Tilting at Windmills

This is my first entry in the Royal Foodie Joust contest, and underwent a bunch of last-minute changes due to weather and whim. The required ingredients were some form of seafood, citrus (lemon or lime) and coconut. Initially I wanted to make ceviche with scallops and coconut ice cream, but figured ceviche was too obvious. Plus it’s still cold here, so cold food didn’t seem right. I did want to make the ice cream, though, so I modified it and bought some nice tuna instead of scallops. The coconut had been sitting on the counter patiently awaiting its fate. (Which was to have holes drilled in it, then get bashed apart with a hammer on the kitchen floor.)

To begin, I marinated the fish in kimchi juice and coconut water. I made the coconut-saffron-preserved lemon ice cream by simmering coconut milk, coconut water, and grated coconut meat along with our last preserved lemon (minced) and some saffron threads plus agave nectar and a bit of curry powder. While it was churning, I made a mango salsa with lime juice, togarashi, fish sauce, and a pinch of brown sugar. I also caramelized shiitakes with garlic and ginger until they were all crispy, and I floured, egged, and rolled the tuna in a mixture of panko and grated coconut. Once the ice cream was nearly ready, the fish went into a bit of hot oil to brown.

I intended to finish the dish with grated smoked coconut, but the rain precluded getting the smoker going, so I used a little more of the fresh. All the flavors worked pretty well together, and the ice cream melted into the salsa forming a wonderfully unctuous sort of tropical paella sauce that contrasted nicely with the crunchy warm fish and mushrooms. There was a good balance between sweet, savory, and spicy, as well as warm and cold. Not bad at all for what were essentially really fancy fish sticks.

If you want to vote for this entry, please go here. At least I already have a coat of arms.

Slammon

This morning I did some much-needed shopping, and also picked up some things for the garden; the experiments at overwintering some of the veggies have been so successful that I started a bunch of things in the ground a month early, figuring that the plastic will protect them from the colder nights. Time will tell, but they’re all hardy things and should be fine (until we tear them from the ground and devour them, that is.) I also picked a bunch of beautiful turnips, which I shredded along with our horseradish, plus fennel, pak choi, jicama, leek, carrots, and daikon and packed into the fermenting crock to make a hot slaw to accompany all the grilled and smoked things that lurk right around the corner.

For tonight, post slaw-making, I took the 10-grain/burdock mixture from osso buco night and formed it into patties, floured them, and fried them in the fry oil from last night. Want to make something good taste better? Cook it in (gently) used French fry oil. I didn’t stuff them with cheese or anything, since I ate our last hunk of stanky taleggio as a snack while cooking. Because of the high proportion of polenta in the mix, these ended up like the mutant children of hush puppies and arancini. But in a delicious, crispy way.

And I braised shredded fennel until it was meltingly tender, and pan-roasted the fish, and cooked the greens from our turnips in the fish pan to wilt them and clean it, and opened some wine. A 2005 (I know, I swore off them, but there wasn’t anything else that felt right) Jadot Vosne-Romanée. I have mixed feelings about Jadot, but this was a pretty good deal so I bought it. Now that it’s been open for a bit, it might be relaxing, but from now on all the 05′s go to their room until 2010 or later. Unless someone else bought it. Or there’s no other pinot to match with salmon. Or it’s Tuesday. Or Thursday.

Seoul Food

Well, not really, but Korean-inspired at least. To begin, I ground some local grass-fed beef stew meat with garlic, herbs, salt, and (after separating some for Milo) togarashi. I let it sit while I cut sweet potato fries and chopped pak choi, and while the fries were going cooked the meat and then sautéed the greens in the burger pan with a little lemon and soy sauce. Topped with homemade kimchi, these were damn fine burgers. The togarashi gave them an intense flavor with good heat, and the kimchi added a pickly crunch with more heat from our homegrown cayenne peppers. This is a keeper, and could become sausage, meatballs, or a filling for peppers, etc. in a second. They unsurprisingly went particularly well with a couple of beers.

Ravioli

Sometimes having nothing easy in the fridge can be a jumping-off point for a much better meal than the standard go-to things that I grab or make by default. In this case, as with Easter breakfast, a couple of eggs saved my bacon. I mixed up some pasta dough, and while it was chilling in the fridge I took Tuscan kale, pine nuts, feta, garlic, and lemon juice and spun them all in the food processor for a bit. We’re running low, but there is still some guanciale in the house (got to order more cheeks and hang them up for summer) and I minced and crisped it in a pan then folded the little lardons into the kale spread.

Milo helped me roll out the dough, with parsley in the top sheet, and thus were ravioli fabricated from next to nothing. For the sauce, I grabbed a jar of our cherry tomato purée from the pantry- it’s yellow because the bulk of our crop come canning were yellow and orange- and enhanced the velvety goodness with a knob of butter, olive oil, a smashed clove of garlic, and herbs, then let it simmer to thicken. Gorgeous sweet sauce, slightly bitter yet pork-bolstered filling, toothsome pasta: the elements all played well with others. And to finish, another salad of baby greens from the garden. Plus, we got to enjoy this delicate dish with the rest of both the Sancerre and the Sangiovese, which is how life should be.

Awesome Buco

I had the boy all day today, so I wisely thought ahead and pulled some beef shanks out of the freezer to thaw. By late afternoon I was beat, but at least had the beginnings of dinner under way. I peeled and sliced some burdock I dug up a couple of days ago- nice big fat roots- and threw them into the rice cooker with yesterday’s chicken broth and the local 10-grain blend augmented with extra brown rice, quinoa, and polenta since there wasn’t quite enough. With the addition of some dried porcini, it cooked up into a kind of polenta-risotto hybrid that warrants more tinkering; the hands-off ease of it all is appealing for days spent pursuing Deconstruction Monkeys™ all over creation.

The meat received a most traditional post-browning braise with aromatics, wine, herbs, and tomato paste for a couple of hours, and I made mash with the rest of the dandelion and arugula. All together, the dense, nutty grain and burdock mix was an excellent substrate for the rich meat and liquid (I hadn’t had time to chill it and remove the fat) and as always the mash was a perfect bright green counterpoint to all the various browns. The one drawback to cooking the shanks for this long is that the marrow mostly disintegrates into the liquid, but lacking that pleasure one can take solace in the super-tender meat. Some consolation can also be found in a 2000 Aquila Sangiovese by Sean Thackrey, which by his own admonition is never to be confused with Brunello but nonetheless makes “la bella figura” with semi-traditional fare such as this.

Oh, Right, Easter

I woke up this morning figuring that I should have planned something nice for Easter, but that since I hadn’t- bad parent/husband that I am- I should pretend that I had and figure out what I could bust out convincingly. To begin with, we had eggs. A good start, and lucky, because the wife she likes the eggs so we’re often low or out. And I had bought a big bar of organic super-dark chocolate last week, thinking to make the melty cakes again soon. So what I’m saying is I got a huge assist and came off looking pretty OK after all. I made crêpes.

When I make them, I like to have two kinds: a savory and then a sweet. It’s the win/win of breakfasts, like getting to have waffles AND an omelet without feeling like a giant hog. The first was pesto and feta, topped with the leftover pesto chicken gravy. The second was chocolate-cassis sauce and kumquat marmalade (we mercifully also had a handful of mostly still good kumquats at the bottom of a fridge drawer.) I melted the chocolate and some butter in a double boiler, then whisked in some Vermont cassis to finish it. The sliced kumquats simmered in honey, 5-spice, and pear juice.

Man, is it nice to shoot using the morning sun for a change. I never use the flash, so in the evenings I have resorted to some pretty silly setups to try to get a decent shot. This was effortless.

Then, after a lovely day that included an egg-hunt and lunch at some friends’, dinner was chicken broth from the carcass with tofu and fish balls made from the leftover snapper, pesto mashed potatoes, ginger, garlic, and a bit of activa to hold them together. I also made udon and blanched spinach in the pasta water. Finished with togarashi and black sesame seeds, it all made for a big bowl of goodness that provided a welcome change from the richer food of the day’s earlier meals, and had excellent company in another Millet Sancerre.

By The Book

So the chicken I wanted to make yesterday waited patiently until today, and received a totally traditional treatment. No fancy anything. Fingerling potatoes roasted with garlic cloves and rosemary, steamed broccoli, lemon-pesto gravy, and a salad of our amazing baby greens that are really shooting up now that the days are lengthening. I’m working on some ideas, so sometimes auto-pilot is a good way to fly.

In keeping with tradition, a pinot noir to go with the roast chicken- a 2006 Siduri. There’s quite a breathless review of it here, which I enjoyed, but I do have to say that after the wines on Thursday (and in light of what I’m learning about my own taste as I get deeper into it) that by the second glass the charm diminishes, and thereafter the thrill is gone. I’ve mentioned before that their single vineyard pinots are much better- and they are- but even they are not playing in the same league as well-made Burgundy. It sucks, because the dollar is fast approaching parity with toilet paper, and good Cali alternatives would be most welcome. But the really good ones cost as much as grand cru Burg, in which case why bother?

A Boy And His Fish

I wanted to roast a chicken tonight, and Milo wanted to come to the store with me. When we got there, he instantly saw and requested a whole red snapper so I obliged him. He even asked for it from the guy behind the counter, and once we got home he couldn’t wait to hold it.

The fish just fit in our big sautée pan with a little butter to crisp up both sides, then I poured in a little rice vinegar and covered it to steam. Consolidating leftovers, I steamed some fingerling potatoes and mashed them up with the leftover celeriac purée and kale pesto to make a nice vibrant green mash. Once the fish was done, out it came and I deglazed the pan with blood orange juice plus a little agave syrup to make a sauce that turned out to be just about the same color as the fish. Milo ate the eye, and declared it to be “yummy.” It was.

Solstice

After a couple of days in the city it was wonderful to finish of with another stellar dinner at Kris & Ken’s house. Because it was a weeknight, Kris kept it “simple” which for them means only three courses and five wines. Here’s what we had:

For an aperitif, a glass of Planeta “La Segreta” 2005, followed by a 2002 Chablis grand cru Valmur by William Fevre that was a beautiful accompaniment to shrimp on wilted cabbage and coconut with hot curry spices.

With the main course- rack of lamb with mashed potatoes and peas- we tried my bottle: a 1990 Olga Raffault Chinon “Les Picasses” that was elegant, mature, and almost Californian or Châteauneufian in its hot Earth flavors. Moving on from there, Kris pulled out a 1999 Vincent Girardin Chapelle-Chambertin that wasn’t fully open; after the Chinon it felt tight and cranky, though still offered a lot. So for the cheeses (Comté and Selles-sur-Cher) he went back and grabbed a 2000 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Fontenys” by Roty that had the most gorgeous nose of sandalwood with just a hint of cherry and licorice at the very end. In the mouth, different- elegant and austere but supple and seamless. We agreed that it was almost better as incense; it’s a wine you want to swirl and smell, then put down again. Drinking it is almost an afterthought (but not really.)

We finished the night with a little Paul Giraud 1er cru Grande Champagne VSOP Cognac that was perfectly delicious. Dinner with these two never fails to be as good as food, wine, and company gets. And best of all, by the time I left their place, it was Spring.

Culino-Heraldry

Yesterday I was out in the garden taking advantage of our recent thaw to dig some burdock and look for stray potatoes (there was one, but it was rotten.) I also thinned the Asian cabbage, because it’s really forming heads now and I want them to have room. I know that all the brassicas are going to bolt in short order, but in the meantime it’s pretty great to have fresh greens right out the door, and the warmer weather means I don’t have to shovel the damn garden any more to get at the food.

Tonight I wanted to keep with the complex single plates we’ve been enjoying lately; it’s a fun way to play with contrasting flavors and presentation, as well as being a handy way of regulating portion size. When there’s a trough of pasta on the stove, it’s easy to go back- but when this is put in front of you and that’s pretty much all there is, it emphasizes the completeness of the meal on the plate. In all three cases, I found myself eating more deliberately and being perfectly full at the end. A variety of strong flavors helps. And wine.

The flavors in question this time around: pan-roasted wild salmon with cranberry tapenade, the cabbage sautéed with garlic, puréed celery root with yogurt, and radicchio mash with truffle oil. Pleiades is always great with salmon, and tonight was no exception. We should be getting our XVI soon, and I’m excited to try it. It occurred to me after I shot this that it looks a bit like a coat of arms: a bend purpure on a field saumon proper, with a chief purpure and flaunches argent and vert. Hypothetically- not like I’m a nerd or anything.

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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