Whey Cool

I was lucky enough to have stumbled onto an invitation to a cheesemaking demonstration at a nearby home today. It was great, and perfectly timed; despite my familiarity with various forms of old school kitchen arcana, cheese has been something I have had no hands-on experience with. Until today. We made cheddar, which will be ready in six or so weeks. I’m going to order some cultures and rennet as soon as the kitchen is done, but in the meantime a happy byproduct of today’s class was a half gallon of (raw, local) whey which I got to bring home.

I spent much of the class extolling the virtues of whey as an ingredient, specifically as a sous-vide vehicle for meat. Since I didn’t have time to cook sous-vide tonight (and the water bath is half taken apart for maintenance) I made do with marinating a lamb leg steak in whey, salt, rosemary, garlic, and 5-spice for an hour or so while I got other things together. We had some nice sweet potato purée from Friday, so I whisked in some already hydrated Methocel F50 from the fridge and sort of knocked spoonfuls of it into simmering water to make free-form gnocchi that ended up being pretty appealing contemporary teardrop shapes by complete accident. I left them in the hot water until it was time to serve.

In another pan, I melted some pâté fat that sits in a little jar in the fridge next to similar jars of goose, duck, smoked duck, and random mixed fats. Yes, it takes up some space, but we have a big shiny new fridge and there’s nothing like having your very own Lipid Museum™ to call upon at times like this. Into this complex orange goodness (pimentón played a part in the pâté seasoning) I threw leek, onion, and garlic, followed by burdock, turnip, and daikon. After a bit of a sizzle, I poured in the remainder of a bottle of white wine and a good glug more of whey, then covered the pan and let it all simmer.

Next up, the lamb: I whisked it from its milky bath, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence, and tossed it in a hot-ass iron skillet (lubed with more pâté fat) to get a thorough brown on both sides while I reduced the whey marinade, skimming and then straining it to remove the unsightly protein clots. Once the roots were soft, I threw in a handful of frozen peas, and removed the meat from the skillet. I deglazed said skillet with the whey reduction, and then whisked in a good dollop of last summer’s basil/sorrel/nasturtium leaf pesto from the freezer to make a sauce.

The result was pretty good. Meat and whey have such a sympatico; it’s like a cheeseburger where the cheese is inside the meat. And the gamey lamb flavor melded with the cowiness of the whey to form a sort of hybrid half-goat cheese hologram that floated over the plate while we ate. The veggies liked it too, and it unified all the various components– including the sauce– into facets of the same gem. A pro would have added a smidge of agar or gelatin to the gnocchi so that as they cooled they would have stayed together, since methylcellulose un-gels at room temperatures. But in this case it was fun to see how the formerly firm gnocchi slowly reverted to simple, artful daubs of purée over time.

All Together Now

One one level, this was a pretty straightforward meal: local ribeyes, a gratin, polenta, and mushrooms. On another level, though, it was, well, on a whole other level. The polenta was leftover from a few nights before, and thoroughly congealed–as is the wont of polenta. I brought it back to a pleasing pourability by whisking in some homemade beef stock, local butter, and lots of pepper. The maitake mushrooms got a long, slow sear until they were richly browned, and then I deglazed the pan with the umami-boosting blend of soy sauce, sake, and beef stock, letting them simmer a bit in the liquid to reduce it. The gratin is the first draft of an idea I had last week while out for a walk with the family (there’s nothing like a good walk for getting one’s think on). It was thinly sliced turnip alternated with mandolined ribbons of fennel and leek, and baked in buttermilk with good local cheese on top. I broiled it for a few minutes at the end uncovered to get a good brown on the cheese and evaporate a bit of the liquid.

The steaks–seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence–got the now-standard sear in butter and finish with grated lardo. Whether or not I have the time or inclination to sous-vide a steak, this treatment is hard to beat. When the new stove arrives, I’m anticipating a whole new world of searing; losing this easy-bake™ piece of shit cooktop will be among the highlights of my life. In the meantime, we make do. The little extra care with each component really made this into a satisfying plate of food. To drink, a 2007 Domaine des Vallettes Borgueil. Not expensive, and a delightful Cab Franc after about an hour in the decanter.

Posting is going to be erratic for the next few weeks as I wrestle with the kitchen, but I’ll get to it when I can. (I’ll take lots of pictures of the takeout food I eat while the family is in Florida and I have no functioning appliances.)

Sic Semper Tyrannosaurus

We’re really into quail these days, especially fried after a soak in buttermilk. But since I hate to do much of anything the same way twice, this time around I tinkered with a few things, and came up with an excellent idea for a fancier future version, using a quasi-legal ingredient that I just stumbled upon. They soaked in buttermilk, just like always, and had a dredge in seasoned flour before frying. I made a sautée/braise of red cabbage and turnip with wine and cider vinegar to go with, and used the hot oil to make chips from a few leftover king oyster mushrooms as an extra special garnish.

But man, these little birds. They’re so freaking tasty. And lazy man that I am, I love buying them semi-boneless; they’re like little chicken-fried lollipops. And best of all, unlike a chicken, you can’t gorge on them because they’re too tiny. One quail = one serving. Unless you make more of them in the first place, but that would be wrong. My next dinner party is going to feature these tiny dinosaurs as well as I can possibly make them, including a condiment that flirts with danger and intrigue. Stay tuned.

Duck-Billed Platitudes

Beginning last night, it rained for about 36 hours straight. The stream out back rose to the highest I’ve ever seen it, and it got to 60˚ outside- warm enough that it was noticeably warmer outside than in, especially in the outbuildings. It’s great to have March weather in January, but the problem is that I’m noticing some swelling in the buds of a few things around the house; if this keeps up, I’m afraid everything that wakes up will be cruelly punished by the hard cold that is sure to follow. Today was 40˚, and tonight it will get down into the 20s, so winter is back whether we like it or not. In a way, I’m kind of relieved, because it was getting awfully easy to imagine that we’d skipped February altogether, and that there was a recipe for heartbreak.

It’s amazing to me how much nostalgia can be triggered by shifts in the weather; spring and fall continue to be astonishing in their evocative power. Having a child also cues all sorts of long-dormant memories, so the result can be kind of overwhelming. Watching torrents of water rush over the field and pond in the yard brought back all sorts of highly specific sensations from the distant past. There’s something about the sight of water flowing on top of ice and snow that takes me back to those woods of my childhood that I explored so completely over the seasons and years.

An accidental sort of dinner fell together while I pondered such things as time, and mortality, and why I even bother buying Burgundies that cost less than $50 any more. I had soaked some triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid, grown locally and organically) with an eye towards doing something with it, but then did something else entirely, so it soaked for 24 hours. Inspired by the bowl of wet grain, I took the bones from a couple of ribeyes (post to follow soon) which I had broken down prior to cooking, so they were raw, and made a stock with them using carrot, onion, parsley, star anise, leek, and cloves. It simmered for a couple of hours, since I thought to get it going in the afternoon. Once ready, I strained it and used it for the grain cooking liquid, adding in diced carrot, leek, and fennel to add more flavor and texture. And let it go. These grains are tough to cook; they need a ton of time to soften up and it was a close call–having soaked them made all the difference.

Once they approached done (though still with a pleasingly gut-scouring firmness to their outer layer) I got some duck sausages going in a pan. Once browned all around and cooked through, I removed them and deglazed the pan with white wine, pouring the result into the grain pot to add extra fondtastic depth of flavor. And that was pretty much it, with parsley to finish. The little things made big differences here: the quality of the sausage and stock, the freshness of the grain (and the soaking) helped a bowl of very simple food get some complex work done in the flavor department. I like this grain, but next time I’ll use the pressure cooker to get a quicker result; it has lots of nutty character and can hold up to a ton of abuse, making it a good candidate for all sorts of braise-type things.

As for the Burgundy, another 1er cru Givry (though this time a 2006) well, all I can say is that I should open these two days before I drink them. It’s the only way to tell of they’re any good. I’m going to save money by cooking peasant food and then spend it on real wine. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Sea Minus

A recent trip to a nearby market that traffics in decent seafood occasioned a bit of a spree on account of our regular fish guy has been on hiatus for a spell. That drought is over next week, but in the meantime we’ve had to content ourselves with fish of less than exquisite pedigree. We ended up with a bag of mussels and a wild yellowfin steak. Not too shabby, just not of a freshness we have now become irrevocably accustomed to.

The mussels–a perennial favorite, with a baguette purchased specially for soppage–got a brief, hard schwitz over a bed of onion, leeks, fennel, garlic, real Palacios chorizo, herbs, and white wine, then a dusting of parsley. Not exactly plump, and a bunch had to be thrown out on account of their being, uh, DEAD (in itself an improvement over the last bag purchased at a different local market last summer, in which EVERY SINGLE FUCKING MUSSEL was dead) but they tasted pretty good. And the resulting juice? Was really really good. So good, in fact, that I changed seahorses in midcurrent and used it for a sauce for the tuna.

Now normally the leftover mussel-cooking liquid is the kind of culinary casualty that you either accept as a given or do your damnedest to thwart, waving your damp toast menacingly at the server who strays too close to the bowl with an eye towards clearing it. But then you’re too full of bread to finish your main course, and end up bringing home a soggy burger or chops in the kind of plastic container that you can’t recycle. And at that point, it’s hard to see why you even bothered to go out to dinner in the first place, outside of some misplaced liberal guilt about providing employment for the ex-cons and meth-heads in your town.

So I took the mussel liquid, along with all of its attendant chunks of stuff, and poured it over the tuna. I’m pretty sure there was some polenta under there, or something similar. Memory fails. By looking at the picture below, observant readers will be able to discern the following:

1. My knives need sharpening.
2. I couldn’t even be bothered to throw some greenery at this.
3. The tuna is pretty well cooked, though I didn’t trim it very thoroughly before cooking.

All of these are in fact true. Having said that, though, I may just have stumbled on a truly sublime use for leftover shellfish liquor, because this was extremely good to eat. There’s a refined version of this now waiting in the wings for the chance to strut and fret its hour upon the blog, but it will have to keep waiting until I have some guests worth the effort.

Necessity Is A Mother

Last weekend I was out and about doing “research” for an upcoming piece on beer, and so I called my buddy Mike to see if he wanted to join me on one of my stops. He did. When I picked him up, he gave me a tour of their new (not so new, really, but the first time I’ve been there) place, including their enviable barn/shop/still room out back. They plant a few things just for the deer, and if he hasn’t got one the hard way by the end of the season, he just leans out the window and shoots one of the dozen or so grazing in the back yard come season’s end.

So when I dropped him off, running late to get home for dinner, they hooked me up not only with elderberry jam and a steaming container of just-made venison stew but also with frozen backstrap and ground meat to boot. Soon enough–last night, to be exact–the latter found itself pressed into service as chili. Particularly good chili at that, due to some prescient stock-making by yours truly the night before. We had a bunch of beef bones and trimmings in the freezer, and noodle soup was in order, so I roasted the bones and then simmered them with the trimmings, charred onion, carrot, peppercorns, and parsley stalks for three hours or so. I removed the edible meat and strained the stock to make some nice soba soup with beef, caramelized oyster mushrooms, kimchi, and shredded kale.

The remainder of the stock got reduced for about six more hours and then stored in the fridge. When it came time to make the chili, said stock provided a much-needed foundation; I added it to the venison, spices, and minced onion after a bit of a sautée and let it simmer while the white kidney beans pressure-cooked to al dentitude. Some tomato paste, more herbs and spices (including 5-spice, pimentón, piment d’Espelette, cumin, and ancho powder) and another hour or so of simmering bought it to a happy place of harmony and depth but without too much heat. (The child precludes spicy dishes; we add capsaicin after the fact with a variety of condiments, some homemade). In this case, it was from a small jar of Yammi (¡con aji!) brand chili paste brought especially for us from Peru by another friend last fall.

But not too much; as good as this hot sauce is, I didn’t want to cock-block the wine- a 2008 Cerghino/Smith Cabernet Franc. It’s 90% Cab Franc from the NY Finger Lakes bolstered by 10% Cali Petite Sirah, so the tangy, low-alcohol tartness is fattened up a bit with their almost cartoonishly purple Petite juice and its attendant white peach/apricot-scented jammy win. Smooth tannins wrapped right around the chili; this is a meat-lover’s wine. I think it might be better still with a lower percentage of Petite–the disparity in influence is kind of shocking–but I trust their judgement. 90% local is OK by me. Full disclosure: they gave me this bottle, so it matched the gifted theme in a couple of ways.

F Is For Effort

Sometimes the available leftovers are aligned like so many lucky stars, forming a constellation that points the way to a lazy-ass dinner of surpassing tastiness.

This is what was in the fridge/freezer:

brown rice
some chicken stock (made from pressure-cooked wings)
kale pesto
frozen peas
1/2 can coconut milk
1/2 onion
scallions

I love making risotto from leftover brown rice; the second cooking, best done with good stock, gets it to an appealingly gooey place that still has some integrity. I threw a minced kaffir lime leaf in along with a few spices at the beginning while sweating the onion. Ten minutes later, we had dinner, more room in the fridge, and some empty containers for the next bunch of leftovers.

Zero Nostalgia

Besides bacon, I do enjoy pork belly in other forms. Now I know it’s right up there with Jay Mohr doing an impression of Christopher Walken dressed as Fonzie jumping over Damien Hirst’s pickled shark on a Segway in terms of its of-the-momentness, but leaving aside the moronic frivolity of Food Trends™ for a second, it’s a cut of meat with a very particular character and a sterling pedigree in a whole bunch of culinary traditions– some of which date back well into the twentieth century!

Imagine that.

In China, it’s sometimes referred to as the “five layers of heaven” for its alternating striations of muscle and fat. And then skin. I made a pretty badass dinner with a hunk a while back– a hunk I cured as if for bacon (but with all sorts of Indian inflection) and then braised for six hours in the oven with stock and such, and it was ridonkulosity incarnate on a bed of dal with some of the braising liquid.

This time aound, I didn’t have any cured, but I did have a particularly meaty hunk of Berkshire belly in the freezer. So I thawed it in chicken stock with a pile of aromatics and set it in a 190˚ oven for about 6 hours. Meanwhile, I pressure-cooked navy beans with parsnips, leeks, minced duck prosciutto, and herbs, and caramelized brussels sprouts with lardons of our bacon and then steamed with a bit more of the chicken stock. And whisked up some polenta. Once out of the oven, I strained the braising liquid and reduced it a tetch while I put a righteous sear on the skin of the belly and then cut it into portions.

It probably would have tasted better if I had been wearing a too-small Thom Browne suit and listening to Arctic Monkeys on a Zune while I ate it, but as it was it did just fine for, you know, people eating dinner.

Football Makes You Gay

This post can be filed under “reasons why it’s not always a good idea to try something fancy right before a dinner party.” I had this idea a while ago, and the a semi-promptu gathering last Sunday gave me an excuse to try it out. Not very well, as it turned out, but whaddayagonnado. Next time I’ll get it right.

Originally it was just going to be parsnip gnocchi, but then I noticed the variety of brightly colored winter produce we had on hand, so it got more ambitious. I steamed the parsnips and blended them with salt and a few drops of vanilla. I roasted a kabocha squash and puréed it with nutmeg. I roasted some beets and whizzed them with a bit of Banyuls vinegar, and lastly I pulled the rest of the purple potato purée out of the fridge. To each of these smoothnesses I added hydrated methylcellulose, doing little quenelle tests as I went to determine the right amount. Once I had (or thought I had) each mixture right, I put them all into individual bags and let them sit while I did some other stuff.

Each vegetable needed a different percentage based on its texture and water content, and for some reason I under-added a lot to the beet and potato mixtures. So when it came time to cook them (piped from a cut corner of the bag into simmering water) and then spoon them into the waiting roast chicken dashi, those two fell apart. So it looked like a clown threw up, but it tasted very good; the whole point of this is that the gnocchi are made almost entirely out of the vegetable, without any egg or flour to change the taste. They dissolve on the tongue like magic flavor pillows. And in my defense, the parsnip and squash ones can clearly be seen to be admirably holding their shapes.

The rest of the meal was better; Gerard brought a ton of fish in various forms. We started with his Basque-style salt cod, which was superb, and then moved on to salmon I broiled with a custom spice mixture and then napped with a blood orange gastrique. To follow, weakfish with the leftover Basque sauce- not far from Vizcaína- and hake in green sauce to complete the Basque themed fish portion of the program. The green sauce was not so traditional; I blended parsley, chives, kale, garlic, and sourdough bread crumbs with olive oil and white wine.

Here’s a pic of the salmon, accompanied by John’s miso butter-roasted maitake:

Dessert was dueling apple pies from Duncan and Sirkka. The beverage theme for the evening was all Sine Qua Non. We started with our “Whisperin’ E,” the (I think) 2002 white blend that’s usually Chard and Roussanne: just a great bottle of wine, plain and simple. Their whites continue to be my favorites, especially with age. Next up was the 2005 “Over and Out” pinot, the last one they made, followed by a Grenache- one of the newer ones, in the ridiculous bottles (2007?)- and then “The 17th Nail in My Forehead” Syrah which is also pretty brand new. With dessert we had a half bottle of Mr. K Viognier, which I think was 2005. I didn’t write any of this down, and John took most of the bottles home for his archive. For all the hype, the reds didn’t do anything for us; John’s going to sell the rest of his, a decision I support. They’re just not that special; I can think of much better ways to get an expensive hangover.

Like, You Know, Whatever

There’s nothing quite so problem-solving as a chicken carcass in the fridge. Especially if it was spatchcocked, meaning the back is still raw and thus able to add extra collagen and unctch to the resulting stock. A few carrots (still those I dug before the freeze, though almost depleted), a piece of parsnip, half an onion, a dried shiitake, and some herbs made for a good base. I tossed in smashed garlic and ginger with about 30 minutes to go, and soaked some bean thread noodles.

While this had its rendezvous with destiny, I sautéed some king oyster and maitake mushrooms (first the one, then the other, later) with lardo and garlic until well-inflected with mahogany, and then added scallion, ponzu, white wine and some of the stock to reduce and sap the last resistance from the oyster stems. I removed them to a bowl and besprinkled of the minced cilantro.

In the selfsame pan went a chiffonade of black kale, with more stock to finish. I simmered the noodles for a minute, then ladled them into bowls. Topped with stock, our own kimchi, kale, then fanned slices of our new duck prosciutto, it began to resemble good food. A glug of shoyu and a dollop of homemade sambal oelek for extra bass and treble helped it along. (These two added after the picture).

First of all, these mushrooms. The umamitude was off the freaking charts; they had all the pupil-dilating, glutamatious whallop of a bag of BBQ-flavored potato chips. Impossible to stop wolfing. The cured, salty duck against the tangy, salty kimchi and heavily redolent sambal, with a chickeny-noodley foundation? Very nice. The crunch, and slurp, and chew, and heat, and tang, and depth, and bright garnishes. Handsome indeed, and more fetching still against the diaphanous yellow backdrop of a 2004 Bernhard Eifel Schweicher Annaberg Riesling “Alte Reben Vom Roten Schiefen.” (Which means “You can see Poland from my house!”)

It was kind of a lovely, snowy day today, after four days of beautiful, cold sunshine; winter is not without its beauty and soups like this do their part to make it even better. Having said that, I’m counting the days until it’s over.

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

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

A Winner Is Me!

Archives

Categories

I’ve been Punk’d