Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Perfect Beast

Never a problem.
So many heat thoughts recently.
It was 90 degrees F today. No mosquitos, though the wasps. carpenter bees and hornets were looking for homes. Yet not so much humidity yet.
How are these things possible?

We must ponder these issues, but yet I am a man of immediacy at times, and there is no proper a time as when thinking of immediacy as when contemplating eating seafood.
I love lamb.
I love goat.
I love fowl.
I love game.
Sea urchin is game if you try to collect it.
Or taste it.
But it's hot enough for me to consider more straight seafood.
The politics of nature and humanity converge and so I must make a decison.

Of which hot climate seafood grilling dishes today?
I could remain indoors due to the ease - Kim wanted Thai and shrimp...something light.
I pinged Kim on decisive directions, but she had too many. Also, the mid-week status and the fact that I have grilled nearly 5 days straight, was there something else I could grill?
I had thought about smoke flavor earlier.
Maybe some burgers. So lucious and fatty. Wrapped in prepared pig fat, whether smoked or not. Engorged with onions and garlic. So lucious.
Not sure that was cognizant of the appropriate directions.
Must be compromise strategies.

I didn't really feel like the inside.
I can do that but this was a beautiful day even though it was relatively very hot.
The humidity, however, was nonexistent, so the heat seemed more intergalactic than plantetary.
The south of France.

All last year. Almost every single week, there was at least one day where I took shellfish, fennel, onions, peppers, hot peppers, garlic, garlic, garlic and shallots....oh...and picpoul
grilled and simmered the package and ate it outside.

So perfect a meal.

Was this the right route for today?

It WAS my intent.
I ignored the call-in order to the local Thai delivery.
Beautiful weather needs the lucious, beautiful smell of wood smoke, even if it's only for a few hours.

I drove off to H-Mart to gather the shellfish for the beautiful collection of shellfish, white wine, garlic and fennel packets - maybe with fennel seeds - maybe with Ricard or another anise lovely liquor like Henri Bardouin. Nummmmmmm.

Yet it was not to be. I got my fennel. I got some leeks. I got some lovely herbs. Then I approached the fish counter. It was lovely, but there was a small sign that caught my eye.

$6.99/# lobster. The last time I went here and got lobster, it was perfect.
It was the sweetest beast. No butter. No Ricard. Nothing was needed to appreciate the beautiful sweet flavor of lobster. No butter nor oil. Perfect beast.

I don't boil lobster or some other tragedy of my New England youth. Sauteeing is perfect and steaming or grilling is exceptable, but let me have that meat as fresh as possible.
I think that lobster is one of the most beautiful and interesting creatures in the sea, 2nd only to octopus, but it can be SO tasty that I accept my position in the food chain to accept it as culinary bounty, as long as that beautiful creature is not endangered. Oh, and the same for octopus. So beautiful in nature. So tasty on the grill.

Roasted peanuts.

Fish sauce.
Brown sugar.
Lemon and Lime juice.

Lobster...Grilled...I love those creatures in so many ways.
I've had other sweet crustaceans, but never like a good lobster.
So perfect.

Let us protect these creatures. They're beautiful in the sea.
And definitely for Thai food.


Friday, March 12, 2010

My Cellar Might Need Some Mold

Not like your old house, Carlos. The kind that just makes everyone sick.
I'm talking more on the kind that makes that lovely rind on Brie, yes, that's right, penicillin.

And maybe I need some brining solutions. Not just some 10% brine that you would use for feta, but something a little less briney that I would dunk some cheese into every day or two. stinky it might become.

So get that milk out. Maybe cow's milk for now. No UHT. Not so good for cheese making. Even the normal pasteurized you have to treat to make it work for you.
1 ml of CaCl (Calcium Chloride) per 4 liters of pasteurized milk. Say we're working with a gallon (4l or so).

(Edit: Very true! I don't think you can get Calcium Chloride everywhere, like at Safeway or a gas station or 7-11 so let me post a couple links to someone who actually can sell it)

Mix that stuff up.

Then in a double water bath, start slowly bringing the milk up in temperature. To 70 degrees Fahrenheit (wow, is that even a cooking temperature? well no, we're not cooking the milk, we're making the milk all happy for the bacteria).

Oh yeah, at that point you had better have some bacteria on hand. You can use 3% volume of the milk with Cultured Buttermilk, make sure it says live culture. OR you can get some starter (1/8tsp per gallon) from a fancy cheese making place, or maybe Sur la Table, or a few good websites:

For the temperatures in this recipe, use a mesophilic starter. For some harder cheeses, you'd use something like a thermophilic starter which likes a bit more heat.

Add the starter gingerly. If you're using dried starter, take the milk off heat for 5 minutes. Stir very, very gently at that point. If using that liquid starter, just stir a bit - gingerly please.

Next, continue to heat the milkies up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Slowly. Slowly. So slowly. Do not blink. Do not turn away. Make sure you do it right and have a simple meat thermometer around to put into the mixture to check the temperature.

MAKE SURE ANYTHING YOU PUT IN THE MILK MIXTURE IS CLEAN. MIGHTLY CLEAN. If we're putting just 1/8 of a tsp of starter into something to cause the entire vat to do something extraordinary, well, that crap in your mouth or on your hand will cause that 1/8 tsp of do-gooder bacteria to really mess things up. Please do yourself a favor and make sure your utensils are clean. Use hot water. Use a light bleach solution in water (1oz bleach : 2 gallons water). Don't poop in your milk.

At 90 degrees, take the milk off heat and add some rennet: 4 drops per liter, 16 drops per gallon. Rennet is something to further help the cheese transformation. Rennet is found in the stomach lining of baby cows, also called tasty veal. There is also rennet in the stomach of baby goats, called tasty kids. Supposedly, you can get rennet-like substances from plants that don't remotely have stomachs. In Portugal, they wrap their cheese in cardoons. They must be a funny people. In any case, most cheese makers use the veal-based rennet. This rennet is extracted during the cow rending process -- it's not just something the cow gives off like milk. It's more like something the cow has, like leather. Cows are not killed for rennet alone, though. Since you don't use much rennet, you don't need to have rennet-specific herds available at the market.

In some other manners of cheese making, you don't use rennet at all. But in this recipe, I think it's best if you do. You can get rennet online as well:

So at this 90 degree Fahrenheit moment, the rennet is added. Then you let the milk sit for 30 minutes. Don't move the milk around much (if any). Think of this time as a milk meditation period. Aaaauuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. praṇava. ॐ. ओंकार. Om.

Focus on the milk. Foooccccuuuussss. Shhh.

After 30 minutes, you need to test the surface. Take a CLEAN utensil like a knife or something with a decent edge and insert it into the curd. Pull back slightly and see how quickly the rest of the milky curd fills in. If it's more whey than curd, then you are probably ready. The separation of curd & whey as well as the slight firmness of the curd is what you are looking for. If it doesn't pull back, more meditation. Ommmmmmmm.

In a not so meditative way, you can also do a pH test on the milk. There should be a slight bit of whey upon the milk. The pH of this whey should be somewhere between 4 and 5, hopefully close to the middle of that range. There are some litmus papers that focus on the range from 4 to 7 and you can get them and some other neato stuff, like salt hydrometers, at nice online geeky stores like:

When this moment of perfect texture occurs, take a long knife and start gingerly cutting the curd in 1" slices. First from top to bottom of pot. Then afterwards angle the knife at 45 degrees and slowly cut across and turn the pot - again in 1" slices. If you feel the bottom hasn't been cut appropriately throughout, slowly spoon some of the cheese from the botttom to the top and cut some more.

After a good slicing of the pot's curd, gently e'er so gently stir the pot with a spoon bringing the curd from bottom to top for TEN (10) minutes.

Then stir another TEN (10) minutes with less ginger and more spice.

Next is the drying time. You need a dish rack or a metal platter capable of holding the pack of molds.


The molds.

yeah need those.

You need some molds - they vary in appearance but generally they look like a salad spinner insert which is about 4" in diameter and perhaps 3" high. For 1 gallon of milk you will need 8 of these puppers.

The molds can be purchased from a few different online sources:

Another thing you may want is one of those plastic grids for needlepoint. Not to take up a hobby while waiting for your cheese to age. CLEAN IT. It does make a nice grid for cheese to sit upon and permit whey to drain off without gathering at the base.

So you have these molds...these mini salad spinners. Take a spoon and fill them with curd gently, letting the whey pour out of the spinners and drain off. The spinners/molds should absolutely NOT be sitting in whey. Drain it. Provide a slope. Or move the molds between sitting areas.

You can top off the molds with curds because the curds will depress (letting the whey out). When the curds do depress, put some more curds on top until the curds in the pot are mostly gone.

So. When the curds have pretty much been topped off, it's time to start the sitting stage. This sitting stage lasts 24 hours at room (70F) temperature. 6 times in the next 24 hours, please turn the molds over. The process is take a full mold, flip it upside down and put it back in the mold and let it sit a few hours.

After the 24 hours of flipping, take some kosher or sea (NON-IODIZED) salt and merrily cover the cheese. Don't leave piles of salt on the cheese, but don't be scared of the salt either.

Then, let the salty cheese sit at room temperature ANOTHER 24 hours.

Now you're ready for the choice. Will it be feta or stinky cheese?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thank God for Shoveling

After the multiple feet of snow we had last week, I must have burned 84 million calories attempting to clear a small barely discernable path through the drifts. Perhaps 17 trillion calories clearing the driveway. Maybe another 722 googolplex calories shoveling the street and 5 of my neighbors driveway mouths, since the County came only once midway during the multiple storms [which is actually better than the zero times during that last storm in December].

Anyhow, when you've given up 800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000-ish calories, you need something to replace them otherwise you'll probably cause a singularity from the speed of the caloric implosion and Silver Spring doesn't need any event horizons this winter. So what to eat...

People were absolutely crazy before the storms. Going to the supermarkets prior to the storm reminded me to some extent of the images of Soviet Russian groceries. Long lines and absolutely nothing on the shelves. There was basically no meat on the shelves except for chicken gizzards and cod tongues. Fortunately they make good sauce and stews if you can dig out those old world recipes.

For us, we dug into the freezer since it had more than gizzards and tongues. Our anti-implosive cooking efforts included the following:

  • Seared duck breast and garlic potato cake

  • Jambalaya - shrimp, andouille and chicken thighs

  • Gumbo - shrimp, salmon, clam and andouille

  • Bacon, Chorizo & Chistorra Tacos with smokey salsa

  • Braised Lamb Shoulder with Eggplant bechamel

When it was all over and we could leave, we had some flimsy clam and shrimp stew to celebrate the sense of spring on the horizon (albeit distant horizon), but let's focus on those caloric explosive dishes above.

First Seared duck breast - based on a recipe from the great comfort cookbook: The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert.

Seared Duck Breast and Garlic Potato Cake

  • 2 Moulard Duck Breast Halves
  • 2# potatoes - mandolined at 1/8", padded dry
  • 2 oz bacon or pancetta, chopped in 1/4" chunks
  • 1 large thinly sliced onions
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tb parsley chopped
  • 2 tsp dried thyme

    1. Score duck breasts: Take a sharp knife and score the top of the duck breasts in a cross-hatched pattern over the skin-side. Do not cut into the meat, just into the fat. Salt and pepper the breasts and let sit at room temperature for 10-30 minutes.
    2. Sear duck breasts: Heat a 5 qt casserole over medium-high heat. Put the duck breasts in there skin-side down once the casserole is hot. Sear the breasts for 4 minutes until the top is caramel brown. Don't move the breasts while you're searing and if too much fat accumulates in the casserole, drain it with a baster. After the 4 minutes, flip over and lightly sear flesh side for 10-15 seconds tops. The duck breasts will be undercooked. Place the duck breasts on a plate lined with paper towels and tent with foil while you work on the potatoes.
    3. Saute onions and bacon: Reserve 1 Tb of duck fat rendered in searing process. Remove any additional accumulated duck fat in the casserole and wipe it out before you start the sauteing. Over medium-low heat, add the bacon and onions and slowly saute for 10 minutes until the bacon is starting to crisp and the onions are soft and silky.
    4. Begin the cake: Increase heat to high. Add the potato slices to the casserole and mix well with bacon and onions and rendered bacon fat. Continue to mix to make sure potatoes are dressed in bacon fat and onions. After 2 minutes, start pressing down on the top of the potatoes. Press into a cake and continue to cook until the edges at the bottom of the cake start to brown. Lower heat to medium low and cover. Continue to cook for 10 minutes.
    5. Add bay leaves: Remove top of casserole and wipe moisture off of inside of lid. Add the bay leaves and mix the potato cake up carefully, getting some off the browning bottom bits mixed up with the softer top bits. Press the cake back down once mixed. Cover and cook 5 minutes.
    6. Salt and Pepper: Remove top of casserole and wipe moisture off the lid again. Salt and pepper the top of the cake - maybe 1 tsp of each - up to you really. Cover and cook 5 minutes.
    7. Garlic and Parsley: Remove top of casserole and wipe moisture off the lid again. Carefully mix up the cake and sprinkle in the parsley and garlic. Press down on the top of the cake and cook for 3 minutes (uncovered).
    8. Add the Duck: Slice the duck breast into 1/4" slices. Duck will be rare. Place the duck slices over the top of the potato cake, salt and pepper a bit if desired. Increase the heat to high and cover. Cook for 2-4 minutes and turn off the heat. Bring to the table for people to lunge at and consume.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Bring me the Muslims

    I'm happy again tonight that I have enough Muslims around to have a choice of Halal butchers. Since Mr Chileman had found out about the Lebanese Butcher, I had been relying on them for cheap, excellent, recently slaughtered lamb, goat and merguez. They have great kibbeh and kofta. Marinated chicken is awesome.

    But you know what, there are other butchers, too. There are some bad ones. There was this one near Langley Park that was dirty. I can't believe it could claim to be Halal, so I had to seek out others. There was an underused but beautiful butcher at 4 Corners for a while, but they didn't have enough traffic so they fled.

    However, the times are changing. There are at least THREE very good Halal butchers I can rely on within a couple miles of my house. And there are still a couple I need to check out.

    How could neglect Tom Sietzma's review of an Indian-based cuisine restaurant with a Halal place next door?

    How could I neglect the continued excellence of both Tiffin, Udupi and Woodland Indian restaurants with a quaint, but friendly butcher amidst them?

    And I do like to seek things out...and I found a spotlessly clean butcher near Nebel and Randolph who were meticulously cleaning the freshly killed and slaughtered goat from yesterday.

    That works for me.

    I just repurposed some relatively easy Thomas Keller recipe for pan-frying and oven finishing lamb chops with thyme, garlic and rosemary, with some freshly killed $3.99/lb. French-cut goat chops. DELICIOUS!!! I have another $7 worth of chops tomorrow - probably around 14 more .... peace be with YOU!

    Saturday, January 9, 2010

    What was I thinking?

    It's not only "What was I thinking when I bought this?", but also "What were you thinking when you thought this would be a good idea?". And I am, of course, talking about kitchen gadgets.

    I got a waffle iron this Xmas. It'll be fun to make some with Amelie, but I never really eat waffles. I like them as I am a human who has eaten them, but do I really need to add more starch to my diet? I got to find a place to store it.

    I had a crepe maker. I don't really eat crepes, but I had one. I made a crepe once. I like Nutella crepes. I can like savory crepes. I don't make crepes.
    It's definitely gone. I didn't need to store it any longer.

    The bread machine is gone. I enjoyed its ability to make dough. It was a lousy bread oven. I did use it a while to mix dough, but you what? I have a Kitchen Aid mixer. The bread machine is so gone.

    The Kitchen Aid mixer? Next to the knives, the stove, the refrigerator and the sink, it is the greatest of all devices. I don't know why it's in this list. Stop looking at this entry. Never associate the mixer with stupid idea. Perish those thoughts.

    The deep fryer. If ever there was a love hate device, this would be it. It is not good for me to know where it is. What was I thinking even keeping it? It was a splendid gift, though an evil gift. A gift that makes me want to put 4 quarts of duck fat in it. How stupid is that? What was I thinking? I better have someone hide it now. Kim? Hide the deep fryer before I get a bad idea!

    The Food Mill. This was the source of this blog. I was SOOOOO close to giving it to Good Will. It was being stored and it was being pushed further and further back in the crammed closet to the place where the bread machine was. I had used it years ago before I had my Kitchen Aid mixer. The mixer not only has a meat grinder, but I can use those dies to push through tomato sauce and the like just like you would in a food mill. Why do I need a food mill when I have the glorious, holy and faultless Kitchen Aid Mixer?

    I found this answer this morning. I could theoretically use the mixer, but it actually would have taken longer. With tomato sauces, it goes pretty quickly and there isn't that much vegetable matter that stays back behind the die.

    There are cuisines which I have grown tired of over the years, but some recipe brings me back to acknowledging some awesome greatness in the cuisine. Chinese food, for instance, can be really dull, insipid, and glutinous. There are so many horrible beyond horrible Chinese restaurants that will make you sick if you eat there, but we must also see the light (is that Yin or Yang?). Mrs. Chiang's Szechuan Cookbook has this Anise Chicken recipe that makes me see the light. I had some grilled lobster with ground pork at New Kam Fong the other week that shone brightly. Sooo goood.

    Another devastated cuisine is Mexican. Good god! is there some insipid and disgusting Mexican food or what?!?!? Gordita? What is that? And some real, real bland Mexican food. I am no longer starving so that weird burrito thing that only has rice and beans and nothing else in it? That thing is gross and flavorless. That last word. Flavorless. That word should not be present in the lexicon of Mexican cuisine. It is very, very hard to find food in Mexico that is flavorless. Why do we have so-called flavorless Mexican food here?

    I do have to thank Mr. Chileman for straightening me out on my impression of Mexican food over the years. I do explore the strange set of unknown spices and chiles in finding new and unaccustomed flavors and dishes and it is well worth the time.

    And now we return to the food mill. Already this year, I've made three separate chile-based marinades and rubs. For some inane reason (WHAT WAS I THINKING), after I processed the 16 guajillos with the cumin, salt, garlic, onions, thyme, mexican oregano, allspice, I decided to press it through a strainer with a spatula to be used for a rub for goat.
    Dumb, but I did it again for some rub with guajillos, chile arbol, hoja santa, cilantro, pepper, on the smoked turkey soup. Dumb x 2.
    I think I justified my "dumb" by thinking that I couldn't put all of that vegetable matter into the Kitchen Aid mixer grinder without repeated cleanings in the process.

    But wait. I have a food mill.

    At the brink of departure sat the food mill.

    No longer. The food mill is the savior of making chile-based Mexican marinades.
    WHAT WAS I THINKING? It took only a couple minutes to force that sauce through and it got a hell-of-alot more sauce out than my dumb-method of spatual and mesh strainer.

    So I write this as a formal apology to my food mill. Thank you for making me less dumb food mill. I will never doubt you again.