Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Perfect Onion Storm

Tonight I looked in the fridge and the freezer and noticed a theme among the ingredients we had lying around. We had tons of garlic, vidalia onion, red onion, leeks, frozen beef stock I'd made a month or two ago, and even a bottle of wine that we hadn't cared for and I put aside for cooking of some kind.

The conditions were perfect for making onion soup.

While most people insist on calling this French onion soup I find this designation annoying. Besides, we regretfully do not own any of the standard brown coup crocks one needs to make a proper onion soup.

At the store I could not find any soup crocks so instead I purchased two acorn squash, hollowed them out, roasted them, and used those as the vessels for the soup. This is an unusual pairing but I was more concerned with having something I could bake in the oven than anything else.

For the soup I melted some butter and olive oil, then threw in whole sage leaves, crushed garlic cloves, red onion, vidalia onion, leeks, salt, and pepper and cooked it all down for about an hour. Then I put a little red wine in (actually a lot of red wine) and then finished with the beef broth. I then topped it with sliced bread and, in an attempt to pair a cheese with the squash, Piave.

Then I broiled the whole thing for a few minutes and served.

I've kind of stalled out in my autumn beer/Oktoberfest beer mission. I became too overwhelmed by the options. It's a little sad seeing how it's not even October yet and we're only a week into Fall but I'm sure I'll get up some more steam after I take some time off. It was convenient, however, since wine is probably a better pairing for this dish.

The wine was a tempranillo and it as quite good. With the amount of wine I put in the soup it seemed almost unnecessary to have additional wine to drink.

The resulting soup was tasty but I definitely used too much of the wine. And it was most definitely weird to serve it in a squash. But, I suppose, it was the responsible thing to do. Seeing that I only make onion soup once every ten years I guess it would be wasteful to purchase soup crocks and have them lying around for the rest of the decade.

I guess that's my contribution to the environment for 2010: biodegradable soup bowls.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Early Girl Gets The Martini

Just when you think you've seen the last delicious tomato of the season along come more. It almost makes the lingering and imposing humidity of the summer worth it to see these late stragglers.

I picked up these Early Girl tomatoes from a farm in New York. I got them mostly because they had what appeared to be funny little noses sticking out of them. And if you know anything about me you know that I enjoy an amusingly-shaped vegetable.

To go with the Early Girls I also got some burrata from Liuzzi Cheese. Burrata is always fantastic and this was no exception. Burrata is kind of like a culinary obscenity. It's like someone was just not satisfied enough with how delicious mozzarella was so they made a pact with the devil to create a hybrid mozzarella that they combined with all the love in the world.

If there's one thing I've learned from my biblical tales it's that no good can come out of something created in this way.

Every six months or so I have the desire to have a martini. This is sometimes a good idea and sometimes not. Tonight I decided to make a martini at home. This happens more along the lines of once every six or seven years. I chose to use the Heart of the Hudson vodka I got form Tuthilltown Distillery which is distilled using apples from orchards along the Hudson.

For Jen I made a traditional martini using sweet vermouth (finding out we were out of dry vermouth). Turns out that's really disgusting. Let us learn that lesson for you. Do not attempt to make a martini with sweet vermouth. Either leave out the vermouth or get off your lazy butt and get some dry vermouth.

We had the last of some Chilean Sea Bass in the freezer so I thawed that out, grilled it, and served it over a salad I made with shaved fennel, olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper. It was fantastic.

Now we're out of Chilean Sea Bass and I've fulfilled my martini quota for 2010. All in all tonight's meal was a very productive one. Very productive indeed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Curry and Pumpkin Spice

On Friday we had a mutual desire to have a light meal. That gave me a good excuse to make something incredibly simple meal.

All I did was take a head of cauliflower and a head of broccoli and toss them with a little olive oil and some curry spices and roast them in the oven. I served them over some steamed quinoa and sliced up some tomatoes for the top. And that, possibly, is the most boring but healthful dinner one can imagine.

Along with all the Oktoberfest beers there are a plethora of pumpkin spiced beers. Pumpkin spiced, in America, simply means that they have thrown in a little allspice. This generally does not mean that any pumpkins were harmed in the production of said product.

I took this opportunity to sample one of these beers, the Wolaver's Will Stevens' Pumpkin Ale. I figured that this spice would blend most ideally with the curry in this dish. It turns out the spice in this beer was subtle enough that it went almost unnoticed. Still, it was a good accompaniment to the spiced florets.

That Will Stevens really knows his stuff.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bison Lasagna

Bison Lasagna. It just sounds kind of weird. However, it couldn't be any closer to normal. Lying around were pasta sheets, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, more Rao's sauce, fresh basil, and ground bison. This seemed like the obvious (and easy) follow up to Oktoberfest.

I browned some onion and garlic in a little olive oil, browned the ground bison until just barely cooked, then added the sauce to the bison and built the lasagna. Pasta, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and whole basil leaves were the only items used, layered with generous scoops of the sauce.

For the wine we had Abbaye de Saint-Ferme. The most interesting thing about this wine was that I couldn't remember spilling any wine while pouring it but noticed the horrendously wine-streaked label after pouring. A search on the wine brought up this blog entry which featured a similarly stained label. This leads me to believe that this is some intentional printing detail done to shame the buyer into thinking they are a sloppy pourer. Indeed I had the 2004 vinatage, the same as the author of the exquisitely-named Decanterberrytales.com blog shows on his site. Yet our labels do not match.

So either we are both terribly clumsy pourers or this is an intentional print detail. I could probably look this information up using Ask Jeeves or Altavista or something but I'm far too lazy for that.

Or perhaps I've been buffaloed!

(I apologize for what just happened there.)

September Oktoberfest

Two days ago Oktoberfest began. In the United States this holds little (if any) meaning since most people just know that this vaguely involves beer and are unaware that twelve of the sixteen days of the celebration take place in September. German and Bavarian cuisine is something I seldom make mostly because we only spent about 45 minutes at culinary school learning German cooking. The remaining 1,035 hours were devoted to French cooking.

I did have a few German chefs at school who would sometimes slip in some German cooking tidbits, taking cautious looks around then returning to their lecture about how to make a beurre blanc if the dean happened by the classroom.

I had some Finocchiona salami lying around so I decided to slice that up. Finocchiona is a Tuscan salami made with fennel seeds. It is in no way German but I figured if I served it with a sweet mustard (my favorite SchoolHouse Kitchen Sweet Smooth Hot Mustard), sliced onion, cornichons, and rye bread with butter I could detract from its Italian heritage.

For beer I opted to go with an actual German beer in the Oktoberfest variety rather than the local American varieties I've been enjoying so far in the tail end of summer.

I have to say that the Oktoberfest beer from Spaten was my favorite so far. It was very simple and reminded me of the fact that a lot of the American versions I've tried recently seem to be trying too hard.

For the main course tonight I browned some Weisswurst and stewed some onion, red cabbage, and sliced apples (still going through the apples we picked in Vermont) along with some rendered bacon. Jen had seen these sausages in the fridge a few days ago and voiced her disapproval. I believe she said they looked like maggots or something. She's always saying things like that. I guess maggots look a lot different in Canada. And a lot more delicious.

This explains a lot! Amy Hepworth must be from Canada!

I have not made spätzle since culinary school. One of my chefs (who will remain nameless) showed me how to make spätzle batter and flick it off of a cutting board into a pot of boiling water in thin ribbons using the back of a knife. He was incredible at making spätzle. Unfortunately he was a terrible teacher. This is the only thing I really learned from him during my time at the school.

Coincidentally he was the only chef that I had for two different classes. Lucky me.

In the grand scheme of things I think it might have been worth it because I did learn how to make some pretty good spätzle.

Finally I made some pan-fried potatoes which the Germans call bratkartoffein. This is basically exactly like making home fries. I rendered a little bacon, cooked some onion, toasted some caraway seeds, and then browned the potatoes to at least give them a little bit of a German flair.

I would have liked to make a German dessert, perhaps some sort of apple streusel, but I had already used up most of the allotted hour to make everything you see above.

Instead I ate a delicious cupcake that Jen stuffed into a coffee cup and smuggled home to me. Jen had her dessert first so I just rammed the cupcake into my mouth while I sat on the couch and watched an episode of Doctor Who.

The ceremony of our meals tends to break down rather quickly once dessert hits.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pizza Transitions (Part 2)

As we left off last time, we were concluding the summer by enjoying as much grilling and fresh tomatoes as possible. There was also something about a guy wearing an overhead light as a hat but we never did solve that mystery.

For a first course I took some roasted heirloom tomato and served them on toasted ciabatta with a slice of manchego and a drizzle of olive oil.

Salad took advantage of the last of the Hepworth Farm tomatoes, some more Lioni mozzarella, olive oil, and balsamic glaze over mixed greens and kale.

With the remaining pizza crusts left over from last night's pizza meal I made a broccoli rabe and pepperoni pizza and one simply with heirloom tomatoes from Connecticut.

I can't actually remember if I've had this beer yet but at any rate, I'm having it again. It's Brooklyn Brewery's Oktoberfest (spelled correctly this time). With Fall coming on Wednesday I've gotten a good jump on the 687 fall beers I have seen available this season.

And who knows what tomorrow will bring? My hope: something that actually goes with fall seasonal beer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pizza Transitions (Part 1)

This afternoon I took the grill up to 800 degrees, something I haven't done since I originally seasoned it for its first use. On that occasion it was unfortunate because I was supposed to only get it up to about 250 degrees. However, regulating heat in a wood burning grill can be challenging.

Today I was grilling pizza crusts to later be made into grilled pizzas in the oven. At this temperature the crusts will be nicely marked after approximately 11 seconds on each side. Even at that temperature

Tonight we had some very special dinner guests (who happen to really like pizza) and grilled pizza is one of the things we had not gotten around to yet this summer. Thanks to a very recent sale at a local grocery store I have come upon many jars of Rao's Marinara Sauce so I used that as a base with some Lioni Mozzarella, and basil from our incredible tiny basil plant in the kitchen. I also made some pepperoni pizzas with Primo Naturale pepperoni.

After a little red wine I broke out yet another fall beer, this one called Octoberfest (opting for the Americanized spelling) by Samuel Adams. It was pretty good. "Drinkable" I believe is the term beer people use to describe a beer that is not all that special but is something you can drink without grimacing. In that regard this was quite drinkable.

Then one of our dinner guests wore the ceiling lamp as a hat. And he didn't even have any of the Octoberfests! I'm not even sure who this guy was. Jen thought I invited him and I thought she invited him.

Would we ever find out who the mystery man was who wore our ceiling lamp as a hat?

To be continued . . .

Friday, September 17, 2010

Inspired by Grouper

As someone who has been known to frequently dabble in the kitchen and do a good amount of experimental cooking I am familiar with failure. I am also familiar with unintended success, that rare occasion where you create something so beautiful that you trick yourself into believing you are some sort of culinary genius.

There is a moment in cooking where you realize you are just creating something. No one is telling you how to do it. No one is giving you a recipe. Nothing is measured. You are just putting things together, completely improvising, and creating something new. Something new to you at any rate. It's much like playing music in that moment when you realize you don't need sheet music or instruction and you can play some sequence of notes that just sound right even though it's completely new and something you invented in that moment.

Then again, sometimes this leads to culinary disaster and great sadness.

Tonight I got a supremely beautiful piece of grouper. I don't know that I've ever cooked grouper at home. I can recall filleting it on a few occasions in sweaty kitchens but I don't really remember ever bringing any home. When I saw how beautiful this looked I had to take it home.

I was late in leaving work so I didn't get home until about 7:30 and had no idea what to do with this. After pouring through the fridge I decided to sear the fillet and finish it in the oven. In another pay I began cooking some Israeli couscous and tossed it with pepper, olive oil, chopped parsley and delicious tomatoes from everyone's favorite maggot-eating farmer.

In the pan I'd seared the grouper I threw in some butter, browned it slightly, then toasted some garlic and chopped parsley to make a brown butter. The parsley and garlic crisped up nicely and I poured it over the broiled grouper fillet when it was completed.

In the moment I was sure that this was the finest meal I'd ever made. It was perfect in the moment. The entire dish had nine ingredients, that's including the salt, pepper, olive oil, and butter.

I often enjoy the sport of buying one ingredient (grouper) and trying to work it into whatever is in the kitchen at home at the moment. What started as a lethargic and uninspired attempt at making something, anything, for dinner ended up as something truly beautiful.

What better way to add to this overly dramatized dinner than with a completely inappropriate beer pairing?

While in Vermont two weeks ago I picked up this Harvest Brown Ale from Long Trail Brewing Company, one of my all time favorite breweries. I'm fairly sure this would be among my father-in-law's favorite breweries based on their bear-themed labeling alone. They are in short demand in New York so I picked up their seasonal ale. It was extremely delicious, as has been my experience with all of their beers. It just wasn't really an appropriate match for this dish.

But that's okay because I don't really believe in wine or beer pairing. I think, much like spouting off nonsense about "cherry notes" and "hints of tobacco" that you can achieve much more promising results with these two simple phrases: "I like this," or "I don't like this." Following that same logic (depending on whether a drink falls into the first or the second category) go enjoy some Pinot Grigio with a ribeye steak or cabernet sauvignon with seafood pasta. Knock yourself out.

Now you are all graduates of Nate's Wine & Beer Tasting Academy. Now go out there and annoy your friends!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cool Air BBQ

With cold temperatures and passing thunderstorms my original intent to slow-grill tonight was thwarted. However, the ingredients were in and if that meant a roast was necessary for tonight's BBQ then so be it.

I started off by making some collard greens with bacon, salt pork, onion, lemon juice, and Worchestershire sauce.

Then I "made" some beans and franks by putting the two ingredients together. Not sure I can entirely take credit for that. I haven't really had beans and franks since I saw There's Something About Mary. I feel now that after thirteen years enough time has passed so that I can enjoy them again. And they were quite delicious.

I rubbed this sirloin tip steak with a dry rub and roasted it in the oven for a bit, serving it up with some FunniBonz BBQ sauce. Then I combined everything together with a baked potato and some cornbread.

Oktoberfest is a few days away but as I've stated there is an enormous wealth of fall-themed beers on the market and I need to get a move on to sample them all. For that reason I enjoyed tonight's makeshift barbecue with some Oktoberfest beer from Thomas Hooker Brewing Company.

For dessert Jen made a whiskey caramel sauce with sea salt and served it with fresh Bartlett pears from Boyer's Orchard.

This went fantastically with the season finale of Psych. This also coincides with our first full day of having no cable. We just happened to have this as the last show that was recorded on our TiVo. So we were able to get rid of two crappy things: TiVo and our cable that we never watch. The only thing that could have made this sweeter was this delicious pear caramel sauce.

Here's to savings and sticking it to TiVo and the cable company and reaping the benefits of Netflix Watch Instantly!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Devil is in the Details . . . and in the Sauce!

We still have two giant bags of assorted apples and pears from Boyer's Orchard and Cider Mill in Monkton, Vermont. They sit on our counter and dare us to do something with them before we are forced to merge them into some unholy pear-applesauce hybrid as a last ditch effort to salvage them. So far we have only worked our way partially through them.

Ah, the joys of going apple picking.

We did, however, slice up some of the Bartlett pear (now beautifully ripened and Macintosh apple to go with this salad of kale, endive, and beet greens with some of the Blue D'auvergne.

For the main course this evening I made some gnocchi with fra diavolo sauce. Fra diavolo is Italian for "Brother Devil." Like just about every Italian dish you find in America this is not actually Italian, but rather and Italian-American creation. It's a spicy tomato sauce made with white wine and chili peppers (or red pepper flakes).

Growing up as part of an Italian-American family I really didn't realize that just about everything we made was not actually Italian but rather some strange Americanized dish that was loosely (or not at all) based on a dish from Italy. It's too bad because this food is really, really good. While we never had fra diavolo growing up this pretty much fits in right in line with the good home-cooked Italian food we had growing up without crossing the line over into the Olive Garden "Italian" food that is prevalent particularly in the last few decades. Not that I have anything against Olive Garden, I just don't know what the heck it is.

As my Italian grandmother would say, "That's a-one a-spicy brother devil!"

As an accompaniment I opened a glass of the classic Italian wine: Malbec! Malbec grapes are fantastic for wine-making and primarily grown in mountains of the Italian Andes. That's why it has hints of black pepper, tobacco, and eggplant parmesan.

Mama mia!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Soup Gods are Beneficent Soup Gods

The timing for tonight's dinner was perfect in that the temperature suddenly dropped into the 50's. I had been worried earlier in the week when all the ingredients building up in the fridge would make a perfect seafood chowder because I hate eating soup when it's over 80 degrees out.

I guess the gods were smiling down on me. The soup gods!

For the chowder I rendered some salt pork and bacon. Then I cooked some onion, celery, red pepper, red potato, and corn. I used the leftover broth from Monday's clambake and a little milk which I thickened with some roux before adding fresh chopped dill to the pot.

In a separate pot I poached a little cod, salmon, shrimp, and scallop to add to the chowder when I served it. I also purchased some littlenecks which I foolishly left in the fridge and forgot to serve.

To go along with the chowder I made these drop biscuits with fresh dill.

It's always troubling to me to pair any sort of wine or beer with any kind of soup. It seems very unusual to me to accompany liquid food with a beverage. I'm not sure if that's just me or if there are others out there with similar hesitation. It's probably just me.

Starting in August this year I have seen more seasonal fall beers come out than I can ever recall in the past. My initial intention was to actually wait until fall to start trying them but as I realized that I probably wouldn't finish the reviews until well into the winter beer lineup I decided to just start up early on the fall beers.

I started with Harvest Moon, the latest from the moon-obsessed Blue Moon Brewing Company. They may win the prize for the most annoying alcohol website. Not only do they demand you enter your birthday (which I always list as November 11, 1911) but they also ask you to select your state from this tiny alphabetical list of two-letter state abbreviations. In case that wasn't enough of a deterrent to you actually using the site it also is rendered completely in Flash for an extra level of annoyance.

As for the beer it claims to be a pumpkin ale though I didn't really get that impression from tasting it. "Pumpkin" of course never means actual pumpkin, but in America always refers to anything with nutmeg, cloves, and allspice in it. I didn't pick up on much of that flavor but it was quite a tasty beer.

I can't wait until fall, I'm going to make a pumpkin pumpkin pie where I put extra cloves, allspice, and nutmeg into a pumpkin pie to give it a pumpkin flavor.

It's going to be revolutionary.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Big Fat Super Traditional Rosh Hashanah

Hey! Don't be a shmendrik! Instead, follow our blog!

Ah, Rosh Hashanah. It is fitting that I had today off of work and spent much of the afternoon blowing my shofar, much to the dismay of my neighbors. This is partly to alert the listeners to awaken from their sleep and await judgment but mostly to keep something about the holiday traditional as my dinners are generally far from it.

Traditional Rosh Hashanah feasts (and all Jewish feasts for that matter) center around a lot of food symbolism. In my youth I attended a hippie church where we learned about all customs of the world's major religions. However, in the past twenty-something years my retention of said knowledge has waned so I'm going to do my best to recall exactly what this meal meant through the symbolism it evokes.

We started off with the traditional round challah which we served with the non-traditional square butter. The roundness of the challah symbolizes God's coronation and the butter is symbolic of something you're not supposed to have for Rosh Hashanah but which, nonetheless, is quite delicious on challah. I think the raisins are symbolic of ants on a log, one of God's favorite snacks.

After Jen got home I put together a salad with some kale, beet greens, and endive. Over the top I put some cooked red and yellow beets, sliced fennel, and radishes. I was going to put some pistachios on it but nuts have the same number as sin (or something like that) so I decided to go nut free. Who likes sin, anyway? On top I crumbled some Blue D'Auvergne. I then squeezed some Meyere lemon and drizzled olive oil over the top.

I don't recall a lot of green salads in traditional Jewish feasts but, while nuts are often omitted from this particular feast, I used Meyer lemons as they are sweeter than regular lemons to symbolize a sweet start to the new year but still sour enough to remember all the jerks that tried to ruin last year.

Beets are supposed to symbolize the removal of your adversaries from the previous year. I don't really have any adversaries so I'll hope that this just means that I won't be bothered with hearing as much about Guy Fieri in the coming year.

For the main course I roasted a chicken along with some onions, fennel, and rainbow carrots from the farm in Connecticut. Toward the end I cut up and tossed in some apples which I tossed in cinnamon.

Apples, of course, are symbolic of the fact that apples come into season at this time of year.

For dessert I sliced up some honeycake, dipped some apples in honey, and served it with whipped cream.

The cream is symbolic of me not being a very observant Jew.

And there you have it! That, my friends, is how you celebrate a super-traditional Rosh Hashanah meal.

Next, I will show you how to decorate your prayer rug with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mama's Little Baby Loves Clambake, Clambake

We spent the weekend attending the wedding of some friends in Burlington, Vermont. While up there we were able to enjoy a lot of Vermont favorites. We were able to purchase many things you can purchase anywhere else in the United States but get them from the original source. We went to the original Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop which is just like every other Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop in the country but this is the original one! That means that you get the exact same ice cream but you get to wait in line for twenty minutes to do so. And that, my friends, is the key to authenticity.

At an apple orchard just outside of Burlington we were able to pick up some Cabot cheddar, again from the original source. This served as a snack on the way home and as a great accompaniment to some Granny Smith apple slices. There is nothing quite like Cabot cheddar purchased from a farm stand outside of Burlington, Vermont. So much more authentic than purchasing it from the Supermarket down the street.

Once we made it back to New York we picked up a variety of heirloom tomatoes to try to enjoy the end of the season. They were good but you can tell the peak is over. It's like those kids from high school who are now thirty and still go out to the same bar they went to when they were twenty-one and try to force the fun without admitting that their glory days are over.

Okay, it wasn't quite that sad.

All summer Jen and I have been talking about having a clambake. Having just returned to town there really wasn't enough time to rally up any guests to this clambake. So, instead, we opted to have what may be the smallest clambake of all time. We had a busy weekend so that was just fine with me. Jen spent the time I was preparing the clambake to fold and iron laundry while I spent the entire time singing Elvis's song "Clambake" from the album and movie of the same name.

Our clambake was almost exactly like the video above.

The hardest part of the clambake was finding a place, late on Labor Day afternoon, that was open and sold whole lobsters. I was able to find somewhere in Greenwich and the rest of the ingredients were easy to find: red potatoes, onion, corn on the cob, littleneck clams, and Italian sausage.

For beer we got this Circus Boy from Magic Hat which is a Hefeweizen that, for some reason, has lemongrass in it. Our hotel in Burlington was directly across the street from the Magic Hat Brewery which, from the outside, looks more like a Halloween store than a brewery. A Halloween store that also serves as a drop off spot for used tires.

For dessert we had some fresh berries on cream in a patriotic display of red, white, and blue. Unfortunately it was more symbolic of French patriotism but I just didn't have the time to do anything more American. Our flag is just too complicated.

We also enjoyed these chocolates from Lake Champlain Chocolates, something else you can get outside of Vermont but getting it close to the source is just that much more sweet.

My only regret is that we did not get to see Champy, the real monster that lives in Lake Champlain. In September of 2008, at our friends Paul and Caolan's wedding, I received maple sugar medallions commemorating the beast. Ever since that day I've dreamt of being able to see him, maybe even dive into the water and swim alongside him. Sadly that was not to be. On our way back on Sunday night I was able to stop by a friend's house and see Jupiter and four of its moons through a telescope.

That's the next best thing.