Thursday, September 30, 2010

If I'd Have Known It Was Gonna Be That Kind Of Party

I came across this in the sometimes great, sometimes "who in the world are they writing to?" New York Times food section this week. It's an article where the author had a restaurant kitchen inspector come into his home to grade his kitchen. Yes, a letter grade. This is how New York is running it's health inspections in restaurants now. You get your grade written nice and big and you must then post it in plain view in your place for all to see. In this case, a huge red "A" is a good thing.

It's kind of sad, I think, the hysteria surrounding this topic. I mean, this article actually suggests that we not wash our hands in our kitchen sink, and instead trek to the bathroom everytime we want to do so. How much sense does that make? Given the choice, do you want that "clean" hand turning off a faucet touched by a hand that just washed some lettuce in the kitchen, or by a hand that just, well, you know, in the bathroom? Plus, it's fairly clear that the overall rate of handwashing would fall noticeably if it was required to be done in a room other than the kitchen.

The are are valid points in the article--and in health inspections--to be sure. But hey--NYT, let's not push this paranoia in to the home! People are afraid of food and cooking enough--let's not give them another reason to avoid it and go to the surely A-graded PT McFun's. How do we keep food safe in the kitchen at home? Use common sense! Wash your hands once in awhile--in your kitchen sink, for goodness sake! Don't put raw meat on top of the salad greens! Don't get the cat involved in prep work! And even if the temptation arises, no matter what, don't do what Mantan Moreland suggests at the end of that one Beastie Boys song.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who Killed Mr. Moonlight? (And Other Things That Appear With the Arrival of Autumn)

I came across some nice beets the other day--and every time I eat them, it amazes me that I don't do it more, and that, in general, people seem to be afraid of them. Yes, they can be a bit messy, and yes, they can draw that "what have I done to myself?!" reaction the next day, but they are really good for you; so earthy and delicious. Really easy to work with as well. Shave them nice and thin and they are great raw, or, as mentioned in the last post, cut the greens off, wrap them in foil with some herbs and spices and roast until they're soft. Rub them with a towel to get the skins off, and they're all set. Sweet and deep in flavor, I added them to a stew I was making with the tenderest of tender pork butt I braised last week, alongside all kinds of other root vegetables. It's fall, to be certain, and we drank a remarkable Tuscan wine with it all.

And be sure to use those beet greens! The stuff you cut off the top! Slice the stalks like celery and cut the leaves into strips, throw them into a pot with some salt and pepper, and let them braise in the naturally occurring juices for a bit. Tasty stuff, bunched up right on top of that stew. be sure to give yourself something to scoop all this up with as well--I made the easiest bread ever, roti, which makes the perfect little vehicle for getting anything from plate to mouth. It's an unleavened bread, just some whole wheat flour, salt and water, kneaded together, then slapped onto my hot cast iron skillet, flipped once, then once more. It magically puffs up, much like a tortilla, and works in much the same way. It's a quick way to have bread whenever you like, quickly, without a mess.

Meanwhile, given my freezer full of braisable things, I'll have then oven on, nice and low, all fall long. Which is a good thing when one's radiators don't seem to kick on until it's really cold--here's to hanging out around the stove more, with big wines and good smells!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

...And The Cotton is High...

Some call it paying homage to a great dish at a restaurant, some call it ripping it off. In this case, I am talking about Lula Cafe's beet bruschetta. Super huge. Super good. Super cheap. If you are broke, this is the thing to get and make everyone else jealous of your shrewdness, especially at a place where there are so many consistently amazing options calling from the high end as well. Bread is essentially fried on a flat top griddle, spread with goat cheese and topped with roasted beets and arugula. Simple, and ridiculously huge, in the best sense of the word. Here at the homestead, we always have had a great miche laying around, a bread from Bennison's Bakery baked in huge rounds, then cut and sold in quarters. Miche is supposedly an example of how bread was in France before the turn of last century, a point where bakers started meeting the demand for crustier bread, which led to smaller breads with a higher crust-to-crumb ratio. But this miche is perfect at home used for sandwiches and other dishes where the bread is toasted (which, by the way, is done best with some oil or butter, in a cast iron pan, to get nice, crispy toast), and it keeps in the fridge forever. (My new favorite thing, picked up from Tom Colicchio's Wichcraft book--quick aside: I can't believe I'm saying this, but how on earth did Angelo not win?--is to toast bread for sandwiches on one side only, with the toasted side ending up in the middle of the sandwich, keeping things nice and crisp while the soft side of the bread gently yields to the crunch while protecting delicate mouths from sharp toast, and making the whole thing stay together much more manageably.) Whipped some good goat cheese and spread it on, then came arugula, then chunks of roasted beets that were wrapped in foil with some spices and herbs and salt and roasted for the better part of an hour, thinly shaved red onions, and finally olive oil, s&p, and a squeeze of lemon. Good, light and rich all at once. Thank you, Lula.
More from this summer--pickles. Naturally fermented pickles, soaked in a brine of only salt, water, garlic, herbs and spices, with no vinegar. In about a week's time on a kitchen counter, the lactic acid developed will sour the pickles in the most delightful way--my crazy haired friend loved them, which is a sure sign--and you then have the best pickles you've ever tasted (assuming you grew up being sold pickles by a stork). Easy to do, just like kombucha, the fermented tea drink that has supposed health benefits (despite the knee jerk reaction to remove it from store shelves due to the trace amount of alcohol present as a byproduct of the fermentation), but more importantly a fizzy sour taste that refreshes like mad. Thinking that the trace alcohol wasn't nearly enough, I've even mixed it with Cynar for a super sour cocktail. You have to be into it, but if you like sour, it's the way to go. Find a friend who makes it; each batch brewed produces a new "mother", or "scoby" (lurking about in the picture below) that they can give you--the cake of bacteria that will ferment brewed tea over 7-10 days to produce said kombucha. It's one of those things that is ridiculously easy and cheap to make, and so expensive to buy.
Of course, with the passing of summer, comes the approach of my personal favorite: fall. Braised meats, red wine, fires, leaves and, of course, Brussels sprouts...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fish Are Jumpin', Etc.

Seems like summer always starts with putting big plans of gardening and canning and farmers markets and camping and grilling and traveling in my box, and somehow, that box gets sorted and emptied, but in vastly different ways than planned. In my case, I started working more, being on the dole less. Which meant far less writing. But never, never would that mean less food and eating.
I hit the ground running. Got all inspired when my perpetually-hopped-up-on-coffee friend told me about "this place up on Clark that does all these great sandwiches and they're calling them naanwiches and they're super soft and good and delicious and it's great because the guy is a chef and so all the little details are attended to and man oh man is it good you gotta check it out!" He was talking about, of course, the wonderful Gaztro-Wagon, and I went and saw for myself how delicious it was, and was of course inspired and decided I must make my own naan-centered spread. So what else would be fitting for the homemade naan but pork belly? (Though I must admit I am sick of the pork belly craze. Understand me: the pork belly craze. Not pork belly. I could never stay mad at pork belly. But I fear it will soon be featured on the menus of the PT McFunster's of the world.) Braised 'till nice and soft in cider and vinegar and a bunch of other stuff, then charred on the grill. Charred fat, well, it's good. Made a quick baba ghanoush and a bit of a mint harrissa I've been hooked on over the summer: mint, jalapenos, serranos, garlic, lime juice, lime zest, olive oil. Real nice. Grilled that naan up; click here for a great recipe--I've substituted just-past-expiration-date-milk and yogurt and sour cream for the milk to great results. Tang be good. Got some grilled corn involved somehow and plenty of cool garnish made the scene in the form of radish, cucumber, avocado and tomato. And yeah, in the picture above, that is a couple of glasses of beer and champagne. Why not?
Then, a bunch of melon showed up on my doorstep. One of the benefits of my lucky proximity to The Green Grocer. Plus, a farmer dropped off some lovely tomatoes at work. Sometimes--no, always--simplicity is best: thin slices of cantaloupe, julienned cucumber, tomatoes and lime juice and zest with a bit of salt. I used to always think it was weird when older people put salt on melon. Now I know what they were going for, and that I was an idiot for questioning it.

I've got more to say, so much more that I ate and cooked, but given the average blog reader's attention span, it'll go into the next post. Stay tuned.