Friday, February 24, 2012

so much depends upon papaya salad glazed with fish sauce lime juice and some other stuff

Papaya salad, som tum, is probably my favorite Thai dish. It's made with green (unripe) papaya, which is the number one key - it just wouldn't be the same thing with ripe papaya. Unripe mango would work if for some reason that's easier for you to find than unripe papaya.

The tricky thing is shredding it. I've tried a cheese grater in the past and wasn't happy with the results, so I tried the Thai method - making lots of cuts all over the peeled papaya with a sharp knife and then slicing them into shreds. It's trickier than it looks on youtube - unripe papaya is a lot firmer than ripe papaya, for one thing, but there's also the cavity in the center, so your slices may suddenly come detached before you intend them to.

Green papaya
My papaya came out coarser than you'll find in a Thai restaurant. The texture/taste difference is noticeable, unfortunately!  (Or unforts, as the kids say.)  I "fixed" this by taking the largest pieces and putting them aside to make green papaya kimchi.

Traditionally you serve papaya salad with raw tomato and long beans. I don't have any long beans and I'm not about to buy fresh tomatoes in Februfuckinary, so. The dressing is simple - sugar, lime juice, fish sauce/dried shrimp/salted crab/something along those lines, garlic, and Thai chiles. Somehow I don't have any fresh chiles, so I used pickled green peppercorns instead, mainly because I'd been looking for an excuse to use them in something.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

And this past weekend ... my last meal out before Lent ... one of the specials at Flat Patties, a cheeseburger with gruyere and caramelized onions (photo by Caitlin!):

Flat Patties burger: caramelized onions and gruyere

So good.  I love that place.  (And those pickles in the foreground are house-made and fantastic.)
Yesterday was a typical first day of Lent for me: bagel with belly lox, cheese pizza. Stuff that doesn't feel like you're leaving anything out.

Today is not yesterday.

(I'm sure you're going to have to click through there.)

There are so many kinds of beans! People don't tend to realize this, but think about even the difference between a field pea (like black-eyed peas) and the beans in your chili - it's huge.

Thank god for bean variety, or Lent might get a little monotonous. From the black beans at eleven o'clock, I've got: ayocote negro (black runners), bolita, black calypso, arikara yellow, vallarta, and field peas.  Look at the size difference between the field peas and the black runners!

I cooked some of the black runners up with carrot, celery, and garlic, along with a scoop of the greens I mentioned yesterday, some salsa Caitlin's mother made, and a boiled egg.

Greens, beans, salsa, egg
(The egg was cooked all day in a slow-cooker - rather than being rubbery like an overcooked hard-boiled egg, it's soft and creamy, and browned from the long cooking.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It begins again! Today is the first day of Lent. Once again, what that means for me:

1: Meat only one day a week (traditionally this is Sunday, but spending weekends with Caitlin often means Saturday makes more sense.)

2: Seafood doesn't count as meat.

3: Animal fats and stock don't count as meat, sort of. The idea here is just that it would be silly to let stock I already have on hand go to waste, or to empty my deep fryer and replace it with vegetable oil instead of the lard-tallow mix.

Yesterday's Lenten prep included soaking beans, soaking chickpeas for falafel, starting a new batch of kimchi, and starting a big pot of mixed southern greens (collards, mustard, carrot, dandelion, spinach, watercress) which continues to simmer as we speak.

Because Lent is somewhat early this year (it will be even earlier next year), it follows right on the heels of Maine shrimp season, which is nice - I have a few pounds of shelled shrimp frozen, and a couple batches of shrimp stock.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

has he lost his mind


I am not capable of knowing such a thing as a blood taco exists without proceeding to make it my lunch, that's the thing.

There are a lot of ways to cook with blood. There are soups thickened with it - it congeals when cooked - or with cubes of blood floating in it. There are sausages made with it. I'm not a big fan of boudin noir, the French version - feel free to change my mind with free samples, French sausage makers! - but I love morcilla, the Spanish version, and black pudding, the English version. (I've never had boudin rouge, the Cajun version.)

A blood taco is just what it sounds like: cooked blood in a taco. In this case, blood added to diced skin-off pork belly, with some shaved pork, salsa, and turnip greens sauteed with garlic. Added a little hot sauce, a little lime juice.

(Blood has a lot of iron in it, duh. Alternate entry title: ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.)
(Alternate "duh": uh-doy.)

Blood taco

This is a very tame blood taco. I've seen them made with mostly blood and a few bits of innards, a sort of stone soup taco. Here, the blood makes the meat flavor richer and very juicy. Honest, you would not be bothered by it at all if I didn't tell you it was a blood taco. Maybe I'll make blood chili sometime. Maybe I already have and didn't tell you. Maybe you ate some of that chili without even knowing, you filthy gross blood-eater. You don't know.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sometime during Lent I should do a long post on the various seafood-derived Asian condiments - total flavor superheroes, wildly underused outside of the slight bump in fish sauce's popularity. One reason for the post? Reminding myself not to underuse them, and when using them, to think beyond fish sauce.

In the meantime, something I will not be having during Lent:

Ribs, carrots, rice

Poorly-lit spareribs and carrots with rice.

The spareribs were rubbed with shrimp paste, gochujang (Korean chile paste), and ginger, laid on top of sliced carrots, covered in foil, and slow-cooked at 225 for 7 1/2 hours, before being drizzled with coconut treacle and baked at 350 for another 20 minutes (while the rice cooked).

Shrimp paste has a deep, complex flavor - everything else just rounds it out.  And carrots, I just like carrots and had some to use up.

caramel tangelo buttermilk pie

I was only going to brown the butter and caramelize the sugar and then make a standard buttermilk pie apart from those tweaks. But while waiting for the caramelized sugar to dissolve in 2/3 of the buttermilk, I decided to substitute tangelo juice (and some of the zest) for the remaining buttermilk. (The buttermilk and tangelo juice almost seem to have separated into two separate layers.)

Caramel tangelo buttermilk pie

The result hasn't got much buttermilk flavor - no surprise, since one reason I leave out the lemon juice some people add to buttermilk pie is to keep it from covering up the much more subtle flavor of buttermilk. But it is sweet, tangy, tangelo-y, caramelly, certainly a success.
Here's how you get uncooked beef marrow out of the bone:

Ideally, get marrow bones that have been cut fairly short, and have good thick pieces of marrow, like finger-thickness or thicker. Heat up some water - too hot for your hand, not hot enough for your coffee - and cover the bones for a couple minutes. Not too long - don't let the marrow melt.

Now take the bones out, and push on the marrow with your thumb - it may seem like it's just being crushed and not doing anything, and then all of a sudden it'll pop out.

Soak in saltwater in the fridge to get trace blood out - change the water every day or so.

What now? You can incorporate it into sauces, especially for steak - think of the marrow as butter made of beef fat, bringing body and beefiness to a red wine reduction or even a basic stock-based gravy. You can make some kind of spread for bread - garlic butter with marrow.

Or you can do this:

Shrimp, Marrow, Brussels Sprouts Kimchi, Somen
This was Valentine's dinner: somen noodles with Maine shrimp, Brussels sprouts kimchi, and fried beef marrow. Photos by Caitlin!

Shrimp, Marrow, Brussels Sprouts Kimchi, Somen

I've covered fried beef marrow before, it's super easy: take the pieces of marrow (in this case I cut them into medallions), toss them in flour, pan-fry them in a little butter or beef fat. Don't use oil - you don't want to pick up any flavors of non-animal-fat. You only need to cook them 1-2 minutes per side - just enough to crisp the flour.

The flavors here are simple but deep - the pungency and tartness of aged Brussels sprouts kimchi (made the last time I blogged about making kimchi), a little ginger and garlic added to the pan as I sauteed the shrimp, the sweetness of Maine shrimp, and the richness of the marrow.

Monday, February 13, 2012

With a week to go until Lent, I just pulled all the meat out of the freezer to see what I should thaw and have this week, what I should leave to have for once a week meat meals, etc. The inventory:

Many pig tails (I apparently buy them whenever I see them, out of fear I will run out)
Duck leg quarter
"Chinese" sausage
Actual Filipino sausage - one pork and rice, one longanisa
Pork blood
Lamb kidneys
Shaved pork
Shaved beef
Unidentified item that was probably obvious when I froze it - most likely a duck breast or de-boned skin-on chicken thigh
Hog's head cheese
Pork belly
Spare ribs
Beef marrow

There you go, that's my meat footprint. Plus a turkey in my mother's freezer.

(Highlights of the Lent-friendly items in there - squid, smoked mussels, monkfish liver, belly lox, soft-shell crabs, lots of Maine shrimp, lots of cranberry beans.)

The lamb kidneys will probably be used in something from the Nero Wolfe Cookbook, a Christmas present from Caitlin (see also the excellent Inspired by Wolfe blog, by a fellow foodblogging Rex Stout fan). The pork blood? Blood tacos, obviously. You thought I was gonna say dinuguan. I'm keeping you on your toes.

Monday, February 6, 2012

fluffernutter and deviled egg

The challenge from Marx Foods this time around was to make an appetizer and entree using four of the following ingredients (which they provided): adzuki beans, maitake mushrooms, mochi rice, dried starfruit, millet, and hijiki seaweed.


I decided on my appetizer immediately: a red bean Fluffernutter.

Red bean fluffernutter
The Fluffernutter is an especially New England thing, I think: a sandwich of peanut butter and Massachusetts' own marshmallow Fluff. Alone, it's way too sweet for a lunch, but beloved by kids; buttered and grilled, it's oozing and sticky to boot, perfect for a dessert or a semi-sweet appetizer. In this case I replaced the peanut butter with a starfruit red bean paste.

Adzuki beans are the red beans that are sweetened and mashed to make a filling for various Asian pastries, to flavor ice cream, to top shaved ice, and probably a million applications I've never heard of. I like them in pastries myself, but with this cook-off I wanted to use Asian ingredients in commonplace American foods.

Red bean Fluffernutters
1/4 cup dry adzuki beans (overnight soaking optional)
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
4 dried starfruit
Martin potato bread

Simmer beans and starfruit in separate containers - the acidity of the starfruit could slow the beans' cooking - until soft. The starfruit will probably be done first. Add the sugar, salt, and starfruit to the beans, cooking down and mashing until it forms a sweet paste. Let cool.

Spread red bean paste on half of the bread slices, Fluff on the other half, combine and grill with butter.

For the entree, I knew which flavors I wanted to combine - the umami flavors of mushroom and seaweed - but was thinking of a soup until my friend Erin pointed out Lifehacker's eggs baked in avocado halves.

Instead of baking the eggs, though, I remembered Jacques Pepin's mother's technique for pan-frying deviled eggs.

Deviled egg
Deviled egg

Deviled eggs
Eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
Dried maitake mushrooms
Hijiki seaweed
Chopped roasted green chiles (because of the small amount involved, it was easiest for me to use canned chiles)
XO sauce
Sesame oil
Rice vinegar

I'm not giving quantities because it depends on how many eggs you're making, the size of the eggs, and so on. It's all eyeballed.

Combine one or two dried mushrooms, depending on their size and the quantity of eggs you're making, with a couple pinches of hijiki seaweed. Blitz in a food processor and sift, so that you have a fine mushroom-seaweed powder.

Halve eggs, scoop out yolks, and mash with mushroom-seaweed powder and a pinch of salt. Add a small amount of chopped green chiles, and as much mayonnaise as is necessary to make a creamy filling. You can use a little mashed avocado instead of mayonnaise. Stuff eggs.

Remove avocado pits and insert an egg half into the cavity. Depending on the size of your eggs and avocados, it may be necessary to scoop a little avocado out in order to make room for the egg.

Melt butter in a non-stick pan and sear the egg-stuffed avocados, face-down, for about five minutes.  (The easiest way to do this is to put the eggs in face down and put the avocados down on top of them. Remove the avocados from the pan when finished, by placing a bowl or plate on top of the pan and flipping the whole thing over.)

Dress avocados with a very simple vinaigrette made by thinning XO sauce with very small amounts of sesame oil and rice vinegar - about 4 parts XO sauce, 1 part oil, 1 part vinegar, though it will depend on the brand of your XO sauce. XO sauce is a spicy sauce from southern China, made with dried fish and shellfish - it goes well with the umami flavors of the mushroom and seaweed, and the richness of egg and avocado. Alternately, use sriracha thinned with fish sauce and rice vinegar - not as a substitute for XO sauce but as a dressing equally suitable for the eggs.

Garnish with additional seaweed, sesame seeds, or furikake.

Friday, February 3, 2012

neither a borrower

Lent is coming up. Lent, of course, will mean giving up meat. Even more of course, the weeks BEFORE Lent mean "oh holy hell, what meat do I need to make sure to eat while I can?"

I'll make a few burgers. I'll fry some chicken. I'll have some pig tails with barbecue sauce. But first I made meatballs and spaghetti.

The fundamental techniques I use to make meatballs are the ones I learned from my mother many years ago, as you likely rely on those you learned from yours: combine ground beef and ground pork (I like to add ground lamb but it's often prohibitively expensive), season, bind with breadcrumbs and egg; brown and simmer in tomato sauce. (There you go, there's your recipe content for this post.) I might do any manner of other things - when I can, I leave the mixed meat in the fridge overnight before browning - I often add buttermilk or Greek yogurt, and for years I always added vermouth - garlic, marjoram, and fennel are frequent seasonings - but the basic technique has not changed. Sometimes I shake some crushed red peppers onto my plate, the way my mother always put on her pizza.

There's a reason this is a dish we so often learn from our parents or grandparents. There is an argument to be made for meatballs and spaghetti as the quintessential American dish, one borne not out of the 17th and 18th centuries when kings were granting land for colonies run by aristocrats who starved because they hadn't brought enough laborers to fish and farm for them, but out of the splash of decades - 1880s to 1920s - that historian Robert Wiebe calls the organizational period, when modern American identity was really formed. The dominance of the Union over its States had been affirmed in an agonizing war and Reconstruction; the political issues driving elections were increasing national in their concern (monetary policy, foreign policy, immigration) rather than regional; national unions, guilds, and professional organizations became common; people begin reading nationally distributed magazines and newspapers from nationally owned chains with nationally syndicated content. Business expands to the national level - Standard Oil, Carnegie Steel. Railroads and the close of the frontier make travel more common - at the same time, urbanization and higher education make Americans more mobile, by untethering their means from a particular parcel of land and making it more likely that they will move away from home to find jobs. This is when people start thinking of themselves as Americans instead of Mainers or Virginians or Hoosiers.

At the same time, the ethnic makeup of the country changes drastically. Italians are lynched, Irish Need Not Apply, Chinese are routinely driven out of town by mobs, and the influx of Catholics and Jews is one of the motivating factors behind the creation of the second, and most successful, Ku Klux Klan. Phase changes take a lot of energy.

This is when cookbooks become really popular, and magazines and newspapers expose readers to new recipes nationwide, instead of just preserving local traditions.

You have a lot of new foods - not just foods from other cuisines, but packaged foods in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, refrigerated foods as the country is electrified (and the ice trade improves even in those areas which lag behind), and ...

Ground beef.

When talking about burgers, I pointed out that the reason hamburgers land where they do in the timeline is because the modern beef industry, or perhaps its immediate precessor, was the child of the railroads, which allowed cattle and cattle carcasses to be transported far enough and fast enough that beef became cheaper and more widely available. Ground beef, especially in the early 20th century, became a much more common product as a result, something that could be sold cheaply because the steaks had already paid for the cow - in some cases it was used in recipes which had traditionally used finely chopped or braised meat (chili con carne, spaghetti with "meat sauce"); in others, new foods emerged.

Meatballs were not quite new, not exactly. But neither were they ever as common in Italy as they became in the United States, especially in this form: golf-ball-sized, red-sauced, spaghettied. We adopted ground beef earlier than other cultures; our cuisine was already in flux because of immigration, technology changes, and population shifts; the Italian-American communities tended to cook more tomato-heavy dishes than their cousins back home did, and perhaps more importantly, non-Italian-Americans responded very positively to those tomato-heavy dishes. Before long we've got meatball grinders, meatball pizza, meatball Hot Pockets.

Meatballs and spaghetti is the great success story when it comes to ethnic food in America, because no one really thinks of it as ethnic food anymore - families without a drop of Italian blood in them have been making them long enough to have family recipes that have been passed down for generations. Even in the 1950s - one of the whitest, Protestantest, meatloafiest times in American history - Wednesday was Prince spaghetti day.

Like the hamburger, pepperoni pizza, or the ice cream cone, meatballs and spaghetti is a dish that took a European kernel, adapted it to American circumstance, and created a mainstream icon that transcended its origins.