Food and Drink Writing
from Rochester, NY
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Fennel Confit with Avacado Salsa
really been enjoying a copy of Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook that a
friend loaned me, which I really need to return. I have to
admit, when I first leafed through it I was a bit
underwhelmed. I think mainly this is because the wow-factor
of the French Laundry cookbook was a hard act to follow and this one's
not as photo centric. I still haven't read through it very
thoroughly, but so far everything I've tried has been
stellar. He has a great knack for packing tons of little
tricks into the recipes that really help elevate your food from good to
Case in point is this skate recipe. Firstly, I'm becoming
completely addicted to skatewing. For the uninitiated, it's a large ray-like
fish with meat that has the
flavor and texture of a combination of scallop and crab (to
me). If that's not enough to sell it, it's also about the
cheapest thing you'll find in your fishmonger's case. Most
recipes for sauteeing a skatewing would basicly say just
that: "sautee the skatewing for x minutes on each
side". Not much guidance beyond that. And that's
fine. Keller, however, doesn't leave as much to
chance. He has you hold down the skate with another pan to
prevent curling. He has you add a little more butter after
each flip. He has you tilt the pan and spoon the browning
butter over the fish a couple times during the process, leaving little
bits of browned butter spread across the perfectly browned
fish. The techniques are subtle, but yield spectacular
The fennel confit that the skate sits on is something I probably never
would have thought of. Basically very slow cooked fennel,
onions, and herbs (2 hours). The flavor is complex, but
unobtrusive, the texture, soft but not mushy. The avacado
salsa was my own touch, bringing a little acid component to the
dish. It was seasoned with the fennel seed spice rub from
last week's ham. Lime juice, red onions, garlic, and ginger
accompanied the avacacado. It all worked for me.
Keller tops the dish with an olive tapenade (I think that's
redundant). I suppose that would work too.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
I've been experiencing Easter dinner for three days straight now
through a slowly diminishing pyramid
of leftovers, and I'm still really enjoying everything.
That's a fairly significant pat on my own back since I have a real
tendancy to not want to have anything to do with my meals in leftover
form no matter how good the first time around. I think this
was probably my most successful effort
to date in terms of organizating a large meal. Generally with
these things I have a flash of realization several hours after dinner
that, oh my god, I completely forgot the celeriac gratin! (or
some variation on that theme) I decided to be a little more systematic
with my approach this time and everything in my plan ended up on the
table, hot, just at the end of my announced target range.
Lots of stuff done ahead of time (and the warming drawer in our new
range) helped this along.
Sorry about the pic quality. I've found large groups slightly
less tolerant than L and I to messing around with the tripod, lighting,
and composition while fully prepared foods taunt them. Here's
the menu, without any further blathering.
- Assortment of smoked
Market), Cheeses, Breads,
Olives, and Baba Ganouj
- Jelly Belly's
- Plenty of Beer and Wine
Main and Sides:
Fennel Seed/Honey Glazed Ham
Mushroom Bread Pudding
- I modified this recipe by sauteeing the 'shrooms in some butter with
thyme and sage before mixing it all together.
Delicious. Great alternative to stuffing
Forest Ham Wrapped Asparagus -
The citrus zest in the bread crumb topping here is essential and
delightful. The black forest ham was also from Swan
- Mashed Sweet
Potatoes - with lots of butter
and honey, although not as much as the overkill Rocco calls for here
Biscuits - I was a little
underwhelmed with these at first, but the more of them I eat the
more I'm craving them. I didn't do the drying out phase in
Counrty Bread - Courtesy of my
aunt who followed the technique in the very good local paper article
- My Mom's experimental and
very successful crab romaine salad
- Two Decadent Ice
Cream Pies - Courtesy of my Aunt and some excellent Bruster's Ice Cream
Monday, March 21, 2005
I'm still cooking something new every night, and even taking pictures
with all intentions of blogging now and then. I came across
this one while doing the post (see below) on mussels.
Obviously some type of stuffed pork loin and tomato salad.
Damned if I can remember any details beyond that.
Cooking my first Easter dinner (for 10) on Sunday. Anyone
want to place bets on whether that gets blogged? Hey, Vermont
knocked SU out of the NCAA, so more unlikely things have happened.
With Saffron Mustard Broth
I've made some respectable strides in the last few years in eliminating
food phobias. "I will train myself to like everything" has
been my mantra, and olives, bleu cheeses, and sushi have not only
become tolerated, but craved. I hope Jeffrey
Steingarten will be
proud. But, lurking behind the food phobia category has been
another self-documented flaw I'll refer to as "faults of
underappreciation". These would be foods that hold a
justifiably esteemed position in the pantheon of world cuisine, but for
any of a number of possible reasons has occupied a less than admired
position in my consciousness. Mussels have been firmly in
this category for a long time.
I can't say I've ever had a dislike
for mussels, but I have had a firm ambivalance to the
bivalves. The overwhelming impression I've held towards
mussels for as long as I remember is "these things are a pain in the
ass to eat". And, lets be honest, they are. But,
this brings us to one of life's great conondrums; the fine line between
a pain-in-the-ass and a hell-of-a-lot-of-fun. These things
are messy, slow, and somewhat frustrating to eat, but that's a large
part of their appeal, the tactical sensations of a meal of
mussels. Thomas Keller illuminated this point to me while I
was reading through the Bouchon
...Just seeing a bowl of steamed mussels is exciting. They're beautiful
to look at, the individual dark shining shells shaped like nothing
else. You see the steam rising off the bowl; the aroma
surrounds you. Already the dish is unique. Then the eating--it's an
You pick each one up with your fingers, you eat each one individually,
you dip bread in the abundant, buttery broth, you poke throught the
shells hunting for the last ones, the shells clickety-clacking.
And when you're done, you have the delicious broth at the bottom of the
bowl: mussel soup.
particular recipe has the mussels steamed in a broth of butter,
shallots, garlic, thyme, dry white wine , dijon mustard, and
saffron. That prepartion might have just a wee bit to do with
my newfound love for these cheap shellfish. But I'm going to
keep believing that it's a consequence of the maturation of my senses
rather than a consequence of drenching something in butter and wine.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Expensive Rustic Country Loaf
To my great relief, I got laid off from my job a few days ago. Ok, perhaps not my great relief, but I was expecting our project to be cancelled for a long time, and as nice as the paycheck was, sometimes you're just ready to move on. So, really no condolences are necessary, I've got some severance to work with, and really quite content to have some real time on my hands.
So now that my time resources have increased, and my monetary resources have decreased, I figured it would be a great time to save some money by baking my own bread. I walked down to the local library and checked out a couple books on baking Williams-Sonoma: Bread and Baking Illustrated.
So far doing very well with the resource utilization ratio, using newly freed time and zero financial resources.
I then selected a suitably frugal sounding recipe. "Rustic Country Loaf".
3 1/2 cups (540 g) unbleached bread flour
3/4 cup (125 g) gluten flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 package quick-rise yeast
2 cups water
cornmeal for pan
Now, let's see just how much money we saved! 540g of flour from a 2.27 kg bag is about .24 of the bag at $2.39 per bag that comes to $.57. Here's where it gets tricky. The only gluten flour I could find was $2.59 for a 283g box.
|Quick Rise Yeast
|Water, Salt, Cornmeal
This doesn't even take into account the fact I had to have the dough rising on top of an oven set to warm since the rest of the house was too cool for a good rise. 2.29 that's probably just a bit higher than the average I pay for a fresh baked loaf of bread at Wegmans. Their breads are, frankly, damned good, better than mine, and I'm not saving a cent for my trouble.
I guess my point is, my intuition told me that the luxury of having someone bake your bread for you must be costing huge markups. A home made loaf of bread must cost just a small fraction of what some supermarket charges! Au contraire!
Now, of course I could search high and low finding suppliers where I could get these ingredients cheaper. And, of course, there are the joys of the alchemy aspects of bread making and the beautiful smells. But every time I have an experience like this, it somehow leaves me a little disillusioned about the joys of do-it-yourself. Anyone out there had similar experiences?
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Corpse Reviver No. 2
(Yes, I do requests)
A few days ago, Chuck of The Gumbo Pages left some kind words in my comments and a suggestion that I try a Corpse Reviver No. 2 cocktail.
Corpse Reviver No. 2
3/4 ounce gin.
3/4 ounce Cointreau.
3/4 ounce Lillet blanc.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 drops Pernod, Herbsaint, other pastis or Absinth!
Combine in a shaker with cracked ice; shake and strain.
Garnish with a stemless cherry.
Trying this out was an absolute no brainer for me. First, from everything I've read, Chuck has excellent taste. Second, Gin and Cointreau are a wonderful combination, and anchor my favorite cocktail, the Pegu Club. And third, I'd never tried Lillet Blanc, and every new ingredient is a little bit of adventure in a bottle.
Oh...and it was an opportunity to use a few drops of my bottle of Czech contraband.
Ted Haigh (aka, Dr. Cocktail) recently brought this very old drink to light in a NY times magazine interview. (unfortunately it's already been dropped from the Free archives) It was one of the drinks that spurred his early interest in cocktails, partly because of the name, but also because of the exotic ingredients. And after trying this, it's hard to imagine a taste not exciting one's interest. It's a remarkable little bit of alchemy. Between the gin, Lillet, and pastis you've got a enough of a blend of herbs to go into the alternative medecine biz. Yet somehow, it maintains its balance. We're putting this one in heavy rotation.
Thanks for the tip!
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Salmon With Lemongrass-Yogurt Sauce
This sauce was a bit of an experiment in the sense that I looked in the fridge and said "hmm lemon grass...hmm yogurt...what the hell." That much down, getting the flavor of the lemon grass into the yogurt became the trick.
The strategy was to create a paste from the lemongrass, saute it, and then infuse it into some plain yogurt. I set the yogurt on some cheese cloth to strain out some of the water first. Then I combined a roughly chopped stalk of lemon grass, about a tablespoon of minced ginger, and a slightly blackened thai chili in a food processor. I added a little olive oil to help it combine, and created a paste. This went into a small pan to saute for a couple minutes, and then the yogurt was combined. I wisked this and heated it gently, and then let it sit for a while as I prepared the fish and the rest of the meal. While the fish was cooking, I strained all the tough bits out of the yogurt, and then added a squeeze of lime juice.
There was a bit of a problem with the texture as the amount of oil in the paste didn't combine well, but the flavor was great. It was good to have a successful "why not try this" moments. There have been a few failures lately...to be detailed later.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Braised Short Ribs
...with a horseradish gremolata over butternut squash orzo.
This recipe was straight out of the Babbo Cookbook (which I just bought myself as a reward for restarting the blog!) The short rib cooking method was a straightforward traditional braising liquid. Red wine, stock, herbs, mirepoix. What's not to like there? But what really appealed to me was the touch of a nice fresh horseradish garnish lending some bite to the earthy flavored beef. Plus the picture in the cookbook was lovely.
Getting this blog restarted after a year was a little trickier than anticipated. I actually sat down to post this Saturday night, but realized I had forgotten all my passwords. On top of that, we've switched from a PC to a Mac in the past year, so I had to track down and figure out a new set of Html editors, ftp clients, image manipulators, etc... Nothing too difficult to overcome, but a bit of a kink in what used to be a well oiled machine.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
It has been nearly a year since my last post to this neglected food blog. That's nearly a year, not a full year. I consider that a small victory against sloth.
The title of this entry refers not to the fact that I've been overwhelmed with other things in my life to the point where I couldn't put together a journal entry for a year, that's simply not true. It refers to my response to what has happened to the food blog world since I disappeared. When I first started this thing, there were peerhaps 10-20 food blogs out there. When I stopped, maybe 50. Now, well just look at Food Porn Watch for a taste of what's shown up in the last year.
I hope this is the start of a new surge of blogging energy for me. I really did need a break from this thing. Trying to cook something impressive or interesting or beautiful every night did become a bit of a drag after a while. But, it also forced me to experiment and break out of patterns. Not that I've reverted to cooking macaroni and cheese every night (I don't think I've made the same thing twice in the last year), I just tend to stick to some simpler comfort patterns when no one's watching.
Anyway, cheers to all the blogger's who've kept it up for the past year, carrying the foodie torch through this dark, bland, fast food world.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Butternut Squash Soup
squash soup with star anise:
This was good, but I think it needs a little more richness. Maybe a
touch of maple syrup?
Needs no alteration whatsoever.
Favorites In My Kitchen