Monday, August 30, 2010

sneak preview

There will be a few entries on deep-frying in September.  For now, these are wings and fries:

Wings, fries

And this is a chili-cheese doughnut:

Chili cheese doughnut

Friday, August 27, 2010

chicks and ducks and geese better scurry, I'm gonna fry you up in a hurry

That CSN freebie?  I got a deep-fryer.  Full review in September, but early word is it's performing considerably better than expected for the price.

I was going to write this on the whiteboard and then thought, why not the blog, make it a social contract.

Fresh Tomato To-Do List:

Tomato pie.

The other tomato pie: warm or room-temp pizza dough with good fresh tomato sauce, no cheese or toppings.

Pizza with tomato slices instead of sauce. No point in doing this the rest of the year, you would be just as well off drawing a picture of a tomato and stapling it to the pizza.

Tomato sauce for pizza/pasta.

Okra and tomatoes.

Corn maque choux.

Tomato sandwiches.

Ratatouille / confit biyaldi.

Red jambalaya.

Tomato jam.

Scrambled eggs or omelette with fresh tomatoes and goat cheese. I know it sounds highly specific, but it's just a particular combination that works so well.

Catalina dressing.


Tomato bread. Tomato bread:tomato::garlic bread:garlic, not raisin bread:raisin - take fresh hot bread, slice a tomato open, squeeze/rub tomato innards all over hot bread, salt, eat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

papa's got a brand new punch bowl

Underripe watermelon

I cracked open a watermelon from my mother's garden, only to find that despite how heavy and juicy it was, it was still underripe - sweet but not sweet enough, pink and white, still a little tart.

What am I gonna do, waste a watermelon's worth of juice?  I scooped out all the flesh, juiced it, and freeze-concentrated it:

Watermelon juice

Boom, watermelon-ade.

Monday, August 23, 2010

he thrusts his fists against the posts

My first few weeks in New Orleans, when I knew no one local and had nothing I needed to do when summer classes ended for the day around lunch, have become kind of stupidly legendary in the annals of my anecdote-telling.  Mostly I spent a lot of time in the French Quarter, because it was easy to get to without a car, and easy to find things to do.  I got my first tattoo, the @#*! from Dr Blasphemy's costume in Brat Pack, at a joint on North Rampart Street. I found a severed finger in a puddle on Decatur, which years later inspired a short story. And I tried a lot of foods for the first time: gumbo, jambalaya, beignets and cafe au lait (I had had coffee with chicory before, in Colorado of all places), frozen daiquiris, alligator, boudin, cane syrup, pralines, popcorn dipped in hot sauce, red beans and rice.

And turtle soup.

I had turtle soup and a crabcake for my birthday in my third week in New Orleans, at a restaurant that isn't there anymore.  The crabcake was fine.  The turtle soup was amazing.  It would be another couple years before I'd try it at Commander's Palace, but it didn't matter, I love it from anywhere.

Despite that, my first time trying to cook turtle, I didn't attempt turtle soup.  Here's the thing: this was before Google.  This was before Wikipedia.  Before cooking blogs.  Before eGullet.  Looking back, in retrospect I realize the food-related online resources that did exist -, various online recipe collections - but the habit of looking everything up didn't start for me until the internet became as deep as it is.  

So I had a bag of turtle meat from a fishmonger down the street from my apartment in Metairie, and no idea what to do with it, but my approach at that point was to figure that any time I had a weird ingredient, if I couldn't think of something else, I could always put it in chili.

I didn't know much about braising, unfortunately.  I was a kid, I knew a little bit about a few things and not much of anything all told.  The fact that I should braise the turtle meat and let it fall apart, rather than just chopping it up and adding it to beans and chile seasoning ... well, it just didn't occur to me.

I don't remember how that $20 turtle chili tasted.  I'm sure it was pretty chewy.

My second time cooking turtle, I went back to the classics.  I went back to turtle soup.

Turtle soup

I was pretty confident because I've made mock turtle soup - which uses chicken thighs instead of turtle - plenty of times.  Turtle soup is a complicated soup - a little like a roux-thickened vegetable beef soup with turtle instead of beef, but then you've got hard-boiled eggs, lemon juice, and sherry.  The turtle itself is complicated - supposedly turtle consists of seven distinct kinds of meat.

It came out pretty great. And I did remember to braise: I decided the easiest way to go about this was to braise the semi-boneless turtle meat in a vegetable-beef stock, let it cool, pick the bones out, and pull the meat into chunks.  I strained the stock - now a turtle-vegetable-beef stock - and then assembled the soup:

First you make a roux. That's a phrase that oughta be familiar to anyone.  I won't get into all the nuances of roux-making, but you combine equal parts flour and fat (I used butter) in a pan and stir them, stir them, stir them, stir them, until the roux is quite dark.  This takes a long time.  You want it darker than peanut butter.  You often want it as dark as chocolate, but that takes practice to do without burning.  You definitely don't want it the color of butter and flour, is the thing.  You're making dark toast.

I sauteed carrot, pepper, ramps, celery, and lovage with the roux, added strained tomato puree and stock, and cooked until everything looked right.  Twenty minutes maybe.  Added the turtle, added some chopped hard-boiled egg and a little lemon juice, and kaboom.  Turtle soup.  (You add a spoonful of sherry to each bowl when you serve it.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

that voodoo that you do


There's something magical about okra, and it's this:

No matter how you cook it, no matter what you do with it, someone will ask, "Will I like this if I don't like okra?"


That's why it's called okra.  It's not called magical mystical chameleon fruit.

For instance, here's a recipe for people who like okra:

Okra pizza

1: Make a pizza, with a Trader Joe's herbed pizza dough (they're okay, the regular is better) and a simple sauce of garden tomatoes, red bell pepper, red miso, and seasonings.

2: Top it with mozzarella and gouda, and okra, salami, and pancetta.

The okra roasts, and adds a green pepper like flavor.  But it's still okra.

Here's a recipe for people who don't like okra:

1: Eat an apple.

Portuguese oregano from my garden.

Portuguese oregano

Apart from the variegation, this seems functionally identical to the Cuban oregano I grew last year: large, meaty leaves (albeit not as large as last year's), with one of those herbal flavors you can only describe with vague words like "pungent," "earthy," and "herbal."

Monday, August 16, 2010

make a grown man cry

Tomato pie

Summer isn't really summer in New Hampshire until it's almost fall.  It's the middle of August and the tomatoes are only just getting going at a good clip - before you know it, it'll be apple and pumpkin season.  Instead of the summer full of produce that you get even in Indiana - nevermind places further south - you get a brief window when everything comes at once.  Could be worse.  Could be Maine.

Tomato pie is only worth making with fresh tomatoes from a garden or a farm.  Nothing from the supermarket, nothing that's been in the refrigerator - there are flavor compounds in tomatoes that are destroyed by refrigerator-level temperatures, though most of the tomatoes from the supermarket have already been through that, already lost those, so feel free to treat them like the invulnerable little hunks of blushing flavorless science they are.

A lot of recipes for tomato pie call for basil, but the only reason I can see for that is that people see tomatoes, people see cheese, people think Italian.  There's nothing about this that needs to be Italian - I focus just on the tomatoes.  Once in a blue moon I mix something in with the cheese to add a little flavor, some onion or pimento cheese or something.

Now, supposedly you can freeze tomato pie, and that got me wondering about how soggy a thawing tomato pie might get - so I scooped the pulp out of my tomatoes for this pie, which is a good idea if you want to cut down on potential sogginess, but not strictly necessary:

Tomato slices

Lightly sprinkle the tomato slices with salt and drain them on paper towels (or napkins in my case) for 10-15 minutes, to draw some of the juices out.  Meanwhile, bake a single pie crust until it starts to turn golden.

I sprinkled a little bit of mozzarella on the pie crust after it baked, to provide a sort of seal between the crust and the tomatoes - another anti-sog maneuver.  Layer your tomatoes in - you may want to chop a few into chunks to fill gaps:

Untopped tomato pie

The topping for tomato pie is traditionally a combination of cheese and mayonnaise.  The mayonnaise just acts as a binder, helps to make the topping something slightly different than just melted cheese.  Paula Deen's recipe uses equal amounts of cheddar, dry mozzarella, and mayonnaise (one cup of each), which I find too heavy on the mayo.  I eyeballed the cheese - sharp cheddar, mozzarella left over from the pizzas, and a little cotija cheese - and added just a little more mayo than was needed to bind it together like egg salad.  There's no alchemy here, you don't need precise proportions.

Tomato pie

Tomato pie should be served slightly warm from the oven (not hot; let it cool off a little) or room-temperature.

Now, what to do with the tomato pulp?  Supposedly, the pulp and the seeds contain the most umami flavor, though I've seen this contradicted and haven't followed up to find out the truth.  In any case, the pulp certainly has plenty of flavor, and you should feel free to do something with it.  I had a little pasta (cooked in water spiked with Zatarain's crab boil), with tomato pulp and shredded cheese.

Penne cooked in crab boil; tomato pulp; cheese

Sunday, August 15, 2010

more new business

In more "upcoming posts" news, CSN Stores has asked me to do a product review of a kitchen item from one of their many online stores, which I'll get to once I settle on my choice.  There are a lot of options - I've thought about something bigger like a Dutch Oven or electric deep-fryer, but the mortars and pestles might best serve the food and drink halves of the blog equally.

Forgot to take a photo of dinner last night: pizza topped with chopped-up lamb chop, collard greens and cherry peppers from the garden, and salami.  Very good - the collards were totally lost in the lamb and salami, but so be it, they added some vitamins.

I'm waiting for the tomatoes on my counter to reach maximum ripeness before making a tomato pie, which will probably be the next entry unless I post about a drink tonight.

Friday, August 13, 2010

cubic scoops

When I was a kid, local megadairy Hood made a line of ice creams called Cubic Scoops: a carton with alternating flavors in a chessboard pattern.  My favorite was orange sherbet and coffee ice cream, my first exposure to the coffee-orange flavor combination, which I remained a fan of through the General Foods International Coffee days, the Cafe Brulot at restaurants we can only afford when our parents visit us in New Orleans days, and the many cups of morning coffee I've brewed with a little Seville orange peel.

Cubic scoops

Three packets of gelatin.  One cup of coffee with sugar, one can of Orange Crush with a little sugar and a little lemon juice, one cup of milk with sugar.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

down in the hole

I don't remember how much I've talked about miso head-on, but I know it would have been before I started using it regularly.  I add it to damn near anything now.

Miso is a fermented paste, which sounds off-putting, but so would cheese if I had to explain to you what it is, if it weren't a food product you were already used to and understood at a level beneath words.  Most miso uses soy, making it kind of like a solid form of soy sauce -- think of it that way, as a spreadable soy sauce.  Some forms of miso also involve brown rice, barley, buckwheat, millet, or other grains.  All contribute different flavors, but they're all recognizably miso.  The flavor is deep, rich, salty, and umami - that savory meat-like flavor of mushrooms and Marmite, aged cheese, yeast, etc.

I happen to strongly prefer barley miso, followed by brown rice miso and red miso.  White miso is easier to find, but I don't think it has as pronounced a flavor relative to the level of saltiness.

Americans are mostly familiar with it through miso soup or miso salad dressings, but think of the number of different things you can use soy sauce in and you have a hint of the adaptability of miso.

Here's the main thing, though: miso is hugely useful across the board in cooking, not just in Asian or Asian-inflected dishes.  It's not just a source of salt, it's an umami bomb.  Sure, you can put miso on a cheeseburger, for instance -- though I still prefer Marmite or Vegemite for this -- but it goes so much further than that.  You can mix some into chili.  You can mix it into tomato sauce.  You can mix a little with butter and rub a chicken or steak with it.  You should definitely add it to onion soup.  It doesn't change the essential character of any of these things -- adding miso to your pizza sauce isn't going to make anyone go "oh, that's an interesting Asian/Little Italy fusion you've got going there."  It's not going to register as "Asian."  It's far more broadly compatible than that.

You also don't necessarily want to build the dish around miso, because it's such a good background flavor, and you're going to overdo the salt if you include so much that miso is the strongest flavor - save that for when you use miso as a condiment, like in a dressing, glaze, dipping sauce, etc.  Miso works well when you incorporate it in something that has a good foreground flavor in it - the brightness of herbs, the sharpness of onions, the spiciness of chile.  Deviled eggs with miso?  Probably no big whoop.  Deviled eggs with miso and fennel?  Probably awesome.

My standard Buffalo wings sauce now uses miso, for instance -- melt a little butter, whisk miso into it until it's thickened, add a vinegar-based hot sauce (Louisiana, Frank's, Texas Pete, or homemade pepper mash):

Miso Buffalo wings

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Every once in a while I stop and ask myself, do I have the balance right over here? Am I talking too much about alcohol for a cooking blog?

And then, as if to answer me, I see five or six examples of good -- sometimes excellent! -- cooking blogs that don't know shit about alcohol, whether it's somebody cutting the rum in a mojito with vodka, or talking about what the best margarita mix is (look, cooking blogs: this is no different than asking what the best flavor of Hamburger Helper is, and if you still want to go forward and ask the question, that's fine, but at least recognize that you've stepped out of your gourmet zone), or getting all nervous about an infusion (putting a flavoring ingredient into distilled alcohol, a process that has nothing to do with creating alcohol and will do nothing more than add flavor to that alcohol) and referring to it as "fermentation" and "hoping nothing goes wrong."

And then I think, well okay then, THANK GOD FOR ME.

Seriously though - for some reason I'm less surprised when cocktail blogs show that they don't know anything about cooking than when cooking blogs show that they don't know anything about drinking. It's not a hard thing to know about, and it shouldn't be hard to figure out some basics.  Things like "it's better to use real ingredients instead of bottled mixes" should just be your starting assumption, not something you need to be told.  (The gimlet is the exception: a gimlet is gin and Rose's lime cordial.  If you use fresh lime juice, I'm not telling you it won't be a good drink, but it will be a DIFFERENT drink.)

Drinking posts coming up: I have free samples of several white whiskeys, some premium vodkas distilled from unusual ingredients, cola vodka, and Snap, a gingersnap-inspired liqueur from the makers of Root.  There's a chance Snap won't be covered until the fall, when I can pair it with apple cider.

Cooking posts coming up: I have that frozen turtle meat that's been in the freezer for months, so I think I will finally make turtle soup soon. Tomato season is finally starting, so tomato pie is coming too.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Take the proportions of a daiquiri, smash them together with the premise of a Trinidad Sour, and you get ...

1 oz Smith & Cross rum (I think any other rum would be drowned out, but the drink would still be good)
1 oz Angostura bitters
1 oz lime juice
3/4 oz tea-infused simple syrup (make very strong tea; add equal amounts tea and sugar)

It's spicy and bracing from the bitters, but the rum comes through.  Very summery, but not in the light crisp manner of gin and tonics.