Thursday, March 31, 2011

So my friends Kathy and Mark are coming to visit in May, and I haven't seen them in five years - naturally in the back of my head, I start thinking, what should I cook while they're here? And it got me thinking about the ways our cooking changes over time - things I used to make alll the time, some of them I just can't remember the last time I made them.

Stuff I hardly ever make anymore, from various periods in my life:


Pineapple ginger chicken (which can be made all manner of ways, none of which I tend to do anymore).

Hamburgers with anything mixed into the meat other than salt or Marmite.

Pulled pork.

Barbecue ribs.

Khao tom (because I used cheap broken rice from Little Vietnam, but don't live in New Orleans anymore, haven't got a Little Vietnam here, never see broken rice in Little Cambodia).

Barbecue shrimp poboys (the "demi-baguettes" which were perfectly suited to these sandwiches - which are not in fact very much like real poboys - are no longer carried at my supermarket).

Cake. I mean, I just hardly ever make cakes at all. I'm one guy. Who needs a whole cake?

Cuban sandwiches.

Basil chicken. I made this as often as I did partly because in Indiana we could get such great great basil at the farmers market, and always had more of it than we knew what to do with.

Pesto. Likewise.

Sake potatoes. 1, I totally forgot about them until making this list; 2, I hardly ever have sake in the house.

Panna cotta.

Burmese crispy chicken. This was especially good for a take-to-campus lunch in grad school; I work at home now.

Coq au vin. Here's the thing. This was in my heavy rotation. I've made it two ways. In New Orleans, like everybody else I compromised and used supermarket chicken instead of rooster, but instead of making it as a stew, I made it with chicken stacked on top of potatoes, so that the potatoes came out velvetty and flavor-infused, and the chicken skin came out crispy. In Indiana, I could actually get rooster, so I made the real thing, marinated in red wine for five days and braised slowly until the collagen from the rooster turned into gelatin that thickened the marinade so you get a stew that's as rich as beef stew, only chicken.

... then I moved to New Hampshire, and can't get rooster, which doesn't really explain why I don't make the old/bastardized version anymore, except that I guess it'd been shook from my rotation by then.

Chicken wings Vesuvio. I also don't make THIS anymore, an Indiana era favorite inspired by an essay in ... one of Steingarten's collections? or one of the Best Food Writing collections ... anyway, my version is basically these tender/crispy oven-braised chicken wings with a shit ton of garlic and crispy wine-soaked fingerling potatoes. WHY DON'T I MAKE THIS EVERYDAY? WHY AM I NOT MAKING IT RIGHT NOW? (Lent.)

Vanilla blondies. I used to make these super-vanilla-flavored blondies with a ton of real vanilla beans and bourbon, but they fell by the wayside when I started pursuing the grail of Perfect Cornmeal Blondies That Taste Like Moonshine In Fudgey Bar Cookie Form, just as vanilla blondies had themselves displaced most brownies from my rotation.

Saffron caramel. I still have saffron. I still like saffron caramel. I just hardly ever make desserts that call for it, since I'm more likely to make fruit desserts now that I keep huckleberries and so on in the freezer.

Cider jelly. Okay, it's only this past apple season that I didn't make cider jelly, I just never got round to it, and then it wasn't apple season anymore.

Mincemeat. Well, it was a whole lot of work and I had a busy fall these past three years.

Lamb tongue. Haven't got a butcher shop up here like in Indiana.

Pig's head. Okay, I only cooked this twice. But I would cook it so many more times than twice if I could.

Duck confit. It's not that I never cook this, it's that the price of duck doubled in the space of a couple weeks, a couple years back, so it's no longer a staple. (As a result of duck going up, duck parts now sell out much faster in Little Vietnam too, and not once since then have I gone there without them being out of SOME duck part, usually most of them.)

Cassoulet. See duck.

Patty melts. Well, I could argue that I don't make these often cause I don't have rye bread in the house often cause I'm not in grad school anymore so peanut-butter-and-jelly-on-rye isn't a staple for me anymore, but truth is the only reason to stop making patty melts is being a damn fool.

Dirty rice. ... a damn fool!

Curd chiles

A somewhat better look at those curd chiles.

Coming in the next couple weeks when I have time to blog about them - sunchokes, jaboticaba, and catching up on my amaro posts.

Also, my French press broke, so you luck out - because the folks at Aerobie sent me a free Aeropress to try out, and I've been toying around with that. I probably won't blog about that until the end of April or sometime in May - I don't like to be too hasty with the equipment reviews, I like to see how they do when I'm actually depending on them for my day to day cooking (or in this case, caffeination).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I said to myself, "I need to do something with that leftover smoked trout."

"What about something like a tuna melt?"

"Yeah, I don't like tuna melts."

"I know I know. Something like a tuna melt. But with trout."

"But I don't really ... I don't like tuna melts."

"It's like a tuna melt except for everything else."

"Everything else what?"

"Everything but the tuna."

"The tuna is trout!"

"Soooo... we're good."


Instead of canned tuna and mayo and cheese and bread under a broiler: smoked trout, a little creamy curry sauce, mozzarella, and a medium-boiled egg (as for curry, cf earlier post), in pizza dough, deep-fried, with chutneys. Sounds busy, but there's not much curry sauce in there - just enough to moisten the smoked trout and complement the chutneys.

Man, I am hooked on these noodles. Dan Dan noodles were always my favorite thing at P.F. Chang's, but I didn't realize how non-traditional that version is until reading a Jonathan Gold article on the noodles that mentioned Szechuan peppercorns - which were definitely not in the version I'd had. So I cobbled together my own.

This is potentially quite quite spicy, but can be made milder and still be as good.

The sauce will be enough for a number of servings (at least six), and will keep in the fridge. You would normally use sesame paste (not tahini) instead of peanut butter, but I haven't found any yet.

Seriously, whatever you're having today, it's lesser than this. My lunch has kicked your lunch's ass. My lunch has won.

3 tablespoons peanut butter
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 teaspoons chile oil
pinch of sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (Chinese black vinegar is preferable - I don't have any)
a few spoonfuls of water
Szechuan peppercorns: freshly toasted, freshly ground ... to taste. A pinch might be enough, a teaspoon, a tablespoon. It's partly about how spicy you want it and partly about the balance you want between the spice of the chile and the numbth of the Szechuan peppercorn. Numbth is a word. You just saw me use it.

Whisk sauce ingredients together and adjust to taste. Cook egg noodles, sauce them, top with green onion, sesame seeds or chopped peanuts, and a little chile oil. I added smoked shrimp - not traditional, not necessary, not the source of the awesomeness. I just had leftover shrimp, that's all.

Dan dan noodles, smoked shrimp

Good luck with your inferior lunch, sucker.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In France courtbouillon means something else. Forget Paris. In Louisiana, courtbouillon is fish poached in a roux-thickened tomato sauce. I think it's usually made with whole fish - catfish particularly - but fish counters up here don't give you near as many options. I went with tilapia fillets, because they looked fresh.

The prep:

Courtbouillon prep

Onion, carrot, celery, red bell pepper. You make a roux (flour and oil, heated until muddy brown), you add the vegetables and let them cook briefly, and then add - in my case - smoked shrimp stock (use any seafood stock, any other stock, or water) and a can of pureed tomatoes. Season - cayenne pepper, paprika, celery seed, bay leaves, white pepper, green peppercorns, thyme, salt. Simmer until thick.

Poach fillets for about ten minutes, serve over rice with green onion.

Tilapia courtbouillon

And the dark brown object at about five o'clock? That's a curd chile. It's Indian, but I'm hooked on it: it starts as a fresh chile pepper that's soaked in yogurt (curd) and salt all night, dried in the sun all day, lather rinse repeat, until you have a salty cured chile. Drop it in the deep fryer for a few seconds - I'm sure you could pan fry it or put it in a hot oven briefly - and it becomes a crispy salty thing that you crumble with your fork and mix into the food to add salt and heat and the slightest bit of tanginess.

More falafel for lunch today, with salsa verde - not the Mexican kind with tomatillos, but a smooth emulsified version of the Italian parsley sauce:

Salsa verde

Toss parsley stems (I'm using the leaves for courtbouillon), a little olive oil, a couple anchovies, a couple cloves of garlic, a little lemon juice, and a little pepper vinegar (Caitlin's mother sent it to me) in a food processor - the Magic Bullet in my case, better than the Cuisinart at small jobs - and whiz until smooth and pale green.

Garlicky, green, a little sharp, a little pungent.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


This weekend we made an impromptu onion dip - I ground an onion with cream cheese, pickled ramps, garlic, buttermilk power, and salt - in order to have with these awesome puffed rice-and-corn Indian snacks called Kurkure, which are like green chutney flavored Cheetos.

(We miss out, you know. Our only Cheetos are cheese-flavored and the occasional variant like chili-cheese, flaming hot, nacho. Doritos' killer app was Cool Ranch - I'm old enough to remember when it was introduced, but for the life of me have no idea why anyone ever ate Doritos when the red bag was all we had, cause everyone since has seemed to prefer the blue bag. But most importantly, it wasn't just a cheese variant. Cheetos seem locked in cause of their name - except in Japan, where they have caramel Cheetos, mayonnaise Cheetos, roasted chicken Cheetos, you name it, none of which have cheese - but the rest of the world has plenty of puffed corn snacks in other flavors.)

Anyway, I had leftover onion dip. What to do, what to do. Falafel!


Falafel is a crunchy on the outside, delicious on the inside, fritter of ground-up chickpeas and/or fava beans, seasoned with parsley, onion, garlic, cumin, and probably other things in other places. (They were probably originally made with fava beans, and the chickpea-only variant originated because of the prevalence of favism - a fava bean allergy - among Jews. Probably. Who knows.) This is soul food, and more non-vegetarians should get on board with it. It's also a good example of parsley contributing flavor, not just token green garnish.

I'd never made it before, so I'll just link you to the recipe I used after reading several others and a number of message board threads. A lot of contemporary recipes will use canned beans, but I saw a lot of complaints about the texture of such recipes - which makes sense because, as surprising as it may seem, falafel traditionally uses chickpeas/favas that have been soaked but not cooked. The soaking - a full 24 hour soak, not merely overnight - is sufficient, if your chickpeas aren't years-old, to soften them enough that once they're ground up with the other ingredients and deep-fried, you're good to go.

Changes I made were purely because of what I did and didn't have in the house: I used one bunch of parsley, since I had no cilantro; I had no coriander seed, so left it out; I used ground ancho chile for the hot pepper, just cause I particularly like ancho with cumin and garlic. My falafel stayed in the refrigerator overnight, simply because I wanted to grind everything last night so that I could get the Cuisinart in the dishwasher.

Real easy. Real good.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The bagels gave me such trouble this time. I don't even want to talk about it. Stupid freaking dickhead bagels. You can't tell the bottom of this one is missing its crust as a result of sticking to the pan, so dinner is salvaged.

Bagel, trout

Garlic rye bagel with sesame seeds (the garlic is minced up in the dough), cream cheese, smoked trout, dill pollen, green onion, crispy smoked trout skin.

You're an asshole, bagel!


There are as many ways to combine eggs and curry as there are ways to cook eggs. One of the best breakfasts, especially after a night of drinking or a morning of sleeping in, is eggs scrambled with Thai curry paste - maybe some onions, maybe some leftover fish. Indian curries can be made with hard-boiled eggs, poached eggs, omelettes, you name it.

But this is the way I've been doing it.

You start with eggs as near to room temperature as possible - if I forget or don't have time to take them out of the refrigerator in advance, I sit them in a bowl of very warm water for 15-20 minutes to bring their temp up. This helps keep the eggs from cracking.

Bring a pot of water to boil. Have a tray of ice cubes handy.

Put the eggs in the boiling water and boil them for five minutes. Remove from the water and immediately put them in ice water. Leave them there! For a while. Twenty minutes. An hour. Longer if you like. Eggs retain heat for a surprisingly long time. The other day I was making these eggs, took one out of the ice water after a few minutes, and felt it warm back up in my hand in a few seconds.

If you boil them for six or seven minutes instead of five, you get the unctuous egg - with a yellow yolk that looks nearly boiled but is creamy instead of grainy, terrific for eating whole, not very good for egg salad, all wrong for deviled eggs. At five minutes, you get something like a soft-boiled egg with a hard-boiled white.

Leave them in the shell as long as you like. Once they're out of the shell, the shape warps easily - sit them on a plate and you end up with flat eggs after a bit.

When the curry is ready - the sauce is cooked, the rice is cooked, any other ingredients are ready - take the eggs out of the shell if you haven't already, and add them to some hot butter, ghee, oil, or coconut fat, rolling around a few times until the outside of the egg is golden and blistered like the outer edges of a fried egg's diaspora. This also warms the egg through if you've had them in the fridge after their boiling.

Egg and curry

In this case, the egg is served over rice and leftover malai kofta sauce, with mushrooms and curry leaves.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

You have probably already guessed that I decided to work on Indian cooking this Lent. But I also wanted to finally do something with salt cod. Salt cod features prominently in Portuguese, Spanish, and Basque cooking, and through the former was introduced to New England, which is probably one reason it's displayed at my local supermarket. Because of its shelf life, it's also not much of a gamble to carry it as long as it sells eventually, something the same supermarket can't say of crabs or monkfish.

As far as I can remember, I've only had salt cod in croquettes, where it reminded me of fishcakes. I decided to start with brandade, partly to finish off the leftover mashed potatoes.

Salt cod is just cod that's been preserved with salt. It's dry and not very flexible. You soak it in the fridge for at least overnight and as long as a few days, changing the water at least twice a day. I soaked it from Thursday night to Sunday morning - it ended up being mild enough (and not overwhelmingly salty) that I'm sure a day less would have been fine, and cooking it Friday night might have even been a possibility had I changed the water more frequently.

Soaking the salt cod plumps it back up, but it's still going to be firmer than fresh cod. Brandade recipes vary, as with most salt cod recipes, you cook the soaked salt cod before incorporating it into the dish. This further desalinates it.

My salt cod fillet didn't have bones or skin, so I didn't need to remove those. I've heard that salt cod skin can be very pungent and unpleasant; no personal experience to report there.

The brandade is simply a combination of mashed potatoes and flaked salt cod. You mash the potatoes and then fold the salt cod in small flakes into it. Like I said, recipes vary - most use both olive oil and cream in the mashed potatoes, but the only olive oil I have on hand at the moment is coffee olive oil, which we'll talk about another time. Although it's good for fish, I didn't want to use it my first time making brandade. So I used cream and the last of the sage/garlic brown butter that I had been using with gnudi - the brown flecks you see in the brandade are brown butter solids. There are also onions which had cooked in the butter.


The brandade isn't overwhelmingly fishy at all, no more than fish cakes or the like. We had it spread on onion naan. It's fairly heavy, and I wish I'd had salad greens - baby spinach and romaine with a garlicky lemony anchovy dressing would have been perfect.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

nearly out of potatoes

It's still St Patrick's.

Corned beef, fried eggs, hash browns

Corned beef and hash browns with fried eggs.

I know, I should probably have made hash, but Community was about to start and I didn't want to chop up the corned beef.

Back to vegetables tomorrow.

morrrre potatoes

Of course, the feast day of Saint Patrick is an exception to Lent.

Corned beef

Corned beef was soaked for a couple hours to leech some of the salt out and then marinated overnight in a paste of mustard, pickled serrano peppers, pickled ramps, and garlic, before being slow-roasted this morning. Potatoes, fried. The sauce is smoked pork demiglace, cream, a little whiskey, green peppercorns, and crushed red peppers.

The internet hits the same arguments every year like its own little liturgy, so yeah - corned beef is an Irish-American tradition, not an Irish one; corned beef in the UK is different; and most of those drunk kids out there aren't Irish at all. None of this is a big deal.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

yes, more potatoes

There's a pizza joint here that makes a mashed potato pizza, using what I'm pretty sure are instant mashed potatoes as the sauce, topped with mozzarella, bacon, and scallions. It's good starchy food and I've had it in the back of my mind, minus the bacon, for Lent. I didn't use instant potatoes.

Colcannon pizza

Colcannon pizza, because tomorrow is St Patrick's Day and because greens are good for you. I think colcannon is properly made with cabbage, but I used spinach because I had some on hand: I sauteed garlic and spinach in a little butter, added smoked mashed potatoes, and put that on a parbaked pizza crust with cheddar cheese and scallions.

malai kofta

The best Indian dish I've ever had was in Bloomington, Indiana. I had it many times and could never remember what it was called - like this recurring mental block. After I moved, I still couldn't remember what it was, except that it was vegetarian, spicy, and in a creamy sauce which surrounded some kind of cylindrical dumpling.

Finally when I saw the words I remembered them: malai kofta. Kofta, as in meatball (albeit vegetarian in this case) - related to the Greek keftedes. Malai means it's a food introduced by the Mughal Empire's reign in India, when a Mongol dynasty introduced Persian ingredients and techniques (one of the many examples of Persia's tremendous impact on the history of cuisine).

If you google, there are a million different recipes for malai kofta. Like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, or gumbo, it's a meal that allows for great flexibility and variation while remaining recognizable as the thing in question. I looked around, aimed for something using ingredients I had (no time-savers that would make sense for an Indian household but would require a special trip for me, like gulab jamun boxed mix), and then cherrypicked and made the kofta from some of my favorite ingredients - smoked mashed potatoes, turnip greens and spinach, peppadews - and Mexican frying cheese, a recommended substitute for paneer.

One thing that surprised me is that none of the recipes I saw used egg as a binder for the kofta, and indeed mine turned out pretty fragile. Maybe paneer is a better binder; maybe I should add egg next time; I don't know. I'm not going to give you a full recipe because this is a first draft. It was delicious - especially the sauce, some of which I had last night as a dip for naan - but it's not there yet.

Malai kofta

The short version is that the sauce is rich and complex: it starts with a paste of ground onions, garlic, and ginger being cooked until dried, with additions of tomato puree, almond paste (which makes it creamy), and spices including Penzey's curry powder, curry leaves, fenugreek leaves, asafoetida, and arbol chiles.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Lenten lunch.

Pan-fried gnudi with garlicky turnip greens

More pan-fried gnudi, as described the other day. The gnudi were pan-fried in garlic-sage brown butter, which is why they're so flecked. After they were pan-fried, I sauteed the rest of the blanched turnip greens in the butter in the pan, along with a few cloves of garlic and some crushed red peppers. Pecorino Romano on top.

Yuzu, Finger Lime

If you were intrigued by the finger limes I loved so much, they're available to the public now. Yes, the price is high - that's supply and demand, there just aren't many finger limes out there yet. $30 will give you a good number of limes to play with, though.

It's crazy how ... available things are. When I first started cooking, the "ethnic" aisle at the supermarket was mostly tomato sauce, some Goya products, some soy sauce and Chinese food in a can. Now that same supermarket - well, its successor in the same location - carries black garlic. And what you can't get locally, well - in the past I've gone online to order beef cheeks, fresh huckleberries, fresh curry leaves, jaboticaba, Sechuan buttons, Japanese caramel Cheetos, licorice Mentos, and those Haribo sour fizzy cola bottles.

It's the food equivalent of what I'm always saying about music: when I was a kid I depended on trips to Newbury Street in Boston two or three times a year to find good records, but now you can get on the internet, and anything you can't download for free you can certainly find for sale somewhere. Availability isn't the limit anymore, it's just knowing what to look for.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First dinner of Lent! Ma la tofu and potatoes.

Ma la tofu and potatoes

Ma la simply means the dish has both the heat of chiles and the numbing of Sichuan peppercorns. It's one of my favorite flavor combinations, and for whatever reason, I usually include greens in a ma la dish.

There are several components here:

Rice, steamed;

Potatoes, cubed and fried twice, once at 350 and once at 375, to keep them crisp;

Tofu - "extra firm, cubed," bought that way from the supermarket, marinated in soy sauce, garlic, ginger, chiles, and Sichuan peppercorns, and then dusted with Zatarain's fish fry (why not) before being deep-fried with the potatoes in their second frying;

A sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, honey, water, Sichuan peppercorns, chiles, ginger, garlic, and cornstarch to thicken;

Turnip greens - blanched, squeezed dry (well, moist), chopped, and added to the sauce to heat through.

The greens would be greener if I hadn't had to hold the sauce while waiting for the rice to finish.

Tofu has a flavor, but like potato, it's a flavor that is quickly overpowered by whatever other flavors you're surrounding it with - here, it's mainly a textural contrast to the fried potatoes, the rice, and the crunch of the raw scallion.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I want to be super excited that Bulleit has a rye whiskey coming out, but it's sort of silly to be: Bulleit's bourbon is so high in rye that I've used it as a substitute for rye before. I just can't imagine that the product is going to be all that surprising - it's like hearing about a Milky Way that uses twice as much caramel. You basically know what you're in for.

On the other hand, if this makes rye whiskey easier to find, and puts more common brands out there, great. I don't know how much of a push is behind the product. You still can't even get Rittenhouse in New Hampshire, despite cocktail writers treating it as though it's a universally available brand.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


You're probably familiar with beignets - fluffy little doughnuts covered in powdered sugar, served at Cafe du Monde and other places in Louisiana. You're less likely to be familiar with calas, Louisiana's other fried bit of business - a ball of fried dough that uses up last night's leftover rice.


My recipe is scaled to one egg, which is enough for two people (more than twice what you see pictured):

2/3 cup cooked rice (not hot, but room temp is fine if you feel like cooking some rice and spreading it out to cool on the counter like I mighta done this morning)
1 egg
5/6 teaspoon baking powder (obviously you have to eyeball this - just fill a teaspoon and knock some back out)
1/6 cup sugar
a dash of vanilla extract or whiskey, optional
1/6 to 1/2 cup flour

Combine, adding just enough flour until it sticks together like cookie dough - you need it to stay in balls when you drop it in the deep-fryer, not spread out like a pancake.

Divide into about 6 portions and deep-fry for 6 minutes or so, flipping once. Serve hot with powdered sugar, syrup, or powdered sugar mixed with whiskey.

The rice adds structure to the interior - you can see that from the one cut in half - and some crunch on the exterior where it fries.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"This is a peanut butter and bacon sandwich," I said, and it was clear Caitlin was not enthused. "But not really."

The bacon:

Pork belly cured with curing salt, regular salt, a little sugar - your basic bacon cure - and The Spice House's Baharat seasoning, the ingredients of which they list as "Tellicherry black pepper, coriander, cumin, Ceylon select cloves, Saigon cinnamon, cardamom, Spanish paprika and Chinese Tien Tsin chile peppers." After curing for a week, it was simmered for an hour and a half, cooled in the simmering liquid, cut into bite-size pieces and popped into the oven until they crisped up.

So there's no smoke in the bacon element, and the spice profile is completely different.

The peanut butter:

Regular peanuts simmered until as soft as cooked beans, then smoked (along with the stock, so they don't dry out) for a few hours. It's possible they could have been simmered in the smoker had I originally planned to smoke them, but they'd take much longer, I suspect.

The smoked peanuts were then pureed with a couple peppadews and a little melted butter, until the consistency of hummus.

The sandwich:

A straight-out-of-the-oven baguette slit open, spread on both sides of the interior with the smoked peanut puree, and filled with chunks of pork belly and freshly fried and salted French fries.

I'm telling you, it worked. It was awesome.

This is my last week of unbridled meat eating before Lent. What am I farewelling to the flesh with? Fried chicken and oxtail/kimchi tacos, I think.