Monday, October 25, 2010

Another clearing-out-the-freezer lunch, peas with scallops and pork belly -

Peas with scallops and pork belly

Pork belly was braised overnight in the crockpot, in duck stock, dark soy sauce, sriracha, ginger, fermented shrimp, and a little sugar.  In the morning, the braising liquid reduced down while the pork crisped up on the oven.  Scallops were warmed through in the sauce and then removed before I threw the peas into it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A season of putting things in the freezer, such as we've just had, must necessarily be followed by a season of taking things out of the freezer, which led to black raspberry cranberry pie:

Black raspberry cranberry pie

No matter what the farm stand down the road thinks, blackberries are not black raspberries, no more than lemons are yellow limes.  Black raspberries don't taste like blackberries.  They don't look like blackberries.  They're wild raspberries that are so dark purple they look black, and they're often (as in the case of these) less tart than red raspberries - but unlike golden raspberries, which are milder and more subtle than red raspberries, they have a deep winey-berry-y flavor.  Black raspberry ice cream is a popular flavor in New England (I've found a lot of locals don't realize it isn't a standard flavor nationally).

For the pie, there's nothing between the crusts but black raspberries, sugar, and cranberries that I added both for tartness and to add some thickening.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


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

Two whiskeys and a tequila

Charbay Tequila Blanco; Charbay Whiskey Release II; Charbay Doubled & Twisted Light Whiskey.

Thanks to Jenni at Charbay, I have a small bottle of the best whiskey I've ever had.  (Papa Saz is knocked to #2.)

I don't even know where to start with explaining this whiskey.  Well, here's what it comes down to, I guess: whiskey starts out as beer.  Not as good beer, though - it starts as a sort of lobotomized unhopped beer, because hops were added to beer as a preservative, and thanks to the distillation process there's no need for them.  In 1999, the distillers at Charbay said, okay, but what if we made a good beer anyway?  What if we started with a good beer - what would that do to the whiskey?

Well, it makes a fucking great whiskey, that's what.

They started with a Pilsner made from European two-row barley and hops (California, Nugget, and Eroica), distilled it in a pot still, and aged it in barrels.  The first release of Charbay Whiskey was released in 2002, at 3 years old.  The second release - what I have - was bottled in 2007, at 8 years old.  It's bottled at 110 proof, and the hops are so unexpected that when I was giving Matt a sample of it, I misremembered and told him it was distilled from an IPA.  

First of all, you can smell the beer in the nose - there's a lot of spice that I would probably take for rye if I didn't know what I was drinking, and a lot of caramel.  The spice hits you right up front - again, like a good rye - and then the hops are there in a distinctive beer-like aftertaste.  

I could drink this every day, straight.  I can't afford to ... but I want to.  It's good with bitters, especially orange bitters, and I haven't tried it in a Boulevardier (whiskey/Campari/sweet vermouth) yet but -- wait, I will stop writing this blog entry until I have done so.

Okay, it's good in a Boulevardier, but the Campari overpowers much of the spice - though not the hop aftertaste - and I think this is a spirit best in more spirit-heavy cocktails like the Old-Fashioned and maybe a Manhattan that's light on the vermouth.  A little lemon and Aperol works, too.  The Boulevardier would probably work better here with different proportions - maybe 2 parts whiskey, 1 part vermouth, 1 part Campari.

The Doubled and Twisted, the bottle on the far right, is labeled a "Light Whiskey," and is Charbay's unaged whiskey - unlike the Charbay Whiskey, it's distilled from an IPA and bottled at 99 proof after only a day of barrel aging.  (An aged version is forthcoming.)  Since the Charbay is now my favorite whiskey, it's not surprising that the D&T is one of the best white whiskeys I've had - it's neck and neck with Glen Thunder.  All of the funky nose of an unaged whiskey is there, with a much more pronounced hop flavor.  It's very very cool.  Again, you don't want to overpower the hops - this is best in a whiskey sour or on the rocks.

The Tequila Blanco has no hops.  Just to be clear.  The distillers distill it in Mexico in a copper pot still, and the GPS coordinates of the distillery are right on the label.  It's a very tasty tequila, very peppery and green in a way that I love - I'm not as versed in tequilas, so I don't know which brands to compare it to, but I can tell you it's better than Patron (my usual brand).  

Ground beef/bacon, fava beans, rice noodles

We associate them with the Mediterranean, but the leading producer of fava beans is actually China. 

Originally I had in mind something like mapo tofu, which is spiced ground pork served as a sauce over tofu - but using the favas instead of the tofu - but I didn't want to go out and get anything.  I didn't have ground pork in the house, but I did have a little local ground beef, and some bacon I could grind up, so I browned the two of those together until they started to crisp, and then made a pan sauce of black bean paste, sriracha, ginger, water, and a cornstarch slurry.

Of course, then I realize I'm about to put spicy ground beef over beans, and am reminded of the chili I'd just made - so I tilted towards Cincinnati chili by adding a pinch each of cinnamon and oregano, and mixing everything in with rice noodles.

shoulder cheese

Sometimes when you have leftovers - a slider's worth of ground beef, some bacon, beet greens, cooked pork skin - you make pate.


The bacon and the pork skin were ground up, mixed with the ground beef and a beaten egg and the beet greens, and seasoned with a little hot sauce, thyme, and ginger.  After resting in a ring mold for a day, it was covered and cooked at 350 until cooked through - then cooled for a day in the fridge before being unmolded.  A lot of the fat from the bacon was lost - the ringmold isn't water-tight - but the gelatin is what's most important.  In fact, if this were made with the head of the pig instead of skin from the picnic shoulder, it'd pretty much be head cheese - the skin and the gelatin give it a bounce that's different from your usual pate.

Works cold, room temp, or seared to crisp it up a bit, though warming it up will of course melt the gelatin, so you could have it fall apart on you.

south of the honeybee

Deep-fryer scar

One of two not particularly serious boiling-oil scars, photos of which should probably have accompanied the deep fryer review.  (Though it's not like this is a hazard unique to any model.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sometimes when you have leftovers - smoky chili, cheddar cheese, pizza dough - you make a Hot Pocket and sriracha it silly:


Deep-fried caramel

Deep-fried caramel (interior, inset).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

this week's pizza


This week's pizza started with Pecorino Romano grated onto the crust, and everything else piled on top: sauce (the usual - tomato puree with herbs), fresh mozzarella, fava beans, and ground beef seasoned heavily with ras el hanout.

Today's pizza

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

smoked chile pimento cheese

I took the red chiles that Nikki sent and smoked them.  Most of them were then combined with smoked plum tomatoes and miso, as the base for chili.  But I took some of the meatiest ones and used them in a "pimento" cheese:

Smoked chile pimento cheese

Smoked chiles, sharp cheddar, mayonnaise, pickled ramps, and a little minced beet green.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

fava beans

Fresh fava beans are, thankfully, just as good as you think to yourself that they'd better be, after spending an hour shelling them to produce barely a bowl's worth.

Fava beans

Favas are trickier to shell than most beans: in addition to the pod, each bean has a little jacket, which needs to be individually peeled off.  Blanching the beans, once removed from the pod, can help, but it's still time consuming and it still has to be done individually.  Whole fava bean pods can be grilled, but a) this is much better when they're young (not in October, and possibly not when they're at the market at all, depending on your vendor), and b) it's a whole different taste.

Also "whole different tastes" are canned or dried favas.  (I don't know if most people know this or not, but canned beans usually originate as dried beans, not fresh: the process of canning them both cooks and rehydrates them.)  I've never warmed up to dried or canned fava beans, maybe because fresh was how I first had them.  I've tried; and since we had several Middle Eastern groceries and restaurants in Indiana, I've certainly been exposed to Middle Eastern food and am a big fan of it ... just not ful, the quintessential Middle Eastern fava bean dish, generally (always? I'm not an authority here) made with dried beans.

But fresh favas ... oh man are they good.  They only need a couple minutes of cooking, even the larger tougher beans.  They're the ideal bean for a bean dip, even though you sacrifice a lot of the aesthetic appeal there - they're also perfect for room-temperature bean salads of beans dressed while warm with oil and lemon juice and seasonings, and then allowed to cool to room temp.  They have an excellent affinity for duck, goose, foie gras, truffles, thyme, and sharp cheeses, though perhaps not all at once.  (Sumac, thyme, and sesame seeds are one version of the Middle Eastern za'atar spice mix, which also goes well with favas, particularly with a little olive oil.)

We had the favas shown above in a sandwich with some chopped leftover leg of lamb; the favas above are dressed with Pecorino Romano, sesame seeds, and smoked olive oil (which sort of brought everything together), and were mixed with the lamb before being spooned into hot-from-the-oven baguettes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I don't bake much.  I'm a cook, not a baker.  I make pizza regularly, and the usual pies and whatnot, but there is one thing I'm pretty good at -- baguettes.  These aren't like the baguettes I got used to in New Orleans (they're denser), so you can call them something else if you like, but they're very good.

The trick is to make the dough days in advance of baking.  That's very important.  The flavor develops and is at its best the third, fourth, and fifth days after mixing the dough.  So I make enough dough for several baguettes, and then take out as much as I need for a baguette that night, and let the rest keep aging.  Nothing else - not how long you let the dough rise after you take it out of the fridge before baking, not how much it's kneaded - makes as much of a difference as letting it age in the fridge for a few days.

This is the bread I use for poboys, for garlic bread, etc., my go-to homemade bread.


The night before, mix:

1/2 cup water

1 cup flour

pinch of yeast

and let them sit on the counter overnight.

I use the bread machine to do my kneading, so then add that starter to the bread machine with:

1 cup water

3 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

teaspoon yeast

You can add a tablespoon of Tabasco sauce for a spicy baguette (something I picked up from the McIlhennys), or a very little cornmeal or semolina for a more rustic texture, or even fold in chopped salami, olives, and cheese.  And put it all on the dough cycle, which kneads it.  Or if you don't use a bread machine, knead all that by hand.

Drop a little oil in a mixing bowl, drop the dough in it, flip the dough over, cover with a wet (not merely damp, unless you live in a very humid climate) kitchen towel.  Put it in the fridge.  Wait a few days.

When you're ready to bake a baguette:

Preheat the oven to 450.

Remove some dough and shape it into a baguette, on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal or semolina.  Let it come to room temp and rise.  Dust top of baguette with cornmeal or semolina too, if you like.

Spritz liberally with water, to the extent that water is pooling up on the pan - this helps form a crust.

Bake for half an hour.  Let cool and listen to the bread "sing" as the crust forms.

wing sauce

Imagine a mighty and invisible machine that performs a series of transformations on its inputs: it takes people, ideas, and institutions arriving into the United States from elsewhere - especially Europe, where these things are made of many of the same constituent parts as the domestic goods, if not to the same degree as claimed by the germ theory of 19th century historians - and partially Americanizes them, translating them to the local national environment; simultaneously it is constantly redefining the "America" of that nizing, in response not only to inputs arriving from other countries, but inputs developed at the local and regional scale, some of which are picked up by the machine's arms and stretched out to the national scale, some of which are not. The machine was always there and the machine will always be there, but its work arguably peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when various parts of the machine included both the tangible -

- for instance, the availability or lack thereof of local ingredients, which resulted in immigrant recipes being adapted out of necessity, just as migrant Americans moving from state to state adjusted their recipes when a regional product they were used to was unavailable; or the national media, which at the time meant magazines and nationally owned newspaper chains -

- and the intangible, such as whatever forces mush your accent up over time because of the people around you, while mushing theirs up in response to yours, until everyone's talking more like Americans but Americans aren't talking the way they used to.

Now set your inner eye on more literal and tangible machines, and realize that during this same period, the United States went from being a country of almost all farmers to a country of almost no farmers. Populations redistributed: the frontier closed in 1890, with the entirety of the United States officially settled and civilized, easterners having sloshed westwards; early trends began in what we'd later call suburbanization, as towns developed that were neither urban nor based around agriculture; factories became major employers, and professions like doctoring and lawyering became redefined so that you couldn't just call yourself one and start in on it, you had to get official degrees and certificates and whatnot; middle management was invented in the early 20th century, to make manual laborers more efficient by keeping a closer eye on them, an approach soon applied outside of factories.

Hardly anyone farmed, but everyone still ate. It wasn't like with saddle repair: the profession didn't decline because the demand declined. Demand stayed the same -- increased, even -- while the supply of farmers dwindled.

Just as much farming had to be done by far fewer people, and that's where agribusinesses come in, using tractors and other machines to work fields more efficiently, crowding thousands of chickens into one place to make chicken and eggs cheap for the first time, so cheap that within a few decades Americans would take their cheapness for granted and assume they'd always been cheap. Refrigeration, railroads, and highways make cheap food relevant, because it means you can produce the food far away from where you're going to sell it, without which opportunity there would be no way to capitalize on the economies of scale provided by large-scale farming, nor any way for people in suburbs to eat beef or people in cities to eat anything at all.

Little farms go away. Big farms sprawl out.

America gets a little less white, so much so that whiteness is redefined more inclusively, and Southern European groups like Italians become white so that other white people can slow down the feeling of being outnumbered. Like German food, Italian food is adopted as part of America's cuisine, and within a couple decades of the mass lynching of Italians in New Orleans, spaghetti and meatballs is part of every American housewife's repertoire, right alongside chicken a la king and salisbury steak (both of which are also products of the cultural and industrial changes of this time).

Cookbooks and recipe sections of magazines and newspapers become popular during this era because everything is changing. The changes to the cattle industry have not only made choice cuts of meat more affordable year-round, they have created plentiful affordable ground beef as a by-product. Furthermore, because meat of any kind is now cheaper than it used to be, there is less and less need to rely on the less-choice parts of meat: chicken backs, necks, and wings; oxtails; most pork parts; and any organ meats.  

While a small family farm raising a small amount of livestock could not do much with the liver, hearts, etc., of their animals other than sell them or eat them, commercial farms operating on a large scale have thousands of pounds of organ meats to work with. The pet food and livestock feed industries are transformed, and commercially made sausages are prepared using the same parts of meat that people used to buy on purpose but within a few decades will get on the internet to titter about because haha meat is so gross hee hee.

Almost as soon as commercially prepared food products like canned soup and jarred condiments are introduced, recipes are concocted to use them in ways they weren't intended, from condensed soup in recipes for the aforementioned chicken a la king to the pimento cheese and congealed salads of the South. Commercially made cayenne pepper sauces have been in America longer than Worcestershire sauce, but the first major national brand is Tabasco sauce, sold in cologne bottles a few years after the Civil War. "Chile sauces" based mostly on tomato are more popular in most of the country, but brands like Crystal, Trappey's, and Frank's Redhot are introduced in the early 20th century, when American tastes are in flux and a lot of soon to be permanent national favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza are going through the adoption process. The advantage of cayenne pepper sauce is that it is ethnically neutral: the flavor is that of the peppers, with the tanginess of vinegar and some salt; there are no additional spices, no vegetable base, nothing to tilt it towards any particular cuisine. Unlike a chutney, chile sauce, or sriracha, it will go with anything the newly adventurous, experimental American home cook may decide to make.

Chicken, meanwhile, has not only become cheaper as the result of factory poultry farms, it arrives at market larger and younger. The tough hens that used to be stewed, the roosters of coq au vin, virtually disappear from the market, and when they are available they actually cost more than the young tender chickens that can be ready to eat in half an hour.  

This brings us to chicken wings.

Chicken wings used to be scrawny and tough. If you've ever cooked a hen or a rooster, you know what they used to be like. Turkey wings can be just as bad. Something to gnaw on, but far from tender or unctuous.

But young chicken wings, from unusually large chickens? These are plump, meaty, with a skin to meat ratio that makes them decadent instead of something you toss in the stock pot.

So you take this machine, this American character that is constantly redefined in response to new inputs but also constantly strengthened so that national identity becomes more important than local identity - you take this cheap chicken and its suddenly delicious wings - you take pepper sauce - you take the old European method of cooking chicken in plain or flavored vinegar, and the more recent Italian interest in cooking chicken with vinegar and hot peppers - you combine these factors in an Italian-American-owned joint in the early 60s in the declining Rust Belt city of Buffalo, New York -

- and what I'm getting at is, the history of Buffalo wings is the history of America.

I can't improve America, but I've been tinkering with Buffalo wings, and this year, right now, today, this is what I've got:

Your basic parts of Buffalo wing sauce are butter and cayenne pepper sauce - Frank's Redhot sauce originally, Tabasco quite often, and I think Louisiana brand hot sauce is the best choice. There are plenty of ways to play with the combination - in high school I used to add a little mustard, more recently I've been whisking in miso, and obviously a hot sauce beurre blanc suggests itself (Commander's Palace makes one with Crystal hot sauce). I went another way.

Brown butter solids

It starts with brown butter solids.  Brown butter is what it sounds like: you cook butter in a pan, stirring, until the water content cooks off and the butter begins to turn golden brown.  The dairy solids will turn dark brown as a result, like a roux.  Let it cool some and settle, and you can pour off most of the butter into another container and be left with the solids, which have a rich and roasty flavor.

Buffalo wing sauce

To that, we add: roasted peppers (hot cherry peppers, mostly), a little miso, a little of the butter to make the texture right, Gegenbauer pepper vinegar (substitute apple cider vinegar), dried celery, dried green onion, and a little pinch of ginger.

That gets blended and strained.  So note: we have the butter, and we've broken the "pepper sauce" component into its constituent parts of pepper and vinegar, and then seasoned a little with the celery, onion, and ginger, while using miso instead of the pepper sauce's salt.

Wing sauce
Wing sauce

And the sauce on boneless skinless chicken thighs (my "chicken nuggets"), with French fries and onion dip:

Boneless skinless chicken thighs

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chiles from Colorado

The annual chile-apple exchange: Nikki sends me chiles from Colorado, I send her apples from New Hampshire.  This year she went above and beyond, with chiles from her garden.

So we're at the headwaters of autumn.  Caitlin and I had two pies this weekend: the last tomato pie of the year, and a Concord grape pie.  The apples available now are fall apples like Northern Spies and Spensers, not the early apples like Jersey Macs and Gravensteins.  Pumpkins are out, squashes ... I'm trying not to think about imminent winter.

Concord grape pie

Concord grape pie is one of my favorite pies.  We talked about Concord grapes last year.  The domesticated descendant of wild fox grapes, it's the grape that the "grape flavor" of soda and candy is based on.  The pie is a little laborious, though less so than pitting cherries for a cherry pie.  You start with a saucepan, a mixing bowl, and whatever container your grapes are in.  Work your way through the grapes, squeezing on each so that the grape pops out of the skin into the saucepan, and drop each skin into the mixing bowl.  Heat the resulting pan of grape pulp for five or six minutes, and then run it through a food mill or press it hard through a strainer, into the mixing bowl.  You can actually use an immersion blender on the pulp if you're careful - you don't want to grind the seeds up, or start flinging them around.

Anyway, you've now got a bowl full of grape skins and pulp without the seeds.  You can give the bowl a couple pulses with the immersion blender if you want, to chop the skins up a bit.  Add sugar and lemon juice to taste, and a spoonful or two of cornstarch to thicken up the filling, and boom, you're done - put the filling in a pie crust, bake, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Presto Cool Daddy Deep Fryer review

As you remember, CSN Stores asked me to review one of the products they sell.  Their various online stores sell everything from dining sets to cutlery, and I pondered a few different options before settling on a deep fryer.

There are a few reasons I chose a deep fryer:

1: I don't have a deep fryer, but I know how to use one and have plenty of applications for one.  I had no plans to buy one in the near future, for a simple reason: I didn't think you could find a deep fryer worth having at this price point.  Deep fryers get a bad rap - people think of them as creators of greasy food, but the food is only greasy if the oil cools down too much when you add the food.  Harold McGee and other food science writers can explain it to you better, but basically, if the temperature is right, you have enough water escaping from the food that it doesn't soak the oil up like a sponge.  But if your oil loses significant temp when you add your food, that's when you soak up all the grease.

2: So basically I thought this was a product where there would be plenty of cons to point out.  You know, I'd be able to say 'it does X, Y, and Z fine, but if you want to be able to do Q and P, save your money and get one of the $300 fryers instead.'

The fryer I settled on was the Presto Cool Daddy Cool Touch Deep Fryer.  Presto makes plenty of fryers at higher price points.  Many of their fryers get quite good reviews - I checked, compared some other options, looked around, before settling on this one.

Here's the thing:

Honest to God, I can't find anything wrong with it.

Look, it's not a magic machine.  Just like a microwave or an oven, if you try to make it things it's not designed to do, it won't perform well.  You don't want to drop three pounds of frozen chicken into the fryer, and my attempt at a chili-stuffed donut didn't work because the donut simply opened right up and the chili floated out.  But that had nothing to do with the fryer.  Any time I attempted something I knew was possible, something I knew a deep fryer should be able to do, it did it, and it did it well, and it was easy.

Some pros:

The plug is held on with a magnet.  If the fryer is accidentally knocked off the counter, the plug will pop out.  On the other hand, you're still knocking hot oil all over, so I don't know how much of a godsend this is.

The fryer is indeed not-hot to the touch.  It's not cool, but it's not more than warm - you won't burn yourself touching the outside of this fryer.  

There's a lid.  I didn't find that the charcoal filter did much, but my concern is simply that the food cooks properly, and the lid helps to keep the heat in so that when you add food, the oil -- which inevitably loses some heat as a result, that's just physics -- comes back up to temp quickly.

It preheats pretty quickly.  There's a temperature dial, which is critical.  This, in fact, is the main benefit a deep-fryer has over filling a cast-iron pot with oil.  Cast-iron holds heat so well that adjusting the temperature of your oil in a cast-iron pot is a very slow and imprecise process.  With a dedicated deep fryer, it's simple.  I don't know how accurate the dial is, because I don't have an accurate thermometer to check it against.  I do know that any time I fried something at a given temperature, it came out the way it was supposed to.

Among the things I've fried in this:

French fries.  Here's how to make French fries: use good potatoes (I love Kennebecs), don't cut them too thick, put them in a bowl of cold water, rinse the surface starch off, and chill them for a while.  Drain and fry at 340-350 for five or six minutes, just to cook them through.  Then remove the fries, bring the temperature of the oil up to 375, and fry for another few minutes until golden.  This makes fries that are crispy and stay crisp.  It's potato season here right now, so I've been making fries a couple times a week.

Fried chicken.  I'm not fully willing to say this yet, but I think the deep-fryer might actually make better fried chicken than my cast-iron method that I've spent more than a decade fiddling with.  It's certainly not worse, and it's faster and easier.

Doughnuts and beignets.

Deep-fried Oreos.  Make beer batter (1 cup beer, 1 cup flour, whisk them together), dip Oreos in batter until covered on all sides, fry at about 350 until they cook through.  The Oreos inside the batter come out soft and fudgey.  Really crazy good.

Boiled peanuts.  Shell boil peanuts and fry them so that they crisp up.  They don't taste like roasted peanuts ... they taste like fried boiled peanuts.

Scotch eggs.

Pork chops.

Duck breast.

Seriously, everything came out great.  I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending this deep fryer.  Clean-up is pretty easy, just let it cool and pop out the bowl -- always save a little of the old oil (frying oil has a life cycle - it doesn't fry as well when it's perfectly clean, straight out of the jug; add a little old oil to the new oil when you're filling up a fryer).

The only weak spot is that it's small enough that I don't think I would want to fry three or more servings of an entree at once.  Three servings of French fries would be fine, but putting six pieces of chicken in there, for instance?  I think the temperature of the oil would drop too much.  But a bigger fryer would need a ton of oil even when all you want is French fries for one person.  If you have a big group to cook for on a regular basis, you just weigh your options - do you mind doing things in two batches, or would you rather get a more expensive bigger fryer?  It's not a flaw so much as deciding what's the right tool for the job.

As far as whether it's worth the money: if I had known a $50 deep fryer (just under $60, with shipping) performed this well, I would have bought it years ago.

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