Saturday, April 30, 2005

I'm slackin' here

I know, it's been roughly a week and a half since I last posted. I've got reasons though, really. I was home in Key West for about six days, and while I cooked a whole lot, I just never got around to blogging it. There was cooking. Believe me. I wasn't off the boat more than a few hours before we were at the Waterfront Market picking up stuff for dinner, including this snapper.

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As far as grocery shopping goes, there's a lot that I like about what's available up here in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. However, I really do miss the cheap and abundant seafood at the Waterfront being only a bike ride away. I believe that fish, which weighed a good few pounds, was only about $5. We prepared it simply--putting several deep slashes down each side, packing them with minced garlic, dredging the fish lightly in flour, and frying it in vegetable oil. I regret not getting a picture of the pan we used, as my father has a beautiful copper-clad (I think) oval pan, just for frying whole fish. Another culinary gift from Phillip (of the chutney recipe and Indian cookbook). When you cook a fish that way, there really isn't much left to do to serve it. We did it Cuban-style, with some slivered onions and wedges of lime.

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The following night my father went out for a quart of milk and came home with half a dozen live blue crabs, purchased from a gas station on Roosevelt Boulevard. The guy wouldn't say where they came from, other than that he'd just gotten them from Big Pine. I guess that's good enough. He also had no problem with dad being a few bucks short the crabs, saying only that he can pay him tomorrow. He did, of course. No one wants to be on the crab man's fecal roster. Dinner for the evening became perciatelli and crabs in tomato sauce, much like what I made for new year's eve. Sadly, I didn't get any pictures.

On the next night, I made braciole again. I did get pictures, but they're still on the kw computer. I'll update with those soon. This batch came out just as good as the last, even though I omitted the prosciutto and used parmesan instead of pecorino. Slightly before the braciole was done, our neighbor Tom sent my brother over with one of his homemade pizzas.

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I returned the favor later with a big dish of braciole. I'm pretty sure he liked it, as he ate it with his hands.

I'm not sure which night we cooked the rabbit, but we did. I guess it had been in the freezer for a while, just waiting to be thawed. We buy our rabbits from the store, unlike some people. Again, a very simple preparation, basically a braise with white wine, rosemary, olives, and a little tomato paste.

I'm trying to think if I've forgot anything. I now I also turned out another batch of potato leek soup, which I was happy with. There were a few other meals at home, but these were the notable ones. I guess I just can't help myself. I really like cooking in this kitchen.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Cheese of the week #4: Cypress Grove Chevre's Humboldt Fog

A little late on this (last) week's cheese, I know. I was busy with the Indian food over the weekend and getting ready to go to home to Key West tomorrow. Still, there was cheese over the weekend, and I did eat and photograph it.

I decided to go with another offering from Cypress Grove Chevre, this time their Humboldt Fog. I have to admit that I'm a little amused by their cheese names and how they reflect the company's location in the, ahem, 'economic hub' of California.

Texturally, this cheese was much more complex than the fresh chevre (Purple Haze) that I tried last time. I'm not exactly sure what factors are at play, but as you can see, the textures in this cheese vary dramatically. I would assume that the outer layers get greater exposure to aging elements such as air and moisture, and thus, age differently than the inner layers. I could be totally wrong about that though. If anyone has any insight, please share.

At any rate, these textural differences make for an interesting eating experience--the outer portion of this cheese has a buttery, runny, brie-like texture while the interior has a drier mouthfeel, more like what you would expect of a fresh goat cheese. It was harder for me to distinguish differences in flavor throughout the cheese, however. Overall, there was a tang that reminded me a bit of brie, and there were, of course, some of the goaty flavors you would expect. The fissure that you see down the center is a layer of ash. I wish I could tell you more about why that is, but alas, I'm still learning.

Overall, I'd say this one is another keeper. It was far less up front than the Purple Haze and more interesting as a whole.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Indian Dinner (or All Dal'd Up)

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This morning, shortly after waking, I got out of bed, put on a sweater, and went out to the yard to pressure-wash a large, hardened mass of ghee and dal from a kitchen rug. That said, I should probably backtrack a bit.

Beki and I decided to collaborate on a meal of Indian food, mainly because we both have a copy Yamuni Devi's doorstop of a cookbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine. Since neither of us really knew where to start with the encyclopedic tome, we decided to make a beach-head of sorts by sitting down and picking several things for a meal.

The menu:
-Mint chutney
-Mango chutney (not from Devi)
-Eggplant, sweet potato, and cauliflower pakoras
-Golden mung dal soup
-Curried cauliflower and potatoes
-Basmati rice with cumin and cardamom
-Mint and rosewater lassi

We shopped at India Bazaar and the Red Barn, with a quick detour to Yi's Asian Mart so Beki could reminisce over some Korean snacks, including kim chee. I should add that Beki just couldn't wait until she got home to crack open her jar of fermented cabbage. I havn't been out to my car today, but I have a slight fear that the "knock-a-buzzard-off-a-shit-wagon" smell might still be there. Don't get me wrong. I like kim chee. Just not in my car. Anyway, we got all the groceries we needed, kicked back for a few hours, and then set about cooking.

For a quicker dal, Devi suggests using a pressure cooker, which we borrowed from Guapo and the Alamaidens. Now, that thing came with a manual, and we read it. Honest, we did. We added our ingredients, sealed the pot properly, brought it up to temperature, lowered the heat, and, for a while, the pressure release was chirping happily, as I'm told it should. I guess we didn't lower the heat enough though, because the pot began steaming more violently, eventually starting to spew a turmeric-yellow mist all over my stove and kitchen counter. I removed the pressure cooker from the heat, let it cool down a bit, and then returned it to a lower heat. All seemed to be well, so I went about prepping the cauliflower and potatoes. It's anyone's guess as to what happened next, but my theory is that the release on the pot got clogged with soup and, after another 10 or 15 minutes on the heat, a brothy, Bengali fury exploded forth onto my kitchen. Luckily, I'd pointed the pot away from myself when I returned it to the heat the first time. Not out of any thoughts of safety, of course, but rather to keep my borrowed cookbook out of harm's way. Good thinkin' boy. In my memory, it sounded like a gunshot, followed by a shrill whistle, followed by a sustained hiss. At any rate, it made me duck instinctively. I wrapped a dish towel around my hands and pulled the pot--which had now covered the entire cooktop with soup--from the heat, in hopes that it would calm down. Not so. The Yosemite-like display continued, and, with soup beginning to drip over the edge of the stove, I pulled the pot off and set it to rest on a small blue area rug at the foot of the oven. Eventually, it calmed down and I removed it and the rug to the garage.

Everything else went pretty smoothly. Really, the other couple of hours in the kitchen last night are sort of a blur. I think dinner was finally served around 10 or 10:30. Perhaps I'll describe more of it later. Clearly, that was the highlight though.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Mazzaro's and (sigh) cheese of the week #3

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Yesterday I finally made it to Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg. I'd heard great things about it on chowhound for years and, when I friend from the area mentioned that he goes every now and then, I requested that he take me along sometime. Mazzaro's is quite the circus on Saturdays--live band, wine tastings, and customers pretty much wall to wall. I fought my way in, and what did I come up with? Perhaps the best thing was the fresh spinach and cheese ravioli, which, after having made all of it at once last night, I regret not buying more of. Next time I'll be sure to try more of their prepared foods, which included a variety of other prepared pastas, meats, and salads. Along with the pasta, I bought a muffaletta-style olive salad, Italian milk chocolate with hazelnuts, focaccia, rosemary bread, rapini (which I also just planted in the garden), the mortadella you see above, and finally, some smoked mozzarella (also pictured). I'm a fan of smoked gouda, and I'm sure I've had smoked mozzarella, or scamorza, before. This particular chunk of cheese, made by Il Villagio, was not a winner though. The texture was slightly rubbery, and it tasted of little more than hickory smoke. Now I'm not saying that it'll go to waste, but I don't think I'll buy it again.

I prepared the ravioli very simply--tossed with only butter, fresh sage, and ground pepper. As for the rapini, I did my usual preparation of steaming and then sauteeing with olive oil, garlic, and dried chiles. I added some slices of pink lady apple this time though. I'm a fan of apples and kale, and this pairing worked similarly well.

Sadly, I'm almost out of most of the groceries I bought yesterday. Soon enough there'll be another trip Mazzaro's.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

"You gonna put up with that braciole?"

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Why yes, yes I am. It's been about two years since I last made braciole, and I figured it was time to give it another try. Although the term braciole loosely refers to a thin scallop of beef or veal, the dish, to many, is a cut of beef, pounded thin, rolled around a filling, and cooked in a tomato sauce. At least, that's how I've come to know it. As with the boliche a few weeks ago, I couldn't find a specific recipe that sounded right, so I combined several of them. I based the stuffing around one from an old issue of Saveur, with a few additions: bread crumbs (I made my own this time), chopped hard-boiled egg, grated locateli, toasted pine nuts, fresh basil and flat-leaf parsley, golden raisins, lemon zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Rather than making several little stuffed packages of top round, as I did last time, I opted to stuff one large cut of flank steak as I'd seen done in a few other recipes on the interweb. Several indicated that I should pound the flank steak to a quarter-inch thickness. Ok, I thought. The steak, however, chuckled silently at my best efforts with the meat mallet. I did manage to thin it out a bit though.

Another variation this time around was to line the steak with thinly sliced prosciutto before spreading it with the stuffing. I prepped all my ingredients, mixed the stuffing, set out a few slices of prosciutto, and readied several short wooden skewers to seal up the roll. It all came together much easier than I'd imagined. Only when I stepped back to admire my handywork did I notice the carefully prepared plate of prosciutto still sitting on the counter. Still wanting to include it, I tore it into strips and rendered the fat in some olive oil, prior to browning the braciole.

After browning the meat on all sides, I removed it from my dutch oven, and sauted chopped carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. I then added a can of whole San Marzanno tomatoes and about 10 ounces of beef broth. I returned the braciole to the sauce, partially covered the the pot, and put it in a 350 degree oven. I cooked it for roughly two hours, turning and basting occasionally.

The results? Well, I can only say that I wish there was a way I could have fit more stuffing into that piece of meat. 'Twas delicious. The raisins played really well with the acidity of the lemon and the fragrance of the fresh herbs. Really, that was the highlight. The richness of the flank steak also gave a nice depth to the sauce. I would definitely put up with this braciole again.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Cheese of the Week #2: Cypress Grove Chevre's Purple Haze

This week, I came home with a goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre in Arcata, Ca. Since last week's cheese was pretty straightforward in flavor, I decided to try somthing a little less traditional. I found this in CGC's Purple Haze, a five ounce chevre round dusted with fennel pollen and lavender. The lavender made me wary, as I know that it can be very dominating when incorporated with other foods. It actually turns out to be the fennel that dominates this cheese though, and I do mean dominates. In a good way, I think. The first bite immediately reminded me of Italian sausage because of the intense floral-fennel flavor. There was an occasional hint of lavender, but mostly, just the fennel. I'm now curious to try one of their unflavored cheeses, as I'm not really sure what the cheese itself tastes like. Still, I'm happy with this cheese. Most of the other people that tasted it seemed to like it as well. When I buy it again, chances are it will be to set out at a party of some sort, as it seems, to my mind at least, to lend itself to that. I think the assertive, floral flavor would probably stand up to mingling, distraction, and other flavors. Really, this seems to be a case where the cheese, albeit a high quality one, is a vehicle for other flavorings. It think that's ok.

As for texture, this cheese was spreadable from the start, and only became more so as it came up to room temperature. Again, probably good to serve on a platter. In comparison, it wasn't nearly as buttery as last week's camembert-style cheese, although it had a similar meltingly soft mouth feel, almost like ice cream if you could divorce the texture from the temperature.

With it, I drank a glass of Saxo, a Belgian blond ale from Caracole breweries. Equally assertive, Saxo had strong, very crisp carbonation and slight apple-y character that reminded me of a hard cider. Also a keeper.