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

Monday, September 3, 2012

labor day 2012: drinks

Campari, gin, torched limes, lake

Not many photos of our drinks from Labor Day up at the lake, except this one - one of my drinks, which I kept coming back to: Campari, gin, and fresh squeezed lime juice. (In this case I drizzled the lime halves with honey and hit them with the blowtorch first, to warm them up and make them juice better, and to add more bitterness.) It's your basic Campari summer drink, a Negroni with citrus instead of vermouth.

Caitlin wants to make sure I note the drink I made for her so we remember the proportions: more or less 1 oz gin, 1 oz lime juice (perhaps a bit less), 1/2 oz orgeat, 1/2 oz Chambord, with a few drops of chartreuse elixir vegetal.

Following up on the raspberry-almond combination of that drink, we had a Campari-orgeat fizz, for lack of another name: more or less 1 oz gin, 1 oz lime juice, 3/4 oz orgeat, 1/4 oz (perhaps a bit less) Campari - just enough to make it pink - and an egg white, shaken like hell with a few ice cubes, more or less strained, and topped with a few drops of orange bitters.