Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Salon III: The Wondrous Pig

On heels of the delicious pescetarian dinner we created at the second Food on the Dole Salon, I've got a hankering for pork. Therefore, I'd like to announce the next Salon coming on Sunday, April 10 at 5:00pm. What better way to spend Sunday than exploring our good friend the pig through numerous creations while cooking and eating a great end-of-weekend meal together? Come with as many questions as you like and get in and get your hands dirty; come to relax and enjoy the sights and smells and enjoy the results; just come! Six seats are available for a donation of $50.00 each, and can be reserved by clicking on this link. The event as always is byob, so bring your pork friendly wines and beers, which, naturally, includes pretty much anything. Of course, if you have any questions about the event or the Salons in general, email me at Thanks again to those who played a part in making the first two Salons such a success, and I look forward to cooking with you soon!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Salon II: Oysters, Clams, and a Real Big Fish

Saturday night's Food on the Dole Salon found six food enthusiasts in my kitchen staring down a lovely mountain of seafood. Building that mountain were Bras d'Or Oysters of Nova Scotia, Californian Hama Hama Oysters, Manila Clams (from Washington, not the Philippines, much to the chagrin of one attendee), salt cod brandade, and a gorgeous wild striped bass, whole and weighing in over five pounds. Rounding out said mountain was homemade epi and baguettes, my beloved bibb lettuce bistro salad, "teenage" artichokes and a bright salsa verde for the bass. With six of the city's best eaters in tow, we forged ahead, and we conquered this mountain.
I started with the salt cod by soaking it in cold water for about 24-36 hours, changing the water every 4-6 hours or so. This food, which is discussed at length in Mark Kurlansky's two remarkably informative books, Salt and Cod, offered the preservation (salt) of the nutrition (cod) necessary for long sea voyages and thus global expansion way back when. Seeing it these days in a store, one wouldn't realize the enormously important role it played in the development of civilization--it's just a crusty looking piece of old fish. BUT, it can be transformed into something delicious and hearty and filling; in this case, brandade. After the above soaking to remove all the excess salt, I briefly poached it in milk, at which point it was, relatively, tender and flaky, not too different from fresh cod. I gave it a few pulses in a food processor with some roasted garlic and lots of olive oil, then folded in potatoes that had been baked, then pushed through a ricer. Salt, pepper, more olive oil, and a bit of the poaching milk, then it was spread into a baking dish, topped with some panko bread crumbs, more olive oil, then baked 'till crisp. Stick a spoon in it and put it next to a few loaves of bread, and it's gone like that.
I shucked some of our oysters, but wanting the saloneers to get the full experience, I left quite a few for them to do. Some did one or two; one guy, a navy man from New Orleans, blew through them like he'd been doing it his whole life. Well, maybe not quite that fast, but his claim that he had never shucked oysters didn't line up with the speed at which he did it this night. That's the funny thing about oyster shucking--there's always someone in a group who just kind of "gets" it from the start. The rest of us don't, and have to practice and practice. Either that, or there's a band of underground oyster shucking hustlers walking the streets.
I encouraged all guests to eat the oysters nude, by which I mean to say I asked them to try the oysters without the assistance of sauce and to chew them, while remaining fully clothed. I've written before about the importance of understanding and enjoying the terroir of oysters; despite mignonette's acidity being one of my absolute favorite flavors, I feel it masks the great things about oysters, and chewing allows us to enjoy their texture, and to release some more of the tasty liquid inside. Happily, everyone tried this, and though I offered a tangelo granita as a more subtle topping, the oysters were eaten on their own. Perhaps it was politeness, or perhaps it was the fact that sparkling wine was flowing pretty freely at this point, but I was glad to see them gobbled up so enthusiastically.
We prepared our bass in the spirit of good timing; it would be thrown in the oven as we sat down to eat our clams. Guests chopped leeks, fennel, lemons and green garlic, all of which went into the fish's belly cavity after it had been rubbed inside and out with olive oil, salt and pepper. We laid it on a bed of fennel fronds and leek ends and set it aside as we moved to the clams. So very, very simple.

For the clams, I had prepared a version of soffrito--found the world over as a flavoring agent made of simple ingredients (in this case onion, tomato and olive oil) transformed through heat and time. I minced an onion, put it in a pot over low, low heat with a bunch of olive oil and let it start to brown. Since good tomatoes are in super short supply right about now, I used some nice canned tomatoes; chopped them up fine and added them to the mix, letting the olive oil-covered soffrito go all night in my oven, as low as it could go. The result is a highly concentrated, reduced little mishmosh of flavor--keep it in a jar for weeks in the fridge, and add it to anything for a burst of flavor. We sauteed some of the leeks and fennel we'd sliced for the fish in butter, added a few good dollops of the soffrito, then the clams (purged in salt water for an hour or so to help remove any sand), hit the pan with some white wine and threw a lid on. These little guys steamed open in a few minutes (manila clams open much more quickly than most other clams) and we were set. Toasted some baguette slices and spread them with aioli, dished up the clams into bowls, and tucked in.

To serve with the fish, artichokes I like to call "teenage"--not baby, but not so adult that the choke has developed into something inedible yet--were cleaned and quartered, tossed with more fennel and leeks in the same pan the clams were cooked in, a few juices remaining--and put in the hot hot oven along with the fish as we ate. The bibb lettuce (good hydroponic stuff) was tossed with a sharp shallot vinaigrette and tarragon, basil and parsley leaves. We finished the clams, moved to the salad, then the fish was ready--soft and moist, with a few crispy points on the top half--the bottom rich and succulent, braising in the juices created through cooking. I made a quick salsa verde: parsley, tarragon, basil, garlic, capers, olives, a couple anchovies, sherry vinegar and a good bolt of olive oil pureed together. I was thrilled that this group was so comfortable with each other--people were, without abandon, picking at the fish on the pan after having eaten a few helpings; an eyeball was eaten for the first time, we discussed the benefits of the top (crisp) vs. the bottom (succulent and juicy), and how flavorful the juices in the pan were. We talked and talked, food and more, well into the evening. And yours truly was thrilled when the offered whiskey was taken late in the night/early in the morning.
It was a truly vibrant group, a simple yet beautiful meal, and I am ready to parlay this energy in to the next Salon. I will release details of that in the coming week--most likely the event will be somewhere around that second weekend of April, not far away at all. Of course, a huge thank you to the guests who have attended so far, and here's to great cooking, food and company!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Great Soup and Bread, and a Couple Seats for Salon II

Yet another great night of Soup and Bread happened on Wednesday; nine people showed up with soup, a few more with bread, and some serious cash was raised for the Marjorie Kovler Center. It's amazing to see how much this has grown from year one with two other soup makers on the night I cooked, to year two, where there must have been five of us, to this, the third year, with the mentioned nine cooks and a ton of people filling the room. It's a special thing Martha Bayne has created down there, and I encourage each of you to check it out each Wednesday.
Moving right along, The Food on the Dole Salon II is tomorrow night, yes, Saturday night, with a focus on seafood. I've got some great things in store (that may or may not include that wonder of gastronomic alchemy, baccala and/or some honey tangelos), and a cancellation has opened up a couple of seats. If you are interested, we'll be cooking together, eating together, and discussing all things food and beyond--email me at to nab the seats. Hope you can make it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Guy's Gotta Eat Something When He's Making Broth

Busy times here at the F.o.t.D. headquarters, but things are looking great for tomorrow's Soup and Bread at the Hideout. I made a series of stocks including:
  • Two overnight slow simmers of chicken and pig's feet;
  • Roasted chicken stock (from the carcasses of the two birds from the first Salon);
  • Roasted pork and beef neck stocks with all kinds of veg, a brief flash of kombu, and those crazy smoked bacon ends from Tennessee.
These are all going to be defatted, then combined for the super trifecta broth for ramen I'll be serving at Soup and Bread. Braised some pork belly sous vide overnight in some star anise, celery, garlic and a touch of sesame oil, and will add pickled shiitake mushrooms and radish sprouts to the bowl. Chopsticks are even included.
Meanwhile, I got my hands on a great tri-tip roast after receiving a message from my brother in San Francisco that the cow he had purchased last year had nearly been consumed, with just a tri-tip left. Remembered a recipe from the NYT's Mark Bittman: one pan in which the beef is seared, tomatoes and almonds toasted, before finishing the beef in the oven. A quick romesco sauce is made from the tomatoes and almonds (I threw in some diced onions after removing these guys) in a food processor with garlic, olive oil, whatever else. I added sherry vinegar and parsley, plenty of salt and pepper and got a nice, rich, chunky paste/sauce for the roast. Sliced it up with epi bread, a bunch of greens, and was satiated in a flash...

Hope to see you all at Soup and Bread!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Soup and Bread, Year 3

This year marks the third for Martha Bayne's Soup and Bread and her alchemist's powers for bringing together strangers and strange ingredients and turning them into delicious crocks of soup (the ingredients, at least--except for the soylent green soup that one time) and donations for various local causes. Come down to the hidden The Hideout every Wednesday while it's still soup weather (once it is warm, the soup turns magically into veggie bingo--more on that when it's consistently warm out) and enjoy the talents of your fellow city folk and make a donation to the cause of the week. This year, yours truly will be making soup this Wednesday, March 23; the event lasts from 5-8 and I'm thinking this year's soup is going to require chopsticks. I'll bring those; you bring yourself and a friend. As always, a big thank you to Martha for putting this on so consistently and energetically...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Salon I, Photoless For Now as We Move to Salon II

The first Food on the Dole Salon was, by all accounts, a great success. I was joined by a group of lovely people from varying backgrounds to cook and eat together, with the goals of connecting otherwise strangers, sharing great discussion over well crafted food and, of course, picking up some solid cooking knowledge to be put to use at home. Yours truly led the group over a menu focused on roasted chicken (the rest being filled out by what was looking good in the market that day--tough in the winter in Chicago, but nevertheless--I got most of the food at Fresh Farms); we worked together in the kitchen, sharing stories and perspectives on food, then sat down at the table to continue talking with each other until well after dessert was served. It was, to me, an ideal Salon. The menu was:
  • Homemade Epi Bread, Aged Cheddar, Volpi Cacciatore (a salami, aged and aged, loosely meaning "fox hunter"
  • Watercress, Herb and Beet Salad, Herb Vinaigrette
  • Roast Chicken
  • Bacon Wrapped Rosemary Onions
  • Smashed & Fried Garlic Potatoes
  • Plum Tart Crumble, Black Dog Gelato
Unfortunately, I was too focused on the food and the guests to take any photos, though I do have a sneaky friend who has offered to come and do so one of these times. I suppose the focus is on the event itself, rather than reporting it; a dilemma that will work itself out as the Salon ages. I was pleased that we had so much perspective at the Salon; I believe that one of the things that will make it successful is the variety that guests offer. I've said it before: any level of cooking knowledge is welcome.

Moving on , I'd like to announce the second Food on the Dole Salon: Saturday, March 26. This six-seat Salon will be focused on the gems of the sea; whether the main dish is a rich seafood stew or whole roasted fish remains to be seen. The requested donation is $50; if you are interested in attending, please email me at Interested in future events? Email that same address and I'll put you on the F.o.t.D. mailing list, which will announce future events. More information on my thoughts behind starting the Salon Series can be read in this article with The Onion A/V Club.

A warm thank you to the members of the first Salon--you brought immeasurable energy to this project, and I hope to see you at another Salon!

Friday, March 11, 2011


The first Food on the Dole Salon was a great success; a dynamic bunch gathered to cook, eat and discuss all things food (and more). I'd like to give a big thank you to this first group for the energy and perspective they brought to this project. I will write in more detail about the inaugural Salon next week; right now, in light of the devastation in Japan, I think it best to turn our attention and thoughts to our fellow people all over the globe, and to those nearby, perhaps right across the table from us.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Off We Go!

As the inaugural Food on the Dole Salon approaches, I'd like to give a big thanks to the support I've received from so many people. It's reassuring to know that in a culinary landscape so seemingly dominated by re-purposed scientific equipment (fine) and stories of how much meat is actually included in fast food, uh, meat (not so fine on so many levels), there is still a strong base of folks quite interested in the food cooked and shared in the home. From old friends responsible for the flyer above and around town to news articles in print to crazy haired people giving advice and trumpeting the cause, the Salon has been on the receiving end of some great support. Thank you thank you.

So, fresh off a relaxing trip into the mountains of Colorado, a trip full of spaetzle and homemade bread and green chile and braised Colorado lamb and chats with funny Italian chefs in cutoff shirts and sunglasses in tiny mountain towns, I'm pretty pumped for the first Salon tomorrow night. We've got a great bunch of guests lined up, and a couple of good looking chickens hanging out and waiting for their moment as well. I'll be sure to write about it and announce the next Salon posthaste (email if interested); until then, cheers, and here's to food!