Thursday, June 30, 2011

does what it says on the tin

Eton mess

Eton mess! Great for strawberry season. Very simple: strawberries and pieces of meringue, with whipped cream.

Meringues are easy enough if it isn't a humid day - 3 egg whites, 3/4 cup superfine sugar (blend regular sugar up in the Cuisinart for a bit), a little cream of tartar, whip until there are stiff peaks, dollop them onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet, bake for a couple hours at 200 degrees or so, turn the oven off, and leave them overnight. Or all day, if you started in the morning.

No need to sweeten the whipped cream, especially if you macerate the strawberries with a sprinkle of sugar for a couple hours.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I hadn't seen duck available here in months - not since Christmas - so when it happened to show up in the supermarket right before my birthday, I grabbed one.

There are a few ways to cook duck, and two of the traditional ones for ensuring crispy skin and as much rendered fat as possible are to confit the legs (and cook the breast separately) or to twice-cook the whole duck, once to render fat and cook the meat through, the second time to crisp it up. Usually with this second method you steam it and then roast it.

What I did was smoke it and then roast it. I let the duck sit unwrapped in the fridge for a day to dry the skin as much as possible, pierced the skin all over with a fork, then rubbed it with chiles, salt, a little coriander, butter, and pecan oil. Pecan oil is expensive, but it's one of my favorite flavors, especially in the summer on salads. Because of the low smoke point and the degradation of flavor when exposed to heat, you don't traditionally cook with it; in this case it wasn't exposed to particularly high heat because of the cooking method.

Smoked duck

After smoking and cooling it, I chopped the duck up into wings, breasts, and leg quarters, and made stock with the carcass and wing tips, and a few onion trimmings. The skin crisped up during reheating - roasting for about 25 minutes in the case of the wings and leg quarters, searing for five minutes for the breasts.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the dream: how to live it

My mother's birthday present to me? Paying for a shopping trip at Whole Foods. I now have what every kitchen should - a shelf on my fridge door devoted almost entirely to miso:

A shelf of miso

Look at that top shelf! The only things that aren't miso: some yogurt in a plastic container behind the jars; yeast; a small container of yuzukosho in the front; a clamshell of pea shoots. Seven misos!

(The rest is left as an exercise to the reader, I guess. The one you're least likely to identify is probably the birch syrup.)

(Sorry I'm behind in blogging and responding to comments - it has been a bear of a busy month.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Steak sandwich

There was a Father's Day sale on steak, so I bought a $5 T-bone and couldn't finish it.

A couple hours after dinner, I trimmed the rest of the steak off the bone, chopped it up, and put it on a sub roll along with the leftover creamed radish greens (local radishes are in season!) and slices of cheddar cheese. Wrapped the roll up tight with Saran wrap and put it between two plates to sit in the fridge until lunch today.

Monday, June 6, 2011



I have a new refrigerator, which meant emptying out the old to fill up the new - an opportunity to take an inventory.

Meats, raw:

Beef marrow bones

Chicken thighs

Pork riblets

Lamb testicles


Tube of cheap chorizo - pork

Tube of cheap chorizo - beef

Coarsely ground beef for chili/tacos

Unlaid chicken eggs

Meats, cured/smoked:

Smoked veal ribs


Kayem redhots


Hog's head cheese

Beef bacon


Smoked mussels

Frog legs


Octopus, cooked, sushi-style

Whole squid

Monkfish liver, steamed, sushi-style



Fava beans, double-shelled

Hoja santa leaves



Curry leaves

Boiled peanuts

Green almond kernels

Spruce tips

Greens, raw

Greens, cooked


Carrot tops

Black-eyed peas

Cranberry beans


Pigeon peas

Extremely laboriously extracted cherry kernels


Kaffir limes




Black currants




Prepared foods (all homemade, obviously):

Stock, lamb

Stock, turkey

Stock, smoked pork

Red gravy

Vegetable soup



A soup called "greens, eggs, ham"

Friday, June 3, 2011

is my rome burning

And fiddleheads! I had best talk about fiddleheads while they're still in season.


Just as spring-signaling as spruce tips, fiddleheads are young ferns that have just popped up out of the ground and haven't had the chance to become big tough grown-up ferns who can stay up as late as they want even on Wednesdays. They are the veal of ferns, basically. Little baby innocent ferns.

And they are delicious.

The taste, I don't know how to describe the taste - "green," "kind of asparagus like," "spring-like." Go with those. They're not bitter like broccoli raab, they're not cabbagey like Brussels sprouts. They have a pretty mellow flavor.

But they do take some handling. You want to wash them, chop the woody end off, and blanch them, before proceeding with cooking.

For one thing, they come up out of the ground all tightly spiraled, and those curled-up leaves can pick up a lot of dirt on the journey. You want to wash them well, and wash off the little brown flakes. I actually combine this with blanching, as you can see. Although the blanching is partly to fix their color and improve their texture, the blanching and washing are also for safety: coming out of the ground as they do, fiddleheads can pick up a lot of germs. Theoretically I suppose they could even pick up insects, but unlike morels, I've never found an insect on a fiddlehead when cleaning it. They can absolutely be a home for bacteria, though, so wash and blanch.

I should have chopped the woody root end off before blanching, but forgot. Those mottled brown ends you see in the photo - chop those off.

Once they're blanched, you can cook them however you like - put them on pizza, serve them with pasta, whatever - but I usually saute them in a little butter or bacon fat, salt them well, and serve them as a side dish.

Just don't FILL UP on fiddleheads - apparently they can make you sick if you eat a ton of them. I've never known this to happen, and I'm curious if the toxicity is really relevant or if reported illnesses were from poorly washed fiddleheads that carried bacteria - I'm just telling you what I've read.

spruce tip ice cream

I had a firm reminder this morning of why this blog exists: because I have things to say, thoughts to think out loud, about cooking and drinks, and did not have anywhere else to say them. The cooking message boards out there are either small, poorly organized, or focused on some specific area that's too confined for me - the molecular gastronomy boards are useful for me as a reader, for instance, but those guys don't need to hear my thoughts on huckleberries. I didn't want to be in many places, so I was in no place, until I had this place.

The message board that isn't small, poorly organized, or narrowly focused is eGullet. And eGullet is kind of terrible. I used to post there, though never much, but in the last few years it's gone through an immense decline, with valuable regulars (both staff and posters) leaving, questionable new policies/practices, basically everything you expect in the life cycle of any online community. This morning I noticed that a thread on the demise of food forums - which wasn't about eGullet specifically and talked a lot about various forms of online community in general - had been locked by a moderator with a "thanks for your feedback" note, ignoring the fact that it wasn't fucking feedback, and that locking the thread interrupted an ongoing on-topic conversation.

I just have no interest in adding anything to any discussion transpiring in conditions like that. I still search the archives regularly - recommend the archives, in fact, because they're a good resource if you get a new ingredient to play with or are curious about the different ways people make a particular dish. I do three searches when I have something brand new in the kitchen - one on Wikipedia, one on Google Blog Search, one on eGullet.

Anyway, fuck everywhere else. Let's talk about spruce tips.

The young tips of evergreen trees are little clusters of needles that are still tender enough to eat, and which I think have a greater concentration of some vitamins and other components than the mature needles do. I'm not positive of that second part! But you see buds and tips used even in contexts where the texture doesn't matter - pine buds are used for tea in Russia, for instance, and if you're just steeping them in hot water, the tough texture of mature needles is irrelevant ... so there must be some other change that's part of needle maturation. Since those teas are often used to treat colds, I'm assuming it's vitamins. But maybe it's just that the flavor changes.

The buds of Douglas fir trees are used to make my beloved Douglas Fir eau de vie from Clear Creek.

And spruce tips, spruce tips are used to make syrup, which was the only context I had previously had them in. But I've always loved the smell of spruce trees, and was keeping an eye out for spruce tips in case I could get a good deal on them.

Which indeed I did. A seller on eBay in Ketchikan, Alaska - where Caitlin used to live and had just been for her brother's wedding, coincidentally - was selling them by the pound, and a pound of spruce tips goes far. They keep well, and freeze well, so I've got a lot to play with.

Spruce tips taste a lot like the way spruce trees smell, reasonable enough. But they also have an acidity and a tannic astringency. Caitlin picked up a lot more bitterness from them, when eaten raw, than I did - I'm not sure why, but they dried her mouth out right away, while I only get the tannins in the aftertaste, after chewing for a bit. The needles are tender - you're not going to get anything stuck between your teeth - and the acidity is kind of lemony.

Can't tell you about the spruce-cured salmon, because something went off in the curing process that had nothing to do with the spruce as far as I know. Just a texture issue I wasn't happy with. I still have tons of spruce tips, I'll try it again at some point.

But the spruce tip ice cream - this was cool.

Spruce tip ice cream

I steeped spruce tips in heavy cream that was heated on the stove for a few minutes with enough sugar to sweeten it, cooled completely, strained, refrigerated, whipped, and frozen. A very basic ice cream technique. The flavor is strongly sprucey, and it went really well with huckleberry-rhubarb crisp, particularly with the huckleberries.

The spruce-huckleberry taste combination is very cool, very interesting. I can't decide whether to steep some spruce tips in either my huckleberry bounce or huckleberry gin - or wait, and add them to a new batch the next time I make one or the other. The advantage of the latter is that the alcohol content of the finished huckleberry liquors is slightly lower, which means they'll draw slightly less flavor out of the spruce tips. But without making an infusion, I'm not sure how strong the flavor will be anyway, so don't know if that'll make a difference.

I'll almost certainly add a few chopped-up spruce tips the next time I make a huckleberry pie, if nothing else.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My mother really wants me to post, so that the lamb head is no longer the first thing she sees when she looks at my blog. I will not counter with lamb testicles!

The lamb head was really good, for the record. The tongue, unfortunately, I overcooked - which, since it's not very big and needs to be peeled after cooking, is too difficult to rectify for it to have been worthwhile, given that it was practically free and less than a serving's worth anyway. It'd been so long since I'd cooked tongue, especially lamb tongue, that I shouldn't have been winging it.

The brains, those were cool. I'm amazed that brain sandwiches are a thing, because I can't imagine eating more than a couple bites of brains. It's not that the flavor is strong - really, they're the mildest offal. It's that they're so, so rich. I chicken-fried them, and it was like biting into a crispy-coated cloud - a rich, creamy cloud, although "creamy" is misleading here: there is nothing runny about it, nothing that will drip, nothing that will ooze, this is not a soft-cooked egg we're talking about. Nor is it gelatinous, nor does it melt in your mouth, per se. I don't really know how else to describe it: it's the texture of brains. Not the spongy, chewy thing you might be thinking.

We each had half a lamb brain, a serving about the size of a golfball and a half, and still couldn't finish it - just too rich.

The head itself, I roasted for about 30-40 minutes. The hardest thing was just getting the meat off, because it's a nooks and crannies kind of thing. Nice rich meat, less lamby than leg of lamb, less fatty than the neck/torso portion that we had later.

I'd seasoned the lamb with cumin, coriander, and salt, and we had the shredded meat on onion/cumin naan, with that yogurt from Sophia's. A great combination.