To The Nines

I have not been feeling it in the kitchen- and by extension, here- at all lately; it’s pretty much the norm when I have momentum in the studio (and I have a lot right now.) So on Saturday I ground gears pretty badly trying to get from studio mind to kitchen mind in time to make dinner for Liz and Duncan. It all came together, which was kind of a surprise given the haphazard approach I took. And they brought a 2-part dessert in addition to the one I made. So we had that going for us.

The first course was just a clear broth made from duck neck and offal plus fennel, leek, carrot, onion, ginger, serrano, anise, and clove. It was chilly that night, as it continues to be, so a little bowl of hot and spicy liquid was a nice way to begin. We opened a 1989 Moulin Touchais Côteaux de Layon; it’s made with 20% under-ripe and 80% super-ripe grapes so the acidity from the 20% balances out the sweetness of the rest and makes for a fascinating non-desserty sweet wine that can age forever (they guarantee it for 100 years.)

The wine continued, since I designed the first courses around its affinity for spicy yet delicate food. Course two was sake-steamed king crab legs on a curried cauliflower-dashi gel with a sauce of mussel cooking liquid from a few nights ago; I had steamed them with sake, fresh yuzu juice and peel, garlic, and lemon thyme. To this I added a little ponzu and a drop of agave nectar, and then stick-blended it with Ultratex 8 to make it nice and thick. To complete the plate, a mixture of spirulina, salt, sugar, 5-spice, and sudachi zest plus minced serrano chile as a garnish. This all worked together way better than I had any right to expect.

Next up, a duck smoked on our own applewood with sweet potato gnocchi, dandelion mash (with garlic, ume plums, truffle and olive oils, and lemon juice) and homemade barbecue sauce sweetened with shiro plum-infused sake. To save the whole rolling and cutting step, I just put the gnocchi dough in the pastry bag and cut them right into the boiling water like the pros do. Worked like a charm. To match with this rich and assertive plate- we added kimchi after the picture- a 1999 La Poderina Brunello which performed as admirably as I had suspected it would. These 99s are really something right now.

Then, their dessert: apple compote with coconut ice cream (made from fresh coconut meat and water, with no dairy) and toasted walnuts. Liz really has a thing with these vegan desserts, especially for a non-vegan. And last, as a sort of palate-cleanser, my blood orange-grapefruit sorbet with lemon thyme. A clean finish to a delightful meal- it actually made me miss cooking like this, but probably not enough for me to return to it too often in the near future.

Complements

As if on cue, we got three inches of snow last night. But it doesn’t matter; it’s 40 degrees now, and melting away at a good clip. This time of year the sun moves five sun-widths higher in the sky every week. I didn’t even mind shoveling this morning.

There wasn’t much in the house yesterday, but I did spy a pot of chicken broth (from the carcass of dinner a couple nights ago) mixed with a green puréed garden soup I had defrosted over the weekend. And there was a big bunch of carrots. And some of our homemade crepinettes in the freezer. Once defrosted, I cooked the sausage in the iron pan until good and brown, and then began the risotto process in all that glistening porktacular fat. Meanwhile, I simmered sliced carrots in water and blood orange juice with fresh ginger and turmeric- being too lazy to roast them- until they were nice and soft. I removed the rhizomes and stick-blended the carrots and their liquid plus an ume plum into a nice smooth purée.

The greenish broth and orange carrots kind of canceled each other out, but the result had a rich depth of flavor that set off the sausages beautifully. These were seasoned with lots of garlic, ginger, shichimi, sesame oil, and yuzu juice, so they melded well with the vaguely Asian theme of the rice (I also used sake in place of wine.) We drank a 1999 Francios Parent Vosne-Romanée that did well enough; it’s actually quite good, but a floral white like a Condrieu would have been a better choice.

Warmup

Winter’s back is broken. There’s no doubt about it. A week ago it was almost 60˚, and bare ground now roughly balances the areas still covered in snow. Liquid water is a not-uncommon sight outside during the day. The birds are beginning to go apeshit every morning. And the smell of soil and plants is emerging to mingle with the warming air. I don’t suggest that we aren’t due for several more beat-downs, but there’s no mistaking the signs. And I am happy.

Now I’m the type of guy who starts wearing shorts in March in the hopes that I will fool Nature into warming up faster, but this time around it was a purely culinary nudge. We had a lucky confluence of ingredients in the fridge, and I had a half-recipe of crust left from making a birthday apple tart for a friend down the road. And we loves us some savory tarts.

So, in no particular order, I layered the following onto a thinly-rolled (duh) crust: caramelized onions with lemon thyme and balsamic vinegar, the very last of some canned diced tomatoes, leftover steamed kale, basil pesto, kalamata olives, pine nuts, and some log chèvre. After about 40 minutes in the oven (I don’t usually blind bake these first) it was simultaneously a preview of the best of summer and a big upraised middle finger to the tattered husk of winter that’s skulking away like Dick Cheney to the undisclosed bondage dungeon that he time-shares with Bill O’Reilly.

Clean And Not So Simple

First, the bad news: Milo has spontaneously started saying “Yum-O!” despite having had zero exposure to the Rachael Ray (we have no TV.) I always thought that he would be older- perhaps wrapping our car around a tree- before I would be forced to disown him. But I think we all saw it coming; not even the fact that he looks unbelievably adorable rocking my Grandfather’s vintage and yet totally of-the-minute skinny ties is going to be enough to save our relationship. We had a good run while it lasted.

We’ve been trying to keep it simple lately; I’m busy in the studio and with other projects so dinners have become decidedly unfancy as a result. I think that once the seeds come and I start thinking about the garden I might be inspired to make some more wintry feasts before the menu lurches- by way of a ubiquity of ramps- into spring. It’s also fun, if in a quiet way, to wring interesting meals out of a few non-luxe ingredients. This one was a case in point.

There was a half-bundle of pad thai noodles in the cupboard, so I soaked them in warm water and got some other things going. A container of shredded cabbage that didn’t fit in the kimchi crock made a comforting side after a sautée with fenugreek, coriander, and mustard seeds and then a braise in sake. Half a cucumber, peeled, made a quick little salad with soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Half a bunch of kale got a quick wilt with smashed garlic and a deglaze of lime juice. I made a sauce for the noodles out of peanut butter, sesame oil, a couple of vinegars, nam pla, ginger, kabosu juice, and soy sauce, and dumped the softened noodles into the empty kale pan to cook for a minute before tossing in the sauce along with some leftover sautéed brussels sprouts.

We had some more Ommegang beer- a “Three Philosophers” which is a dark ale to which they’ve added 2% cherry lambic. I didn’t know this, or I wouldn’t have bought it; I think fruity beers are almost as bad as the Rachael Ray. Having said that, 2% was not so overwhelming, and it did go pretty well with the food. Maybe I’ll keep the kid after all; in this economy it might be worth putting some pleated jean shorts on him and giving him a cooking show.

Heckuva Meal

I was away all weekend, so this here was dinner from last Thursday. The night after all the lovely sashimi we had Phase II of the post-Mitsuwa feast. I had bought a small tray of domestic Wagyu-style beef, sliced super-thin for shabu-shabu, and that was the jumping-off point for the meal.

We had dashi left in the fridge, flavored with the black radishes I had pressure-cooked in it, and to that I added all the bones from chicken and waffle night, a full complement of pho spices, and some random vegetable scraps. After cooking for a while, I strained it and brought it back to a good simmer, adding burdock that had cooked separately in a mixture of soy sauce and water until tender and slices of fresh lotus root. Meanwhile, I boiled some big fat fresh udon- my favorite kind- after blanching shredded kale in the water. All of this extraordinary goodness was then duly assembled, adding the meat raw so that it gently cooked in the broth (and some kimchi that’s not in the picture) into a Pan-Asian Orgy Bowl™ of surpassing awesomeness.

That last clause is probably going to generate more Google traffic than this blog has ever seen.

On the side, I caramelized maitake and king oyster mushrooms- both organic- with turkey bacon, garlic, thyme, and a generous splash of tosa soy sauce for maximum umamitude. I had been craving this for a long while, and it did not disappoint. I already want more of it.

Three Is Leather, You Know

I just realized that this blog is three years old as of a couple of days ago. In honor of this momentous millstone milestone, why don’t you all take six or seven hours to go back and reread the entire thing? I’m pretty sure there will be lots of enlightening little details that you missed the first time, and you’ll be glad you did. Some of you may wish to write post-graduate theses on it, and I encourage that.

Yesterday I drove to beautiful Newark to pick up some paintings from a gallery, and to add some much-needed fun to the day I made a little detour to Mitsuwa to stock up on Japanese delicacies. They have some excellent fish there, and I picked a few varieties to make into another wannabe dinner.

First up was beautiful yellowtail with a mixture of our ponzu and watermelon hot sauce. (These weren’t actually served sequentially, but the pictures will be.)

Next, one of my favorites, which nobody else likes- mackerel.

Then, octopus slow-poached in olive oil, and tossed with parsley, pepper, and yuzu juice.

And last (not really, because there was chard cooked with garlic, tamari, and finished with sesame oil that was as good as greens get) I made chirashi with some very sweet and tender unagi, using some re-hydrated Chinese takeout rice from a container in the fridge. I also picked up a bottle of Wakatake “Onikoroshi” Junmai Daiginjo sake and accidentally drank a few glasses with the meal. Onikoroshi means “demon slayer” and while I can’t vouch for that, it is a great match with food: aromatic, very slightly sweet, and a nice alternative to beer (which I almost reached for.)

Roots Rock

The other day I was clicking around, procrastinating, when I found this post about root vegetable latkes. Being as I was in possession of same, I rushed downstairs and got to work. A big beet, a turnip, and 3 carrots (I think) all went quickly through the grating wheel of the food processor, and got tossed around with an egg, a little flour, curry powder, salt, and parsley. There was a lot of the shredded veggie mixture, so I put half of of it aside before adding the egg and flavors, seasoning that half with lots of vinegar, oil, and kimchi juice and putting it in the fridge.

While the pancakes cooked- in just a little olive oil- I rinsed out the processor and spun Greek yogurt, anchovies, and parmigiano together to make a creamy sort of sauce thing. And I opened a quart of our applesauce. And that was dinner, along with a 1999 François Parent Chambolle-Musigny. It has a beautiful nose, the “nez de truffe” (they go so far as to put a truffle on the label) but it’s a little disjointed in the mouth. The color suggests that age is not going to help any. There was a little of the yogurt sauce left over, so I tossed that into the beet slaw mixture that was in the fridge.

The next day, the slaw had achieved a good, rich tang to balance the earthy sweetness of the beets and carrots (the turnip added a nice bright radishy sharpness.) I had an idea to revisit something invented a long time ago- a squash waffle. I mixed half a baked kabocha with flour, eggs, soymilk, yogurt, grated ginger and turmeric, baking powder, salt, 5-spice, and a little sugar to make the batter. As I worked my way through the batter, I dredged chicken thighs in cornmeal seasoned with 5-spice, pepper, salt, and chili powder and set them in the iron pan with a little canola oil. And I made a reduction with pure cranberry juice and maple syrup.

For this one, still as ever feeling the Burgundy urge, I popped a 2001 Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin. It’s funny thing; less exciting aromatically than the Parent, but a bit more elegant to drink. The $20-$30 Burgundy neighborhood can be a frustrating place to hang out.

Chronogram Article

My latest article, a piece on sustainable seafood, is out now in the February issue of Chronogram magazine. Click here to read it.

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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