Wooo, it’s been quiet on this little blog of mine. I am trying to figure out what I am going to be when I grow up, you see. This takes time. My internship is up in a month. If I don’t get a job before then, my butt is going to be a) unemployed or b) folding sweaters at the Gap. And I hate the Gap. I do, with a passion. The job applications and my current work are taking up all of my time, leaving nothing for sleep, much less blogging or the gym. My ever-tighter pants are testament to this. Sigh. They shrank in the wash, I swear.
Though I suppose that all the food related activities around New England in the fall could have something to do with my tightening pants. Autumn in New England is apple picking season. There are loads of farms around Boston growing multiple varieties of apples on short little mutant apple trees that you don’t need a ladder to pick from – standing on your tippy toes will get you to the top of most trees on these farms.
And these trees were loaded with apples. They covered the branches and spilled out on to the ground in a thick red layer. Apples on the ground were no better than banana peels in cartoons when it came to slipping and falling on your rear, but the smell they gave off was stunning, for a yuppie such as myself – like fresh, slightly fermented cider with a smell of grass and farm mixed in. It was intoxicating.
The apples themselves were marvelous. I can’t for the life of me remember which type of apples they were – either Macoun or MacIntosh. Alls I know is that thin bright red skin gave way to blindingly white, juice packed flesh. There is absolutely nothing like the experience of biting into an apple you just pulled off a tree. It's still alive and full of moisture and warmth from the sun and the tree. You can still see that the stem end is moist and green, still alive, still capable of pushing sweet fluid to the fruit from the tree. You don’t get freshness like this in stores. It’s an entirely different experience. The amount of juice in these apples was shocking, watermelon level juiciness, with the sweet juice running down your chin. Better, and sweeter than candy.
The apples weren’t as sweet as the apple cider donuts though, another mainstay of New England autumn. These donuts are spiced with cinnamon and apple cider. The ones at Boston Hill Farm were freshly fried, still warm and crisp, yielding to sweet and spiced on the inside. Unbelievable, New England fall taste.
Did I mention that most of the jobs I am applying to are in London? Yes, London. The UK kind. I will miss New England autumns, if I am lucky enough to make it across the ocean. My fingers, and my toes, are crossed.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
I have some pretty freakin' cool friends, I have to say. One of my many cool friends, Travis, whom I met while in grad school, also happens to have a supremely cool job. This job allows him to travel to parts of the world that most could not identify on a map, but happen to have extensive culinary and cultural histories. Having just gotten back from one such place, Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan), Travis wrote me a great long email telling me about all the food he ate while on his trip, pictures included. I was captivated. In addition to being totally cool and having an awesome job, Travis is also an eloquent and engaging writer. I asked his permission to repost his email here in the form of a guest post because a) it's wonderfully well-written and b) no one knows where Uzbekistan is, much less what is eaten there. I think this post will serve as education along with fascination. So without further ado - a cool post from a cool person with a cool job. Feel free to envy Travis (and me, for being his friend). Thank you, Travis!
I returned from Uzbekistan last night. I am struggling with the jet lag, so I thought I would waste some time by sending you pictures and descriptions of a few of the dishes I had while in Tashkent.
First of all, I did eat a significant portion of my meals at small, street side cafes and chaikhanas (teahouses). Most of the food at these establishments is everyday Uzbek or regional fare but still tasty...and definitely cheaper than eating at larger restaurants and hotel chains. I would also argue that because of the turnover rate and hot soups, it is probably a little more sanitary as well.
I did eat plov on several occasions, but did not have my camera with me at those times... so the disappointment is no pictures of plov. Tashkent plov is a heavy affair... laden with mutton and sheep tail fat (the locals contend that several cups of green tea after the meal help the passage of all this fat through the system... call me not convinced). On top of the mutton is the ubiquitous slices of horse meat. Depending upon where you eat it, there is typically a boiled egg or two included (chicken or quail). At one place, they had apricots in the rice, which was quite nice. In Tashkent, the plov isn't an aromatic dish like you would expect from related South Asian rice dishes. The rice isn't as good as jasmine or basmati like in neighboring countries to the West and South.
OK, on to the dishes that do have photographic evidence. First, there are two main soups in Uzbekistan that you can get at just about any cafe or chaikhana: laghman and shurpa. Laghman has large noodles (think udon) in a spicy broth with large chunks of garlic, green beans, onions, and mutton. The actual contents vary from establishment to establishment and from day to day depending upon what fresh vegetables are available that day. Like most dishes in Uzbekistan, it is eaten with "non" (yep, very similar to the Hindi word naan for bread...but this bread is leavened). Shurpa is a little different than laghman in ingredients, but the broth is somewhat similar. Shurpa consists of root vegetable (potatoes, turnips, carrots, etc), onions, and, again, mutton (usually on the bone).
I also had a very common Kazakh dish called Besh Barmak (literally "five fingers" as it was traditionally eaten with the hands). It is a heavy dish consisting of diced horse meat and boiled noodles. Think of it as a horse stroganoff without the sour cream and mushrooms. Because the dish can get dry, it is generally also served with a steaming bowl of what can only be described as "horse consomme." If you are wondering about the flavor of horse just let me say it is somewhat "gamey" and very reminiscent of how the actual animal smells.
When the horse broth was being brought to the table before the main plate, the waitress was about eight feet away and I thought to myself, "yep, that definitely smells like horse." The odor completely filled your nose with a deep, musky animal scent. It was overwhelming. Usually on the side is a small container of yogurt that can also be mixed into the dish... thus almost completing the transition to a stroganoff-like dish. Few spices were used on the meat and probably consisted of mostly coriander... which I wasn't really expecting.
I also had the opportunity to eat at a really good Korean restaurant. Now you might be thinking, "what the hell?" when I mention Korean food in Tashkent, but you have to remember that after World War II, Stalin relocated vast numbers of North Koreans to Central Asia. Many of these communities still exist and there are still cultural, familial, and business relations with Korea. I ordered the bi bim bop as you usually cannot go wrong with that in a Korean restaurant. I wasn't disappointed.
Bi bim bop is one of those "some assembly required" Asian dishes that allows you to personalize the dish to your own tastes. In addition to the large, sizzling stone bowl containing the egg, rice, meat, sprouts, and spinach, there was a number of smaller dishes of "salads" (as the wait staff called them) to modify the dish. Central to this was the homemade kimchi. It was very nice, but not overwhelmingly spicy. As you can see in the photo, there were a variety of other salads to either have individually or mix into the bowl. I ate most of them!
I hope you enjoyed the descriptions... feel free to pass them along to anyone that might be interested in Central Asian cuisine... or just interested in novel foods.
P.S. I really hope I matched the correct picture to the description. If I didn't, please correct me Travis!
Sunday, October 12, 2008
I may whine about Boston every once in a while, but I love it. I love it especially now that I have a car. Riddled with scratches, cracked taillights, and other city kisses though it may be, it’s my connection to the many farms that surround the city. Now that it’s fall harvest season, the farms are kicking into over drive, pulling up millions of varieties of squash (only a slight exaggeration), potatoes, greens, and apples. I took advantage of both the car and the season to visit a farm, in true to type yuppie fashion.
Red Fire Farm, located in a teeny town about an hour and a half west of Boston, hosted a fall harvest festival this last weekend. Farm festivals are like cat nip for yuppies such as myself - interact with the farmers, spend a day outside, eat really good food, pretend to be in touch with nature - it makes for a good day.
The farm stand itself looks like nothing more than a regular house in a neighborhood. Walk through to the back though, past the tables loaded with garlic, squash, and locally produced milk, and the house opens up to fields with the backdrop of stubby mountains, turning leaves, and a quiet calm.
German extra hardy garlic, on sale at the farm stand
It was so quiet! Almost shocking to someone such as myself, used to the background buzz of the city. The smell all around was wonderful – heavy on cut grass, with slight tinges of natural fertilizer, if you know what I mean. Not in any bad way, but in a way that reminds me that I am never out in nature. Really, never. I am not much of a nature-girl. Which brings me to the mosquitoes.
Never in my life have I seen so many mosquitoes at the same time, at the same place. They swarmed. They conspired against me, I am certain of it. They could tell that I hadn’t been that close to “nature” in years. If it wasn’t for the kindly yuppies sitting next to me who gave me the kind and generous gift of a bug repellent wipe… well, I am not sure I would be sitting here typing now. I would be a giant, pink, itch-filled balloon praying for a swift death. I am itchy still, mind you, I just don’t want to die. Not at all. I keep remembering the evening and it makes me smile.
The harvest feast began with a squash tasting – butternut, carnival, spaghetti, two types of kabocha, and others I had never heard of. All grown on the farm, all cooked till sweet and smooth. It was really interesting to taste the range of flavors in one vegetable. The word squash all of a sudden seemed rather limited.
We made our way to the tables set in the farm fields under a tent, set with a small pumpkin, cider pressed on the farm that morning, and a hard cider donated by a local company. Everything we ate that night, save for the lasagna noodles, was grown on the farm. How incredible is that? The yuppie in me rejoiced. The repressed hippie let out a 'Yippee!'.
The meal began with small (biodegradable) bowls of squash and apple soup made by a local shop.
For the entrée, we were offered a choice of delicata squash stuffed with rice and topped with mozzarella, or a squash lasagna (my choice). The lasagna was stuffed to the brim with sweet and creamy squash, flavored with just a hint of sage and other herbs. The tender whole wheat lasagna noodles were barely perceptible amongst the mounds of squash, but lovely topped with melted fresh mozzarella.
The mixed greens salad was so crisp and fresh that I was shocked by the crunch. The roasted vegetables had sweet and white potatoes, red and golden beets, eggplant, cauliflower, and bell peppers, oh my. All sweet and packed with flavor, the kind of flavor you don’t get with vegetables that have lined supermarket shelves for an unknown number of days.
As if that wasn’t enough food, there was also home made pumpkin pie with freshly whipped cream. The pie (whole wheat crust) was super smooth and not overly spiced, nutmeg coming to the front. If I had any room in my stomach at all at this point (did I forget to mention the cider donut I had before the squash samples and the rest of the meal? Oh yea, there was a cider donut) I would have tried to whipped cream. As things stood, I barely dragged myself away from the table, stuffed to the brim and reluctant to leave the farm, with its crickets and bugs in the background and nighttime farm smells.
Parting shot of the tent on the farm. I was sad to leave, yet excited to get to my cortisone cream.
It could have been the romance of the farm and fresh air, or it could have been the crisp hard cider, but everything tasted so freakin' good. So fresh and alive, made with care by dirty hippie farmers, none older than me and all committed to the cause of local agriculture.
Monday, October 06, 2008
I have to live in a city. I just have to. The sight of the strip malls and carefully spaced cookie-cutter housing developments of suburbia makes me itch and wretch, in that order. I was raised in a city, I live in a city, I’m a city-person through and through. I love everything about the city. Except…
... the absence of grilling. There is no grilling when you live in an apartment. No back yard, no grills in parks, no place to act out my love for all things grilled over a flame. You do what you can. You hop on a boat to an exotic and grill-friendly destination. You force your friends with the rare back yard and other adaptations to invite you over - and often.
You have to give in to the city, because it won't give in to you. You adapt, and you embrace. You stick a grill on your balcony, porch, roof, windowsill, whatever. It’s not entirely legal, it’s not entirely safe, but you’ve gotta do what you gotta do.
My grill, on my pseudo-balcony/fire escape/extended windowsill
It’s a piece of crap propane grill. I feel like I am in constant threat of explosion, even when the thing isn’t on. I would have preferred charcoal, but open flames are unsafe enough right outside of your apartment window - glowing embers that don't go out for hours are not the smartest thing in the world. It heats unevenly and weakly. I’ve hardly used the grill, but it’s there. It's not the best grill in the world (or in Target), but it’s comforting to know I can always turn to it at will to get that bit of char flavor I love.
As far as city adaptations go, this one ranks somewhere below keeping a dog in 600ft apartment and above accepting the fact that your car will be dinged and scratched within 10 minutes of being in the city. Feel free to contribute your own city adaptations in the comments, if you are so inclined.
Friday, October 03, 2008
It is rare that I find myself inspired by bar food. Regular, run of the mill, anonymous, non-fancy bar kind of food. Rare, but not unheard of.
I spent a horribly rainy afternoon in an Irish pub by my house, watching a British soccer (oooh, I mean futbol) match, drinking beer (like it’s abnormal to drink beer at 3PM on a Saturday. In a bar. Please.), and snacking on surprisingly good French fries. A lady who was quite obviously a regular at the bar (which is sad in its own right, for a Saturday afternoon) recommended I get a side of curry sauce for the fries, a British tradition I have never quite understood. However, when informed by a haggard-looking bar regular, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, that I should be eating my French fries covered in curry sauce, then that’s what I do.
And you know what? It was pretty good! I have absolutely no idea what was in it, besides copious amounts of cream, I am sure, but it was smooth and slightly sweet, it was perfect for dipping thin, crunchy fries. Not nearly spicy enough, but it never is. Right there, on the spot, facing the onset of tipsiness and autumn, I started to crave curried squash soup.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the next few days. I made it the first chance I could, with the autumn squash that has been arriving in my Boston Organics boxes as of late. Smooth and rich, with a bit of a kick and freshness from the herbs, it was autumn, right there, on my table. I am not entirely ready for autumn yet, but it appears I am ready for the food. It’s going to be soups and more soups from now until next June. Good thing I wasn't craving the potato skins. [Shudder].
Curried Squash Soup
1 med acorn squash and 1 med dumpling squash (though you could use one large butternut squash instead – it is fabulous with curry powder - or all acorn, whatever you have)
1 large onion
2 tbsp curry powder
chili powder, to taste
chicken stock or water
handful of fresh cilantro
3 or 4 stalks of green onion
- Preheat onion to 425F
- Cut squash open, quarter, and scoop out the seeds.
- Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, place cut side down on baking sheet and roast until tender and browned. Try to stop yourself from tearing off all the brown, sweet, crunchy bits and eating them on the spot. You need them to make the soup sweet(er). Let cool and scoop out flesh. Or burn your fingers, if you’re me.
- Chop onion roughly and sautee in olive oil till soft and translucent, about 5 min.
- Sprinkle with curry and chili powders, stir about and allow the spices to toast for a few minutes.
- Add cooked squash, squish it a bit and stir around till you get bored. Then add chicken stock/water to cover the squash by about an inch.
- Add salt and simmer for about 20-30 minutes.
- Puree and thin out with stock/water to desired consistency
- Toss in herbs, season with salt and paper.
- Photograph aggressively.
- Eat on couch, blanket on lap.
Monday, September 22, 2008
It’s totally and completely sad (well, a little sad) that I, at almost 30 years old, call my mother for sympathy every time I get sick. I just have to. I feel like my Mom validates my illness, somehow. Until my Mom feels sorry for me, I am just whiny and annoying. After she tells me “Ooooohhh, you poor thing…,” all of a sudden I am sick, a patient in need of care and attention, completely justified in my whimpers and whines and validated in my illness.
So, if you haven't guessed, I have a cold (or a rhinovirus infection, as we science geeks like to refer to it). I spent the weekend in abject misery, swallowing handfuls of decongestants, which are worth less than their candy coating, as far as my sinuses are concerned. I was preparing myself for a slow and painful death by starvation and neglect (I get dramatic when I am sick) when the man-friend (did we decide to call him the Texan? Yes, let’s shall) swept in with bags of groceries, all set to make me chicken soup. All together now: Aaaawwww.
The soup he made, from America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, may have saved both my life and my mother from 10 more whiny phone calls. The soup was absurdly complex, beginning with a most peculiar recipe for chicken stock.
The recipe starts with a butt ton (technical term here, people) of chicken drumsticks (bones cracked with a cleaver for maximal flavor extraction) which one browns on all sides, in batches in a Dutch oven. The chicken is then allowed to sweat until it releases juices, a step which the cookbook says greatly decreases the simmering time necessary for full flavoring of the stock. After sweating, water is added and the chicken is simmered with bay leaf and sautéed onions. A little less than sixty minutes from the start of this lengthy procedure, the stock is strained and then, and only then, can one start on the soup.
Into the strained stock went big chunks of carrot, celery, onion, shredded chicken, dried thyme, an ear of corn, three handfuls of orzo pasta, and fresh parsley at the very end. Et voila, the most beautiful bowl of chicken soup my rhinovirus-dimmed eyes had ever seen:
The resulting soup was very rich - all the collagen from the chicken drumsticks made the broth thick and velvety. The soup actually set into aspic after a night in the fridge! The chicken itself was moist and flavorful, not rubbery and dead like all chicken coming out of a long-simmering broth. The vegetables though, the vegetables were the best part. The corn absorbed the copious amounts of chicken fat and became the softest, creamiest corn of all time, all while still retaining the snap of the individual kernels. It was divine.
I suspect the soup tastes best when someone makes it for you, unprompted and unselfishly, all the while you blow your nose loudly and whimper about how you are going to die imminently. Have someone make this soup for you next time you are sick. I am pretty sure you will feel better right away. Or at least you will feel your illness has been validated and you are being taken care of.
P.S. The recipe for this whole business is way too long for me to retype and really isn’t the point of this post, which is my feeling sick and whiny. So I won’t type it. Instead, I am going to sit on my couch and swallow more useless decongestants.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Laptop is alive, almost back to normal! Thank you for all the lovely thoughts and good luck wishes. I hope to recover from the shock of it all shortly. Should only take another couple of six-packs. Whew. Now let’s get back to business, people.
I just came back from a nine day stay in London. Unlike most of the trips I go on, I wasn’t ready to go home at the end. Not nearly. I really could have used another couple of days walking around the city, sitting in ancient pubs drinking excellent beer, and eating all manner of fried and sausage-related foods. I fell in love (again) with the enormous preponderance of fresh sandwiches, pre-packaged in neat, triangular boxes, ranging in filling from egg salad and cheese to prawn salad (eeek. Kinda sketchy), sold in every coffee shop and market in the city. It has to be the box. I love that triangular box.
Everything in London is familiar, but not quite the same as what I am most used to. It's off by just a couple of degrees. Men’s suits fit better, beer is less carbonated and tastier, the cars drive in unpredictable patterns at predictably high speeds – toward the end of the trip I took to checking right, left, up and down for cars, just to make sure I would not get flattened by a giant red bus of doom speeding from out of nowhere. It worked.
As I mentioned, I was in London for work… and work I did. While the man friend explored London and went to see the galleries I am pissed about missing, I worked. Beh. I did have the evenings, and made the best of them.
The evenings were made up of the obligatory pub fish and chips with mushy peas at a pub near city center (wherever that is), with a light and crisp batter. Fried overload.
Suspiciously green but wonderful – the pea-est peas I have ever had.
There was also traditional pork pie, bought in a stiflingly hot indoor market in Brick Lane, the Indian/Bengali part of town. As if I would skip the Indian/Bengali part of town.
The pork pie was intense – butter-laden handmade crust encasing a slightly gritty filling of ground up pork and spices. It was as the name suggested – pie shell and pork. Wonderful smeared all over with mustard.
The hotel I stayed at served full English breakfast every morning – beans (which I am now addicted to), black pudding, bacon, every kind of egg, stewed tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, kippers, and all sorts of yogurts, fruits, etc and oh my. The Brits know their breakfast, that is without doubt, but kippers? Really? That’s hardcore, even by my standards.
Unfortunately, I don’t have too many other pictures to share. Most meals were consumed in pubs and either the light was too low for photography, or I was one too many pints past taking pictures. Most often, it was a combination of the two.
The beer… the beer was fabulous. And the people were super nice, the tube was marvelous (yes, Londoners think it’s shite, but come to Boston for a week and then tell me your public transport blows. I think not). In my 9 days there I managed to pick up some sort of bizarre accent and now say “Cheers!” at seemingly random times, and “brilliant” at wholly inappropriate ones. I can’t wait to go back and pick up other Britishisms – preferably ones that don’t involve bad teeth and imminent alcoholism. Though I may be swayed toward the latter, with enough perseverance.
Friday, September 05, 2008
What is the worst thing that could ever happen to a blogger, ever ever ever? How about a blogger who works in web publishing and uses her laptop more than she uses olive oil (and that's saying something)?
The worst thing ever? It's not internet outage. It's not breaking a hand. It's not even losing a hand. The worst thing is spilling water on one's most beloved of possessions - the laptop. I kind of want to lie down and die and I so wish I were exaggerating.
I spilled about 150mL of water on the keyboard. I turned the laptop upside down and removed the battery straight away. It dried overnight with a fan on it (as you can see in the picture taken with my phone since I NO LONGER HAVE A LAPTOP to load pictures onto), but still didn't start this morning.
On the laptop was a half written post about my trip to London (for work - just got back on Monday) as well as all the associated pictures and gobs and gobs of data, files, pictures, and well, my life. Please everyone cross your fingers for me. Cross everything you have. This is me not freaking out, by the way. It could get much worse.
I will try turning it on again on Monday.
Trying not to freak the f out.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Chicken livers. How can something so good be reviled by so many people? I am convinced that when someone doesn’t like a particular ingredient or dish, it’s just because they have never had it done well. So many chicken livers come out overcooked, grainy, grey, and dry. They really can be gross. If done well, however, they can be amazing.
The best chicken liver I have ever had was at the The Spotted Pig in NY. The livers came out charred and crisp on the outside, but meltingly creamy and foie gras-like on the inside. They were more decadent than I thought humble chicken livers could ever be. The Bordeaux reduction sauce pooling around them may have had something to do with it, but the livers themselves were simply spectacular.
This chicken liver experience, combined with the fact that I love them love them on any regular day, made me crave it with a pang. I took the first opportunity to make chicken liver pate, following a recipe out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Kitchen.
Here’s the thing about Jamie Oliver. He is all about the Naked Chef thing – simple food, un-fussed with ingredients, simple processes, great results. Turns out that translates into imprecise directions, and weird quantities like “a small bunch” of thyme, a glass full of brandy, and an onion. What do you mean, onion? Large? Small? Jumbo? Come on! I follow protocols. I need precise instructions. There is no “bunch” in my vocabulary. There are strict volumes and weights. I had total irritation.
He also makes everything sounds easy breezy – bang it in there, slap on some of this, bake off for a minute. Whatev. He uses hard core French techniques just like every other big important chef. The recipe called for the prepared pate to be passed through a sieve twice to make it smooth. After spending 20 minutes huffing and puffing over the first sieve pass, I said no more. It was smooth enough for my peasant tastes.
I quit with the sieving I portioned out the pate into eight ramekins, topped with a fried sage leaf, and sealed the top with clarified butter, to prevent gross dried out pate from peaking through the top. As you may be able to tell from the pictures, I didn’t do so well with that part.
I did do very well with the pate consumption, however. I think I ate my body weight in chicken liver pate that evening. Breaking through the clarified butter top to reach the silky pate was deeply satisfying. The pate was not too rich, with a subtle liver flavor. I had hoped for more of the brandy and thyme to come through, but without precise measurements (I am going to blame the directions, not the execution) I think I was slightly off and did not add enough of either.
While the recipe is neither precise nor terribly straight forward, it is still worth a try. I know I will be making it again very soon.
The menu below was adapted from the original. I took out all the annoying “get yourself a frying pan” bits, and made it as precise as I could, while adding in a few of my own modifications. Stop thinking about liver as liver and think iof it as something wonderful. There. That's my last plug for chicken liver.
Chicken Liver Pate
Serves 6 (though I would say 4, depending on the size of your ramekins/serving dishes)
1 ¾ cups softened butter
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1lb chicken livers, trimmed
1 sm bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked ad chopped
1 lg wineglass of brandy
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a few sage leaves
Melt 11 tablespoons of butter over very low heat. Pour off the yellow butter (or ghee), leaving behind the white milky solids. Set aside.
Fry onion and garlic in olive oil over medium low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent. Remove the onion to a bowl, wipe out the pan, turn up the heat to med high, and add more olive oil.
Add chicken livers and thyme (I really should have dried the livers thoroughly before dropping them in the pan. I didn’t, and they steamed instead of frying. Oops). Cook the livers in one layer until they are colored, but still pink in the middle. This is the absolute key – overcooked livers are tough, grainy and chewy. Don’t overcook! I kept poking mine with a knife to see what they look like inside. You don’t want them to be bloody, but never grey.
Pour in the brandy and cook off the alcohol. You can simply wait for the alcohol to burn off, or decide to be a badass and set the pan on fire with a lighter. That was a fun column of flames all the way to the ceiling, tell you what.
Sautee livers with brandy for a minute. Take off the heat and add to a food processor with the onions and garlic. I left all the liquid behind in the pan so as not to thin out the pate.
Puree until smooth, then add the rest of the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Divide into ramekins.
Push through a sieve – once if you’re sane, twice if you’re bored.
Fry sage leaves in olive oil and drain on a paper towel. Place leaves over the pate in whatever artistic fashion strikes your fancy. Pour clarified butter over the top to seal. Let cool in fridge for at least an hour.
Serve with toasted bread and good red wine.
Monday, July 28, 2008
One of the coolest things about Boston is how easy it is to get out of. You can get on a boat, or you can get in the car. Either way, you can reach a fabulous someplace in just half an hour.
Verrill Farm is borderline fabulous place, and is located just about half an hour outside of the city. Verrill supplies a bunch of Boston area restaurants with fresh produce. They also hold events throughout the summer to highlight various fruits and vegetables coming off their farm. Since I am a dork and therefore, on the Verrill Farm mailing list, I found out about a blueberry pancake breakfast to be held on the farm on a Saturday morning.
And off I went, in my car (nope, AC just won’t work unless I am going 80 mph). It was me and the rest of the yuppies leaving the comfort of their Saturday beds for the pursuit of something local, something good, and something with bacon in it.
Oh yes. There was bacon.
I realize that the event wasn’t called a “bacon breakfast” (how good would that be though!), but that’s the part I would like to describe first. The bacon, if you haven’t guessed, was awesome. Really thick and slightly chewy, not too greasy. Being compulsive, I pulled off the big chunks of fat under the misapprehension that I can’t (shouldn’t?) put an piece of obvious fat in my mouth. Oh silly me. That fat was the best part. It was a weird combination of light and rich, crunchy and melty. Delicious. Pig fat tastes good.
Obviously, the yuppies and I were onto something. The pancakes were great. Freshly made, griddled in bulk out of a cartoon-sized batter dispenser, sprinkled with copious amounts of fresh blueberries. The pancakes were tender and not too sweet, the heated berries exploding when bitten.
Toward the end of the breakfast, the Verrill people brought out trays of blueberry pies (all baked on the premises) for a real live pie eating contest (the citified yuppie in me felt all sorts of country and small-town for a brief moment). People got good and dirty eating the pies without using their hands. Blueberry juice ear to ear. The winner licked the tin clean. It was amazing. I gagged.
A walk around the farm and farm shop revealed that the farm wasn’t yet producing very much. For Boston, July is still relatively early in the season. The corn was not quite ready to be picked, the tomatoes still a couple of weeks off. The little farm shop had the same stuff as Whole Foods, likely from the same suppliers. Weird. It was a big city version of a small town farm. The illusion held long enough for me to leave happy, relaxed, stuffed full of bacon, and hot as all sin from the blasting sun. I then sat on my couch in front of the AC and drank beer the rest of the day. Is that not a perfect Saturday for a yuppie such as myself?
Monday, July 21, 2008
Y’know how all the time you hear about grass-fed, free-range, organic, free-willed, cage-free, hormone-free, happy sunshine cows or chicken or people, for that matter. Every once in a while you stop and ask yourself, does it really make a difference? Does it seriously taste soooo much better than the regular stuff sold at the fluorescently-lit and warehouse-like grocery supermart of your choice? Y’know what? It does. It does taste better.
I had the luck to try out some burgers from Roseda Beef. First, Roseda farms offered to send me burgers to try out. Meat by mail? No thanks. I was ready to say no. Then I read further. They said they are a family-run business, they said they raise and breed their own Black Angus cows, they said the cows are grazed on grass and that the meat is dry-aged before it’s ground into burgers. Then they mentioned they are located in Maryland, close to where I grew up in Northern Virginia! Who says no to that, I ask you. Not I.
I said yes. I said yes, and I got eight ginormous burgers in the mail to try out and comment on here. So here’s my comment – Yum. These people don’t fool around. The burgers are shipped frozen (d’oh! Wish I could have been in MD to pick them up myself) along with a bunch of instructions and neat background on the company. The instructions said that you don’t have to thaw the burgers before cooking, just throw them onto a hot grill or pan. I was skeptical, I have to admit, but it worked.
The instructions suggested cooking the burgers for a total of 14 minutes, flipping them from side to side in a carefully-controlled choreographic manner. Fourteen minutes is enough time to take even a frozen burger far past well-done. That, combined with the fact that I was completely starving and not willing to wait and coordinate my choreography, led me to cook my burger for a total of about 8 minutes on the stovetop (three minutes on each side, followed by another minute or so on each side), in a well-heated and heavy pan. I got crusty, juicy, medium to medium well burger that hardly shrank in size with cooking. It remained as ginormous and pretty as it was before the cooking.
Not sure my pictures do it justice, but this is one good burger.
I ate the burger plain at first, just so I could taste the meat. It was so… beefy. There is no better way to describe it. It had more beef taste than a lot of burgers I have had. It wasn’t packed too tight, yet didn’t fall apart. You could tell that it was good stuff, not the run of the mill pre-packaged burger. In this case, as in many others, attention, care, and quality really made a difference in the product. I was happy that a family-run business is doing well, I was happy they are turning to bloggers to spread the word for them, and I am happy that my dinner took 8 minutes from start to finish.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
New Yorkers have to put up with a lot: a lot of people, a lot of funny smells, a lot of gum on the sidewalk, and not enough fresh air. New Yorkers are resilient people – they can take a lot on. That’s why when the Big Apple BBQ came to town in 95F weather, New Yorkers were not deterred. They came out in droves to stand in line for hours. No awnings, no shade, no pool to jump into… and at the end of the line? Hot meat, from the best BBQ joints from all over the country – brisket, ribs, short ribs, sausages, slaw, and all the rest.
Turns out that my composition is nowhere near as strong as a New Yorkers. I lasted through one line for just one vendor (and that with downing two bottles of cold water, constant fanning, and copious complaining). That vendor, Salt Lick from TX, must have been the best one of them all because everyone and their mother was standing there with us. My friend Neha assured me that they serve the best beef brisket she has ever had in her life. In fact, she eats beef just once a year – when the Big Apple BBQ comes around and the Salt Lick tent offers up with it’s Texas-style brisket. A forty minute wait was worth it after that intro.
Or so I thought. I blame it on the heat, on my inherent crankiness, or perhaps on my white T-shirt, which quickly became a see-through white T shirt from all the smokey sweat that it was absorbing (how’s that for appetizing?), but this brisket was just alright. Not mind-blowing, not life-changing, but good. You could see the pink smoke ring on the outside of the meat, indicating the amount of time it spent in the smoker.
You could see the crust of spice rub and char on the very outside. I could have used a bit more of both. The meat itself was flavorful and meaty, but a little on the tough side. While I myself and everything around me was melting, the meat did not. That was ok though. The cole slaw slayed me. It was dressed very simply, with vinegary dressing full of celery seeds. It was a light, crunchy, acidic counterpoint to the heavy and warm meat.
Next time I’m in NY for the BBQ fest (and I will be back, there is no doubt), I am going for the ribs. They looked amazing – blackened and charred and ginormous. I will also be wearing as little as possible, will have a beer in each hand, and someone to fan me while I wait for the food. A girl can dream, can’t she?
P.S. Crap. I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted. This new job of mine... turns out I have no more time now than I did when I was in grad school. What's up with that? You mean the real world isn't any easier than the academic one? Who would've thunk it. I promise to do better. From now on.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Man, I just can’t seem to catch my breath. First writing, then the defense, and finally the graduation ceremony. Now my new job is starting to kick my butt. More on that later. First, guess who our commencement speaker was. Just guess.
You will never guess because it’s too awesome and amazing.
It was J.K. Rowling! I have never been so happy. So happy, in fact, that my parents, my man-friend and I had a bottle of vodka after the ceremony, a bottle of wine with our ultra-authentic French dinner, and for dessert… for dessert we had a bottle of 1955 Vintage port.
My parents have been saving this bottle for my defense. It was supposed to be something really special, something to mark the occasion and to accompany dessert. It was such a great plan. There was only one hitch - they should have kept me sober.
Opening the bottle while most of the way to drunk was a challenge in itself. The bottle neck was sealed in a weird glass-like substance, which shattered when hit by a knife. Showering the floor with the black glass-like shards revealed a cork sunken deep in the neck of the bottle. I was shocked how far in the cork had slipped in the port's 50 years. The cork was so old that it crumbled with every touch. Slowly, piece by piece, I extracted the cork from the bottle. I smelled the cork, which normally does nothing for me except making me look unnecessarily snooty. Not this cork though – it was potently piney. Really piney and musty and not at all fruity or sweet.
Next drunken step before consumption? Explaining to my Father why in the world I don’t own a ceramic bottle top vintage port filter. Five guesses again on why I don’t own a ceramic 50-year old port filter. Is that because port that needs to be filtered is typically half my rent? A coffee filter had to step in and save the day… as did a flower vase that stood in for a decanter. Yes, I am a frat boy.
Luckily, my poorly appointed kitchen did not seriously affect the taste of the port (I hope). The wine was woody and leathery, smooth and rich but not heavy. It was so much more complex than any other port I had had before. I am certain I would have enjoyed the port much more had I not passed out cold on the couch after just a few sips. Can you really blame me? All that excitement and all that alcohol in one day? Not surprisingly, when I woke up the port was all gone. I have a pretty good idea what happened to it. The guilty/no-longer-drunk parties know exactly who I am talking about. My parents have another bottle of the 1955. If I need another PhD to get at it… well, there is no more port in my future.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
I am having a tough time deciding which view is more beautiful. Is it the view of Boston Harbor’s outer islands, as seen from the top of Spectacle Island...
...or is it the view of a fully loaded grill, stacked with potatoes, marinated skirt steak and chicken breast, and an odd pork sausage or two?
I just don’t know. I can’t decide.
The beginning of every grilling season marks the beginning of sailing season for me. each one is a thing of beauty on its own, certainly, but combine the two and you have the foundation of the most perfect day possible.
Here is how that perfect day goes: Sail to an uninhabited island. Marinate meats in sealed bags on the sunny deck of a rocking sailboat. Breathe in the salty air, smear on the sunscreen, chug Coronas one after another, and feel like a total badass for sailing to an ISLAND for a cookout.
Start the prep work on the boat, so that when you alight on land, all you have to do is start up the grill, pop open more beer, and toss the food on the flames. Make the best grill-top potatoes you will ever have (thanks for the idea, Melissa!) - Make vertical slits in a medium sized baking potato, bring careful not to slice all the way to the bottom. Stuff thin slices of onion in the slits, toss some slices on top. Salt and pepper generously, top with a hefty slice of butter (1/2 tbsp should be fine), wrap tightly in foil and drop onto a hot grill. Flip a couple of times and check to see if they are done (by seeing if a knife passes through the potato easily) after about 20 minutes. The onions melt into the potato almost as if they were never there. The bottom of the potato becomes caramelized and crisp, the rest steams to a perfect flaky doneness.
Oh and the corn. Repeatedly slather freshly shucked corn with salted butter while on the grill, keep it on till it’s charred black all over, and it will turn out so sweet and so perfect.
Toast crusty bread with butter till crisp, grill the sausages, cook the skirt steak minimally, just still done on both sides (leaving it medium-done on the inside), grill the chicken, and have the best cookout/pig-out, eat till it hurts. And to make the Coronas a little more special? Squeeze in lime juice, a heavy shot of hot sauce (not Tabasco, though! It’s too vinegary for this), a pinch of salt, and enjoy an instant Michelada. Awesome.
We did all those things. After we had about a six-pack of beer and three tons of food per person, we went on a walk around Spectacle Island, and sat in a gazebo on one of the highest points. It may have been all the beer or the good food or the perfect weather and lovely company, but that day, that moment, summer began for me and so many worries of the last months and years began to fade. Looks like there is life after grad school.
View from the Spectacle Island pier, where we set up the gas grill the park ranger provided (for a modest fee, including docking our boat).
Marinated* skirt steak
count on ½ pound of skirt steak per person
Place steaks in a zip lock back with:
- juice of a couple limes
- handfuls (proportions of each don’t really matter) of green onion, sage, marjoram, cilantro, or whatever other herbs you happen to have on hand
- a finely chopped fresh jalapeno
- a handful of thinly-sliced white onion
- red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper
- a glug of light-colored beer if there is not enough liquid to carry all the flavors into the meat
1) Marinate at room temperature for a couple of hours, or until you are a) too hungry to wait any longer or b) have reached the island of your choice.
2) Grill until deep grill marks appear on both sides, remove to a plate. Skirt steak is thin and really easy to overcook, so try your hardest not to. Unless you like your meat well-done… in which case I really don’t understand you.
* The same exact marinade worked wonderfully for chicken, making really tender and almost creamy chicken, with a hint of lime and herbage.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I went to New York with two goals – to eat at Mario Batali’s Babbo and to stuff myself silly with the best street food that NY has to offer. I think I did pretty well on both fronts, straddling two extremes of the gastronomic spectrum.
Babbo was as great as I remembered it (I went there for the first time about 4-5 years ago). They serve some of the best octopus I have had to this day, simmered in white wine and charred on a super hot grill. It is so creamy and soft, so full of flavor, and so impossible to reproduce or find anywhere else. I had my very first squab, which to my surprise and delight was cooked to medium rare and tasted exactly like a dense calf’s liver. Totally bizarre, incongruous, and un-bird-like, but also wonderfully delicious.
We ate in good company – besides my friends Kanchan and Shariff, who were celebrating their newly-acquired marriage license (though not yet the marriage itself) we had REM’s Michael Stipe sitting at a table on our left, and Jim Nelson, the editor-in-chief of GQ, sitting on our right. I was feeling very VIP that evening. We totally spent the whole night drinking with Michael Stipe and then Jim Nelson gave me some women’s clothes that had been bumping around the GQ stockrooms… you know, some Prada, some Miu Miu, nothing special. And then I woke up from my octopus-induced coma and realized I should probably stop staring and/or drooling over the famous people.
The rest of the weekend was spent in the pursuit of less refined, though no less complex street food. 1) Pizza at Lombardi’s in SoHo – thin crust (wish it had been more charred), nicely melted mozzarella, anchovies on one half (my half), not too much sauce, way too many tourists with fanny packs;
2) A beautiful skirt steak sandwich at a flea market in the depths of Brooklyn (perhaps my new favorite place). The steak was well-marinated and tender, topped with a spicy aioli and stuffed into a crusty ciabatta roll.
It was horrifically messy, left everything orange and slightly sticky, yet completely happy. The grilled corn on the side though… oh the corn. It was candy sweet and charred from the grill, every kernel so full of juice that it felt like little balls of caviar exploding with every bite. It was amazing and bordeline dessert-like.
Oh but that’s not all. There was also 3) a NY street hot dog (meh), 4) a street cart soft pretzel (meh), 5) some fresh canoli (yay), 6) bison jerky from the Union Sq farmer’s market, and so on and so forth. I think I have only recounted 1/10th of everything I ate in those three days. I am still in recovery from all the eating, but I still love eating vacations. You can get the high-end and the everyday, and each tastes awesome and unique in its own way.
P.S. Next on my NY list – really good Mexican tacos, Chinese dumplings, and hot chocolate form Jacques Torres. Oh, and a really good Rueben, Cubano, a decent margarita would be nice…. And I could go on. My food fantasies tend to run amok.