Monday, June 25, 2007

Risotto with Peas, Saffron, Tomatoes, and Basil

Dead easy. Start by sauteing a couple of shallots (minced) and a pinch of saffron (crushed with a mortar and pestle) with olive oil. Add a half-cup of arborio rice and cook for a few minutes till you see the grains going translucent. Add a large, peeled, diced tomato and a generous splash of white wine. Cook, stirring, until it's mostly absorbed (you can see the bottom of the pan when you drag a spoon through). Enjoy the bright Mediterranean colors your dinner is taking on. Begin adding two cups of chicken stock in quarter-cup increments, cooking and stirring till absorbed between each addition. The rice will gradually begin to give up its starch and go all creamy. Switch to water if you run out of stock. When the rice is close to being done to your liking, add a generous handful of fresh or frozen peas. Right before serving, stir in a third of a cup of grated parmesan cheese. Serve in a wide, shallow bowl, topped with a handful of basil chiffonade (i.e., stack your basil leaves, roll them into a tight cylinder, and cut the cylinder into thin, thin slices with a sharp knife so you wind up with a pile of delicate little strips of leaf) and additional cheese, and grind on some fresh black pepper. Lovely.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sausage and the guyness problem

I remember a conversation many years ago with Glenn and later-to-be Iron Chef challenger Linton Hopkins (all three of us enthusiastic protofoodies working at a bookstore) about the distressing lack of truly manly kitchen equipment. I mean, besides knives, with their obvious phallic symbolism, what is there? Kitchen Aid mixers? Nope. Disqualified because they're available in pastels. George Foreman grills? Please. Foreman's imprimatur aside, a device that obviates the need for hauling out the Weber and a bag of briquets and starting an actual fire scores no points for manliness. So... what else?

At that time, the most obviously masculine cook's tool I could think of was a salad spinner I'd seen at Williams Sonoma that operated with a pull cord like a lawn mower instead of a crank. Which is pretty cool, of course, but really now. A salad spinner? If that's the best I could come up with, we were clearly facing a crisis, not necessarily of masculinity, but of fundamental guyness in the kitchen. Scoff as you will. As much as I love cooking, there are times (I remember opining), when I'm standing in my kitchen in my apron making hollandaise while my green beans are steaming, that I start to ponder the deep complexity of gender roles in modern society. And I get an urge to pop a cold one and watch NASCAR, or maybe go hang out at a hardware store.

Obviously I hadn't considered the possibilities inherent in home sausage making. Check this out.

It's a Porkert #8 meat grinder. Seven pounds of Czech-forged tin-plated cast-iron machismo. It's a machine whose technology remains unchanged and unimprovable since its invention in the early 19th century (as it happens, by Karl Drais, who also invented the bicycle). The thing fairly vibrates with serious purpose. Yeah, it's a singletasker. You've got a problem with that?

For my first sausage project, I thought I'd make a batch of breakfast sausage, per a recipe from Alton Brown's Good Eats show. This decision was also influenced by the utter lack of availability anywhere within a comfortable day's drive of sausage casings. I mean, I guess I could have gone out to Fairfax and hit Wegman's, but it's beautiful sleepy Saturdays such as this one aren't meant for putting forth that much effort. Maybe next time.

To start with, I combined 1 tbsp. light brown sugar, 2 tsp. finely minced sage (from Lori's garden), 2 tsp. finely minced thyme leaves, a half tsp. finely minced rosemary leaves, 2 tsp. salt, 1 ½ tsp. black pepper, and 1/2 tsp. each ground nutmeg, crushed red pepper, and cayenne. I cut 2 lbs. pork butt and 1/4 lb. fatback into quarter-inch cubes, and mixed all that together. (By the way, never mind sausage casings; do you have any idea how hard it is to find fresh fatback in this town? God's teeth, how do people flavor their beans these days?)

The pork mixture went into the fridge for an hour. I also put the Porkert and a plate into the freezer. I've read everywhere that the key to successful sausage-making (as well as pâté- and terrine-making) is to make sure the stuff stays cold. If the fat warms up and liquifies and runs out, you'll get a weird grainy texture. So it's good practice to keep all your equipment cold. It's just like making pie crust, except more manly.

So, everything being nicely chilled, I opened a beer and went to work. I ground the pork mixture very slowly so as not to heat it overmuch, using the fine grinding plate.

And besides patting a handful of it into a puck and frying it up, that's all there was to it, really.

I don't usually go for breakfast sausage that's this spicy, but all the flavorings are nicely balanced: through the heat, I can taste all the herbs. And as with most high-heat foods, I'm feeling a definite urge to narf down the whole two pounds of the stuff right now. So--success! Italian sausage is next, I think. Or maybe andouille.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Friday Mix

  • Two of the food writers I most admire are Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman. On his blog, Ruhlman just posted a chapter from his book The Reach of A Chef that vividly describes a night at Masa, possibly the most expensive restaurant in the United States. Bourdain happens to have posted a morning-after report of that same night on eGullet. Ruhlman's account is a thoughtful rumination on the chef as artist versus the chef as craftsman. Bourdain's version is entitled "Why Life is Good--In Spite of the Fact that My Head Feels Like I've Been Skull-Fucked by a Walrus." A universe that contains both of these writers is surely, on balance, a good place.

  • It's supposed to get up to 96 degrees today. Never mind my brave protestations against single-use kitchen equipment; this weekend I'm going to buy an ice cream maker. I've got a major craving for coffee ice cream.

    When Mike and I made this stuff a few years ago, I had the idea of remembered reading in Larousse about basically making coffee using a mixture of milk and cream instead of water and using that as the flavor base. We brought 2 cups heavy cream and 1 ¾ cups milk to a near-boil and steeped 3 tbsp. coarsely ground coffee beans in it for 4 minutes. Then we strained the mixture (a French press would have helped), creamed 2 eggs with 1 ¼ cups sugar, mixed the hot coffee-infused cream and milk with that, let it cool, then dumped everything into the machine and let 'er rip. It was absolutely the best coffee ice cream ever. I want some NOW.

  • I found out this week that Rage Against the Machine are getting back together. Not a moment too soon. I've been waiting for this day since a couple of weeks after September 11, when I found myself standing in line at a coffee shop in Cape May, listening to Celine Dion's vomitous rendering of "God Bless America" on the radio, and thinking dear god, what's going to happen to my country now?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Spit take

Via Weingarten's chat at WaPo. This picture is from the recent National Spelling Bee.

(It took me about five seconds.)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I just now now now now now now now now now now now now

I realized today that it's been almost 25 years since I saw the English Beat play at Legion Field during my freshman year at the University of Georgia. It was one of the best concerts I've ever seen. My god, I'm getting old.

Corn Fritters

Like Tes said once, there's nothing like fried. This is my refinement of a recipe from Bittman.

Pour peanut oil to a depth of about two inches in a high-sided pan and heat it up over med-high heat while you're assembling the batter.

Shuck and de-silk two ears of fresh, perfect, sweet corn, the candy of vegetables, the pure refined essence of summer. Rub the ears with a paper towel to get the last bit of silk off. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the kernels into a bowl, and scrape the ears to get all that good juice out of them too.

In a mixing bowl, combine 4 tbsp. masa harina, 1/4 cup flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. sugar, a few generous grinds of black pepper, and a few dashes of cayenne. In another bowl, beat an egg with 1/4 cup of milk, then add that to the dry ingredients. Mix to form a thick-but-smooth batter. You might need to add a little more milk. Mix in the corn.

The oil should ideally be at about 365-375 degrees, but if you don't have a thermometer that goes that high (I don't), just drop a little of the batter in and see how it behaves. It should start to puff up and brown in pretty short order.

Drop the batter by spoonfuls into the oil and fry till golden brown, rolling them around as necessary with a wire skimmer. Each batch should take about 4-5 minutes to cook. Drain the fritters as they come out of the pot and keep them warm in the oven.

You'll end up with two comfortable servings, or quite a hell of a lot for one person. I like them with pico de gallo (tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro chopped up in whatever proportions you like and mixed with a squeeze of lime juice) and some finely sliced cabbage.

And that, friends, is what I call breakfast.

(I've really got to get another battery for my camera; this stuff looks beautiful on the plate.)

Friday, June 1, 2007

More Bovine than Bovine

This is pretty grim, given my rant of a couple of days ago:

Scientists have bred cows that produce skimmed milk and hope to establish herds of the cattle to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers.

The milk is also high in omega3 oils, claimed to improve brain power, and contains polyunsaturated fat. The saturated fats found in normal milk are linked to increased risk of heart disease. The cows, which have a particular genetic mutation, were bred from a single female discovered by researchers when they screened milk from millions of cattle in New Zealand.

Butter from these cows has the extra advantage of being spreadable straight from the fridge, like margarine.
More here.

June... National Accordion Awareness Month. Hard to believe it's already that time of year again.