Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fuck Paella.

So for the last while or so I have been off in the land of people with better things to do than blog. Turns out I didn't belong. For an alternative account of my absence from blogging and twitter, see this. I think it speaks to my particular brand of creative genius. I'm something like the Kanye of the food blog world.

Now that that's out of the way, here's a post which was actually written a while ago. It's filed under disasters.

14" Stainless Steel All-clad pans are BADASS. All-clad is the kind of stuff that makes home chefs (read: me) all bothered and hot. They're either a symbol of knowing way to much about cookware for one's own (wallet's) good, or a symbol of being hideously wealthy. I wouldn't have one if not for the fact that my parents inexplicably (i.e., they fall into neither of the previous two categories) had one lying around in our basement. And for the further fact that I decided I would rather leave clothes at home and stuff my suitcase with pans and books and socks (just under 40 lbs, thank you very much JetBlue). It is a perfect pan for paella. Not non-stick, so you can get a nice, caramelized sofrito going, great heat distribution, and plenty of room for a large paella (mine fed 7 happily). They love the oven heat. Which means that they are hotter than a raging den of iniquity when they come out of a 450 degree oven after half an hour. It's like someone has emblazoned on the handle: "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate." Well, some of us fail to take notice of such elegant warnings. This is why we can't have nice things:

Panhandles != safe zones for touching. This I learned slowly as I held my hand in a pitcher of cool water which I kept in my crotch all night (or did I hold an opponent's wife's hand in a jar of acid? hard to say . . .). Now, lesson learned, I wear oven mitts everywhere. The Peter-Michigan-Hands jokes are getting pretty old. Not that they were funny in the first place.

There are a couple of interesting things about making Paella, the first of which is the sofrito. I picked up my technique form watching my main man Jose Andres on Made in Spain. Essentially, you want to get your onions just carmelized, degalze the pan with a touch of white wine, and then mix in some grated tomato. The Spaniards seem to be all about the juicy innards of fresh tomatoes in a way that no one else is. I'm not sure who first had the idea to rub tomato halves on toasted bread, but this catalan mainstay is shockingly good (especially with a little olive oil and garlic joined in the rubbing). Grating tomatoes is kind of a brilliant little trick if you're looking to really integrate the tomato flavor without canned tomatoes or tomato paste. Simply cut a tomato in half and rub it on the coarse side of your grater over a bowl. You'll get a thick, fresh, tomatoey liquid in the bowl and a to-be-discarded tomato skin in your hand. Anyway, this goes into the pan with the caramelized onions and some slivered garlic and you've got my take on a sofrito. It's a fresh start for paella, soups, and light sauces.

The other interesting thing is that it requires no stirring. This is only interesting if you've been in the habit of making risotto for large groups of people.

{+} Paella Vegetariana

I'll sign off with a video of my two favs chatting food "policy." Long, but interesting.

Pleased to meetcha,

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ode on a Grecian Risotto

Thou still unravished bride of cheesiness,
Thou foster child of broth and low heat,
Arborian historian, who canst thus express
A winey tale more sweetly than our meat:
What olive-fringed legend haunts about thy sauce
Of cukes or basil, or of both,
In Athens or the dales of Seattle?
What veggies or fruits are these? What tomoatoes loath?
What mad feta? What struggle to eat?
What greens and olives? What wild ecstasy?

The truly wonderful thing about both Risottos and the online availability of classic poetry is that the parts are, given a basic structure, almost wholly interchangeable with other ingredients, and the result is still, almost universally satisfying. That's probably stretching the metaphor a little thin, I admit, especially because my bastardization of Keats above is anything but satisfying, but the point stands: Copy and paste whatever you feel like into a pre-formatted template, and you can do a Risotto of any style, with wonderful results. (Quick aside, for an hilarious example of this tactic taken with poetry, see this book of poems with their titles taken from Jewel's "A Night Without Armor," here's the author's introduction: Dear Jewel, I am writing this letter to thank you for your book of poetry. A Night Without Armor has been so inspirational to me that I’ve written an entire book of poems in four hours called A night without armor II: the revenge.")

At any rate, to execute the kind of copy-and-paste strategy that I'm talking about here, you need a template. There are many ways, I imagine, to make a good Risotto. I hear a lot about how people are afraid to make Risottos, this is probably because most people make Risotto in some way which is more authentic and thus more difficult than the way I make Risotto. Either that or there is some secret plot to keep Risotto out of the hands of the lazy. I haven't decided which of these I believe, but I do know that they are really quite easy to make, if a little time-consuming (do you consider 45 minutes time consuming? I would think that most chef's don't), and once you have the hang of it, they are an awesome way to get rid of whatever is lying around the kitchen which, as evidenced by my earlier posts, is a passion of mine. Where was I? right, template. My template comes from the good people (Ithacans like me) at The Moosewood Restaurant, pioneers of vegetarian cooking and, in particular, vegetarian cookbooks (The Moosewood Cookbook and The Moosewood Cooks at Home remaining staples of nearly every vegetarian kitchen). Ray Ray and I are not vegetarians (see chicken curry post) but we don't eat that much meat at home, and don't like to pay for it, so vegetarian cooking is pretty common. My mother, wonderful soul that she is, gave us this cookbook when we moved in, a collection of easy, weekday night dinners, sides, salads, etc, with shortcuts and easy to find ingredients built in. From here I lifted the basic Risotto recipe, which I won't reproduce in full, but which you will get the gist of from my recipe.

Greek-Style Risotto
Serves 4

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 tbs. olive oil
1 qt. Vegetable Broth
3 cups Arborio Rice
1 cup White Wine
1 can Black Olives (or a 1/2 pint fresh black or kalamata olives)
1/2 a Cucumber chopped
1 Large Tomato chopped
5-6 Mushrooms, sliced, chopped or however you like 'em
1/4 cup Basil finely chopped (plus a few whole leaves for garnish)
1/2 pint crumbled feta

Start the vegetable broth in a medium sauce pot and bring to a simmer, in the mean time, chop chop chop.

Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and bring to medium high heat, add the garlic and simmer until golden. Add the rice and stir until each grain is coated with oil, then add the wine and stir in until it is almost all absorbed. Start adding the broth a large ladleful at a time, stirring periodically (every 30 seconds, minute, or so) until it is almost all absorbed, before adding the next ladleful. This is the bulk of your Risotto-making, adding broth and stirring, how anyone is daunted by this is a complete mystery to me. When you're a little more than halfway out of broth, you should stir in any firmer veggies you might want to soften, like cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, whatever's clever, (in this recipe, only the cukes). When you add the last of the broth, add all the rest of your veggies and stir them in. When the broth has been absorbed, remove from heat and quickly stir in the feta (spinach, if that's your thing, might be a nice addition to this recipe, and it would go in here, with the feta). Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a little feta, basil, and paprika.

Serve with some toasted pita bread and that stuff next to your empty brita filter, have yourself some wine, and don't forget a shot of ouzo to cap off the night.



PS I took a closer look at the photo here and noticed mushrooms which I had forgotten about (I have since added them to the recipe) but this is truly a testament to the versatility of Risotto, as well as to the fact that I made this a long time ago, and then made it again, but with different ingredients. Anyway, as long as you keep the liquid to Arborio ratio equal, and you're willing to stir stir stir, all you need to do is pick your cheese and your veggies, add any kind of meat you want and it's your own recipe. Kribs is spreading the word: Risottos are easy, go make them!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

In Miniature

I may perhaps be a little out of place, as I don't live in Seattle, and it's been months since I prepared anything more involved than cereal. I have an excuse, though, as I'm still in school and spend the vast majority of my time in the library basement, unlike these layabouts who have nothing better to do than flambe things. Not that flambeing is not wonderful, last year I had an excuse to caramelize a ramp leaf with a kitchen torch, and it was one of the greatest moments of my life.

I did have lots of time last summer, though, being menially employed, and that meant lots of time in my friend's kitchen with improbable baking projects. The major discovery of the summer was the jar pie. They were a bit of a thing on baking blogs, and -loving pie and agreeing that everything is better in miniature- we had to make them. I think Not Martha figured the technique out best, and between her and Cook's Illustrated, it went swimmingly.

First, you need jars. We actually used jar-like short drinking glasses that we knew were oven safe, but if you actually want to store these (because you can just screw on the lid and stick them in the freezer, if you want, which is wonderful) you need straight sided jelly jars, NOT the kind that narrow at the top.

Next, you know that rule about not touching pie crust with your hands? Forget it. When you're putting pie crust in a jar, and trying to get it reasonably even, you're bound to be poking at it and smoothing it constantly. It probably shows, but we didn't even roll out the bottom crusts, and just pressed them in instead. We still managed to have perfectly flaky pie crusts, though, because we used the Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough recipe, which is the only one you'll ever need. The trick is that it uses vodka instead of part of the water, which moistens the dough to hold it together without interacting with the flour to create the gluten that makes pie crust tough. Or something. The vodka evaporates in the oven, but we both have a tendency to eat the pie dough and discovered that it will, in fact, get you a bit loopy.

{+} Foolproof Pie Dough

{+} Cherry Pie Filling

Make sure to leave some space from the top when filling them, so you can put the top crust on, cut vents in the top, and don't let them all fall on the floor from your slippery baking sheet when you take them out. We baked ours at about 375 until the bottoms had browned a little bit. How long depends on whether or not you froze them beforehand, just keep an eye on the first one.

I'm excited to try these again this summer, once I have liberated myself from the library. I'm thinking marionberry, blueberry, and maybe a version of that really excellent lemonade-peach pie with a crumb topping I made a while ago. Obviously, the field of tiny pies is ripe for research.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

R2R March

As a man with a near boundless appreciation of acronymic abbreviations (current favorites: LOLLUVIT, FTFY, GTFO and ROTFLMFAO), I was happy to join R2R or Recipes to Rival, a loose association of food bloggers which is more or less the post-1998 equivalent of a web ring. Each month, the members of R2R all cook the same recipe and release their success/failure to the blogosphere on the same date. Today is that date. This is no April fools. This month's challenge was something called "Steak Diane Flambe." If we go ahead and take a quick look at the name of the recipe, we realize very quickly that this is something that is way out of my zone: steak? No. Flambe? Hardly, I'm a Francophobe. Diane? Never 'eard of 'er. Then it came to me: Flambe = open flames. OPEN FLAMES. This realization reawakened within me the pyromaniacal thirteen year old that lit a plastic monster truck on fire and then sprayed it flame-thrower style with a can of WD-40 (sorry mom, but the ten year rule on this one is up!). I've got to be honest, the pictures we took of the flambe are not nearly as cool as the ones that I took of the flaming monster truck (those must be somewhere, right?), but I decided that Jim Beam probably tasted better than oil-based multipurpose lubricants.

Anyway, Kibbee stepped up to do the original version of the recipe with steaks while I went the ol' portobello-substitution route. Rachel and Angel stood by, fire extinguisher at the ready (this is false). Safety always comes first in my kitchen (also, apparently, false as I nearly relived the near-catastrophic paella incident). At the very least we ended up with some smiling faces:

{+} Here's my FTFY version of the recipe:

If you're interested, the official R2R post is here. Also, I can't resist signing off with a few more pictures:

Kribs lights the steaks:

Flaming mushrooms:

The sprouts we had with it:

Flame on,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Stuff Next to an Empty Brita Filter1

In case you didn't follow the title link, hummus, is that stuff.2 The near-ubiquitous3 garbanzo bean dip4 is cheap, easy, and delicious. It may seem like some exotic middle-eastern spread, but that's about as full of stereotypes as these pictures of Jake Gyllenhaal as the (shirtless) Prince of Persia. Yes, the video game Prince of Persia (a startling likeness, indeed). Admission: those last two sentences were mere conduits for the JG near-nudie pics. Good thing they let me set my own desktop wallpaper at work.

Back to task: I've had Papa Bull's hummus recipe for the last couple years, and have used it basically any time that I intended to make hummus. "Hummus recipe" is a bit of a stretch. All it really requires is putting some basic and common goodies in a food processor in proportions that you find pleasing. I (barely) upped the ante by adding roasted garlic to this batch. Now, I may have mentioned during my discussion of Tzatziki that I was having trouble finding good tahina in Seattle. Joyva never has been up to snuff in my book. As it turns out, I was just looking for love in all the wrong places. The right place to look was the Latin American market down next to Pike Place. Obvi. That's where I found a container of Cortas, which was right up my alley. Incidentally, that link to the Cortas tahina is from I am confused. Nevertheless, the tahina is just what you want: creamy and sesamey (FWIW, I've had the best luck with lebanese tahina). Grab some and have at this:

{+} Papa Bull's Hummus

There's also been quite a bit going on in the world of food politics these days. I can't help but reflect on some of it here, but I've collapsed it for your sake. There's a whole slew of good links in there, so I do recommend taking a look and seeing if any of it piques your interest.

{+} Four assorted hand-wavings at recent food news that didn't fit elsewhere

Go make hummus. It's worth it.


Now I feel like I need another bit of food porn to balance things out. My haul from the Ballard farmers' market:

Beets and carrots. Also in the image is a book I just received, On Food and Cooking, which is a classic on science in the kitchen. Look for more sciencey posts soon!

1 Hummus.

2 Full disclosure: I may or may not be posting to regain some face after Kibbee and Rachel showed me up with a phenomenal looking pizza.

3 That I call hummus "near-ubiquitous" not only shows the acuteness of SWPL's satire, it lends credence to the accusations of classism/elitism that have plagued the slow-food/foodie/organic/locavore movements. At least since the middle of the 20th century there has been a financial divide between good food and junk food. Nowadays, most of the members of these food-related movements don't want to admit that there is financial floor to being part of the club. In many ways, they should be right about this. Take hummus as an example: the ingredients are cheap and readily available. However, it takes time to find the ingredients at the grocery store, and it takes time to put them together into hummus. It seems like both time, and other social factors that influence the desire to make food at home serve to separate the slow foodies from the rest of the nation. How one goes about changing a situation like this is not entirely clear, but some suggestions and perspective is offered by the recent articles in Mother Jones that I link to later in the post.

4 In a bizarre case of planetary alignment Kevin over at Food Junta just posted a white bean spread (read: hummus without chickpeas or tahina) recipe. Our moon cycles must be in sync. I confess to being too hummus-smitten to have made a white bean spread, but I will one of these days.

5 If you're going to mention Aristotle and Nietzsche, have more background than Bartlett's Quotations at your back. Especially if you're publishing in a policy journal. To say that Nietzsche's "transvaluation of all values" was about free love is about as stupid as saying that Einstein invented gravity. Furthermore, the oblique association of Nietzsche, Hitler, and Vegetarianism in the same footnote is about as calumnious as it gets. And please, if you're going to make gestures at having any idea what you're talking about in the realm of philosophy, spell simpliciter correctly.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Food porn

If this is food porn, Taste Test (A.V. Club) is food porn for S&M enthusiasts. As my good friends already know, the A.V. Club is a favorite site of mine, and in the spirit of making everyone in the world more like me (ya know, for their own good), I thought I'd pass this along. Taste Test is a feature, done once a week, I think, where the A.V. Club staff (usually interns) eat weird things and then talk about them. There is video, there is transcription, it's pretty funny, and will introduce you to things you will then wish you had never been introduced to.



When the Moon Hits Your Eye...

Oh my sweet, gentle readers, 14 hours later I can still taste the fresh, juicy tomatoes, feel the crunch of the bell peppers, smell the freshly toasted garlic, see the wonderfully browned tops of the one day old mozzarella, and, and, um, hear the olives, shaking in their aluminum can. You see, friends, last night, I stole Peter's idea, and Rachel and I made Pizza.

OH it was glorious! It was fresh, it was flavorful, it was easy and it was fun, but most of all, it was Peter's idea, and I stole it.

Before launching into the recipe (which, I know, is not the general practice in this space), a little background. Sunday began as all Sunday's do, Cafe Pettirosso and a Crossword, duly dispatched. Sitting around and shooting the breeze about the day's possibilities, the topic of the Ballard Farmer's Market was breached. Never mind that I had shot down that possibility when it was earlier mentioned, we were off.

The very first booth of interest was a cheese booth (surprise, surprise, there are probably 17 cheese booths at the Ballard Farmer's Market), where Rachel and I picked out a Cow's Milk cheese which was a bit pungent and very good, and then grabbed a tub of Mozzarella, which the woman behind the counter duly informed us was yesterday's milk, which was pretty exciting to hear.

We went in search of produce, but (it being winter and all) were unable to do better than beets, turnips, carrots, etc. which I vetoed on the grounds that I don't like beets, I don't like turnips, and we never use our carrots anyway. It was around this time that Pedro mentioned an interest in making Pizza that night. Now, normally I shy away from the labor intensive practice that is baking, especially seeing as I still work in a bakery, and don't particularly enjoy it. But for whatever reason, I had been thinking about baking that very day, cookies, bread, something, so Pizza piqued my interest. Long story short (I know, I know), rather than share my mozzarella with Peter, I stole his idea instead.

{+} K and R's Italian Love Fest

Serve with bread, olive oil and balsamic, with some red pepper flakes and thyme, pour some deep glasses of Chianti, and you are in for an adorable provincial Italian date meal.

oh friends, that's amore.


PS: terribly sorry to steal your proverbial thunder, Pedro, but I have a feeling your spirit of one-up-manship will see you though, no?