Sunday, January 30, 2005

Spicy tofu



I don't really have a name for this recipe. It sort of tastes like a "general tso's" style sauce, but I'm hesitant to lay that label on it. The sauce is essentially onions, ginger, and pineapple sauted in butter, tossed with fresh tomatoes and then a healthy dose of Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce. The tofu was deep fried in vegetable oil--resulting in a much crispier, uniformly fried tofu than I usually turn out. The crust held up after being tossed with the chili sauce, which is what I was going for. Very good. I've yet to make this dish with any sort of meat. Originally it was taught to me with sweet breads, although I think it would be quite good on some fried chicken wings. We've got plenty of mae ploy, so we'll see.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Argentinian breakfast

I was out driving around this morning--not finding anywhere to park for the downtown farmers market--when I decided to check out the Argentinian bakery on 17th Street. I've driven by plenty of times, but never made it in. The place is rather sparse: a few glass cases of baked goods and a few pieces of metro-shelving stacked here and there with spices, a few bottles of wine, amargo(which seems to be the Argentinian version of amaro, although these weren't alcoholic), and at least half a dozen different types of yerba mata. Behind the counter was a small woman who appeared to be in her 60s; she wore large glasses, a thin gold chain around her neck and a cream colored sleeveless blouse. She smiled when I walked in, saying "buenos," and thus leaving me to maintain the conversation in Spanish. On my way in I noticed a sign saying "los sabados y domingos hacemos choripan." I asked what choripan was and she began by asking if I knew what chorizo was. I answered yes, and made out from her description that it was a sandwich. Knowing that they only make it on the weekend, I figured that'd be the thing to try. While my sandwich was being made, I browsed around the store some more, getting a closer look at all the different types of mate. There were a few varieties flavored with orange or grapefruit, other types were enhanced with other herbs, the names of which I couldn't really make out, aside from what I assumed was peppermint. When my choripan was ready, I asked if there was a certain type of mate that the lady at the counter prefered, she consulted with another customer, for whom she'd been loading up a brown paper sack of pastries. Both said that mixing one of the flavored mates with a straight on was what they did at home. But that if I wanted to just try the straight mate, that was fine, and to try this one or that one. I wound up with a 500g brick of Tarag├╝i, a Chilean mate. Although they sold the traditional gourdes (bombillas) and silver straws, I decided to pass. I've had mate served traditionally, but making it in my French press works fine at home I think.

The bread of the choripan was close to the texture of Cuban bread, but not as spongy. The chorizo was well spiced, and the ample grease soaked into the bread and blended with the mayonaise and tomato, creating a warm dressing much tastier than I'd ever consider that much mayo to be. I'll surely have to go back for some sweets, as that seemed to be the main deal there. More to come on the new mate.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Snail mail

Yesterday, I received my first issue of The Snail, the newsletter of Slow Food USA. It took it long enough to get here, but I guess that figures, right? It doesn't seem nearly as polished as Slow, the organization's quarterly journal, which is available in half a dozen different languages. In fact, it looks more like a college literary mag--all black and white and staple bound. Somehow I find this reassuring; to me it sort of alludes to the grass-rootsiness of the organization. I don't know, maybe they just have a friend that works at Kinko's. At any rate, there looks to be some interseting stuff in there--an article about hand-crafted root beer, in particular. I'll write more when I get around to reading the rest of it.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Brunch

This morning, and well into the afternoon, North Shore collaborated with Alameda on a fine brunch. Breafast is still something that I don't have a complete mastery of--not that I can claim mastery over many other things, if any--but I think Guapo and I did a decent job of getting most of the food ready at the same time. The pancakes were still warm when the bacon was done. The coffee (I finally recovered my espresso machine, so there was cafe con leche) was still hot when the mushroom, shallot and sage frittata came out of the oven. I fried the criminis in some of the bacon fat, which I think made this one of the better egg dishes I've turned out. The quarter bushel of honeybells I bought at the red barn made a great pitcher of oj, too. Mary also brought some vegetarian sausage, which, texturally, was very pleasing. The spices though, were strange. I swear they tasted like patchouli.

I'm struggling to gather all of the details of the meal. There's still a lingering high from the bustello(two people eschewed a car ride and walked home) and the other general goodness. More later, perhaps.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Pomelo



Last week, a co-worker brought in a box of pomelos from a tree in his yard. I'd seen pomelos at the farmers market a few times before--how do you miss a grapefruit the size of a volleyball? This was the first time I'd tasted one though. The flavor was, indeed, like a grapefruit, but far less acidic and slightly more floral. I still have the other half in the fridge. I'll juice it if I can find my citrus juicer.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Braised turkey

Lately, when I wake up on Saturday mornings, I find myself thinking about what I want to make for dinner. Last weekend, it was fruit tart, which eventually gave way to a much simpler strawberry cobbler (see below). Not dinner, I know. So, yesterday morning I was trying to think of something nice to compliment the rainy weather we've been having. Also, I wanted to try to make use of the rest of the bottle of Big House Red that'd been open on the counter for more than a while.

What I came up with was turkey legs braised in a sauce of red wine and tomatoes. It's pretty much the same method I've used for osso buco, although I think that might have been white wine. Turkey legs are fairly inexpensive. A little over a dollar a piece I think. I had the butcher cut each on in half, width-wise, making one half look like a smaller drumstick, and the other half look a lot like a cut of veal shank.

When I started cooking, I quickly remembered that the last time I made this dish I had no chance of fitting all of the turkey pieces in one pot. That still held true, and I wound up using my le creuset dutch oven and a large, heavy bottomed saute pan. I browned all of the turkey pieces in the pan, removed them to a plate, and then sauted a mixture of carrot, celery, onion, lemon zest, garlic, and fresh bay leaves. I'd never had the chance to use fresh bay before. The smell was much stronger, with more of a eucalyptus quality. After the veg had softened a bit, I tossed in a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and allow it to "rust" slighly. Basically the paste begins to take on a more orange color and a slightly roasted aroma. At that point I added probably a cup, maybe almost two cups of red wine. I brought the mixture to a boil, divided it between the pan and the dutch oven. The thinner, drumstick portions were added back to the pan; the fatter, upper leg portions, to the dutch oven. I adjusted the level of liquid in each pan by adding chicken broth, then crushed some canned tomatoes over top of all of the meat. The dutch oven went into a 350 degree oven, the pan was covered and left to simmer on low. Both stewed for roughly 2.5 hours. I skimmed the fat off occasionally, and turned and basted two or three times. That was about the extent of the upkeep though.

I served the turkey on top of some celery root mashed potatoes--another thing I havn't made in a while and I don't know why.

There is, of course, the temptation to call this dish "turkey osso buco," which, I guess in some sense it is. But I've seen too many menus play with that term, offering up something very misleading, so I'm not going to do that. The final product did look, and taste, a lot like osso buco. I also decided to make a gremolata for the turkey at the last minute. The paste of parsley, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil didn't really do much for the dish either way.

To supplement the lack of vegetables, the 2005 cast of Alameda brought a huge salad, as well mix of other veg--eggplant, mushrooms, cauliflower, string beans, and broccoli--that were steamed in Guapo's pressure cooker.

For dessert, there were cupcakes, frosted with colors not normally appearing in the natural kingdom. There were pizzelles as well, with nutella. I swear, I'll get some pictures of them on here soon.

There was plenty of wine, courtesy of Alameda. We also managed to put a decent dent in my bottle of Fernet Branca. I've made a deal with myself that I won't buy another kind of bitters until I finish the one I have. This one's almost gone.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Jump in my mouth

The other night, Ann had some chicken that she didn't wasn't sure what to do with. I don't tend to buy chicken breast that often, but I mentioned that my favorite thing to do is to make it saltimboca-style.
I believe that saltimboca is usually pieces of veal, but I'm not a big fan of veal. It isn't really a moral thing, although those aspects don't exactly make me want to eat it. Mostly, I just find it kind of bland, or at least not much more flavorful than a chicken breast.
At any rate, I tend to use chicken for this dish. Although the version we had at Lupa last year did have veal, I believe. Of course, theirs had the prosciutto on the outside, and it was the size of a doormat. Anyway...
We placed butterflied chicken breasts between some plastic wrap, pounded them thin ("bad chicken") and then made a sort of prosciutto and sage sandwich, layering a few thin slices of the ham with two or three sage leaves. Afterwards, we lightly pounded the chicken pieces together again, making a pretty cohesive little package. This fortified cutlet was then dredged in seasoned flour and fried in olive oil. There was a botched attempt at a pan sauce afterwards, but I won't go into that. The chicken didn't really need a sauce, and most recipes I've seen don't involve deglazing at all. Ann's salad of field greens, goat cheese, and walnuts was accompaniment enough.
I hadn't made this dish in probably a year. After having it the other night, I can't imagine why I don't make it more often. I have to wonder if I could do the same thing with chicken thighs.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Strawberries

Yesterday we went to Hydro-Taste Farms in Myakka City. As the name implies, Hydro-Taste is a hydroponic farm, specializing in strawberries. All of the farms produce is grown in multi-tiered styrofoam planters, each of which holds about 20-30 plants. The farm heavily advertises the "no bending, no kneeling" benefits of this style of planting.

Last night I made a strawberry cobbler with a ginger-cornmeal biscuit topping. Very simple. Comment if you want the recipe.

I still have about half a pound of strawberries left. I'm not sure what will become of them. Keep an eye on kitchen monkey for a possible picture of the cobbler. My camera was in use elsewhere.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Live blue crabs


"Down, you bastards!"

Maybe I should start from before when this picture was taken. Last Friday, new year's eve, Renee and I decided to seek out some live blue crabs. I placed a call to a fish house on Cortez, and they directed me to Snead Island Crab and Fish House. As it turns out, the place on Snead Island is a bait shop with a covered dock on the back. Renee said it smelled of horse meat; I wouldn't know. Out on the dock, an older gentleman stood hunched over three big rubbermaid bins of very lively blue crabs. He was in the process of pulling out two dozen crabs for a cleancut middle aged couple--who I assume belonged to the silver Mercedes Kompressor that was parked out front. Oddly enough, the guy buying the crabs was from the same town in Maryland as Renee. Even more coincidentally, one of the other guys hanging out on the dock was stationed in Key West with the navy in the forties. He said he well remembered the Brown Derby, one of the earlier incarnations of the Green Parrot. He and another guy sat at one of the dock's picnic tables, sipping on cans of beer and watching the larger fella whip crabs into brown paper bags. After the Maryland guy left with his wife and the tiny dog she was cradling, we ordered our dozen large crabs. We watched as this big hulk of a guy plunged a pair of tongs into the bins, pulled out a crab, sometimes two if they wouldn't let go, and threw them into a sack. Every now and then he'd stop to spit some dip into the cracks in the dock, eschewing the battered cuspidor that sat on a picnic table behind him. Eventually, he tied a plastic grocery bag around our brown bag of crabs, and we left.

I should have figured that, as this guy probably does that every day, he'd make it look pretty easy. What he did in about two minutes--getting a dozen live crabs into a bag--took us about 15 minutes to undo. None of them got away, but we eventually had to dump the bag into the sink, as they appeared to be planning a break. Much to my surprise, I didn't get pinched once.

We boiled half of the dozen with old bay and lemon, threw down some newspapers in the yard, and ate them.

The other dozen were steamed, split apart, and cleaned of their lungs, etc. From there, I fried a couple of smashed garlic cloves and chili flakes in olive oil. I browned the crab peices, still in the shells, until the shells took on a little color and let off that very specific toasted shell aroma. From there, I added a few chopped fresh tomatoes and some salt. I let the sauce cook down a little bit, then tossed it all with about a pound of pasta.

It was a fine new year's eve dinner. Afterwards, we made pizzelles. Hopefully I'll get some pictures of those next time.

I don't think I'd had spaghetti and crabs since I was about five years old, visiting my family in Pennsylvania. The last time, I was more interested in playing with the crab claws. Not that I wasn't interested this time, but less so, I think.