15 November 2010

Food Lab 6: Potatoes

We had originally planned to do a two day lab making homemade sausage, but Chef Spouse had to work Sunday and Mad Kitchen Scientist and The Executive Committee had a commitment, too, so we decided that we'd bust out the IA-By-Day Chefs-By-Nights' deep fryer and take on potatoes.

Conclusion 1: I NEED a deep fryer. Are you listening, Santa?

Conclusion 2: Mix 6 people who like to experiment in the kitchen, booze, a deep fryer full of hot peanut oil, and a bowl of simple baking powder batter, and all kinds of insanity is likely to result. "What can we batter and deep fry?" "What CAN'T we batter and deep fry?"

Following our usual practice, we gathered, pulled out all the supplies, made cocktails (bloody marys of course, with vodka which of course is made from potatoes), sat down with the snacks, and figured out the plan.

What we arrived on was:
  1. Hash browns
  2. Fries
  3. Chips
  4. Stuff Covered In Batter (more on that later)
We had the traditional russet potatoes, Yukon golds, and sweet potatoes, plus olive oil, peanut oil, and bacon fat (from the bacon we cooked to snack on). We never did use the olive oil, as emptying the deep fryer proved impractical, and once we started on doing the hash browns in bacon fat, we all agreed that there was really no reason to try anything else.

Chef Spouse was the hash brown guy, and I ended up Queen of the Deep Fryer

On the hash browns, we labbed each option with both the russets and the Yukon golds. Russets are traditional for most potato frying applications, but we agreed that in most cases, the Yukon golds were superior in taste and texture. Chef Spouse captured it best: "Yukons remind you of brunch, russets remind you of camping."

First trial was to grate raw potatoes, spread them widely/very thin, and fry in bacon fat. Didn't really work - the potatoes didn't seem to cook evenly and were almost impossible to flip. We did better keeping them more in a potato pancake configuration, but we didn't really start cooking with gas (so to speak) until we parboiled whole potatoes, then grated them, then dried them, then cooked them in more the pancake configuration in bacon fat for about 15 minutes (until golden and crispy).

Once we realized the parboil was the key, we tried going the other way - grating first, then parboiling for 10 seconds, then ice shocking, then drying (as best we could - there was a LOT of water still in there, though), then cooking the potatoes in bacon fat for 15 minutes. They weren't as crispy as the parboiled whole potatoes (almost definitely because we couldn't get the water out), but they were still better than the grated potatoes that went in the pan raw. We also tried coating the raw potatoes with potato starch to see if we could duplicate the effect of parboiling without actually parboiling. No go.

Conclusion? Your best bet is to parboil Yukon golds, cool them, grate them, dry them, and then cook them in the hot bacon fat you have on hand from making your bacon (we are, after all, talking about breakfast here). But that takes a lot of time. So if you don't want to get up at the crack of dawn, grating and then parboiling for 10 seconds before frying in bacon fat is an acceptable solution.

Queen of the Deep Fryer?

Let me cut to the chase: there's a reason the double fry in peanut oil is the classic way to make French fries. We tried a single fry at a high temp, we tried a single fry at a lower temp, we tried parboiling the potatoes first. Yeah, don't even bother. 3 minutes at 300 degrees, drain while the oil temperature comes up, 5ish minutes at 360 degrees = French fry perfection. Both the russets and the Yukon golds worked well. The russets had the traditional floury texture, the Yukon golds were more buttery, but you MUST double fry. No excuses, no exceptions.

Did I mention that The Executive Committee made dipping sauces? A roasted red pepper (her take on ketchup), aioli, a spicy yogurt cilantro, and a cream cheese, scallion and bacon. All delish, but I thought the yogurt cilantro was particularly good.

Chips: well, unsurprisingly, we discovered that double frying was the best here, too. One tip? Your chips MUST be of a consistent thickness. The taste difference between the russets and the Yukon golds was not nearly as noticeable once we moved onto chips. And this was when we broke out the sweet potatoes. Sweet potato chips? Awesome. Sweet potato chips with the spicy yogurt cilantro dip? Even awesomer.

By this point, we'd all had a few cocktails, and Mama IA-By-Day Chef-By-Night had mixed up a batter for deep fried pickles. And sweet potato chips. And Snickers bars (yes really). And - ultimate triumph - bananas sprinkled with cinnamon palm sugar.

The thing that I learned about deep frying in general is that you have to gently slide the items into the fryer by hand from close up (which always looks so dangerous when I see it on cooking shows, but it really is better - good control and no splashing), you can't put too many in, and you need to keep an eye out to make sure the items aren't sticking to each other or the fry basket. That goes triple once you include batter in the mix. And the battered items will want to stick to EVERYTHING, so have a variety of metal tools handy to use to pry things apart.

So the pickles were decent. The Snickers bars were hard to fry - even though we froze them before battering and frying, they kept melting. The sweet potato chips ended up very tempura-like, even without panko bread crumbs in the batter.

But the bananas? The bananas were SOOO good. How good were they? They were so good Mad Kitchen Scientist decided he needs a deep fryer just so he can make them. They were that good

30 October 2010

Recipe: Chili Cheese Scones

At the request of my colleagues, who GREATLY enjoyed the scones I brought in Friday, and HEAVILY adapted from a recipe from Epicurious.com. (Sorry there's no photo - I didn't think to take one.)

Jalapeno Cheese Scones

Preheat the over to 375 degrees F.

2 c. all purpose flour (I like King Arthur unbleached white myself)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder

Dump them all into the bowl of your food processor, fitted out with your plastic blade and pulse a few times to combine. Julia was the first person who introduced me to the concept of using the food processor in baking breads, and it definitely makes the early stages go faster.

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter

Slice the butter into the bowl of the food processor (thin slices), and again, pulse several times until it gets to "coarse meal" stage.  That link will take you to a picture if you're not sure what "coarse meal" looks like.

8-10 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
1-3 jalapenos, finely diced

Cracker Barrel Vermont extra sharp white works fine - you don't have to get fancy, unless you want to. Choose the number of jalapenos based on how spicy you want these and how big the chilies are. Pop the grated cheese and diced chilies both into the bowl of the food processor, and again, pulse several times to distribute everything evenly.

3/4 c. heavy cream
1 large egg

Whisk the two together, then pour them into the bowl of the food processor, and pulse until the dough starts to form.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead just until it all forms together.

Divide the dough in half, form each half into a round a little less than an inch deep, and cut each round into 6 triangles.

Space the triangles out on cookie sheets and bake about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them after 15, though. You don't want them to overcook.

These things are awesomely delicious. Seriously. And they go great for breakfast or on the side of a soup or Tex-Mex dinner.

21 October 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 20

(I just realized I never posted this!)

The final box:

4 apples
5 yams
5 red potatoes
8 white potatoes
1 green bell pepper
2 turnips
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
4 chilies

So in the final analysis, what did I think?

With the exception of a turnip that had a bad spot and most of one head of lettuce (both of which got composted), we used everything, and without breaking a sweat.

For a number of items, I really didn't taste a major difference between what I got from the CSA and what I get from the local supermarket.


Fresh peaches. Fresh strawberries.  Fresh tomatoes. Fresh corn.

Every week, Chef Spouse keeps asking: "Is the CSA really over?"

And that, to me, is the real answer: the fun of not knowing what's going to show up every week.

Next year? It's ON!

11 October 2010

Food Lab 5: Butter Doughs

We're now into our High Holy Days - aka, the NFL season - so we decided to switch over to two day food labs, so we can start Saturday and then have everyone come back to watch the games on Sunday.  This weekend marked our first two day lab, taking place October 9 and 10.

The thing about butter-based doughs is that, in most cases, you don't HAVE to rest them over night.  But they definitely benefit from it.  We had decided on brioche and croissants.

For labbing brioche, we picked two recipes: I made the one from Julia's The Way To Cook (which is basically the Mastering recipe, only she found religion on using food processors to start a variety of bread doughs since Mastering) and Mad Kitchen Scientist focused on the poolish-based brioche from Bread Alone.

Mad Kitchen Scientist had given me an excellent sealed brick of live yeast a while back, and I was waiting for a special time to open it up.  This was it.

We both used regular King Arthur unbleached white all-purpose flour, which is pretty much the perfect baking flour, although Mad Kitchen Scientist supplemented with some King Arthur wheat pastry flour.  He swears by it for pie crust.

The two recipes were fairly similar, other than the fact that Julia calls for more butter, and Bread Alone uses more eggs.

Now, the thing about brioche is that it can be almost more of a batter than a dough.  And actually, that's the problem I had the last time I tried to make it (using the Joy recipe) - too dense (so not batter-y enough).  Anyway, I think my "large" eggs might not be quite what Julia was thinking of when she said "large" eggs, since I had to throw in at least an extra half cup of flour (maybe more) to even render the dough workable.  But I got to use my new pastry scraper, and after that, it went like a dream.  After the first two rises, I rested it overnight.  Sunday morning, I brought it to cool room temperature before forming a small loaf and some small and large a tetes, going through one more rise, and baking.

Mad Kitchen Scientist followed pretty much the same pattern, although he started his dough in the mixer rather than a food processor.

We discovered that you want the dough to be just this side of too wet to work.  More butter is definitely preferable (surprise, surprise).  The wheat pastry dough didn't add anything, and in fact, detracted from the pretty pale yellow color you get in a good brioche.  I didn't think the poolish really added anything, either.  Mad Kitchen Scientist said he might've enriched the Julia recipe with one more egg yolk, although that obviously would've required even again a bit more flour.

We also cooked it at too high a temperature.  Julia, oddly, didn't specify.  Bread Alone advised 400 F, but the edges were browning too fast.  In retrospect, I think I would've gone with 400 for the first few minutes, then turned it down to 350 or lower for the remainder of the cooking time.

We also ran into some problems with shape formation.  Our tetes all looked  somewhat to fairly drunken.  Considering that we'd gone wine tasting before starting on Saturday, and then started off Sunday morning with bourbon milk punch, though, that's probably apropos. 

With the croissants, we didn't lab them - we just wanted to see if we could make them successfully. We used the classic Mastering recipe, and did it all by hand.  You start with a smallish amount of fairly wet dough that you knead just a little - that pastry scraper will come in handy - and then it's a LONG first rise (3 hours). The second rise is the point at which you can refrigerate it (which we did), which gives you a long, cold rise - or you let it rise for 90 minutes and then chill it thoroughly before proceeding.

Sunday morning was all about banging in the butter.  You roll your dough out into a rectangle, beat your butter into a thick rectangular paste, and fold it in.  The first round, you do two folds, then you rest and chill for another 90 minutes.   Two more rolls and folds leaves you with 55 layers (according to Julia) of dough separated by 54 layers of butter.  After the final roll and fold, you chill for another 2 hours.  This is another place where you could refrigerate overnight.

Or you move on to forming the croissants.  We discovered that, although you don't want to over-flour the dough, if it gets sticky at any point in any of this, you're done.  We also discovered that the smaller the triangles you cut to roll, the better.

Then it's one final 90 minute rise (before or after which you can freeze them, which if you want them for breakfast, I recommend), an egg wash, and 12-15 minutes in a hot oven (about 400 F, although Julia once again didn't specify - maybe she thinks we'll all just *know*?).  After that?  Buttery, flaky, warm delicious heaven.

Seriously, though, were they worth 12 hours of effort?  Are they that much better than store-bought?

Yes.  No contest.

06 October 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 19

In the penultimate week's box:

1 butternut squash
1 small pumpkin
2 winter squash that could be a variety of acorn
2 turnips
6 potatoes
pile of green beans
4 apples
2 jalapenos
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce

The box was delivered while I had my door closed for lunch, and when I opened it, I discovered the week's box...and a bag of 10 apples. I figured that constituted a request from my colleagues for more pie, so I obliged.

I'm hanging onto all the winter squash and, after next week's final delivery, plan to roast it all, puree it, and freeze it to be used later this winter in muffins, quick breads, pies, soups, etc.  One of my favorite winter soups is a curry pumpkin - can't wait to make it using CSA pumpkin rather than canned.

29 September 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 18

In this week's box:

1 pumpkin
1 butternut squash
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
5 potatoes
4 apples
small pile of green beans
1 green bell pepper
2 little hot peppers
a cute little decorative gourd

More squash!  That squash-cooking day is starting to look increasingly critical. Last week's and this week's apples went into pies for the weekend.  My folks were in town to celebrate my dad's birthday, which is a pretty common event each fall - they'll often make the trek down from the Philly area for a weekend of fun, good company, yummy food, and football around his birthday.  And I always make apple pie for dessert, because it's his favorite.  My crust making has improved dramatically in the past year.  I attribute it to 3 things:

  1. Butter.  I had been sticking with 100% vegetable shortening for my crust.  Since it's an old family recipe, it used to be made with lard, and shortening is the closest modern cognate.  But it really tastes better if you use about 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening.  The shortening is easier and more forgiving (and makes the crust nice and tender), but flavor-wise, it doesn't bring much to the party.  Butter does.
  2. Better sense of what the dough is supposed to feel like.  I've been making pies with homemade crust for years, but, as is the point of this whole Food Lab exercise, you need to make a given thing frequently to really get a sense of the best tricks.
  3. Confidence.  See above. 
Also, I have a much better rolling pin now (solid wood French style pin rather than the kind with the ball bearings), which contributes.  The right equipment really does make a difference.

I was a little heavy with the cloves (I was chatting with my mom while making the pie, and shook the container a little too vigorously over my sliced apples), but everyone was nice enough not to mention that.

Two more weeks to go - I'm really going to miss the weekly surprise over the winter...

22 September 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 17

In this week's box:

1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 green tomato
1 acorn squash
1 butternut squash
1 green bell pepper
3 hot peppers (one looks like a poblano, the other two I'm not sure - possibly habanero)
6 apples
6 red potatoes
small pile of green beans
small pile of okra

We're in the home stretch, with 3 more weeks of produce to go. Nothing too exciting to report this week, other than I'm starting to get a lot of winter squash. The cool thing about it is that if you have a cool, dark place, you can store it for quite a while. I do not have that. I'm thinking I'll probably hang onto everything we don't use through these final weeks, and then spend part of a Saturday roasting it all, pureeing it, and then freezing it in 1 c. amounts, thus leading to a winter of squash pies, breads, pasta filling, and muffins from organic CSA squash. Sounds yummy - and will save time, since roasting, cooling, and pureeing squash is not exactly a 10 minute process.

20 September 2010

Recipe: Rum Punch

Did you know that September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate day?  Of course, rum punch was the best way to celebrate!

Anyone who's been to any of the Caribbean islands should be familiar with the rhyme to the right.  So here's how we played it:

Sour: lime
Sweet: simple syrup
Strong: Mt. Gay rum (not white rum, because, as my friend Deb pointed out, you might as well use vodka)
Weak: we tried both OJ/pineapple and blood orange Italian soda/pineapple.  Both had things to recommend them, but I preferred the blood orange soda - the carbonation made the drink a little lighter and it wasn't as sweet.

We skipped the bitters (mostly because I couldn't find this photo to remember that we needed them), but we did grind on some fresh nutmeg.


15 September 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 16

In this week's box:

small pumpkin
small other winter squash
2 yellow summer squash
1 zucchini
1 green bell pepper
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
4 ears of corn
5 apples
large pile of green beans
small pile of okra

This week's box arrived a day late. Of course, I can't think of a better candidate to take Labor Day off than farmers.

I was happy to see more okra. We can either just eat it or put it in gumbo.

And the winter squash went into some lovely fresh ravioli in sage butter sauce for a dinner with friends on Saturday night.

4 more weeks to go...

09 September 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 15

In this week's box

6 ears of corn
small pile of green beans
small pile or okra
2 little yellow squash
1 green bell pepper
head of Boston Bibb lettuce
6 apples
1 small acorn squash
1 mostly green tomato

Sure enough, as Dean from Dino predicted, the composition of my produce box is changing. I suspect that the peaches are done, and the tomatoes are probably not far behind. Sigh.

We were out of town for Labor Day, but we ate it all anyway other than the acorn squash (saved to make filled pasta this weekend), the okra (not enough for a side dish, so hoping to get more), and the apples (saved to make pie for the 2010 NFL season opening weekend).

Speaking of, I'll continue writing about food during football season, but there will be a transition to writing about football food. Although we're still planning to do labs, it will likely be with less frequency until after the Super Bowl.

In the meantime, though, we have weekly Sunday parties to watch games, and every Sunday morning, Chef Spouse gets his cook on. So prepare yourself for musing on cooking for a crowd and recipes for gumbo, chili, ribs, and other hearty fall and winter fare. 

01 September 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 14

In this week's box:

Pile o' green beans
4 ears of corn
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 green bell pepper
3 white peaches
3 nectarines
4 apples
4 tomatoes

Dean and Kay, owners of the fabulous DC trattoria Dino, send out a weekly enewsletter. In addition to news of the restaurant and their ever-changing list of awesome special promotions (my favorite recent one? continuing Restaurant Week prices through Labor Day weekend), Dean also muses on various food and food-related topics.

This past week, he focused on what he has - and., notably, hasn't - been seeing at the farmers' market.  The record-setting heat we've experienced in DC this summer means that the tomatoes and peaches are petering out early.  I would venture to guess that the summer squash will follow suit.

So I definitely savored this week's tomatoes and peaches, letting the peach juice drip down my chin and slicing the tomatoes thin, topping them with salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a chiffonade of basil from my garden, enjoying the classic tastes of late August while looking forward to fall's flavors.  Although it's still about a billion degrees in DC, the days are perceptibly shorter at this point, 10 weeks past summer solstice, and I'm already thinking of butternut squash-filled pasta, long-simmered dishes, and fresh homemade bread.

Recipe: Variation on a (Tuna Tartare) Theme

We decided to make another run at tuna tartare.  We'd been out of town for the weekend with a group for whom food is basically fuel.  Case in point?  I took fresh peaches and tomatoes from the CSA, and I was the only one who was interested in eating them - everyone else wanted to grocery store cherry tomatoes and pre-cut (under-ripe) melon.

We love these people, but we were in need of some tasty, quick to make, goodness.

Yes, I know that tuna tartare is "over."  Foodies have declared it another dead fad, along with plating your food in towers, foams, small plates, tasting menus, and gourmet burgers.  The thing is, classics done well tend to taste good, and I mostly care about whether things taste good.  Tartare too pedestrian for your refined palate?  More for me, SUCKA!

Anyway, we wanted something a little spicy, so to hand-chopped tuna we added:
Sesame oil
Soy sauce

(all to taste, of course)

We went heavy on the green stuff and toasted more wontons - only this time, we brushed them with egg white so the sesame seeds actually adhered - and dug in.

Late summer bliss!

25 August 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 13

In this week's box:

1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
4 tomatoes
4 nectarines
4 peaches
4 apples
2 zucchini
1 yellow squash
6 ears of corn
1 bell pepper
little pile of okra!

Outside the box:

Yellow watermelon (it was too big to fit)

This week Chef Spouse was on a short business trip, and I was on a business trip for pretty much the entire week. He managed to get through everything but a few tomatoes and enough side veg for dinner on my arrival home tonight.  How?  He took all the fruit with him since he was driving (lucky boy!) - and ate a lot of veg the nights he was home!

I really love yellow watermelon - and we ate about half of it before I left.  Texturally, it's very similar to red watermelon, although I think it's a little crisper.  But the flavor is far more subtle and interesting - and I say that as a watermelon lover in general.  It's sweeter and a bit like honeydew (at least to my palate), but again, with that wonderful watermelon crunch. 

While I was on my trip, I had a delicious summer cocktail - a watermelon margarita.  It was a very traditional margarita (tequila, fresh lime, Cointreau, a little simple syrup) made with muddled fresh watermelon, not that nasty watermelon schnapps shit.  It was FANTASTIC.  Sadly, Chef Spouse had consumed all the watermelon by the time I got home to share this discovery with him.  Perhaps next week...

17 August 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 12

In this week's box:

6 more ears of that AWESOME corn
big pile of green beans
the largest jalapeno I've ever seen
2 cantaloupes (1 med, 1 bitty)
2 zuchinni
2 yellow squash
3 HUGE peaches
6 tomatoes
6 black plums
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce

I have no idea how they're continuing to get lettuce to grow in this heat.  Must be magic.

We've had plums every week for the past several weeks, but they're different varieties each time.  Impressive.

Now that we've hit the mid-point of the CSA year, we're conducting a survey of participants (to see what they think and whether they're interested in doing it again next year) and non-participants (to see if they want in next year).  Plus a comment box. 

The good part is that 18 of the respondents to date are currently participating and 21 (so far) are interested in next year, so the experiment was a success. But the comments have been kind of hilarious and demonstrate to me that most people really have no idea what growing food is actually like.  Also, apparently, many of my colleagues could really stand to eat more produce on a regular basis.

I was fortunate to grow up with an avid gardener for a dad, so we had a large vegetable garden every summer, plus a yard that sported, at various times, 3 apple trees, 2 pear trees, 2 peach trees, and a sour cherry tree (many of them are still there), plus a strawberry patch (that isn't), raspberry and blackberry bushes (likewise) and blueberry bushes (that still go gangbusters every year).  And in the last few years, my dad added an herb garden right be the back door (which is, of course, the most logical spot for an herb garden, assuming your light exposure permits).

Most people aren't that fortunate.

Thanks, Dad!

11 August 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 11

In this week's box

6 peaches
6 plums
4 apples
4 little onions
2 HUGE red tomatoes
6 ears of corn
2 green peppers
2 yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 watermelon
1 cantaloupe

I could barely lift the box and couldn't even get everything repacked so that the lid would go on once I'd checked out the haul in my office!

Obviously, none of this has been complicated to use, even though we went out of town this weekend and Chef Spouse continued on from  there to a week-long training class in Ohio.

I actually woke up this morning thinking, "Thank goodness it's Wednesday! I'm almost out of produce, even though I supplemented at the market this weekend with more peppers, more plums, cherries, figs, a cucumber, and some carrots!"

The out of town trip meant I got to share some of the AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS corn and the cantaloupe with our hosts (my folks), who have a large garden (more on that later) but don't grow corn (too space-consuming) or melons (too much trouble, learned from experience).

I can't tell you the last time I had a seeded watermelon.  When I first cut it open, I was a little concerned, not so much because of the seeds but because it looked pretty pale to me.  I was worried it might be a little tasteless.  Those worries turned out to be unfounded - it's tasty and juicy, and I'd forgotten how fun it can be to spit watermelon seeds.

I'm all set on apples for a pie, which is a good thing, since I need to make one this coming weekend to take to a dinner party, and everything else is gone (aside from 1 plum and the onions, which will keep).

08 August 2010

Food Lab 4: Raw Meat

Saturday, July 24, it was about a million degrees in DC (which has pretty much been the case the entire summer).  We couldn't have picked a better time to do a no-actual-cooking lab:  raw meat.  As usual, we bit off too much, testing both ceviches and tartares. 

We had all brought a bunch of the side ingredients, but if you're going to be eating raw or nearly raw meat and fish, you want to make sure it is F-R-E-S-H.  So we started the day at DC's fantastic Eastern Market.

One thing you need to know about Chef Spouse and Mad Kitchen Scientist - they should not be left alone with credit cards and a vast array of amazing potential ingredients.

We had planned to get some beef and some tuna steaks (for the tartare) and some white fish (for ceviche).

What we got?

An entire eye of round, several pounds of tuna steak, shrimp, octopus, squid, red snapper, and Chilean sea bass.

That was, as you may note, a LOT of protein.   And did I mention that, due to other schedule constraints, we only had about 4 hours?  From when we started out?

We figured we needed to start with the ceviche first, since it would need time to cure.  Our first test was different citrus acids.  We prepared a base of a combo of the sea bass and snapper with red onion, jalapeno, garlic, and salt, divided it into 4 ramekins, and covered each with one of:


We also prepped the shrimp with lime and pineapple juices, leaving us with the cephalopods.  We divided the squid into two groups:  one with lime and pineapple, the other with grapefruit.  We also divided the octopus into two: one with lemon, one with lime.

Everything went into the fridge, and we moved onto tartare creation.

First, Chef Spouse made some wonton crisps:  olive oil and sesame seeds, 9 minutes at 350.

Then Chef Spouse hand-chopped the tuna, and we each made a tartare.

Well, the FIRST thing we did was have some of the gorgeous tuna plain on the crisps.  Other than the fact that it needed a shake of salt, it was divine. 

Chef Spouse made a tuna tartare with coconut, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, ginger, lime, and soy sauce that he served on cucumber slices (fancy!).

Mad Kitchen Scientist made a tuna tartare with sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, and scallions.

The Executive Committee made a tuna tartare with wasabi, soy sauce, scallion, and jalapeno.

Mama IA by Day-Chef by Night made a tuna & fruit tartare with mango, coconut, onion juice, pineapple juice, and Hawaiian alaea salt.

I made a tuna tartare in the classic style:  olive oil, lemon, capers, salt, red onion, chives, and parsley.

We ate them immediately, because by this point, we were STARVING.  Verdict?  All were good.  You'd choose which direction to go based on the rest of the meal.  And the cucumber slices provided a very nice platform.

Then it was on to the beef and the IA by Day-Chef by Nights' fun surprise: amazingly fresh venison.

We tested hand chopped versus ground by the Kitchen Aid, the beef versus the venison (obviously), and getting the heat from jalapenos versus serranos versus chilies in adobo sauce.  All were based on the same fundamental recipe.  Papa IA by Day-Chef by Night also put together a chocolate cherry version with the venison.

The best was the classic recipe, hand chop...venison.  The various pepper versions were good, but we'd omitted the capers so as not to muddy the flavors.  And we missed them big time - there's a reason they're a classic.

After we got through the tartares, we decided it was time to check on the ceviche.

One problem we ran into is that we didn't really have enough time.  The squid and octopus didn't cook fully - they weren't bad, but they also weren't done.

Also, we were trying to test the acids, so we didn't "finish" the ceviches - no avocado, no olive oil, no salt adjustment, no cilantro - just the original red onion, garlic and jalapenos.

Even though they were mixed together, it was easy to tell that the sea bass was better than snapper.  On the citrus side, the lime and grapefruit won over the orange (which was not acid enough to cook the fish) and the lemon (the flavor was TOO strong).  But ultimately, they were all pretty one-dimensional.

What we ended up doing was combining all the differently citrused white fishes in a bowl, finishing them with avocado, olive oil, cilantro and more salt, and then divvying them up.  They were, unsurprisingly, better the next day.

What did we drink?  I made a batch of The Cuke, The Executive Committee brought a sort of sangria base (fruit in pomegranate juice), which we tried with both rum and a resposado tequila.  Tequila was the hands-down favorite.  When we busted out the beef, we moved over to martinis made with Spruce Rogue gin.

Oh - the shrimp?  The thing is, you can't eat raw shrimp.  And it never cooked.  It wasn't even close to cooked.  You know how some restaurants serve shrimp ceviche?  They're totally parboiling it first.  More than 24 hours later, the shrimp still wasn't cooked.  We finally gave up, treated it like a marinade, and grilled it.

04 August 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 10

In this week's box:

4 apples
6 peaches
8 plums
6 nectarines
2 red tomatoes
4 green peppers
3 little eggplant
2 cucumbers
2 zucchini
2 yellow squash

As I was unpacking it, all I could think of was: "This is like a food clown car!" Delicious produce just kept on coming.

Three observations from this week:
  1. Even though that seems like a LOT of food, it was all gone by Tuesday morning, other than enough squash to have as a side for dinner Tuesday (grilled, then tossed with pesto made with basil from the garden) and the apples, which I'm hanging onto for pie purposes.
  2. PEACHES!  I had forgotten how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE peaches!  Supermarket peaches are crap, by the way, which may be the source of my forgetting. YAY PEACHES!
  3. The Thomas Keller ratatouille recipe really is better than the traditional.  Like, a LOT better.  Even though Chef Spouse had neglected to note that it would take 2+ hours to bake, which meant we ate dinner on Saturday at about 10:30 pm.  But it was totally worth the wait.  The thin slices of squash and eggplant are nice, but we agreed that the real difference is definitely the roasted peppers.

28 July 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 9

In this week's box:

1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 lg. bag broccoli florets
1 green pepper
4 Ginger Gold apples
2 red tomatoes
2 yellow tomatoes
4 cucumbers
3 eggplant
1 zucchini
2 yellow squash
5 Star Fire peaches
6 nectarines
6 plums (some Shiroh, some Methley)

It was so impressive I had to take a picture.

This week I got double-whammied, because we ended up with a lot of Food Lab: Raw Meat leftovers as well (PERFECT avocados, grapefruit, watermelon, lemons, asparagus).  So we've enjoyed avocado and grapefruit salad with a honey poppy seed vinaigrette the past few nights and a watermelon and feta salad on the side of fresh pasta with an asparagus lemon sauce this evening.  Which of course is not helping with using the CSA produce.

The fruit is mostly gone, other than the apples, just from snacking - no special work there.  Likewise with the tomatoes - some went into pasta salad and the rest just got sliced and eaten with basil from my garden. The cucumbers went into a batch of "The Cuke" for the Food Lab crowd, which everyone loved.

The big news/discoveries from this week were:  that cucumber sorbet? AWESOME in gazpacho (had dinner with a friend on Sunday, she had made gazpacho, and I took it along).  I'll definitely be doing more of that as the tomatoes really start rolling in.  And the Thomas Keller ratatouille is on, but Chef Spouse wanted to wait until this coming weekend to make it - less time pressure.  I'll be sure to report back on how it turns out.

24 July 2010

Recipe: Apple Pie

Story: While the filling recipe comes from my mom, the crust is my great-grandmother’s recipe. My mom’s side of the family is Pennsylvania Dutch farm people going back to before the Revolutionary War. They settled around Hanover, PA in the 1720s, and the overwhelming majority of my extended family on my mom’s side still lives within about a 100 mile radius of Hanover. Up until my grandparents’ generation, most of the family was still speaking Pennsylvania Dutch (a dialect of German) in the home. Pie is practically its own food group for farmers – it can be breakfast just as easily as dessert. My great-grandmother would have made the crust with lard, but lard’s not so easy to come by these days. If you can get it, though, use it in place of the shortening for the most tender, flaky pie crust you’ve ever tasted!

Recipe – Fool-proof Pie Crust
Makes two double crusts

4 c. all purpose flour (I like King Arthur unbleached white)
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. salt
8 oz. cold unsalted butter, sliced into thin pats (2 sticks)
3/4 c. vegetable shortening
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 large egg
1/2 c. cold water

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter and shortening with a pastry cutter until it forms a coarse meal. Combine the vinegar, egg, and water in a separate bowl. Pour liquids into the center of flour/fat mixture and mix enough to combine but not so much as to break up all the fats (you need to maintain pockets of fat for a flaky crust). Fold into a ball, cover (either in a bowl with a tight fitting lid or tightly wrapped in plastic wrap) and chill at least 15 minutes (or up to a week).

Recipe – Apple Pie
Makes 2 pies

6 c. apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 12-14 apples – I like MacIntosh best, but any good baking apple will do)
1 1/3 c. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Generous 1/2 tsp. ground mace
Scant 1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Butter (unsalted)
Granulated sugar

Combine apples, sugar, flour and spices in a large bowl. Have the milk, butter, and more sugar at the ready.

Assembling the pies

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Get out two 9” pie pans and two cookie sheets with sides. Get the crust dough out of the fridge and cut it into a generous half (for the bottom crusts) and a scant half (for the top crusts). Have some flour handy in case the crust starts to stick to the rolling pin. Cut the generous half in half again, roll out the bottom crusts (I like to roll them out on top of a sheet of waxed paper, which makes them easy to transfer to the pie pans), and lay them in the pie pans. Do not overwork the dough or the crust will get tough. Do not trim the crusts (yet). Pour half the apple mixture into each pie crust and pat down firmly. Top each pie with several pats of butter. Roll out the top crusts and cover the pies. Trim the crusts and pinch the edges shut. Poke some vent holes in the top crust with a fork. Use a pastry brush to paint the crusts with milk and then sprinkle on a little sugar. Sit the pie pans on the cookie sheets (to catch drips) and bake for 40 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting. A scoop of vanilla ice cream, some whipped cream, or a slice of good cheddar cheese is yummy on the side.

21 July 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 8

In this week's box:  BOUNTY!

4 ears of corn
3 yellow squash
2 zucchini
6 cucumbers
2 green peppers
2 tomatoes
1 onion (looks like a Vidalia)
8 plums
3 Ginger Gold apples
large bag of broccoli florets
small pile of roma green beans

Garde manger is a funny thing.  I saw peppers and onions this week and immediately thought:  fajitas (into which we also put the kernels from two of the ears of corn)!  Which necessitated buying cilantro for the marinade.  I don't grow cilantro because it's frankly too much of a pain in the ass - in order to keep a continuous supply, you have to keep re-seeding and re-seeding and re-seeding.  And it's cheap and easy to come by at the market.  And it keeps reasonably well, as long as you lop off the ends of the stems, plunk it in a glass of water and pop it in the fridge as soon as you get it home.  But it comes in LARGE bunches (at least at my local market).  Garde manger to the rescue!  How about flank steak with chimichurri sauce? Plus I have all that flat-leaf parsley in the yard.  Of course, one batch of chimichurri sauce is way more than you need for flank steak for two.  Would it be good on boiled little red potatoes?  Yes!  What about broiled snapper?  You bet!

Anyway, the other thing that this week's bounty said to me was: ratatouille.  We always make the traditional stew-like version, and it's good, don't get me wrong, particularly when make with fresh herbs from my garden. But I'm dying to try the version Thomas Keller created for the eponymous Disney movie.  I suspect I'll have more opportunities.

I made another run at the cucumber sorbet, this time going back to basics:  cucumbers, basil, lemon juice, a little gin, simple syrup, a little salt.  That's it.  MUCH better.  As the tomatoes start rolling in from the CSA, I'll be making gazpacho and I think a scoop of the cucumber sorbet will be an EXCELLENT addition. 

The plums seemed a little under-ripe to me, so we drizzled them with honey and popped them on the grill the night we had the flank steak, turning it off and cooking them with the residual heat, then tossing them with a little cinnamon before eating.  Yummy and simple.

The broccoli, the other two ears of corn and the rest of the squash have gone to side dishes, but I haven't used the roma green beans yet, and they're starting to look a little peaked.  Any ideas?

My colleagues came to the rescue on the apple situation - I only had 5 between last week and this week and they were smallish.  That's not even enough to make one pie.  Word got out that I was looking for CSA apples to make a pie, and apples came pouring in, with the request that if I got enough to make TWO pies, could I please bring one into the office?  Done and done! 

Upcoming:  the apple pie recipe (it's a good one!) and...THE NEXT FOOD LAB!  Topic? Food Lab: Raw Meat.

18 July 2010

Recipe: Black bean & corn salad

I love corn on the cob, don't get me wrong, but with the abundance of corn showing up from the CSA these days, I had to come up with some other things to do with it.  This recipe is adapted from the black bean, corn and tomato salad in Joy of Cooking.

Cut kernels from about 3 ears of corn.  Put them in a small pan and boil in just enough water to cover for 1 minute. Drain, rinse under cold water, and put them in a large bowl.

When it comes to corn on the cob, YMMV on amounts.  You're looking for 1-2 c. total, depending on your preferred ratio of corn to other ingredients.  You'll count your minute from when the water starts to boil. 

Next you're going to make the vinaigrette:

2 Tbsp. any flavorful vinegar (but probably not any of the fruit ones - if you've made homemade herb vinegar, though, this would be a GREAT application)
several cloves of garlic
salt & pepper to taste
5 Tbsp. good quality olive oil
1/4 c. (or thereabouts) basil (or other green herbs)

OK, the EASIEST way to make a vinaigrette is to use a stick/immersion blender.  If you have one, just bung everything into the tall cylindrical container that comes with and have at it.  If not, you're going to have to do a lot of fine dicing, chopping, and whisking.  You don't want a big glob of basil - or garlic - in your mouth, and you need to WHISK WHISK WHISK to make sure it emulsifies properly.

Obviously, everything that goes into a vinaigrette is to taste, so make sure you taste as you go. Don't have basil?  Use cilantro.  Want to toss in some shallots?  Go for it.  Garlic is always to taste, as are salt & pepper.  A little lime juice?  Divine.  The only requirements are some sort of flavorful oil and some sort of flavorful acid.

Rinse 1 15 oz. can of black beans and toss into bowl with corn.

The Joy recipe calls for about twice as many black beans and encourages you to do the overnight soak/long cooking time thing.  Dude, this is a SUMMER dish.  I don't really want to steam up my kitchen by simmering beans for an hour or two.  I also think a roughly equal balance of beans and corn is what you're after, not twice as many beans as corn.  But you may not agree.

Now comes the good part.  The Joy recipe just calls for you to add cherry tomatoes and red onion.  Whatever!  Here's what I added:

2 large, very ripe tomatoes chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
several thinly sliced scallions
1 finely diced jalapeno

This is about using your produce.  The tenor of the dish will be influenced by what you decide to include.  Include jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice? Viva la Mexico! Oregano, feta cheese and black olives?  Sounds Greek to me.  Stick with the recipe above but take out the jalapeno and add some chopped zucchini, and it seems kind of Italian.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables in the bowl, let sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, stir, taste and serve.

Stir gently - you don't want to smush the beans or the tomatoes.  As always, remember to taste and adjust seasonings before serving!  Because of all that starch, the flavor can be a little flat.  If it does, you want to add more acid (citrus juice, tomatoes, or vinegar) or salt.  You should be using really fresh, ripe corn and tomatoes, so there should be plenty of sweetness.  If your produce was sub-par (which during the summer it absolutely should not be, and if it's not summer, you shouldn't be making this), you might want to sprinkle on a TINY bit of sugar.  Don't be too stingy with the olive oil, either - you need fat to carry flavor.

This makes a great side dish with a simple grilled steak or broiled fish. 

16 July 2010

Recipe: "The Cuke"

This is adapted from a recipe that was entered in a summer 2006 New York Times cocktail contest.

Have a large pitcher at hand.

I love pitcher drinks for summer, for parties, and especially for summer parties.  They're invariably cold, refreshing and not terribly alcoholic - and you can make them in advance. 

Peel and VERY thinly slice at least 3 cucumbers.  Drop them in the pitcher.

The original recipe only calls for 2 cucumbers and calls for you not to peel them.  Wrong on both counts. The cucumbers become a tasty bonus snack.

Thinly slice 3 limes.  Drop them in the pitcher too.

Add several tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice to the pitcher.

The original recipe says to juice 3 limes, but you really need to do this to taste, because limes don't produce a consistent amount of juice nor do they have consistent acidity.  We've adopted the practice of purchasing a bag of limes just about every week and then squeezing them all at once and storing the juice in the fridge in a plastic squeeze bottle so we have plenty of fresh lime juice on hand.  You'd be surprised at how much use you'll get out of it.  Also, remember to microwave the limes for about 15 seconds before squeezing them (or roll them vigorously on the counter) to help them express more juice.

Add about a cup of mint leaves (no stems) to the pitcher.

This is also an approximation - if you're not big on mint, add less.  If you love mint, add more.  If your mint plants are going crazy, add LOTS more.  Not that I would know anything about that, of course.

Add about 1/2 c. of simple syrup to the pitcher.

The original recipe calls for straight sugar and then encourages you to muddle all the above ingredients. But it's hard to dissolve the sugar fully unless you muddle really energetically, and then the lovely cucumber slices end up all mashed, which is appealing neither to the eye nor the palate.

Add 2 c. gin to the pitcher. Shake or stir gently.

The original recipe calls for Hendricks, but there's so much going on in this drink taste-wise, I wouldn't waste Hendricks - use a simpler, less expensive gin like Tanqueray or Blue Coat or Bombay.  You do need to stir or shake (if you can seal the lid on your pitcher) to mix all the ingredients, but do it gently to preserve the yummy cucumber slices.  The original recipe also says that you can use vodka, but why would you want to do something like that?

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust ingredients.

You want to let the flavors blend.  After that, you'll want to taste to see if you'd like more of any of the elements listed above - lime, cucumber, mint, sugar.

To serve, fill a highball glass with ice.  Use a bar spoon to fish out some cucumber and lime slices into your glass.  Fill glass at least half way (or a little more for a less-strong drink) with cold club soda.  Fill the rest of the way with the gin mixture, straining it as it goes into the glass.  Grab a straw, sit back and enjoy.

The original recipe gets all wacky with garnishes, but that's really defeating the purpose of the pitcher drink.  Chef Spouse observes that all tall drinks over ice need to be served with straws in the summer. No particular reason other than it just seems right.  Nibble the yummy cucumber slices as you drink and congratulate yourself on getting part of your Recommended Daily Allowance of vegetables during cocktail hour.

13 July 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 7

In the box:

1 tomato
1 green pepper
4 ears of corn
sm pile of green beans
1 head Boston bibb lettuce
4 cucumbers
2 yellow squash
1 zucchini
2 Ginger Gold apples

Once again, Chef Spouse is out of town.

A - it's a good thing I like vegetables. 
B - if he's going to be around more next summer, we might need to upgrade to a full share.

I was warned that the apples might be a little tart.  So I'm hanging onto them in hopes of getting more next week and then making a pie.

I made another batch of "the cuke" cocktails with the cucumbers, with some key modifications to the recipe I found online.  That updated recipe will be forthcoming.

I ate one of the ears of corn immediately, but realized I wouldn't be able to eat the other four before their yummy freshness dimmed.  Black bean & corn salad to the rescue!  I based it on the recipe in Joy of Cooking, again with some significant modifications (that included the tomato).  That recipe is also forthcoming.

The squash made a nice side dish, sauteed in butter with garlic.

The green beans and lettuce are waiting for dinner on July 14, when they'll go into a Salade Nicoise in honor of Bastille Day.

The green pepper waited on Chef Spouse's arrival home to go into fajitas.

07 July 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 6

In this week's box:

3 ears of corn (!)
2 tomatoes (!)
1 zucchini
2 yellow summer squash
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
pile o' green beans
6 cucumbers

OK, so the cucumber situation had gotten dire.  Including the ones left over from last week, we had 8 cucumbers.  Time to do more than eat them in salads.

I had ideas:  the mythic cucumber gin drink I've been pursuing and a cucumber sorbet.  So I made both.

The cucumber drink, aka "The Cuke" was a huge hit. I made a recipe and a half (my pitcher wasn't quite big enough to accommodate a double recipe) and took it to an Independence Day pool party.  I love a pitcher drink for parties, because then you don't end up getting stuck behind the bar rather than hanging out with your friends.  Bonus? The thin slices of cucumber that have marinated in cold gin for a few hours are delicious - crisp and lightly alcoholic.  One change I think I will make the next time (which will probably be this weekend, because I just got 4 more cucumbers this week) is to use double simple syrup rather than sugar, which didn't completely dissolve, because I didn't want to muddle/smash the cucumbers. Oh, and I did peel them first (contrary to the recipe), and I topped the drink with club soda rather than sparkling water.  I would think it would also be good topped with a splash of champagne.

The cucumber sorbet...less so.  I used this recipe from the Washington Post/(purportedly) The Inn at Little Washington, only I substituted basil rather than dill, since I have TONS for fresh basil.  I think Patrick O'Connell's not telling us everything, because it didn't turn out great.  In the first round, although I chopped the basil VERY finely, it all settled to the bottom of the sorbet as it froze, leaving large globs of basil down there, taking the corn syrup with it.  Now admittedly, had I used dill, that likely would not have happened.  But also, the egg white didn't really seem to incorporate properly, leaving an almost meringue-like topping.  So it ended up in at least 3 layers, none of which were really all that good, and all of which had an odd texture. 

So I decided to take another run at it.  I completely thawed it, ran it through a chinoise to pull out all those bits of basil, re-mixed it MUCH more thoroughly to try to flatten the egg whites a little and incorporate them more fully, and re-processed it in the ice cream maker.  I did all that tonight, so I'm still waiting for it to re-freeze, and I'll let you know if it improves.

Edited July 16 to add: it's better, but it's still not very good.  I suspect tossage is forthcoming.  You can't win 'em all. 

30 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 5

In this week's box:

2 cucumbers
2 yellow squash
1 zucchini
4 potatoes
1 sm bunch scallions
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 head cabbage
small pile of green beans
6 little carrots
1 bag broccoli florets

Week 5 brings us another episode of "Chef Spouse is out of town."

Before he left, he sauteed the yellow squash and zucchini with ginger, garlic, soy, scallions, and sesame oil as a side dish.  Chef Spouse was displeased because the pan wasn't hot enough when the squash went it, so it steamed more than browning.  So make sure your pan is HOT!  It was served on the side of cornmeal-breaded, pan fried cod and okra sauteed with roasted red pepper and the scallions.

The broccoli, once again, was just eaten as a side dish, as were the green beans and potatoes.

Another taste test:  little CSA carrots versus regular grocery store (organic) carrots.  The CSA carrots are SO much sweeter.  They've been used, with the lettuce and cucumbers, in salads, and are a revelation in carroty goodness.

Speaking of cucumbers, I'm still working on the cucumber/mint/lime gin drink.  When I perfect the recipe, you'll be the first to know.

I'm hanging onto the other head of cabbage (which tends to have a pretty good shelf life anyway), because we want to do a repeat of last week's braised cabbage, replacing the duck fat with bacon fat, and that really requires two eaters - a full head of cabbage is a fair amount of cabbage.

24 June 2010

Recipe: Salted Caramel Ice Cream

This is based on the recipe at Epicurious.

Heat 1 c. sugar in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until it melts and gets to a dark brown

The dark brown stage is important - you want a good, strong caramel flavor because ice cream is cold, which dulls flavors.  Burn it?  Start over.  But be bold.  Much like roux, the trick is knowing the difference between something that's burning and something that's burnt.

Add 1 1/4 c. heavy cream a bit at a time, stirring continuously

Pour the cream in a little at a time.  It will bubble up BIG TIME.  Keep the heat to medium high, but take your time adding the cream.

Pour the sugar-cream mixture in a bowl and stir in 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract and 2 Tbsp. flaked sea salt

It doesn't have to be flaked sea salt, but flaked dissolves easier.  Make sure your bowl is on some sort of trivet or hot mitt (like in the photo).  Before you ask:  yes, this is a lot of salt.  Remember in the Food Lab: Milk post how I mentioned that this doesn't really freeze solid like you'd expect ice cream to do?  It's the salt content.  But the thing is, if you want salted caramel that actually tastes salty, you need to go there. 

In the meantime, make your custard.

Whisk 5 egg yolks in a heat-proof bowl and keep ready

What to do with all those egg whites?  Make Ramos Gin Fizzes, of course.

Bring 1 c. milk, 1 c. heavy cream, and 1/4 c. sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan.  Just when they reach a boil, remove from heat and add at least half the hot dairy mixture to the eggs, stirring continuously.

Why do you do this?  You're tempering the eggs.  If you just dump those yolks into the hot dairy mixture, they will scramble.  Which will be tasty, but not what you're after.

Pour the tempered egg/dairy mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture reaches 170 degrees F.  Do not boil.

OK, the reason the recipe says "do not boil" is that if you do, the egg yolks will scramble regardless of the tempering.  Actually, they might scramble anyway.  As long as you follow the next step carefully, it really won't matter either way.

Strain the custard through a very fine meshed sieve into a large bowl, then stir in the caramel.

If the custard scrambles, you're not screwed.  Just make sure that sieve is REALLY fine, and use a metal spoon to press the custard through.

Chill the custard overnight.  Process in an ice cream maker for at least an hour.  Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer.

Given the salt content, this ice cream is never going to get really firm.  It doesn't matter.  It's the bomb-diggity (at least if you like salty/sweet things).

22 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 4

In this week's box:

1 bag broccoli florets
1 sm bunch scallions
5 med potatoes
1 head cabbage
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
2 zucchini
2 yellow squash

This week was a breeze - that's enough veg for, like, two dinners. We had to BUY veg at the grocery store to make it through the week.

Chef Spouse ate the zucchini and yellow squash for lunches, sauteed with garlic, ginger, soy, sesame oil, and scallions.

The broccoli was just a side dish early in the week.

Last week's turnips and this week's potatoes went into a gratin as part of Food Lab: Milk.

The Boston Bibb served as the basis for a Salad Nicoise.  Surprisingly, Boston Bibb is what Julia recommends, and I don't think it's a very good choice.  I think you really need a lettuce with more structure, like Romaine.

Last week's cucumbers got turned into a Thai sweet and sour cucumber salad to accompany red curry chicken with sugar peas and red bell peppers.

We braised the cabbage according to a recipe in Alice Waters's vegetables cookbook that uses duck fat (!!), and served it on the side of pork chops in a mushroom sour cream sauce.

21 June 2010

Food Lab 3: Milk

On Saturday, June 19 the milk challenge was on.

Why milk?  Well, you may recall that the IA by Day-Chef by Nights were unable to participate in the Deglazing lab due to the early arrival of The Spawn.  So...new baby = milk.  Yes, we're all secretly 12 year old boys.

So we started with a taste-test that included:
  • Skim milk
  • 2% milk
  • Whole milk
  • Kefir
  • Goat milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Half and half
  • European style heavy cream
  • Regular heavy cream

Among the "regular" milks, whole milk was the clear winner.  Actually, the only reason we even had skim was because Chef Spouse insisted we needed to include it in the test trials.  Verdict?  Yuck.

When it came to cow's milk versus goat milk, there wasn't as much difference as you'd think.  The cow's milk was a bit sweeter, but without doing a direct comparison, you might never notice.

The kefir was tangy like yogurt and thick like heavy cream.  Quite yummy, but very different.

The verdict on buttermilk was that it tastes better all by itself that anyone thought/remembered.

Half -n- half versus whole milk?  There's not as much difference as you'd think.

Same thing with the European style versus regular heavy cream.  Although European style has more fat (35% versus 30%), there's not much of a difference, taste-wise.

So once the tasting was over, we got to cooking with milk products.

The initial focus was various ice creams. We made 3:
  • Salted caramel - recipe forthcoming
  • Peach - very traditional - peaches, sugar, heavy cream, cinnamon, uncooked
  • Avocado - salt, sugar, lime, coconut milk, also uncooked
All 3 were delicious, particularly the salted caramel that is extremely rich and the consistency of soft-serve.  More on that later.

For the main meal, we made milk-braised pork (whole milk), a gratin of potatoes and turnips based on the recipe in Larousse Gastronomique (using the kefir), Parker house rolls (two batches - cow versus goat milk), and sliced tomatoes with chiffonade basil and cheese we made with skim milk.  We also made a shortbread that we ate with strawberries and cream.

Skim milk does not make good cheese.

The Parker house rolls were good either way - the cow's milk were a bit fluffier, but the goat's milk seemed to make better tasting rolls.

The gratin was quite tasty - between the turnips and the kefir, it definitely had extra zing.

As usual, we played around with some drinks, too.

We made Ramos Gin Fizzes using the recipe detailed back in March.

We also had some blueberries, so we made a drink with milk, gin, basil, the blueberries and sugar, topped with club soda that was surprisingly tasty.


Skim milk sucks.

Kefir is really, really unusual and yummy.

There's a reason people used to drink buttermilk straight.

You could probably replace the half and half in your coffee with whole milk without even noticing the difference.

And if you drink milk, you'll want the whole around anyway.

15 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 3

The box this week included:

1 qt. strawberries (sadly, probably the last ones of the season)
3 turnips
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 med. cucumber
1 zucchini
2 yellow summer squash
pile o' peas
1 sm head of broccoli

The broccoli had started to bolt, which apparently freaked some people out. Sadly, we ended up composting ours because one small head is not enough for the two of us, and by the time the next week's box arrived (with more broccoli), it had started to go bad.

Seeing as we keep getting cucumbers, we really need to get cracking on our cucumber/mint/gin cocktail.  We've had variations on this at a number of local DC bars recently - it's kind of like a gin-based mojito, but not as sweet and with the addition of cucumber.  In other words, VERY refreshing.  We've started playing around it with at home and are having some trouble with the sugar balance - they've all been too tart.  Anyone have a recipe they want to share?

The strawberries were gone in a flash.

The squash got eaten as a side dish, prepared my favorite way:  chopped in quarters, then sauteed in butter with garlic, scallions, and fresh herbs from my garden.

We also prepared the peas as a side dish the same night, based on a recipe from Alice Waters.  We shelled the peas, then sauteed more CSA scallions with fresh thyme in butter, then popped in the peas with a little water to steam, then topped them all with fresh chives.  Chef Spouse decided that he had undercooked the peas slightly, but they were still quite tasty.

The protein that accompanied all this lovely veg?  Salmon fillet.

The lettuce just went into salads - nothing exciting there - and we hung onto the turnips for use in Food Lab 3: Milk, set for Saturday, June 19.

14 June 2010

Recipe: Bread Pudding

Every June, we gather a the biggest group we can to go to Wolf Trap's annual Louisiana Swamp Romp - an afternoon of eating, drinking, and dancing to Louisiana music in the sunshine.

The best part about Swamp Romp is that it's just a big party where everyone brings yummy comestibles and a lot of sharing and making friends goes down. We're Team Julep for reasons that probably don't need explaining.  Most years, we set up near Team Crawfish, a great group that comes with a cooler (a hotter?) full of crawfish, corn, and potatoes.  This year, they couldn't come - hence the photo to the right.

This year's menu included:
  • Gumbo (from Donald Link's Real Cajun cookbook, although Chef Spouse has tracked down the recipe for Prejean's famous pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo, but not in time to do a test run)
  • Jambalaya (from a recipe I clipped from...somewhere)
  • Chocolate chip cookies (for making friends with the nearby children)
  • Mint Juleps (for making friends with the nearby adults)

Plus goodies made by the Romp crew:
  • homebrewed beer
  • duck tamales
  • pralines
  • gazpacho
  • ceviche
  • sangria
  • fruit salad
  • more wine
  • more beer
  • Popeye's fried chicken (it's traditional and a seriously delish guilty pleasure)
And...Elizabeth’s New Orleans-style Bread Pudding

This is based loosely on recipes from the Commander's Palace cookbook and from Joy of Cooking.  But here’s the thing to remember about bread pudding: it’s an inexact science. This is a dessert that was created to use up stale bread, so all quantities are approximate.


Butter a 4 qt (ish) casserole dish
Thinly slice about 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter on the bottom of casserole
Spread golden raisins over bottom of casserole

Don't have/don't like raisins?  Use other dried fruit - or even fresh fruit that holds up well to baking (i.e., any kind of stone fruit, apples)

Slice 1 loaf of stale French bread about 1/2 - 1 inch thick

Don't have French bread?  Use whatever you've got - but probably not whole-grain.

Stack the bread tightly in the casserole 

I like a spiral pattern

Sprinkle on some more raisins (for about 1 c. total, give or take)

Make sure you press them down - any fruit that doesn't get coated by the custard mixture will tend to burn

Whisk 3 large eggs in a medium bowl

Have extra yolks hanging around from an egg whites only preparation?  Feel free to substitute 2 yolks for an egg

Add 1 c. heavy cream
2 1/2 c. milk
2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

You can go heavier on the heavy cream (reduce the milk accordingly) for a richer dish, or heavier on the milk (reduce the heavy cream) for a lighter dish, or replace some (or all) of the dairy with half-and-half.  Use what you have on hand.

Pour custard mixture over the bread and let stand for about an hour

Press bread down into custard mixture several times during the hour it’s resting - this makes sure everything gets fully saturated with the custard mixture before baking, which is what you're after.

Bake at 375 for 1 hour

Meanwhile, make the bourbon sauce:

Melt 1 stick (8 oz.) butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat

stir in 1 c. sugar
1/3 c. bourbon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

If you like it a little less boozy, you can replace a few Tbsp. of the bourbon with some water.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves
Remove from heat

Whisk 1 large egg in separate bowl
Whisk egg into bourbon/butter/sugar mixture
Cook over medium heat about 1 minute, whisking continuously, until the sauce thickens

Ok, this is where the magic happens:

When the bread pudding comes out of the oven and while it’s still hot, pour the bourbon sauce over the bread pudding so it soaks in.

You can hang onto a little of the bourbon sauce and re-heat to pour over individual servings when you serve it, but you don't need to. (Actually, you could also make another batch of the bourbon sauce for additional saucing of individual portions, because it keeps in the fridge and it's really good on ice cream, pancakes, waffles, pound cake, shoeboxes....)

08 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 2

I was a little concerned last week. I know Farmer Eric told us we'd be getting a lot more produce as the year went along, and I was certainly hoping so.  This week, I was not disappointed!

Week 2 box:

1 lg head pak choy
2 lg heads broccoli
2 sm cucumbers
1 sm bunch scallions
2 yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 qt. strawberries
1 head green leaf lettuce
1 bunch Swiss chard
3 bunches spring kale
5 potatoes

This was an interesting week, as Chef Spouse was out of town on business.  We used a number of the ingredients immediately, as we had a friend over for dinner on delivery night:  we had a salad of the last of last week's Bibb lettuce plus some of this week's leaf lettuce, goat cheese, about half of the strawberries, toasted almonds and a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  Chef Spouse had already planned to make pork chops, so he used the scallions in the pan sauce, and we had the squash on the side, sauteed in butter with garlic, more scallions, and fresh herbs.  For dessert, we ate the berry sorbet we made with last week's strawberries.

The rest of the strawberries vanished pretty quickly, the lettuce and cucumbers were consumed in salads, the potatoes and broccoli got eaten as regular old sides, and the scallions got used in everyday food prep. 

Which leaves us - actually, me, since Chef Spouse had skedaddled by that point - with the greens.

I split the head of pak choy with a friend (it was REALLY big) and made a stir fry with chicken (thinly sliced thighs) for myself based on the the recipe provided by the CSA.  I say "based on" because I looked at the recipe and was like "where's the flavor?"  Marinade of rice vinegar and cornstarch and a sauce of 1 clove of garlic and chicken broth.  Right.  Make that sauce like 4 cloves of garlic, fresh ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and throw some more soy sauce into the marinade plus some of the scallions is more like it.

The spring kale got sauteed in olive oil and garlic, then sprinkled with some red wine vinegar, then tossed with pasta (Alice Waters's idea), sprinkled with a little fresh ground parmesan cheese (my idea) and eaten on the side of a nice trout fillet done under the broiler with herbs from my garden, olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt.

The Swiss chard got sauteed as well and served on the side of a steak done on the grill and some olive oil and garlic roasted potatoes.

03 June 2010

Recipe: Berry tequila sorbet

 So one thing about CSA produce is that it tends to have a short shelf-life, berries in particular.  And with being out of town when our first batch of berries arrived, we decided we needed to do something quick.  This sorbet resulted.

3 c. mixed berries (we used the CSA strawberries, plus some grocery store blueberries and blackberries)
1 c. simple syrup (or to taste)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice (or to taste)
1/2 c. tequila

Combine all in a blender and puree.  Taste and adjust simple syrup and lemon juice to match your palate and the sweetness of the berries.  Press through a very fine mesh sieve to remove all the berry seeds.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.  Process in an ice cream maker for at least 45 minutes.  Store in the freezer in an airtight container.  Serve with finely shredded fresh mint. Try to eat it within a week or so.

01 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 1

I've been working at my current job for about a year at this point.  It's an awesome place to work, not least of which because it's the most staff-friendly place I've ever been.  Case in point:  we have a wellness initiative, through which you can earn extra days off.  As a result, the senior leadership supported me coordinating a group (20+ people) to participate in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) on work time.  And the CSA we chose, Shallowbrook Farm, delivers to our office.  Which they also support.  It's great.

Anyway, this all helped me finally convince Chef Spouse to try a CSA.  He was worried about getting food he didn't choose and might not know what to do with.  But I bribed him with a copy of Alice Waters's Vegetables cookbook, and I figured out how to start an urban compost pile as insurance.

So I thought I might document what we get each week, and what we end up doing with it.

Week 1 box:

1 head Boston Bibb Lettuce
1 sm bunch scallions
1 qt. strawberries
1 lg head broccoli
1 yellow squash
5 med potatoes

Chef Spouse was disappointed - he knew what everything was on sight and knew exactly what to do with it.

The first thing we did was run a taste test.  There was not as much difference between the farm strawberries and the store strawberries as I would've thought. The difference was more in texture - the farm strawberries were much softer and juicier. There was a HUGE difference in taste between farm yellow squash and store yellow squash.  We didn't have anything else on hand to do a one-to-one test, but the broccoli was extra yummy, too.

We were out of town Memorial Day weekend, and we still managed to use everything - potatoes, broccoli, squash, lettuce and scallions were used in the course of normal cooking.  And we turned the berries into sorbet (recipe forthcoming).

25 May 2010

Technique: Deglazing

This is what we came up with at Food Lab 2:

Whatever your meat is, scallopini it.

Heat about 1 Tbsp. of butter in a heavy skillet

Lots of recipes tell you to go half-and-half with olive oil, but don't.  All butter is better. Just keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.

Sear your meat 1 min each side and remove to a hot plate

Too rare?  No way - and remember that it's going to keep cooking once you get it off the fire.

Toss in 1-2 Tbsp. finely minced allium

Which one?  As we discovered, whatever you have on hand (shallots, onions, leeks, scallions, garlic, whatever) - but the KEY is that it be finely minced.

Deglaze with cheap red wine or brandy 

How much?  Enough to get the fond up from the pan.  A few Tbsp. up to 1/2 c.

Add your stock

You do have good homemade stock handy, right?  How much?  Well, how many people are you feeding and how thick do you want the sauce?  The more you reduce, the thicker the sauce.

Strain the sauce through a chinois

You don't have to strain the sauce, but it's a nice touch.

Pour the sauce over the meat and enjoy!

22 May 2010

Recipe: May Duck

This was an on-the-fly invention of Mad Kitchen Scientist, so quantities are all pretty much to taste:

Start with duck breast crusted with:

1/2 Tbsp. palm sugar
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. minced ginger

Brown in a hot pan

Deglaze with rice wine (Hua Tiao)

Make a pan sauce using sriracha, rice wine vinegar and soy sauce to taste

I literally can't even tell you how good this was.  And we ate it after having consumed about 2 lb. of beef a person, so not only were we not hungry, we were already stuffed.

20 May 2010

Recipe: Mint Julep

OK, first let me point out that the pursuit of the perfect mint julep recipe is one of Chef Spouse's major life goals.

That said, there is a (relatively) simple way to make a really fine julep.  Ready?

Put 4 or so good sized ice cubes in an old fashioned glass and set aside

Combine in a metal cocktail shaker

6-10 leaves of fresh mint (preferably Kentucky Colonel)
1 tsp. sugar
3 oz. bourbon (I prefer Woodford Reserve for juleps)
6 or so good sized ice cubes

Shake REALLY vigorously - you're trying to dissolve the sugar and pulverize the mint

Strain into the old fashioned glass

Top with club soda

HOWEVER, you can get a lot more complicated (if you want to)

Chef Spouse's Nearly Perfect Julep

1 stalk of mint - strip off the large leaves at the bottom, leaving a tuft of leaves at the top

In your julep glass,  muddle:

6 large leaves of mint
2 tsp. sugar
3 oz. bourbon (Maker's Mark)

Don't rush - you don't want to shred the mint, you're just trying to press the mint oils into the bourbon and dissolve the sugar

Fill glass with crushed ice, pressing it down until glass is full

Top with club soda, a thin slice of lemon zest, and possibly a little more bourbon

To quote Chef Spouse:  "Everyone uses a different glass - adjust quantities appropriately."

Drink with a straw