Broth-er Of Invention

The duck pho gave us one more meal before being used up (not counting the quart in the freezer.) I kept it simple tonight, because I was working to finish a new piece and didn’t have a ton of time to cook. So I made sushi-rice risotto with a sort of Greek slant: a little lemon juice, lots of woody herbs, spinach and dandelion pestos, and crumbled feta. The underlying hearty, deep, and slightly exotic aroma of the broth was an interesting counterweight to the brash mediterranean flavors on top, and it all melded nicely. On the side, I steamed cauliflower and tossed the florets in minced garlic and a little whipped cream that Christine had made for Milo to dip his banana in (since I rudely used all the rest of the peanut butter powder for dessert at the party on Saturday.)

Pho Sho’

As always- slave to peasant efficiency that I am- with the carcass of a roasted bird in the fridge, I wanted to make a brothocentric meal based on the remains of our Christmas duck. Heather made turkey pho after Thanksgiving, and then Hank, inspired by her post, made wild duck pho, so it was only a matter of time before I caught the faux-Vietnamese virus (get it?) and did the same. The interweb: it’s like herpes, but in a good way.

I simmered the duck remains on low heat with ginger, garlic, star anise, lemongrass, a couple of cloves, and a bunch of pink peppercorns for about three hours, then strained it. That night we had the broth with some udon and a few garnishes- basically blanched pea shoots and some leftover sautéed collard greens. And it was good. Then, last night we went to a potluck, where I pressure cooked fat slices of black radish with more of the duck broth, and made more of the chocolate mousse, served with the same three garnishes as on Xmas. Nothing says “holidays” like the fawning (bordering on leg-humping) adulation of a room full of people.

And tonight, because this broth is just that good as a foundation for almost anything (I spent far too long anguishing about whether to go the risotto route, or soup, or braise another meat in it) I used it twice in as many dishes. There was some ground pork in the freezer, so I divided it and used some for the base of stir-fried broccoli finished with a flour-thickened sauce of mandarin orange juice, ginger, garlic, broth, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. The rest I mixed well with more garlic and ginger, plus 5-spice, curry powder, and scallions, then tucked into wontons and placed in the steamer. Note to self- and all of you- use the bamboo steamer with parchment circles; the dumplings, they stick to the metal steamer like Zell Miller does to Rush Limbaugh’s medicine cabinet.

With a simple supplement of some tosa soy sauce and a couple of drops of sesame oil, the broth proved a worthy medium for the pungent dumplings, and a garnish of cilantro and chervil that I picked because today was freakishly balmy and melted most of the snow, so getting the plastic off the beds was easy. It’s not pretty in the garden right now, but there’s still a lot of food growing there, and with careful editing it’s well worth the effort. To drink, a NY chard that I will be reviewing in the very near future.

Chappy Chanukkah, Xappy Xmas

We kept it very simple this year, with no travel and no guests. It’s a pretty nice way to do it, actually, especially given the weather-related mayhem all over the place. Yesterday Milo and I walked into town to see Santa arrive, and then came home in time for me to finish dinner. Sous-vide is genius for this, because I was able to leave the meat in the bath while we were out with no possibility of overcooking it. We had a flat iron steak (around 90 minutes at 52˚ C, then seared quickly in a little duck fat) with rutabaga-celery root purée on baked acorn squash rounds and a dandelion pesto. Very basic, and very good.

Today was a little more involved, yet still totally traditional- mostly for my wife, who lets me do absurdly complicated things on Thanksgiving yet really digs the old favorites. So today it was all the best versions of those touchstones that I could manage.

So I roasted a duck. I made stuffing with good whole wheat bread, the duck liver and some fat, shiitake, copious celery, onion, carrot, and the chicken giblet broth from the other day. I put the rest of the acorn squash in the oven too, next to the duck. I made cranberry sauce with half a tangerine, ginger, decent wine, maple syrup, and black pepper. I glazed the duck towards the end with some strained cranberry sauce and braised collards with leeks, and used some of the duck fat and drippings to make gravy, into which I stirred a fat spoon of the dandelion pesto. While the roast chicken from the other night was perfect for what it was, the added richness of the duck and the extra care in the accompanying dishes made this equally good but on a more intense and decadent level. And it hit the living shit out of every holiday food spot there is, at least in the poultry neighborhood. I floated the idea of a roast, but with just the three of us, a bird made more sense. And we don’t love the ham (unless it’s prosciutto.)

And though we’ve been inundated with cookies, both received and of our own making, I was moved to make a dessert because I had the urge to mess with the mousse from Thanksgiving some more. Not the actual mousse, mind you, which I repeated almost verbatim, but the context. I seared bananas in a pan, then deglazed and flamed with rum, followed by a little maple syrup. There was more of the peanut butter powder that we’ve been playing with, so I mixed it with kinako and a little unswetened cacao, and I steeped some super-strong green tea and blended it with a little spirulina, some agave, and enough Ultratex 8 to give it a little body. Chocolate and banana, chocolate and peanut butter, chocolate and green tea- they all worked wonderfully together. The triple powder was particulary great with the barely-sweet mousse.

And that was it. I hope yours was also tasty, safe, and with happy ending.

In America, First You Get The Money, Then You Get The Cheeken

There’s honestly not much to say about this meal. A perfectly roasted free-range organic chicken on roasted (mostly) roots- carrot, parsnip, turnip, onion, garlic (an entire head) and fennel, with gravy made from giblet broth with turnip and celery plus a duck/chicken fat roux and a perfect winter mesclun salad. I tried a 2004 Andromeda, and while it’s pretty much unrecognizable as pinot noir, it’s pretty wonderful with this kind of bad-ass home cooking. Milo said “Dad, I want you to roast a chicken every time you make dinner.” And then he ate all the garlic cloves and chicken skin he could get his greasy hands on, followed by everything else. This dinner didn’t stand a chance.

12 Inches Of Snow

Liz had her annual holiday party on Saturday, and there was a good turnout despite the recent heavy snow and slick roads. I spent most of the day making components of what I hoped would be a great appetizer: duck prosciutto on lotus root chips with butternut gel, green tea pudding, and peanut butter powder. It turned out all right, but needs tinkering to balance the flavors. All of the individual components were really good, though, and the other thing I made- parmigiano tuiles with peach-habañero chutney- were very tasty indeed. And a nice side-effect to having these various bits of molecular geekery around is that some of them make for excellent kid treats. Here’s Milo’s afternoon snack, post ecstatic snow-romping: bananas with peanut butter powder and cubes of butternut gel.

At the party, John gave me two more hunks of dried bonito- I have tried and failed to find it in the US, and he was back in Japan last week- touring with Jack Bruce and Vernon Reid(?!)- so, being John, he did some research and found me the best, old-school artisanal bonito from Kyushu where it’s still dried out in the sun. He got me two different cuts; each fish produces four pieces and he brought a belly and a loin just to be safe. He also brought some wonderful vinous treats for the party: a 1993 Orion, a 1989 Sociando-Mallet, a 1997 Jaboulet Côte-Rôtie “Jumelles” and the wine of the night- a magnum of 1998 Gangloff Côte-Rôtie that tasted like a smoky cabin where people have been having sex with delicious farm animals.

Now most of you know that a “shank” is what Martha Stewart advises sticking into a recalcitrant cell-mate who won’t agree to do a cover shoot for Prison Bride magazine. You may not know that “shank” also refers to the lower leg bones of delicious farm animals, including lambs. I just so happened to have two of these latter kinds in the freezer, and the weather yesterday was just right for braised, lamby goodness. I simmered them low for a couple of hours with mirepoix, wine, herbs, tomato paste, olive paste, cumin, and preserved lemon, added some frozen peas, and served them on polenta with the parmigiano tuiles (there were some left over.) I had been rummaging around in some wine boxes, looking for something, and discovered 6 Pleiades XVs which I had completely forgotten. It’s like my own personal Hanukkah miracle. Now after the XVIs, these are a little fat and jammy, but they’re still delicious and perfect with a strongly-flavored stew like this.

Today, with ample leftovers, and a good amount of meat still on the bones (they could have stood another hour of braising) I made a remix that was closer in flavor and structure to the first take than I usually like to stay. But I knew it would be good, and Christine is sick so she didn’t care. I made a good pot of broth with the lamb bones plus fennel and broccoli stalks, onion, carrot, turnip, peppercorns, and oregano and let it simmer super-low for about three hours. I strained it, put some in the freezer, and added the rest to the lamb braising liquid from yesterday. I also soaked and then simmered (also for about three hours) a handful of scarlet runner beans and then added them in. Served on leftover polenta with a single lamb rib chop seared with herbes de Provençe (I had these in the freezer too, a gift from the butcher who just had the two left) and wilted spinach, it made for a much tastier version with the added bonus of a tender chop for texture and flavor contrast. I finished the Pleiades.

Savory Collations

We learned something interesting about the relative freshness of fish this evening. The black cod we’ve been enjoying was off-the-boat fresh on Monday. I picked it up on Tuesday, and cured most of it yesterday for smoking. But there was part of a side that I forgot to make last night, so I pulled it out tonight. It was clean, firm, and had no bad smell. With a simple broil, it was flaky and perfect, and tasted wonderful. If I had bought it this morning we would have been pleased with the quality, and surely bought more. Knowing when the clock actually started on this fish gave me a new appreciation for its durability (properly stored.)

The rest was pure simplicity. Turnip caramelized with a little onion, leftover shiitake from fancy Sunday dinner, leftover triticale from last night, and a few broccoli florets browned with garlic and then steamed with a little water. I took the small amount of duck ham-lemongrass sauce and warmed it up with a little soy sauce, some beer, and a drip of agave nectar, and then glazed the fish with it on the plate.

This was just plain old home cookin’ and it disappeared off all three plates in short order (even Milo, who seems to like oilier fish best, and those broiled.) I opened an Ommegang Hennepin- it’s a Belgian-style saison ale from the esteemed traditional Brewery in Cooperstown, NY. They make a mean beer, even if my preference is for a thinner, more bitter IPA kind of thing. The best beer I ever had was a hand-pulled Abbot Ale in a pub outside a tiny town in East Anglia (in the UK) back in the winter of 1991-92. Barely carbonated, and about 2 degrees cooler than the room. Heaven. These are so thick and foamy, a glass is about all I can take before getting a little cloyed. But, in order to be fair to the ersatz Belgians, I should make moules frites and get back to you after more research.

Twofer

Milo has been getting hungry earlier lately, which puts some tension between our respective ideal dinner times. I’ve been trying to adapt by making multiple courses so that there’s something for him to nosh on a little earlier but we still get to eat at a reasonable hour. There’s still some work to be done, but I refuse to make separate meals; I think it’s important for kids to eat the same food as the adults.

Tonight that food was a little rushed, again, but turned out all right in the end. To start, yesterday Zen Chef posted Morimoto’s foie gras chawanmushi, which rang a bell for me since I love them and Christine wasn’t feeling great today. Ours were simply eggs blended with a little dashi, mirin, yuzu juice, and agave nectar, with a sprinkle of shichimi on top. I steamed them for about 10 minutes, and they puffed up a little, which is OK, because they settle right down again. To get the glassy, smooth top like in restaurants I like to put the egg mixture in one of the Foodsaver containers and vacuum out all the air bubbles, but tonight I did not feel the need.

To follow was a simple “risotto” of triticale made with dashi for broth and some of the collard-yogurt purée from last night. I had a little of the egg mixture left, so I added grated parmigiano, tempered it with dashi, and then whisked it in at the end to help thicken the grain since it’s not starchy like arborio. I put a little bit of some leftover garlicky steamed kale on top and finished it off with a grating of more parm- partly for flavor and partly to echo the snow falling outside. See how it looks kinda like a Christmas tree? I’m festive like that.

I opened a 2003 Barbaresco “Valeirano” by Ada Nada, bought from Mary and which I just brought up from the city. It’s warm, with gently insistent tannins and a big musty horse blanket of funk thrown over some elegant roses and berries. I look forward to working our way through the others over the next few years (if I can keep myself away from them for that long.)

An Embarrassment Of Fishes

I had planned to make the black cod with miso tonight, with some rice and greens probably, when I get a call and before you know it I’ve got three sides of beautiful fresh black cod to work with. Most of it will get a smoke for the party on Saturday, but I cut off two nice pieces and upgraded my dinner plans to compensate. Milo is going through a not-loving-the-fish phase, just in time for us to be getting all this perfect free fish, but what can you do? I grabbed some marrow bones from the freezer, which he loves. Roasted, and served on collards steamed and puréed with fenugreek seeds and yogurt, they made for a good beginning.

Next, I rolled the fresh cod pieces (get it?) seasoned with shichimi, salt, and pepper in blanched whole collard leaves that I brushed with a little tamarind sauce. I rolled ‘em up good and gave them a sizzle in some leftover bratwurst fat that I had saved in a pan from earlier. Yep. I do that. After the fish packets were done, I served them on top of the last two butternut rounds in the fridge. To finish, a strained pan reduction made with some good local beer, and a crisp yet super-delicate chip made from gently baking the octopus sauce from last night on some parchment, then peeling it off. Some of those fancy starches make paper-thin crisps when dehydrated, and these worked pretty well. They had the intense flavor of the original sauce, and melted nicely into the new one when broken up.

A little rushed, but the two contrasting treatments of the fish was a nice follow-up to yesterday’s mackerel study. Both had lots of personality, but they shared a plate well; the miso and brat-beer sauces in particular got very friendly. The tastes were not as precise as last night, but then neither was my approach. Re-using so many ingredients in different ways is a good study in close harmony, helping me understand certain flavors better- and also, just as importantly, keeping the leftover parade chugging along efficiently.

All Kinds Of Crazy

I was in the city for the weekend, doing a bunch of errandy things, and having a nice dinner with Kris & Ken. They very kindly gave me the Alinea cookbook as a late birthday present, and I was overjoyed. Other weekend highlights included picking up a whole lot of wine- details to follow shortly- dropping off my La Pavoni to get fixed, and, best of all, finally getting the bug Milo had last week and doing a 3 AM impression of a Swedish TV host.

On my way out of town, I stopped at Mitsuwa and loaded up on goodies. It’s a great place, and it was hard to keep myself from buying many, many more things than we needed. They’ve got sashimi-grade fish as well, so I grabbed mackerel, octopus, black cod, and a small piece of o-toro in addition to the noodles, miso, mirin, fresh yuzu(!) and several other treats. I wish it were a little closer to us, but in a way it’s good that it isn’t.

The combination of the Alinea book and all these ingredients got me all fired up with ideas, so dinner ended up being kind of special. I may well make the things in the book, but for now it just did what a great cookbook does and got me excited. I think Achatz’s genius is above all for keeping the mad science perpetually in the service of flavor, texture, and presentation; it’s never there for its own sake (I have not eaten there, but have talked to some of the lucky ones who have.) So, in my own haphazard way, I tried to combine things into dishes that would be highly tasty, pretty, and original. I used some of the fancy powders I bought for Thanksgiving, but tried to do so in a way where they wouldn’t be too noticeable.

O-toro was easiest; it’s such a gorgeous ingredient that it needs little tinkering. I served it Nobu-style with jalapeño and homemade ponzu (though he does this with yellowtail.) A perfect first course, it’s decadent yet clean, and gets the mouth’s attention.

Next up was the octopus. I’m not sure I’ve ever cooked it before, and I know it can be tough, so I tried poaching it, cut in pieces, in olive oil on very low heat for about an hour while I prepared the other components. I love the Spanish Pulpo a la Gallega, but I had Japan on the brain- so I tried to make a dish that split the difference. I caramelized sliced shiitake with garlic and deglazed with sherry (flamed) and then tosa soy sauce, and I baked halved blue potatoes in their skins, peeled them, and cut them into thick rounds. Then I made a sauce which I hoped would tie everything together. It was basically a vinaigrette of yuzu juice, olive oil, saffron, paprika, and shichimi with a little sake and mirin (alcohol burned off) plus a dribble of agave syrup. I emulsified it with a little lecithin, then thickened it to a mayonnaise-like consistency with Ultratex 8. An immersion blender in a wide-mouth mason jar is my device of choice for the small amounts of these sauces that I make.

Just before serving, I sizzled the potatoes in a little of the octopus poaching oil and then fried the end of the tentacle for a garnish. I have to say, this one was pretty good. The oil-poaching did exactly what I had hoped; the octopus was firm, yet tender, and not at all rubbery. The sauce was a winner, and the potatoes and mushrooms added some heft and umami respectively. The wife loved this one, and grabbed the crunchy tentacle tip from me after I took the picture. Then she ate all the rest of the octopus pieces out of the bowl by the stove.

Last up, the mackerel. I wanted to do it two ways- raw and cooked- and thought for a while about what kinds of things would go with each treatment. I’ve been wanting to make a duck prosciutto broth for a while, and figured it would match well with the oily, sweet raw mackerel. So I simmered some older, stiffer bits of our duck ham with a few slices of fresh lemongrass in water for about half an hour, then strained it and let it cool. I added a little salt, and gave it a blast with .1% xanthan to give it a little body. I grated a black radish from the garden (above freezing today!) and fried little lotus root chips cut from a fresh root from yesterday’s splurge. The raw half was thin slices of fish, garnished with radish and topped with crisp little chips, in the prosciutto-lemongrass sauce.

Then, the cooked part. I had simmered some candied ginger to soften it for use in the last course; originally I had planned to finish this meal with black cod and miso- another Nobu specialty- but after course three we decided to let it marinate until tomorrow (since the marinade is mostly sake, it’s not going to spoil.) I had saved the ginger water, though, and it came in handy for this. We had some baked butternut rounds left from the other night, and half a can of coconut milk, and I puréed them with the ginger water in which I had dissolved some agar. This mixture, strained into a pyrex baking dish, went in the fridge to set. The fish got cooked very simply: a gentle sizzle in some of the octopus oil, followed by a splash of mirin and then steaming under a lid until just cooked through. I put the cooked fish on a rectangle of coconut-squash gel, dressed it with a little of the pan juice, and garnished it with cacao nibs.

This one was really good. I had a feeling it was all going to work, but it exceeded my expectations. The raw one needs one more little kick- truffle oil in the radish, and a little soy in the sauce would do it- but the cooked part was amazingly good. Everything harmonized and played off the strong qualities of the fish in fascinating ways. A green element would be nice, though, and next time I’m going to add a dusting of spirulina to finish it. I almost opened a beer to go with this meal, but decided to give myself one more day to recover from the weekend. Pairing wines with these would be good fun. All in the name of science, of course.

The Ice Storm

I have to say at the outset that we are lucky; despite our recent travails with the heat (and the panic, the vomit) we got off easy with this last storm. While people all over the Northeast have no power, I’m basking in the glow of the internets. We ended up just South of the freeze for most of it, and the ice turned to plain old rain, though in Biblical quantity.

Last night, because we needed it, I made another veal-dashi lasagna; it’a keeper, and I may just put one of those recipe things up here sometime soon, on account of how good it is. But, as they say, don’t wait under water.

Tonight, pursuant to a trip to our fabulous butcher (whence the veal) I took a (free) faux hanger steak- I asked him for a hanger (onglet) but he suggested this instead. It’s the flap of the sirloin, instead of being from the belly like a hanger. That’s hangER, by the way, since we aren’t talking about airplane food (remember that? What will bad comedians talk about now?) This turned out meltingly tender after a light rub and vacuum-seal with some salt and spices and a dip in the water bath at 52˚ C for about an hour. To finish, I seared it in a little duck fat and then let it rest while I dealt with the other components.

Which included some leftover roasted cauliflower simmered in a little miso soup from breakfast, then stick-blended with yogurt and a little beef demi-glace into a thick purée, and rounds from the neck of a butternut squash, peeled and baked with olive oil until tender. I also took the rest of the oyster mushrooms and caramelized them with garlic, then finished with tosa soy sauce, red wine, and more demi-glace. I also deglazed the steak pan with the same combination, plus a pat of butter to make a little sauce. The creamy purée, tender squash, and buttery meat all melded seamlessly with the mushrooms and sauce into a lusciously elegant yet still-homey meal.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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