Sesshed Out

Yesterday was the guys’ last day in the studio working on the second of their three Radiolarian records, so I brought some snacks by around dinner time to help get them across the finish line. I had an idea the other day for a Thai curry custard- kind of a cross between a chawan-mushi and a pôt-de-crème. So I took some coconut milk and chicken broth, simmered them with green curry paste, Thai and lime basil, ginger, and garlic, then strained the mixture and whisked into some egg yolks. I steamed the custard in little bowls until firm.

Prompted by an impatient Milo, we had cut open an unripe honeydew the other day. Not wanting to waste it, I cut it up and put it all in jars of kimchi juice (one had some olive brine in it too) to make quick pickles. We had some duck breasts in the freezer, so I plopped one in the water bath at 52˚ C for an hour, then seared it up to crisp the skin. Wanting to make a good sauce from our immediate surroundings, I mashed the last of the blackberries with some shiso, brown rice syrup, and a little reduced riesling and then strained it.

Here’s a hungry Chris eyeing the duck with impure intent. We served the duck on the pickled melon, with the sauce on top, after we ate the custards. I also made more spicy green beans, this time with just-cured Asian-flavored guanciale; I made four jowls, but gave one a different cure with five-spice, ginger, cardamom, bay, and togarashi. It doesn’t suck, in fact so much that it’s an open question whether it even gets to dry before we use it all.

John “only” had Thackrey‘s wine at the studio, so we were forced to drink a 2000 and 2002 Aquila, followed by a 2005 Orion and another 2005 Orion. It was tough, but we choked it all down. I’m insanely jealous that they are going to be barrel-tasting all his new wines next week at his place. After we finished this simple repast, they went back to work and I shot some video of it for Billy. Then Sirkka showed up with some serious after-snacks from Elephant. Another rough day at the office.

Collaboration

On short notice, we went over the Chris & Sirkka’s place for dinner. Chris and the guys are recording, so we tried to time it for his return home. After some consultations about ingredients, we brought over a few things and all got to work while the kids played. I stuffed some of their crookneck squash with a mixture of sautéed squash necks, onion, garlic, and crabmeat, then covered them with breadcrumbs and parmigiano. Sirkka dug and roasted some potatoes (their garden is incredible) and Christine sautéed chard with some of our lardo.

They had bought some escolar and scallops, and marinated the scallops in wine and soy sauce, so we seared them and deglazed the pan with the marinade plus agave nectar to make a sauce. I minces a cucumber and a serrano to make a little salsa/salad to go with it and cut through the richness. This is exactly the kind of dish I had in mind when I made these plates, but we never used them before I gave them to Sirkka for her birthday. We polished off an open bottle of a Trimbach pinot gris.

Chris threw the fish on the fire when he got home, and we put everything else on the table. Damn fine. We brought our last Choffelet-Valdenaire Givry, and it was an excellent match. The end.

Curried Garden

Coconut curry is one of our go-to mindless meals; it’s healthy, delicious, infinitely malleable, and suited to weather of all seasons. This time of year, all I have to do is push my metaphorical shopping cart through the garden and toss in everything that looks good. Today’s specials were carrots, red and green onions, zucchini, beans, tomatoes, Thai and lime basil, cilantro sprouts, and nasturtium leaves.

With the addition of half a can of coconut milk and some cubed (local) tofu- plus the requisite spices it made for a perfect, easy dinner. I had a good amount of our giant cabbage left over from a fresh batch of kimchi I made in the morning, so I braised it in Riesling and ras-el-hanout for a nice green side dish. And speaking of Riesling and no-brainers, that is in fact what we drank: a 2007 Peter Stolleis Kabinett Trocken Haardter Herzog, which was perfectly nice with the food. The most interesting thing about the wine was the glass stopper used in place of a cork- I’ve never seen it before- with a thin plastic gasket that I can’t imagine would keep its seal over a long period. But this is not a wine meant for aging, and I applaud the recyclability.

Partying Like It’s Millenovecentonovantanove

John came over on his one free night before the touring begins again; it’s always a treat to have some real time with him since he’s so busy and we usually get together in bigger groups for dinner parties. I didn’t have a lot of time to put together anything fancy, but this time of year the ingredients are so great that they really just need to be arranged on a plate. We began with a corn soup I whipped out- simmered kernels with onion, puréed, strained, added butter, seasoned, garnished with serrano, truffle oil, pepper, and chive. It was an excellent match with the 1992 Fiorano semillon that John brought; another wonderful part of having him over solo means that we can break out the very best wine and enjoy multiple glasses of it. Read the piece about it- it’s a great story, and having tasted it, it seems even more appropriate that the new Ferrari is also named Fiorano- it was a fascinating, complex creature, and more than lived up to its fairy-tale reputation.

As the white evolved, I made another course to show it in a different light. Crisp lardons of our bacon- amazingly, there’s a little left- served with kimchi warmed in a little bacon fat and topped with a quail egg gently fried in still more of the bacon fat. Simple, but rich and deep, and it tied bacon and eggs to pork and cabbage pretty handily. With this course, the wine tasted less like sherry and more like a sort of dry burgundian dessert wine, if that makes any sense.

For the main course, it was simple Summer picnic food all the way. Chicken legs grilled with a simple spice rub, penne with basil-sorrel-nasturtium pesto, two kinds of heirloom tomatoes with salt and oil, wilted chard, sautéed zucchini, local black trumpet mushrooms with garlic and calvados, and tomatillo salsa. There are so few weeks when the heat of the sun comes back to you through the food on your plate, and we are in the thick of that time right now. Corn, pesto, and tomatoes especially are so beautiful and this meal let them all do what they do best.

For the wines, we started with a 1999 Solaia, which is dense, rich, and gorgeous- tasting the way a Cali cab wishes it could be, with all the structure, leather, and spice, but none of the cloying sweet fruit- everything is so seamless and integrated. Next up, a 1999 Giusto di Notri, which did all the same things but with a completely different personality. The two together made for an excellent mini-study of Super-Tuscans from that year. For desert, John brought a 1999 Fèlsina vin santo, and we paired it with a Roquefort. Pure beauty, and another astonishing glimpse of Tuscany nine years ago.

Pizza

In the cooler weather, I’ve been craving homemade bread, but as a lead-in pizza crust did the trick. To give it some extra zing, I thought to grill it in order to avoid heating the house up with a 500˚ oven. We made two: a Margherita, and a zucchini, onion, tomato, olive, and herb. the olives came from elsewhere. We grew the rest, and the flour and cheese were local. Our tomatoes are peaking, so they made their own sauce. The grill imparts such a lovely, smoky flavor; it’s like a BBQ-inflected wood-oven job. It also handsomely contrasts crisp and chewy as the botom gets dark brown and the top stays blond. I used our customary half white-half whole wheat dough to get the best of both worlds.

To drink, a Pleiades XVI- I just learned that he’s done making it- the vineyard is no longer his to work with, due to outbidding or other nefarious development- so this is the last year for it. I just ordered another case, and I have to say that I am more than a little sad to see the passing of America’s best wine under $25. For any of you who see a bottle- especially if you live on the West coast- buy it. It’s the greatest pizza (or anything) wine you’ve ever had. The only thing mitigating my grief at this change is the fact that he’ll be rolling out three or four new wines, including a white.

There’s No Place Like Home

I am so happy to be back, and just working in the studio until it’s time to make dinner, with an occasional break to garden a bit so the perfection of these days doesn’t pass me by. Right before starting this meal, I finished a drawing that looks like wallpaper that William Morris would have designed if he’d had access to certain indole alkaloids.

We eat a lot of salmon; it’s delicious, healthy, and most of all if it’s wild and Alaskan, it’s sustainable and not overburdened with heavy metals. But the regularity does put some pressure on me to come up with new ways to prepare it. Or not. This time around, I did nothing original, but the fish was so lovely that it didn’t need too much help (or heat) to make it sublime.

First off, a tartare with lime, chive, olive and sesame oils, and red onion- atop a cucumber salad with cider vinegar, lime basil, shiso, parsley, and more olive oil. The nasturtium flowers added visual ooh and that clean, peppery crunch for which they are justifiably prized.

Milo eats almost everything from the garden, if not all the time. But green beans are a no-go. To make this into a net gain, I use the opportunity to make them screaming hot szechuan-style and we adults scarf them like crazy. They’re madly addictive, and I’m getting closer to that magic Chinatown flavor. So second, a sashimi with the hot oil/ponzu treatment and another heaping bowl of the spicy green beans plus wilted radish sprouts thinned from the fall crop and quinoa for some grainy goodness. I tossed the quinoa in the almost-empty cucumber salad bowl so it picked up the dressing and leftover bits for extra flavor.

We opened the perfect companion for food like this: a Bret Bros. Pouilly Fuissé. I already reviewed it here, and I’m unlikely to do better, so there you go. We’ve got half a case left.

White On Rice

Chioggia beets occasionally lack any of the brilliant pigment that gives them their gorgeous candy-striping; the result is a pure white beet. One of the shades of rainbow carrot we planted is also a beautiful, creamy white, and since I had planned to make carrot risotto- oh, smoked duck broth in the freezer, how I love thee- combining the white roots with the white rice seemed like a neat idea. I roasted the roots with some garlic cloves and oil, then stick-blended them with milk, parmigiano, and truffle oil into a thick purée. I forgot my color theme and used a red onion, but by the time all was finished there were only a few flecks of purple left. The duck broth gave it a gorgeous smoky depth, and the roasted roots added earthy sweetness- and surprise, too, since they were invisible.

Our first eggplant got Milo really excited, so we picked it and cooked it down with a perfect plum tomato, garlic, parsley, basil, and cider vinegar to make a lovely little batch of ratatouille that I served on top of the rice with wilted beet greens and garlic on the side. In addition, our black krim tomatoes are in, so we had fat slices of those dressed only with Maldon salt. The effect of just that salt on those tomatoes is much the same as that which a particularly hot pair of undies have on a particularly fine and otherwise unadorned female body. A bottle of 2005 Latour Bourgogne was decent, but tightly wound and nowhere near as good as the Faiveley from the other night. The fact that post-”Sideways” they’ve written “Pinot Noir” on the label in big letters with “Bourgogne” smaller below it is a pretty lame sign of their intended audience.

Vermont

We met family and friends in Vermont for the weekend, and I finally got some much-needed rest. Friday we had beautiful steaks that I grilled outside along with copious zucchini from our garden, plus kale sautéed with lardo and lemon. I marinated the steaks in wine, soy sauce, and rice vinegar for an hour before grilling, and we drank (after some rosé) a 1997 Beringer reserve cab that was just as good as steak wine gets. Perfect.

The next night I took a whole rabbit we also brought up and broke it down into chunks (with the bones still on, and organs reserved for extra flavor.) It made a lovely stew with our lardo, turnips, onion, carrot and herbs, plus a bottle of beer, some of John’s leftover beef broth, dried currants, and cumin and cinnamon for a little Moroccan edge. The combination of lardo and light beef broth enhanced the rabbit flavor without overpowering it at all, and the sweet currants and Mahgreb spices gave it a gently exotic perfume. To emphasize this theme, I sautéed some of our rainbow carrots in a little butter, then added more cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne, plus lemon juice and a little maple syrup. We made more kale, and brown rice. John took the picture with his iPhone, which might have something to do with why it’s so blurry. We drank more rosé and then a 2005 Faiveley Bourgogne.

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Three meals here- all made in haste- but sharing a profound pleasure at being home and taking dictation from the garden. The first was a beautiful trout that our neighbor gave us a while back, which I cooked en papillote (my preferred method for trout) with thyme and shallots. To accompany, a salad of cucumber, cherry tomato, and red onion from the garden, dressed with cider vinegar and good olive oil. I refried some rice from the fridge with dried shrimp, tofu, corn from a leftover cob, and a random glug each of rice vinegar, nam pla, soy sauce, mirin, and sesame oil. I’m pretty sure we drank another Givry.

Next, Chris and Nissa came over (Moms were in the city together.) I had been to Fleisher’s earlier buying pig jowls to make more guanciale- they obligingly let me in on a non-retail day and cut the four jowls off of two heads while I waited- so while there I grabbed some of their excellent brats and dogs from the freezer as well. The sausages grilled up really nicely, and played well with braised cabbage, escarole mash, and kimchi from the garden plus a big bowl of brown rice. It was a pleasure to eat garden greens in three forms: raw, pickled, and slow-cooked, and the kids had fun combining different garnishes with the meat to find the best bite. Chris brought a 2004 Latour Chassagne-Montrachet, and it kept the Dads very happy.

Last, I saw some local tomatillos at the store and once again broke my rule and bought some. Spun with lime, serranos, and cilantro, they made for a flourescently flavorful salsa that we ladled onto whole wheat tortillas topped with shredded chicken thighs I simmered in a fraudulent yet delicious adobo sauce (onion, garlic, spice powders, tomato paste, water) and re-steamed rice. We’re loving the brown rice these days, in case you hadn’t noticed. Short-grain, that is. We drank a Sicilian rosé, the name of which escapes me, but I’m not going to schlep downstairs to write it down and then come back up here to record it. $12. Delicious. Deftly handled acid, spice, and chicken fat, throwing off strawberries and herbs as it did so. Ergo: rosé.

Payoff

The summer of back-to-back-to-back-to-back physically and mentally demanding projects is over. There are some chores left, but nothing monumental. It’s such a pleasure to look back instead of forward on all this work. And it’s great to be home.

The pyramid went together easily, and painted up nice and garish- as befits a piece for a big rock festival. It was on the hill in the VIP area, so a bunch of bands did interviews in front of it. At night, with the lights all around, it kind of looked like a psychedelic dalek. So it had that going for it.

Not much culinary news, though there’s a new and damn fine wood-oven pizzeria a block from our place in Brooklyn, which is both a joy and a sure sign that the neighborhood has really arrived. From a sheer pleasure and excitement point of view, though, the best bites of the week were the snacks at the backstage after party on Saturday night; the roster for the festival included a bunch of acts I don’t know or like, but Cat Power was there, and the Kings of Leon, and the Roots, and best of all these five polite and charming young English chaps who closed out the first two nights with a combined five hours of pretty astonishing work.

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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