Falling Short, But Better Than Fish Sticks

Today was a whirlwind of appointments, errands, and a meeting, but the sun finally came out after two solid days of much-needed rain. Among my stop was a local market, which has an adequate (if limited) fish counter. I got haddock, because it was fresh, and a little different from our normal choices. I’ve been chafing against our limited seafood choices up here, so yesterday I talked to our friend who teaches fish at the CIA and ordered some primo salmon for Christine’s birthday. Milo and I spent some time in the garden, which resulted in some planted seeds and some picked greens for a salad: spinach, galia endive, and two lettuces- all from last winter.

We had burdock in the fridge from some overeager digging the day before, so I peeled and sliced it and then cooked it the way we like, with soy sauce and vinegar. After about 45 minutes, the root coins were pleasingly savory, earthy, and al dente (right, Claudia?) I crusted the fish with coarse local polenta, garam masala, oregano, salt, cardamom, and chilli powder and crisped it up in a bit of oil. Meanwhile, I reheated the kabocha purée from the other day and washed and dressed the salad. It came together pretty well; as with most meals recently, I had to scramble to get it together and it fell short of what I had in mind. The nights where it all meets my expectations are the special nights, I guess, and an inevitable rare result of the whole having-a-job-and-family thing.

So crusty, aromatic fish, creamy, sweet squash, and earthy-nutty burdock all intertwined and made for a good dinner on a chilly spring evening; the rain has gone, and much colder air has blown in to replace it. Before bedtime we went out to cover the beds with plastic against our first frost in two weeks. To accompany, two wines; with the summer weather comes my frequent desire to have a white or pink aperitif followed by a more substantial red. Leftover lighter wines do just fine in the fridge overnight and offer a tired cook a lovely refreshment come prep time the next day. In this case, some 2006 Magnien Burgundy rosé followed by the rest of the La Spinetta nebbiolo from the other night.

Larding The Lean Earth

In keeping with the recent porkfest here at cookblog HQ- not to mention the too-clever-by-half literary allusions- I thought I’d toss in this little picture of our lardo, all snuggly in cheesecloth and drying in the pantry since yesterday. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be using it in everything, and giving a bunch away as well.

Even with the door closed, there is this wonderful animal-herb odor that suffuses the nearby air; I used copious garlic, thyme, rosemary, and juniper to season the cure. It sat in the cure for about three months and now just needs to stiffen a bit more. I’m seriously thinking of wearing it like cologne when I go out- like Steve Martin’s tuna fish sandwiches, but way better. It smells really good- plus it looks like a lame art school thesis project, so there’s that.

Next up (now that there’s room in the fridge) bacon!

Cloyed With Fat Meat

I had to go back to the city again, and in my absence the garden really started to flourish; what were tiny sprouts have become small plants in just a few days, thanks to our incredibly warm and sunny April. Last night was the first rain in nearly three weeks, and in response everything has exploded. I actually find myself nostalgic for a couple of weeks ago, when there was a rich subtlety of growth; now it’s fireworks and I’m way behind on all the things I was hoping to be on top of this time around. I shouldn’t complain. The upside of all the sunny warmth is this amazing growth, and tonight’s dinner made good use of it.

To begin, a “risotto” of barley and ramps, with broth made from the BBQ chicken bones from a few nights ago. Delicately smoky, toothsome, and tangy, it made for an excellent first course. We enjoyed it with another 2005 Jacky Blot “Clos de la Bretonnière” Vouvray. The baby Avignon radishes provided a nice garnish. I try to wait to thin most veggies until they’re big enough to be food (or at least decoration.) The light smoke flavor paved the way for the next course.

Then, some of the pork belly we got recently for making bacon, which I espresso-rubbed and cooked sous-vide at 67˚ C for two hours, then crisped in a pan (with the skin still on.) It’s basically a hunk of bacon. To compensate for the inherent decadence of the fat meat, I made sure to couch it in many healthy vegetables. Thus kabocha purée, parsnips caramelized in a soupçon of smoked duck fat, red kale wilted in a bit of the rendered belly fat, and a sauce of red wine, BBQ sauce, and maple syrup. As a fluffer-conductor of sorts for this orgiastic symphony of sweet succulence, a 2005 La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo. I love this wine. Tannic, yet still gorgeous, it was a lean, mean counterwieght to the rich dish. Did I mention that the pork still had the skin on? And that I crisped it up but good in the pan? Can you see it in the picture? That piece of pigskin is as close as I will ever get to being a football fan.

Also, there was salad. Obnoxiously fresh (they squeaked) baby greens from the new bed, since the old one is in full flower and about to become compost. It’s a little extra work, but multi-course eating is the way to go; you fill up on less food, and stay full longer. Plus you get to savor the individual ingredients more, and want more of each one since the portions are smaller. Sundays are a good thing.

Oh, For Crying Out Loud

Jeez.
Roughly in order of proportion:

Rub:

Espresso
Garlic
Kosher Salt
Cumin
Cinnamon
5-spice
Pepper
Curry
Chilli
Togarashi
Sudachi Zest
etc.

Sauce:

Red Wine
Tomato Paste
Tamarind Paste
Molasses
Cider & Balsamic Vinegar
Soy Sauce
Maple Syrup
Espresso
Yuzu Juice
Yuzu Kosho
Sriracha or Sambal Oelek
Cinnamon
Cumin
Other Powders, depending
and other liquids/pastes from the fridge, depending (most recent batch had Dijon mustard.)

Happy now?

Fair And Balanced

There are still some parsnips and burdock left in the garden, and I’m trying to dig them up before they expend all their stored deliciousness sending up too many new leaves. Having protected and watched all these plants all winter, it’s amazing to see them switch from survival mode to explosive spring growth and flowering so quickly. Kind of like a hyper-accelerated parenthood, but where you eat the kids when they reach puberty. Next year I think I’ll have a better handle on timing and quantities, but this time was pretty successful; there’s food in the garden and it will last until the new arrivals are big enough to take over.

So tonight it was parsnips, since Christine bought a big local grass-fed sirloin tip; I steamed them and puréed them with yogurt, vanilla, and a drop of truffle oil. The garlic chive butter/oil worked so well that I made more, adding mustard as well so that the result was sort of a beurre de maitre d’-mustard combination that I figured would be great with steak. I seasoned the meat with salt, pepper, garam masala, garlic, and herbs, then vacuum-sealed it and cooked it sous vide for 90 minutes at 54˚C. On the side, leftover sweet potato “noodle” salad and more grated root pickles (the horseradish makes it another great steak garnish.) We also had a salad of butter lettuce that I planted in November I think and is getting really nice right now. We drank a 2005 Givry by Chofflet-Valdenaire. I also sautéed a few ramps in the iron pan after I seared the cooked steak in it, but they’re not in the picture.

Love For Sale

Before I went into the studio this morning, I spun a sweet potato through the saladacco and then marinated the “noodles” in a dressing of peanut butter, lemon juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, nam pla, garlic chives, rice vinegar, ginger, and agave nectar. I figured it would go well with and help influence whatever ended up being dinner. Which was BBQ chicken. So I gave some big whole legs the espresso rub, and whipped up a saucepan full of the insane sauce that’s so good that it keeps my wife married to me. (I will sell you the recipe for both rub and sauce for a thousand dollars.)

Our various hardy winter greens are nominating themselves for dinner as they flower, and in so doing opening up valuable bed space for turning and planting. Today’s winner was the red Russian kale- a perennial favorite, for both flavor and performance- which got a mindlessly simple sautée with garlic and mirin. The sweet potato-as-green papaya salad was nice and soft and fragrant. The chicken, while definitely not pork, was pretty ridiculously good: just shy of burnt skin suffused with rub and slathered with sauce, balanced by tender greens, tangy spud slaw, and grated root pickles, and complemented by a 2005 Mas de Gourgonnier rosé from near my old stomping grounds in Provence. Plus a jelly jar of extra sauce. Did I mention the sauce? I give this stuff out for Christmas presents and get twitchy emails a month later fake-casually asking if I have any left, or maybe if I spilled some on the floor and haven’t mopped lately.

It’s that good, people. A thousand bucks. Is that so much to pay for possible world domination (or at least happy matrimony?)

Worth The Wait

So as if by design, upon my return our neighbor Kenny had just brought some rainbows he caught at one of his favorite spots upstream. Combined with the (not quite seamless, but pretty close) overlapping of the bolting winter greens and fast-arriving new ones, the stage was set for exactly the kind of homecoming dinner I had been craving while I survived on coffee, carbs, and wine all weekend. Milo was so happy to see me; he told me over and over again how much he missed me and loves me and couldn’t wait for me to come home. It was mutual. We toured the yard and garden, choosing the components of our dinner (the wife works late tonight.)

To begin with, for those of you with kids, I offer this free bit of advice. If you’re like me (and I know I am) you make smoothies with some regularity since they’re sweet, creamy, and decadent yet can be completely vegan and sugar free; they’re the perfect guilt-free treat for a kid who needs a little boost or reward. In this case, it was soy milk, a banana, cherry juice, a bit of cocoa, and honey. Now if you take the smoothie that choice and/or circumstance have dictated and then run it- as is- through your ice cream machine for 20 minutes, you’ve turned it into the ne plus ultra of guilt-free kid treats and made yourself look like a god at the same time. Plus, it makes a light and elegant dessert for the big people later on. You’re welcome.

So for the trout, my favorite preparation: en papillote with garlic, butter, and garlic chives. While it baked, I made polenta and cooked a big handful of garlic chives in a 50-50 mix of butter and olive oil. Once bright green, I puréed them in the blender, let them sit for a bit, then strained the oil into a small bowl. I briefly sautéed our radishes and ramps, then wilted turnip greens with a splash of rice vinegar in the same pan.

The flavors were just right, but being short on time the chive oil suffered from not being able to sit for a day to infuse before being strained. Having said that, the fact that fish and polenta (and even butter) were super-local- and we grew all the plants- combined with the ultra-adorable company made it into the epitome of homecomings; the flowering trees may all bursting forth in NYC (and they’re beautiful) but since I was indoors nearly the whole time I didn’t get to enjoy them. While down there I also picked up the rest of the wine I bought from Mary, and thus was finally able to enjoy a 2005 Jacky Blot “Domaine de la Taille aux Loups” Vouvray that is a tangy, buttery joy with this kind of honest food.

Weekend Update

I’ve been in the city since Friday, doing a bunch of boring, tedious things that are nonetheless important- like finish the kitchen in Brooklyn before the tenants move in. Not my idea of fun in the kitchen. The culinary highlights thus far have been a lovely Seder dinner with relatives and friends and the penne all’arrabiata I made for breakfast this morning. There was no parsley, nor garlic, but there were some old dried chilli peppers, oregano, and herbes de Provence. The can of tomatoes was the puréed kind, so the resulting sauce attained that almost magical school-lunch flavor and texture (in a good way; like the archetype of “red sauce” but with a nice lingering heat.)

Now normally I would have been right out the door to buy the missing ingredients and more, but I’m on a real schedule, with a lot to get done, so I roughed it with what was on hand. It was a funny combination of my two main creative passions; I was literally painting the kitchen while cooking at the same time. The pasta was good enough that I had it for lunch and dinner too. It’s hard to express how happy I will be to get home tomorrow and eat the whole garden.

Morning Coffee

The first things I made in the class were a bunch of these espresso cups. Their form is based on Richard Serra’s torqued ellipses, and I glazed them white then dipped the bottoms in black to refer to the intended contents. I can’t say that they make my coffee taste better, but the experience is definitely more pleasurable.

Plating

I’ve been working at a local ceramic studio since the beginning of the year, and the owner/teacher fired the kiln this weekend. Today I went by to get the first of what should be several more series of plates, bowls, and cups to inspire more detailed cooking and presentation as well as smaller portions. Though I have no training in the field, I’ve always been influenced by Kaiseki cooking; now that the garden is a year-round thing and we’re pickling things and curing meat, I’m determined to take the cooking to a new level of refinement. So what better place to start than the pedestals themselves?*

We had some winning leftovers to work with, so I began with those, and let the garden do the rest. To begin, I made a batch of pie crust- my Grandmother’s recipe. It’s the best in the world. Period. Stamped into circles (with a tuna can) and filled with the rest of the pork from last night, it crimped into some lovely empanadas that I put in the oven and moved on to the soup. We had an excellent fridgestrone from a couple of days ago, with the beans, BBQ chicken bone broth, garden greens, roots, and alphabet noodles. I added some cream and pesto, then stick-blended it into a smooth purée. Once it was simmering, I added shredded sorrel and blended it again.

To complete the meal, steamed broccoli dressed with olive oil and lime juice, a bibb lettuce salad (planted in November; they’re bursting forth in vernal pulchritude) with radishes that are fattening nicely, and more of the shredded root pickle. Each got its own new plate, arrayed on the big ones I made for just this purpose. A good start, but there’s a lot more work to do. And as if all this weren’t enough, we joyously opened our first pink wine of the year: a 2007 Chiateau de Roquefort corail. Their new trainwreck of a label looks as if four different graphic designers collaborated on it, but the wine inside is as good as ever; it’s classic Provençe with strawberries on the nose and then strong acidity and garrigue to cosily escort any warm-weather food whatsoever down your gullet.


*Plus, they make great gifts! And they’re so easy to clean! Order now!

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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