Saturday, April 21, 2012

The merry month.


THIS SUMMER FOOD & WhIskEy goes vegan.  In the month of May I'll host weekly recipe post events devoted to each of the dear sacrifices to follow; there are five months in May, so the themes will go as follows:  MAY 1st-5th: EGGS; 6th-12th:  BUTTER; 13th-19th: CHEESE; 20th-26th: MILK; then finishing out the month with a theme-encompassing jaunt to Dormont's magical pizzeria, Fiori's for a Viking funeral to all tidbits of animal consumption.

It's a celebration of worldly goodbyes.  And I refuse to do a single one of them alone.  Pittsburghers, enterprising global curiosity seekers and enabled regionals, I will set the kitchen table in the apartment every Monday in the month of May with a dish that celebrates one formidable ingredient soon to leave my diet.  I want to find what is grand in it all.  Get in touch.  I can feed one person a week--one couple at best.  The menu has been written (I'll post it early next week).

Details will follow.


  

   

Friday, February 10, 2012

Walnut-kale pesto.


Sunday nights at Brillobox.

I'm sorry I've been remiss in posting this recipe. The plate of pasta with walnut-kale pesto--actually a wildly oversimplified name for it, has mushroomed into a nice neighborhood buzz dish. It is easily the most commonly requested recipe in my Brillobox repertoire. I like it too.

When it comes to weights and measures I approximate everything, so please take these instructions, and more importantly these measurements for what they are: nearly total bullshit. If it seems bland add more tomato sauce; too dry, add cream and pasta water. You can always add more cheese. Parsley never hurt no one. And the rest is as follows...


Feeds four as a main course.

STEP ONE:

Sauce Number One.

RED SAUCE (I really like this sauce on spaghetti, by itself, finished with grated hard cheese and a splash of cream. So if it's a rainy day quadruple the recipe and freeze what you don't think you'll use.)

A. Chop 1 lg. YELLOW ONION and 4 peeled cloves of GARLIC, saute over low heat in 3 tbsp OLIVE OIL, along with 1 tbsp TOMATO PASTE.

B. Meanwhile, halve 1 oiled med. EGGPLANT, Tending cautiously, broil skin side up til it has charred, then turn. Broil flesh side til it has browned well--but not blackened. Again, keep an eye on it!

Remove from heat to a bowl, cover in plastic film, and allow to steam for twenty minutes or so.

C. In a food processor pulse 1 peeled med. CARROT and 1 rib of floss-shaved CELERY, then add to the translucent onion-garlic mixture. Continue to simmer, watchfully. Once the carrots have softened a bit add 1 large can of San Marzano TOMATOES. Continue to simmer low.

D. At this point the EGGPLANT* can be handled. Uncover, peel away and discard the blackened skin and stems, adding the pulpy, soft flesh and collected juices--don't be fussy about the charred particles that stick to the eggplant. A little bit of residue, just like the murky juices, will embolden the flavor. Add to the TOMATO-ONION-GARLIC mix as it continues to simmer, moisturizing with a splash of sweet-leaning RED WINE or, ideally, SWEET VERMOUTH.

*Note, in the kitchen I call the red sauce eggplant Bolognese as the roasted flesh of the eggplant contributes a silky quality sought in a classic meat sauce, while the seeds mimic (uncannily!) the fine texture of the ground meat.

E. Puree with an immersion blender or; in a food processor/blender, or; mash with a potato masher, or; roll your sleeves up and use a fork or any other simple machine at hand. (I've employed each of these methods over the years; you'll find them listed in ascending order of labor-intensiveness.) Season with salt and red chili flakes to taste.


STEP TWO:

Sauce Number Two.

PESTO (Much as you can with the red sauce this pesto is versatile--and completely vegan. So make a little extra to spread on crostini, or add it to minestrone to give it a rich finish. So too, like with the red sauce you can add the cheese and cream at this step and have yourself a perfectly fine condiment. Never forget that sweet ricotta was invented for just such things as this.)

Strip 1 lg. bunch of raw KALE, COLLARDS, MUSTARD GREENS (my favorite), or CHARD, adding the leaves to a food processor. Doing your best to balance the amounts of the greens and nuts--tipping a bit to the side of the former, you'll add toasted walnuts. Add 3 cloves of GARLIC, 1 generous bunch of herbs, single or mixed--my personal formula consists of BASIL, PARSLEY, MINT and ARUGULA. Grind in a food processor, while streaming in olive oil slowly til a mixture of ivory, jade and emerald has formed in a loose paste--think hippie peanut butter consistency. Taste it, then season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Remember, if you're adding cheese to finish the final dish you will want to employ a light hand with the salt at this stage.

STEP THREE

Pasta.

PASTA SHAPES (Choose something with crevasses and eaves and other little places where the sauce can hide when you bring it together--GEMELLI is my favorite, though the rustic twists called TROFIE are fantastic, too!) Boil in heavily salted water, stirring frequently, and remove to a colander to drain when the pasta is a hard al dente--you will want to see a tiny filament of uncooked white at the thickest part when you bite into a piece*. Reserve the pasta water, then shower the pasta shapes in cold water. Allow it to drain, toss in a tbsp of olive oil, cover with a damp paper towel, then set aside.

*Note: Bite into five pieces--stirring the water between bites, before you're satisfied the pasta is cooked satisfactorily. It's better to have a handful of overcooked pasta mixed into an otherwise perfectly rendered dish than to have even a few undercooked. But in the end stirring should eliminate any inconsistency.

STEP FOUR

Gather the elements.

At this point the chemistry becomes highly idiosyncratic. You will want to taste often and really think about what's going on. If you like you can completely shake up the recipe. But this is how I bring it together. Add 1c. RED SAUCE to a large saute pan, returning it to a simmer. Follow with 1c. PESTO, 1/4c HEAVY CREAM, and grated CHEESE to taste--I use pecorino pepata in my kitchen. I use immoderate handfuls. Continue to simmer--the sauce will develop a nuanced color-complexity. I like it best when it's unclear whether it's a red sauce with green specks or vice versa.

Now, before you add the pasta to the sauce you'll want to ensure the consistency. If it's too thin let it simmer a bit longer, to reduce--or just add more CHEESE. No harm. If it's too thick resort to the pasta water you kept--a spoonful at a time.

Add the PASTA, stirring, still mindful of the sauce's body. Once all the elements in the saute pan have achieved their ideals--the pasta is tender but chewy, and the sauce is as salty and tangy and peppery and herbaceous as you want it, you plate.

STEP FIVE.

Adornment.

Finish the plated dish with additional CHEESE, good OLIVE OIL, CRACKED BLACK PEPPER or a small HERB SALAD. I have also enjoyed adding mildly mustard-inflected, vinegary shaved red cabbage. The flavor-brilliant counterpoint can also be achieved without the aid of garnish by simply using more RED SAUCE than PESTO when assembling the dish. But all of this is extraneous.

As you like.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Grilled cheese and tomato soup.


This Saturday morning began much like any other. I brewed a cup of hot water with ginger and star anise, put a record on the turntable (it was Nat "King" Cole), and set about plunging my hands into the spring coil booby-trap couch cushions for lost change to hold the dog and me over with food til payday.

A low yield venture, today. But no worries.


Grilled Cheese

1 crust-trimmed piece of thick-sliced sandwich bread, buttered.
Generous smears of butter and Tallegio
Mildly toasted cumin seeds and black mustard seeds.

Blanket toast with soft butter and cheese, place under broiler til congregated and brown. Garnish with toasted cumin seeds and good olive oil.

Tomato Soup

(pan roast and render the following in a saute pan)

2 inches of grated ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1 pinch of cumin
1 narrow pinch of coriander
1 handful of crushed almonds

Add...

1/3 pebbled cauliflower head with finely chopped stems
1 well-rinsed and finely chopped leek
1 beefsteak tomato, diced (juice kept).
1 segmented and chopped Valencia orange (juice kept)
1/4 c. roasted lime juice
1/2 c cooked brown lentils
1 inch of grated ginger
1 generous grasp of cilantro, chopped.
1/2 tsp pale sesame seeds
1/2 tsp black sesame seeds

Then add...

A splash of good olive oil.
2 tbsp rendered light brown sugar or agave
1 judicious splash of pickle juice salt and pepper
to complete

Chill, allowing to macerate as one.

Season to taste, finally.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Their river of time.

I see far too little of my Mom and Dad. Between this city and their country; and the yoke of work and the oddity that stands between generations it just doesn't happen as often as I'd like. It's such a pity because besides the blood tie they're also very good friends--an actuality upon which I rely and shame with forgetfulness.

Finally, however, fortune prevailed and my Mom and her childhood best friend came to Pittsburgh. Eric, threw open the doors to Brillobox, permitting the ladies a private late morning luncheon. I knew about the prospect well enough in advance--well enough to scrawl about seven or eight different, highly ambitious and Proustianly unrealistic menus in the Moleskine. Here are a few notions that made it to the plate.


Salad of Chioga and golden beets with Shropshire Blue and Walnuts


Wild Maitake, French Lentil and Leek Soup


Croque Madame "Petit Four"


Cavatelli in Kale and Chili Pesto with Fontina Val D'aosta.


I need to do this for my Dad soon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bento/Box.



This Sunday March 20th, 2011 6pm $8

Please join us this weekend at Brillobox for a special Sunday Vegetarian Dinner. All proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross to assist in their ongoing relief effort for the people of Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami catastrophe. Come out for a plate, have a pint. It's the easiest way to make a difference where it is most needed. We hope to see you there.

Menu

one

Miso and sweet potato bisque with young celery gremolata and sesame crouton

two

Early spring garden green and root salad with udon noodles, citrus-fried tofu and shredded leeks with nanban reduction.



Links to donate/volunteer:


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lettuce stew.


It's fascinating to observe how recipe authors name their dishes. Some are more succinct than others; some verbose, rattling on as if the impact of the dish was achieved in its name alone.

There's poetic grace in being selective, even cryptic.

This dish owes its heritage to Portugal--a basic hard green and sausage stew, thickened with potatoes. But the potatoes in the pantry were past their prime and my hangover was disorienting enough that in haste and poor apprehension I grabbed a head of green lettuce instead of escarole.

Years ago I remember watching one of the proprietors of a restaurant where I worked tear leaves of wilted lettuce into a vegetable soup, wondering, "what is that dogshit crazy sexual predator doing?" But it turns out the soft greens can work quite well in soups. What they lack in spine they make up for in silkiness. So having given over to the risk of making a lettuce stew I upped the ante by tearing up a bit of stale bread and cooking it into the liquid. Silkier still.

Not the kind of modifier you expect to see tacked onto a Portuguese sausage stew, but that's the charm. If its your thing--as it is mine, you can ratchet up the contradiction even further with a sharp belt from hot chilies.

Lettuce stew

1 lb. hot Italian sausage
2 chicken backs (a few thighs, legs or wings would work alternately)
1 tbsp smoked hot paprika
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 guajillo chilies, rehydrated, chopped finely
1 medium red onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium carrot, julienned
1 1/2 c cooked white kidney beans
1 head green lettuce, washed and chopped
1-2 tbsp flour
1 heel of stake bread
2 quarts roasted vegetable stock (or water)

In a dutch oven brown the sausage and chicken on all sides, then set aside. Add the aromatics (the next six ingredients) and cook til well colored. Add the beans and lettuce, cooking til lettuce wilts--it'll only take a moment.

Chop the sausage into bite size pieces--it will still be raw at the center, and add to the pot, followed by the chicken parts. Cover with flour and stir together over medium high heat.

Add stock and bread, then bring to a simmer. Adjust chili heat as you season. I served it with toast smeared with Saint Agur blue. One more spiky note to gild the contrast.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dreamland--part two.


Pigeons take to tables for beignet crumbs and powdered sugar residue
at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter.

The West Bank on the far side of the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans looks haunted at night. The aerial view from the Huey P. Long bridge is reminiscent of the photos of Gregory Crewdson--luminescent flashes of a world that can never entirely go to sleep. It looks industrial, commercial and in the insolence of daylight it must certainly be a plain sight--if it exists at all.

In our feverish discussions of how and where to cram in a modest eight meals a day on my first visit Brooke insisted that the Vietnamese community in the West Bank made food as essential to the New Orleans experience as a po' boy at Domilise's.

On the second night of my stay we crossed the bridge and descended into that dreamland, to Nine Roses, a roomy Vietnamese place with a stiff facade and copious parking lot suggestive of an unclaimed mattress emporium. When making those preliminary assessments of non-western eateries thinking gets counter-intuitive. Does it look like the kind of place you could buy a coffee table? That's a good thing. Drops ceilings, filmy laminated menus? An abandoned tricycle in the corner by an open coloring book? Yes? You're in the right spot.

The first sight you catch upon entering Nine Roses is a stately aquarium whose blue lamp seems to be responsible for lighting the entire dining room, and whose sole inhabitant, a blood-colored tropical fish glides through his home space in a sleepy almost emblematic motion. So much of what Nine Roses does is familiar fare. We ate spring rolls, pho and a plate of chili-singed calamari with brown rice. There is an inspirational kind of achievement in places like Nine Roses--the modesty with which balance of flavor, coordination of spices and striking sensory impact work. We ate and talked about our families and the places we'd been over the years, taking in each plate with subconscious warmth. Some food draws attention to its own magnificence, it thinks it's art. It's cook thinks he's an artist. Great food however is subliminal. And its magnificence leaves the poetic mark in afterthought. Nine Roses makes food in the mold of the latter.

Across the Huey P. Long in Uptown again we spent a bit of time ostensibly walking off the Vietnamese feast we'd just eaten. Magazine Street is home to a good number of inviting windows and open doors--bars, bistros, pizzerias, ice cream parlors. The night air is pink and violet with their lights. One such place, Coquette, is the home of a plate Brooke claims as the definitive sweet in New Orleans. Over a cocktail at the bar we discovered that their lauded chocolate pot de creme and beignets was no longer a selection on the standard menu and could only be had as part of a six course prix fixe menu. A sympathetic bartender disappeared into the kitchen and in short order returned to inform us that an exception was being made. With some drink chatter and a comforting lag since our last gorge it was there. A demure pile of pastry pillows dusted with sugar and a demitasse of custard.

What can anyone know or say definitively about a place as vast and inscrutable as New Orleans let alone after a mere three days of poking around? Probably not much, relatively speaking. The beignets and pot de creme at Coquette may or may not be the great confection of New Orleans, but it lives all the same as the great confection in my substantial memory. The custard was ghostly bodied, reminding me of the whimsical aphorisms that play out in the paintings of Rene Magritte, a cloud of curvaceous chocolate floating in mid-air. Something to laugh at as much as luxuriate over. The beignets, in contrast to the powdered sugar interred fritters at the famous Cafe du Monde, were as mystical as the custard--the crisp exterior protecting a humid, creamy interior that seems to finish baking only the moment it reached the tongue. For a city whose indelibly inchoate sensibility plays out inch upon delirious inch in architecture, sound, color, personalities and attitudes this plate of puffed dough and pudding got it about as succinctly right as I can imagine: An impossible little world disappearing as it achieves its fraught perfection.

Sharing some fresh air and a second round of dessert at Sucre on Magazine Street

A few doorsteps away on Magazine we managed to meet with the temptation of macarons and gelato at Sucre, beloved of Oprah and Paula. Already drunk and pooped on countless plates of amazing grub, did the only dignified thing we could, we gave in.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Baby please...



Failure anticipates the soul that believes in any gaping space that might--even might, cleave between tasting and remembering. I know that sounds forcefully Faulknerian (and keeping with consonance: fake). But I can't help it. It's Valentine's Day and I'm in the wrong part of the country to be properly enjoying it. Here in 36 degree Pittsburgh, PA it's raining cold aluminum foil and grievances.

Last week we had Brooke's Mom and Dad over for dinner. One of the myriad of amuse bouches and odd bites I quixotically planned but could not bring to the table was a chicken liver mousse. The livers soaked in milk for a few days before I finally stowed them away in the freezer between the marijuana butter and John's amazing chili. Sometimes the best laid plans are just over-planned.

This morning I woke up with a jones to do something for love day--even if beset by great distance from that love. It was time to make myself ridiculously happy--not that way...

Chicken liver is one of the most commonly disserviced bits of offal in today's kitchen. Even in this age of fetishistic bits and parts cooking chicken livers are still kinda viewed as Jewish grandma food. I'm sold. Soaking in milk overnight alleviates much of that brusque iron flavor, and pushes the silken texture even further. One is reticent to eroticize the cleansing organ of a bird, but reduced to mere adjectives, let's face it, it's kinda hard not to.

This dish captures the lonesomeness of Valentine's Day with good humor and bad funk. It is deeply satisfying, even if it leaves your breath and stamina in a state of such revolting muskiness and drowziness that any ill-advised hormonal charges to shoehorn bad love into this amorous day will be dutifully thwarted.

Put simply, you start your day with a plate of chicken livers and you ain't screwing anyone! And I'm not.

Enjoy this ostracizingly vulgar delicacy over a rerun of Law and Order, with a loyal dog who would never judge you anyhow. As I did.

Spaghetti Pepperoni with Sauteed Chicken Livers in White Balsamic Cream
(Feeds one sad sack)

1/2 lb. chicken livers, cleaned, soaked in milk at least 2 hours, preferably overnight
1 scant handful of wheat flour
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. heavy cream
1 tsp. white balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 bunch pepper-dyed pasta
Fresh basil for garnish

Begin by boiling the pasta in heavily salted water.

In a saute pan add drained, flour-dredged livers and garlic with a generous splash of olive oil. As the livers brown add tomato paste, stirring to break up livers and push aromatic reach of the tomato and garlic.

Once the livers cook mostly through (filaments of blood will appear on their surfaces) and the rendered juices have tightened in unison with the tomato paste add vinegar and a splash of pasta water. Bring to a gentle boil, then add cream. Reduce the heat and allow the cream sauce to reduce to spoon-coating thickness.

Toss well-drained pasta in saute and add torn basil leaves to finish.

Play that Lauryn Hill tune. Again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dreamland.


The live oak, Audubon Park, New Orleans, 64 degrees, January 2011

"I like very much people telling me about their childhood, but they'll have to be quick or else I'll be telling them about mine."
-Dylan Thomas, "Reminiscences of Childhood", 'Quite Early One Morning' (New Directions 1960)

It is reasonable among people who talk passionately about food to want to speak out and create their own versions of the classical--whether it's a Sunday red sauce, a favorite pizza shop in South Philly, or more broadly and ambitiously, a signature narrative of Provence. Travel writers and wayfaring chefs jump from one hot lily pad to the next getting stuffed with local eats, glad handing with with the demigods of the town. Blogs teem with similar--if humbler, versions of these stories. We have rapidly achieved that diminutive state long associated with poets: there are more of these rambling traveloguers than there are folks to read their exploits.

And yet...

I could waste a handsome bit of time digging out my own phantasmal history of New Orleans: Dreams of woozy predawn mornings sweating through white linen suits trying to pick up aging Faulknerian moderns; fantasies of being led by jacketed waiters to dimly lit antebellum dining rooms where the menus are the size of tombstones, and the diners are glistening mobsters who have nothing better to do than leisurely plan revenge killings over etouffee and crab gumbo, and where the oil portrait on the wall of the milk-skinned debutante in velvet and pearls hangs solely to give patrons a visual image of the ghost overturning coffee cups and ruffling the skin on their necks with goosebumps.

Of course some of my preconceptions weren't so grandiose. I always wanted a real fried po' boy, oysters and beer, to hear rambunctious dixieland in the French Quarter, and get in a knife fight with a mustachioed pimp over the prostitute with whom I was hopelessly in love--a contest that could only end in the absurdity of friendship or death. I'm pleased to say the world I expected was as much as I expected as it was not.

Jacques-Imo's was one of the most ardently recommended stops in the city--for reasons both theatrical and thematic it was our first stop. The house struck an acrobat's balance of flavorful hometown grub and bombastic tourist-salving hospitality. If you place Jacques-Imo's in the once-in-a-great-while column it works best. The appetizers were Gibraltar-scale entities of dense creamy carbohydrates and steamy, running milkfat.

To cheat any one dish of its spectacular flavors would be a crime, all the same the sinful appeal of overindulgence quickly ran to the profane. The widely lauded shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake was an impressive savory reboot of the sweet classic. And full disclosure, coming as the first hot bites to so expediently hit our table, it was an enticing and colorful overture. Paired with the comparably substantial fried grits with tasso shrimp sauce the enigma of cheesecake quickly dimmed in caloric malaise; we had ordered additional courses and were already growing dizzy seeing our reflections in the stolid pools of the paprika-hued cream sauce still before us. All the fabled elements of the region's singular pantry were on hand: smoky tasso, creamy fried grits, alligator, blackened redfish, glorious catfish. Somehow in execution the decadence overtook the subtlety and spirituality of these things.

I wonder, too, if it wasn't the flashy disarray at Jacques-Imo's, the noisy intimacy, that didn't in some way encumber the experience. The walls were bunched with crooked-framed paintings of tilting French Quarter jazz clubs, and the canting horns-men on their stages. Feral purples and cultural cliches. No right angles. Behind the artworks and upon the tablecloths laid even more disorienting patterns and themes all suggesting an air of joyful chaos. Tables were scalloped, one upon the other, and the spiderweb of cross-cutting conversations was a hefty meal unto itself. If we had only closed our eyes, plugged our ears, and asked the kitchen to please hold the cream that sends so many hungry shutterbugs and daytripping gluttons into elated food comas it might have sustained a feast of that magnitude. We left dizzy, fat and inexplicably happy, though perhaps for reasons yet to come.

There is great purpose in the dizziness of New Orleans. It is an aesthetic tenet of the landscape, and a living exposition of how the city has evolved, devolved and survived. I quickly came to the realization that as much as I romanticized the ten-ton plate of New Orleans the reality would have to be something much more mundane.

You can find particle board-shuttered shacks alongside magnificent cotton candy colored city mansions. Umber cadavers of dormant banana trees ("those trees aren't dead", one woman corrected me while raking leaves, "they just want you to think they're dead") shed leviathan scales onto mint lawns. A pile of bmx bikes rises in the front yard of a blighted habitation--a crack house, a squat? But how to explain the burgeoning well-loved rose bushes at rich intervals across the property? It's as if there was a prehistoric consensus to abide in irregularity and counter-intuition--thereby assuring singular beauty and camouflaging the ages of distress and hardship.

St. James Cheese Company is not something you necessarily have to go to New Orleans to find. We're a spoiled global market--at this point you can buy Manchego at Wal-Mart. Yet it's a destination all the same. Their cases are piled with imaginative showings from Spain, France, Britain and Italy. Their American cheeses dote on the eccentric little guys, the craft producers with seldom heard-of varieties. As spreads go it's impressive but by no means unheard of. No, what made St. James such an essential stop was the curatorial finesse they showed us: Chalkboards hawked ploughman's lunches, salumi boards and other delirious offerings from their cases--a slab of Membrillo quince paste roughly the size and aspect of a '65 Lincoln Continental adressed my adoring senses with such proprietary force that I nearly ordered a Zamorano grilled cheese just to spread the amber confection on the crust in spite of the king's ransom of dairy I'd already binged.

Pain perdu with Zamorano custard, Iberico ham and radish sprouts with Turkish apricot chutney.

Initially we went for an old favorite of mine, the slender remains of a plump heel of La Delice du Bourgogne with crushed Marcona almonds and clover honey. To detract nothing from the cheesecake previously mentioned this a la carte concoction could easily be my favorite after dinner sweet. Sharing a slim pine plank with diaphanous feathers of Iberico ham, Paprika-colored Ibores and a magnificently silken duck pate there was a Wagnerian bombast of sensation that fostered the brimming delicacies without ever blurring their ethereal distinctions. We tried aged Gruyere, a pewter Cabrales so gloriously rancid it could strip the Christianity from a nun's clasping hands. In their cool alcove--a January that to my senses felt so much more like May, we caught an alerting nudge of the spring thaw in each of the senses.

I would go back for more of the ham and some Zamorano for our breakfast on my final day. I think I felt as miserably indulgent visiting them on that last stop as I did doing the dishes after we ate our gainly breakfast. There is a chromatic intelligence to the traces of rusty pork on a plate that tell you the magnitude of all that passed. History occurs in hiccups and glares.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dionysus is a woman.


It was the inexplicable sort of depression that led Marlon Brando to eat ice cream by the gallon, me to read, prone, the upside-down sole-stamped brand name of an unhappy Philadelphia police officer's boots between a choir of stars--more than once.

Butter.

For any kitchen nut educated on food blogs--so many of us are these days, Smitten Kitchen is required reading. Deb's pornographic journal of rich productions provides all the enticement a novice could ever require to venture into the wilderness of the kitchen. As well, her recipes contain a consistent pedagogical element. For every dish a lesson--often disguised in self-effacing anecdote. She is the Pitchfork Media generation's Paula Deen; she could hide a stick of butter in a glass of water.

After my good friend, Shmuel, turned me on to her, by way of this tomato sauce recipe, I not only became an ardent reader I took that recipe as my own. I'll likely never make red sauce any other way. The essence as you'll see lies in butter.

I try never to mistake consolation for the advent of happiness, but when the conciliatory agent is butter I find it difficult to differentiate. This concoction, which relies on Deb's tomato sauce recipe as a technical reference point, was born of an early December depression. There are evenings in which the dearth of light and the record on the turntable whisper in your ear: put a stick of butter to good use.

Chicken thighs braised in butter, chilies and spinach

5-6 chicken thighs
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
three small sprigs rosemary
1 lg can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
3/4 lb roasted Hatch chilies, skins removed, seeds if necessary, chopped*
1 tbsp white vinegar
three fistfuls of raw spinach, cleaned

Add olive oil to a hot dutch oven and brown chicken. Upon flipping the parts add aromatics and butter. As the butter melts and the aromatics soften slowly add crushed tomatoes, vinegar and chilies. Cover, simmer.

Stir every ten minutes.

After about half an hour the chicken will begin to pull easily from the bone. At this point cut the heat on the stove, add spinach and cover. With about five minutes of steaming the spinach can be turned into the chicken stew.

Serve with baguette or rice.


* I use Hatch chilies since our beloved Reyna Foods imports them from New Mexico--a wild luxury. They vary in degrees of heat. If you prefer a milder stew remove seeds after roasting. Naturally, you can select different chilies or peppers to suit your taste.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beans and greens, Sunday morning.



It's odd that Michael Haneke's nauseating 'Funny Games' is what got me out of bed and down the street to Donatellis for groceries this morning, but it's true. From that ominous moment when the young man appears at the unsuspecting family's vacation house to borrow eggs for a neighbor--a simple task that eventually leads to a night of playful terror, I knew I'd have to have an omelet or some scrambled eggs.

Well, as impressionable as I was watching Haneke's squirmy indictment of voyeurism and identity politics unfold I was as much so with the eggs in my hand at the store. I passed the escarole, yes; romano beans, yes; purple garlic, sure. There would be no omelet.

This is far too easy and I'm way too still-asleep to write a recipe. Make sure the escarole is clean before it goes in the skillet, but don't over-wring the leaves after they soak--it'll give you a little broth for your bread. Oh yeah, multi-grain ciabatta roll, yes.



Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wyeth colors.



Roasted tomato and eggplant soup with sumac; Mafalda, black-eyed peas, toasted walnuts and escarole in brown mustard vinaigrette.

At Brillobox we roll out a spectacular half pound Wyoming free-range chuck whallop, which for my money is useless without bacon, pimento cheese and avocado. However, given my own dietary reforms and philosophical consideration it is frequently back to those meatless dishes that my thoughts travel. Mind you, there is no end of satisfaction to be found from blackening beef and gilding with bronzed pork. But some of the surest flavors lie in ascetic application, in dishes so conservatively conceived that there is little room for the overwhelming bluster of pork fat, of crisped chicken skin, of blood.

In another lifetime I was shown a way to make soups, one a day, without meat or the crutch of a prepared stock. The merciless and heedlessly articulate proprietor of La Cucina Flegrea in Squirrel Hill, Anna Fevola, swept together the wilted remainders of her pantry each day around lunchtime using the same unassuming motions one might expect from a janitor dusting the floor. Until you've tasted the clarity of a broth begun on carrot ends, onion skins and mushroom stems, having watched it culminate in a pale copper bullion that managed to--against the tide of a malnourished cynic's doubt, bear out the delicate accent flavor of field greens no longer crisp enough for the salad plate then its all just hot air. But the truth is there, it is anxious in basic things. And it is quite good.

Our Sundays can be problematic. The week draws to an end, the pantry is bare. We're all thrashed from the weekend crowd. To make matters worse Brillobox closes it all out with a Sunday Night Starving Artist Dinner. Five bucks gets you a respectably portioned and dutifully tasty platter of usually vegan, always vegetarian, eats.

Ugh.

Implicit in the aforementioned gripe is that people come out for this thing. In numbers. Cooking ravioli on Valentine's Day is nice. Blowin' minds on Christmas morning by bringing a dozen homemade dinner rolls is pretty smart too. Provided the number of hungry mouths is relatively low--I'd say below five, it's pure meticulous nerd-out joy. But go above that humble number, go to, say, 20 or even 30 and the fundamentals change.

What I learned in time was to work in broad strokes--multiplying recipe measurements to suit larger crowds has always met me with mixed results. So each week--try as I might to
streamline and work ahead, airs of fuss and uncertainty cloud the kitchen.

Last week everything came off beautifully--even if I don't remember the exact recipes.


Soup and salad
(Imprecisely pared down for 2--with some leftovers)


Salad--make ahead

1 lb. Mafalda pasta--any shapes will do, cooked and cooled.
1/2 c. walnuts, pan-toasted
3/4 cooked black-eyed peas
2 sm. heads escarole, thoroughly washed, wilted in a saute pan, shocked.

Vinaigrette

1 1/2 tbsp. whole grain mustard in white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/3-1/2 c. good green olive oil

Combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl, set aside. For the vinaigrette mix the first four ingredients throughly with a whisk or fork. Continue to whisk, adding the olive oil in a thin, steady drizzle. Once the dressing has emulsified--the mustard will assist greatly, taste. Add salt, cracked black pepper and honey as needed. Coat the salad.


The Soup

The aromatics:

1 med carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
1 small bunch sage leaves
1 stem rosemary leaves
2 cloves garlic, smashed to paste
3-5 tbsp olive oil

The vegetables:

1 medium Italian eggplant
5 ripe vine tomatoes or one 28 oz. can domestic San Marzano tomatoes, diced
1 lb. leftover home fries or 1 shredded Russet potato
2 tbsp honey

Begin by roasting the eggplant til skin is uniformly charred--open flame grilling is ideal as it is fastest. Remove to stainless steel bowl, cover with plastic to steam for ten minutes. Cut away cap and end, then skin eggplant--it should peel easily. Leave minor bits of the charred flesh as they'll infuse into the final puree with a smoky flavor. Pretty crucial, actually. Chop into loose cubes--by this point the outer flesh will be quite soft.

Add the first three ingredients to a hot stock pot with olive oil. Once signs of browning appear add the remaining "soft" aromatics. Once full fragrance is released add eggplant (include juices accumulated in steaming bowl) potato and tomatoes. Stir in honey. Stew til aroma reemerges, add water to increase volume; season in accordance: salt, dried chilies, pepper.

Remove herbs stems and pulse with either a hand masher or an immersion blender til the soup mixture appears 3:1 puree to chunky vegetables.

Serve together, dusting the soup with ground sumac. Fresh yogurt accompanies nicely as well.

Monday, August 30, 2010

At brillobox.


Pulled pork tacos with chipotle crema and avocado corn salsa

As long as we're clear this isn't just a porn forum for my hangover cures I thought it was best to begin introducing the dishes I've been working on at my neighborhood's smart haunt, Brillobox.

Headaches and recursive anxiety attacks aside it has been a slender miracle putting a menu of dishes out. Ideas that seemed from the outset fully formed and precise took to wild growth spurts and contentious trial and error efforts. All for the best mind you, the food just gets better every day.



Unquestionably the white whale in this undertaking has been the perfection of macaroni and cheese--specifically the besting of our local fave made by the exalted Kelly's Bar and Lounge in East Liberty. Nothing against the folks--truth be told I'm kinda warm on their kitchen magic myself. But, you know, I want to be better.

I began with a cream reduction and a fifty-fifty mixture of Gruyere and Beemser Vlaskaas--a pedigree combo that bore out responses of continental hauteur and, well, lack of being impressed.

Change came.

Up went the Gruyere--the melty string section. I introduced a bright yellow cheddar for flavor and visual appeal. The eyes that eat while the palate eats demand gold in their dishes, so I obliged.

Next came the issue of the crust, which my predecessor adressed in a rather sharply biblical manner by dusting his dish with fried shallots reminiscent of dehydrated locusts. They had to go.

I went with grainy breadcrumbs, grated Pecorino Pepata and finely chopped fried sage leaves. The oil those leaves hold onto is more than ample along with what is exuded from the Pecorino for creating a browned exterior in the oven--a point of prowess in fact. There is a conjugal moment when, mouth hovering, the individual pierces the crust with a creme brulee-like K sound and the term of astonishment is at hand.

Perhaps--in regard to perfection, it remains a periodical thing, something requiring more adaptation and more forward movement. For now it's just grand. Every time someone mentions Kelly's in the same mouthful of it--for better or worse, I inch closer to that grail. It is well within reach.



Caprese Panini--nationalist Italian salad relegated to poor divine grilled cheese sammich status. The humanity.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ruination.




It has been too sultry to write new recipes til now, so a few are on the way, rest assured.

Yesterday morning with fecundity common these days to my bewilderments at dawn I gave birth to another silly sandwich. Seen above is a panini of oil-poached chicken, fried egg, tomato, chili aoili and kyori zuke pickles. Convert this into a shot and I'll have a child with you.

The race is on.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The fez.



Got home at 5am and all I wanted was a sandwich and to hear Steely Dan's "The Fez". I came up with this gallant device: Egg still runny, yellow cheese, mortadella with pistachios and chipotle mayo on a Mancini's jalapeno roll. My asshole is gonna sue me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dawn, late summer.


The aperture of summer tightens still: The lifeguards at the Polish Hill pool stopped blowing the whistle when we sneak in flips and dangerous dives. Each day I walk up the Bloomfield Bridge and am met by a haunting breeze; it is coming.

Seen here is a cocoa raspberry custard with dulce de leche, vanilla hazelnut granola and a cinnamon toast cone. Calories, friends. This summer we burns em, this summer we east em...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Little nothing.



I wonder if I shouldn't burn my anthology of Chinese poetry and the lp of Wild Nothing's Gemini when this summer ends. Mind you, I'm too economical these days to follow through even if quixotic concensus should prevail. Nevertheless, exiting this summer in a mild August I'm already turning back on it and asking myself if with plaster, government funding and a second imagination to assist, could I ever replicate this thing we are leaving?

Seen above is one Pittsburgh blue beef slider eaten from atop Mencken's Chrestomathy at approximately 6:30AM sometime last week. Miss Ella was asleep and, for posterity, the news of the previous day was good.

Bruce Foster of Lawrenceville provided the Wyoming Black Angus, there's a Martin's roll, Heinz pickle and ketchup, minced onion and a bit of the furious Mr. Mustard brand mustard. It takes the crippling of families and their generations to achieve the most recognizable kinds of wealth. Others we wake up to in destined preparedness.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Everything is euphoric.



In search of a word.

There was one moment when Miri, Dan and me were eating egg yolk tacos at 4 AM, listening to Jorge Ben and I figured it was as grand as food or feelings could ever get. Miri's idea was that there should be no pictures because how could that possibly compare to what was really happening: Let's just rely on the heat of memory; Burping, farting, eating, listing and being ideal.

But...

for the sake of posterity:



Pate of avocado, tomatoes, garlic and jalapeno. It rained tacos.



A simulation involving skirt, peas, cabbage relish, sweet corn, goat cheese, pineapple rundown, jalapeno, avocado pate and rice.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June potluck.


Roasted beets and white onions with sprouts, toasted cashews and goat cheese.



Garlic scapes and cauliflower in habanero honey mayo--yes, the same as from the breakfast post a few days back.




Miss Ella in post-feast repose.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Good morning.


My pal, Quint, caught the perch seen here on Lake Erie some time back; and the eggs come from Lucinda's goat farm. Yes, this precious eat local bug bit my ass good.

Also pictured are roasted radishes and celery. With the fish there is a bit of habanero honey aioli--egg yolks whisked with honey roasted chilies and grapeseed oil til it forms a loose yellow mayonnaise.



Excuse me.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The patina of the cold immemorial.



Being invincible is largely a matter of convenient timing and clever diet. Avoid sick people and eat only what you like. This winter--now that it's over we can finally talk about it, taxed the senses more than most. More snow fell in February than in any other month in recorded history. Love lives involved neighbors, a triumphally sad piano dirge called 'I Wonder' by an unknown balladeer named Big Ceasar (sic), and a thoughtful, indeed thorough, rethinking and remapping of the notion "the silent treatment." Some weeks I deep fried balls of gelato in duck fat and chased them with foie gras and mayo, others I don't think I even looked at food. I distinctly recall cutting into the vividly colored concentric design in a watermelon radish--the one I used for the salade Nicoise piece probably, and thinking it was astonishing that something so beautiful could live so comfortably in the natural order with no discernible purpose. It was only later, lying in bed, no doubt fucked off about the aftertaste of PBR and love gone bad, that I realized with a perfectly startled air of discovery that the radish is in fact a tuber, and by the parameters of our archeological reckoning a food stuff with a decided purpose.



Again, there were days when I did eat. And days when I surprised myself.

Maybe because JJ knocked one out of the park at Dinette or just the rote banality of making them I found this season populated heavily with pizzas. JJ's involved anchovies and thinly sliced serrano chilies. It was, to say nothing of its godfatherly standing among other pies, one of the finest foods I've ever eaten. So too did I find it behooved me to make a few myself.

Running the cheese counter at the store presented me with a rather novel challenge. How do I get people to try something they regard as over-priced continental elitist garbage? I could shave wafers of Societe Roquefort off for people wearing Dale Earnhardt t-shirts all I liked. In the end it's just shwag. It dawned on me that the only way to effectively convince people that cheese is in fact the culmination of our worldly initiative with the Earth was to dislocate it, give a fresh context: Everybody loves pizza. So I made pies for people to sample, pies with Beemster's goudas, with Sini Fulvi Pecorino Romano, with homemade ricotta-stuffed burratas, anything I could get my hands on. I still only sell about five bucks worth of cheese a day but when Dale Earnhardt's flock tastes those pies every Saturday morning they are, if only momentarily and of course unwittingly, transformed into les becs fin.

History clings exclusively to those particles of our discovery and invention that provoke the senses.

The pie pictured above was made with Hodgson Mill-brand yeast, and honey where the recipe's author, Mario Batali, employed wine. For a conventional oven you must resign yourself to a slightly inferior crust--yes even with a pizza stone. The heat is insufficient to achieve that ideal crisp edge and pillowy streak in the interior. Sorry Charlie.

Oh yeah, fair warning, if in the course of our co-habitation you should discover me building a wood-burning pizza oven in your back yard it's a fair signal of my intention to marry you.

With a handicap on the crust the emphasis shifts even further to the cheese melted over-top. On this occasion I chose a buttery stinky Taleggio. Previously I hung the contrastive balance on tomatoes and salty Pecorino Pepata, so as a foil for the rich flabbiness of the cheese I went with roasted endive and radicchio. In general I prefer a sauce rich with olive oil. There are several reasons: first, it's a very flavor-friendly element and showcases your aromatics dutifully, but in terms of simple mechanics I have found that loose fresh tomato purees tend to sog the crust down. The solution is to treat the sauce like a vinaigrette: emulsify chopped tomatoes with olive oil and whatever herbs you like. In the mortar of the cheese you will find it becomes veneer-like.

The final accent, crucial in the lightless winter months is a handful of loosely chopped green herbs--in this instance I had parsley basil and thyme. Dress the herbs in a mixture of olive oil lemon juice salt and pepper then add to the finished pie--it should look like an afterthought. The effect is pretty invigorating and momentarily winter abates.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alright, I'm awake.


Ashley makes a formidable coconut flan, tries on a fried eggplant taco.

"There is no malice in him; he is as trustful as a child. In point of fact, his childishness is more prominent than his creator intended it to be. When...he suggests performing "mad things" as a penance--additional deliberate "mad things" on top of his normal madness--so to speak, he shows a rather limited schoolboyish imagination in the way of his pranks."
-from V. Nabokov's lectures on Cervantes' Don Quixote, Harvard Univ., 1951.



"America don't want to see us work, they want to see us LIVE. Tron is livin' for the ci-TAY!"
-Tron


Ask Ashley for the flan recipe--annihilating business, forcing shameful predawn trips down the stairs to scoop it out of the fridge between gulps of Brunton's 2% milk--I remember ribbons of raspberry sugar syrup running from my tipping spoon, evidentiary only to the moon and my own fatigued sense of place and time.

My life as an educator has yet to begin so it would be egregiously premature to make lessons of my poverty, my secular self searching and the like as if a bare shred of enlightenment grew in either anyway. Now, Lent and Siddharthan confrontations set aside, purposefully and to the enrichment of color and flavor alike, we must, you and I, go back to fucking around in the kitchen, flower petals and cashews on the floor. With whiskey.

Eggplant tacos with chili mascarpone crema and pickled cabbage.



The one in the middle looks like Willie Nelson.


Feeds 3.

18 corn tortillas
1 medium eggplant
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 c. fresh bread crumbs
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 c. pinto beans
1 sm. yellow onion chopped


1/2 sm. head green cabbage
1 sprig cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, pulverized
1 bunch scallions, chopped--greens and all. DO NOT WASTE THE GREENS!
2 heaping tbsp. white vinegar

1/4 c. mascarpone--I recommend the tasty, cloudy Vermont Creamery brand--they're sustainable too!
3 chipotle chilies in adobo, chopped
1 tsp milk
a pinch of annato seeds steeped in 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil--seeds discarded once a deep blood orange oil color is achieved.

salsa--see note.

The tacos, since meat was out of the question were amply substituted with fried eggplant. I sliced one medium eggplant into disks the thickness of an average magazine--quite thin. Salt them and leave them for a half an hour or so to dry. The salt will cause moisture to bead on the surface: pat the disks dry of any pooling water with a dry towel. Add to a paper bag with flour, shake to coat. Dredge in egg then coat in bread crumbs. Allow the disks of eggplant to air dry while you prepare the accompaniments.

Saute the beans and tomatoes, beginning with the aromatics--I think this time I had some leftover fennel greens which I added to the garlic and onions. Celery is always welcome too. As you add the beans and tomatoes adjust the liquid level--water is fine, but stock or tomato juice is even better. I also like to secret in a squeeze of anchovy paste. Allow this to simmer, moving right along.

For the cabbage you will simply slice it in the fashion of a slaw, adding the cilantro, aromatics and acids, adjusting to taste. A pinch of sugar will take the sharp edge off if you notice one--or simply sub in orange juice for the lime. In the end this element is primarily added for textural contrast. The flavor, though supportive, should at least be pleasing.

The crema is, too, purely a matter of consistency. As long as you can rely on the quality of the two fundamentals, the mascarpone and the chipotles, the flavor is an unspoken promise. Start the mixture with the colored oil, mixing the mascarpone and chilies in, adding the milk later, only if needed. It should be the consistency of sour cream, the color of cantaloupe.

At this point time management should be a consideration: The tortillas will take about about twenty minutes to griddle to pliability--you'll want them to appear at once darkened in spots and slightly puffed with steam. So too you'll want to watch the beans and tomatoes. With your final season, mash the beans--keep the consistency of refried beans or loose mashed potatoes in mind.

Meanwhile fry the eggplant in neutral oil set to 350 degrees. It will brown, then float. Season, then allow the crisped pieces to air dry briefly. This will ensure the eggplant will provide an inner meatiness and an exterior crunch so you don't feel like such a loser ass vegetarian--not that you should necessarily.

As the last of eggplant emerges from the fry and the tortillas rest under a warm damp towel you might want to consider a salsa. Frankly at this point it's all salsa anyhow, but if you have an avocado, a bit of corn and a pinch of broccoli sprouts lying around, it's fair game: mash em up. Otherwise anything, prepared or easily assembled on the spot is fine. I don't like particularizing salsa--or anything truthfully, as it really does encumber our availability to surprise. On a hurried lunch between shifts days after making these tacos I added a sliced pear to mine in the place of guacamole and found it jarringly appropriate. In fact, I recommend it.

In the order best suited to your already taxed post-lenten sense of ritual you will want to construct and consume the tacos, then and there, or later as you like, evidentiary only to your own moral compass and the moon.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Nice.



Salade Nicoise always struck me as one of those things, alternately haughty and boring, that could stir up debate among the indifferent without ever compelling their hunger. I grew up thinking a salad, plainly, was a dewy green phone book gathered in a wooden bowl from the underbelly of a push mower as gustatory scapegoat for whatever Frito Lay product had been last--and more shamefully, partaken. I was nearly right.

Whatever the debate or ennui this salade seems to inspire in others I jumped for it. Long before frat bars piled French fries on landfills of iceberg lettuce, jerk chicken and shredded cheddar (don't knock it it ain't half bad) the salade Nicoise added potatoes to greens--or so I thought; it had blanched string beans, lending a gardeny crunch--or so I thought; and of course the tuna itself meant the pious water-canned albacore--or so I feared (and kinda hoped).

Then I came across this. No potatoes, no lettuce, no beans, no jerk chicken. Hell, no dressing really, just the olive oil from the tuna. And don't ask, no, no albacore in spring water. Turns out the Europeans have built an industry of exquisite oil-cured tuna.

Salade Nicoise
(for 2)

1 poblano pepper--try to select a mild one , or simply forgo the chilies.
1 long stalk celery--stripped of floss
1 red onion
1/3 medium daikon, shaved

1 bunch scallions, finely chopped at the white bottoms, then lankier the further and greener up
1 tbsp capers
2 tbsp roughly chopped cornichons--keep the brine handy.
chopped parsley.
crushed chilies
a few additional splashes of very decent olive oil.

1 watermelon radish or 2 red radishes, slice across into wafers

7oz. jar of Flott oil-preserved tuna
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled, quartered.
1 grilled half of lemon--well-concealed from Nicoise purists!



1. Arrange radishes in a circular fashion along the perimeters of two medium plates.

2. Chop the first four ingredients into stubby match sticks, add to the radish-lined centers of the plates.

3. With the final of the six, a good olive oil, scud the ensuing six ingredients in a mixing bowl. Toss and muddle-infusing the ingredients. Add salt and cracked black pepper to assist and taste. Spoon over raw vegetables, coat by tossing gingerly between your fingers.

4. Add the tuna to the salad plates. Combining leftover oil with any oil-scud leftover in the mixing bowl, drizzle on tuna and salad. Place eggs.

5. Dress by adding salt, cracked pepper and juice from grilled lemon. Shave Piave Vecchio over it if you like...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

No food, no whiskey.


Okay...some.

A few weeks ago some friends introduced me to their (mostly) secular versions of Lent--they set aside something dear to themselves--crutches as one succinctly put it.

This year it was time I tried it out for myself. After all, that's masochism! And if a masochist lives in me I should know. I have forty days to discover him, study him and prepare him for the hedonist secret sharer he'll meet sometime in early April--provided that Bacchanalian-on-hiatus is still breathing by then.

This is only week two, not even halfway through, and already my sacrifices of alcohol, red meat and the other white meat are producing vibrant disciplinary and spiritual symptoms.
My experiment began with a 48 hour fast, followed by 24 hours of raw vegetables and fruit juices. At night long, fearsome dreams of shitty jobs from long ago, messed-up romances and estranged life plans greeted me. Each morning I awoke tired and puzzled. It is a fitting detail of one's psyche to know contentment not by what colors dreams, but by what fails to discolor nightmares. When all one does in the waking hours is fuss over food and drink it is reassuring to know he doesn't dream of starvation--it would confirm all the worst neuroses of life in the first world--not to say comparable evidence of that kind of cultivated depravity doesn't exist elsewhere. Anyhow some narrative device operating in my sleep juggled my oldest troubles: Having enough to eat was not among them. Nor was having enough to drink, sufficed to say.

All moral fine tuning aside, with a tightened budget the narrative turn into frugality and creative restriction only made sense. As I dream up innovations for pantry dearth feasts enjoy this one last snack food combo that sustained me for well over a week--basically til the first hints of sourness visited the eggplant.

Warm tomato salad and baba ghanouj

Celebrity chefs love to encourage you to take chances and work with what you like, to make your own creative variations on their instructions. That's fine, but for such a simplistic pair of flavor complements I couldn't imagine changing a thing. Add Rice Krispies or guanciale at your own risk...


The salad

1/2 lb. soaked and simmered white cannellini beans, with several tbsp. reserved cooking liquid.
1 lg. can San Marzano tomatoes
1 med. sweet onion, grated, juices reserved.
1/2 lg. bulb fennel, finely diced
1 1/2 tbsp raw honey
1 sm. tin anchovy fillets, finely chopped (since this recipe is very nearly vegan you could substitute 1/3 c. mashed picholine olives for anchovies and get a comparable salinity)

4-5 cloves of garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 lg. lemon, halved, plus 1 sm. lemon, halved (reserved for baba ghanouj).

As far as a few days but no later than a half an hour in advance preheat oven to 350 and roast garlic, rosemary and lemon in olive oil--use a small enough vessel that the ingredients sit fully submersed in oil. Depending on the oven this could take up to 40 minutes--keep an eye on it.

Remove garlic cloves to a small mixing bowl and mash-they should succumb easily to the back of a fork. Strain in olive oil, pressing firmly on the lemon halves to extract all juices. Discard solids, then whisk juice and oil to a loose emulsion.

In a saute pan over medium high heat add 2 tbsp. of prepared oil emulsion. As this comes to near smoking temperature add anchovies and grated onion, cooking til juices evaporate and the onion flesh begins to brown. Add an additional tbsp. of oil followed by the fennel. Repeat this process with the beans and finally the tomatoes, allowing each phase to cook til the pan is nearly free of simmering liquid. Whisking vigorously add the remaining oil along with the mashed garlic paste. Stir in honey, season with salt and pepper, cover and reduce heat to low.

The baba ghanouj

1 lg. eggplant, quartered lengthwise
3-4 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 to 1c. tahini paste
1 bunch of med. chopped Italian parsley
juice of 1 med. roasted lemon, reserved from salad preparation
2 raw cloves of garlic, mashed to paste
1 tsp chili flakes

Under a broiler roast eggplant til skin is singed and peels easily from the softened interior. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap to steam. Once cooled to touch strip the eggplant of burned skin, rinsing hands in a bowl of cool water as you go--the skin will stick. Some residue of the blackened skin will adhere to the eggplant, but shouldn't be picked over as it will add a crucial smokiness. In a large clean mixing bowl add skinned eggplant and any collected roasting juices. Mash eggplant, adding all additional ingredients one by one, beginning with the tahini. With each addition season with salt and pepper to taste. In the end you may need to add a few tablespoons of olive oil or water to thin the paste to your desired consistency.

Lightly char pita over direct stove flame until spotted black. Top. Finish with black sesame seeds and more olive oil.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The baguette in winter.



Snow clouds the senses.

The baguette.

Fond, if you've watched any two consecutive minutes of food tv is the browned-on junk at the bottom of a pan after you've cooked in it. Last night I made some farfalle with olives and Zamorano, and consistent with my character did not wash up afterward. There was fond. Mind you for health reasons I should caution against leaving pans sit unwashed for so long as rumors of illness and foul taste follow them. Personally I find it all perfectly false and unduly worrisome.

Bring the fond-stained skillet back to a medium heat, scudding in olive oil to loosen the remnants. Once you've made a rough sludge of it add some aromatics; I chose sweet onions, shallots and fennel. Season the mixture shortly into the saute as the salt will speed the softening. Add diced tomatoes and all juices. As the liquid cooks out continue to season and moisten--my pal, Crystal, brought a grand Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon to dinner last night: It was on hand and did the trick nicely. Once incorporated the red sauce will take on a rusty caramel color. Add a liberal pinch of sugar and let simmer til the solids have largely been broken down. As the last of the dousings dry in the pan stir in a healthy soak of olive oil. Whisk. Once emulsified it will both fortify the body of the sauce and tame the color a bit.

This too provides an essential boost in substance. Matching the dimension of the oil with the caviar-like richness of the eggplant will prove among the most satisfying elements of the dish--not to mention a subtle unifying factor.

Slice the eggplant into discs and salt, leaving them to sit for 15 minutes--this will remove moisture that might otherwise prevent bread crumbs from adhering. Pat dry with paper towels. Dredge and fry the eggplant in batches: Lightly flour (I toss them into a brown bag with a half cup of all purpose flour and shake). Next into egg wash then into a mixture of fresh bread crumbs, plane-grated Parmigiano Reggiano and parsley. Fry and transfer to a newspaper to dry.

In the halved, still-warm baguette begin with a layer of sliced Taleggio, topping with overlapping eggplant discs. Spoon the reduced red sauce overtop along with thinly cut fresh buffalo mozzarella. Finish with parsley, chile flakes Parmigiano and one last splash of olive oil.

It goes under the broiler til the bread is nearly blackened and all visible cheese bubbles.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A terrible thing to waste.


Thanks to my pal, Nick, for capturing the bird-brained side of me...

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009. Pan-seared pig's brain with potato pancake, scallion salad and mustard hollandaise.

My visits to the accommodating--if often crowded, Strip District Meats on Penn Ave. are invariably marked with a child's wonder reading the chalkboard beyond the meat counter listing their speciality items: varieties of wild game, offal extremes, bison gonads, rattlesnake egos, cutlets of muscly witchcraft, etc..

As adventurous a spirit as I feel I have I have to admit my adventures have been few--I have lived mostly aloof, and as often dishonestly.

I know, shocking...

Pig's brains at Strip District Meats sell at $1.99/lb--as opposed to the prized veal brains at $13.99/lb. I'm no vegetarian, but I do draw my line at eating the young. It just seems unnecessary and commensurate with the snuffing of young life, simply not fulfilling as an eating experience. That and, c'mon, pig's brains are two bucks a pound. I grabbed a pound.

My schooling on the subject came by familiar way of Simon Hopkinson and his essential food narrative/cookbook, Roast Chicken and Other Stories. His cervelles--he pussyfoots with the more euphonious--and frankly misleading, French name for the dish, but manages, in spite of this affectation, to produce a handful of appetizing recipes. More importantly he makes the process of brain preparation easy and coherent. The brain dish I produced is my own concoction but the fundamentals of the cooking are his.

Because the preparation requires two phases--an initial poaching, followed by a pan sear, there was a convenient pause in the process where I could taste the firmed up brain matter and get a basic idea of the texture and flavor. Of the former, brain has been accurately compared to scrambled eggs in the French style--which is to say custardy and not fully set; my pal, Wendy, still does them the best, having spent her schooling years at Tulane where such extracurricular lessons would've availed themselves.

Enthusiasts of Korean food who--like me, thrill over the silken tofu in soon dubu soup, will find similarities there as well.

It is, to be sure, a little jostling on first taste.

However comfortable one is with his omnivorism the ultimate sensation is one that prickles with philosophical misgivings. We are what we are, we eat what we chose, and if we are to taste some it we must certainly accept the lot it. Of course all of this is provided you've come this far...

Now of the latter, the taste itself, there is not a lot to say. Like tofu it is bland as can be. You will find Hopkinson really gets to show off his saucier skills in this portion of his book. So the exercise comes to concern window-dressing. These recipes are kindled ventures in pageantry.

Far be it for a short order cook of my station to match maneuvers with Simon--I chose a different tack.

Given that uncanny similarity to scrambled eggs I went with my gut and humble heritage. The most common response I got was that this was Eggs Benedict. Well, Brains Benedict. And rather than relying on an english muffin I opted to up the flavor and texture with a potato pancake redolent of onions, finely-shredded celery and plenty of roasted garlic. The scallion salad lent acidity and some much needed structure to the dish, and the hollandaise framed the breakfast impostor studiously.

There are fundamental divergences I made from Hopkinson's instruction, but in the end I suspect they were only minimally influential to the eating experience of a pig's brain.

First I opted for an initial poach in seasoned milk rather than the court bullion. For one thing I hadn't satisfactory spices to fabricate one, and as well, my utilitarian instincts require I soak all non-muscle tissue in milk to leach out the cadaverous elements--its what makes liver such a (less minerally) smash when done correctly.

Also, since I used a larger organ than the one Hopkinson prescribed--he chose a calf's to my pig's, I sliced it down to cutlet serving size prior to poaching. It is essential to the undertaking of this step to know the delicacy of this organ--as food stuff, that is. If you have a fish spatula I recommend using it to transfer the brain segments to and from the poach and skillet as nearly any aggressive jostling will break up the tissue.

Finally, taste it out of the poaching milk. Get to know it for yourself. I found my recipe to be fairly intuitive. Like filet mignon it's a vessel, a near blank slate upon which, not unlike the imagination, you are required to show some initiative.

You need to pile up the flavor on a pig's poor brain.


The ingredients and preparation.

Feeds 2.

1 1 lb. pig's brain
3 c. whole milk
1 bay leaf; cumin; salt and pepper (to taste)

1 medium white potato
2 medium red potatoes
1 small red onion, grated
1 stalk celery, grated
3 cloves of roasted garlic (with one healthy tablespoon of reserved oil)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 egg yolk, whitened with beating
1 tbsp. heavy cream

1 qt. cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. coarse mustard
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
a handful of finely chopped parsley..

A handful of scallions, chopped lengthwise and then into matchstick size
lemon juice
salt and pepper

The idea is to get everything hot and ready at once. So timing is very much a factor. Because a hollandaise--what I call hollandaise at any rate, is so temperamental you should save it for the final step--like any sauce it requires the most ingenuity of your labor, so on that premise too you should save the imaginative for the culmination.

Begin by soaking the brain, sliced into half inch cuts in whole milk, seasoned liberally with salt, pepper, and bay. Let it sit for an afternoon, no less than a few hours, refrigerated.

Prepare the potato pancakes. Boil three medium potatoes in heavily salted water--I find a mixture of white and red increases the textural bristle. Using a block grater grate the celery and onion, adding it, with juices, to a bowl. Add the roasted garlic and oil--mash the cloves first. Once the potatoes have boiled to doneness you want to incorporate the grated vegetables with them, adding beaten yolk and cream as you go. Form patties and reserve til you're ready to griddle-cook them. In a white hot skillet fry the pancakes.

At this point you'll want to either attend to some measly vegetable sidecar--I roasted carrots, or get on with the brains...

The brain filets should be dusted in flour, salted and peppered--like any oddity the guilty secret is that pig's brain has no genuine flavor of its own so here's where you begin to make it up.

Sear and cook them through--touch the filets in the process for doneness. Like anything you'll feel a decreasing give as they go--cook to your liking.

In the meantime get on with your salad and hollandaise. The scallions need merely be trimmed into matchsticks and dressed with lemon juice, salt and pepper--I did dash a teaspoonful of ghee into the dressing as well.

The hollandaise begins like a conventional salad dressing: Convene with vinegar, mustard, egg yolk and seasoning. Whisk to a loose slurry consistency. Then add oil as with a mayonnaise--whisking vigorously. Once the body of the mayonnaise has formed begin adding the cream. You will want a heavy surface--but not something oppressive. Bear in mind you're dressing a brain, it needs a voluptuous speech, but it also needs--and this is admittedly tricky, a finer word--something to allow for contemplation. You want a taste of buttermilk dressing with the warm unctuousness of turkey gravy. Add plenty of chopped fresh parsley. It will take on the characteristics of thin white gravy.

As the hollandaise firms up brown the pancakes in a free skillet. Warm, too, the segmented brains as well--if needed. Upon mutual heating stack the elements in napoleon-form. Beg for Christ's sweet forgiveness and--panting subsided, consume to a nice Hank Snow record. Maybe Wham!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fool's gold.



Sunday, December 13, 2009, 8:45 AM. First things first, I don't recommend you do as I have done. In fact let that stand as caveat emptor for not only this chronicle but for all expressions issuant. That said I spent the last 36 hours of my life wrassling with the vilest variety of a cold and flu combo yet encountered in my adult years.

I awoke this morning thinking about fire. I thought, more specifically about fighting fire with fire. Anything, my inclination went, a virus can do to me I can do better. I can out-destroy me. And so I did.

Gentle reader, I might have held my punches til everything was back to normal, sparing you the underbelly, but fair's fair: we eat beef Wellington together we eat, well, this shit together as well. You and me, we might as well be married. Seen here is one half a salami and provolone panini with about half a dozen pierogies from our beloved Pierogies Plus in McKees Rocks. This lethal combination was complemented by a mixture of El Yucateco habanero sauce, Sriracha, chili flakes and cracked black pepper. Washed it down with New Castle's own Pasture Maid Creamery raw milk.

And yes, now that you mention it it is a bit odd that in a sickness delirium I not only unwittingly eat great local food but finally showcase it.

That established I must now chase the aforementioned Faustian heap with an Emergen-C drink and a melatonin tablet, ideally cleansing me of memories both ill and restoratively misguided. Tell you what, give me a gun loaded with blanks and I'll find a way to shoot myself in the foot. I think I'm gonna throw up (again).

***

More flattering recipes to come using Pasture Maid's incomparable milk. And do grab a bag of pierogies from Pierogies Plus before the gals hightail it back to Poland for the holidays...