Wednesday, December 26, 2012

best of 2012

The best things I ate this year, in no order:

Lamb burgers from Pat La Frieda. These were a Christmas present from Caitlin. We'd had PLF's regular burgers before, and they're amazing. The remarkable thing about the lamb burgers is that they're exactly what you'd hope they'd be - I mean, they have the same balance of flavor and juiciness and texture as the beef burgers, but they're lamb. I know that sounds obvious, but ... I was prepared for these to just be very good lamb burgers, and instead they're the lamb burgers of my dreams.

Gotta also add the burger at Craigie on Main, and every burger at Flat Patties. And the Frisco Melt at Steak and Shake, for that matter.

Satsumas from Louisiana Lagniappe.

Ice cream! Juniper lemon curd and vinho verde pear wheatgrass from Jeni's, burnt caramel and Vietnamese coffee from Toscanini's.

Gold Rush apples. This was just the best apple I've had in years.
The roast beef and roast lamb sandwiches at Flour, and the roast beef sandwich at Cuttys.

Fried maitake mushrooms. Oh man. One of the best things I got at Wegmans.

Fried soft-shell crab. The other best thing I got at Wegmans!

Montmorency cherries.

Boiled custard. The boiled custard I made at the start of the year is just the best I've ever made, for some reason. I made some again in December and it's just not as good.

The shrimp and grits at Classic on Noble, mentioned in my last entry.

My own roasted coffee, especially with Solerno blood orange liqueur. Many amari, especially Campari and Amaro Montenegro. Many whiskeys, notably the cognac-finished Parker Heritage Collection bourbon, Bulleit rye, and the Lagavulin 16.

Double Cola in glass bottles in Georgia.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

christmas 2012

Caitlin and I visited her family in Georgia this year for Christmas (escaping some snow which melted before I came back). I left my camera there, but let me tell you what I brought back with me before I finish putting it away:

Cheerwine! It was a ridiculous week for soda finds, in fact. I brought back Cheerwine and Peach Crush (which tastes like peach Jello) but was also able to have Bubble Up, Red Rock cola, Nugrape, Double Cola, and Dr Enuf - and only passed up Sun Drop and RC cola because I can get them up here now.

Also picked up, soda-wise, but not southern per see: Dragonfruit Pepsi, at a gas station. I like it because it's so bizarre - it tastes like Pepsi mixed with a generically tropical Kool Aid. It's not like the "dragonfruit flavor" we're seeing in beverages lately bears any resemblance to real dragonfruit (which is too mild-flavored to make sense as a flavor to add to something like Pepsi - I think real dragonfruit juice added to Pepsi would just taste like weak Pepsi). It must be the name that seems marketable (though for the record, Dragonfruit Pepsi is actually called Pepsi X and has some cross-branding relationship to that ridiculous X Factor show).

Pecan log rolls. Oh man, my favorite candy maybe. Also got almond log rolls which I haven't tried yet.

White barbecue sauce and moonshine taffy, both gifts from Caitlin's mom. (As well as homemade pear preserves, crabapple jelly, and zucchini pickles.)

Frog legs!

Sausage for biscuits and gravy. Can't get much up here except Jimmy Dean.

Duke's mayo. Southern brands of mayonnaise are generally preferred for things like pimento cheese and tomato pie. I usually get Blue Plate because that's what I'm used to from New Orleans, but got Duke's to check it out.

Tony Chachere's, a Louisiana seasoning blend that is a staple for me.

Luzianne tea bags. I use great oolong and pu erh teas for hot tea, but for sweet tea, man, it has to be Luzianne.

Self-rising cornmeal. Just a time-saver, sure, but totally unavailable up here.

Deep-fried peanuts

Country ham

Souse (a form of head cheese, though I'm expecting it's seasoned differently from the Cajun head cheese I'm used to)

I'm undoubtedly forgetting stuff - my luggage was heavvvy. And this isn't counting what we ate there, of course - which I would put off until I'm less worn out from just getting back, but I have a busy week coming up and then boom it's the new year, so, highlights:

Vera and Jerry took us out to Classic on Noble in Alabama, where the shrimp and grits has been called "one of the 100 dishes in Alabama to try before you die." Man, that's underselling it. Oh, everything else was good too - fried oysters, coconut pie - but for once, Caitlin and I both got the same thing, even though there was a crab cake with fried soft-shells on the menu. It was just so good you wouldn't want anything else - not just the best shrimp and grits I've had, the best grits I've had, period.

These amazing greens made by a co-worker of Caitlin's stepfather - poke sallet, collards, and turnip greens, I think he said. I have to up my greens game and my grits game.

Doughnuts and fried pies (cherry, coconut, peach, and sweet potato, in my order of preference) from Vogelsberg Bakery in Carrollton, GA. Good God. I almost didn't get doughnuts, but thank God I did - absolutely the best doughnut I've had in my life. Yeast-raised doughnut, glazed - your basic non-cake doughnut, you know? But so good. So amazingly good. And usually I far prefer filled doughnuts!

Barbecue!  Pulled brisket, which I kept putting on pimento cheese sandwiches. The barbecue sauce was very peppery, as in black pepper - which I love, since that's what I'm used to from Rudy's in Texas.

And the chains - none of which I'd been to in years: Cracker Barrel, which gets a bad rap (as all chains do and as most deserve) but is comfort food regardless; Steak and Shake, where I got a Frisco melt for the first time since moving out of Indiana six and a half years ago, and which still absolutely serves the best chain hamburgers; and Sonic, which I hadn't been to in even longer. (The creamslushes at Sonic - a mix of "slush" and soft-serve ice cream - are a lot like the freezes - half soft serve, half snowball - I loved in New Orleans.)

Unsurprisingly, once I came home to an empty fridge, I started cooking - Coca-Cola salad, pimento cheese with Duke's, Coca-Cola cake, pork stock still cooking away as we speak for greens.

I'm sure I'm forgetting things.  It was a good week!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Some post-Thanksgiving cooking:

The obligatory Thanksgiving sandwich, with turkey, stuffing, sage-and-garlic gravy, Dijon mustard, and cranberry sauce (subsequent versions were made with truffle butter instead of mustard and cranberry, a Caitlin innovation):

Thanksgiving sandwich

Turduckconfit - turkey skin wrapped around turkey breast wrapped around duck breast wrapped around Jimmy Dean sage sausage, each layer bonded with transglutaminase, slow-cooked in duck fat:


Chicken-fried steak, pre-cooked - strips of steak bonded to chicken skin, eventually buttermilk-battered and fried.

Chicken-skinned steak

The cranberry-pecan bread didn't quite work - I substitute fresh-squeezed unsweetened cranberry juice for the water in a regular baguette recipe, but the acidity must have wreaked havoc - the dough didn't stretch so much as tear, and the final product was dense and looked like whole-grain bread. We're going to try it as pain perdu tomorrow.

The colcannon twice-baked potatoes were pretty great, though. Caitlin's idea, my execution:

First make creamed greens - blanch kale and turnip greens, squeeze every drop of liquid you can out, and chop finely.

Meanwhile cook chopped garlic, chopped fennel, and cream together until the cream gets very thick and is about to break. Blend the cream, garlic, and fennel together along with salt, fennel seed, and if you have them, a tablespoon or so of cooked nettles, to make everything bright green.

Return the sauce to the pan, add the greens, cook until very thick.

Bake your potatoes, split them in half, scoop out the innards, and mash them with the creamed greens. Add a little butter or a little more salt if needed.

Fill potato shells with the colcannon; bake 15-20 minutes before eating.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

thanksgiving 2012

I'll update with photos of anything interesting, but - the things I am making for Thanksgiving or as part of Thanksgiving weekend:

Cranberry-pecan bread (yeast bread, not baking soda) and pain perdu with the leftovers

Turduckconfit: turkey skin wrapped around turkey breast wrapped around duck breast wrapped around sage sausage, all bonded with transglutaminase, slow-cooked in duck fat.

Colcannon twice-baked potatoes

Carrot and celery root gratin

Maple-coffee pecan pie

Cranberry-lime pie

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

aka arnold palmer, half and half

Lemonade iced tea

Man, fuck a bunch of winter. Sometimes when you wake up and it's still dark out, you need to make some lemonade iced tea.

(I have ceased calling it anything but "half lemonade, half iced tea" when I order it, because there doesn't seem to be a nationally understood term.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Although there's a cider cocktail called the Stonewall, I implore you not to call this unnamed cocktail the Stone Walnut:

3/4 oz nocino (walnut liqueur)
1 oz rye whiskey
Pour into a mug and top with hot unpasteurized apple cider.

This has been our favorite cocktail of cider season. You really, really need to use farmstand apple cider - I don't think anything in a supermarket will come close. Depending on the apples the cider was made with, and how tart it is, you might want a squeeze of lemon juice.

You might also need to adjust the amount of nocino for sweetness - I'm using homemade stuff (which is dead simple if you can get green walnuts - chop them into halves or quarters, cover them in vodka for a couple months, add sugar to desired sweetness).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I always associate beets with fish.

There's no real reason for that association outside the context of my own life: I first learned to like beets when I was living in Gentilly almost twelve years ago (wow), when I happened to be eating a lot of fish. The beets were a whim - I roasted them, rubbed the skins off, and sliced them, as a side with pan-fried fish and homemade "tartar sauce" made with pickled garlic.

The sweetness was nice with the fish, and I've gone back to it a lot of times since.

Smoked cod, beets

The cod fillet was smoked in the stovetop smoker after being rubbed with miso. No tartar sauce this time - just black pepper and a five-minute egg fried in cilantro oil.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

boom, roasted

I know what I'll do with that squash, I said. I'll make a soup with cumin in it.

Everything else grew out of that, using stuff I happened to have in the house.

Roasted squash soup with cumin and lime; with brown butter peanuts and goat cheese.

I chopped the squash into pieces that would fit in the pan and roasted them at 375 for several hours - you can roast a squash in about an hour, I just wanted bigger, deeper flavor.

Roasted squash
Meanwhile I used my kitchen torch to roast some red chiles.

Roasted chiles

I scooped the roasted squash out of the shells and pureed it with the chiles, the juice of two limes, a good deal of cumin, a tablespoon of red miso, two cloves of black garlic, a teaspoon or so of "black mint" (use cilantro or whatever other herb you like), and a bit of hot water, and strained it. The seasonings were picked partly because they go well with cumin, and partly for the earthy umami flavor they contribute.

The strained soup was topped with hoja santa goat cheese and brown butter peanuts (heat butter until it starts to brown, add Trader Joe's blistered peanuts and stir until you smell peanut).

Squash soup

You can see the soup clinging to the tortilla chip in the upper left.

Spicy, warm, not overwhelmingly rich or monochromatically earthy thanks to the lime juice.

Friday, October 12, 2012

sandwich creamery

While we were up at the lake, we made the journey out to Sandwich Creamery, which makes ice cream, sorbet, and cheese, and has a little store on-site that's open to the public. When I say little, I mean little: there's a cooler of cheese (only cheddar and fresh cheese when we went) and organic eggs, a freezer of ice cream and sorbet, and a table of amazing sourdough bread. No staff, cash only - you put paper money in one slot and coins in another, and a video camera enforces your honesty.

The Creamery is kind of in the middle of nowhere.

Sandwich Creamery

... no, seriously:

Sandwich Creamery
You drive through the center of Sandwich - which was at the time hosting the Sandwich Fair - and then down a country road, turning off that country road onto another country road (marked by the sign above), then another country road, then another. The winding dirt roads reminded me of Hollis when I was a kid, before everything was paved and they put a traffic light in.

Sandwich Creamery
Sandwich Creamery
There were a few people eating ice cream at the tables when we got there, but they'd left before I took photos.

Sandwich Creamery
The little shack on the left is the part open to the public:

Sandwich Creamery
Cooler of cheese and eggs.

Sandwich Creamery
Bread. I apparently forgot to take a photo of the ice cream! We picked up three small containers of ice cream (each about two small servings): cranberry, cinnamon, and "tipsy turtle," which tasted like chocolate, amaretto, and pecans. All excellent, as always.

Sandwich Creamery
Like most cheesemakers these days, Sandwich Creamery buys its milk from other farmers, so there are no cows there - we did see sheep, pigs, and chickens.

columbus day weekend

Cabin, Columbus Day

Columbus Day weekend up at the lake!

Squam, Columbus Day

Caitlin got the fire going when necessary - it was certainly colder than last year - and I handled the cooking.

We started with that most autumnal of dinners, the roast chicken:

Chicken to be roasted
That's an eight pound chicken - don't be fooled by the enormity of my pan, which I've roasted turkeys and fresh hams in. It's covered in zaatar - sumac, thyme, and sesame seeds - and drizzled with a little olive oil, and resting on top of chunks of parsnip, celery root, and fennel.

Really, the parsnips were my favorite part here - sweet and rich and caramelized from roasting underneath the chicken. We had sides of freekeh cooked with garlic. Freekeh is similar to the marginally more common wheat berry, but the wheat is picked green, roasted in an open flame, thrashed, and sun-dried. The result is extremely flavorful and nutty - I wish I weren't out of it now!

Roast chicken with freekeh
Roast chicken with freekeh

Leftover chicken gave us a few more meals - to start with, I made a chicken stock from the bones and vegetable scraps (which wound up very dark because I cooked it down too far - the stove up there heats up much hotter than mine on low and medium), with bits of chicken, parsnip, celery root, kale, the leftover freekeh, and the drippings from the chicken.

Chicken soup with freekeh

Most of the rest of the chicken went into a chicken hash. I'd boiled potatoes ahead of time, let them cool, and chopped them into chunks - crisped them up in butter, added chopped cooked chicken, smoked mushrooms, and cream.

Yeah, smoked mushrooms: straight-up supermarket button mushrooms, marinated in olive oil and soy sauce for a day, smoked for half an hour.

Topped with a fried egg.

Chicken hash with smoked mushrooms

Other odds and ends.  Quince!  Quince - chopped, cored - covered in ginger beer and roasted, covered, until soft, then uncovered until the ginger beer got syrupy.

Roast quince with ginger beer
We had the quince with ice cream from Sandwich Creamery - both their cinnamon ice cream and their cranberry ice cream.

Finally, a Campari drink inspired by Dave Wondrich's Corn Goddess:

Pink corn juice drink
Roughly equal parts of strained corn juice, gin (The Botanist), Campari, and lime juice.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I thought everyone was clear on this by now.

If you insist that you only like "bone dry martinis," if you recite ridiculous things like "just tap the bottle of vermouth against the shaker" or "whisper 'vermouth' across the ice," if you pour a little vermouth in the shaker and then pour it right back out so it just coats the glass ...

... you don't like martinis. You don't drink martinis.

You like glasses of gin. There's nothing wrong with liking gin. But a glass of gin isn't a martini.

Here is a bone-dry cheeseburger to have with your martini. After assembling the bread and cheese, I waved my hands over it and whispered the word "cow."

Grilled cheese

(Grilled cheese and vegemite, which I'd meant to post on National Grilled Cheese Day but forgot.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

chicken pot chicken pot

Chicken Pot Pie, Day 1:


Roast a chicken. My chicken roasting method has been the same for a decade: spatchcock it (cut through one side with a sharp knife and split it open) and roast it at high heat, 450, for an hour to an hour and a half depending on the size of the chicken.

Seasonings are unnecessary unless you plan to eat some of the chicken without putting it in the pot pie.

Let the chicken cool completely.


Remove meat from chicken carcass, chop up, and put in the refrigerator.

Add skin and bones and drippings from the pan to a pot (crockpot's fine), cover with water, and let simmer all day and night.

You can season the chicken stock with any vegetable scraps you happen to have, but carrot, celery, turnip, and onion work especially well.

Chicken Pot Pie, Day 2:


Make pie crust and refrigerate until needed.

Strain chicken stock and reduce until it's no bigger than the volume of a pie plate.

Refrigerate chicken stock.

Chop vegetables: celery, carrot, onion. (I have interesting things in my freezer, so actually used celery, onion, green chile, and ramps.)

When it's time to make dinner:

Remove solidified chicken fat - schmaltz - from the surface of the chilled chicken stock. Melt in a pan big enough to hold the stock, chicken, and vegetables. Add a little flour and stir together until the flour is no longer raw.

Add vegetables to the roux, stir for a few minutes, and add the stock. Cook down as needed. Add chicken, salt and pepper (do not skimp on the salt), and pour into a pie plate lined with pie crust. Cover with second crust. Brush top crust with a little butter.

Bake at 350 for an hour.

Let cool 15 minutes before eating.

(It's raining, I can't get a good photo. You know what chicken pot pie looks like.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo


I've talked about Buffalo wings before. A lot.

I've also talked about how good home-grown celery is, what an intense flavor it has. This year my mother grew celery root, and I've been using the thin stalks and leaves to flavor, well, everything.

I grew Tabasco peppers this year, and because we got such a long growing season, they actually turned red. So I tried my hand at pepper mash again, which is the Tabasco method of making hot sauce: you mash peppers with salt, let it ferment, and then mix it with vinegar. This is the classic Louisiana style hot sauce.

In the past, my peppers have dried out without fermenting. I could have just added water and gone about it much like sauerkraut, but since the last time I tried making Tabasco sauce, I've gotten into kimchi. So I treated it similarly: mixing the main ingredient (the peppers) with seasonings, salt, and something with enough liquid and sweetness in it to kickstart the anaerobic fermentation.

The seasonings were the celery leaves and stalks - the liquid, half of a tomato. I blended those together with red ripe Tabasco peppers and salt, jarred it up, and let it ferment for a week, until it was bubbling like mad - then blended that with apple cider vinegar and red miso, and strained it. I also added a pinch of xanthan gum - it's a thickener, but it also helps keep the pepper from coming out of suspension, so that the pepper sauce doesn't separate.

Already I had something amazing - a rich, full-flavored hot sauce with a pronounced celery flavor, like the celery sticks you eat with your Buffalo wings. (After sitting a week, the tomato flavor became more noticeable, almost gazpachoey.)

But wait. I divided the sauce in half. One I left as is, as just described. To the other I added a stick of butter that had been cooked until browned. Again, the xanthan gum helps keep the sauce from separating, though in this case I think a bit of mustard would do the same.

It's like premixed Buffalo sauce, but ... so much better.

Butter and Tabasco sauce; Tabasco sauce

more coolage, less normalcy

As hot as summer was, fall arrived right on schedule - early even, shouldering its way in in a succession of days that alternated between the 80s and the 50s. This morning is an unequivocally fall day - most of the leaves have turned, and there's grey mist hanging on everything. Fall is like that friend whose spouse you can't stand - you're glad to see them, but it's never just them you have to deal with. It's not even the cold of winter that I mind as much - there's a good chance New England has settled into a pattern of mild winters punctuated by extremely cold or snowy ones - it's the darkness, which is so so much worse at northern latitudes.

I'm definitely very affected by that darkness, and have trouble waking up in the morning - despite being a morning person the rest of the year - and just as much trouble having any energy throughout the day. I have a Philips blue light - they didn't give me a free sample or anything, it was a Christmas present - and it works wonders, but it's still not as good as, you know, spring.

But for now it's fall. It's fall and I'm drinking my coffee waiting for Meet the Press to start, after which I'll get back to work on a horror story. Let's get you caught up in the meantime on the doings round the kitchen.

First, I won the internal poll in the Marx Foods cocktail/mocktail contest, and selected the Japanese juice sampler - bottles of yuzu, kabosu, and sudachi juice! - as my prize. Very very cool, and congratulations to Scofflaws Den, winner of the public poll.

Two important notions Caitlin had! First, corn and okra fritters - a basic fritter batter recipe (I winged it - flour cornmeal buttermilk egg baking soda and salt - and added more flour after the first few) with corn off the cob and chopped up okra, fried up in the deep fryer and served with deep-fried Cornish game hen and drizzled with honey:

Okra and corn fritters, cornish game hen

And a sandwich that started out as "what if we did a tomato sandwich Croque Madame style," i.e. in a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg and cheese sauce; my tweak was to replace the ham with leftover corned beef:

Croque madame tomato sandwich
And then! Nikki and I did our annual green chile / apple exchange - I sent her a box of apples (which I should have packed better, since the chestnut crabapples were crushed in transit), she sent me this:


So many chiles!

I made green chile mac and cheese and green chile cheeseburgers, as I always do. But the new thing ... oh man. You know, we have been doing this for some years now, and I was aware that green chile apple pie existed. I don't know why this was the first time I made it. This is the "test pie" - a hand-pie of apple and green chile filling inside puff pastry, just to see whether it was worth doing a full pie. It was.

Green chile apple pie
Green chile apple pie

Maybe you're thinking, why the fuck would you put vegetables in your apple pie, and I don't even have to go off at you about how the fruit|vegetable divide in cooking is recent, artificial, and mostly imaginary - because the green chiles just don't play like a vegetable here, they play like a seasoning. Like ginger or cinnamon. What vegetal character they have just accentuates the sweetness of the apples - the way sharp cheddar does, maybe? - and the heat goes perfectly with apple pie spices. It works really, really well.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

labor day 2012: cooking

Caitlin and I spent Labor Day weekend up at the lake, with a bunch of geese:

Geese on Squam

Geese on Squam

And a bunch of duk:

Duk gumbo, pork belly
Duk are Korean rice cakes, like thick rice noodles or dumplings. I made a sort of tomato gumbo, let it cook a bit, cooked the duk in it, and then served it alongside slices of pork belly that had been simmered in heavily salted water for two hours and roasted for half an hour to crisp up.

Gumbo in progress:

Duk gumbo
Onion, celery root and its stalks, okra, and tomatoes - all from my mother's garden except the yellow tomatoes on top. A few shakes of Tabasco sauce. Chicken stock, seasoned with bay leaves.

Duk gumbo
Duk gumbo

Duk gumbo

Duk gumbo

That cooked for a bit, first covered and then uncovered, and then I added the duk, which only take maybe five minutes when there's a lot of liquid like that. Both the okra and the rice starch from the duk thickened the gumbo.

We also had oxtail, and because this was a dinner, the light isn't as good. This was sort of haphazard. I simmered the oxtail in tomatoes and okra, but the stove and oven both run hotter than I expect up there, and the tomatoes cooked down and scorched - enough that I was afraid I might have burned things, so I lifted the oxtail out into a pot of fresh tomato puree, so that we had a mix of both. Served that, once it was heated up, with ratatouille and chevre ravioli from local company Valicenti.

Ravioli, oxtailRavioli, oxtailRavioli, oxtail

One of the nights - Sunday night? - we had steak sandwiches with black truffled twice-baked potato, which is very simple. I cooked up shaved steak in the pork belly fat, with a few crushed cherry tomatoes that cooked down. Made grilled cheese sandwiches with the cheese scraps we had left - a little aged gouda, a little sage cheddar, a single slice of American cheese divided between two sandwiches. Put the steak on the grilled cheese, and meanwhile had baked a potato (rub fat around it, bake it at 400-450 for an hour), sliced it in half, scooped out the innards, mashed them with grated Pecorino cheese, about three tablespoons of black truffle butter, and an egg yolk, replaced the mashed potatoes in the shells, and baked them for 15 minutes.

Steak sandwich, black truffle twice-baked potato
That's my travel cooking knife on the left by the dish detergent.

Brunch on Monday! A quick bite while we were getting ready to leave. I had, a week earlier, cooked some unusual duck confit - after curing a duck leg quarter overnight in salt and fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, rau ram), I had cooked it at a low heat all day in butter, rather than duck fat.  Because I didn't have duck fat ... and I did have butter.  So we wound up with both duck confit, and duck-fat butter.

I reheated that duck confit, shredding it from the bone as it cooked, and then scooped it, still sizzling hot, onto two tomatoes. The tomatoes had been prepped by slicing the top off, slicing around the interior to create a channel, and making vertical cuts. I sort of pressed the duck confit down into the tomato after scooping it in.

Duck confit stuffed tomato
Duck confit stuffed tomato
We could have used some crusty bread to sop everything up!

We ate em
So long till Columbus Day, goose.

Geese on Squam