Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Actual Cooking: Actual Cookies!

In my last post, I mentioned the Quiet Corner Democrats' holiday party, where I had the most delicious chocolate martinis, and I promised to post about the Chinese 5-Spice Brownie Cookies I made as my contribution to the potluck dessert reception.

I've talked here often enough about how much I love making ice cream, and I first thought I might take homemade ice cream... but the party was an hour's drive from home, and the logistics of keeping ice cream cold for the trip, and then for the several hours of the party, and making it easy to self-serve on an unattended buffet line all seemed a bit daunting. Just as I was scratching my chin about this dilemma, the local paper's Thanksgiving week food supplement came out, and on its last page was an Associated Press article headlined "Grown-up holiday cookies with fennel and anise," and my eye fell on this recipe

Chinese 5-Spice Brownie Cookies
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 10-oz. packages bittersweet chocolate bits
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp 5-spice powder
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Combine the butter and oil in a pan and heat over medium-high heat until the butter is all melted. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until all the chocolate is melted and smooth (return the pan to low heat if necessary). Set aside.
  2. Whisk together (I actually used my stand mixer) all the other ingredients until smooth, then add in the chocolate, continuing to beat until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350.
  4. Line 2 large baking sheets (or 4 half-sheet pans) with parchment paper and scoop out the dough by the table spoon, leaving about 2 in. space between scoops.
  5. Bake until puffed and crackly on top (10 to 12 minutes per the published recipe; more like 14 minutes in my oven). Cool on racks.
I was delighted with the result: rich, fudgy, brownie-like texture, just as the recipe promised; very chocolaty and with a delicious hint of spice.

Truthfully, I was surprised it was only a hint of spice; I had expected the flavor to be a bit more exotic. I suspect the explanation may be the 5-spice powder: The traditional version (as referenced in the article) includes Sichuan peppercorns, but what I got from my local Penzeys spice store included ginger instead. In any case, the final flavor was delicious, tasting mostly like a chocolate brownie, but reminding one of my friends vaguely of gingerbread, as well.

The recipe promises a yield of 4 dozen, but I actually got 5 dozen cookies out of it, plus a couple samples for in-process quality control testing! As it happens, 5 dozen is exactly what the Rockville Public Library needs for its annual Holiday Cookie Sale, so I'll be making another batch soon.

You should try them, too!
¹ Note that my local paper is actually the Journal Inquirer, but since its content is behind a paywall, I found the same recipe somewhere else, and linked to that. That'll show 'em, eh?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Have a Cocktail: The Old-School Chocolate Martini

Today I attended a the annual holiday party for the Quiet Corner Democrats, a service organization that helps facilitate coordination between local Democratic party groups, activists, and candidates here in Eastern Connecticut.

Before you wonder why I'm not writing about this at my other blog, let me just say that we Democrats worked hard this year, and had a pretty good November, and were ready to party with some good food and drink. The event was a pot-luck dessert reception, and soon enough I'll blog about the chocolate brownie cookies with Chinese 5-spice that I made, but the occasion for this (brief) post is the featured drink at the open bar (yes, liberal parties are better).

My friend Chris Pitts, one of the QCD founders, was serving a a chocolate martini... and no, this was not one of those "martinis" that shares virtually nothing with the classic martini other than the shape of the glass; this was old school: A generous serving of premium vodka mixed with a much smaller amount of secondary liquor — in this case, white creme de cacao — and served up in a classic cocktail glass.

I don't have a proper recipe, but from watching the bartender build more than one of them, I'd say it was about...
  • 3 to 4 parts Pearl vodka
  • 1 part white creme de cacao
  • Shake with ice
  • Strain into cocktail glass rimmed with cocoa powder.
What a delicious way to begin the Christmas holiday season; enjoy!

Dining Out: Thirty5

Friday evening, my wife and I had our second dinner at Thirty5 in West Hartford Center. In reinventing the former Reuben's Deli, owner Brian Hersh is largely carrying over the existing breakfast and lunch menus (which I haven't had an opportunity to sample yet), but under Thirty5's new chef, dinner and late-night offerings are entirely new.

On our first visit, just days after the early-October reopening, there were some obvious growing pains, as the kitchen seemed a bit backed up, but the staff couldn't have been more gracious, and the delays were quickly forgotten. My wife chose the skirt steak frites with garlicky spinach, Moroccan glaze, and chimichurri, while I selected the crispy buttermilk fried chicken with red bliss potato salad,  grilled corn salad, and roasted tomato salsa. Both were excellent: Straightforward food elevated and really well prepared.

My wife liked the steak frites so well that she ordered it again, this time requesting the red bliss potato salad as a substitute for the fries that normally come with it. I could happily have eaten the fried chicken again -- it was crispy, moist, and deeply flavorful -- but I'm addicted to variety, so on this second visit I chose the daily special soup, a delicious truffled mushroom, and the kung pao shrimp and beef from the Bites portion of the menu, along with a side of the house hand-cut fries.

The kung pao dish was great, with just the right amount of bite from the ancho chili and acid from the lime. Be advised that the Bites dishes are proper appetizer-sized portions (which I mean as a compliment, by the way), rather than the massive, everybody-share plates that are so common these days.

Having not gorged ourselves, we were able to sample dessert: an excellent creme brulee, served with a single piece of house-made rugalach.

The atmosphere at Thirty5 is cozy and friendly, if a bit loud. I can't wait to go back to sample the rest of the menu (the grilled Stonington scallops look good, as does the Reuben's chicken rollatini) and check out some of their special events, including Happy Hour, Sunday brunch (with endless mimosas), and local beer tastings.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Actual Cooking: Phallic Vegetable Ice Cream

Well, pumpkin ice cream, really, but since I decided to substitute butternut squash (from the organic home garden stand right down the street) for real, honest-to-FSM pumpkin, my daughter won't let me call it that. Telling her that I saw Alton Brown recommend butternut for making pumpkin pie on Good Eats¹ didn't get me anywhere with her, and got Alton called an idiot (sorry, AB; kids, you know...).

Now that the election is over and I can breathe again, I plan to get back to cooking, and to blogging about it. Naturally, I've been thinking about what to make for Thanksgiving. We're a pretty traditional family -- there's no messing with the turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, even the cranberry "sauce" with the can ribs still pressed into its sides -- but there's a little maneuvering room around the edges, with side dishes and dessert. I have an alternative sweet potato side in mind, but for now, I've been focused on pumpkin ice cream.

I searched the web and my ice cream cookbooks for recipes, but the first one I found (adapted by David Lebovitz from The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox). Interestingly, Lebovitz, who lives in Paris and can't easily get whole pumpkins, also substituted butternut for pumpkin, but I had already decided on that before I found this recipe.

Once I found it, I followed it pretty closely, with two exceptions: I didn't use any liquor, and I replaced half of the specified dark brown sugar with Connecticut pure maple syrup (just 'cuz). I washed and split the butternut (don't forget to reserve the seeds; they're great toasted, just like mini pumpkin seeds) and roasted in at 375°F for 45 minutes; while it was in the oven, I worked on the ice cream base. The spiced cream custard base cooked up thicker than I'm used to: With 5 egg yolks, it's a bit eggier than some other recipes I've worked with. Once it's done, it gets strained into an ice-bath-chilled bowl and the brown sugar (and, in my variation, maple syrup) gets whisked in. As soon as the mixture was cool enough, I transferred it to the fridge to chill. By this time, the "pumpkin" was done, so I scooped out the cooked flesh and turned to the blender to puree it. Next time, I think I'll use my stick blender in a bowl, because the standing blender's blades tended to just hollow out a space in the mass of squash flesh, and I kept having to stop and fiddle with it.

Once the puree is done and cooled, and the ice cream base is chilled², it all gets whisked together (with a skosh of vanilla extract) and goes into the ice cream machine. Probably because the base was thicker, it froze quickly, and the "lick the beater" test suggests it will be creamy and delicious. As usual, I packed it into two 1-pint coated paper buckets (purchased at my local restaurant supply store as soup containers, but they look like ice cream pints to me)  and stashed it in my chest freezer to await Thanksgiving dinner. I'll let you know in an after-action post how it comes out.

¹ Actually, his recipe uses actual pumpkin, it turns out, but I remembered the suggestion.

² The recipes always say to refrigerate overnight, but I generally cheat and chill the base in my chest freezer, with no noticeable trouble so far.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Actual Cooking: The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past

I'm working on getting this blog restarted, now that I'm done saving the flippin' worldworking on the election, and Thanksgiving week is an obvious time to talk about cooking. I have a couple things in mind, which I will duly report here if/when they come to fruition, but first I went looking for some pics from last Thanksgiving. Honestly, I was sure I'd already blogged about this, but it turns out I only posted pictures to Facebook.

So here's a ghost from Thanksgiving (recently) past: last year, while considering what interesting ways there might be to serve the leftovers from a traditional turkey dinner (more interesting than turkey and stuffing sandwiches on white bread, I mean), I was seized by the Imp of the Perverse© and produced this:

Why yes, that is nigiri with turkey breast and cranberry sauce wasabi; maki with dark meat turkey, stuffing, and leftover green beans; and a dipping sauce of turkey jus with scallions and soy sauce. I hope it doesn't haunt your dreams too badly. (I also hope I'm not killed in the night by a squad of outraged sushi-chef ninjas!)

Monday, September 24, 2012

TV Takes: The Great Food Truck Race (Spoiler)

Recently I mentioned that I was enjoying Season 3 of the retooled Great Food Truck Race, which pits teams of aspiring food truck entrepreneurs — rather than established trucks, as in the first two seasons — against each other, with the truck itself and startup funding as the prize. The new format retains the best elements of the existing show and adds the element of starting a new career/business that's common in other occupational reality competition shows, including such non-food shows as America's Next Top Model and Project Runway, as well as NBC's one-season America's Next Great Restaurant.

Unlike the latter, Food Truck doesn't attempt to mentor or develop the trucks' concepts: While the precise menu varies from city to city and challenge to challenge, each team came into the competition with its branding, concept, and truck in place... but, of course, they only got to keep the truck as long as they avoided elimination.

Tonight I watched the last episode before the finale, and I'm pleased with the way the competition has progressed. Of the three trucks that made it to this penultimate challenge, two of them — Pop-A-Waffle and Seoul Sausage — have seemed like the most distinctive and sharply defined concepts from Day One, and, along with the early-eliminated Under the Crust, the ones whose food I was most intrigued to try.

Seoul Sausage, in particular, is a favorite of mine for a variety of reasons: First, I just love Korean food, and while their menu doesn't include any strictly traditional Korean dishes, the flavors and techniques are all there. I would travel nontrivial distances to try their deep fried kimchi rice balls, to name just one example. Second, the Seoul Sausage crew strike me as the having the best combination of passion and focus of all the teams. And finally, their success is compensating for the disappointment of last season's Korean team, the similarly impressive Korilla BBQ truck, being disqualified under allegations of stuffing their till.

Pop-A-Waffle is slightly less appealing to me: Despite being a child of the South, I've never quite "gotten" the chicken-and-waffles thing (which was, interestingly, the original concept of what eventually became Soul Daddy, the winning [albeit ultimately unsuccessful] Next Great Restaurant concept). Even so, though, the idea of building a truck around waffles, both savory and sweet, seems appealing.

As it turned out, Pop-A-Waffle was eliminated tonight in third place, with Nonna's Kitchenette advancing to the finale instead. Nonna's has not been one of my favorites, but I confess that's probably just a result of my own personal prejudices: The homestyle Italian comfort food that forms the heart of their menu and concept isn't especially enticing to me, and neither are the team members' self-described Jersey girl (not to say Jersey Shore) personas.

All that said, it looks like they'll be tough competition for the Seoul Sausage guys, and I can't wait to see how the finale comes out. You can count on me commenting here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

TV Quick Takes: Top Chef Masters (Spoilers)

Tonight I watched what the cable guide blurb hypereloquently called the penultimate episode of Top Chef Masters Season 4, featuring an elimination challenge in which the final 3 chefs mentored teams of high school culinary students through the preparation of dishes they themselves couldn't even touch. I've been enjoying this season of Masters, which has finally come into its own and no longer strikes me as a knockoff placeholder for the Top Chef mothership, but since I haven't been blogging here much until recently, I haven't had a chance to express myself about it. Just a few quick observations, as we await the finale:
  • I've liked Chris Cosentino since I first saw him on the first season of The Next Iron Chef, but I have loved him on this show. Tonight's Critics' Table was edited to lead us to believe he was going home, so I was intensely relieved to see him advance to the final. Not only has he consistently put out food I wanted to eat all season, but it was clear he was by far the best, most committed, most caring teacher of the three... which observation matches the judgment of the viewing audience, according to the viewers' poll.
  • The fact that Cosentino obviously liked her was the only reason I was sorry to see Patricia Yeo go last week. Early on, I liked her feistiness and thought her food looked interesting, but in the later episodes, her behavior toward fellow competitor Lorena Garcia increasingly turned me off. I hate the sexist term catty, but it's hard to avoid the word when Yeo actually made aggressive meowing noises at Garcia more than once. These are all high-level professional chefs, and one of the nice things about Masters is that they usually treat each other with respect. Yeo, not so much.
  • Speaking of Garcia... Taco Bell? Seriously?
Well, I'll be looking forward to next week's finale... and to the upcoming new seasons of Top Chef and Next Iron Chef... and to Life After Top Chef... and to  Chef Race: UK vs U.S. ... and to... argh! So much food TV; so little time!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dining Out: Fancy Burgers

The Lovely Bride© texting the
Brilliant Daughter™ from the
patio at Max Burger
It was a gorgeous day today here in southern New England, and the Lovely Bride™ and I took advantage by lunching al fresco at what is fast becoming one of our favorite restaurants, Max Burger in West Hartford. Because my dining partner must avoid gluten, you might think burgers would be a strange choice, but in fact, they're one of our go-to meals: Most places will serve a burger without a bun, or as a lettuce wrap, and increasing numbers of restaurants serve burgers on gluten-free buns.

Max Burger, part of the Hartford/Springfield area Max Restaurant Group empire, is one such place. The menu includes non-burger entrees, entree salads, and sandwiches, as well as a number of "burgers" that stretch the definition of the term, but the stars of the show are just what you'd expect: 8 oz. patties of ground sustainably raised Angus beef topped with a variety of cheeses, bacons, onions, greens, and condiments. Over a number of recent visits, we've sampled the Alfred, Inside Out, Blackjack, and Miss Daisy burgers, as well as several of the rotating list of daily "Chalkboard Burgers," and have never been disappointed.

One of my pet peeves about gourmet burgers has to do with the tendency to so load them with toppings, condiments, and sauces that it becomes impossible to actually eat them as burgers. That has never happened to me at Max: The burgers are a real handful, and each mouthful is a real mouthful, but I've never had to resort to knife and fork. Burger, handcut fries, house-made pickle slices... if I didn't need the napkin, I'd never have to unwrap the flatware setup. And that, friends, is how it should be, no matter how fancy your burger gets.

Aside from the whole eating with your hands thing, Max Burger is in all other respects a true fine dining experience, offering appetizers and desserts and a full bar, including signature cocktails and a nice (and ever changing) list of craft and local beers. Rumor has it they also serve wine, though you couldn't prove it by me, philistine that I am.

Another recent fancy burger experience was distinctly different: While moving the Brilliant Daughter into her new grad school digs, we had occasion to check out Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn's burger joint, Good Stuff Eatery, in its Crystal City, Virginia, incarnation. Where Max Burger's model is fine dining, Good Stuff's is pure burger joint: Order at the counter; pick up your burger and fries in a paper bag; stop off to serve your own fountain drink, condiments, and dipping sauces; and find your own damn table. You might as well be at Arby's... and that goes for the prices, too.

Prez Obama Burger cooking at
Good Stuff Eatery
Except... that the food is spectacular. Not better than at Max, necessarily, but every bit as good, and possibly even a bit more sophisticated: With only one visit, I haven't been about to sample the menu extensively, but the Prez Obama Burger I had was to die for. I think it was the combination of Roquefort cheese and onion marmalade... but the horseradish mayo surely didn't hurt. But as good as my burger was, the real magic was the handcut Village Fries, made with rosemary, thyme, and sea salt. They're so deliciously fragrant that you almost don't need to eat them: Just stick your nose in the top of the bag and breathe! Ever since I've been home, I keep looking at the pots of rosemary and thyme on my deck and thinking I have to learn how to make those. Foolishly, I failed to buy a copy of Mendelsohn's cookbook at the restaurant, but it's on my list.

I'll let you know what I learn.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Emerging Foodie, the Next Generation

Tonight news comes from the graduate school hinterlands, through the magic of cellphone text and picture messages, of the Brilliant Daughter®'s explorations of cooking: She reports that tonight she fried up some chorizo, and then sauteed green and yellow squash in the rendered chorizo fat.

Sadly, the picture that looked so tasty on my eensy-teensy cellphone screen didn't scale up well, but trust me, it looked delicious... and by all reports, it was!

Her mother and I are incredibly proud, though not in exactly the same ways: I'm jazzed about the chorizo; mom is pleased as punch that her daughter is voluntarily cooking herself veggies!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Taste Test... Success!

On Wednesday I posted about my forays into ice cream making, including my first attempt to make a sorbet, using this lemongrass ginger recipe from the web, modified to use fresh rather than prepared ingredients.

Well, as I also mentioned, the typical batch yield from the ice cream maker is 2 1/2 pints; tonight, I fished the extra half pint out of the freezer so the Lovely Bride® and I could subject it to Rigorous Quality Control Testing©, as is our wont.

I'm delighted report total mission success. I was worried about the substitutions, since I had to just guess at the right quantities of fresh lemongrass and ginger, but the flavor was spot on: Light and bright, but not too aggressively gingery. I probably should've let it soften just a bit before serving — it came out of the freezer just a bit too hard to make nice scoops — but I'm well pleased with both the taste and texture once it was in the bowl.

And I needed something light and bright tonight, to lighten my mood in the face of the news from around the world....

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Frozen Delights

Last week I commented on Facebook that of all the food-related gadgets and tools I've put on my gift wish lists over the last few years, the ice cream maker is the one I've used - and enjoyed - the most. The occasion for that burst of enthusiasm was a batch of peach ice cream I had made using Connecticut-grown peaches sourced from (as folks must be tired of me mentioning) Coventry Regional Farmers' Market, using a recipe from Marilyn and Tanya Linton's The Ice Cream Bible.

Peach isn't actually one of my favorite flavors, but the Brilliant Daughter™ likes it. We'd hoped to make it together during her last visit home, but... "the best laid plans of mice and men," eh? At least now it'll be waiting in the freezer for her at Thanksgiving time. And since the typical batch yield is 2 1/2 pints, the Lovely Bride™ and I had a half pint on which to perform quality control testing. Favorite or no, it was yummy.

I've made fresh strawberry, fresh cherry, and mint chocolate chip ice creams, along with perhaps my favorite recipe, dulce de leche, also from the Linton book. When it was time for my street's annual summer block party this year, my side of the street was assigned desserts, specifically so I would bring ice cream!

Tonight, though, I tried something new: A lemongrass ginger sorbet from a recipe I just stumbled across on the web. Of course, that recipe calls for jarred (dried?) lemongrass and ground ginger... but I wanted to try it with fresh ingredients: I substituted three stalks of fresh lemongrass (my local "megamart" usually has at least a little in stock), minced, and 1/2 teaspoon of minced fresh ginger.

When I say I did this tonight, I really mean I finished it tonight; I cooked the base a couple days ago. This was my first attempt at a sorbet, and honestly, I couldn't imagine how what looked — what was, essentially — a pot of flavored sugar water would turn into anything like a frozen dessert.

O me of little faith, I suppose: It came out looking lovely, and though it's waiting in the freezer for a propitious serving occasion, the in-process testing was extremely promising.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TV Quick Takes

I haven't been blogging about foodie TV shows much recently... because I haven't been blogging much at all recently... but if I'm going to change the latter — and I am — then I should change the former as well. Foodie TV — specifically, watching a Top Chef (Season 2) marathon while I was laid up with whooping cough — is a big reason I started this blog in the first place.

So I'll start commenting periodically on my favorite food-related TV again. For now, just a few quick takes:
  • I enjoyed the just-completed Season 3 of MasterChef, and I'm more than happy with the selection of Christine Ha as the winner. Not only was she the most likeable contestant and (as far as we could tell without actually tasting her food) the best cook, but her's is the cookbook I most want to read. I had been rooting for single mom Monti Carlo (seriously, did your mom give you that name?) for much of the season, but I think the final two, and the winner, were correct. I almost wish Christine had been on Food Network Star instead of MasterChef, though: It's hard to imagine a blind cook being safe working the line in a busy restaurant, but Christine would be great on TV. And speaking of Food Network Star...
  • I'm happy to see Jeff Mauro's Sandwich King is back for a third season (I'm watching Episode 1 as I type this). Mauro's onscreen persona is a bit goofball-ish for my tastes, but I love the sandwich-focused concept, and his recipes are always both creative and accessible. And with a new show, $24 in 24, set to debut this fall, Mauro might be set to become the first FNS winner since Guy Fieri to become a true star on the network.
  • I'm also enjoying the third season of The Great Food Truck Race. Between this show's switch from having established trucks compete to having novice teams compete to win their truck and FNS's switch to the team/mentor approach, I generally think Food Network has done a good job retooling its competition shows. In both cases, the format changes enhance the entertainment value of the shows and, I think, lead to winners better positioned for future success.
 Did I say quick takes? Oh, well....

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Milestone for a Friend... and a Kick in the Pants

Yesterday, my friend Andy Jackson celebrated the third anniversary of his Disney World themed food blog Eating (and Drinking) around the World. It occurs to me that a week from today will mark 2 years since my own first post here... but I don't think I should be celebrating any anniversaries for my hit-and-miss, stop-and-start performance.

Andy, on the other hand, has been a reliable, and reliably readable, blogger, covering food doin's around Walt Disney World; the annual EPCOT Food and Wine Festival; the celebrity chefs he's met, including Iron Chef Cat Cora and Top Chef Masters alum Suvir Saran; and his own cooking, eating, and drinking inspired by all of the above. Heck, once he even wrote about hanging out with me!

And I have to admit that some of my best moments here at Emerging Foodie (and my best moments in the kitchen) have come in cooking (or mixing) recipes from Andy's blog:
So congratulations, Andy, on 3 great years of blogging, and thanks for all the material...

...and thanks for the kick in the pants. starting this week, I'm going to try to keep up with you! I've already got some recent cooking exploits that I can write up, and some projects in mind, and some goodies in the garden that want cooking or canning. Watch this space!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Do We Really Need Gendered Restaurants?

[I originally posted this at my general-interestbloviation blog, but since it relates to restaurants, I thought it would be worth cross-posting here.]

In the grand scheme of things, restaurant concepts aren't the most consequential of all possible things, so I won't take up too much of your time with it, but this story of a "steakhouse for women" bounced off my head today.

At some level, I get it: The traditional steakhouse ambiance — baked potatoes and great slabs of bloody beef, served up with multiple martinis, cocooned in an environment of dark tones and leather upholstery — is the quintessence of Hollywood masculinity. But does a separate-but-equal feminine counterpart work against that stereotype... or does it simply reinforce it?

Restaurants have all sorts of "hooks," some clever, some silly, and some borderline offensive, and ultimately there are more important things in the world... as hours of watching the Democratic National Convention this evening have driven home for me.

But all things being equal, I think I'd rather live in a world without gendered restaurants.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Emerging Foodie Test Kitchen... Er, Make That Bar

In my previous post about my foray into pickling, I mentioned that I had a few fresh cucumbers left over, which I planned to combine with the first gleanings from the jalapeno plants in my garden to make the cucumber-jalapeno margarita my buddy Andy Jackson had published as his Margarita of the Month for July at his Disney food blog Eating (and Drinking) Around the World.

Today, coming home after a few hours of doorknocking with my favorite candidate for state senate, I needed a drink, and what better one than this? I won't detail the procedure — all I did was follow Andy's recipe — but the short version is that I combined (homegrown) jalapeno, (locally sourced) cucumber, cilantro, lime juice, agave nectar, silver tequila, and Cointreau to make a genuinely delicious cocktail.

The earthy tang of the tequila, the smooth cool of the cucumber, the heat of the jalapeno, and the acid of the lime are all in perfect balance, with just the right amount of sweetness coming from the agave nectar. Even with the spice, it was the perfect ending to a long, hot day.

I urge all my readers (all two of 'em!) to try Andy's other margaritas of the month(s): I've never failed to enjoy one of these recipes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Actual Cooking: In a Pickle!

A couple weeks ago, I heard Terry Gross's 2-part Fresh Air interview with fermentation guru Sandor Katz, and was instantly moved to go out and buy his new book, The Art of Fermentation. You'll have to wait for a review — it's a massive tome, and I've barely scratched the surface — but the reason I was so hot to get the book right now was the fact that pickling cukes were in season at the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market, and Katz's description of making fresh sour pickles made it seem so easy even I could do it.

As of tonight, I can tell you that it is and I have! Last Sunday I picked up 4 lb of small, straight pickling cucumbers, a bunch of dill (to supplement my own heat-ravaged dill plants), and a fresh head of garlic, all from local farms, and Tuesday night I got "cooking" (no heat involved, actually):

I put the cukes in a large bowl of ice water and let them soak for about an hour. In the meantime, I mixed up about 3 quarts of a 5% brine (50g of sea salt per liter of water), using filtered tap water (just the built-in filter in our fridge). I rinsed the head of garlic and cut it in half crosswise (it's not necessary to even peel it); rinsed a goodly handful of dill fronds, plus some dill flower heads from my garden; and on a whim, peeled and quartered a small organic carrot (also from the CRFM): Everything went into a 1 gal glass jar (purchased from a local winemakers/homebrewers shop). Mindful of Katz's recommendation to include something high in tannin to help preserve crunch, but not having grape leaves or a green banana peel, I tossed in a tea bag.

Then I drained the cukes and loaded them into the jar, and then poured in the brine to fill. I was worried about how I would weight down the vegetables, to make sure they were well covered with brine, but the shape of the jar made that unnecessary.

Within an hour or two, small bubbles were rising in the brine; by the next day, a small amount of foam (but no visible mold) was floating in the neck of the jar. Thursday (yesterday), I tested one. It was definitely pickling, but not quite done; my Lovely Bride™ declared the flavor delicious. Tonight I tested another: It was clearly pickled all the way through, and really tasty... almost as good as the ones they serve at Rein's Deli here in Vernon (OK, I may be a tiny bit overly proud, there).

Later this evening, I'll transfer them to clean quart Ball jars and put them in the fridge. Since they're not preserved or processed, they'll need to be kept cold, and they won't keep forever, but I don't think that'll be a problem!

The best part is that I have a few cukes left over, and fresh jalapenos in the garden, so tomorrow I'll be able to try my buddy Andy's hot-off-the-(Word)presses Cucumber-Jalapeno Martini of the Month!

[edited for minor punctuation error]

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Weird Booze

In typical HuffPost fashion, the headline of this piece is, I’m pretty sure, wrong: Where they said “worst,” I think they must have meant “weird.” Mind you, some of these flavors might be truly awful — personally, I can’t imagine peanut butter as a flavor in vodka, jelly or no — but the article doesn’t even claim they taste bad; only that they seem odd to the author. Well, most of them seem odd to me, too (actually, the whole concept of flavored vodka seems odd to me, but that’s a whole different rant), but many — bubble gum, cake, fluffed marshmallow, cotton candy, etc. — are simply “cute” variations on sweet and/or creamy. Several of them, though, I find intriguing:
  • I came across a bottle of Bakon bacon-flavored vodka in the liquor store, and I just couldn’t resist buying it. I know the whole business of bacon obsession is kind of “so last month,” but I’m nothing if not a trailing-edge foodie.
  • The smoked salmon vodka seems like it’d be ideal for a variety of takes on the Bloody Mary (and I promise I thought that even before I noticed it says so right on the label.
  • I have so got to find a bottle of the Green Geisha wasabi-flavored vodka! The cocktail is already coming together in my head: Chilled wasabi vodka with a piece of toro sashimi as an edible garnish, with a clump of fish roe (or, perhaps, faux fish roe made from spherified whisky) and a drop of soy sauce (in lieu of bitters) artfully swirled into the drink. Yummmm….
Seriously, way too many people automatically equate weird with worst; in fact, weird is, I confidently insist, good!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dining Out (Quick Take): The Golden Lamb Buttery

This will be brief, because it's late and I have to get to bed, but I had to take a moment to enthuse about the dinner I just had at the Golden Lamb Buttery in Brooklyn, CT, where I was a guest at a hosted dinner.

Honestly, the long drive from work in East Hartford to Hillandale Farm in Brooklyn would've been worth it even without the great food, because eastern Connecticut is almost shockingly beautiful this time of year... but the food was truly exceptional: I was tempted by the roasted wild salmon with mussels and scallops, but in the end I went for the chateaubriand served with a thyme goat cheese bread pudding and shaved asparagus, and I wasn't sorry: The beef tenderloin was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the savory bread pudding was an unexpectedly delightful accompaniment.

As good as the entree was, though (and the coconut custard dessert, too), the real star of the meal was the soup, a sunchoke and cauliflower bisque that was, by everyone's account, stunningly delicious.

The Golden Lamb is open for single-seating prix-fixe dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings, and lunch is served Tuesday through Saturday, from noon through 2:30pm. I know I plan to be back!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The True Test of a Spacefaring Civilization

Aside from food and drink, one of my other enthusiasms is space exploration. One of the things we space cadets dream about is a spacefaring civilization... which is to say, a future in which space travel is not an exotic pursuit, but routine and fully integrated into human life in the way air and sea travel are today.

Not unrelated to food and (especially) drink, this is a step in the right direction!


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stay Thirsty, My (Spying) Friend!

I admit, I clicked on this story recommending beers for James Bond to drink expecting the obvious joke: Since The Most Interesting Man in the World1 is so clearly inspired by the suave-yet-manly movie spy (or perhaps by the love child of 007 and Ernest Hemingway), I wondered if Dos Equis would make Jim Galligan’s list of alternatives to the (rather disappointing) Heineken that 007 will reportedly quaff in the upcoming Skyfall.

Happily, Galligan doesn’t go for the easy choice, and his list looks interesting. I’m only familiar with one of his five choices, but that one — the top-listed (I’m choosing to ignore Galligan’s “in no particular order” disclaimer) Innis & Gunn Scottish Ale — is one of my favorites. In fact, one of the several reasons I so like Wood ‘n’ Tap is that their generally excellent beer list includes Innis & Gunn (a couple different colors of it, in fact).

I admit I’m not familiar with the other four beers on Galligan’s list, and their descriptions, while intriguing, don’t seem to put them in the range of beer types I would normally seek out. Based on the presence of Innis & Gunn on the list, though, I plan to make it my mission (should I choose to accept it… wait, wrong pop-media spies!) to track them down and taste them. I’ll report back.

In the meantime, I should say that I agree with Galligan’s basic premise: He’s James Frickin’ Bond, and he needs to drink a less pedestrian beer than Heineken. I was too young during the original heyday of the Bond movies to really know what constituted the avant garde in food, drink, cars, fashion, etc., but my sense was that Connery’s Bond was, if not on the bleeding edge, at least avant garde in a middle-class, “Playboy Advisor” sense. Nobody whose favorite casino game is baccarat should, it seems to me, drink a beer that you can easily find at any supermarket.

1 I’m in the habit of sprinkling the ™, ®, and © symbols through my various internet postings ironically, but in this case, the phrase may very well really be a trademark!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A DreamCheese Deferred, and Korean Chicken Salad

Well, I was going to try my hand at making paneer (Indian cheese) today, based on a recipe from Food Network Star Season 6 winner Aarti Sequeira, but we got a piddly 4 in. of snow today, and since the town decided not to plow my streets 'til 3:00 pm, I never made it to the store, and plans got changed. Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, my house-bound lunch was a sandwich made of the last of some Korean chicken salad I made a few days ago, and should've blogged about then. Here's the deal: I've mentioned before that my family loves the Korean pulled pork wraps with kimchi slaw and sesame mayo that I swiped from my friend Andy, right? What they really love the most about it is the sesame-garlic mayo, and over the Christmas break, I discovered that it also makes a fine condiment for hot dogs and burgers... so I decided to make a batch of just the mayo, and park it in the fridge in squeeze bottles.

As it happens, I have some canned chicken that I bought as emergency supplies last year in preparation for Tropical Storm Irene, and since we didn't eat it during the storm, I've been thinking about ways to use it up. I've decided to experiment with various kinds of chicken salad, for sandwiches to take to work for lunch, and last week I fired the first salvo: I made a Korean-influenced chicken salad. I don't have a proper menu, because everything is "to taste": Just put the chicken in a bowl and start doctorin' and tastin' 'til it's good. But here are the things I used:
  • Canned chicken
  • Homemade sesame-garlic mayo
  • Kimchi, chopped
  • Sriracha
  • Coarse black pepper
  • Kosher salt

The kimchi I used was storebought (but apparently house made) from Je Mart Asian market in East Hartford. I selected several thick cabbage pieces and diced them, as a stand-in for the celery traditionally found in "normal" chicken and tuna salads.

This is by no means Korean food, but the combination of the sesame mayo, kimchi, and sriracha produces a distinctly Korean-influenced sandwich filling. To complete the sandwich, I used some whole pieces of the kimchi to substitute for traditional lettuce. Yum!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Food TV: Top Chef: Texas "Restaurant Wars"

OK, to begin with, why, oh why, in the suffering world did the geniuses at Top Chef decide to make this season's Restaurant Wars a "battle of the sexes" (or "boys versus girls," if you prefer the cheftestants' own cutesieness to the producers' war metaphor)? And why did the "boys" (Chris, actually) have to make it worse by immediately calling the "girls" catty (not that the women didn't seem to be doing their best to embody that invidious stereotype)?

To the show's (very minimal) credit, they didn't go on to pound on any masculine versus feminine tropes in discussing the decor, service, or food... but that's small comfort. The most charitable interpretation is that they ended up at RW time with an even split between the sexes, and just thought it would be "fun" to pick the teams that way... but even that points out that sex-based segregation remains a (sadly) socially acceptable trope well after separating people in other ways has become taboo: Would Top Chef have considered, even for a second, putting Ed, Paul, and Bev on one team and calling it Asians vs. Whites? Of course they wouldn't... but somehow they can still pull the trigger on a Battle of the Sexes. Grrrrr.....

Beyond that disappointment, I found the episode a bit perplexing: Both restaurants were appealingly decorated (I liked Canteen a bit better, though I think the open kitchen was a bad idea for a one-night popup restaurant), and their menus seemed like I would enjoy them, as well. Even though both had problems with service, what we saw of the judges' and guests' dining experience seemed mostly positive, with Canteen having an edge on the overall dining experience, Half Bushel having an edge on food, and Padma declaring that the judges had a tough choice.

So I was surprised to find that, at Judges' Table, the competition didn't seem to be close, and the critical comments were so much harsher than they seemed in the event. Did the diners' survey data come out different than they expected? Did the judges' positions harden with time (and I must say that the consecutive-nights format seems to give whoever goes second an advantage, especially since they got to dine in their opponents' restaurant)? Or did the producers simply edit the in situ comments to make the contest look closer than it ever really was, for the sake of preserving the suspense?

In any case, I was happy that Beverly won, and less happy that her team did, and for the same reason: I thought her teammates abused Bev, basically treating her like a sous chef or less instead of a colleague and teammate. I had thought the bullying would stop once Heather (who seemed to have a particularly personal beef with Bev) was eliminated, but apparently not. Bev doesn't appear to be the best cook in the group, and who knows, maybe there really is something lacking in her work ethic... but I find myself rooting for her, both because I fell in love with Korean food years ago when I lived in Seoul (so how could I not love a contestant whose cast bio says if she were a food, she "would be kimchi since it is funky, spicy and addictive which matches [her] eccentric, yet soulful personality."), but also because I think she's been treated awfully, which gives her story the underdog appeal. Amazingly, after celebrating their victory with approximately 12.72 seconds of hugging, the Half Bushel team went right back to glares and recriminations. Lindsay (did she really mention having been prom queen as an example of how driven she is?!?) seemed visibly pissed that Bev had won; she scares me just a little.

I've been rooting for Ed, too (though his attitude has tested my patience at times), so I was glad he (seemingly) "won" among the chefs on the losing team. He did, however, fall into what I'm beginning to see as a universal cooking show trap: Giving your dish a name it doesn't live up to. Based on the comments, his dessert may have been the single best dish at either restaurant, but because he called it Almond Joy, he got more rips for not enough coconut than compliments for how good everything else was about it. IIRC, one of the judges (Emeril?) even said that the name was the only thing wrong with that dish.

The other dessert (along with an apparently passive effort) seemed like it would send Chris "Let Me Mention Moto One More Time" Jones home, but Tom Colicchio was obviously in his corner, resulting in the departure of Ty-Lor Boring (can that possibly be the name his momma gave him?)... or at least his short trip to Last Chance Kitchen (which I haven't watched yet... shhh; no spoilers!)

[Edited to correct a misattribution.]

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Quick Update: Goong Korean Restaurant

I reviewed Goong, the Korean restaurant on Silver Lane in East Hartford some time ago, and have mentioned it in passing a couple other times since. Recently, I was pleased to see a very favorable new review in our "alternative" weekly paper, the Hartford Advocate. Now you don't have to take my word for it anymore!

The fried chicken dish mentioned in the review KhanPoongGhi — is something I've never seen before, and I can't wait to give it a try. The review also mentions that Goong is planning to expand into a neighboring space, which makes me happy because it suggests the business is on a good footing financially, and I hope Goong will be around for a long time.

Even better, Goong now has a website (which it didn't when I wrote my initial review) and a Facebook presence, so you can scope it out for yourselves.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Slow Start After a Nice Christmas

Notwithstanding my dire expectations, my computer upgrade went well, but even so I'm already getting behind on my intended blog reboot(s), as I've lamented elsewhere. To try to ramp up, I'll review the foodie portion of my Christmas.

First, the gifts: In addition to the cool molecular mixology kit I already mentioned, I got as gifts...
  • Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher. When I launched this blog, I intended to devote some of it to writing about beers... and I did so, but I quickly realized I didn't have the knowledge or vocabulary to comment usefully. So I put this on my wish list to edumacate myself. Look for a review when I'm done reading.

In addition, I cooked our Christmas dinner, making (at the request of my family) Korean pulled pork lettuce wraps with kimchi slaw and sesame-garlic mayo, according to the recipe my buddy Andy published. I sense a brand new holiday tradition in the making!