Enough, Already

So our water heater decided not to die, but to continue producing hot water per normal while quietly leaking for an unknown length of time so that we wouldn’t notice anything until the heat stopped working, by which time all the water had done some unknown amount of damage to the subfloor and the downstairs heat crapped out entirely. I only discovered it because the plumber didn’t fix the heat, so I went down into the crawlspace to explore and saw all the water dripping through the floor. So this meal was made with me being able to see my breath the whole time, boiling a big pot of water to try and heat the kitchen up a little.

I also ran the oven, but at least there was food in there. Sweet potatoes and Japanese yams, cut into “fries” and baking in a little olive oil. OK, more than a little. These were to accompany burgers, as was some wilted kale with garlic and lemon, and a whole bunch of extant embellishments like kimchi, red onion-habañero pickle, aioli, and Dijon-garlic scape pesto. Sound good? They were freaking fantastic. I stubbed my stomach on these big time. The satisfaction was only heightened by the fact that we wore hats to eat. Milo, bless him, gave me half his burger and just ate the kimchi right out of the bowl.

As an additional salve- though strictly for educational purposes, mind you- I opened a 2000 Gros Noré Bandol to see how it matched up against its older sibling. It was pretty cold, so conditions weren’t perfect; I like red wine a little cool, but this was fully chilled. And this is a burly bear of a wine, so differences were on the subtler side. The main takeaway is that I am very glad to have bought both of these cases when I did, since they are drinking beautifully, and am equally sad that I haven’t bought any more.

Today, we got a new hot water heater, and I got to help pull the old one out, mop the mess, rip up some of the soaking plywood, and cut new plywood for the thing to sit on. In a 25˚ woodshop. With a still-unheated downstairs, and no hot water to warm my hands in. And some time-sensitive writing to do. Then, after he left, it quickly became clear that we still had no heat downstairs, so I groped pipes and followed them around to figure out where and why the hotness was notness. And I called the plumber (did I mention that he’s named Joe?) again, and eventually he came back and confirmed my diagnosis. For another $225, he replaced the circulator, bringing our total to just shy of a delightful two grand, right in time for not buying anybody any presents. Ever. I’m going to go with ever.

You know what makes shitty days which follow other shitty days better? OK, yes, heat, that’s a good place to start. Go clean the erasers or something. Kiss-ass. No, the answer I was looking for was DUCK FAT. We hurt ourselves so good on them burgers, I knew something similarly fatly saturated was in order. So on my way back from the post office (yep, I had errands to run, too, and I haven’t even mentioned cancelling my trip to the city) I bought a duck breast and some oyster mushrooms.

How’s that grab you? Nice? Want some more?

THAT’S what I’m talking about. This calorific gorgeousness got all Barry White on the leftover parsnip-celeriac-vanilla purée and a sauce of beef demi-glace, shichimi, apple cider, and clementine juice. I forgot to cook the damned mushrooms, so that’s why the plate is a little empty.

It tasted pretty good nonetheless. We finished off the last of the 2000 Bandol, which was still going strong. And then, celebrating the simple yet profound luxury that is a warm house, we went to bed.

And that’s when Milo started throwing up.

Still A Day Behind

Another two-meal post here, since on weekends I like to spend a little time making lunch. Yesterday it was minestrone, and hoo boy if it wasn’t a good one. The key, as always, was the ingredients, and a little deliberate care in the making. To begin, a broth made from the chicken bones; they had a bit of tomato sauce on them, which added a nice component. I tossed in a carrot and a quarter onion and let them simmer while I did everything else.

Which included sweating onion, garlic, and guanciale, then pressure-cooking chick peas and borlotti beans in that mixture with water, cutting up some more roots, and toasting croutons in the iron pan with garlic, salt, and and pepper. Once the beans were mostly tender, I strained the broth, added the roots (carrot and parsnip) and the beans plus a scoop of acini di pepe- a tiny whole wheat pasta much like couscous. After more simmering, this was as hearty and homey a Sunday lunch as we could have hoped for.

Sirkka had left us some local lamb sausages the other night, so over the course of the day I went through possible ways to cook them. I knew they were middle Eastern in flavor, but wasn’t sure exactly what was in them, so I kept it simple, toning down some of my more elaborate ideas in favor of simple flavors and techniques.

While the sausages cooked in the pan, I pressure-cooked our last cabbage with some seeds: cumin, fennel, caraway, mustard, and coriander, plus a little water and cider vinegar. Meanwhile I steamed a bunch of parsnips with celery root and then puréed them with soymilk, yogurt, and a drop of vanilla. For a little spicy kick, a mixture of Dijon mustard and garlic scape pesto. The other flavors were good, but the sausages were disappointing: too smooth, and with no particular character, they just didn’t deliver. To compensate, a 1998 Gros Noré Bandol more than delivered- it almost made up for it. Really, I don’t understand how it’s possible to make bland sausage- especially with lamb.

Bada Bing

Weekend lunches are usually a treat, because I get to apply myself to them a little more than during the week. Trying as always to be efficient with leftovers, I got all bistro-y for lunch yesterday. Since we had fish and potatoes, I puréed them with a little milk, and egg, and some garlic and baked it all into a nice panko-crusted brandade. While it was in the oven I trudged out and picked a bunch of frisée and curly endive for a salad.

I was playing with ideas for some chicken thighs in the fridge, and settled upon chicken parmigiana- somewhat inexplicably, because I’m not sure I’ve ever made it before. Surprisingly, it’s not very complicated, and both adults and kids love it, which is good, because we had one of each joining us for dinner. I browned the thighs to render some fat, then put them in a baking dish with a sauce I simmered for about an hour or so made from our canned sauce, tomato paste, wine, garlic, onion, olives, capers, and a dribble of agave to balance the wine. On top I crumbled feta and fresh mozzarella, and grated some parmigiano. We ate it on brown rice, and on the side had some winterbor kale I wilted with garlic and a little clementine juice. None remained.

We also put away a 2003 Jaboulet Vacqueyras and a Pleiades XVI. We’re down to the last case, and I will try to be more parsimonious with these 12- though it’s going to be difficult.

Fish On Friday

Continuing in my quest to use all the fish in an interesting and efficient way, I began by making a simple sashimi of the wild salmon and dressing it with a little ponzu. Just beautiful, and so delicious; making your own ponzu is the quickest way to appreciate perfect fish like this.

Next up, I took the rest of the pie crust from pot pie night and rolled and stamped it into 4″ circles. These I filled with a mixture of sweet potato, onion, peas, leftover roasted cauliflower, garam masala, and the last of the creamy root soup from Thanksgiving. I crimped them up (not well enough to keep them together, as you can see) and baked them while I made a sauce to go with them. There was watercress purée left from the night before, so I reheated it with fenugreek, mustard, cumin, and coriander seeds and a little of the soup. We ate these with some of our peach-habañero chutney, and the combinations were just wonderful.

Last, I cut all the various fish (cod, pollock, hake, haddock) into chunks and simmered them with cubes of pumpkin (also left from Thanksgiving) in coconut milk, tomato paste, a dab of green curry, and a little five-spice. The result was an intense chowdery goodness that made us smile warmly on a cold night. The lemon thyme on top was one of those garnishes that really adds a tangible note to a dish and enhances the flavor.

Three: That’s The Magic Number

Another hook-up from the free fish gods provided us with an amazing variety of things to play with. I had wild Alaskan salmon sashimi with ponzu and minced jalapeño for lunch. For dinner, I actually meant to make the rest of the salmon into tartare, but I’ll do it tomorow instead. I forgot because I had haddock, pollock, and cod to deal with.

I began by slicing blue, red, and sweet potatoes into thin rounds and arraying them in such a way as to be Visually Pleasant within the confines of an enameled iron gratin dish. Into this tricolor starch-fest I did pour some Whole Milk, some Spices, good Butter, and Herbs of the exalted Provençal varieties. And I set it to bake in an oven of Moderate Heat, covered with the Efficacious Convenience which is the Foil made from purest Aluminium.

The fishies got a thorough tumble in flour seasoned with a panoply of exotic seed-powders and did fry in an iron pan until such time as they had repented of their sins and were well-cooked. Meantime did watercress steam with garlic, and lemon, and, upon reaching a bright green countenance did undergo the ferocious vortex of a Blender until well-smoothed.

At this juncture did I pull the metal foil from atop the bubbling gratin, and besprinkle the top with panko, and switch the oven to broil, and stand there adjacent so that the top would not brown overmuch. And then I removed the gratin from the oven, and placed it upon a board of finest bamboo so that it would cool a bit, and thus remove less of the flesh from the roofs of our mouths when we ate of it.

To the fish pan I did add some Wine, and some mysterious Oriental sauce made from fermented soya beans, and stirred to release the Brown Bits. And they were released, and rejoiced in their freedom. Thence to the plate went all, beginning with the watercress, and then the fish, and gratin- one kind of potato for each of the three fishes- and last the pan sauce.

And we ate it.

More Cowbell

The guys are back in the studio this week, recording the third of their Radiolarian records, and Billy asked if I could come shoot some more video this afternoon. I could. And like before, I brought some snacks. Chris also brought one of the legs of duck confit I gave him yesterday for his belated birthday (it’s his all-time favorite) along with a kumquat-cranberry-cabernet chutney and the rest of the apricot-chanterelle sauce from Thanksgiving.

From left to right, the last of our gravlax with sudachi-caper emulsion and powdered mustard green oil, duck prosciutto and pear, and guanciale and still more pear. On my way over, I stopped off to get some pepperoncini and crackers, and we had ourselves a quality break between takes. If I had had enough time, or if their studio had better kitchen facilities, I would have made them something more ambitious using all the Japanese bounty they brought me for my birthday, but the nice thing about charcuterie is that it travels well and requires only a knife for serving.

And I totally didn’t kick over any mic stands while shooting the session. It went late, so my lovely wife made her bad-ass penne all’arrabiata and I had some of that waiting for me when I got home. Life is good.

Squaring The Circle

So yesterday was busy, and exciting. I’ll get into the new developments later on. And today was a continuation of the busy, if a little less exciting. By midafternoon, when I had a minute to breathe, it occurred to me that whipping up some pizza dough would provide us with a good substrate for whatever was in the fridge come dinner time. And I knew there was some good mozzarella in there, which kind of prompted the whole operation.

I use the Silver Spoon pizza crust recipe when time doesn’t allow for doing a pre-ferment overnight, though I use 50% whole wheat flour and adjust the hydration accordingly. Our laundry/furnace room is perfect for rising dough, since this time of year it’s a cozy 75˚ or so. Three hours is usually sufficient. And the Boy Wonder is getting pretty good at rolling out the dough.

Since I double the recipe, we get two pies; one I kept pretty traditional with tomato sauce, green mash, and mozzarella; the other was a custom job- roasted balsamic-glazed pumpkin, guanciale, and feta. The first one was good, and hit all the requisite pizza flavor notes enhanced by the additional spank of the bitter greens. The second one? Was INSANE. I knew as soon as I thought of it that the combination would be one of those seamless, sweet-savory, umami-licious home runs, and I was right.

And because pizza is not always the healthiest choice, I made sure that this had green and orange veggies as well as the whole grain, with not so much cheese on the feta one and paper-thin guanciale slices all over the pumpkin. A little of the jowl goes a long way. And, for the fifth food group, because I can’t stay away from them, another Pleiades XVI. Don’t say I didn’t warn you; there will not be any more of this wine made, and you will die a poorer person if you don’t taste it while you can.

Three Meals

It probably goes without saying that I was pretty tired of cooking, so after ordering pizza for Friday night it was a great treat to join a whole bunch of friends at Swami Bruce’s place for a giant meal prepared by Lillian, an editor at Gourmet. She threw down some serious fried chicken with a million delicious sides (among which, roasted cauliflower, braised cabbage, chip-addictive romaine salad) and we made it all disappear. What a pleasure it was to be cooked for for a change. So come Sunday, I had regained a little energy and we made a couple of good meals while outside we got our first dusting of snow. Which soon enough turned to rain, sparing me from having to go cover the garden.

For lunch, since we had not shopped since the middle of last week, I busted out some uncharacteristically unflavored fettucine with the help of my now-useful kitchen sidekick, Milo. He’s a champ with the hand-crank, and made it almost all the way through the flat-rolling and the noodle-cutting before he got tired. He’s so excited to help cook whenever he can now, and has the motor and listening skills to do it properly. When I put the water on to boil, I also put a pint of our home grown-and-canned tomato sauce to simmer with the last glug of Thanksgiving’s heavy cream. Think cream of tomato soup, but reduced to a sweet thickness that causes one to require a change of undies, topped with a healthy bump of black pepper and truffle-oil lube.

For dinner, I defrosted a rabbit, broke it down, browned the bits, caramelized mirepoix, deglazed with wine, and set to simmer very low for three hours with fennel, carrots, parsnips, herbs, and quartered dried figs. And that’s what we ate, over reheated brown rice, with a side of kale and Brussels sprout leaves braised with leeks and a little lemon juice.

It was good, but not great; I was still seriously kitchened out and did not give this the extra seasonings and attention that would have elevated and unified the flavors to something special. But it did the job, and furnished us with ample leftovers for tonight. I’m always looking for ways to combine as many of the strays and orphans in the fridge as possible into one of these remnants-themed dinners, so tonight the rabbit stew became the foundation for the meal, along with meat pulled from bones and chopped (I was surprised and delighted to find the offal still there) plus a duck fat roux, fresh turnip, parsnip, and carrot, white wine, some roasted roots and garlic from last week and enough water to get the consistency right. I added some of our frozen peas to the mixture just before capping it with a slump of Grandma Trude’s best-in-the-world pie crust.

While last night was a little lean and discombobulated flavor-wise, tonight’s remix was fully combobulated. Like, it had massive, thunderous sawtooth sub-bass and a totally addicitve dubstep hook that wouldn’t let us go. Freakin’ fantastic. Stews shold never be eaten on the first day if at all possible. And adding garlic-heavy roasted roots to a stew? Unbelievable. Still another Bret Bros. Pouilly Fuissé (I have GOT to buy some more white before I polish these off) was a brilliant match on every level.

This One Also Went To Eleven

After three days of work, occasional stress, and a couple of failures (this molecular gastronomy thing is not an improv-friendly medium) the day arrived and I threw down another eleven course meal- although with a very different feel than last year. The number eleven was coincidental, though now it’s probably going to have to become a tradition. Lucky me.

The more casual and homey vibe was the direct result of my markedly lower level of preparedness for the meal; up until this morning a bunch of the dishes hadn’t taken shape in my mind, so I just busied myself with the components I knew I needed and let the rest work themselves out. The last couple of bursts of inspirado actually happened in the middle of last night; Milo woke me up, as he has been lately by coming into our bed, and during the tossing and turning portion of the program I seized upon the remaining details for a couple of dishes.

Here’s the play-by-play, in order. The wines overlapped courses, since there weren’t enough drinkers to put away a bottle with each course.

First, since the marshmallows I tried to make from the El Bulli cookbook didn’t quite work out, as an amuse-bouche we had home-cured salmon with a sudachi-caper emulsion and scallion cream. It was like bagels and lox without the bagel.

Next, a little charcuterie plate of the newly ready batch of duck prosciutto and the pâté we made the other day: pork with brandied figs and pistachios.

Then, salad: fennel and jicama tossed with a silky avocado cream (avo, lime, oil) passed through a tamis and then dressed with my version of everyone’s favorite takeout sushi place carrot-ginger dressing- an emulsion of carrot and ginger juice with sesame oil, ponzu, and our watermelon hot sauce. We changed over from the Champagne to a 1999 Kistler Vine Hill chardonnay.

Next came the soup: a strained purée of leek, yam, black radish, and celery root in chicken broth.

I bought some scallops yesterday and brined them in kimchi juice, since I had made a batch a couple of weeks ago to be ready for this dinner. Kimchi juice is a wonderful brine. I sliced them thin and garnished them with our homemade ponzu and minced jalapeños.

Here, we turned a corner and began the heartier, more wintry dishes. To go with the pork and beans (brined pork belly cooked sous-vide at 65˚ C for 8 hours and then seared, with scarlet runner beans pressure-cooked in dashi, served with kimchi and our barbecue sauce) I opened one of our dwindling supply of Pleiades XVI. It’s superb, and this is the kind of food it does best with.

Traditional Thanksgiving flavors appeared here in the form of duck confit atop a confit/gratin of sweet potato I made by baking rounds of spud in spiced cream on low heat for three hours. The purple wiggles were beet juice-cabernet noodles made by blending the juice with methylcellulose and then filling a syringe with the juice and injecting it into simmering water. Around this time I opened and decanted a 1999 Barolo “Marasco” by Franco Martinetti. And yes, that’s crispy duck skin on top.

For red meat, a little roulade of lamb neck; I saw the neck at the butcher’s and grabbed it, then trimmed, seasoned it with ras-el-hanout, rolled it up with activa, and vacuum-sealed it so it would hold its shape. Once set, I rubbed it with a sage-rosemary-garlic pesto and browned then braised it in wine for six hours until meltingly tender, and served it on slow-caramelized turnips with some of the jus. For the sauce, I simmered dried chanterelles and dried apricots until soft, then blended and strained them, adding cream, to finish. The inspiration for this combination came from Khymos, where this month’s “They Go Really Well Together” is chanterelle and apricot; they share a similar flavor compound and the idea lodged in my head until the lamb neck came along. They do go really well together, and with lamb neck. To complete the orgy of awesomeness, I puréed some of our raw mustard greens with garlic and oil, then strained it to make a bright green mustard oil.

As a bridge to the desserts, next up was seared foie gras with our grape jelly- disolved in wine, then reduced so that it jelled on contact with a cool plate- and peanut butter powder made by mixing fresh-ground peanut butter (unsalted) with tapioca maltodextrin. Everyone enjoyed the rich riff on PB&J.

Then, sweets. Christine made my Mom’s cheesecake again, but this time we made a spiced pumpkin purée with a little gelatin and spread it on top, then topped it with a cranberry-cabernet glaze once the pumpkin gelled. Dreamy.

And last, a barely-sweetened dark chocolate mousse I originally planned to make into ice cream but it was so damn good that I left it alone. A few cocoa-dusted coffee beans garnished this very adult conclusion to the meal.

Leave Your Message After The Beep

I spent most of the day preparing for Thursday. In no particular order, I trimmed a deboned lamb neck, seasoned it with ras-el-hanout, sprinkled it with activa, rolled it up, gave the outside a good rub with a sage-rosemary-garlic paste, and vacuum-sealed it to set it in a nice torchon. I made a chanterelle-apricot sauce with cream for the lamb. I made chicken broth from last night’s carcass. I made the custard for the barely-sweetened dark chocolate-espresso ice cream. I made savory walnut marshmallows, adapted from the El Bulli cookbook. I brined a hunk of pork belly, and cooked the pork terrine with pistachios and calvados-cider soaked figs in the water bath for four hours at 66˚ C.

There was probably some other stuff too. It’s particularly funny because I’m still not sure what I’m making. I’m tired. I made osso buco for dinner, on brown rice, with steamed yellow cauliflower, the mustard-heavy green mash left from yesterday, and a wonderful jus made from the braising liquid reduced with some beef demi-glace. We had a 1999 Ciacci Brunello. Milo, ecstatic, ate all of our marrow. It was good. I’m going to bed.

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.

Rage Against The Vitrine

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