Saturday, June 30, 2012

caramel would understate the case

Bourbon burnt sugar banana pudding
Bourbon burnt sugar banana pudding.

Banana pudding is typically made by layering banana slices, Nilla wafers or shortbread, and vanilla pudding. After a while the cookies break down a bit. It's a southern dessert that, like chess pie, betrays the English influence on southern cookery - in this case, that of trifle.

This isn't exactly that.

Banana pudding is sometimes topped with meringue and, lacking cookies but possessing thirty cents worth of bananas, I decided to make the sort of meringue cookies I make for Eton mess - whip egg whites stiff with cream of tartar, add a quarter cup sugar per egg white, bake at 200 for two hours and turn the oven off to sit overnight. Only, because it's humid and because I ran out of parchment paper and had to pile the cookies more densely than I would have otherwise, they came out still chewy and moist in the center - enough so that they broke as I took them off the paper.

I decided to use them as is rather than rebaking them, partly so I didn't have to wait another day to have banana pudding. So there's a complexity of textures going on here - chewy crispy custard banana. (Banana is a texture.)

As for the pudding. It really is a burnt sugar pudding, not merely caramel. It is bitter, not merely toasted. You may not like it.  However, the bitterness is less pronounced once you incorporate the bananas.

I don't have proportions exactly. I had half-and-half to use up, I had some sugar, some eggs ...

1) I added some sugar to a pan and cooked it until it had melted, turned brown, and started to become alarming.

2) Removed the pan from the heat, added half-and-half - about a pint? - and stirred it until the sugar dissolved.

3) Tasted it.

4) Horrible!

5) To balance out the bitter burnt sugar, I added more fresh white sugar, and a couple tablespoons of creme fraiche. Once that was incorporated, I added a little of the hot concoction to four beaten egg yolks to temper them, then added the heated yolks to the pan and cooked everything until it thickened.

6) As I usually do with custards, I whizzed everything with the immersion blender, just to make sure there were no curdled bits - and while whizzing, added a shot of bourbon.

7) Layered banana slices in ramekins and poured the hot custard over.  Refrigerated.  Later topped with broken meringue cookies.

Bourbon burnt sugar banana pudding

Thursday, June 28, 2012

maitake mushrooms

Hen of the woods, or maitake
One of the best things I got at Wegmans was a fresh hen of the woods, or maitake, mushroom. Like chicken of the woods - no relation - the hen of the woods gets its name from the firm texture and meaty taste - it's a much richer-tasting mushroom than a portobello. They're wild, and can grow to be hundreds of pounds. Dried maitakes are one of my favorite mushrooms to make stock from, but I'd never had them fresh.

Hen of the woods, or maitake
Originally I fried some slices of the hen of the woods in a simple batter - buttermilk, egg, self-rising flour - as an accompaniment to roast tarragon chicken:

Fried hen of the woods; tarragon chicken; roast potatoes
But it was so rich and flavorful, with an almost steak-like texture, that it actually overshadowed the chicken - and I'm pretty damn good at roasting a chicken.

So today I focused on the fried mushroom, in a very basic sandwich with casatica di bufala (the Brie-like buffalo cheese) and a little comeback sauce:

Fried maitake mushroom sandwich
So damn good. I would happily make this all the time. This blows away those Sysco fried mushrooms with ranch.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Your browser is no longer supported by Blogger. Some parts of Blogger will not work and you may experience problems. If you are having problems, try Google Chrome."

Well, fuck you, Google Chrome, Blogger, Google, etc. I do use Google Chrome when I'm not blogging, and lately it's been crashing every hour, with Flash completely broken even when it's not crashing. Not exactly a good time to try to get me to become a Chrome loyalist!

I know Google is the Big Brother everyone's supposed to love because their cafeteria is awesome or they have nice search page doodles or whatever the damn reason is, so let's move on.

Lemon drop melon


One of the great finds at Wegmans was Lemon Drop Melon - a domesticated descendant of a wild Mediterranean melon. While I think most melon is great with a little lemon or lime juice added, this melon is actually naturally tart to begin with - it's terrific.

The melon looks like a cantaloupe on the outside, but has honeydew-colored flesh. Really great, I should have got two.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


This past weekend was my birthday, and I wonder if you can guess how much of it was cooking-related.

To begin with, my mother treated me to a shopping trip at Wegmans, a NY-based supermarket chain that recently opened a location in Northborough, Massachusetts - not exactly close, but not too far away to make the trip, either. Wegmans is sort of midway between your regular neighborhood supermarket - or anyway my neighborhood supermarket - and a Whole Foods type place.

Wegmans has a sort of food court. You pay by the pound from an assortment of steamer trays - dim sum, curry, fried appetizer type things, a large salad bar and large hot vegetable bar, plus pizza and a few other things sold separately. Using the same by-the-pound price for all the food means you overpay for some things - fresh-cut fruit - but get a bargain on, say, lamb curry. The dumplings were all surprisingly good, and I was quite happy with the sausage and hot pepper pizza. Here's a photo of Caitlin's plate sampling a little of various things:

They also had a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine! These are the suckers they've been rolling out to airports, Five Guys, and various other restaurants, offering half a dozen flavors of Coke, Sprite, Fanta, etc., including flavors not otherwise available: I got a Raspberry Coke, and though it's not as good as mashing up red raspberries in a coke, it was pretty damn good.

Caitlin's iPhone photos of some of the food court area.

Onward to shopping!

It was interesting, actually, seeing what they did and didn't have. The fish selection was amazing - they're one of the best chains in the country for the sustainability of their seafood department, and these days that tends to correlate to freshness and quality as well. I picked up opah, grouper, halibut, soft-shell crabs, and catfish, the first three of which I'd never cooked. The soft-shells were killed and cleaned right in front of my eyes. They also had wild Alaskan king salmon, lake trout, and monkfish, all of which I was tempted by, and everything looked very fresh.

Caitlin had never had soft-shell crab before, and I hadn't found it fresh since moving out of New Orleans almost ten years ago. I deep-fried them (dipping them in buttermilk and a mixture of flour, cornmeal, and Old Bay) for two minutes on each side, and we had them with pan-seared halibut, pea shoots, and onions cooked alongside the halibut with chickpea miso and sriracha.

Fried soft-shell crab, pea shoots, miso onions, halibut
Soft shell crab is eaten shell and all (unlike soft-shell lobster), and the body has a firm crabmeat texture. It's hard to describe the texture of the shell, which is noticeably present, but not crispy or crunchy per se - it doesn't shatter when you bite it, it doesn't come loose from the meat. Perhaps like the relationship between a grape skin and the grape.

So the seafood selection was great. But they didn't have, for instance, pork belly, or skirt steak, or marrow bones - cuts of meat which, while not as mainstream as the chicken breast or pork chop, are still something I'd expect to find in a place that has soft-shells and (as I'll get to in a minute) some of the more unusual fruit in the produce department. I mean, the produce department had black truffles (in a locked case, surrounded with salt, for $1000 a pound) - which I've never seen in a supermarket as opposed to a small gourmet shop. So I was surprised they didn't have some of the "foodie" cuts of meat. (I didn't notice air-chilled chicken, either. They did have dry-aged beef, behind a counter.)

But then again, that's something I've noticed about Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, too. The emphasis there tends to be on steaks, on trustworthy ground beef and chicken. It's just, well, a steak is a pretty boring thing to cook, even when it's a delightful thing to eat.

Anyway, this isn't exactly a complaint, it's just interesting the way Wegmans didn't quit fit into my previous experience of supermarkets. It was like XYZ in some respects and PDQ in others.

The produce section was a little small (relative to the size of the store) but included a lot of things you don't expect to find in a supermarket, like golden raspberries (not pictured, but purchased), as well as fresh mangosteens, feijoa, and passionfruits (increasingly hard to find, though I used to buy them as a teenager):

Passionfruit, mangosteen, feijoa
Mangosteens first. The shell is hard and woody, and inside the fruit are white, soft, and sweet. All tropical fruit seems to draw from a similar palette - a little like lychee, a little like papaya, with some definite butter and grass notes (it shares chemical components with both). I love, love, love fresh mangosteens and in the past I've seen them once in a blue moon in an Asian grocery and otherwise had to order them direct online, at a considerable price.

If you can't find mangosteens fresh, Trader Joe's may still sell freeze-dried mangosteens, which were quite good when I had them.

Feijoa, what a find!  No etymological relationship to feijoada, Caitlin looked it up - they are instead named for a Portugese botanist, Jose Feijo. You slice them open and scoop the pulp out, and wow.  The best summary I can give is that it's like a cross between kiwi and very floral pineapple, but there's an aftertaste - and a noticeable smell, especially in the flesh closest to the skin - of wintergreen, though without any menthol effects. It's crazy. I wish I could get these all the time, they're so good.

Passion fruit
Passionfruit. You slice them open and scoop out the pulp and seeds. I've had them a million times, but haven't found them fresh in a few years - maybe the economy dried up the demand for them, I don't know.

Tart and sweet and intensely flavored. We had some passion fruit with golden raspberries on top of Greek yogurt for breakfast.

Golden raspberries and passion fruit on Greek yogurt

The vegetable selection was interesting too. In some cases they had the interesting item in lieu of the more common one: I bought golden beets and lacinato kale, but didn't see red beets or regular kale. In other cases they simply had a wide variety of items, as with their potatoes, or the mushrooms sold both loose and in clamshells. While you expect everyone now to have oyster mushrooms and shiitakes, Wegmans also had bluefoots ($30/lb) and maitake or hen of the woods ($13/lb). I got the latter but will have a separate entry about them since I haven't finished playing with them.

Dinner on the night of my birthday was Pat LaFrieda burgers (which use dry-aged beef in the mix) on kimmelweck rolls from Wegmans, which took a little work to find - the place is organized a little weirdly and rolls are sold in several different places, but these were sold loose at the bakery. Kimmelweck rolls are basically Kaiser rolls topped with pretzel salt and carraway seeds - a little too salty for Caitlin, but just right for me since it was still much less salty than a salt bagel.

Burger on kimmelweck; boiled potatoes with Old Bay and truffle cheese
The burger is topped with casatica di bufala, a Brie-like buffalo cheese, while the potatoes are topped with boschetto al tartufo, a black truffle cheese - which brings me to the cheese department.

The cheese department was terrific. In some cases things were overpriced, but I mainly noticed this with New England cheeses that I am already used to buying - like Grafton, or the Bijou from Vermont Cheese & Butter ($5 each here, $2 each at Central Bottle in Boston) - where it may simply be that I'm used to paying a lower price for what is nearly a local cheese. There may be an extra middleman involved with the supply chain in Wegmans' case, if they're buying from a distributor while my local store buys straight from the cheesemaker, you know? Anyway, I didn't buy the overpriced ones, since I can get those here anyway.

I did get Humboldt Fog, my favorite goat cheese, which I'll probably add to grits today or tomorrow. And two non-mozzarella buffalo cheeses I'd never heard of before - the aforementioned casatica, and quadrello di bufala. Water buffalo milk is higher in fat than either cow's or sheep's milk, so the cheeses are very creamy.

We had a sort of cheese salad, with a hunk of burrata (a thin pouch of mozzarella filled with mozzarella shreds moistened with cream) drizzled with poppyseed oil and tarragon, over cucumber and radish slices and pea shoots, and surrounded by all the cheeses.

Burrata; cucumber, radish, pea shoots; many cheeses
Let's see if I can identify all of these. Clockwise from eleven o'clock:

Fol Epi, a pressed French cheese that reminded me of both Swiss and American muenster;
casatica di bufala (the cubes);
quadrello di bufala;
Tarentaise, a Vermont cheese with a sort of nuttiness to it;
more Fol Epi;
boschetto di tartufo;
more Tarentaise;
and crumbled over the cucumber and radish slices is Humboldt Fog.

But it doesn't end with Wegmans!

Caitlin ordered ice cream for me from Jeni's ice cream, which I've blogged about before. Two of the ice creams were very good: roasted strawberry buttermilk, which tasted like the best homemade strawberry ice cream; and pink grapefruit yogurt, which wasn't as intensely flavored as most of their ice creams (or suffered in comparison to Toscaninis' grapefruit ice cream?), but was still very good. The other two were among the best ice creams I've had from them, rivaling the sweet corn black raspberry: Wheatgrass/Pear/Vinho Verde sorbet, and Juniper Lemon Curd.

The Juniper Lemon Curd is one we were both curious about, and saved for last. Juniper is the predominant, defining botanical in gin, and I assumed this was going to be a lemon curd ice cream infused with juniper. No. It's a juniper ice cream with swirls of intense lemon curd - and I mean intense, there is a lot of lemon zest or oil in there. The combination is amazing. Jeni's strength is really in the combination of two or more flavors - as good as a mango frozen yogurt would be, she turns out something incredible by combining mango lassi frozen yogurt with kiwi sorbet and pieces of cake. And that sweet corn black raspberry is so summery and perfect.

The Wheatgrass/Pear/Vinho Verde is another good example. Somehow wheatgrass - of all things! - combines with pear puree and barely noticeable "green" (fresh) Portuguese wine, and makes something better than pears, something sort of like the Harry Potter grass jellybeans, sort of like the smell of the lawn being mowed, but crisp and fruity at the same time. The pear puree is really noticeable in the mouthfeel.

We combined scoops of this with birch beer to make floats:

Birch beer float with Jeni's Wheatgrass Pear Vinho Verde sorbet
And it doesn't end there either!

We stopped at Colonial Candies so my mother could pick up some chocolates for my grandfather, and they had the molasses chips candies I used to buy as a kid - molasses sponge candy coated in dark chocolate. We also got ice cream at Haywards, one of the best traditional New England ice cream stands (and therefore one where I almost always get an old-school traditional flavor - butter crunch in this case, but often black raspberry).

And! The next night, dinner at The Lobster Boat. Excellent fried lobster and shrimp, and crab cakes - and they did the whole singing "Happy Birthday" thing when bringing me out a piece of chocolate cake I really didn't need after all this.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

strawberry season

The annual strawberry season post, on a ridiculously hot first day of summer - the collards in my garden are drooping!

Strawberries; stuffed strawberries
Sliced strawberries with a little sugar and a little Australian fruit spice - the last of my stash that I have eked out for eight years. It's terrific stuff, but shipping from Australia is ridiculous.

On the right, strawberries stuffed with amaro jelly, which I make almost every year, but which are a pain in the ass: the strawberries, hollowed out with the point of a knife, are sat upright in a bowl, into which I pour San Pellegrino soda (grapefruit this year, with a few tarragon leaves) which has been mixed with gelatin. When the soda firms up, it holds the strawberries in place. Though it is taking a long time to set up this year, and as you can see, the strawberry at five o'clock fell over.

Anyway, once they are held in place, I pour another warm gelatin into the hollows - Zucca Rarbarbaro (substitute Campari) mixed with Amarula cream liqueur.

Strawberries and tarragon in bourbon
Strawberries and tarragon in a jar of bourbon, which will become strawberry bounce.

I will strain this in a couple months - probably when drowning my sorrows in August over the fact that the country's sour cherry crop has been decimated - and then add sugar to the berries to pull more liquid out, in order to get as much strawberry flavor as possible.

These strawberries are from Lull Farm in Hollis; I should make a point more often of mentioning the producers I buy from.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I have a guest post on the Marx Foods blog today about using fresh turmeric.

Fresh turmeric
Grated turmeric
(The soup photos in the guest post are by Caitlin, who I forgot to credit.)
As I think I mentioned, at Easter when lamb was readily available, I stocked up on it - a shoulder roast and two leg roasts. This weekend I cooked the last of that stockpile, a semi-boneless leg of lamb roast. It started at about 4 1/2 pounds, but I could about a pound, pound and a quarter of meat off of it to use in non-roast ways.

Friday night I had a definite idea of the basic elements I wanted to make for dinner - roast leg of lamb, black-eyed peas, celery leaves, and a starch. I thought about colcannon with celery leaves, I thought about creamed celery leaves, I thought about a sandwich. What we wound up having was this:

Leg of lamb, black-eyed peas, Tater Tots, celery leaves with minced lamb
Clockwise from 12: celery leaves, Tater Tot "galette," black-eyed peas, leg of lamb slices.

See, I had picked up a package of celery in order to make gumbo, and it was really leafy celery, leafy enough that I realized as I was chopping it up that if I reserved the celery leaves instead of - as I usually do - adding them to the gumbo, I had a side dish for two people. So I blanched them very quickly - dipped them in boiling water, then ice water - and what I ended up doing with them was cooking them in the drippings from the leg of lamb roast, along with a little bit of minced lamb.

The Tater Tot galette is ... just this thing I do sometimes.  Let some Tater Tots thaw and then press them down into a cast-iron pan and bake them until they form a cake.  Really, if you're in a rush you don't need to thaw them - add them to a hot cast-iron pan and they will start to thaw enough that you can push them down.

The black-eyed peas were cooked in country-ham stock with both green garlic (young garlic) and the last of my black garlic.

The lamb itself was rubbed with salt, huacatay (aka "black mint," a Peruvian herb), and extra virgin coffee/olive oil. Coffee and mint are both flavors that go well with lamb, but neither Caitlin nor I likes traditional mint jelly, so when I combine mint with lamb, I try to find other ways to do it. The coffee oil added very little flavor, I have to say.

The green stuff is a basic pesto of olive oil, a couple ramp bulbs, and herbs from my garden - basil, peppermint, tarragon, Texas tarragon, culantro, and rau ram.

I made a lamb stock with the leg bone, and used the stock, the braised meat from the bone, and a mince of lamb that had been reserved from the leg to make ddukbokki:

Ddukbokki with lamb, sriracha, fermented black beans, Ramen noodles, and culantro
The dduk (rice cakes) were cooked with the braised meat, lamb stock, sriracha, soy sauce, fermented black beans, and a little fresh turmeric; Ramen noodles were boiled separately, and the minced lamb was cooked separately until very browned, before they were all tossed together.

Monday, June 4, 2012


I've fallen behind, thanks to work, vacation, and a vicious sinus infection, in that order. I'd best blog a little while I remember what the photos are of.

We tried to do as much seasonally appropriate food as we could on that aforementioned vacation (Memorial Day weekend at the lake). Caitlin had picked up chive blossoms, pink oyster mushrooms, and fava greens (like a cross between baby greens and pea shoots), and burgers seemed appropriate:

Lamb burger
Lamb burger with fava greens and chive blossoms - see, at about 5 o'clock you can see one of them has fallen off the bun - on a Martin's potato roll (of course) with Sandwich Creamery coulommier. This cheese was a hell of a thing. We're big fans of Sandwich's sorbet, which is what we were in the store looking for (with no luck), but Caitlin spotted their cheeses and we decided to try this one. Wikipedia describes coulommier as fairly brie-like, but this was chalkier - in a good way, like goat cheese - with a lemony, buttermilk-like tang that was a) amazing and b) perfect with the fresh greens, sharp chive, and lamb.

Chive blossoms remind me of being a little kid - we had chives growing around the house, and I'd eat them raw all the time.

Cheeseburger with chive blossoms and garlic-herb tub cheese
The chive blossoms are more obvious in Caitlin's photo of our other burgers - regular hamburgers, Squire Mountain garlic and herb tub cheese, chive blossoms, and ketchup. Tub cheese is sort of like Yankee pimento cheese, blended with cream cheese and margarine instead of mayonnaise.