Wednesday, March 21, 2012

are we ramen we are devo

There was a time when I would've had to preface this post with something like "ramen is pretty underrated," but I guess that isn't true now that every city has some pop-up restaurant or food truck selling $8 bowls of ramen noodles with soft poached eggs or even truffles. Hell, Lucky Peach devoted an issue to ramen.

Ramen noodles are apparently Chinese in origin, but it's the Japanese who created the modern ramen noodles, a noodle made with the addition of alkaline mineral water (and sometimes phosporic acid), which results in a yellowish noodle that's firm and springy. There's nothing junky or crappy about the noodle - as opposed to the flavor packets most of the instant ones are packaged with.

Cook and drain some ramen noodles and you have noodles with a texture you just aren't going to get from something else.

Mine are dressed with a combination of XO sauce and "Mama Africa's chili mint Zulu sauce" - what can I tell you, that's what it's called - with a small pat of butter, and pickled shrimp.
Ramen noodles, pickled shrimp
XO sauce is an invention of Hong Kong restaurants, combining chopped shellfish with chiles, garlic, and oil - the XO is a reference to XO cognac, and the alleged prestige of the sauce. It's all kind of bullshit, but it can still be tasty.

Pickled shrimp are dead simple: boil some shrimp and dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking. Put them in a container. Cover them with diluted vinegar. I added slices of lime, mint leaves, and green peppercorns, and used some of the pickling brine from some pickled cherry peppers I'd put up last summer. Chill all day or overnight and serve cold.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

boxing st patrick

I guarantee you the only other times I have said this the day after St Patricks Day, I was still living in New Orleans:

It's quite warm today.

The time-and-temperature sign outside the car dealership says 82 degrees. I need a cold drink.

Christmas in July in March:

Christmas in July in March
Equal parts
Laird's bonded applejack,
St Germain elderflower liqueur,
allspice dram,
shaken with and poured over a large chunk (the size of two ice cubes I guess) of frozen unsweetened cranberry juice,
with rhubarb bitters and orange bitters.

beans for breakfast

(marrow) bread and butter, (bread and butter) marrow

(marrow) bread and butter, bread and butter (marrow)
For Marx Foods' Beans for Breakfast challenge, the challenge was very simple: use some of the beans they provided, and make breakfast.

I thought of various possibilities, and decided that one of the challenges here is that when you start with dry beans, one of three things is going to be true:

1: You have a very long prep time for your breakfast.
2: You have to plan your breakfast the day before, when you soak and/or cook your beans.
3: Your meal involves pre-cooked beans, but not necessarily beans cooked specifically for this breakfast - leftovers from a previous meal, for instance. Refried beans with breakfast are an obvious example here.

I decided to make pickled beans - they keep, so it's a breakfast you can make any time after you've made the pickled beans, but they're not leftovers from another meal, so you don't need to plan two meals in tandem. Specifically I made bread and butter marrow beans (plump white creamy beans which were very popular in the US in the 19th century, and which are probably originally from the Mediterranean).

"Bread and butter" means a somewhat sweet vinegar pickle, a combination that reminded me of "ploughman's lunch" - an apocryphal lunch of bread, cheese, and relish invented by advertisers to sell cheese in the UK after World War II. Apocryphal or not, that cheese and relish flavor combination is a great one. So already I'm thinking pickled beans, and I'm thinking cheese and bread and Rule Brittania, see.

Which is how I ended up with a breakfast combining Welsh rarebit, pickled beans and onions, deep-fried beef marrow, and a fried egg.

Components, per serving:
One egg
Rye bread, two slices
Bread and butter marrow beans and onions
Beef marrow, one large piece cut in half, or two medium-sized pieces
Welsh rarebit

Bread and butter marrow beans and onions:

Soak marrow beans overnight. Drain soaking liquid and simmer beans in fresh water for an hour to ninety minutes, or until cooked. Make sure the water is well-salted! Let cool in cooking liquid. Remove any broken beans.

It's true that soaking beans isn't mandatory: especially with beans that haven't sat around for years, you can simply cover them with water, boil for five minutes, cover, and simmer for 60-120 minutes. Soaking often leads to a creamier bean, or a bean less likely to break - it's preferred here for these pickled beans.

Slice an onion. Make a bread and butter pickle brine with equal parts sugar and vinegar, a bay leaf, and a pinch each of salt, mustard seed, celery seed, red pepper, black pepper, and ginger.

Cover onion slices and cooked beans with the pickle brine; refrigerate at least overnight or as long as you like.

Welsh rarebit with marrow:

Can be done either right when you're ready to assemble everything, or a day or two in advance, in which case you want to gently reheat and melt the cheese sauce when you're ready to assemble.

Melt a little bit of chopped beef marrow in a pan. Add an equal amount of flour and stir for about one minute. Add a splash of good dark beer (I used Dogfish Head's Burton Baton), a spoonful of prepared mustard, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, a splash of half and half or cream, and enough shredded cheese to bring it all together in a rich cheese sauce.  How much cheese you use will depend somewhat on what kind of cheese you use, and it's moisture level. Expect to use 6-8 ounces for two people.

I used a combination of sharp cheddar and monterey jack, mostly cheddar.

Assembling (marrow) bread and butter with (bread and butter) marrow:

Preheat your broiler and move an oven rack to the highest position.

Preheat a deep-fryer to about 360-370.

Prep your pieces of beef marrow: cover marrow bones in hot water for just a couple minutes, until you can push the marrow out with your thumbs. Immediately remove from water so it doesn't melt. Toss in plain flour.

Prep your rye toast: butter each side of each piece of bread, two pieces of bread per person. Toast the bread on both sides in a frying pan - just like an empty grilled cheese sandwich. That's the texture you want rather than that of toast that has been buttered after the fact, because you want the butter to soak into the bread. Stack the bread up in a broiling pan, two slices of bread per stack.

Warm up the Welsh rarebit if necessary.

Get your onions and beans ready to assemble.

Melt a little butter in a non-stick or cast-iron pan sufficient to fry one egg per person.

Now...all at once:

Pour the cheese sauce on the stacks of toast and put them under the broiler.

Drop the floured beef marrow in the deep-fryer.

Crack the eggs into the hot pan and get them frying.

Pull the cheese-covered bread when it's bubbling - a little browning is fine too! The marrow is ready a minute or two after it floats in the hot fat. The eggs are ready when they're as you like them, but the idea of the dish is to have some runny yolk.

Now assemble: cheese-covered bread, with fried egg, fried marrow, and pickled beans and onions on top.

The final dish has three kinds of oozing and richness: the cheese, the marrow, and the egg yolk. The sharpness of the rye bread, the beer and mustard in the Welsh rarebit, and the pickled beans and onions are your contrasts to that richness.

And yes, because of that richness, especially with the marrow and egg, you really need two pieces of bread per person. That is a must.

fly me korajun

Barbecue shrimp is a Louisiana thing that has nothing to do with barbecue, but thankfully a lot to do with shrimp. Shrimp still in the shell, often with heads on, are served in a sauce of butter, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce - a little like a less spicy, more savory Buffalo sauce - so that your fingers get coated with the sauce as you shell and eat the shrimp. French bread sops it up.

When I first moved here, until the supermarket stopped carrying the bread that was ideally suited for it, I used to make "barbecue shrimp poboys" by buying their "demi-baguette" - a sandwich-sized bread with little to do with a baguette except the shape - and then cutting off an end, hollowing it out, stuffed it with boiled shrimp, and pouring in the sauce. It was pretty fucking amazing.

This, though, is barbecue shrimp ddukbokki - Korean rice cakes with Maine shrimp, in a "barbecue shrimp inspired" sauce that starts with stock:

Shrimp, lobster mushroom, Old Bay, bay leaf stock

Because I bought a lot of Maine shrimp while they were fresh and cheap, I had a shitload of shrimp shells - no heads, sadly, but plenty of shells - so I made a stock of shrimp shells, dried lobster mushrooms, Old Bay (the seasoning salt), and bay leaves. The idea was to get a savory, umami, shrimpy, bay-y strained stock, pictured here before I cooked it down:

Stock, strained
The ricecakes cooked in the stock and a bit of beer until they were supple, with a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and Louisiana hot sauce; once the ricecakes were nearly cooked, I added the shrimp, continued cooking a couple minutes to cook them through, and then added some cold butter to enrich everything.

My plate had a few added dashes of hot sauce:

Barbecue shrimp ddukbokki


St Patricks Day:

Corned beef cooked sous vide for 36 hours and then roasted in the oven for half an hour to reheat, with green peppercorn Dijon mustard (the best mustard I have had, tout court); cabbage cooked in the gelled juices of the corned beef; colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cooked greens and sausage).

Dinner, not pictured, was sandwiches of corned beef on rye, with caramelized onions cooked in beer, cheddar, a little Velveeta, and coleslaw for Caitlin/mustard for me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Velveeta The thing about Velveeta is that, like Spam, it isn't actually cheap. Which is not to say that it's expensive, but the smaller of two packages carried by my supermarket cost me as much as a container of fresh mozzarella would have - or to look at it another way, in cents per ounce, it costs about twice as much as Cabot cheddar, an affordable but very good everyday cheddar ... and one that I think would have a lot more food-blogging advocates than Velveeta.

Wait a second here, Bill, you are saying, what on Earth, for the love of Mike, why are we talking about Velveeta? Why on this blog of all blogs? This is not a family cooking household tips coupon clipping blog, this is not a college kid what kind of Captain Morgans horseshit goes best with this stupid Hot Pocket fuck my life blog, this is not even a very practical blog at all, what with carbonating fruit and eating lambs brains and all of that.

Yeah, well.

I finally got macaroni and cheese to come out the way I like it.

That's not a permanent situation - it's something I've said before, for one thing! and then later I made it a different way that I liked better. And cheese tastes, all tastes, change over time.

But the Velveeta helps, is the thing.

Maybe it's my brother's fault. He's the one who introduced me to Velveeta Shells and Cheese in the 80s, and so that's the boxed macaroni and cheese that is the Platonic mac and cheese for me, not the boxed kind with the powder. He probably doesn't even eat it anymore himself, but when he was 10 and I was 13, it was another story. Today, Velveeta Shells and Cheese is the only convenience food I buy other than canned hash.

This is not to say that my homemade mac and cheese is an attempt to emulate Velveeta Shells and Cheese. But a little bit of Velveeta ... well, it does just what it's engineered to do, what you've paid for: it melts perfectly, reheats well, and makes the cheese sauce that much creamier and more stable.

So the mac and cheese. This is the basic technique:

Boil your elbow macaroni. If you like, drain it when it still has a minute left to cook, and finish it in the Bechamel sauce as you're adding the cheese.

Chop an onion and cook it in butter. Add a little flour - after the onions are nice and soft - and build a Bechamel sauce by adding whole milk or half and half, and stirring over medium-low heat until the flour is incorporated. Do not brown the flour as you would for a roux. Simmer the bechamel on a low heat for a few minutes before adding cheese - this helps the flour really become incorporated into the milk as the starch gelatinizes. Both the starch from the flour and the fat from the milk are key to ensuring a creamy sauce that doesn't become grainy or curdle, a sauce the cheese can be melted into.

Seasonings you can add: paprika, cayenne (definitely adds something even when you don't use enough to add heat), nutmeg, mace, dry mustard (or prepared mustard, but not too much because of the vinegar). All of these can be added without making your mac and cheese weird - they'll stay within the expected flavor spectrum. Mustard is another thing that helps with the texture of the sauce, but it also enhances the flavor of the cheese. Some less traditional things you could add - dill, sriracha, rosemary. Your favorite seasoning blend might work well here - personally I love Old Bay.

The cheeses I add: in addition to a little Velveeta, I use a combination of hard grating cheeses (Parmigiano, Pecorino Romano, Asiago - whatever I have in the house) and softer cheeses like cheddar, gouda, and Monterey jack. Sometimes I add goat cheese. Sometimes I add cream cheese.

Melt cheeses into sauce; add macaroni.

Pour into buttered baking dish, top with breadcrumbs or crushed potato chips, and bake for 30 minutes or so at 350, depending on how deep the dish is filled.

Macaroni and cheese

overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out

A few months from now, Caramel Apple Milky Ways are coming out. We've gotten used to that - at any given time, there's a limited edition flavor of some candy, soda, or potato chip, something that wasn't there at the last bank holiday, won't be there at the next. It's not quite as rapidfire as it was before the financial collapse, when new flavors were coming out so fast some of them had ended production - whether because of a planned limited run (Pina Colada Almond Joy bars) or because a ridiculously conceived and stupidly marketed product failed to find its imaginary niche (Coke Blak) - by the time some markets got them.

There have always been the occasional hiccups of innovation - Nacho plodded along for years before the superior Cool Ranch finally realized the potential of the Dorito; 7-Up Gold, Pepsi AM, and Crystal Pepsi hit regional markets in the 80s and early 90s; etc - but this century has been kind of nuts about it. I've always dated the start of the flurry to around 10 years ago - 2002, when Coke introduced Vanilla Coke and Dr Pepper introduced the second flavor in company history: Red Fusion, not so coincidentally the name of my original cooking blog. Dr Pepper went over 120 years without introducing a new flavor and then introduced five new flavors in the same decade - that's the kind of flurry we're talking about here.

Even before that - before barbecue-flavored Cheetos and Cheeto-flavored barbecues, before cupcake-flavored Magic Shell, before Top Chef - I used to use "chocolate-covered beef jerky" as my go-to example of a flavor combination that was possible but prima facie ridiculous, the mappable but unreachable, a sort of confectionery Ultima Thule. It was my "monkeys might fly out of my butt."

Now Kathy sends me this photo (I have no idea if she bought the chocolate bar, or how it tastes):


The monkeys have written MacBeth, look upon my works ye mighty, Alexander wept, etc.

It's kind of a shame I'm not done thinking about cooking, because this would be a tidy final post.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

delicata squash seed oil review

Marx sent me some delicata squash seed oil to review, and so of course the usual disclaimer applies - the oil was provided free, but I'll say whatever I like, this is not a sponsored post, etc etc.

The oil is from Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods, who make unrefined seed oils from several different squashes, including the delicata, acorn, butternut, and buttercup. I don't know if this affects the character of the oil, but what's interesting about the delicata and acorn squashes is that although they're used as winter squashes culinarily, they're from the same species, Cucurbita pepo, as all summer squashes (yellow squash, zucchini, etc).

It's particularly interesting to me because I like summer squash a lot less than winter squash - but I love this oil much more than the winter squash seed oil I've tried in the past. Now, I haven't tried Stony Brook's butternut or buttercup seed oils, so maybe the key difference here isn't the type of squash but their process. I mention it just because that surprised me. I've always really liked pumpkin seed oil, but this delicata squash seed oil - which I might not have tried unprompted, because of that lesser interest in summer squash - is terrific.

What it reminds me of more than anything is sesame oil, but even that comparison is a bit misleading - it's more that it's closer to sesame than to nut oils like walnut, pecan, pistachio, etc. It's a rich flavor certainly reminiscent of sesame seed oil - though richer - or like what you wish peanut oil tasted like, but with a little bit of a vegetal note that you don't generally find in seed oils. It's delicious. You'll immediately want to put it on things.

And that's easy to do - the photo there is of a little delicata squash seed oil over sweet shrimp and a cucumber slice, with black sesame seeds. Left out of the photo because I forgot it until after I'd clicked is a bit of salt - you definitely want to add a little salt to anything you're drizzling this oil over, if it's not salted already, because it really brings the flavor out, and because oil without a bit of salt can be a little dulled in flavor.

This is a great finishing oil - I tried it on warm beans with just enough vinegar to add some acidity, and it was a really nice lunch. Arikara yellow beans with a warm boiled egg, delicata oil, a little vinegar, and a little pepper:

Arikara yellow beans, egg
Because it's similar to, but richer than, sesame oil, you can use it wherever you'd use sesame oil - stir-fries, fried rice, a few drops in a Korean jigae with seaweed and kimchi ... I highly recommend this oil in Asian cuisines (like sesame oil, it seems to really complement soy sauce well) and with green vegetables.

But here's the thing. Unlike nut oils, this has a fairly high smoke point - 425 degrees. That means you can cook with it, and that gets really interesting.

With a smoke point that high, you could actually deep-fry with it, but I'm afraid even if I used my smallest cast-iron pan, the bottle's just not enough oil to submerge anything, so I didn't try that. I mean, let's be honest, that would probably be a waste anyway - it'd be a hell of a lot of oil, and generally speaking you don't want to deep-fry in strongly flavored fats. But it's very cool that you could.

What's more practical is simple stir-frying (albeit not in a high heat wok), sauteing, that kind of thing. Again, green vegetables are highly recommended - this oil is great to cook some greens in, with a little crushed garlic and ginger.

Fry or scramble some eggs in it - that's what we had for brunch today, eggs whisked with soy sauce, cream, and kimcheese (my blend of cheddar cheese and kimchi juice) and poured into a pan where a little leftover rice was stir-fried with delicata squash seed oil. (I also folded in a chopped still-warm boiled egg, and topped it with chopped scallions and okra cooked with soy sauce and ddukbokki hot sauce.)


Eggs and okra
One of my favorite things that I tried was roasted asparagus. Now, I roast asparagus at 450 degrees, which is higher than the oil's smoke point. But I don't think the food actually reaches 450 degrees in the 12-15 minutes it takes asparagus to roast, especially since the cooking surface (the cast-iron pan I use) isn't preheated. I certainly didn't notice a burnt taste or off-flavors to the oil - I drizzled just a little of it, rolled the asparagus spears (root ends snapped off) in it, roasted it, and sprinkled it with coarse salt and a little banana vinegar. (By all means feel free to use malt vinegar or something - I happen to have just bought banana vinegar and I'm trying it in everything.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

on the greaaaat space coaster

Gnudi (ricotta, hard cheese, egg, and flour) are called gnudi because instead of being gah-notched like gah-nocchi (made with potatoes and flour), they're gah-naked, like ravioli fillings without the wrapper. I've posted about gah-nudi before. They're basically very delicate dumplings. Gnettle gnudi differs only in that cooked minced nettles - you could substitute spinach or any other green - are mixed into the dough, which is then chilled, rolled, cut, and simmered in water. You can stop there, but I much prefer pan-fried gnudi, which are then cooked briefly in butter - that way you have a crispy texture on the outside.

The hardest thing about gnudi is getting the balance of flour and egg right, so that you have enough flour that you can handle the dough and it doesn't fall apart when simmering, but little enough that it's a soft cloud-like dumpling instead of a leaden lump. I used a little too much flour in this batch - unfortunate since without more ricotta, you can't fix that - but not so much as to make it leaden.

The accompanying sauce is simple in execution, complex in flavor. I had gone to the supermarket's olive bar and gotten a large roasted red pepper, a few Peppadews, and a bunch of olives of different types. I pureed the pepper and Peppadews together, added a little smoked olive oil and a dash of nutmeg (traditional accompaniment to greens like the nettles), and then pitted and chopped the olives and folded them in.

Gnettle gnudi