Monday, July 25, 2011

day 7

Day 7

Fruit for breakfast. I don't know if you can really tell from this blog what a fiend I am for fruit, because I usually eat it fresh, with minimal adjustment. I have peaches, nectarines, apricots, grapes, Rainier cherries, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple in the house right now, and we had a custard apple Saturday night - that's on top of frozen currants, rosehips, rhubarb, huckleberries, jackfruit, and soursop in the freezer, and dried apples and mango in the cupboard. 90% of the jam and preserves that I make is made with the minimal amount of sugar, because what I'm interested in is simply preserving the fruit so that I can have it with unsweetened yogurt. I would eat sour cherries, watermelon, Persian melon, fox grapes, and satsumas every week if I could, maybe every day. There is almost nothing you can make that is as good as good fresh fruit.

Lunch - sandwiches of smoked pork and barbecue sauce; chips with onion dip.

Dinner - Pimento cheeseburger, baked potato. I've explained before how I bake a potato but I'll point it out again because I think it makes a tremendous difference: hot oven (at least 400, but 450 is better), washed potato rubbed with olive oil and coarse salt. The oil and salt are optional - what's important is baking the potato at a high heat, without any foil or anything, so that the skin becomes well-roasted and crunchy.

So there you go, a week in my kitchen - some busy days, some basic ones, some trying stuff out, some standard boring stuff.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

day 6.

Day 6

French press coffee again.

Yogurt with strawberry preserves.

Lunch - boneless chicken thighs, floured and deep-fried, on Martin potato rolls, with quick pickles; greens and awendaw.

Dinner - tacos with onion dip!

Drinks - The Last Straw - one part gin, one part Chartreuse, one part St Germain, one part lemon juice, on cubes of frozen strawberry juice. So delicious! I'm telling you, Chartreuse and strawberry is a terrific combination.

day 5.

Day 4 after posting - made a pitcher of soursoup lemonade. I'd bought two cans of "frozen soursoup," not knowing what that would be - juice etc - and it ended up being frozen pulp! Very cool. So a can of that went into a pitcher of lemonade. Soursop aka guanabana - tropical fruit with that creamy pineapple flavor so many tropical fruits have.

Day 5

French press pot of coffee, mixed with cold-brew pu-erh tea.

Caitlin is coming this weekend, so let's see - what have I got already made? Ground beef taco filling, onion dip, leftover soup from dinner last night, smoked pork. I have plenty of stuff to make salad, plus watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, peaches, nectarines, apricots, kiwis, and a cherimoya. Pitcher of soursop lemonade and about two glasses of watermelon-cardamom limeade. There are sodas in the fridge, and Limonatas for Pimms cups, and cubes of frozen strawberry juice in the freezer.

Also some Ring Dings in the freezer, because it's a hundred and thirtybastard degrees out. Strawberry-yuzu sorbet, too, and a couple meringue cookies I can make Eton mess from.

That might be sufficient - if not I'll thaw some chicken or hamburgers or something.

Speaking of hamburgers - I have a pimento cheeseburger as an early lunch / late breakfast. Couple practical reasons for this - one, the heat hasn't reached inside yet; two, it's the messiest thing I'll cook today, so after I eat I can wipe down the stove and the counters, run the Roomba, and cleaning's took care of.

Let me tell you what all burger blogs have already told you - Martin potato rolls are the absolute best thing to put your burgers on. I learned this from my mother - Martin's breads weren't carried here when I was a kid, but expanded their distribution sometime in the 13 years before I moved back.

Awendaw to go with dinner - awendaw is kind of like a cornbread made with grits and cornmeal. I happen to have both blue cornmeal and blue corn grits, so it's a blue awendaw. I add a whole sliced Vidalia onion to the batter - haven't tried that before, just have a good feeling about it.

I also slice a few thin cucumber slices and toss them into a jar of pickled ramps and fennel - quick pickle slices which, if they come out nicely, will go on fried chicken sandwiches for dinner tonight.

Dinner WAS going to be fried chicken sandwiches with pickles, greens, and awendaw - but I mysteriously came down with painful stomach cramps a couple hours before dinner, for the second time in a week. So we had leftover soup instead, putting the chicken sandwiches off until Saturday lunch.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

day 4

Day 4, local temperature approx. a hundred and fuck you degrees Fahrenchrist

Coffee, French press, same as before.

I water the garden while the coffee is brewing, and it's already hot and humid out - a good day to not have to cook. The heat is good for the serranos and the rau ram, though.

Strain the chicken stock.

Big Salad prep - wash the butter lettuce (it's from the farm stand and visibly dirty), pecan vinaigrette (pecans, pecan oil, sherry vinegar - adjusted a few times because I keep using too much vinegar - sriracha, barley miso, touch of mustard for emulsion) blitzed in the Magic Bullet

I chop up a pineapple. I'm not totally sure how this chamoy thing works - I've got the accumulated salted watermelon juice, to which I added the juice that came out of the watermelon while it was smoking. Well, I add some ground guajillo chile to that, and dump some of the pineapple in. Did you know that if you soak pineapple in saltwater, it neutralizes the enzyme that irritates your mouth? News you can use.

Lunch - Big Salad - butter lettuce, cucumber, smoked watermelon, a little chicken, pecan vinaigrette. Hm, the smoked watermelon is okay, but you don't taste much aside from the smoke - if I could do cold-smoking, that might work better. Or just smoke it for a shorter period. The texture is like raw tuna.

Made some onion dip for the weekend.

Defrag the fridge - make soup - the leftover chicken goes in the pot with the chicken stock, chopped fennel leftover from salad fixings, tomato puree leftover from making the pizza, fresh fava beans, some of the dried squash, marjoram, and thyme

Cooked up some taco filling - basic ground beef stuff - for the weekend. Chopped up a cantaloupe. Chopped up a watermelon.

Pellegrino Limonata and Aperol.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

day 3.

Day 3

The greens are still simmering when I get up, so I turn those off and take them off the heat so they'll cool down a little faster.

French press pot of coffee - same as yesterday - yogurt with strawberry preserves. The preserves are runnier than I wanted, despite just saying that that would be okay - the syrup runs off the yogurt and pools up. When I get a chance later I'll reboil it.

When I put the greens away, I have a mug of pot liquor - not just because it's good, but because it lets me check the seasoning. Despite the Marmite, the greens are woefully undersalted, probably because there were just so MANY of them. I add some Tony Chachere's seasoned salt. The pot liquor is sort of flat and green-tasting at first, but there's a bitter undertone from the dandelion greens - different from the sharpness of mustard greens - followed by a little bit of kick from the sriracha and the Tony's. Not quite as sweet as I expected, because the turnip greens got crowded out.

See, this is one reason I like cooking a mix of many greens, though - the flavor is surprisingly complex, for what it is.

Lunch is approaching. I reboil the strawberry preserves and put those aside. Juice mixed with Kool Aid has accumulated in the watermelon bowl - I pour that into a glass and transfer the remaining watermelon into a smaller container so I can free up the bowl and run the dishwasher.

I spatchcock a chicken - oh, the look you're giving me, your dirty mind - cock is simply chicken and of course spatch means cunt - and cover it in some hot sauce I had concocted a few weeks ago, with sriracha, sherry vinegar, Marmite, Vegemite, and miso - throw it in the oven at 460 and go back to work.

The chicken comes out of the oven after an hour. The skin is blackened in places, but not problematically so. I scoop the chicken out of the pan with a spatula, put it on the extra-large cutting board, and let it rest a while. A cook's treat - grab the heel end of bread and swipe it through the fond in the pan - the reduced juices from cooking. In this case in addition to the rich chicken flavors of the fond, it's pretty seriously spicy, with some tang from the reduced vinegar. Heady stuff.

Lunch - after the chicken has rested for half an hour, I spread a little fond on a piece of bread and top it with one of the breasts and a little thigh meat. Greens and a pimento cheese foldover on the side. Now if the heatwave does arrive tonight, I've got cold roast chicken in addition to the leftover smoked pork and salad fixings, and don't need to "cook," in the sense of heating anything up, for a few days.

When the chicken's fully cooled, I remove the bones and toss them in the crockpot. Another cook's treat - I eat the pope's nose.

Before it gets TOO hot I decide to run the dehydrator - I'd read about sun-dried squash and decided to try drying it a bit in the dehydrator. I'm generally not a big fan of summer squash except in Keller's ratatouille, but it's the watery texture that I don't like, not the flavor - maybe partially drying it will intensify the flavors the way Keller's slow-cooking does.

Okay, so those get dried, which brings us to dinner - a taco - sliced smoked pork skin, fresh fava beans, greens, salsa, garlic, sriracha, cheddar.

Tonic water, a little rum, and a lot of Maurin Quina (which tastes kind of like cough syrup but in an awesome way).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

day 2.

Last night after posting:

Removed skin from the smoked pork picnic; added bones and the most well-cooked parts of meat to the crock pot, sliced the rest of the meat. Simmered crock pot overnight. This won't make as smoky a pork stock as using smoked hocks, but it'll suffice.

Day 2 -

Brought strawberries and their accumulated liquid to a boil, then turned off heat.

Yogurt for breakfast - nonfat unsweetened (I always get unsweetened, usually not nonfat) with homemade peach jam.

One French press (2 large mugs) of hot coffee (Black Bear - Guatemalan Antigua, I think, but I didn't mark the bag).

Washed greens in lobster pot - two bunches turnip greens, one bunch dandelion greens, one bunch Swiss chard. Realized I could get local greens from Lull's to add.

Lull's -

The local strawberries are gone; so are the cherries, even though last week was the first I saw them this year. Lull's is one of those farmstands that carries a lot of stuff they don't grow, so you don't notice at first until you see that the sign just says CHERRIES, not OUR OWN CHERRIES. No raspberries yet, no plums, no wild blueberries - fuck domestic blueberries. But they have the first of the local peaches. Peaches are real hit and miss up here, and these are the best-looking local ones I've seen in years. Though apple varieties are always carefully noted, peaches here are just White or Yellow, which is probably all most people want to know. I buy a couple Yellow - if they're good I'll get more before Caitlin comes this weekend.

The corn is Massachusetts, but I knew that - I drive past a dozen acres of cornfield on the way to Lull's, and it's still tween high.

Greens, they've got Our Own Kale, Our Own Callaloo, Our Own Red Kale. I get two bunches each callaloo and red kale. Callaloo can refer to a number of different greens - I don't know which one they grow here.

Well, now I have twice as many greens to wash. Might freeze some of the callaloo and red kale, so I'll wash them separate so I can keep track. The others can mingle.

The washed greens go into the lobster pot with the smoked pork stock, a squirt of sriracha, a couple cloves of garlic, a spoonful of Marmite instead of plain salt.

Ended up freezing one bunch each of callaloo and red kale.

Lunch - a few slices of the smoked pork, with barbecue sauce (Lip Lickin brand), some watermelon, an apricot.

Pimento cheese sandwich in the afternoon. Boy, this batch really came out good.

Added the chartreuse-soaked cherries to the strawberries. Adjusted with a little sugar, a little citric acid. Brought to a boil and simmered briefly. Boom, strawberry preserves. Since they're "preserves," not jam, I'm not too worried about whether they're thick enough - they'll just be eaten with yogurt for breakfasts - you notice there's no added pectin. This is just one jar's worth, after all - pectin doesn't come in packages that small.

While debating what to do about dinner - I want the greens to keep cooking, so that's out - I have two pieces of bread slathered with fancy butter and Vegemite. I have both Vegemite and Marmite in the house right now, which is unusual, so I did some head to head comparisons I've been meaning to post about. The upshot is that when it comes to bread, butter, and *mite, Vegemite wins - when it comes to a burger, Marmite wins. Interestingly, in both cases the victor is superior by a wide margin. I think what it means is that Marmite has a stronger flavor - the subtler flavor of Vegemite shines when it's the centerpiece, while Marmite works better when it's competing with other strong flavors like beef. If you're not sure what either Vegemite or Marmite is, that's cause I never got round to that post, but they're spreads made from yeast extract - high in umami/savoriness, much like miso, soy sauce, or demiglace are. Also quite salty.

Hmm, the bread is pretty filling and it's nearly eight - okay, fruit will be sufficient later and I'll try the greens again in a few hours, no more cooking today.

Monday, July 18, 2011

day 1

A week in my kitchen - day 1

Just for the hell of it I am going to tell you all that goes on in my kitchen for a week. It won't be accompanied by a lot of photos or in-depth explanation - I don't have time to full-time-blog all of it, it's more of a log. This isn't an unusual week, though it's not necessarily a typical week either - partly because it's summer, partly because I just went to Trader Joe's last week and have a couple things in the house I don't ordinarily.

Last night, preparatory to this morning - pitcher of iced coffee - three batches of French press coffee (two medium-to-dark roast, one light roast, though this is not a magic formula or anything), a little cinnamon, a few pecans that I fished out after the coffee cooled, half a cup of sugar

Watermelon - I cut the rind off of one and chopped it up, and then:

1) Sprinkled Tropical Punch Kool Aid on some and put it in the fridge;

2) Smoked some for a few hours - curious to see if smoked and chilled watermelon is interesting in a salad;

3) Covered some in salt. Chamoy is usually made with stone fruit, not melon, and watermelon has considerably more liquid than any stone fruit - but I figure, what the hell. Chamoy starts with fruit that's been pickled in salt or a brine - I add a little citric acid in addition to the salt in this case - and when the fruit is "dry" (the salt has leeched most of the water out), you combine that brine with red chiles and soak other fruit in it, like apples or pineapple or whatnot. This is intriguing, so why not. If it doesn't work out, I'm out fifty cents of watermelon and twenty cents of salt.

Reheated some sausage pizza from Regina's.

Macerated some halved strawberries in sugar, to turn into preserves.

Soaked dried tart cherries from Trader Joes in chartreuse, to add to the strawberry preserves.

Pimento cheese: cheddar, Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, jarred pimentos, a little bit of diced pickled hot pepper, Vidalia onion, mustard

Pimento cheese sandwich - the above, on white sandwich bread.

Smoked a pork picnic.

Dinner - homemade pizza arrabbita - part of a Trader Joe's pizza dough for the crust (I had used the rest of the dough last week); sauce of diced pickled hot pepper/roasted red and yellow peppers/Vidalia onion/Trader Joe's canned tomato puree; buffalo mozzarella/fontina/cheddar; roasted red and yellow peppers, fennel

Tonic water, Zucca Rarbarbaro amaro, lemon juice

Watermelon-cardamom limeade (leftover from last week)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Somewhere in my head, out of focus, is the platonic ideal of an Italian-inflected combination of lobster and tomato. Not lobster succotash, in other words, or a salad with tomatoes and cold lobster - something that says "yeah, Italian ... ish?"

It's probably a bit spicy and a bit acidic. It might turn out to be pizza. It might be a grinder. I fiddle.

Surf and turf pasta.

Meatballs, spaghetti, lobster

Tomato sauce: about eight parts crushed tomatoes, eight parts lobster stock, and one part pickled hot peppers, whizzed with the immersion blender and reduced until the consistency of tomato sauce. Salt shouldn't be necessary. Marjoram for seasoning.

Meatballs: large-ish. Ground beef, thick yogurt (buttermilk's fine), an egg, bread crumbs, lots of fennel, more crushed pickled peppers. Cook in the finished sauce.

The thing about lobster stock - any shellfish stock - in tomato sauce is, it's awesome. It adds a brininess that, with the strength of the tomato flavor, doesn't read as fishiness. And I mean that differently than I mean it about anchovies. Lobster stock would be an interesting base for puttanesca.

This combination, the tomato and lobster stock together - that's what's got me going after this platonic ideal, the way those flavors work together. The spice works well with it, and the fennel works well with the spice.

The sauce is pretty acidic compared to most Italian tomato sauces, because of the pickled peppers. It's not ketchup or anything, but you will reach for the Tums. The yogurt in the meatballs is to add a bit of tang so they play with that sauce well.

Serve with pasta and chunks of cooked lobster. Cheese? Maybe, I dunno; I'm out of Pecorino and Romano, didn't want to use the gouda (too sweet) or the aged provolone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

biscuits and gravy 2

We interrupt your (okay, my) (all right, our) reading of A Dance With Dragons for ...

Again, Biscuits & Gravy

Chile-mint oxtail rendang with rau ram and watermelon; biscuit; watermelon-cardamom limeade

Biscuit: same as before. And I'm still behind on comments, but - the last commenter is right, frozen biscuits are a good substitute, better than the canister biscuits.

Oxtail: Braise oxtail in coconut milk and chile-mint hot sauce (sriracha and fresh mint works as a sub, I'm sure) until oxtail comes easily off the bone. Remove the bone and cook everything down until the liquid cooks out enough that the oxtail is now frying in the fat - stir constantly once this happens!

Add curry leaves and a little more chile-mint hot sauce if necessary.

There is a whole class of food which is simply "meat braised before the liquid is allowed to cook off so that the meat is cooking in the fat." Carnitas use pork. Rendang adds coconut milk to the braising liquid so that some of the fat it's cooking in is the coconut fat. Vaca frita more or less comes out of the same concept, too.

It's a great technique - you get the rich tenderness of braising, and some of the crispness of frying. You concentrate flavors. Doing it with oxtail, I mean, it puts everything on elevens.

Curry leaves aren't always easy to find; skip em.

Rau ram is Vietnamese mint or Vietnamese coriander. It's related to sorrel, not mint - it has a little sourness, without acidity as such (you can make a lemonade of sorts out of sorrel, I don't believe you could with rau ram), and a pungency, and it's just ... there's nothing else that really tastes like it, and it's awfully compelling stuff.

Watermelon-cardamom limeade: dissolve sugar (1 cup for a full pitcher? depends on your pitcher, really) in warm water. Squeeze fresh limes into it. Squeeze a few handfuls of watermelon into it, leaving the watermelon pulp in the pitcher. Add a couple cardamom pods. Let sit overnight in the fridge and then remove the pods if you see them. But leave the pulp when you serve it.

I like limeade like this to be very tart, especially with the cardamom. The overall effect is ... complex, but something that goes very well with something as rich as oxtail rendang. It just cuts right through that richness, and the cardamom, watermelon, and lime - all flavors with floral components - go with the rau ram.


Chile-mint oxtail rendang, biscuit, watermelon, rau ram; watermelon-cardamom limeade

Watermelon chunks on biscuit, oxtail on watermelon chunks, rau ram on oxtail.

Did I just top cold watermelon with hot meat? Yes - in savory contexts, especially with meat, watermelon tastes a lot like tomato. Didn't I blow your mind this time, didn't I do it baby.

All in all, pretty fucking good.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The first time I made biscuits and gravy, I told a southerner it was almost as spicy as chili, and she said, "That's how it's supposed to be." I had lived in New Orleans nearly four years, so this was ten years ago - meaning I'm still a newcomer to it.

Biscuits and gravy were my first meal after moving to the South. That wasn't by design. I hadn't made it quite as far as New Orleans yet - my first meal in the city was overpriced potato chip catfish in the French Quarter at a restaurant you shouldn't trouble yourself with - and was getting breakfast at Hardee's before the last leg of the drive. I guess I'd heard of biscuits and gravy before but had no real idea what to expect. It's not exactly obvious to unprepared ears that the gravy is a thick, heavily seasoned sausage gravy, for instance.

Virtually the only time I ate breakfast at the University of New Orleans cafeteria was that first summer in New Orleans, because I was living in the dorms while looking for an apartment for August-and-points-south. It's a non-residential campus and the cafeteria closes in the afternoon in the summer - you had to make other arrangements for dinner. So it made sense to eat breakfast - maybe if you started out a little fuller, you wouldn't be hungry enough to need to walk off campus to Lee's or Bud's Broilers in the sauna-like, appetite-ruining humidity.

At least once a week, that breakfast was biscuits and gravy. Here's the thing about the north: fuck your biscuits, North.

Southerners may disagree with me that it is damn near impossible to get a bad biscuit in the South, but compared to the selection in lands where people say "you guys" instead of "you all," believe me: southern biscuits are consistently excellent, flavorful, homey, fluffy yet substantial. What's more, you can have a terrific meal, and yet the biscuits are the thing you remember most. To some ears, this is inconceivable; this is like saying you had the best Chinese food in years and that the best part was the plain white rice. It's a neutral palette, right? It's a soaker-upper. It's a vehicle for other flavors.

Fuck your biscuits, North.

I didn't try to make biscuits and gravy for a long time because, I don't even know why. Maybe because my girlfriend of that era was lactose-intolerant, though I did make dairy things for myself on nights when she wasn't home. Maybe I was just working my way up to it. Maybe I just had too many Yankee bubbles clinging to my skin that hadn't expired yet even after lengthy immersion in the warm murky waters of bathtub-shaped New Orleans.

You can't get the right kind of sausage up here.

I don't even remember the right brands, is the thing, because you never needed to notice them - you grab one of four or five brands, whatever's on sale if you feel like playing it that way, and you're fine. I know Bob Evans is perfectly good, but it's not sold here. Purnells Old Folks? Absolutely. Not sold here.

It doesn't have to be spicy. It wasn't at the UNO cafeteria. I don't think it was at Hardee's - peppery maybe. But there is something particularly notable about spicy gravy. Maybe it's the combination of the heat and the richness. Maybe it's because the warmth of the spice, the creamy warmth of the gravy, and the fluffy still-steaming interior of the biscuit add up to something that much more homey and comforting.

When I don't attempt my own sausage - and the texture is never quite right when I do, because I have a manual meat grinder but it's a pain in the ass to use and clean so I don't, and use the Cuisinart, and there's a reason that doesn't say "perfectly acceptable meat grinder" on the side - I use Jimmy Dean's hot bulk sausage. It doesn't taste quite right - it's not that it's less good, it just doesn't capture the mood properly - maybe because of a clash of associations, since the mild version of this sage-heavy sausage is what the northern half of my family uses in Thanksgiving stuffing.

It doesn't have to be spicy, it's not even usually spicy, but that's how I first made it and was told I was on the right track, by a random online acquaintance I was talking about southern food with, so that's how it's fixed in my head. A little peppery. Sometimes I add crushed red pepper or cayenne. Sometimes I add a little chopped onion when I'm cooking the sausage.

You crumble up and brown - not grey, but brown - half a pound of sausage, and don't drain the fat. The fat makes the gravy. You add a little flour, I don't measure, and keep stirring for a bit so that the flour doesn't taste raw. You add a couple cups of milk and stir it while the milk comes to the boil, and boom it's gravy.

Biscuits, I can't tell you how to make biscuits. No one can really tell you how to make biscuits. Go make some biscuits and make some more biscuits and eat good biscuits and make biscuits again, and it'll come together eventually. I use self-rising flour, maybe your grandma didn't. A southern brand is best - they use softer flour - but you're right, I'm not going to pay shipping on that either. You add a little fat to a bowl of self-rising flour - animal fat is best, lard, schmaltz, butter, drippings from whatever - and rub it together until it comes together like little peas. Use your hands, you make biscuits with your hands, like pinky swears and voodoo dolls. You mix buttermilk in. Knead as little as possible! Everything needing kneading in bread needs it not in biscuits. You bake them at 400 for 20 minutes.

Biscuits and gravy

It's not what you'd call pretty. You want pretty, bake a cake. They got schools for it and everything.

Ask your grandma, but that's how I do.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

These things happened:

I bought extra-hot sriracha, the Asian hot sauce, and some Asian herbs in Little Cambodia, along with the new crop of rice.

It is pea season.

I bought a can of Spam, thinking, it's eaten in so many cuisines I enjoy - I should check it out.

So this happened:

Sriracha chicken, herbed rice, Spam

Sriracha chicken with herbed rice and Spam.

Spam: remove from can, cut into slices, cut slices into strips, and sear them. It's salty and soft, like softer than a cheap hot dog - but the searing gives it texture so that you have something to bite through to get to the softness.

Herbed rice: steamed rice mixed with fresh peas, a handful of chopped mint, a handful of chopped culantro, a little rice paddy herb, a few curry leaves.

Sriracha chicken: remove bone from chicken thighs but leave the skin on;

cut a red bell pepper and an onion in half and char them on a dry cast-iron pan over medium to medium-high heat - don't caramelize them, just get some char marks all over them;

roughly chop charred pepper, onion, and the cloves of one bulb of garlic and lay them in a baking dish. Drizzle with extra-hot sriracha and add a quarter cup of vinegar. Lay boned chicken thighs on top and bake at 375 for an hour, until skin is crispy.

Sauce: remove chicken thighs; blitz everything else with an immersion blender, Cuisinart, etc.