Friday, December 30, 2011

If You Don't Hear From Me by Monday...

...send a St. Bernard with a cask of brandy to look for me! I'm getting ready to do a memory/system software upgrade on my computer, and I can only hope I'll find my way back. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cocktail of the Day: The Grinch

Yes, I'm back, after way too long an absence. I'll write more about that soon, but for the moment, a quick cocktail post, based on this very cool gift I got for Christmas.

In my very first foray into molecular gastronomy1, I have tonight made for my family...

The Grinch
  • 400 ml + 15 ml per drink melon liqueur (Midori, in my case)
  • 2g sodium alginate
  • 4 cups water
  • 5g calcium lactate
  • Ginger ale
  • Honeydew melon (optional garnish)

  • Immersion blender (or similar)
  • Plastic pipette (or syringe or similar)
  • Pierced spoon

Procedure: Dissolve sodium alginate in 400 ml of melon liqueur, mix with immersion blender and set aside for 5 min.; dissolve 5g calcium lactate in water (sorry 'bout the mixed units, but that's how the kit recipe specified it); drip (from pipette or similar) liqueur mixture into calcium lactate bath to form "caviar"; put ice cubes and 15 ml melon liqueur into rocks glasses; fish out "caviar" with pierced spoon and spoon over ice; top with ginger ale. Optionally, garnish with honeydew melon slice (I didn't have a honeydew melon on hand, and couldn't wait to play with my new toy).

I actually halved the liqueur/sodium alginate mixture and still got enough yield of "caviar" for four drinks, each with the equivalent of about 2 oz of alcohol. When you see the finished drink (which I found tasty, even though Midori is not usually my thing), you'll see where the name came from:

Back soon (and often) with more; I plan to keep this blog much more active in the coming year!

1I know, I know... that's so last year, and even the term molecular gastronomy is out of fashion; what can I say? I live on the bleedingtrailing edge!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dining Out: Indigo Indian Bistro

It's been far too long since I posted here, and tonight I return for a happy reason! The Lovely Bride™ and I had dinner with our daughter at Indigo Indian Bistro for their Wednesday dinner buffet, Pan Indian this week. Dinner at Indigo is always a happy thing in and of itself, and tonight was no exception. I especially enjoyed the tandoori vegetable and mixed vegetable Porriyal (stir-fried veggies with coconut and mustard seed) appetizers and the Meen Manga Charu (fish cooked in coconut and raw mango sauce), while my wife enjoyed the Aloo Banarasi (fried potato with onion and tamarind) and onion Spinach Packora (think Indian-style onion rings, but with a gluten-free lentil batter) appetizers, along with her signature Chicken Tikka Masala. My daughter isn't particularly partial to goat, but she loved the sauce on tonight's goat dish so much that she took a small bowl of the sauce alone, just to dip her naan.

A meal at Indigo is always a delight, but the really happy news is that since my last visit there, they've gotten their liquor license, and are now serving beer and wine (and cocktails, it appeared, though they're not on the menu). If you're like me, and like to match "indigenous" beers to their cuisines, you'll go for a Kingfisher or, better yet, the 22 oz. Taj Mahal... but there's also a nice selection of other imports, and the domestic beers include the wonderful Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. (I'll let someone else comment on the wine selections; what the heck do I know about that?)

All in all, a great evening... and another step forward for Sheen's little slice of heaven.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cocktail of the Day: Tequila Sunburn

Okay, this'll be quick: Yesterday my friends at Pharyngula were talking booze, and the subject of the Tequila Sunrise came up. I'm not a huge fan of orange juice — too thick and too sweet for my tastes — but then I got to thinking about the habanero-infused tequila I used in the Spicy Ginger Basil Margarita I wrote about last week.

Now, man does not live by Margaritas alone, and I've been trying to think of other cocktails that would benefit from the fiery tequila. Suddenly it dawned on me that the habanero, which adds not only heat but a smoky richness to the tequila, might well cut the sweetness of the orange juice in a Tequila Sunrise quite nicely. And so, it turns out, it does! Thus was born the...

Tequila Sunburn
  • 4-5 oz orange juice

  • 2 oz habanero-infused tequila (or mix with straight tequila to moderate heat, to a total of 2 oz)

  • 3/4 oz grenadine syrup

Stir together orange juice and tequila with ice cubes in rocks glass. Pour grenadine into drink without stirring and allow to settle. Enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

TV Quick Take: Food Network Star

It's late, and I only have time for a few quick reactions to tonight's (well, Sunday's... technically it's Monday as I write this) supersized, double-jeopardy episode of Food Network Star:
  • First, am I the only one who thinks Mary Beth looks like Nora Dunn? Would that make her prospective show seem like an SNL skit?

  • I guess getting actual food on the plate is a step forward for Vic, but how many more bullets can he dodge? His name's not Neo, after all!

  • How can so many people go so completely blank just because they're on camera? Surely they knew what show they were going on, and at least tried to practice?

  • Calamari steak? Who knew such a beast existed? Who knows where I can get some?

  • You don't need to taste Pernod to know it's nothing like dry vermouth; just opening the bottle will tell you it's an anise-flavored liqueur, unless your nose was shot off in the war!

  • Anybody know why Alicia wore a prom dress to eliminations?

  • Pee Wee Herman meets Elvis Costello meets Alton Brown? Now that's a show I'd watch in a heartbeat!

  • I'm a little nervous to see so many of my early faves — Justin B. and Jeff in particular — struggle so badly so soon. Of course, Orchid's struggles were not entirely of her own making.

And on that last point... I'm the first one to say that (for example) Survivor is a game, and any sort of scheming and manipulation is all fair, so I surprised myself by thinking Penny's transparent attempt to kneecap her strongest competition was out of bounds. I think I've figured out the difference: Unlike Survivor, Amazing Race, etc., Food Network Star is both a game and a serious audition: I'm part of the audience not only for the current show, but potentially for the show it will produce, so the knock-out-the-best-player tactics that work on other reality competition shows actually work against my interests as a viewer in this case.

And I hope Jeff gets his act together, because I really do want to see his show about sandwiches.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cocktail(s) of the Day: Spicy Ginger Basil Margarita

My garden is in for the year (3 varieties of hot peppers, 3 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, mixed salad greens, and, if I'm lucky, watermelons) and my deck is bedecked with containers full of herbs. My gardening skills are rudimentary at best, but I love growing things. The problem is that even my black-thumbed efforts produce more than I can actually use, especially the herbs, and I'm always on the lookout for delightful ways to use 'em up.

Enter the Ginger Basil Margarita my buddy Andy posted as the Margarita of the Month for September last year at his Disney-themed food blog, Eating (and Drinking) Around the World. I had made the necessary ginger syrup over Memorial Day weekend (along with a bunch of other cooking I still need to blog about), and the warm, sunny spring so far means my basil crop is ahead of schedule.

I made two drinks, the first strictly according to the original recipe (which I won't repeat; click through to Andy's place to check it out), using Thai basil from my deck. It's very tasty, with the ginger and basil notes blending with the citrus rather than standing out as distinct flavors. As written, it's not a terribly strong drink (just 1.5 oz of spirits), so I was able to make myself a second, for the sake of experiment, while staying within my recommended daily allowance of ethanol. For this second iteration, I used habanero-infused tequila for heat, and replaced the Triple Sec with Cointreau:

  • 5 fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 1 oz habanero-infused silver tequila (or mix with plain tequila to control heat, to a total of 1 oz)
  • 1 oz ginger syrup (see directions at link above)
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz lime juice

Muddle the basil leaves thoroughly in a cocktail shaker with a little ice, then add more ice and all the other ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain to serve. Now, I like a big ol' grownup Icee as well as the next person, and I usually order "house" margaritas frozen with salt... but this drink I poured old-school, up in a chilled cocktail glass, with a sprig of fresh Thai basil for garnish. The heat of the habs and the tang of the ginger cut the sweetness perfectly well, so that a salted rim would be redundant (at best).

I've always liked the combination of chile heat and cold liquid; adding the acid notes of the citrus, the aromatic basil and ginger, and the earthiness of tequila makes for a truly splendid blend of sensations. Try it out... and enjoy!

TV Quick Take: MasterChef (Take 2)

MasterChef wrapped up its two-part season premiere last night, although the audition phase continues into the next episode. Interesting stories from the second hour:
  • Dustin, the cheesily winking pool boy who impressed Ramsay with his poshed-up sausage roll. He joins bubbly Scot (aren't they supposed to be dour?) Pauline from the first hour in sucking up to Ramsay with comfort food from the auld sod.

  • Christine, the stressed-looking "recent" single mother who takes culinary advice from her varmint-cooking dad. She got her apron on a split decision, on the strength of her soft-shelled crab and slaw (and apparently in spite of her polenta); expect her to vie with Albert (gator three ways) for redneck fan favorite.

  • Esther, the former attorney who argued her way onto the show despite the judges' lukewarm response to her Korean spicy braised cod with daikon (which looked and sounded damn tasty to me). What is it with young Asian female lawyers quitting their careers to go on cooking shows, anyway? That was also Stephenie's story on America's Next Great Restaurant, and I seem to recall a similar case from last season of MasterChef.

  • Not only is Alvin from my childhood home towngreater metropolitan area of Houston, he also busted out a homemade immersion circulator, which made me squeal with geeky joy. I wonder if he used the plans from Cooking for Geeks that first enthralled me? His Hawaiian beef braised short rib with sticky rice and sous vide egg looked really yummy, too. I know I'll be rooting for this potential geek fan favorite... but will the challenges allow hit to show all his geeky chops?

  • And joining Christian (Shipwreck Stew) from the first hour as early favorites to actually win the whole shebang are Derrick, the stay-at-home dad from Gloucester, MA, who wowed all three judges with his sopa with homemade chorizo and fire-roasted salsa, and unemployed architect Alejandra (another former professional woman!) who bravely stood behind the spice level of her shrimp and saffron rice dish.

Of course, it's impossible to know the stories they've glossed over in apron-giving montages, nor who awaits us in the final auditions episode, but it's already shaping up as quite an interesting season!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

TV Quick Take: MasterChef

I'm not a Gordon Ramsay fan. Some folks have tried to tell me he's not quite the nonstop screaming hell the promos for his various shows make him seem, but those promos so put me off that I've never been motivated to find out.

That said, somehow I ended up watching the inaugural season of the U.S. version of MasterChef, and found it unexpectedly compelling. Ramsay was, for the most part, on his best behavior (perhaps moderated by his cohosts Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot), I like the concept of taking accomplished home cooks (i.e., as opposed to The Worst Cooks in America) and teaching them to be restaurant-quality chefs, and MasterChef is the only cooking competition show I can think of that offers the audition/casting phase common to other reality talent competitions such as So You Think You Can Dance, America's Got Talent, and American Idol. I don't much enjoy seeing the occasional humiliation of self-deluded aspirants, but I do like seeing all the weird, wacky, and often wonderful things people do to try to get cast.

So it was with pleasure that I watched tonight's premiere (actually, I guess it was just the first half of the premiere) of MasterChef Season 2. Just a few quick thoughts:

  • Calling cooking shows "food porn" is a commonplace, but... [NSFW] body sushi? SRSLY?

  • Nobody loves a toothless, gator-cookin', self-described redneck more than me, but I wonder how he'll do with a souffle challenge... or, really, with any dish whose main ingredient doesn't come from a swamp. It'll likely be fun to find out, though.

  • I want me a bowl of "Shipwreck Stew"! Jus' sayin'!

  • I almost want me some of that salmon and haggis, and that's saying something.

  • Am I the only one who was seriously disturbed by the sight of a middle-aged black woman on her literal knees begging Ramsay to "give it to me right now!"? Yu-u-u-u-uck!

  • It took me a while, but I finally realized who Ramsay reminds me of, with his overdramatic, pregnant-pause-punctuated, gesticulational speech patterns: He's the Scottish James Effin' Tiberius Kirk, in a kitchen instead of a starship!

That is all....

Monday, June 6, 2011

Actual Cooking: Spring Salt Seasoned Salmon with Forbidden Rice

Yesterday was opening day for the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market, and also my first-ever day at a summer, outdoor farmers' market (I made it to CRFM's winter market a couple times last season). Mostly I was there to soak up the ambiance on a beautiful early summer Sunday, but I also had a mission to buy ingredients for dinner.

My first farmers' market newbie lesson learned is this: When you see something you want, buy it right then! I foolishly wandered around taking pictures and scoping out what was on offer, before grabbing some lunch, schlepping the camera back to the car, and getting down to serious shopping... at which point I found that almost everything I'd planned to buy — fresh whole duck, fingerling potatoes, fresh chevre, strawberries... — was already sold out. This may have been due to unique circumstances — huge opening-day crowds combined with fairly meager early-season pickin's — but still and all, I figure I'll grab it when I see it from now on.

I did manage to get the Lovely Bride™ some artisanal coffee beans from Bean & Leaf along with a gluten-free peanut butter filled Ring Ding from Shayna B's Gluten-Free Bakery, and I got myself some rye bread, a wedge of cheese from Woodbridge Farm, some pork loin chops for the freezer, and the new Connecticut Farmer & Feast cookbook.

A good day's shopping, despite my missteps... but none of it added up to Sunday dinner. For that, I turned to The Fish Market of Willimantic, onhand featuring Connecticut-caught fresh fish, for two beautiful salmon filets. Looking for a side-dish, I wandered by the Boxed Goodes stall and picked out their Forbidden Blend rice. While I was there, I also selected their Spring Season Salt spice blend to crust the fish.

Then home to cook! Actually, the cooking itself doesn't bear much description: You don't have to exactly be Eric Ripert to dredge a piece of fish in seasonings and put it under the broiler, nor to cook rice (even exotic looking black rice). Even I could manage it without any incident worth narrating. Add a small salad of mixed lettuce from my garden, though, dressed with a simple scratch-made vinaigrette, and it ended up being a pretty, tasty plate of all locally sourced/grown goodness.

In a day or two, I'll hop in my time machine and tell you about all the cooking I did over the Memorial Day weekend. 'Til then, bon appetite!

TV Reaction: Food Network Star (Spoilers)

I know I've been silent here for almost a month, but I have a backlog of things to post about that'll go up in the next couple days. In the meantime, I've just finished watching the Season 7 premiere of Food Network Star (apparently they've dropped the Next). This has always been a few rungs down on my ladder of favorite cooking competition shows, but it's been growing on me over the last couple seasons, and tonight's 2-hour opener was satisfying.

For one thing, it appears that most of the finalists can actually cook: The judges were at least reasonably pleased with almost all of the dishes in both challenges, and actively liked an unusually high percentage of them. Even Vic's two unplated dishes looked like they would've been good if he'd gotten them to the judges.

For another thing, it looks like there are really some stars there, unlike some previous seasons when it seemed the FN team had to work hard to fluff someone up enough to be a plausible winner:
  • Orchid is obviously off to a hot start, though I wonder if she'll suffer for being too similar to Season 6 winner Aarti Sequeria. None of it should matter, of course, and I'm sure their culinary POVs are entirely distinct, but TV is a visual medium, and I wonder if FN wants to take on the challenge of promoting a second consecutive short, plump, cheery Asian woman cooking Americanized ethnic food? Then again, perhaps my instant sense of deja vu will dissipate as the season goes on and I get to know Orchid better.

  • With her friendly face and luminous smile, Whitney could be the next Rachael Ray... and she has a culinary resume Ray doesn't pretend to have.

  • Even though she seemed like a bit of a hot mess in the opener, Alicia turned out great food (Penny's snark notwithstanding). Given that she's a former model and an instructor, it's hard to imagine her initial fragility will prevail: Both professions should've prepared her to deal with rejection, criticism, and media exposure.

  • Among the guys, I like Jeff, probably just because a show devoted to sandwiches — "... make any meal a sandwich, and make any sandwich into a meal...." — sounds like one I'd watch. He's not off to a stellar start, but I'm rooting for him to step it up in the coming weeks.

  • Finally, I agree with the judges that Justin B. has great potential: An intriguing look, a thoughtful approach, and clearly strong culinary chops.

The last thing that pleased me about the premiere is that they got the elimination right, when there was dire risk that they would not: Vic's failure to plate a complete dish in either challenge (or anything at all in the elimination challenge) put an obvious target on him, and Jyll's (why am I thinking that's not the name — or at least not the spelling — her mother gave her?) explanation of why her individual dish didn't get plated sounded like a weak excuse. But weak or not, Jyll was right: Howie's constant need for assistance (caused, IMHO, by his lack of basic kitchen competencies) really did screw up Jyll's game, and that, in turn, caused the collision that put Vic's calamari on the floor. Howie's failure to step up and admit what really happened was bad enough; his attempt to (falsely) discredit Jyll and minimize her credit for the group dish was disingenuous and despicable. I always wonder on these shows whether the judges get to see any of the kitchen footage before making their decisions. Normally I assume they do not, and in this case I was afraid their lack of awareness would lead them to the wrong decision.

Thankfully, it did not. Now if the truly frightening cougar-in-leopard-print Penny goes home next week (and really, I think the judges are ready to pull the ripcord on her if she says "sexy" even one more time), I'll be a happy viewer indeed. But enough about me; what do y'all think?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Happy Foodie Birthday to Me!

So last Wednesday was my 51st birthday — yes, I'm officially over 50 — and because my natal day fell in the middle of the week... the last week of the school term for both my daughter and my Lovely Bride©... we didn't celebrate until Sunday, a combined birthday and Mother's Day dinner at one of our favorite local Mexican restaurants. But other than briefly mentioning a delicious blood orange margarita, it's not the meal I'm going talk about here.

Instead, it's the birthday gifts I opened before we headed out to dinner, all loaded with foodie goodness. First, the LB® got me the food grinder attachment for the KitchenAid stand mixer I scored for Christmas... and then doubled down with the sausage stuffer kit! Yeah, I saw the guy on No Reservations who stuffed sausage perfectly by hand, but I'm not too proud to use any labor-saving tools I can.
I've been talking big about making my own sausage; now I'll be forced to make good. Maybe I'll start with the couple sausage recipes in Primal Cuts, which I picked up for cheap at our late, lamented Borders' liquidation sale.
But wait, there's more! Not only did I get the meat grinding tools (let's be serious here: KitchenAid may call it a food grinder, but I'm'a be grinding meat), I also got a cool rack for making grilled stuffed jalapenos from my sister, and from my loving daughter, I got a no-fry corn dog maker from ThinkGeek. Yeah, I know Alton Brown would say it's a rotten unitasker... but... but... food on a stick, dude; what's not to love? I'm imagining making sausage links with locally grown meat and homegrown herbs and hot peppers, and then turning them into homemade corn dogs with batter also incorporating homegrown herbs. Cool, eh?

Oh, yeah, one more thing: To put the very cherry on my birthday Sundaye, I also got Laura Werlin's Grilled Cheese, Please! cookbook, which should further The Quest® greatly. Look for a full post on that in the coming days.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Actual Cooking: Lettuce Wrapped Roast Pork With Kimchee Slaw and Sesame Mayo

One of the best things that ever happened to me foodwise (and a lot of other 'wises, as well) was that, as a twenty-something newlywed¹, I had the opportunity to live for a year in Seoul, South Korea, and during that year I fell in love with Korean food. So it was with a distinctly unmanly squeal of delight that I greeted my buddy Andy's posting of a recipe from the South Korea booth at the 2010 EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, on his great Disney-themed food blog Eating (and Drinking) Around the World. I won't repeat the recipe — go read it at Andy's place! — but basically it's pulled pork butt (aka shoulder) served in a lettuce wrap with a Korean cabbage slaw — essentially a quick kimchee — and a mayonnaise-based sesame sauce... a somewhat simplified version of bo ssam.

Like Andy, my first thought was to wonder if the distinctive Korean flavors would be tamed to satisfy the tastes of Disney's guests, but I trust Andy's judgment, and I had a 4-day weekend (a <smile>paid holiday</smile> and an <grumble>unpaid furlough day</grumble> wrapped around Easter weekend) that was just begging to be spent (at least in part) cooking, so I decided to dive in and cook.

The first fun part was the shopping, and the first thing I learned is that I need to re-learn hangul, the Korean alphabet. I never learned much Korean while living there — not only is it really hard, but the fact that we were there to teach English meant that most of the Koreans I knew preferred to practice my language than teach me theirs — but hangul is a strictly phonetic alphabet (even if it does sorta' look like Chinese characters), and easy to learn. Most of the goods on the shelves of my local Korean market have their English (or at least romanized) names on the label somewhere, but refreshing my ability to sound out Korean words would make the shopping easier. That said, most of the goodies I ended up buying — sriracha and fish sauce (the smallest bottle was a huge canister I'll likely never use up!) — weren't even Korean anyway. The sriracha was a substitute for sambal oelek, which I couldn't find anywhere... until after I'd already finished the dish, at which time I stumbled over the stuff in a regular, non-Asian supermarket! Go figure, eh?

Anyway, after the shopping, I got down to cooking. The best pork butt I could find was a little bigger (3.05 lb) than the recipe specified (2.5 lb), but a little extra pig can never be a bad thing, right? Rub it with a mix of light brown sugar and salt, bag it, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. I vacuum-bagged mine, but that's not really necessary: I just didn't have a gallon ziploc handy, and used that as a convenient excuse to play with my vac-sealer toys! Once the meat is marinated (does this count as a brine?), it goes into a 300°F oven for 4.5 to 5 hr (a bit longer in my case, because my hunk 'o pig was a bit oversized) after a rinse and a pat-down. Nothing is difficult about this dish, but you do have to pay attention to timing: In addition to seasoning the meat overnight, the slaw needs at least 2 hr in the fridge after it's assembled and while the mayo doesn't need to "age," you do want to refrigerate it before serving, and if you toast your own sesame seeds, they need time to cool before they're added to the mayo. So...

Get the pork in the oven, then within a reasonable time cut the veggies for the slaw and make the dressing:

Toss the veggies and dressing together, cover, and refrigerate. Go have an adult beverage and watch a bit of TV. After 'while, toast your sesame seeds per the recipe, and give 'em about 10 min to cool. You can buy sesame seeds already toasted — in fact, in the Asian market, I couldn't find them untoasted in sizes smaller than a sackful! — but for me, doing the cooking is kinda' the point, and even something as apparently trivial as toasting sesame seeds makes me feel like I'm cooking. While the seeds are cooling, check the pork, and baste it with the rendered fat (do this 3 or 4 times during cooking). When the seeds are at room temperature, combine with the mayo and other ingredients to make the sauce, and then refrigerate (are you getting the idea that you need to make sure in advance you've got some space in the fridge?). Have another adult beverage... or two! About half an hour before you expect the pork to be done, pick, wash, and pat dry your lettuce leaves.

When the pig is done, you will behold a wondrous sight:

They call it "pulled pork," but if you've done everything right, you won't have to pull very hard. Barely threaten the meat with a pair of forks, and it'll instantly surrender itself into a quivering mass of tasty, tender shreds:

Keep in mind that there's nothing Korean about the meat itself: All the Korean flavors are in the slaw and mayo. At this point if you put this on a bun with some BBQ sauce, you'd have a perfectly cromulent pulled pork sandwich. But add the slaw (which should be nicely wilted and flavorful by this point), the mayo, and the lettuce wrappers, and you've got a great Korean meal:

Despite any concern that this might be too Americanized, the flavors are all there. Biting into a lettuce-wrapped bundle, I could close my eyes and easily imagine myself at one of the local lunch spots in Yeoksam-dong, near the school we taught at.

But an easy dish like this is a dangerous tease: I have the Momofuku book, and having made this, I'm now itching to try David Chang's more ambitious version of bo ssam. FSM only knows what I'll get myself into!

¹ By The Newlywed Game standards, in any case: We'd been married less than 2 years at the time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Grilled Cheese Quest: First, a Control

I've mentioned a couple of times here that one of my projects is to discover the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich, and it occurred to me that the quest should begin, like any good experimental program, with a control: a plain ol' grilled cheese, with storebought white bread and American cheese.

So tonight I made myself just such a beast for dinner. The artisanal breads, fancy cheeses, and architectural innovations can come later. BTW, let me just make clear at the outset that by "grilled cheese sandwich," I mean Grilled.Cheese.Sandwich! Bread and cheese cooked in a hot pan (or a griddle or something very similar). A grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich, though very tasty, doesn't count. Nor does a grilled Reuben, nor a tuna melt. Bread, cheese, some sort of edible lubricant, heat, and (outside of seasonings) nothing else. Think of it as my own personal GCS version of the Reinheitsgebot. I've been enjoying America's Next Great Restaurant, and originally had high hopes for Meltworks, but Bobby Flay was right: Those were really more like paninis than like classic GCSs. But I digress....

I used sliced white bread from the local supermarket (a little firmer than Wonder® bread, but not philosophically different), Kraft yellow American cheese (I did spring for the Deli Deluxe, which is at least "processed cheese," rather than "processed cheese food" or "processed cheese product"), Hellman's mayo (using mayo to grill bread is new to me, but once I stumbled over this practice, I learned it was sufficiently plain ol' for my purposes), and a tiny drizzle of generic corn oil, in the following procedure:

Just slick the surface of a stainless steel skillet with corn oil¹, and heat over high heat. Coat one surface each of two slices of bread with a thin layer of mayo, being sure not to miss any spots. When the pan is hot, put both pieces of bread in it (mayo side down, of course!), immediately cover each with a slice of cheese, and turn the heat down to a medium to medium high (6 on the dial, on my stovetop). I like to quickly push the sandwich halves around a little, just to make sure they don't stick. When you see the cheese first begin to sag or melt, carefully flip one half onto the other, then cook to desired done-ness, turning frequently. As you can see from the photo, I like mine a little on the well-done side; YMMV. Also, I like to cut my sandwiches on the diagonal, but not through the corners, making the two halves (roughly) right-angle trapezoids... everyone needs a little quirk, no?

So there it is: The InternationalDauphin Standard Baseline Grilled Cheese Sandwich, against which all claimants for higher honors must be measured. It's a high bar, though, because, as simple as it is, it's damn tasty!

¹ If you use a nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast iron, the corn oil is probably not necessary, but I don't have the latter (yet) and The Lovely Bride™ won't have nonsticks in the house.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cocktail of the Day: The Zombie

Well, I've always wanted to try the classic Zombie cocktail, created at Don the Beachcomber's, and for some strange reason, today seemed like the right day.

Oddly enough, for a cocktail whose moment of invention is so clearly known, every bartender's guide I looked in had a different recipe... and not just a little bit different, either! I chose to rely on the recipe in Dale DeGroff's The Craft of the Cocktail:

1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 oz fresh orange juice
1 1/2 oz fresh passion fruit puree
1/4 oz grenadine
1 oz orange curacao or apricot brandy
1 oz dark rum
1 oz light rum
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Sprig of fresh mint for garnish
Seasonal fruit for garnish

I had to cheat a bit on the passion fruit puree, as I couldn't find any fresh passion fruit and had to settle for bottled juice instead. I also left out the fruit garnish, settling for just a sprig of mint. I chose orange curacao rather than apricot brandy, and used Berkshire Mountain's Ragged Mountain Rum and Bacardi for the two rums.

The result was a pleasant, potent, pretty drink. I'm glad I tried it, but it probably won't become part of my regular rotation, largely because tropical fruit flavors predominate, and those aren't my favorite taste sensations. For much the same reason, though, it's clear why the drink's name is apt: Even though it contains 3 ounces of alcohol, this drink tastes mostly like fruit punch; it's easy to imagine drinking oneself into a zombie on such a stealthy slug of booze!

Happy Easter, by the way! ;^)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Needed a Kick... get back in the habit of posting, and this is it: In the process of following up a lead related to local politics, I stumbled over the fact that I'd missed National Grilled Cheese Day... even after promising (here) to take up the quest for the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich!

Interestingly, just a couple days ago, I went back to the Goodwill Store were I found my vacuum sealer and stick blender, and purchased (for the princely sum of $3 plus tax!) a waffle iron... for the specific purpose of recreating the waffle-grilled cheese sandwiches my mother used to make for me! How could I not have known it was National Grilled Cheese Day?

Ah, well... it's apparently still National Grilled Cheese Month, so I've got a little time to make amends. Question is, should I get this grilled cheese cookbook, or would that threaten the purity of my quest to create the Great American Sandwich® on my own?

Monday, February 21, 2011

On the Road: Columbia, SC

So, I'm on a bit of a hastily planned road trip, to visit my mother who's recovering from an illness¹. Despite the circumstances, it's something of a vacation for me, because... well, for one thing, she lives in Florida, and for another, I happen to love cross-country driving. I love junky road-food, too, but after 800+ miles of Big Macs, Big Gulps, roller dogs, and jalapeno-cheddar Chex Mix², I was ready for real food when I pulled into Columbia, South Carolina, Saturday evening.

What luck, then, that I stumbled upon the Tombo Grille, a brilliant little bistro stashed unobtrusively in a storefront right down Forest Drive from the Super 8 motel I'd landed at. The cozy lounge was full when I dragged in, and the tasteful, art-bedecked dining room was almost full, but happily they were able to seat my road-weary tuchus with no delay. My server could not have been more pleasant, nor more helpful, and shortly I was studying the menu while enjoying warm house-made bread dipped in olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar and sipping a Troubador Obscura Mild Stout.

The menu consists of what the folks at Tombo describe as "creative comfort food," with a southern bent and featuring South Carolina grown ingredients. I noticed that certain items — pecans, polenta, butternut squash, andoullie sausage, artisanal cheeses threaded through the selections (which, I gather, change seasonally), creating the impression of a focused and harmonious palette of flavors. For the sake of sampling more widely (and, if I'm honest, in deference to my bellyfull of road food), I decided to forego an entree in favor of two Small Bites. One very tempting beef filet item on the daily specials menu was sold out, and I managed to avoid the temptation implicit its entree sibling: "pan seared filet of beef, goat cheese, demi-glace, roasted fingerling potatoes, and warm bacon vinaigrette - wilted arugula." On the regular menu, the promise of cracked black pepper sauce, roasted pepper polenta, and grilled onions almost made me forget I don't really like fried chicken livers... but I eventually settled on seared sea scallops served on an andoullie-butternut hash with a saffron sauce, followed by a 1/2 rack of lamb with roasted garlic demi-glace. The three big scallops were nicely seared and buttery smooth, the medium rare lamb was perfectly cooked, and the accompaniments on both plates were simply brilliant. Better yet, the two plates satisfied my hunger while leaving room for dessert... which was grilled pound cake. Now, I love pound cake. I have warm fuzzy memories of my grandmother's classic pound cake, and the Lovely Bride® has a signature dessert that's essentially a pound cake with a broiled walnut glaze.

One online reviewer called Tombo's grilled pound cake "weird" (as if that were a bad thing!), and it is a bit strange to see crossed grill marks on a wedge of cake. But the carmelized, almost burnt, flavor that hides in those grill marks adds a perfect note of complexity to the smooth sweetness of the cake and the scoop of (presumably house-made) vanilla ice cream served next to it. Let's put it this way: Now I want to learn how to bake pound cake just so I can try making this dessert!

Sadly, I probably won't pass through Columbia at dinner time on the way home, so I won't get to try the mac & cheese (with house-cured bacon and smoked cornish hen); nor the roasted beet, rare seared beef, and blue cheese salad; nor the bourbon butternut soup; nor the pecan-crusted rainbow trout, nor... <sigh>. If any of y'all get a chance to stop in, let me know what I've missed, woncha'?

¹ She's fine; thanks for asking.

² Which is awesome, BTW.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dining Out, Valentine's Day Edition: IndiGo Indian Bistro

So Monday night is admittedly not the best choice for a romantic evening out, but Valentine's Day is Valentine's Day, and the Lovely Bride© and I took the opportunity to return to an old tradition for us: celebrating V-Day with Indian food. <Mumble-mumble> years ago, during the first year of our married life, we chose for our first married Valentine's dinner, more or less at random, an Indian place called Taj Mahal (and really, aren't nearly half of all Indian restaurants called that?) in a strip shopping center along the Gulf Freeway (aka I-45) in Houston, Texas. By happy chance, we had a lovely, romantic meal, and fell in love with Indian cuisine. Not that we needed an excuse to eat Indian, of course, but for years afterward, we made it a point to spend Valentine's Day in an Indian restaurant, and often celebrated our anniversary that way, too.

This year, Sheen and the crew at IndiGo made it easy — and delightful — to revive our tradition, serving a special four-course Valentine's Day menu that really hit the spot.

The appetizer course consisted of a choice of Shamm Savera (spinach cups stuffed with cottage cheese and served on a tangy honey-tomato sauce) and Karriveppela Shrimp Fry (South Indian marinated battered fried shrimp served with curry leaves): I chose the shrimp, while my valentine chose the spinach cups, and both were perfect. The sauce on the spinach app was reminiscent of the LB's favorite, Chicken Tikka Masala; my shrimp was crispy and invitingly spicy.

The salad course — Cupid Salad — was a tomato-infused potato salad served in a pappadum cup atop a bed of lettuce seasoned (and dyed Valentine's Day pink) with beet juice.

Three entrees — vegetarian, chicken, and lamb — were offered, and we chose the Murgh Lababdhar (egg-coated grilled chicken served sizzling atop shredded vegetables) and the Southern Lamb Pepper Masala (grilled chunks of lamb served on onions sauteed with coriander and black pepper). My lamb was deeply flavorful, with the coriander and pepper providing a perfect match and the dots of hot sauce on the plate serving as more than arty decoration. The bite of chicken I managed to snag from my date's plate was perfectly cooked, moist and juicy, with a delicate, almost floral bouquet of spices.

The Lemon Ginger Parfait made for an ideal ending: A velvety smooth frozen concoction, delicately spiced with ginger and served with cut grapes and pieces of strawberry providing a perfectly romantic finale to the meal.

The only sad thing was the number of empty tables when we were there, at about 7:00 pm. Maybe it was a bit early for a romantic dinner, or maybe it's just that it was Monday, after all. But one of the best things about IndiGo is their readiness to make creative excursions beyond their regular menu on special occasions; it's a shame if anyone who loves great Indian food... or just great cooking... missed this.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dining Out: Pho 501

So I had to work all day Saturday, but that cloud had a silver lining: It gave me an opportunity to explore some of the culinary delights of East Hartford, where my place of employment is located. For lunch I checked out longtime local favorite Augie & Ray's Drive In, and for dinner, I finally made it to Pho 501, a spot I'd been longing to try for some time. A full report on Augie & Ray's will have to wait, because I was eating alone, and sampling just one item on their menu is insufficient data.

But no such problem exists at Pho 501, which appears to only serve one item — the Vietnamese noodle soup called pho (forgive me for lacking the HTML-fu to render it in proper characters) — and only one variety of it on any given day. Saturday, it was spicy beef, and it was delicious. I must say, this was only my second visit to a pho shop, and the two could not have been more different: The other shop, Pho 75 in Arlington, Virginia, which I visited with some Pharyngula friends last August while on business in Alexandria, boasted a huge range of choices, many of which seemed to differ only in ways too subtle for this non-Vietnamese diner to quite comprehend, and accompanied by a literally bewildering array of fresh herbs, chiles, and sprouts. It was all very intimidating; enough to make me google "how to eat pho." It seems I had guessed right, for the most part.

Pho 501, by comparison, is brutally simple: The only choice to make is whether to order a small, medium, or large bowl (I ordered medium, and it was the perfect size for me, as a Gentleman of Substance®), and the accompaniments to my meal were limited to a plate full of fat, crisp raw bean sprouts and beautifully fragrant Thai basil, plus a wedge of lime. As one online reviewer put it, Pho 501 serves a "clean" broth, without the unctuous tripe and tendon that I've seen Anthony Bourdain wax orgasmic over on more than one TV show... but that suits me fine. The broth was rich, deep, and flavorful, and the noodles and beef perfectly cooked. Gentle applications of sriracha and hoisin, a squeeze of lime, and periodic additions of shredded basil and sprouts and... mmmm, heaven! I know I'll be back soon!

A word to the wise, though: This is a small place, and even for a late-ish Saturday dinner, the dining room was nearly completely full. Many times I've driven past and seen people lined up outside the door. A fellow diner Saturday told me that the chicken pho served on Sundays is especially popular, and often sells out. "You have to call ahead and reserve a bowl," he told me, "Not a table; a bowl."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Breaking News! New Local Microdistillery

A story (curse you, paywall!!) in this evening's Journal Inquirer announces the forthcoming opening of Onyx Spirits, a new microdistillery in nearby (to me) Manchester, Connecticut. Apparently the initial products, to be released in April, will include a limoncello, a vodka, and a "moonshine" (corn whiskey, perhaps?). Watch this space for more information; you can bet that if public tours are available, I'll be there!

Friday, February 4, 2011

What Facebook Is Good For: Booze!

One of my earliest cocktail-related posts described my visit to The Hour, a great Alexandria, Virginia, shop specializing in vintage and vintage-style barware. I don't know when I'll make it back — I'm not in Alexandria all that often — but I've been able to keep up my acquaintance with The Hour through the magic of Facebook.

One of the delights of following The Hour's Facebook feed is the wonderful cocktail recipes they post. Back in January, they cocktail of the day was the Gold Rush, made with Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, bourbon, and fresh lemon juice. Since I had some Canton on hand — I'd sought it out to make Gary Regan's Debonair cocktail — I thought I'd give it a whirl... but when it comes to cocktails, it seems I'm never content to leave well enough alone: I tend to think that wherever bourbon is good, rye is better, and in this case the spiciness of rye seemed a perfect match for the ginger liqueur... so I made my Gold Rush with Michter's Single Barrel:

1 1/2 oz Domaine de Canton
1 oz Michter's Single Barrel Rye
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice

That made a delicious drink, but I found myself wanting to bring the whiskey more to the front, so I reversed the proportions of rye and ginger...

1 1/2 oz Michter's Single Barrel Rye
1 oz Domaine de Canton
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice

...and this is the version I finally decided to stick with. It's obviously not quite a Gold Rush anymore, and while a quick Google search turns up a number of recipes including rye, Canton, and lemon juice, none is precisely this drink, so I make bold to give it a name myself. Following my earlier punning convention, I hereby dub this... the Sardonic Redhead. So mote it be!

Actual Cooking: Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Sauce

So after dealing with the third and fourth snowpocalypses in the last 3 weeks, I'm finally getting caught up (as promised) with some of the actual cooking I've been doing, starting with the sauteed pork with mushroom sauce I made almost 2 weeks ago, based on a recipe from James Peterson's Cooking, which was one of my first acquisitions after I started putting food-related stuff on every gift list.

I didn't feel quite up to breaking down a whole pork loin and packaging the portions I didn't need for one meal for later use¹, so I wimped out and bought a package of boneless pork loin chops, leaving me with three somewhat larger pieces of meat (for two servings) instead of the smaller noisettes called for in the recipe. In addition, my market didn't have any of the wild mushrooms that the recipe says can "make this an especially elegant dish," so I settled for the readily available cultivated white mushrooms for both the sauce and the garnish. I guess I'll have to cook this recipe again in the future, and go for the more "elegant" version.

In the meantime, it was quite tasty. I did learn that my electric glass-top stove is apparently hot, because Hi heat got the surface of the pork browned in about half the time the described procedure suggested, and without getting the interior fully done; I ended up finishing the meat in the oven. In future, I'll interpret "high heat" in recipes as 8 or 9 on my stove's dial.

Even with plain, inelegant mushrooms, the mushroom sauce was delicious, and easy to make: coarsely chopped mushrooms simmered with a couple tablespoons of meat glaze, a little water, and a half cup of heavy cream, then pureed in a blender, thickened back on the stove, and finished with salt, pepper, and a bit of wine vinegar. A yummy, meaty tasting sauce which has the excellent feature (when cooking for a gluten-sensitive partner) of being self-thickening without any need for flour or a flour substitute.

After resting the pork, I sliced it (on the bias, like they do on TV!), plated and sauced the slices, added some sauteed mushroom slices as a garnish, and served it up with a side of rice. (I had bought some fennel, which I'd planned to braise as an accompaniment, but I bailed on that at the last minute; more about the fennel in another post.)

In the end, it wasn't really quite the same dish the recipe promised, but it was a hearty meal that managed to impress the Lovely Bride™, and made me feel at least marginally like an actual cook... and I call that success!

¹ This business of buying primals and portioning them for future use is a project I want to tackle in the future, both because I think it might save some money, and because I want to get more intimately familiar with the ingredients I use.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Trip to the Market

I haven't been writing, but that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking! Over the last week I've made two meals (using new-to-me recipes) and spent one evening making homemade ice cream (and baked chocolate meringues to accompany it). I'll post about all of the above in the coming days, plus the more detailed description of our second visit to Goong I promised some time back, and a cocktail-related post I've had on deck.

But today I want to talk about finally making it to the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market. I've been hearing about the market from my friends, and I've in fact been following them on Facebook, but I haven't made it out until now. This was, of course, their Winter Market; I have to wait 'til June to see the market in its full glory. But even so, there was plenty to see. Produce was limited to hot-house and winter items, along with dried items like rice, beans, herbs, and hot peppers... but there was also a great variety of locally sourced, locally made prepared and artisanal foods, and locally grown meats from several farms.

I bought myself some Dragon's Blood Elixir hot sauce, along with a curry sauce from the Dragon's Blood folk's selection of small-batch sauces. They also had a wasabi sauce that tasted great, and a nice smokey chipotle sauce, both of which I may well pick up on a future visit. I got my Lovely Bride® some locally roasted Costa Rican coffee from Quiet Corner Coffee Roasters, and myself some Pleasant Cow cheese from Beaver Brook Farm. Lack of planning on my part — I didn't have a cooler or insulated bag with me; I had not planned to go straight home after the market; and I hadn't talked with the LB© about our dinner plans — restrained me from partaking of any of the frozen meat on offer, or of the lovely salmon The Fish Market (Willimantic) had, or of the prepared gourmet entrees-for-two from Zest Restaurant in nearby Tolland. Some forethought before my next visit — and there will be a next visit — is a necessity!

The cheese I bought is part of an ongoing project that I suspect will become a recurring topic here: My quest for the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich! Years ago, while on a business trip to Atlanta, I had a meal at the Buckhead Diner that proved to me a grilled cheese sandwich — one of my childhood favorites — could in fact be Serious Food™. Now that I'm trying to be all serious about food, I want to find and/or create seriously good grilled cheese sandwiches. To that end, I'll be sampling locally made artisanal cheeses, making or finding great sandwich breads, etc. I know of a regionally famous grilled cheese sandwich food truck, operated around Yale by the folks at Caseus Fromagerie and Bistro, and a similar gourmet grilled cheese food truck in California was recently featured on the "Hand-Held Eats" episode of Cooking Channel's Unique Eats. One of the "secrets" revealed on that episode involved coating the bread with, instead of just butter, a mixture of butter and mayonnaise. The idea of putting mayo-slathered bread into a hot pan goes against my every instinct, but I'm nothing if not experimental, so... watch this space for developments!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More on Craft... and a Bit of a Cheat

My post from yesterday about the Top Chef: All Stars Quickfire Challenge featuring Justo Thomas spilled over into a conversation at Pharyngula, and since I'm never one to let my mindless natteringsbrilliant ruminations go to waste, I thought I'd shamelessly recycleadapt what I wrote there for a follow-on post here.

A friend wondered if there was more to Thomas' story than the show hinted at, since she thought it was more a matter of highly developed skill than craft, which she thought of as more creative. I said it was possible we were working from slightly different definitions of craft (subtle differences in working definitions are frequent there), but in any case, yeah, there was much more to Bourdain's description than you got on the show.

What I called craft involves a great deal of creativity, but it's more of a functional, problem-solving kind of creativity that what I associate with art. But whether you call it craft or merely (merely?) skill, I'm in awe of what Bourdain described.

Pressed for details — perhaps an anecdote from the book — I had to admit that I actually "read" it on audio, and while Bourdain is one of the authors whose reading/speaking style definitely makes the audiobook a value-added experience, one thing about audio is that it's hard to just grab the book and look up a specific passage.

But I had actually been thinking about this distinction between skill, craft, and art. The short answer is that I see craft as a kind of creative mastery of skills, and art as the creative expression of intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic ideas. In my mind, you can be an artist without being an accomplished craftsperson, and vice versa.

Doonesbury author Garry Trudeau, for instance, was always an artist (assuming you agree with me that satirical cartooning is within the realm of art), but in the middle of his career he made a conscious effort to improve his craft, when he took a year's sabbatical to work on his drawing.

In the case of Justo Thomas, I can remember one item: In Medium Raw, Bourdain notices that Thomas doesn't sharpen his knives as obsessively as many chefs, and asks him about it. Thomas says that if the knives are too sharp, they'll cut through soft fish bones without him being able to feel it, and thus bones will evade his notice and end up in the portioned fish. He has a very specific level of sharpness he maintains that's perfectly matched to the task he's performing. Now that might be simply a matter of skill... but to me, it's a level of mastery that transcends mere skills competence, a kind of zen genius for the task at hand. OTOH, no matter how perfect his output is, it's still just portions of fish, not Guernica.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Appreciation of Craft

I planned to post about cocktails tonight, and I'll certainly get to that later, but I'm in the middle of watching Top Chef: All Stars and I just had to stop and write about tonight's episode... and more specifically, about the Quickfire Challenge, which took place in the kitchen of Le Bernardin, Eric Ripert's great (or so I've read, and really, who the hell am I to question it?) seafood restaurant.

The guest/guest judge was ace fish prep chef Justo Thomas, the star of my favorite chapter of Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw... and perhaps the favorite thing I've ever read about food or cooking. I alluded to this chapter in my very first post here. It occurs to me that the reason I so love cooking "reality" shows is not just that I love food, but that I love craft, and I'm in awe of great craftspersons.

Bourdain clearly does, too: Beneath his crusty, punky cynicism is this: His most loving prose was left for this man, far from the glamour of the great restaurant, who is simply the best there is, in every way he can think of to be, at the humble but essential task of reducing up to 1,000 lb of fish per day into the perfect portions... the perfectly formed materials with which his fellow chefs will make their art.

The All Stars acquitted themselves well, both those who managed to cut their fish acceptably and those who humbly admitted they couldn't (you should pardon the expression) hack it. And the four finalists made dishes I wish I could've tasted... ironically, from the heads, bones, and other "waste" parts of the fish they'd just butchered. First craft, then art. What's not to love?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Catching Up

So I had every intention of doing some actual, serious cooking this past weekend, but it didn't turn out that way. Instead, we went out to eat a couple times, and then I did some very non-foodie, throw-it-together utilitarian cooking.

On Friday night, we went to a new (to us) Mexican restaurant in a nearby town. I haven't named the place (or even the town) because I don't have anything nice to say about it, and you know what Mama said, right? To be fair, there were a couple relatively uncommon dishes on the menu, which might've been house specialties. But the items we tried — steak fajitas for the Lovely Bride® and a pork burrito for me — were bland and uninspiring. Even the chips were obviously from a bag, and not particularly good. Suffice it to say that the little hole-in-the-wall places aren't always hidden treasures.

How pleasant, then, to return to Goong Asian Restaurant, with friends, to find it every bit as pleasant as we remembered from our previous visit. I'll try to get a fuller description of our meal up in a couple days.

The closest thing I did to real cooking was making myself a slightly-fancier-than-normal grilled ham and cheese sandwich for lunch on Sunday, a double-decker with chipotle jack cheese on one half and swiss on the other. Nothing to write home (or a blog) about, but tasty.

More to report soon, I promise.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Apres Soup

So, even though I tried to halve the recipe, the batch of butternut squash soup I made yesterday was vastly more than my Lovely Bride® could possibly eat. Even after I gave a bunch to the very helpful neighbor who helped dig me out of the snowpocalypse, and accounting for the pint I plan to take to work for lunch tomorrow, there was still plenty left over.

So naturally I fired up the thrift-shop Seal-a-Meal, and sealed up and froze three pint bags, each of which should be one full meal or two side portions. It feels good to be filling the chest freezer with home-cooked meals for the future!

In addition, while seeding and scraping the butternut squash yesterday, I noticed that the seeds looked like slightly smaller pumpkin seeds. This should've been no surprise to me; butternuts are so similar to pumpkins that Alton Brown suggested them as a potential main ingredient for pumpkin pie on a recent episode of Good Eats. So I reserved the seeds and toasted them (~25 minutes @325°F), tossed in a tiny bit of canola oil, some curry powder, pepper, and kosher salt. Just like pumpkin seeds, they make a great snack... and just like pumpkin seeds, I couldn't stop myself from eating them all!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It Cooks!

It was a snow day today in Vernon, CT, as a consequence of our snowpocalypse, and that made it a good day to cook. I took up the challenge by making a dish well suited for a snowbound winter day: curried butternut squash soup.

This is the soup I mentioned in a previous post, but I haven't reached my imagined nirvana of being able to make it up myself based just on a list of ingredients; I got a proper recipe from one of my Facebook friends. I'll post it here at some point, if I can get my friend's permission, but in the meantime, the ingredients include onion, curry powder, apples, orange juice, and (obviously) butternut squash. "Good size" ones, specifically.

I suspect I got a little overeager with the "good sized" business when I was shopping, because even though I was trying to halve the recipe, to cover the squash in the pot I ended up needing almost the same amount of stock as a full recipe. As a result, I think the onions and curry may have been somewhat less prominent flavors in the final product than intended...but no worries, the soup was absolutely delicious!

Making it was fun, too. There's something really wonderful about stirring a pot of simmering goodness while warm, spicy aromas fill the house. Of course, making home-made soup isn't exactly going to get me a feature in Food & Wine magazine; it's the sort of thing that people who cook do all the time... but of course, I'm not really a person who cooks yet; trying to become one is what this is all about. So forgive me if I take inappropriate, immoderate pride in some of the smallest things.

Speaking of which, my thrift-shop stick blender worked like a charm... and I take silly delight in that, too!

Friday, January 7, 2011

We Have Liftoff!

Just a quick post to note that I actually fired up the new mixer and made something this evening: chocolate buttercream frosting for the wheatless cake the Lovely Bride© made for guests who are on their way over.

It was overkill, I admit, sort of like driving to the end of the driveway to get the mail: The frosting could've easily been made by hand or with our old hand mixer... but I really wanted to play with the new toy. Can you blame me?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Gear Hunter

Yesterday I posted about the goodies I received as Christmas gifts, including the New England Soup Factory cookbook I bought. Well, it occurred to me almost immediately that cooking soups (esp. in large batches) would mean yet another piece of kit I'd need: an immersion (aka stick) blender.

In addition, the project that drove me to put Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food on my wishlist — DIY sous vide — requires a hackable slow cooker.

Feeling a bit tapped out, it occurred to me that these are precisely the sort of gadgets that show up in thrift shops, so I trundled off to my favorite local Goodwill store, just beyond the town line in Manchester, CT.

I didn't find a slow cooker, but I did find a stick blender (for $4.00!), and I also came across a truly serendipitous find: A Seal-a-Meal VS120 vacuum food sealing system... for only $8.00 !!. Not only will this be useful for the sous vide project, once I scrounge up a slow cooker, but it will also come in handy for the soups: As I mentioned yesterday, the NESF soup recipes are for larger quantities of soup than the Lovely Bride® and I can possibly eat at one — or even two — sittings... but the vac sealer will allow me to portion out the leftovers into single- or double-serving portions and seal and freeze them. Before long, we'll have a freezer full of homemade soup!

Tonight I tested the Seal-a-Meal on some frozen strawberries, just to make sure it worked (Goodwill has a 10-day return policy on electrics), and... reeee-sult!¹

¹ Note extra-classy thrift-shop pricetags!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Foodie Xmas Goodies: Cooking Subdivision

So yesterday I posted about the booze-related goodies I got for Christmas; today it's time for the cooking-related swag!

Most excitingly, my Lovely Bride© got me a KitchenAid Classic Plus stand mixer. This was No. 1 on my wish list with a bullet, and she managed to buy it right under my nose without me knowing, making up some cock-and-bull story about how they didn't have the right model in stock, and the rebate coupon she had wasn't valid, to convince me she hadn't been able to get it, when in fact it was nestled in the back of my car! Way cool! Plus which, even though an entry-level model, it represents a significant enough investment to serve as a "$100 tennis racket": a de facto commitment to actually cook. Now my big decision is whether I should paint hot-rod flames on it, like Alton Brown did his. Prolly not, I think.

But speaking of Alton, my next bit of foodie goodness under the tree was his Good Eats 2: The Middle Years.

Last under the tree — but definitely not least — was Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food, which I blogged about after following an article about DIY sous vide cooking to the author's blog. I'm only halfway through reading it (look for a detailed review in an upcoming post), but already I can tell it's so much more than a hacker's guide to homemade gear (not that that wouldn't be great). Instead, it posits a whole science-geek approach to cooking: While it's full of recipes, hints, tips, and hacks, it's really about a kind of kitchen philosophy. Great stuff.

But wait! There's more!!

In addition to all those things, I got a Barnes & Noble gift card, which I used to purchase the New England Soup Factory cookbook. I'd looked at this in the store even before Christmas, but when I went back, I found it was sold out. During after Christmas shopping at another location, I found a copy and snapped it up. All the soups sound great; the only problem is that most of the recipes are for 8-10 12 oz. servings... which is quite a lot for the two (and occasionally three) of us. Not to worry, though; I think I've got a solution... about which, more tomorrow.

Goal Setting

OK, here's an example of the Emerging Foodie™ quest: A few days ago a Facebook friend posted about a curried butternut squash soup she made, and several of us (predictably) made nom-nom-nom noises and asked for the recipe. In response, she posted a simple list of ingredients.

Now, as it happens, this person is a real-world friend, too, so I know I can get a true, detailed recipe from her... but it occurred to me that this is part of what my hoped-for "emergence" is all about: I want to get to the point where I can take just a list of ingredients and understand the proportions and processes I need to turn them into the desired dish.

Or better yet, to work from the two or three key ingredients and understand not only the proportions and processes but also the needed secondary ingredients, herbs, spices, etc.

In other words, I want to be a cook, and not just an executor of recipes. That's where this is heading (however haltingly).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Foodie Xmas Goodies: Booze Subdivision

So, Christmas has come and gone, and Santa was good to the emerging foodie. I'll run down the food/cooking-related items in another post, but first, a couple little dollops of booze-related awesomeness (over and above the Maker's Mark mini Santa left in my stocking):

First, my wonderful sister gave me a Downunder Longneck, a very cool pint beer glass from Australia. Actually, it's literally cool: Because it's a sealed double-wall design, it's effectively a thermos mug, keeping the beer cold far longer than a typical single-walled pint glass. Ever since I unwrapped it Christmas morning, I've been using it to enjoy Anchor Steam's 2010 Christmas Ale and Innis & Gunn's Rum Cask Oak-Aged Ale. My old-style pint glasses are getting lonely, I'm afraid!

Second, my daughter got me a Gin and Titonic ice-cube tray, to make ice cubes in the shape of... wait for it... the Titanic and floating icebergs! It's too much fun, and cries out for some modification of the standard gin and tonic recipe to do justice to its macabre beauty.

All in all, a truly excellent haul... and tomorrow, the non-booze cooking stuff, which is even better!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Spooling Up for the New Year

Hmmm... my New Year's post ended up timestamped as if it were an Old Year's post. Apparently somewhere in its guts, this here blog is on PST rather than EST. I'll fix it as soon as I can figure out how¹, but in the meantime, please believe that the last post was published minutes after the ball dropped, and not hours before.

Now to complete the dashed-off drink recipe that I posted there, I've decided I will call it the Ashford Tonic. Here's the backstory: Dale DeGroff would no doubt pillory me for specifying a prepared limeade rather than fresh lime juice, but I've loved Newman's Own limeade (and lemonade) ever since a loved one was a camper at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children dealing with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. This no-fee summer camp — founded by Paul Newman and the prototype for a growing family of similar facilities — is located in Ashford, CT.

Paul Newman provided much of the seed money (not to mention a vast amount of his personal energy) for the camp, and it is one of the many, many charitable causes that share 100 percent of the profits from Newman's Own products. But aside from its charitable value, Newman's Own Virgin Limeade is a great tasting drink in its own right. I'd been looking for a way to incorporate it into a drink for some time, and the lovely fresh sweet cherries my wife brought home for our New Year's celebration presented the perfect opportunity. To refresh your memory...

Ashford Tonic

In a mixing glass, place
5-6 fresh sweet cherries, pitted and sliced
2 oz. Newman's Own Virgin Limeade

Muddle cherries in limeade and set aside to macerate for ~30 minutes. Add...

2 oz. ice cold Hendricks gin

Shake vigorously and strain into highball glass over ice. Top with...

2-3 whole cherries for garnish.

¹ Fixed it... and apparently the fix is retroactive, so... <EmilyLitella>never mind!</EmilyLitella>

² I like locally made Hosmer Mountain sodas, and their Diet Tonic is my choice for this drink.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

RE-Emerging Foodie!

Well, it's now 2011 (in EST USA, at least) and my very first New Year's resolition is to reinvigorate this blog (not to mention my general-interest blog). It won't be hard, because Santa brought me plenty of foodie goodness for Christmas, but for tonight, it's late, and I've got kissin' and drinkin' yet to do... so I'll start with a recipe for a new drink I just concocted tonight. I don't even have a name for it yet, but I'm leaning toward Ashford Tonic (for reasons I'll explain in another post soon):

<Unnamed Cocktail>

In a mixing glass, place
5-6 fresh sweet cherries, pitted and sliced
2 oz. Newman's Own Virgin Limeade

Muddle cherries in limeade and set aside to macerate for ~30 minutes. Add

2 oz. ice cold Hendricks gin

Shake vigorously and strain into highball glass over ice. Top with...

2-3 whole cherries for garnish.

Enjoy!... and you'll be seeing a lot more of me here in the coming year!