Put in the hot oily pan. Med. heat. Let sit, stop fussing with it! Let it brown for 2 minutes then throw in garlic. 2 more min. No stirring! Then throw in a hunk of onion and a carrot if it's around. A bay leaf. Cover with agua, stir, and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down flame so it's a bare simmer. Cover. Simmer for at least an hour, preferably 2. Even 3, esp. if you're using a meat other than chicken. Cool. Strain. Refridge. Peel off fat layer if you are that type of person. Put it in a big washed yogurt container and write the date and meat type on top. Freeze if you are the type that has cleverly thought ahead and hence is not wasting all the tips you have after preparing all those wings for your large male friends because they were on sale and people mistakenly are impressed by a yummy wing which is actually the easiest thing to make delicious. Fools!
Pa's Highclass Wings (m'dad's recipe, only slightly altered to my taste)
1.5 lbs chicken wings (trim tips for stock. Just cut 'em off, it's easy).
3 lg. cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon tabasco
1 tablespoon brown sugar
preheat oven to 400. Toast cumin seeds in a dry pan for a minute till they smell toasty. Only takes a sec, don't burn them! Or if you are lazy just buy cumin powdered. Mash to a paste with garlic and salt. If you don't have a mortar and pestle (loser) you can put the garlic through a press and mush stuff together with a fork, but use powdered cumin then. Then mush in other sauce crap. Dump over wings in a big bowl, and toss delightedly. Spread on a cooking sheet, roast for 15 minutes, then turn em over with tongs and cook another 10. Or until they look crispy and yummy. Eat with snarling abandon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Damn you!

Do you ever feel that 'blenderized' soups are somewhat of a cheat? I mean, you can basically just boil pretty much anything to death, add some spices if you like, maybe some cream, and blend it. One could even use a handheld blender and do it right in the pot. Bam. Is it irrational to feel that this is in some way cheating? No! No, I say to you, reader, it is not irrational! When making a soup, one important consideration is cooking all the ingredients to the correct degree of doneness; namely, not overcooked. In a soup this is challenging if you are making a soup with multiple ingredients. Potatoes and spinach have different simmering times. But if you are assuming a final BLEND, then it really doesn't matter, does it? Go ahead, overcook that squash! irregularly mince that garlic! Who's gonna know?? And if it doesn't taste perfect at the end, hey, add a little cream, a little parmesan, swirl some creme fraiche in the serving bowl. Go nuts and throw in some croutons!
Ok, maybe I am getting curmudgeonly with the croutons. But you see where I'm coming from? The 'blenderizing' is essentially another Rachel-Ray-school-of-shortcuts, and I am having none of it!
Although I suppose there is a culinary tradition, particularly in French cooking, of smooth pureed soups. Why does a food mill seem so much more dignified? Somehow, a labor-intensive metal device seems to imply that no shortcuts have been taken here, that this soup, were you to have tasted it in its lumpen unmilled state, would be accurately cooked. A food mill pays homage to it's passengers, if that's the word I want. It isn't. But you know what I mean.
A Nice Healthy Soup
Fry a whole head of chopped garlic in some olive oil. Add 5 cups water and 4 cups chicken stock (which had BETTER be homemade). Add a head of chopped washed chard, another of spinach, a bunch of sorrel, and 4 chopped yukon gold potatoes. Salt, pepper, simmer for 25 minutes. Add a half cup of cream. Blend in small batches till smooth. Return to pot. Add 6 cubed yukon gold potatoes. Simmer for ten minutes. Add a large handful of ribboned spinach, juice of 1 lemon, and a splash of sherry if it's handy. Simmer five minutes and eat, yo!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

the mighty have fallen

In my new state of horrifying, dizzying penury, I have been investigating all the possible dishes one can make with canned food. This is a nice one, it's very quick and great on a hot morning.

One can beets, rinsed OR even cheaper! boil or roast your own, peeled, with a little oil and salt.
One can chickpeas, rinsed. I guess it'd be cheaper to cook your own but jesus christ how far do you expect me to go??
Mix. Douse in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, a pinch of cumin, and whatever greens you can salvage from your new thrifty Chia Pet Herb Garden - parsley is best.

I realize this recipe is a trifle idiotic in its' simplicity, but it is preferable to other vegetable salads out of cans because:
1. Chickpeas and beets are almost the only vegetables that taste almost as good out of the can.
2. They take FOREVER to cook by hand so you feel smug saving time.
3. You rarely, if ever, taste them together, so its' a refreshingly new taste.
4. Substantial-er than most veg. salads. So you stave off hunger to live another day.
5. V., v., very nutricious.
Also cheap and good as breakfast is washed, sliced, salted radishes, alongside washed, sliced apples, dried dates, and a little honey. Radishes are so great for eating out of hand when it's hot, why are they so neglected?? So crispy, so vividly hued! And of course with cold butter and salt on good bread they are absolutely superb. In Romania they eat big spring onions with cheese and salami for breakfast but that's going a little far. Pungent vegetables in the morning-wise.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


One of the things I adore about this spring is corn. Oh shit, that's summer. So I'm eating imported-from-Brazil-totally-out-of-season corn. So sue me. Anyway, I have really been relishing raw corn, cut off the cob. It has a refreshing milky taste, like the way a new baby smells. A clean one. And the sort of popping it makes between your teeth as the skin bursts is satisfying, like pomegranate almost, and that gets lessened in cooking. Although the flavor becomes more focused. But cooked corn is so 1970's. Today I made a really nice salad for a hot and lethargic summer day.

Corn cut off three ears of corn
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 jalepeno, ditto
large handful chopped cilantro
small handful chopped parsley
1 finely chopped shallot
Juice of 1 lemon
loads of salt
splash sunflower seed oil

You really gotta like fresh corn. If you do it's very good.

Monday, May 5, 2008

little fluffy lambs

There was a large gap in posts, unfortunately, because Internet - well, computers - were pretty much absent in Romania.
Safely ensconced back in Brooklyn, I can only begin now to process the mindboggling assortment of lamb I just endured. Orthodox Easter in Romania lasts a week, and lamb being the quintessential Spring Food, it appeared with regularity. I really shouldn't say 'endured' because aside from my animal fat consumption being on a par with, say, Andre the Giant, for the most part the lamb I had was excellent. A majority of the most delicious dishes were cooked on a farmshare by the jealous rolling-pin-wielding wife of our jolly aged Romanian host, and oh my god they were amazing. Lamb, not surprisingly in Romania, is at a premium, so every bit of the animal is used, and very immediately locally sourced - like, from 20 feet away. One of my favorite dishes Jealous Wife made was a simple soup, which I believe was
lamb stock, lightened with chicken stock - maybe 4 cups of each
4 cups water
a whole head mashed garlic
juice 3 lemons
a half bunch minced parsley
a half bunch minced coriander
bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes, whisk in a cup of sour cream, thinned with cream. Salt.
Pour over a big soup pot of roasted bone-in lamb chunks, hacked into relatively small pieces.
Serve with a thick slice of fresh white peasant bread - you know, the dense, undersalted kind - and a long green hot pepper. Not jalepeno, the milder kind, but of a similiar appearance.
Eat, taking a successive bite of pepper, soup with meat, and bread. The springiest, most lovely soup. Rich and delicate simultaneously.
She also made a simple but refreshing and addictive sauce, served with plain boiled spring potatoes.
10 cloves mashed garlic.
1 cup Greek yogurt.
Half cup rich milk.
Blended well, Not in a blender, obviously. Just get the garlic really pureed in a press, then a mortar and pestle first.
I am involved in the moment at researching home wine making, everyone there makes wine, even in cities, and in fact looked at me like I was a complete douche for actually BUYING wine at the store. So now in a quest to save American face I plan on whippin up a bucket in the backyard. Tips appreciated. I don't WANT to have to buy 'Winemaking for Dummies' bu I will if I have to.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Slovenia is interesting.
We had dinner tonight as what is referred to as a 'family farm', and brother, if you're thinking this is nostalgic of some sort of Steinbeckien/Commie group of austere buildings by a highway with dour-faced women in aprons furiously baking bread, you're exactly right! The surroundings, however, are lovely, full of nature and nature's things. Streams, pine trees, pudding-faced children, etc.
So we were served a 'family style' dinner - what does this mean, exactly? is this or is this not a euphemism for crap? - and it was fine. Over-cooked but flavorful pork slices off a loin, mashed potatoes, and - here's what I want to discuss - really good cabbage, cooked down for what must have been 45 minutes or so with water, lard, salt galore, poppy seeds, pepper, and I don't know what else! What spices do Eastern European countries use?? There wasn't paprika. Hmm. Who knows? Anyways, it was cooked down to this unctuous savory mess that was still toothsome, it went SO WELL with pork. It got me thinking about cabbage which I feel deserves a defense.
I feel quite protective about cabbage. It gets a bad rap in American cooking. Well, fuck off and go bully something deserving, like okra! Cabbage is versatile, nutritious, cheap, and super-yum. I realize people's immediate association is that of a tenement in lower Boston, replete with wet diapers in a tin washtub, screaming red-faced bablies, and women with work-roughened hands named Mary, but seriously, cabbage is way good. Here are my relatively inexperienced favorite ways of making it:
1. Cabbage via Casey's mom 'a la Edinburgh'
Take a cabbage.
Cut it up. Into bite size pieces. Put in pan. Cover halfway with water. Salt. Boil 3o min. Drain. Return to pan. Add hell of butter and pepper. Taste and add more salt.
DUDE. I know this sounds way shanty, but listen, it's very tasty. Cabbage, once you get over the sulpherous cooking smell (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence) has an ephemerally sweet and vegetabley earthy taste that is reminiscent of other more cruciferous plants but is wholly its' own. And I know butter is sort of a cheat but really, if ever an elemental earthy flavor deserved that particular proverbial silk lining, it's cabbage. It just makes the dish - if such a basic idea deserves that moniker - shine. It's really good. When Casey's Scottish maw served it on a wintry eve, I was all set to snigger and disdain, but ended up asking for seconds.
2. Cabbage a la Sara Reeske.
Sara doesn't necessarily make her cabbage this way but I draw inspiration fron her fresh salads that go so far beyond what I thought of as 'salad greens'.
1 half green cabbage
handful chopped parseley
2 fistfulls spinach
1 clove garlic
juice half lemon
quite a lot of olive oil, well not TOO much, maybe 2 tablespoons
a big pinch sugar
splash white vinegar, apple or white wine - not much, tiny splash
whatever seeds you have around - pumpkin, poppy, or sesame - toast all these in a dry cast iron pan for a few min. before adding.
if you want to get real West Coast on this, add some Braggs or soy sauce. You don't? Okay, that's cool, whatevs.
Ok this recipe is pretty obvious - but here's the rub* - raw cabbage has a lovely nutty flavor and a pleasant resiliant texture, but you need to slice it FINELY. Like coleslaw fine. Otherwise it's really too daunting, jaw-wise.
Try it, it's very good. You feel sated after eating too and it's very very healthy. Not in a gay Co-op way, but really.

*Don't you hate when you read salad recipes online and they list all the ingredients and give complex further instructions? For mixing an uncooked salad? NO SHIT chop the ingredients into bite size pieces and toss with dressing! Jesus! What am I, five???

quickly, before Sergio

I am overseas at the moment so I can't really blog much, this week and the following two - so let me just put down some quick ob.s' before Sergio in the chair next door starts coughing pointedly and I have to leave the office;
1. Italian bread. What the fuck??? Emerging from the Mt Blanc tunnel, out of France where for all its' faults the bread is sans rapproche, we stop at the Autostrada. I get a sammitch. the filling is delicious, but what is this saltless gummy FLUFF it nestles in??? And here in Venice, we get breakfast at the hotel? It's this sweet oily mess that vaguely reimagines a croissant through a Dunkin Donuts drivethru. Who ARE these people????
2. Vegetarian lasgane. I have seen the light. INDIVIDUAL PORTIONS, RE-BAKED. With a dousing of white wine cream and gruyere. Broiled. Unfuckingbelievable.
Ok here come the Italian Bros, I have to go. More as soon as the wilds of Croatia will permit, next week.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

rice riot

My father is an excellent and quietly adventurous cook, and it was he who first discovered the basis for my latest experiment - the revolutionary whirlwind that is eggless emulsification. In a sauce typical of fat and liquid magically forming a happy cream, egg yolks are frequently used as a binder, with the obvious example being hollandaise, in which lemon juice and butter are emulsified via heat and egg yolk. Or mayonnaise. Which, not using heat but just yolks, is en even more perfect example. Yeah, forget hollandaise, roll with mayo.
My father at some point started making this insanely vivid and deliciously pungent creamy sauce, which is rad because it magically emulsifies olive oil with salt and garlic. I know you're imagining a kind of gritty oily slop but I'm telling you, it really does emulisfy to a creamy rich mayonnaisey pud. He pounded in a big mortar a handful fresh peeled garlic, three or four big cloves, with a tablespoon of table salt. REALLY bashed, pounding away, until the sandpaperyness of the salt and the bang of the pound made a smooth mush. Then, whisking with a fork I believe? or maybe a lil whisk - he whisked in a thin drizzle of olive oil until the desired creamy consistantsy resulted. Emulsified. Really. Weird, no? Anyway as you can imagine this sauce is quite flavorsome, salty and creamy and sharply hot from the raw garlic. It is fantastic spooned on the side of a serving of grilled tuna or any thick white fish, so the diner can gingerly dip pieces in the sauce to judge for themselves how much is enough. Also, a spoonful tossed with steamed broccoli is lovely.
In my variation, I diluted the sauce. I did so AFTER the initial preparation because I figured adding anything that wasn't entirely smooth, like a puree might interfere in the emulsification.
I made two. For the first, I whisked in a splash Marsala, a splash soy, and a few drops fish sauce. I then mixed in some finely minced ginger, a few finely minced Chinese black beans, a few minced scallion. Served with roasted cod and Chinese-style fried green beans with pork shreds. Although the combination of flavors was not original, the vividness of the raw garlic and the peculiar dense creaminess of the sauce was delightfully different than what the palate has come to expect from these standard Asian ingredients. I suppose one could try making the sauce with one part sesame oil to two or three parts olive. That might be good too.
The next one I made was more straightforward. I roasted the garlic first, and used six cloves instead of 3 or 4. Whisked it up with salt and oil, then decided it was ungarlicky for my now totally insane preference, whisked up a lil batch of the raw garlic version, and added a teaspoon of that. Added some chile pepper flakes. Thought about an anchovy but figured that'd be salt overkill. Added a tablespoon or more of finely minced parseley and spread on toasted slices French bread. Sprinkled the top with grated Gruyere and parmesan, put under grill for a minute, and Bob's your uncle. Just don't plan on making out after eating these.

Monday, April 7, 2008

I drink your milkshake!

I am really into garlic soup lately. Soup soup soup.
You know what has got to be the best food reference in cinema history? In 'There Will Be Blood', when Daniel Day Lewis is looking totally ferocious and drunk. Which is most of the film, actually. But when he's in the cafe? 'I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE. I DRINK IT UP!' Followed by loud aggressive slurping of said shake. What a whammy!
This is a soup I love. It sounds weird maybe, a water-based soup, but it is actually very filling and full-bodied.
Find a stooge to peel you forty cloves of garlic. Finely chop. Actually it doesn't need to be TOO fine. Coarse sea salt fine. Heat a half cup olive oil in a heavy pot, add garlic and brown, stirring. Add a teaspoon or so of chile pepper flakes, less if you don't like spicy foods. Add a lot of boiling water, maybe 10 cups. A hefty splooge of salt. Simmer. While that is happening, make some croutons by cubing white bread, good thick sliced bread, and shimmy in a hot pan with butter or olive oil, yet more garlic (pressed) and salt. When 'tons are nice and browned, turn off heat and let sit. Poach egg for 2.5 minutes in simmering soup. Ladle a bowl of soup. Egg floats on top. Sprinkle handful of croutons on top. Eat. It's simple but absolutely delicious and very easy and quick as long as you get that stooge.
I made these chickpea flour pancakes, well crepes more, the other day at Kyp's house. Any one know what they are called, I forget, something middle-easterny no doubt. With roasted eggplant, peppers, feta, cilantro. Super yum. This got me to musing though, about flours in general. Chickpeas are of course beans. Do they make other bean flour??? How would they taste? I imagine kidney beans are too rich maybe, like, the batter kidney beans would make would be kind of like cement. Pinto beans might work. Lima beans?? Green! I see St. Paddy's Day visions of lima bean fritters! I think I'll fool around with this and report.

Monday, March 31, 2008

I was thinking about cream.
Ok, first off, let me say I love cream. Cream rocks. I mean, who doesn't love cream? Think about cream right now. Its' rich, unctuous pour. Its' pure opaque almost solid whiteness. Soft sliding peaks of whipped cream, dissolving coolly on the tongue into buttery air. The way, when dribbled into a sauce, the sauce becomes gloriously cohesive, all the disparate elements nestling closer, all the liquids amalgamating into a thickened, luxurious happy family.
It's really that last quality I was thinking about. I was over at Andrew's house, drinking Gato Negro and cooking dinner as he danced around the living room to some phatty grooves, and as I poured two pints of cream over my polish sausage, garlic and chard and turned down the heat to let it reduce, he broke off the rockin long enough to come over and take a deep tipsy sniff. 'MMMM' he said. 'That's gonna be good'.
Ten minutes later I tossed in some grated parm and half a box of cooked taglietelli, and yo, do I even have to tell you that shit was delicious? Andrew went, 'yum, yum'. Andrew's housemate said 'Hella good' or words to that effect. And they both pronounced general admiration of my sick culinary skills.
NOW here's what I'm saying. Not to dispel admiration, I love admiration, but all you cooks out there, don't you ever feel a flicker - well, partly of guilt, but more of a kind of silent smugness at your own cunning? Cream is such a cheat!!! People who don't cook CAN'T TELL that when you add cream you are really making the easiest sauce ever!! There's practically no skill involved! Can you think of ANYTHING you couldn't saute with garlic and reduce in cream that WOULDN'T be good??? It's like the crack cocaine of food. Like, some gibbering fiend in a Tuscon slum could cook that shit up over a bunson burner filched from the high school science lab and her gap-toothed crackhead date would ooh and ahh at her Emiril-esque talent. Or maybe that comparison also works as a metaphor, like, by cooking up lovely pure cocaine with a ton of dead babies or whatever they use, baking soda maybe, you get a primo high that's actually totally shit for you and no one's the wiser!! Not that cocaine's good for you. Goddamnit! Ok maybe I'll just say that sauces with cream are like crack. Impressively delicious and you want more. And bad for you. Although if you eat cream sauce one day and smoke crack the next you can offset the weight gain that accompanies excessive cream consumption.
That, by the way, is why I call shinanegans on French cooking. Ooh, yeah, Cordon Bleu, Mr. Saucier, you're so the top eschelon of great sauces, no one can beat you?! Nigga WHAT? Man put butter and cream on a pile of browned shallots, how could that shit NOT be good?? THERE'S NO WAY. It could be anything. But divine. So next time Julia Childs commands you to bend over and kiss the shoe of L'Escoffier, throw that Le Creuset up at her tall head and say 'You're done, Ms. Childs! Your technique may be superlative but I am hip to the secrets of your fabulous sauces, and that secret comes at the expense of my skinny jeans!!'

Speaking of cream and French stuff, I have been experimenting with an absolutely delicious but unfortunately unhealthy sandwich, the Croque Monsieur. If you aren't hip to this sublime food, it's typically thin French ham between two slices thin white bread, on the top slice of which is spread bechamel sauce and then grated Gruyere, which is then grilled to almost-crispy perfection. This sandwich is so good, crispy Gruyere providing a crunchy foil for the bland creamy smoothness of the layer of bechamel below, with the saltiness of the ham and the crumb of the bread providing a killer symphony of texture and taste, that it should really be American. With this in mind I have been making variations. Here is a good one:
Sage bechamel:
4 T. butter
2 cups milk
a handful flour
5 or 6 leaves of fresh sage, finely chopped
salt and p.
Make a roux by melting butter over low heat and whisking in flour and stirring till it has colored tan, like Giselle in summer tan. SLOWLY whisk in milk till it's a nice thick sauce, this is done in stages, a splash at a time. Add sage salt n p. cook over very low heat, whisking frequently, 20 min.
Take some nice good quality smoked turkey, very thinly sliced. Put a few slices, maybe 3, between two thin slices HIGH QUALITY densely crumbed white bread. No soft spongey shit. Butter a cast iron pan. Turn heat on med. While it heats, spread top of sandwich with two T. or so of bechamel. Sprinkle with grated Gruyere and Fontina mixed. Put in hot pan sauce side up (duh) and take the whole pan off the heat and put it under the broiler, kinda as far from the flame as you can get so the bechamel gets real hot as the cheese toasts.
That's it. Maybe a little parseley chopped on top. Cut in half and serve. Good with cheap dry wine and salad.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Initial Explanation

So what I want to know is, in terms of NYC food writing at large, is what's this burning obsession with restaurants?? I mean, we all like food, no shit; it's that the food writing I find seems so heavily weighted on the side of other people cooking for you. What they're cooking. How much it is. How the waiter offended you. The lipstick print on the 'clean' glass, etc. etc. Fucking effete babies! No, not really, but actually, really. Not interesting. What I find more constructive is actual discussions about cooking itself, as an experienced but decidedly unprofessional home cook. So, that's what I intend to focus on here; things I like to cook, musings about the qualities of individual ingredients, techniques, and food experiences I feel are noteworthy for one reason or another.
So you know what I think is a simultaneously overexposed but (yeah, yeah, I know, contradictory) underappreciated ingredient? Dude, for real. BALSAMIC VINEGAR. Now, I hear everybody screaming what the hell are you talking about that's like so mid 90's go eat some goat cheese and sundried tomatoes you dildohead. But listen, let me make my case before you make yet another salad dressing that tastes like a repeat of your ambitious and pathetic efforts at 'fine' cooking in art school - balsamic has been woefully under-explored. OF COURSE we are all sick of it in the following cliched contexts:
1. With olive oil and artisinal bread.
2. On a salad of fresh mozz balls, basil and tomato.
3. Or, more broadly, as dressing for salads of any kind.
4. Over summer berries. With mint, usually. Maybe some nuts. Pine. Walnuts. Whatevs, you know the deal.
Don't get me wrong, those ways of eating bals. vin. are reliably tasty and above reproach, OTHER than that they have become the de rigeur mode for consuming said vinegar and have become a culinary ball and chain for this ingredient. Balsamic has legs, man! Unchain that shit and let it fly!
Ok, so here's what I'm all about: BALSAMIC IN SOUP. Many and most soups. Ones with a variety of vegetables in particular. And not no pussy teaspoon or nothing, I'm talking like half a cup, kids.
Balsamic I find has a particular affinity for tomato-based soups. If you mix a large can of whole tomatoes - well, mash, with a masher -, into six or eight cups of chicken or vegetable broth, a half cup or more of balsamic creates a sour-sweet flavor of piquant intensity. Into which the intrepid chef can add many things. For a simple summer soup I add sliced chunks of zucchini, maybe 3 or 4 zucchini, and maybe some yellow squash, and simmer for 20 minutes. Then I add the corn cut off 5 fresh ears of corn, maybe a little finely diced jalapeno, and a ton of chopped basil OR cilantro. Maybe a splash of red wine in that shit. Some julienned green beans midway. OH and way back at the beginning, I forgot, it almost goes without saying - at the start? Saute 5 or 6 diced garlic cloves in a blop of oil, before adding tomatoes and stock.
DUDE, it seems simple, and it is, but rockin the vinegar really opens it up. The crisp sweetness of the corn (only cook 3 more minutes after you add the corn), the savory chunks of zucchini, and the tart, tangy, sweet rich broth just really kill it. I mean KILL IT.
Same basic broth but with a zillion veggies it more hearty. Last night, I made for Charley and I said soup WITH also:
Onion (fried with garlic at start)
Hot red paprika
AND if I'd had more time a big tray of roasted beets, parsnips and yams would have really made it a feast.
Look. I know this soup sounds elemental and frankly not that exciting. But I am TELLING you. It's the balsamic. Makes that shit exciting.
I guess although I hate to think it needs saying, but I'd better cover bases - add hell of salt. N pepper. Yo.

Also, more surprisingly - dare I say shockingly - balsamic has a way of waking up cream based soups. I would worry that it would create a sort of curdley flavor, if you know what I mean, but it's not as acidic as reg. vin. or lemon juice. It's full sweetness heightens more stolid flavors as a Marsala would, but with a touch more brightness. Cream of mushroom soup - obv. I mean made from scratch, not that canned sludge - really opens up, I mean it's not just the sharpness of the vinegar itself, it also seems to expand the mushroom flavor on the palate. Cream, which serves as such a delicious foil for the subtly flavored 'shroom, is more than adequate. but I find the roux I use to slightly thicken creates a deadening of flavor while improving texture. Balsamic balances that out. Kicks out the jams.