Thursday, February 25, 2010


Fish taco

Fish tacos, I thought, when I put this Lent plan together.  I'll figure out how to make fish tacos.

See, fish tacos are totally outside the Mexican cuisine I'm familiar with.  A fairly recent product of Baja California cuisine, they've been popular in San Diego since the 80s, but Bajan cuisine is as distinct as, say, Oaxacan, and hasn't spread through the US nearly as much as other regional Mexican cuisines have.  So I know of them, but I'd never had one -- I don't think I've even seen a classic Baja-style fish taco on a menu.

But the idea is pretty simple.  You fry some firm white fish -- I used cod -- and wrap it in a tortilla with several sauces.  Cabbage is a traditional topping -- I used sunflower greens instead because I happened to have some, and they're very good but haven't got a long shelf life.

The sauces: sriracha; spicy avocado sauce (avocado, lime juice, Tabasco pepper; more lime juice than guacamole, and thinner/tangier); mayonesa sauce (half mayo, half yogurt, with lime juice, green onion, and dill pollen).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

eyes say yes

Goat butter

Goat butter, on the left there, makes the best damn garlic bread I've had.

Butter's always been an interesting thing to think about.  You probably know you can make your own butter at home -- there have been enough Sunday supplement articles on it at this point.  Put cream in mixer or blend with immersion blender, mix and mix and mix, and boom, it's butter.  Culture it overnight -- adding a little buttermilk to the cream -- for better flavor.  It's a good thing to do, but the truth is that you're severely limited in the quality of your final product, because chances are you don't have access to really good cream -- you have, instead, ultrapasteurized cream from God knows where.  You're not likely to save money, either, given the cost of cream.  There are times when it makes a LOT of sense to make your own butter, though, even given those limitations -- you'll see what I mean when I get my hands on some tapioca maltodextrin.

Do you see how the cow's butter on the right is so yellow compared to the whiteness of the goat butter?  That's from beta carotene, same as in carrots.  With cow's butter, the more green stuff they eat -- the more they graze on grass instead of feed -- the yellower the butter, so this butter (Kate's Homemade, out of Maine) is yellower than your typical national brand to begin with.  Back in your grandmother's day, she used to mix powdered food dye into the oleomargarine ration to make it yellow instead of Crisco-white, before people got used to the Crayola jaundice of Country Crock, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, etc.  (World War II and the postwar strength of industrial lobbyists are responsible for the popularity of margarine; prior to that, margarine had at various times been subject to "margarine tax," and even to a requirement to dye it pink in order to make it less appealing, measures enacted at the behest of dairy lobbyists.  It remains illegal to sell margarine in retail packages over a pound, a butter-protection law no one got round to getting rid of.)  I don't know if goat butter is always so white, or what -- this is my first experience with it.

Butter's actually very low in lactose (milk sugar), which is a good test for whether you're lactose-intolerant or have an allergy to or intolerance of milk proteins

Unlike other fats, butter's an emulsion of 80-90% fat with water and dairy proteins.  Large-scale manufactured butter like your major supermarket brands -- Land O'Lakes and what have you -- is standardized at about 80% fat.  That's true in both the US and Europe now, though European brands imported to the US, as well as most butters labeled "European-style" tend to be a couple points higher in fat.  It would be possible to manufacture butter with even less fat, but 80% is the legal minimum.  You'd be surprised how noticeable the difference is between an 80% fat and 82% fat butter -- the mouthfeel is definitely affected.  But because commercially sold butter must have at least 16% water -- a requirement intended to limit additives and filler -- the variety of butter available is fairly constrained, and you shouldn't pay through the nose for butter.  You hit the quality ceiling pretty quickly, unless you have access to a local dairy for which making butter is more than an afterthought.

But this goat butter, this is something I've always wanted to try.  The goatiness is noticeable, but not overwhelming -- it's subtler than in fresh goat's milk cheeses, for instance, but because butter flavors are themselves so subtle, it's still definitely there.  It's also a creamier butter, just about spreadable straight out of the fridge.  

The garlic bread is amazing.  I mean, that was lunch -- garlic bread, just chopped garlic cooked briefly in goat butter, spread in a baguette, and popped in the oven for a few minutes.  The question is, what else should I do to explore this butter?  The five things that come immediately to mind, examples of butter-forward cooking:

1: Toffees or caramels.  But I mean, I still have a tub of goat's milk caramel in the fridge.

2: Buffalo wing sauce.  In fact, I should probably freeze a portion of this butter for afterlent, because I have a Hot Wings post planned for sometime after the Pizza Post, and now it seems like it would be incomplete without an investigation of the effect of goat butter on Buffalo wings.

3: Brown butter.  One of the secret heroes of the kitchen, brown butter is just butter heated until the dairy solids brown.  Think of the difference between regular butter and brown butter as the difference between a slice of bread and a slice of toast. Not just because it's a handy example, but because it's the same freaking difference -- Maillard reactions between amino acids and sugars occur at high temperatures and create new flavor compounds.

4: Butter-mounted sauces.  You can whisk cold butter into a sauce to help thicken it, which I do with a lot of sauces for fish.  And it is Lent, after all.  The most basic example of this is beurre blanc -- reduce a little vinegar or white wine, remove it from the heat, whisk cold butter into it until you have a thick rich sauce.  Commander's Palace does this with Crystal hot sauce.

5: Tomato sauce.  If you read other blogs, you probably caught on at some point that tomato puree + butter makes a much better pasta sauce than you'd expect -- this is one of those things that rippled through the hallways like no-knead bread and toffee bacon.

See, this is why I bought two packages of butter.

Monday, February 22, 2010

stocking my bar

I can't tell you how to stock your bar. Ideally, really, the process of learning how to drink and to make your own drinks would start you off with a certain array of bottles and end with you going into the store and restocking along completely different lines, lines tailored to your tastes.

Maybe you love tiki drinks, for instance. Though tiki attracts collectors of elaborate drinking vessels and complicated garnishes and whatnot, the essence of tiki is the blending of fresh juice and flavored syrup with multiple rums. While that may sound simple -- while at first glance it may even sound dangerously close to the appletini/sour-mix culture we 21st century cocktail enthusiasts are trying to push away from -- the key is the multiple rums, as many as five different rums in a drink. Now, me, I very rarely make any tiki drinks at home -- because that $100+ buy-in just to have enough different rums on hand feels better spent on three liqueurs and a great sipping whiskey, or absinthe and three different bitters, or ... you see what I mean. It's a hefty layout, and my drinking interests go in another direction. I go for variety and flexibility, which oddly means avoiding the tiki option -- because it frees my budget up in so many other directions.

But I also never buy brandy. I'll order a sidecar sometimes in a bar, but for whatever reason, brandy drinks don't interest me much. This is a little odd given that, before becoming a fan of cocktails, I'd drunk gallons and gallons of Remy Martin in my life. But so it goes: I have come to realize I don't have much interest in brandy drinks, and so I don't stock brandy.

The base liquor I am second-least likely to have on hand is tequila, and this is pure economics. A tequila of quality X costs price Y*1.5 to Y*2, where Y is the price of a non-tequila base liquor of quality X. For the cost of a bottle of Patron, I can buy a bottle of Plymouth gin and a bottle of Bulleit bourbon. So, again -- it's hard to justify that tequila, harder still to explore different brands. Sometimes in the summer when I either anticipate making a lot of margaritas, or plan to infuse a tequila with something, I'll buy a bottle of Sauza Hornitos, which is fairly cheap and certainly as cheap as your tequila purchasing should ever go.

It's a shame how much of the liquor market is impacted, defined, by labeling laws. I suspect there would be a strong market for American-made agave distillates from craft distillers.

So. Let's start with ... 10 bottles. A 10 bottle bar. For me, that would be:

Bourbon. Probably Bulleit, which has a strong enough rye character to split the difference between bourbon and rye, and therefore works well in a Sazerac.

Gin. Usually Plymouth, Bombay, or Citadelle.  I don't drink martinis unless I'm out.

Rum. I'm not faithful to any specific brand of rum. I tend to go for aged rums over clear rums. Prichard's is one of my favorites, especially for sipping, and Clement is very good. Pampero Aniversario, an aged rum from Venezuela, is the rum I buy the most often. The rums I currently have stocked are Prichard's, St Lucia Distillers Chairman's Reserve, and my kola-infused rum.

Genever. The only brand I've had is Boomsma's oude genever, but I can't imagine not having it or another genever in my bar now.

Luxardo Maraschino. There is really no substitute, brand-wise.

Aperol. Yes, I'm picking Aperol over Campari -- even though I can buy Campari locally but have to mail-order Aperol. The reason is pretty simple -- although Aperol works in every Campari drink (which is not to say it's always an improvement, but an Aperol Negroni, for instance, is a perfectly good drink), Campari doesn't really work in Aperol drinks like the Shaddock or the 2 to 2. Aperol is fantastic in combination with genever, for instance, leaving visible malty notes that Campari would overwhelm.  So picking Aperol here simply gives me more options.

Punt e Mes. My vermouth of choice, though I know it barely counts as a vermouth.

Absinthe. There are only a handful of absinthe drinks that I drink with any regularity, but a bar in which I cannot make a Sazerac is no bar at all.

Angostura bitters. The best go-to bitters, though Fee's whiskey-barrel-aged -- which is actually what I have in stock right now -- are a good substitute.

Peychaud's bitters. Less versatile than Angostura, but necessary to make a Sazerac, and good in Trinidad Sour type drinks.

Highlights of drinks you can make with this bar: Old-Fashioneds or Sours with four different base liquors, Sazerac, Punt e Mes Bulleit Manhattan, Aviation, Daiquiri, Aperol Negroni and Boulevardier, modified Shaddock (normally equal parts genever, Aperol, St Germain, and lemon, you would need to double the Aperol or sub Maraschino for the St Germain), various drinks made on the Trinidad Sour template, 2 to 2 (1.5 oz Aperol, 1 oz absinthe, 1 oz lemon, 1/4 oz simple, bitters). (While we're modifying the Shaddock, I actually usually make it with 2 parts genever, 1 part each of the other elements, so our 10-bottle Modified Shaddock would be 1 oz genever, 1 oz Aperol, 1/2 oz lemon juice, which I suspect is a terrific drink.)

A 20-bottle bar? Add these:

Rye whiskey. I know it's heresy to put it in the 20 instead of the 10, but I haven't got many rye whiskey options: Old Overholt and Jim Beam year round, and a few at the $50 price point at Christmas. Now, the Papa Saz currently in my bar is probably the best-tasting liquor I own, but I couldn't afford to make it a mixing staple, nor do I have year-round access to it anyway.

Tequila. It's not that tequila is a bad base liquor in the slightest, of course. It's kicked down to the 20 for the economic reasons I already mentioned.

Corn whiskey. The reason I don't have this in the 10 is because I had to include both absinthe and Peychaud's bitters for the sake of Sazeracs. I'm a proponent of unaged corn whiskey and its cocktail possibilities, and am working on a post about exactly that.

JDT. My own thing, Jack Daniels infused with Luzianne black tea. The JD is so mild and mellow that it gives you a good space in which to put those tannins. I nearly put this in the ten but couldn't find anything to take out.

Clear Creek douglas fir eau de vie. There's just nothing else like this, and yet when it works in a cocktail, it really works -- and the taste straight is amazing.

Ransom Old Tom gin. Post forthcoming about Ransom, which is a midway point between genevers like Boomsma and light London-style Old Toms like Haymans.

Campari. So weird to have that on this list instead of the other. Of course, I say that about almost everything on this list, don't I? Campari is the best of the amaros, even if you don't consider it an amaro. Like gin and tequila, it is also an exceptional shot to add to potable citrus juice -- orange, grapefruit, tangerine, etc -- and is useful in fruit gelatin preparations or maceration.

Green Chartreuse. I really only use this for The Last Word, but that's a cocktail you can make a million different ways.

St Germain elderflower liqueur. Bartender's ketchup, useful as the sweet element in anything built on a Last Word or Aviation template -- less assertive than maraschino or creme de violette, it blends with basically anything. (Though I find this is also true of Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur.)

Cynar. Cynar has a terrific affinity for both huckleberries and muskmelons, so in the summer I go through a lot of this mixed with gin and those juices.

The list of drinks made available by the 20-bottle bar is extensive and I'm nowhere near finished exploring it myself (I would guess I have about a 30-bottle bar myself, though it gets complicated when you figure in the various infusions -- huckleberry gin, coffee-cherry-orange liqueur, kola rum, white cassis, etc etc). But here's one:


2 oz Aperol
1 oz JDT
1 oz lemon juice

The JDT is easy to make: pour half a bottle of Jack Daniels over a family-size Luzianne teabag and keep an eye on it for the afternoon. You want it to be noticeably tannic. You're basically making sun tea with whiskey instead of water. The Aperol really plays well with those tannins, and makes this drink surprisingly similar to a lemonade iced tea/Arnold Palmer/half and half.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The camera's acting up again, it took me way too many tries to get this not very good shot of the Lent whiteboard.

Lent whiteboard

the sour and the sweet


I'm gonna need some new vinegar, I thought to myself, when the Lent plan came together.

See, I figure a lot of salads are in my future.  I am fairly simple about my salads -- lettuce, cucumber, sometimes radish, and dressing.  But I don't like much dressing on my salads, so it makes sense to make some more interesting vinaigrettes available.  And that got me thinking about vinegar.

What vinegar is, and you may not have thought about this much before, is a sour liquid produced when low-alcohol liquids have been exposed to acetobacter -- a commonplace bacteria, which, like those responsible for sourdough and pickles and wild beer, is floating in the air all around you right now.  Acetobacter eats ethanol and turns it into acetic acid, the acid that gives vinegar its tartness (it's good to be aware of different acids -- malic acid in apples, citric acid in oh-you-guess-what, and so on, because "acidity" comes in many flavors).

So vinegar tends to come in types based on low-alcohol starters -- malt vinegar (unhopped beer, generally), wine vinegar, cider vinegar.  You can make any of these at home -- simply by leaving the solution uncovered (diluted to 5-8% alcohol if necessary) and hoping some of the acetobacter land, or by adding some "mother of vinegar," which is a bacterial culture made up of acetobacter and cellulose, which will occur naturally in any vinegar and remain there if it isn't pasteurized.  The most foolproof way to make vinegar at home seems to be to pick up a bottle of unpasteurized vinegar -- Bragg's apple cider vinegar is the most common brand in the US, and is often in the health food aisle -- and add a few spoonfuls of that to whatever it is you're turning into vinegar.  I have a highly hopped beer vinegar zooming along on my kitchen counter right now, made with a bottle of Dixie Blackened Voodoo, a bottle of Hop Wallop, and a bottle of Sam Adams Imperial Pilsner.  

The cider vinegar in the photo there is from Pierre Gingras, in Quebec.  Like Bragg's, it's unpasteurized.  Like most good cider, it's made from a blend of different apples (four in this case), but unlike most cider vinegars, it's aged for a minimum of two years in oak, which both develops the flavor (cf. bourbon) and apparently has some health benefits.  Pierre Gingras is big on emphasizing the health benefits of its products.

This is a good vinegar.  And incidentally, I should mention that I got it from Zingermans, and that when the first bottle arrived leaking from being banged up in transit, customer service had a replacement to me within a few days.

The other vinegars, though?  Now these are wild.  Gegenbauer, an Austrian company, makes vinegars unlike anyone else's.  Usually when you say "raspberry vinegar," for instance, it's one of two things: (grape) wine vinegar to which sugar and raspberry flavoring have been added (such as in a lot of supermarket vinegars); or (grape) wine vinegar in which raspberries have rested for a while, contributing juice and color and flavor (such as in a lot of gourmet vinegars).

Gegenbauer's raspberry vinegar is made by fermenting the raspberries into a wine, and then fermenting the wine into vinegar.  That's it.  Those are the ingredients: raspberries, acetobacter, and time.  No grapes.

This is more resource-intensive, and the vinegars aren't cheap.  But you get a type of flavor you simply can't produce any other way.  Some day I'll try their quince vinegar, for instance, which I'm damn curious about, but for now I thought vegetable vinegars would be more practical.  The tomato is very sharp-tasting, golden colored, sort of fresh-tomato-juice-tasting.  I'm looking forward to trying it with some fresh tomatoes in ... five or six long months.

The red pepper is a revelation.  It's very sweet, surprisingly fresh tasting, and the acidity combined with the flavor of paprika pepper gives you a little illusion of spiciness without the burn.  It's very cool.

A vinaigrette's real simple.  Oil and vinegar.  Combine in proportions to taste, stir to combine.  A little mustard helps them stay emulsified.  A little salt helps bring out flavor.  Additions like herbs, spices, or chopped vegetables add other flavors.  

Either of the Gegenbauer vinegars -- maybe in combination -- seem to me like they'll make a good Catalina dressing, with the addition of oil and tomato puree and onion, which is another reason I went with them.  So far, though, I've been perfectly happy just combining them with oil and one or two spices -- like sumac and (the smallest shake of) cinnamon with pistachio oil, for a sort of faux-Persian vinaigrette.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


So like I said, I'm giving up meat for Lent.  Here's how that breaks down:

Duration: Ash Wednesday to Easter.  February 17 to April 4.

Exceptions: Sundays and St Patricks Day. The traditional Lenten fast applies to meat and poultry, but not fish.  It was often extended to eggs and dairy, but not always, and I'm allowing them. 

Those are the Catholic rules.  My addition: no fake food.  Tofu is fine, for instance -- tofu isn't imitation something-else, it's real tofu.  But no textured vegetable protein, no quorn, no tofu dogs, no meatless hamburgers, no imitation chicken.  That's all nonsense.  I have a blog to run here.  I'm not going to stock up on horseshit junk food and all that college kid crap.

This isn't some sophomore fling with vegetarianism, after all.  This is about Lent.  I've been neglecting both seafood and vegetables since moving to New England, because my options are so much poorer in both departments than they'd been in the past, but committing to do this will force me to explore what options I do have, and come to terms with them.  There's nothing wrong with meat ... but sometimes it's too easy.  Sometimes "sear this, with a side of sauteed that, and some sauce of the other" is a little lazy.  There's nothing wrong with good beans.  You don't have to put a sausage next to them or mix them in with ground beef.

So.  Coming up in the next seven weeks: Pistachio and camelina oil.  Vinegars: red pepper and tomato from Gegenbauer, unfiltered aged cider vinegar from Pierre Gingras, beer vinegar from my own kitchen.  Minestrone.  Gumbo z'herbes.  The underappreciated carrot and radish greens.  Eggs.  Cheese.  Pasta.  Peanuts.  Platonic fish.  Courtbouillon.  Fish tacos.  Patatas bravas.  Three- or four-bean chili.  Lampascioni.  Clams.  Erstahs.  Maybe a lobstah roll.  Who knows what else.  I've got notions.  There's plenty to talk about.  We'll be back to pork belly and burgers later on down the way.

there's this girl that's been on my mind


It seems possible that I was the only person to start the day with yogurt and sudachi for breakfast. Despite the 20 or more different kinds of homemade marmalade in the house, that's the admittedly unexciting task to which I tend to assign them.

The sudachi is a Japanese citrus fruit which is likely a hybrid of the mandarin and the papeda subgenus, making it a relative of the yuzu and the kaffir lime. It's fairly lime-like, the flavor of the juice sharper and less complex (or "more focused" if you like) than that of the yuzu, the rind less perfumed than the kaffir.

You can occasionally find bottles of sudachi juice.  You may be able to find the fresh fruit at the farmers' markets of citrus-growing parts of the country, or stores with an especially good selection of Japanese produce.  I bought mine from the White Dove Passion Fruit Farm, so they weren't cheap thanks to the shipping -- but on the other hand, they came out to about a dollar each, and even navel oranges cost nearly that much at my supermarket.  You know how I am: I hadn't had them before, so didn't really have a choice.

I have a mental list of things to try, with any citrus I pick up that you can't just eat.  I mean, there are a million things you can do with citrus, but if you're trying something new, you want to try it in something where it's the most prominent flavor.

Things to do with citrus that's too sour to eat out of hand:

Cocktails: Aviation, Whiskey Sour, Margarita

"Lemon" bars

"Key lime" pie

Shaker "lemon" pie (if you think the rind is palatable enough)


Liqueur: straight (vodka + peel), sweetened (vodka + peel + sugar), bitters (vodka + peel + botanicals + bittering agent such as gentian, cinchona, grapefruit pith, etc), infused spirit (Seville orange + gin is traditional)



Flavored sugar (zest + sugar + time)

"Lemon"ade, lemonade iced tea

Salad dressing

Mojo criollo (juice + olive oil + garlic + Cuban oregano, use as dip for fried yuca, fish, etc)

I also tend to dry a lot of the zest, and freeze a lot of the juice.

With the sudachi, I made a sudachi cream pie, two flavored sugars (one with yuzu and sudachi, one with Seville orange and sudachi), a quart of marmalade to have with yogurt, and am left with a cup of juice -- some of which I think I'll use for mojo criollo.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

every good boy

Coffee-orange fudge

Coffee-orange fudge.

Not "chocolate fudge, with coffee and oranges."  Coffee-orange fudge:

Melt about two tablespoons of cocoa butter in a saucepan.  I honestly don't know if this is necessary -- you may be able to leave it out.

Add 2/3 cup milk, 1 travel mug of good strong coffee (20 oz or so?) (feel free to use more, or to use cold-brewed concentrate, or espresso), dash of salt, 1 1/2 cups white sugar, 1/2 cup molasses sugar (or brown sugar), and 1 candied bitter orange (finely chopped or pureed, or other source of strong orange flavor) and stir until dissolved.

Cook without stirring until it hits the fudge point -- the "soft-ball stage," when dropping a small amount of it into cold water forms a soft ball.  If you've made fudge before, you know what this looks like.  If you haven't, just keep an eye on it and keep checking it once it turns thick, or use a candy thermometer and look up what the soft-ball stage is (I don't have one, so I don't know).

Remove from heat, add 2 tablespoons of butter, let cool for a bit, and beat with a mixer until it's visibly creamy.  Pour into a buttered pan.

Friday, February 12, 2010



This has been on the whiteboard for a while: cajeta with lavender.  When I finally got round to it -- when I finally remembered to buy goat's milk -- I tinkered with it a bit beyond just the use of the lavender.

Cajeta is just like dulce de leche, but using goat's milk in whole or in part.  I think you're missing out if you don't use 100% goat's milk -- it contributes a very obvious "goatiness," one that's familiar but distinct from the goatiness of goat cheese, if that's your only previous experience with goat's milk.  It was one of the things I thought of pairing lavender with when I first picked some up -- last summer.  Told you it'd been on the whiteboard a while.

To one quart of goat's milk in a pot over medium heat, add one cup of sugar and stir until dissolved and warm.  Add about a teaspoon of lavender and the zest of two bitter oranges and one yuzu (substitute other citrus as needed).  Add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and stir until it stops foaming, which may be a few minutes.  Add half a bottle of Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron and cook for an hour or two, stirring periodically, until you have a thick but pourable caramel.   (Towards the end, before it's too thick, strain it through a sieve -- but if you forget, you can still strain it later.)

That's a pretty intense combination of flavors, on the face of it, and it may sound like a mishmash, but what you end up with is a somewhat tangy caramel with big floral notes (from the yuzu as well as the lavender) and a nice solid base.

What do you do with it?  Well, my favorite thing to do with caramel is salted malted caramel orange ice cream:

Malted and salted caramel orange ice cream

Combine caramel and heavy cream until appropriately sweet, and add a healthy pinch of salt, or big fleur de sel salt flakes.  Thin with a little milk -- very little! -- and add a few spoonfuls of malted milk powder until the maltiness is correct.  Keep in mind that both flavor and sweetness will be dulled when the ice cream is frozen.  Whip to stiffness (that's what she said) and freeze.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

clowns to the left of me

Since the basic function of transglutaminase in the home kitchen is to bond one meat to another meat, I decided to do just that and see what happens:

Steak glued to ribs
Steak glued to ribs, smoked.

I bonded sirloin steak tips to the outside of pork spareribs, stuck them in the smoker, and stuck the smoker in the oven until the spareribs were meaningfully tender.  I didn't cook them to the point that the bones were falling out of the meat, but enough that you could pull those bones out with a couple twists and a tug.  There's a spectrum of sparerib doneness, and that's towards the ... call it the "rare" end, I suppose.

The reason I didn't cook them longer is because the beef was already drying out.  I knew this was a possibility.  I regularly cook sirloin steak tips in braises for long periods, but long smoking is another story.  They lack the fat and connective tissue that make spareribs become tender and melting over time.

Still tasted good.  When I say the beef was drying out, I just mean it was past its ideal point.  It certainly wasn't inedible or overly tough, they're perfectly tasty ribs.  But this was ultimately ... this was the shot you take to see how you need to adjust your aim.


1: I didn't want to spend a fortune on meat, so I used the same cut of beef that I was already buying (I made a batch of chicken-fried steaks to put in the freezer, not tenderizing any of them this time).  In the future, a better choice would be to match meats according to how they cook -- maybe brisket, for instance, would have worked here.  Or chuck roast.  Or a layer of sausage, even.

2: I believe you could precook the pork, cool it, bond the beef to it overnight, and then resume cooking.  I think.

3: Somewhat more intriguing, but very much an object of meat-geeking: picture a rack of ribs.  Now trim most of the meat off the front, without interfering with the interstitial meat, so that you still have a rack of ribs -- just one with barely any meat on it.  Now bond a different meat to it.

People regularly cook rib roasts which have been removed from the bone, with the bone tied to it to provide some benefits while cooking.  This would be like that, only with a different cut of meat, see?

Okay, picture it: you pull a rack of ribs from the smoker, and toss them into the broiler to crisp up the skin.  Skin!  What?  OH HEY IT'S DUCK.  BOOM.  I think fish could be interesting too -- salmon, trout, maybe monkfish depending on how it takes to smoking -- possibly with an additional layer of bacon.

oh ee oh ee oh

The other thing you can do with transglutaminase is make meat-based ravioli.  You heard me.

I took two paper-thin slices of bresaola (Italian air-cured beef) and bonded them together around an egg yolk, before simmering it just long enough to slightly cook it.

Bresaola raviolo

Bresaola raviolo

Because the bresaola isn't cured with nitrates, it doesn't stay red after cooking -- so the presentation isn't as nice as I expected.  The pasta is dressed lightly with a couple drops of olive oil and Gegenbauer red pepper vinegar, but we'll talk about the vinegar in the vinegar post later.

Functionally, this worked very well.  It's fussy: this "glue" is a powder, after all, not Elmer's glue, so getting two thin sheets of cured meat to bond together at the edges enough to be reasonably water-tight took some careful doing.  Initially there's nothing to make them stick.  You just have to be careful.

Taste-wise, the pasta itself is just great.  Italian cuisine uses egg yolks to dress things fairly often, whether it's a poached egg broken open on vegetables, egg yolk ravioli like this, or an egg baked on top of a pizza.  

But the bresaola wasn't the ideal choice here.  It happened to be the one meat I had in the house that would make this dish possible, but it's not suited to simmering -- it loses its delicate flavor and texture, and there's nothing especially interesting about Very Thin Beef, which is what you end up with.  This would be better made with a different meat -- salami? ham? duck? -- or a different cooking method.  Frying the raviolo seems risky because of the agitation, and I've never fried bresaola so I don't know what that would do to the texture -- but it seems worth trying.  If not, maybe you could do "bacon and eggs" ravioli, encasing an egg yolk in bacon and then frying it -- I just think it would be tricky to fry the bacon to the point of crispiness without hard-cooking the egg.

Of course, there is another way to go with this "egg inside meat" idea, too: if you freeze whole, uncooked egg yolks, they will gradually change in texture, and remain thickened and gelatinous instead of runny once they've thawed.  You could freeze-treat small egg yolks to bring them to that point, and then wrap bresaola or another thin cured meat around each yolk (perhaps with a thin schmear of soft cheese, or some puree of spicy pepper, or a piece of pickled onion), and bond it overnight.  Bring them to room temperature and serve -- no cooking, though I suppose if you didn't want to serve them as finger food, you could sauce them with a warm sauce just before service.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

pope's nose

I've talked before about how there are certain cocktail "templates" that I use as starting points for playing with new ingredients -- why not tell you what they are, instead of just leaving that ellipsis?  These are not all the classic cocktails, nor is this a true cocktail family tree -- there are good cocktail books out there that could tell you more about cobblers and fizzes in things.  This is just the information in my head that I refer back to when I'm screwing around.

The Whiskey Sour
2 oz whiskey
1 oz lemon juice
sugar (I do it by sight/taste - just like with lemonade, the right balance varies for everyone, and every lemon)

The Old-Fashioned
sprinkle sugar in glass; dissolve with 2-3 dashes of bitters (including a dash of orange bitters) and a little ice water
add 2 oz whiskey and an ice cube

The Sazerac
coat glass with absinthe, leaving just a little in the bottom
sprinkle sugar in glass; dissolve with 3-4 dashes of Peychaud's bitters, an optional additional dash of Angostura bitters, and a little ice water
add 2-3 oz rye whiskey

The Trinidad Sour
1 oz Angostura bitters
1 oz orgeat (a syrup)
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz rye whiskey

The Last Word
equal parts:
Green Chartreuse
Lime Juice

The Manhattan
2 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes bitters (sometimes I leave them out if the vermouth is Punt e Mes)

The Negroni
equal parts:
Sweet vermouth

These are templates.  Think of using them as like parodying a song.  When you take something out, you replace it with something with the same meter.  You don't have to stick with that -- that's just where I start, and sometimes I tinker after that.

So if you take the lemon juice out, you replace it with another sour ingredient.  Is there a Bloody Mary to be had using the Whiskey Sour template and a tomato/vinegar combination?  Who knows!  Maybe.

When you take out a liqueur, you replace it with another liqueur.  Take out the liquor, replace it with another liquor.

For instance: use tequila instead of whiskey, triple sec instead of sugar, and lime instead of lemon, and a Whiskey Sour becomes a Margarita.  The Aviation, the Blue Moon, the Daiquiri, and the Sidecar are all in the same family.  Similarly, there are Last Word variants using every other base spirit in place of the gin, and they're all great (rye is a particularly good choice).  I've mentioned this before, I think.  It's important to remember, if you want to screw around with your bar.

So if you get a new base liquor, you can run it through all of the above and see how it performs.  A new liqueur?  Try it in Sour and Last Word variations.  A new potable bitter/amaro?  Sub it for all or part of the Campari in a Negroni, or for the Chartreuse in the Last Word.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

you cannot serve both god and mammoth

You can thank the Pleistocene megafauna for your guacamole.

Hey! Hey! Bill! I thought of an idea! You could make a new chili dog!

See, the megafauna were, like it says, Really Big Animals.  Giant sloths.  Woolly mammoths.  TERROR BIRDS.  Giant beavers.  No seriously, TERROR BIRDS.  And you know how raspberries and strawberries have all those little seeds in them, so that when birds eat them, they crap the seeds out somewhere, and more plants grow?  So too with the avocado!  Only the avocado has a really BIG seed, because it was evolved to entice sloths and mammoths and terror birds.  Then the megafauna died off in the Ice Age extinction event, leaving more avocados for you and me.  Think about it, would you bother fighting a terror bird for your guacamole?  I sure as fuck wouldn't.  But a parakeet, shit, I could take a parakeet.  Or a dormouse.

See, you could mix transglutaminase with the chili, right, and mold it around the hot dog and let it bond -- like a Scotch egg, where the egg is the hot dog and the sausage is the chili -- so you have a hot dog encased in bonded-together chili, and then you could crush some tortilla chips on it, and get a squeeze bottle of salsa --

Did you know that Super Bowl Sunday is the day of the greatest avocado consumption?  Of course you did.  Every other blog has mentioned it while talking about guacamole.

Okay, guacamole! A squeeze bottle of guacamole! It would be chili stuffed with a hot dog!  Or something!  Sort of!

Guacamole's super-easy to make.  I think the only reason people buy it premade is because avocados take a while to ripen, so if you want guacamole today, and you don't have an avocado, you don't have many options.

I bet it would work!

I have seen a lot of terrible guacamole recipes, and they all get wrong the same thing Kraft Foods did, with their guacamole made with less than 2% avocado: they add too much nonsense that isn't avocado.  I believe the best way to think of guacamole is as seasoned avocado, the way mashed potatoes are seasoned potato.  You mash them up.  You season them to taste with a little salt and a little lime or lemon juice.  Maybe you add a little chile or a little bit of herb, like putting chives in your mashed potatoes.  But you don't need anything else, and it will taste really really good just like that, honest.  Anything like mayo, sour cream, crema -- that's just filler, that's just extender.

Do YOU think it would work?

...I mean, kind of.  Maybe.  I know beans have protein, but I'm not sure you can actually turn beef-and-bean-chili into, well, a sausage, which is kind of what you're sugg--


Okay okay, fine:

Chili dog

Happy now?

So happy.

Geaux Saints.

Friday, February 5, 2010

i work in a button factory

This isn't an ad or anything. I'm just gonna talk about Trader Joe's.  If you don't live in or adjacent to one of the nine states where they have a store, skip ahead.

Trader Joe's is weird.  You know that.  But they're also a magnet for, well, the focus of this blog: interesting ingredients.  While there's no Trader Joe's in New Hampshire, there's one right over the state line in Massachusetts, and it happens to be next to a liquor store that carries a lot of beers that aren't distributed in New Hampshire (latest acquisitions: Ommegang's Three Philosophers, Southern Tier's oak-aged Cuvee 1, Widmer Brothers' Cherry Oak Doppelbock, and shall we digress about beer? let's do. TEN FAVORITE BEERS, NO ORDER:

Palo Santo Marron (Dogfish Head)
Burton Baton (Dogfish Head)
Arrogant Bastard (Stone) (especially the Oaked Arrogant Bastard variant)
Dirty Bastard (Founders)
Kriek lambic (Lindemans)
Three Philosophers (Ommegang)
Cantillon Classic Gueuze (Cantillon)
90 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head)
Sierra Nevada wet hop ale (Sierra Nevada) (any release)
And I suppose Dixie Blackened Voodoo, for nostalgia's sake.

I have a great deal of beer exploration left to do, but basically I like Dogfish Head, American strong ales, hoppiness, and sourness/tang/funk.)

Speaking of beer, my Trader Joe's does not carry it.  TJs is famous for its beer and wine deals, but in Massachusetts, there's a limit on how many locations of a supermarket chain can carry alcohol, and in TJ's case, they placed them all in the Boston area.  So I have nothing to say about any amazing deals on Chimay or Lindemans, or what the domestic micro/regional brewer selection is like at Trader Joe's, or any of those other conversations I see people having about the store.

But as far as the food goes, there are two main things to know:

1: Trader Joe's frequently renegotiates its sourcing, and the sourcing for produce and certain Trader Joe's branded items can vary from region to region.  So if you're living in Cali and digging the spinach, and you move to Minnesota (or wherever) and it's not so great, that could be why.  The quality of TJ's-brand hummus seems to vary for similar reasons.  I'm told that the Trader Joe's brand of salad dressing is just Annie's dressing with a different label and a two-dollar discount, but I don't know if that's still true, and using their own brand name means it doesn't have to stay true.

2: In line with that flexibility is their weird weird distinctive way of handling inventory: apart from a few basics (they will always carry milk, flour, sugar, etc), they only stock the bestsellers.  They constantly offer new items, hundreds of them a year, but the ones that don't sell at a sufficiently high volume (much higher than the threshold set at a conventional store) are promptly discontinued.  This results in a selection that may not make any sense on paper, but which consumer demand has supported.

That's probably one reason why a significant strain of inventory is geared towards convenience and snacks: it's pretty much the best place to go for cookies, nuts, and dried fruit; their frozen and prepared meals have a strong following; and even the produce skews sometimes towards pre-chopped this, pre-peeled that.

You will frequently find that they no longer carry something, even if they carried it for years.  Passion fruit sorbet?  So long, chum.  Corn rye bread?  You will be missed.  But this keeps turnover high and prices sometimes surprisingly low.  (For instance, the large container of Trader Joe's Greek-style yogurt is a full two dollars less than the yogurt I usually buy, and it's not like I'm buying the most expensive yogurt on the shelf in the first place.  The chevre, while not as flavorful and goaty as what I buy from local dairies, is about a buck-fifty to three dollars cheaper, which is a big difference for something so small.  Dry pasta, canned tomatoes, organic milk -- again, typically cheaper than at your supermarket.)

One of the best descriptions I've heard of Trader Joe's is that it's like Elmore Leonard's books -- he describes his writing as "leaving out the parts people don't read," which makes for something sparse and fast but still filling.  

You kind of have to enjoy shopping to enjoy Trader Joe's.  Unless you were just there last week, it's hard to go in with a list and come out with bags of the things that were on that list.  They're grouped in with Whole Foods a lot, but honestly, apart from Whole Foods' store-brand cola (which is very good) and deeper selection of produce and significantly better bakery, WF doesn't offer a whole hell of a lot to interest me, and what they do have is steeply priced and wrapped in a lot of smugness.  (I have found Whole Foods to be incredibly inconsistent in its meat/seafood department, too, depending on where you live; if you live in a college town where their customer base is mostly vegetarian, have fun with your week-old chicken and freezer-burned fish fillets.)

It's interesting, all of the above has become a large part of their identity now that organic food and their other health/eco-conscious offerings have become easier to find.  I realize this is less true in the rural parts of the South and Midwest, but here in the northeast where nothing south of the Manchester airport is really rural -- it's all just flavors of suburban -- it's no longer unusual or even interesting to find ground buffalo at the corner supermarket, or quinoa, or organic salsa.  (On the other hand, I had to order my genmai cha tea -- and yes, I know cha means tea, but not everyone reading this will know what genmai cha is if I don't add "tea" -- by mail.)  Neither Trader Joe's nor Whole Foods is the sole purveyor of a particular kind of food anymore, and they've become defined by other traits instead.

Anyway, it helps to know what's good at Trader Joe's.

First: Frozen seafood.  Depending on where you live, chances are that Trader Joe's frozen seafood is fresher than the fresh seafood at your supermarket, because it hasn't been sitting behind a counter for a couple days.  Greenpeace has been on TJ's ass about sustainability; we're not going to get into the ethical issues of Trader Joe's, especially relative to your local supermarket (I think people expect more of a store they like than a store they need, and that TJ is condemned for things that wouldn't be commented on if Publix or Kroger did the same).  This is a food blog, not an ethics blog.  So I'm just saying -- this is a pretty reliable source of cod and shrimp.

Second -- here's some stuff I've picked up lately:


The dried fruit selection at Trader Joe's is kind of ridiculous.  I go for plain unseasoned fruit, sometimes with sweetener added if it makes sense -- they're a good source for dried Montmorency cherries, for instance, and used to have these awesome dried oranges.  What you see here are dried flattened bananas (like giant banana chips) and sweetened chewy hibiscus flowers (so good).

The frozen peas?  Seriously, the Trader Joe's petite peas are the best peas I've found apart from fresh.  Also good and cheap but not pictured here, are the frozen green beans.

The peanut-butter-filled pretzels are everything Combos always should have been.  There's a chocolate-covered version, but I'm not a big fan of most chocolate-covered things.  (Speaking of peanut butter and pretzels, these chocolate bars may be the best in the universe -- they're expensive, but Jesus Christ, they're like long rectangular peanut butter cups filled with very good peanut butter and ground-up pretzels.  That would be my middle name, if my middle name were stupidly long!)


Bagged frozen artichoke hearts are exactly the kind of thing I would not usually think about buying, but they're $2.00.  At that price, they'll add negligible cost to half a dozen pasta meals for me, or be a very cheap side dish a couple nights.

Organic pea shoots, another $2.  Very sweet, very green-tasting, very very good.  I don't know anywhere else where I can get these out of season -- and even in season, I pay more than this.  

The triple ginger snaps are super-popular -- they're made with fresh ginger, candied ginger, and ground ginger.  I'm going to make a pie crust, most likely.

And the macarons, well, look.  You can't have high hopes for macarons that aren't bought straight from the bakery that made them.  The fact that frozen macarons exist at all is just kind of cool, but you have to keep your expectations at a reasonable level.  I figured I'd try them once (haven't had them yet) -- at $5 for a handful of cookies that only come in chocolate and vanilla, once is enough, but you know, it's part of the Trader Joe's experience, you pick up some stuff you may never get again just for the hell of it.

Other interesting or useful items: they often have trimmed leeks, which can be handy; the Brittany blend of frozen vegetables is green beans, wax beans, and baby carrots; for a decent price (about $3.50), they sell a blend of chopped and washed "southern greens" (collards, kale, and mustard, I think? I forget); they regularly sell pre-cooked, not canned, refrigerated legumes of various kinds (I saw black-eyed peas and lentils today, I'm pretty sure I have seen pintos before); the jarred marinara sauce and salsa are comparable in price to the cheaper supermarket brands, without the preservatives, corn syrup, and xanthan gum; the dried pasta, though there isn't a deep selection of it, is 99 cents a pound, and even the variants (brown rice pasta, etc) aren't much more expensive than that.

I feel a little more prepared for Lent now (not pictured above are the several pounds of fish and pasta that I bought today).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

a horse is a horse

BUT MR K, I hear you shouting, because you don't know how to pronounce my last name.  What about the chicken!?

Settle down, kitten.

The chicken-fried steak did indeed leave behind a poorly-lit skinless chicken:

Naked chicken

And what can you do with a poorly-lit skinless chicken?  Not a fuck of a lot.  Roasting it would dry it out.  

But you've overlooked something:

That was way too little steak!

That's right, while you're all fussing over the skinless chicken, you neglected to think about the fact that a chicken hasn't got much skin to begin with, so I must have had some steak tips left over from the package.  What became of them?

They were ground up with paprika paste, scallions, pepper ketchup, and Activa, and then mixed in with goat cheese and rolled into a caseless sausage:

Beef and goat cheese sausage

After cooking:

Sausage, eggs

The sausage is on the dry side because the steak was leaner than you'd usually use for sausage, but that's okay -- besides, we're mostly testing technique here.  I sliced the sausage and had some of it cold with pea shoots and "stuffed eggs," another Activa experiment: I just made deviled eggs and then bound the two halves back together, and sliced them.  If you look at the egg on the far left, you can see that the Activa is visible -- Activa TG-RM includes a little protein in the mix to help make a bond, and because I used a little more than I needed to and couldn't get the eggs to stay perfectly flush against each other, the Activa sort of filled the gap like caulk.

In both cases, the result is functional but not especially exciting.  Though I expect to do more with sausage in the future.

NOW, what about the chicken?  Well, we gave it a different skin.  After marinating the skinless chicken overnight in slightly diluted hot sauce (we will discuss homemade pepper mash extensively in a future post), I bonded bacon to as much of its surface as I could:

Bacon-skinned chicken

Bacon-skinned chicken

This is a case where Activa is handy, but not necessary: berks bard birds with bacon all the btime, the Activa just helps it stay there, and keep from falling off when it cooks.  It DID work to keep the chicken from drying out -- the breast was nicely moist and flavorful.  

The fact that the bacon is cured doesn't interfere with the bonding at all -- in fact, salt helps a bit.  Cooked bacon wouldn't bond, but that's because of the fatty portion -- rendered fat has no protein, but when uncooked, the fatty portion still has a little.  Still, the bacon didn't make "as tight a seal," I guess you'd say, as the chicken skin had done.

And there you go, round one of the Activa experiments.  All in all, transglutaminase is a hell of an interesting thing to work with.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

farewell to the flesh

This post involves free stuff. Check out the free stuff policy here.

So check it out, I'm giving up meat for Lent.  This isn't going to change the blog too much -- seafood doesn't count, Sundays don't count, and I'm making an exception for corned beef at St Patrick's Day -- but it'll affect me some, and I thought, hey, before Lent starts, I should use some of that Activa TG.

Activa TG is the main commercial kitchen preparation of transglutaminase, also known as meat glue.  Transglutaminases bond proteins together, without adding flavor or changing texture in ways other than the creation of that bond.  At the industrial level, transglutaminase is used for Chicken McNuggets, Spam, imitation crabmeat, salisbury steak TV dinners, the bigger brands of hot dogs (and kielbasa and a lot of other sausages) -- all of which are made the same basic way, by creating a paste of finely-chopped meat, seasonings and salt, and transglutaminase, which is then shaped and formed.  As an additive, it can be used to make the mouthfeel of milk and yogurt creamier, and (I guess because of the protein content in wheat flour) it can help make pasta firmer.

Those uses have existed for decades.  I mean, this stuff opened a door to a whole world of chopped-and-formed foods.

But in the professional kitchen, transglutaminase is much newer.  Wylie Dufresne -- who seems to be the first chef to use it in the US -- makes "noodles" by extruding a transglutaminase-spiked shrimp paste into a hot water bath, bonds meat to fish, lines scallops together end to end, and so on.  We're a long way from discovering everything you can do with it.  It bonds protein to protein -- not sticks them together, in a way that'll make them fall apart again later, like wrapping bacon around something.  It bonds them.  This is both a very very simple thing, and something that opens up a world of possibilities, many of which (like those noodles) aren't obvious at first glance.

You can't buy transglutaminase in the supermarket.  Even by mail order, you can only buy it in enormous quantities, which is beyond impractical for the home cook: not only is it very expensive, but transglutaminase is a live enzyme with a short shelf life once it's exposed to oxygen or moisture, and even if you used it for every meal every day, you would not be able to get through a full package of it before it dies.

But me ... I have a blog.  So I got two 100g sample packs of Activa TG-RM.

The first idea I had for transglutaminase remained one of the best: chicken-fried steak.

I used steak tips cut into pieces, hammering a couple of them out with a tenderizer and leaving another one untenderized, just to see which worked better.  Sprinkled Activa on pieces of chicken skin from a whole chicken and wrapped them around the steak pieces, and let it bond in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, I took the steak pieces through my usual chicken-frying procedure (in corn oil, though animal fat would be preferable): shake in a bag of self-rising flour with a little cornmeal and seasoned salt, rest for twenty minutes, shake again and drop into hot fat.

The result ...

Chicken-fried steak

I mean.


Chicken-fried steak

Click through to see that close-up if you're reading this somewhere where it's cut off (like on the blog page): it's important.  Notice what would look like, if this were conventional chicken-fried steak, unfried batter.  It isn't batter.  There is no batter, just a little flouring on the outside.  Instead, the combination of bonding and frying has resulted in a layer of unctuous, luxurious, subcutaneous fat -- just like in duck.  It's not uncooked, it just wasn't rendered out.  The skin is still crackling-crisp.

The piece you see the cross-section of was one of the tenderized pieces.  This is one of the untenderized:

Chicken-fried steak

The steak is cooked to about medium.  (Rare would be difficult because of the frying.)

The flavor is different from conventional chicken-fried steak.  For one thing, the steak is different -- these are sirloin tips, not mega-tenderized chuck.  For another, there's no batter, just crispy chicken skin.  You don't have any incidents of meat falling loose from its encasement.

I think cream gravy would be out of place here.  This is a dish called chicken-fried steak, but it's not that chicken-fried steak.  If I were to accompany this, I think the way to go would be some warmed pepper jelly, and some sauteed greens.

I was going to include the whole batch of transglutaminase experiments in this post.  I've changed my mind.  They can have their own separate post.  It would be disrespectful to clutter this post with them.  This, this is one of the best things I've done: this is my masterpiece: this is my Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones.  Today, I am a cook.

nevermind the moxie


Adventure awaits us this week, chums.  I promise.