Saturday, February 28, 2009

Something in the air

Last night, I ate a plateful of kung pao chicken and drank two glasses of V8 Splash, tasting neither, and promptly fell asleep on the sofa, freezing beneath a knit, wool blanket. I so seldom lack for appetite that I don't quite know how to handle it, this void in meaning. A nostalgia envelops me, along with the bug, and my mind grows wistful, pining for the savories and sweet of less peaked days. And so I swallow pills and suck on lozenges and wait for me to return. I think I shall sleep the whole madness off, right now.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hail to the chief

Guest poster: Jeff Kauffman

In the pre-kid days, kitchen time was leisure time, a way to escape the exhausting pixel mines. Today, I’m a short order cook that should have left 10 minutes ago for the PTA meeting. Today kitchen time has been replaced by the cocktail hour and, by and large, it's a fair trade. Thanks to Brownie, I’ve adopted the Martini as the Cadillac of pick-me-ups, but I’ve recently been inspired to give something else a shake for a change.

I picked up Dale DeGroff's “The Essential Cocktail” at the library. I think it takes some pretty big cubes to title your book “essential” anything, but DeGroff has the goods. As the barman at the (sadly soon to be closed) Rainbow Room, he helped usher in the new cocktail movement. The book celebrates the old-school drinks without snobbishness and recognizes that new ingredients and new thinking create innovative drinks.

Seeking something adventurous yet also drinkable for the Mrs., I settled on the El Presidente. An orange slice, lime splash, white rum, vermouth, Curacao and a finish of grenadine, shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. As you’d expect it’s pretty fruity, but it doesn’t hide the alcohol either. It’s a peachy color, much like the fabled Sedaris so I can’t fathom what Latin dictator would attach his name to it. It’s more Emelda Marcos than Manuel Noriega. But I’ll make it again when the days are longer and I can sit outside swatting mosquitoes in the heat like a proper Presidente.

Jeff Kauffman writes copy and flies the globe doing it when he's not, um, shakin'.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

In the picture

By the way, that scary looking device atop my blog page is galangal. I bought that particular beast on New Year's Eve, to make my missus her favorite tom kha gai coconut soup. I have really very little idea what galangal even is. I'm more interested in the notion that I'm able to actually procure it within 15 minutes drive of my house than I am of its origins. Funky-looking, ain't she? If you'd like to know more, click here and then click somewhere else. Even Wiki seems at a loss about this little monster. Photo, as always, by Kelly Kurt - she of the thom kha.


The 'vacancy' sign has been shut off on the brine bucket yet again. This time, it's beef. Specifically, eye of round, as carefully trimmed of excess fat as I - a butcher of no expertise - could manage. Into the brine it went: for four pounds of beef, I mixed 2.5 cups of kosher salt, about a bottle of wine (some merlot and some sauvignon blanc), 6 dried chiles de arbol, 6 bay leaves, 3 strips of orange peel, a dozen cloves, three crushed garlic cloves, 20 peppercorns, I think that's it. It'll sit there for two weeks, then go into the cheesecloth and, yes, into the garage for another two weeks, hung out to dry. Several cultures, practically all, do some form of marinated, air-dried beef. Bresaola just happens to be the one I found in John Torode's new book, 'Beef.' Torode, like your man Fergus Henderson, runs a restaurant in Smithfield, London's ancient acre of butchery. If it doesn't spoil, we should have a tasty, versatile chunk of beef on our hands. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sweet spot

Vermont, sure. California, of course. But cheese, good cheese, from Georgia?

Sweet Grass Dairy of Thomasville (just over the border from Tallahassee) is a family of cheesemakers doing something - maybe many things - right.

The Wehner family makes a Camembert-style cow's cheese called Green Hill that has the affinage and flavor of the real deal - a slight whiff of ammonia, a milky ooze of hay yellow, and a salty-sweet flavor that lingers.

They take care of their cows (the Wehners proclaim their small-farm strategy up front) and the rewards are tangible. I found my round at Judy Allen's shop on Brookside. It was delicious with a wine Kelly bought for our Valentine's moment: Hegarty, a Minervois blend of syrah, carignan and mourvedre. Something about the lactic acids tends to sour me on most wine-and-cheese pairings, but this was spot on.

The Wehners say that the Green Hill goes quite well with Belgian trippel ales. Can't wait.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ox tongue salad

If you're not used to eating tongue, you don't taste the first couple of bites for all the jokes cluttering the air.

"Hey, look …"
"I'm tongue-tied!"

"What …"
"I bit my tongue."

"Man …"
"What's the matter?"
"The cat got my tongue."

But pretty soon that gets old and you eat. Tongue's weird. It's like meat loaf without the ketchup. You want it to be better but it just isn't. Ultimately, you have to live with the idea that you're eating it versus throwing it out, which would be not good. A not-good worse than the taste of tongue, but barely.

I slightly exaggerate. Tongue's not horrible, it's just not very delicious, and you sort of expect it to be given the effort you're making to consume it. Not that effort ever justified success. Nobody promised that tongue was the cat's meow. Somebody just decided not to toss it.

The meat is leanish at the tip and gradually grows fattier the further into the mouth you go. By the time you've arrived at the back of the tongue, it's about half-fat, half-muscle. These slices are a bit tastier, which might have helped inspire St. John's Fergus Henderson to speak of them as "little angels wings," for, anatomically, they look only vaguely angelic or winged. At least on my cow. But, toward the back, they are more tantalizing. I suspect these are the ends that make the best sandwich slices. That's the bell they rung for me, anyway.

It's odd tasting a thing designed to taste. I guess cows taste. I know they like to lick salt because I remember the yellow cubes my uncle used to stick at the end of the hay trough for all the cows to lick whenever they felt compelled enought come up from the pasture.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Venture on

Day 7: basic risotto

We made it. Seven days of satisfaction and sometimes even succulence. I call it Adventurist not because the dishes themselves are challenging, but because the task of sticking to the menu requires a bit of planning and can-do attitude that's difficult to muster when you'd rather be drinking a beer and watching 'Survivor.'

If you've been playing at home, your working grocery list should look something like this:

Basics (with their costs)

1 big chicken (I buy Smart.), $8
Large head of romaine (Or lettuce of your choice; if I'm at Whole Foods, I choose arugula.), 2
Bag of Yukon golds (or other potatoes), 4
Pound of split peas, 2
4 yellow onions, 4
Carrots, 2
Celery, 2
Parsley, 1
Pound of red beans, 1
Basmati rice (see below)
Shortgrain rice (see below)
Green pepper, 1
Sausages (a good pork one, seasoned to your taste), 4
Pound of bacon, 3
Dozen eggs, 2
Pasta (We move between spaghetti and linguini, to vary the toothiness.), 2
Grana cheese (Parma, Romano, or a good knockoff. Not Wisconsin.), 6
Spices (See below.)

Masala mix – Several bags of spices will last you half a year and cost you about $25. Blend them at home to make your own curry mix.
Rice in bulk – It really makes sense. I buy short-grain (sushi) rice at Nam-Hai and basmati at Laxmi. They lost many, many meals.
Ham or bacon – You have a lot of wiggle room here. Buy a smoked hock for the beans, some peppery bacon for the carbonara, some of my Arkansas bacon (Reasor's, and I've only found it on 41st Street) for the potage. Mix and match.
Sausage – Endless options, all reasonable and most quite tasty.
Dried chiles – In bulk, they're pennies. We toss them into the Spanish tortilla, sometimes the carbonara, always the potage. And curries!

Minus the rices and spices, we're around $50 for the week. Not bad for seven days of lean, mean dining pleasure. Perhaps you would argue, and your argument would be surely sound. But I like mine, too. I like the variety, the ethnicity, the relative spontaneity, given that we've hamstrung ourselves with a budget. Admittedly, this menu has no shrimp or fish, no beef, no vegetables but the most basic, no polenta. It has no mushrooms.

But it could. The whole menu could be tweaked to taste without pushing the $50 boundary too far. Chicken and its ensuing stock are the basis of the Seven-Day Adventurist plan, but that's by choice. My beef menu might go like this:

Tom Colicchio's hanger steak (It's on the Esquire site.)
Beef tacos
Potato stew
Pasta l'amatriciana (Look it up. It's gorgeous.)
Chicken livers (Breaded and fried until crispy in olive oil, served with a squeeze lemon on a bed of spinach atop a mound of polenta.)
Roasted root vegetables (Also on polenta. Or rice.)
The leftover hanger – you can also do this with tri-tip, or flat-iron steak – can be torn for tacos, or sliced into the pho. Buy a little large for this reason.

Oh, about the risotto: risotto is a creamy, soft thing and it needs a bit of crunch to give it interest. Out of the Adventurist shopping cart, I like a few crumbles of crisped bacon; a few crunchy greens, like chard or kale; some sliced bell pepper; perhaps the liver and gizzard from your chicken (Pull them from the chicken cavity, sauté them in butter and cut them up; they'll store for a few days.)

Basic risotto requires only stock, rice, onion and cheese.

Saffron will take your risotto to new heights, but it'll cost you.