Thursday, May 26, 2011

The lamb's head was five bucks, by the way.

I feel like that's worth pointing out when everyone's thinking to themselves, what's he gonna do with a lamb's head, anyway, it doesn't even have all the crunchy skin all over it like a pig's head, what kind of tomfoolery is this?

Tomfoolery like a fox.

Lamb head

Lamb head

The aforementioned lamb's head. I was wrong, he didn't quarter it - the second set of cuts he made didn't go all the way through.

I've already taken out the tongue and cured it, and will probably confit it, slice it, and serve it with fiddleheads. Have not decided if the brains merit any particular attention.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

(Previous entry has been fixed; for some reason an unfinished draft posted.)

Sophia's yogurt, green bitter orange preserve

Sophia's Greek Pantry, in Belmont MA, is a small Greek market that makes the best yogurt I've ever had. Not only is it incredibly thick and rich - look at it, it's nearly as thick as cream cheese, and I didn't strain it at all - but it's $3 a pound, which is about the price of a good supermarket brand like Brown Cow. Unlike Brown Cow, it's made from a blend of sheep and goat milk.

The thickness of it is just unbelievable. I've never had yogurt this rich. In this case, I'm having it with bitter green orange preserve - unripe oranges (still mostly rind, tiny nugget of pulp) that have been completely infused with sugar. Also from Sophia's.

They had a good selection of preserves and things like that - I also picked up grape molasses, for instance - and the most complete selection of Airborne honey (from New Zealand, but all Boston ethnic markets seem to carry it) I've seen. Lots of olive oils, olives, fresh cheeses, cured meats, things like that. But get the yogurt.

Friday night after picking Caitlin up at work, we had Cuban in Jamaica Plain (warning: video plays automatically if you have Javascript turned on). Caitlin's Cuban sandwich was a little dry since she gets neither mayo nor mustard when she can help it, but was otherwise good. I forget now what Kathy got, but Mark and I both got the churrasco - grilled skirt steak, with yellow rice mixed with lentils. So good. The mofongo appetizer was a little heavy - I felt like maybe it would have been better as a side, especially for something with a sauce to soak up - and the plantains in general were not as good as they've been other places, which might suggest a supply issue. But otherwise everything was solid, and I got a "Trigo shake" which was terrific - I'm guessing it's a batido made with sweetened condensed milk, regular milk, and wheat cereal of some kind. Since I'd just had the black sesame "milk tea" at Super 88 the week before, I was totally okay with a drink that had a lot of texture to it. It tasted like cereal milk or something, like leftover Cheerios.

Sunday we drove to Rhode Island just for the sake of doing so, which really reinforced my desire to live near the ocean - which is tricky for someone who wants to live in the Southwest. Stopped at a surly fish market and came home with shad roe and smoked mussels - I'd asked for smoked scallops, he gave me smoked mussels, they were the same price so I didn't bitch. With the attitude he was giving off (to a disheveled tourist right before closing on a Sunday, to be fair), I couldn't tell if he was fucking with me, tired out, or checking to see if I knew the difference between mussels and scallops.

Anyway - our lunch was big enough that we didn't end up getting dinner, so none of the obvious Rhode Island staples for us - NY System hot dogs, clam cakes, stuffies. Instead, we went another way: we had Portuguese food at Madeira. Rhode Island is not only the only predominantly Catholic state due to its large Portuguese, Brazilian, and Italian populations, it has the largest Portuguese population in the country. Even the little bit we saw of East Providence showed a lot of signs of this - a small, loud Brazilian market filled not only with sodas and Brazilian breads, but medicinal herbs without any English on the packaging, and Brazilian brands of soaps and household cleaners; a Portuguese-American social club; a lot of customers at Madeira speaking what I assume was Portuguese.


And man, was the food good. Crispy tender fried calamari in a slightly spicy batter with a Buffalo-like hot sauce for dipping. Littleneck clams in a tomato sauce with chunks of chorizo, sliced pepper and onion, and I'm pretty sure paprika and saffron - my favorite dish of the meal. More clams, with tenderly braised chunks of pork and roasted potato, in a thin sauce that might have had tomato in it, or might have just had broth and paprika. Bacalhau - codfish - boiled and served with potato, chickpeas, and hard-boiled eggs. Perfectly seasoned beef, tender even when medium-well, on a shish-kabob they hung from a cast-iron hanger above a serving plate. And several different ports that port fans Kathy and Mark picked out - I know very little about port, cocktail obsession having diverted me from my older habit of ordering port or Armagnac with a meal, but they picked out good ones.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Kathy and Mark are visiting, and yesterday we went to Boston's Haymarket while Caitlin was at work. The Haymarket is a vendors' market - the same guys who sell produce to the supermarkets sell at a discount what they need to unload, on Fridays and Saturdays. So we ended up with a lot of very cheap fruit.

There are also a few meat markets and whatnot in the perimeter of the Haymarket, so I went into a halal meat market to buy a lamb's head. After the other two had left and I was the only one there, while the butcher quartered the head for me, he said, "Hey. Hey, buddy."


He grabbed his crotch and asked conspiratorially, "You want the balls?"

And soon enough he'd brought a sack of lamb testicles out from the back.

So in my freezer right now, I have a quartered lamb's head and four lamb testicles, for Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Let me belatedly thank my mother for giving me her pasta maker. This was my first time making pasta (other than gnudi).

Meatballs, red gravy, homemade pasta

The red gravy is actually inspired by the taste of something I grew up with, pork chops braised in tomato sauce (usually with potatoes and carrots cooked alongside them). I braised smoked pork hocks for a long time - a couple days - until I had a thick, rich, gelatinous stock. Blended that with tomato puree, thickened with a little roux, cooked it down with onions, added the diced meat from the hocks, and there you go. A nice rich sauce that's recognizably red gravy, with a noticeable pork flavor just like I grew up with. Bay leaves would've made it even better, but I'm out and my reorder from the Spice House doesn't get here till tomorrow.

(The skin from the hocks was dehydrated, to be deep-fried into cracklings.)

The meatballs are just some leftover ground beef with egg, bread crumbs, fennel pollen, and gochujang red pepper paste.

Not bad for the first time making pasta. It's definitely too thick, almost like the dumplings in chicken and dumplings - they took a surprisingly long time to cook. But is it better than the Contadina-type "fresh" pasta? Absolutely.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

More Boston food adventures! We actually were not planning on any adventures at all this weekend, but we had to make an errand to Radio Shack, and pan-Asian supermarket Super 88 was on the way.

As we got off the bus, we realized there was a Turkish market at the same bus stop as Super 88, so we hopped in there first, just out of curiosity, and wound up with Turkish sodas and cookies, pistachio halvah, carnelian cherry jam, and green "cherry plums." This was an odd bit of synchrony: I happen be reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog (on loan from Caitlin), which mentions cherry plums several times, and since they're a member of my favorite non-citrus fruit family, I had of course looked them up; and just last week I read that linked article in the LA Times about Californian cherry plums currently being available. The guy at the register was curious about whether we were familiar with them, and said we'd lucked out - they're only available in May.

They're crisp and very tart, and I haven't quite figured out what to do with them yet.

Lunch was at the Super 88 food court - we split an amazing grilled pork bahn mi ($3.75, a crazy bargain: a baguette with grilled pork, spicy mayo, cilantro, pickled carrot and cucumber and some other pickled vegetable but I'm not sure what - lacked the pate I'm used to on bahn mi but was still amazing) and a few dim sum dishes (pigs feet braised with spicy bean sauce, Chinese sausage buns, steamed meat and vegetable buns, and sesame balls with lotus paste, which are my favorite dim sum item), and each had a bubble tea (coconut-pineapple for her, sesame milk tea for me).

So already, this Radio Shack errand has worked out pretty well food-wise.

We were worried about getting too much heavy stuff shopping in Super 88 - getting home from Bazaar had been crazy, and the Turkish bag was already pretty heavy - so decided to avoid canned/bottled things and meat, but I was impressed by the meat selection I saw. Aged chickens priced appropriately, for instance (under $3), and pork hearts, and goat bones. Not a lot of duck selection - I might've made an exception for some quality duck parts.

What they did have was sesame paste. Sesame paste! Regular and black. This should not be such a big deal, except that it had proven impossible to find at any of the Korean stores we've checked, as well as on the internet.

And I couldn't pass on the fruit. Fresh dragon fruit, the largest star fruit I'd ever seen (the size of a pineapple - unfortunately it tasted off when we cut it up), a nice mild melon, and Kyoho grapes. I had no idea what to expect of Kyoho grapes and had only previously seen them on the internet, where I'd've had to spend $100 or so on an order of them. These were $1.69 a pound. We spent three bucks on them. They were amazing - I was expecting a slip-skin variety with a thickish skin, like fox grapes or Concords, and indeed Wikipedia tells me I was right to do so, that that's the grape's heritage. But the skin was actually very soft. The flavor's neither like Concord nor like Thompson Seedless or other supermarket standards. I'm not quite sure how to describe it, actually, though it's still recognizably grape - but it's delicious, and incredibly juicy, and man I wish I could buy them every week.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

chile-lime sweetbreads

Chile-lime sweetbreads, kimchi rice

Like I said. Chile-lime sweetbreads with kimchi rice.

The "special sauce": sriracha, mustard, mayo, sesame oil.

The kimchi rice: 1 part white rice, 1 part wild rice (real wild rice, hand-harvested - I hate to say it, but it really makes a difference), cooked in the rice steamer and then mixed with chopped kimchi, ginger, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), black sesame seeds, sesame oil, and bean paste.

... oh, but sweetbreads. Well.

"Sweetbreads" generally refers to the thymus gland, although sometimes the pancreas or another cut of offal will be called sweetbreads. It can come from the cow, the calf, the lamb, or the pig, and what's the most common/default will depend on where you live and shop. I first cooked sweetbreads when I lived in Indiana, for instance, where the butcher carried lamb sweetbreads for about $8 (sweetbreads are generally about a pound). But since moving here, the only sweetbreads I've seen have been beef sweetbreads, for less than $2.

Sweetbreads are made up of individual nodules connected by membrane. The taste is mild - perhaps the mildest of all organs, although brains are pretty mild too. The texture varies somewhat depending on how it's cooked, but is firm and spongy - which may sound weird or offputting, but all meat sounds weird and offputting when described texturally. "Firm and spongy" is just chicken thigh or filet mignon, minus the fibrousness.

Let me put it another way:

If you flour and fry them they taste like fried chicken.

The typical prep for sweetbreads is pretty involved, though not difficult: soak them in saltwater or milk for a few hours or overnight to leech out any blood, poach them, stick them between two plates with a heavy weight on top for a few hours or overnight to firm up the texture, and then remove as much of the membrane as you can. You can skip basically all of that except washing them and removing the membrane, if you want - I didn't in this case, though my soaking liquid was a sriracha brine, and because the sweetbreads were SO cheap I didn't so much remove the membrane as I sought out the largest nodules, freed them from the mass, cut them in half, and tossed the rest.

Once I'd done that, I marinated them for a couple hours in lime juice and ancho chile, then poured the lime juice out, covered them in flour, deep-fried them until crispy, and squeezed lime juice on top, with a few sesame seeds.

Reeeeally really good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's not gardening season, but it's just about planting season - which makes this a good time of year for clearing out the freezer. Last night's dinner resulted:

Goose breast, boiled peanuts, peanut-sesame sauce, egg noodles

Egg noodles and goose breast with boiled peanuts and sesame-peanut sauce. The goose breast was marinated in shrimp paste, sriracha, and ginger before being seared, rested, and sliced; the boiled peanuts had been shelled and frozen; the sauce is just Smuckers peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and sriracha; the noodles were boiled for a couple minutes and then added to the pan with some of the oil that collects at the top of the peanut butter jar (genius) to crisp up a bit before mixing everything together.

Lunch or dinner today, depending on when I get to it, is chile-lime sweetbreads with kimchi rice. Like I said: clearing out the freezer.

Friday, May 6, 2011

sexo de mayo

Two tacos

Two chili tacos, one with fried smoked pork tail, one with frico.

Damn near anything can be a taco.

Taco frico

Frico shell wrapped around boiled peanut croquettes, with cheese and salsa.

Tacos are magical.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

prelude to a much longer post

I'm going to follow up on this in a couple months, but for right now:

Vindaloo - a Goan curry inspired by the Portuguese dish of pork with wine and garlic, substituting vinegar for the wine; in foreign Indian restaurants, often served with potatoes because "aloo" means "potato."

Adobo - Filipino dish of meat cooked in soy sauce and vinegar, with bay leaves and garlic. Like vindaloo, it developed in a cuisine blending Iberian and Asian cooking.

1+2 =



Pork belly was slow-cooked in two vinegars (one pepper vinegar, one infused with curry leaves) with soy sauce, curry seasoning, onion, and garlic; tomato sauce was added and it continued to cook until the sauce had cooked down. Fried potatoes alongside.

Much more to say about this later.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Like I said last time I blogged about squid, there are two ways to cook it: slow and very fast. Fried calamari, like I made that time, is very fast. This is the other one:

Squid stuffed with chorizo

Squid stuffed with smoked chaurice, in tomato sauce (with fried calamari alongside).

Cleaning squid is easier than you'd think - I used this guide and it took like two minutes to do four squid, most of which was peeling the skin off (which isn't even necessary).

The stuffing is nothing but smoked chaurice coarsely ground in the Cuisinart - no breadcrumbs, onions, binder, nothing like that, just the sausage. The tomato sauce on the other hand is more complex: I'm cleaning the freezer out a bit and happened to have a quart of fennel/mushroom stock (made with white mushrooms, porcinis, and fennel). So I reduced that with a couple cups of tomato puree and some crushed red pepper and salt, and boom, tomato sauce.

After stuffing - which is a pain in the ass - the squid bodies are covered in tomato sauce and cooked for ninety minutes at 350. They come out tender, not at all rubbery. Still definitely squid, but you can cut it with a fork.

Sunday, May 1, 2011



Friday night, an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate featured two different bowls of chili, and it struck me that a big meaty bowl of chili was the perfect "welcome back to meat" meal - but that I'd already done my grocery shopping and hadn't bought ground beef, skirt steak, or a chuck roast, the cuts I'd usually use for that.

So I surveyed what I had on hand and in the freezer. Beef back ribs. Marrow bones - the short kind you can scoop the marrow out of without special tools. And half a pound of ground pork left from making ma po tofu. I had ground chicken but suspected it wouldn't do well with slow cooking.

The back ribs went immediately into the slow-cooker overnight. In the morning I transferred them and enough hot stock to cover them into a bowl, and crumbled the ground pork straight into the rest of the hot stock in the cooker, along with the marrow bones, Penzey's Chili 3000 seasoning, Mexican oregano, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), ground ancho chile, and diced onions and ramps, and let that cook all day. (Why cover the ribs in hot stock? Because they should cool in the stock for the best taste and texture. The slow cooker retains heat so long that it would have taken much of the day to cool them in the cooker, and I wanted to get the next batch of meat cooking.)

At the end of the day I strained the liquid (as well as the stock the ribs had rested in) into a separate pot and added dried pinto beans - brought them to a boil for five minutes - and turned it down to simmer until they were cooked. By this point I had roughly shredded the beef ribs, and added them to the pork/onions/ramps/marrow, and removed the marrow bones.

There was, as you might imagine, a significant slick of orange grease atop the cooking liquid. This is how you know you're on the right track.

After the beans were cooked, I removed them and added them to the meat, and added to the cooking liquid a 14 oz can of tomatoes and a jar of pimentos - both pureed - and a bunch of roughly chopped onion, and cooked that down until it started to get thick.

Why do I keep taking the meat out when I cook the liquid down? To keep from boiling the meat, which toughens it. Yes, it means the whole process takes longer and dirties more pots. I work at home and I have a dishwasher.

Once the sauce was thick, I put the meat and beans back in, freshened the flavor up with a pinch more chili powder and Mexican oregano, and let cool before putting in the fridge overnight.

I know, it probably looks like there's nothing in there but meat - it's definitely rich - but there's actually quite a lot of onion.