Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Tomato's Ripe. They're So Perky, I Love That!

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Last year I made M.L.T.s (Mutton Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches) with our leftover Easter lamb. I did this for two reasons: 1) I always wanted to make this since seeing The Princess Bride in the theater and hearing Miracle Max talk about how M.L.T.s are the greatest thing in the world, and 2) Actually I lied. That was the only reason.

I wanted to do this again this year since, apparently, this is a new tradition akin to hot turkey sandwiches after Thanksgiving.

M.L.T. (Mutton, Lettuce, and Tomato) With Bacon

This year I sliced up the roast lamb and served it on rosemary bread with mayonnaise, fresh rosemary, sliced tomato, spring greens, and rendered bacon. I drizzled some of the rendered bacon fat over the top and served it with some julienned Yukon Gold potato fries.

Exclusive Belgian Ales - 6 Different Living Beers

My parents, when coming to visit for Easter, had come not only with wine and scalloped potatoes but with a variety pack of Belgian ales from Van Steenberge. This is because my parents are the best parents.

The beers are advertised as "living beers" which means nothing more than that they are bottled with additional yeast and sugar in the bottle before final packaging. I didn't really understand why that was such a big deal.

Augustijin at 8:19 PM

I decided to go with the Augustijin because it was somewhere in the middle of the pack for alcohol percentage at about 8%. It also helped that it looked like it could be the name of a villain that might battle Goku.

The beer, as you can see, was a bit foamy. I poured this one quite carefully but it was still not really drinkable. I decided to eat my dinner while the foam subsided.

Augustijin at 8:26 PM

After seven minutes the foam had subsided but not really as much as I'd hoped. I decided to just drink anyway and deal with a foam-covered nose. The Augustijin was very good.

I now have a finer appreciation for the term 'living beer.'

Lemon Curd with Blueberries, Pavlova, and Yogurt

For dessert I served up some of the leftover lemon curd from Easter's pavlova with the remaining crushed pavlova crumbs, yogurt, and blueberries. As far as desserts go this was somewhat healthy. Besides we had a very small portion because somehow we were full.

I blame it on the gas that had been pumped into our bellies courtesy of some sneaky Belgian monks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hippity, Hoppity, Pavlova's On Its Way

Today started with Jen in the kitchen preparing a traditional Easter food. Well, traditional for her. I hadn't actually had this food until I met her and we happened to spend an Easter together.

Hot Cross Buns

That food is hot cross buns. My parents came by and joined us for just in time for this traditional Easter food. They'd never had hot cross buns until today so I had them beat by about eight or nine years. I'm not exactly sure why we never had them. According to Wikipedia there are a number of superstitions surrounding the hot cross buns. These include the following:

  • Buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year.
  • They should be kept for medicinal purposes.
  • A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover.
    Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be" is said at the time.
  • Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten.
  • If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.
I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of any of these claims.
Pavlova Mix
Jen spent the afternoon getting to work on her dessert for tonight: berry pavlova. This included beating some egg whites to a glossy firm peak while hiding behind the bowl for safety from my aggressive picture taking.
Yogurt Marinated Lamb
While she was working on her dessert I was working on flipping the leg of lamb in the yogurt marinade I made with some yogurt, olive oil, white wine, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
Easter Cheese Plate
It started raining just in time for me to get the grill going which seems to be a common theme early into this year's grilling season. Another theme: me not giving a damn and grilling anyway. While I grilled I came in and out of the house to enjoy this cheese plate made with Fromage D'Affinois, Ascutney Mountain from Jasper Hill Farm, and Sottocenere al tartufo. The theme tying all these cheeses together is, of course, that they're all produced in the Northern Hemisphere. That's my new rule for making cheese plates. The cheeses must be all from the same hemisphere. You have can't just throw any old cheeses together. You need a theme!
Roasted Easter Vegetables
While the lamb from Pine Hill Farm in the Genesee Valley was on the grill I worked on roasted spring onions, celery, fennel, carrots, and radishes with some garlic and fresh rosemary.
Grilled Yogurt-Marinated Leg of Lamb
After searing the marinated lamb on the grill I threw it to one side and allowed it to roast for a bit. I had pierced the skin and inserted rosemary and garlic cloves before marinating it for most of the day in the yogurt. The result was pretty good though I wish I'd had an automated spit for more even roasting. Yeah, I don't have a spit. Don't complain to me about the trials in your life. I have real problems.
Scalloped Potatoes
My mother brought some scalloped potatoes that she'd made following the America's Test Kitchen guidelines. This meant that they were swimming in heavy cream and, therefore, delicious.
For drink Jen and Mom finished up the Decoy Cabernet from the other night while me and Dad had this Gnomegang from Ommegang. While my parents had brought me a six pack sampler of Belgian ales (because they are the best parents) I thought the Gnomegang would be more Easter appropriate. Why? Well, a Gnome is an imaginary creature (unless you are that guy on YouTube that has personal relationships with gnomes and elves) just like the Easter bunny! Oh no. I've said too much.
Berry Pavlova
After baking her pavlova shells (if that's what you call them) Jen made this pavlova sandwich (if you can call it that) with some whipped cream, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries.
Berry Lemon Curd Pavlova
She made another with only lemon curd, blueberries, and blackberries. There was much debate over which one was more delicious.
Easter Family Pictures

Overall this was a fantastic Easter dinner. Aside from the pouring rain and the fact that maybe a cat may have fallen into the creek by our house I'd say this may be the best Easter ever.

Next year I'm going to dive in and save the cat. That would be the only way to top today.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Buttered Noodles, Roman Style!

The other night Jen and I went to a really nice restaurant and had a fantastic meal. We both felt compelled to order what they were calling Spaghetti, Roman-Style. It was simple: spaghetti cooked with butter, garlic, and Parmigiano. Sometimes that just hits the spot. However, we couldn't bring ourselves to order it much for the same reason I never order the chicken entree at a restaurant. I don't think I'd forgive myself if I used up this experience to order what essentially amounted to buttered noodles.

Besides the price tag was $25. For an extra $5 you could get the seared ahi tuna entree. The owner of that restaurant must get text alerts on his phone sent to him whenever anyone orders the Spaghetti, Roman-Style. I can imagine him smiling as receives the text, lighting a cigar with a $100 bill and telling his mistress, "One entree closer to getting that new gold-plated helicopter."

Buttered Noodles, Roman Style

Jen always refers to this dish as "buttered noodles." This is why she is not a successful restaurateur. She could only get $12 at the most with a dish of that name. This also happens to be one of Jen's favorite meals in the entire world. Since we weren't able to have it at the restaurant we had been craving this dish ever since Friday night.

Benedetto Cavalieri Spaghettine

Tonight I decided to give in to that craving. I had also given into this craving last night by making cappelini with olive oil, butter, crushed garlic, fried parsley, cappelini, salt, and pepper. It was such a hit I decided to do the same tonight replacing the cappelini with this spaghettine.

While the pasta was cooking I crushed the garlic, cooked it in butter and olive oil, threw in the parsley to fry it. I really kicked this dish up a notch by adding some tomatoes that I'd peeled and seeded. This is just another example of my culinary ingenuity. Tomatoes with pasta! How do I come up with this stuff?

Campari and Soda

Given the fake Roman nature of our meal I decided to start us off with a refreshing Campari and soda. Having never been to Rome I just assume this is the kind of thing they drink before they have their Roman style spaghetti.

When in Rome! Maybe! I imagine!

Decoy Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

For wine I really killed the mood by introducing a wine from Napa Valley. I'm sure I should have served a nice Montepulciano or Sangiovese but that is so trite. Besides I didn't have any of either of those. I did have this lovely cabernet sauvignon from Decoy Wines that some lovely soul had given me for Christmas this past year. It may not have been Italian but it did have a handsome mallard on it and it was was fantastic.

Truth be told I would have liked the wine even if it wasn't very good just for the mallard. It reminds me of a painted wooden mallard my mother had when I was a young child. The mallard has always been a favorite duck of mine for that reason. It always reminds me of home and of youth.

Although I may just be imagining the part about the wooden mallard.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mandelbrot Set

Last year I had a hilarious idea for a food-related Passover joke. It could be argued I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish law and tradition. However, that doesn't ever seem to stop me from knowing just enough about their holidays to completely ruin them when I try to emulate them. This would be more disheartening only if I put any actual effort into it.

So, last year, my "hilarious" idea never came to fruition. For the more than a year (thanks to the wild and crazy schedules of biblical holidays) this container of matzo cake meal has been sitting in my cabinet. Each time I open the cupboard door it mocks me with a reminder of my failures of the previous Pesach.

What's that? You're curious as to what this "hilarious" idea was. It's quite simple.

I was going to make some mandelbrot but I was going to make it in the shape of a Mandelbrot Set. There were a number of problems with this idea. 1.) It turns out that they don't sell cookie cutters in the shape of a Mandelbrot Set, 2.) It's difficult to cut this shape free form, 3.) It turns out that mandelbrot is not named after mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot, and 4.) This was an incredibly stupid idea.

Instead I was forced to make my set in a slightly different way.

I started by making this batter using sugar, butter, and eggs then folding in the matzo meal and cornstarch. There are a few problems with this. Traditionally you are supposed to use margarine in the recipe. I chose to ignore that step since margarine has no place in any cooking or baking. Generally when I see the work margarine in a recipe I immediately look for a new recipe but since this was a kosher item I didn't hold it against the recipe writer.

I also used cornstarch in place of potato starch because who has potato starch just lying around?

I split the batter into three segments. To one I added pistachio nut paste and chopped pistachios. To another I added chocolate chips and peanut butter. The the last segment I added chopped almonds, dried cherries, and sour cherry preserves.

I baked them in the oven for about 50 minutes then sliced them and served them. Traditionally I think you're supposed to slice them and then bake them again to make them hard like biscotti. Since I really don't like biscotti (or really any crunch cookie) I opted to just bake, slice, and serve. Coincidentally this is how I do my biscotti as well. Technically I guess it's uniscotti.

Baked only once but twice as delicious!

So there you have it. I arrived at my mandelbrot set after all. It wasn't how I originally intended it but at the very least I will no longer have that container of matzo meal in the cupboard constantly reminding me of the previous year's failure.

Hilarious, I tell you!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Don't Passover THIS Seder!

Uh oh! Today was the 15th day of the month of Nisan. You know what that means? That's right, it's time for another episode of . . .

Jen & Nate's Wildly Bastardized Jewish Holiday Meals!

It seems like every year I work late on Passover and come have less than an hour to make a seder dinner. Luckily we aren't particularly observant Jews. Some would argue that we aren't Jewish at all. So that makes it a little easier given the fact that we don't need to observe many rules other than the one where just have some dinner.

I started off by making charoset with some Gala apples, pistachio, Marcona almonds, honey, cinnamon, red wine, and ginger. I only got to let it marinate for about 35 seconds before plopping it onto a plate with some radish greens.

For a salad I used some red leaf, radish greens, and mixed baby greens. I steamed some white asparagus and served it with smoked salmon, shredded horseradish, salt, pepper, and a citrus dill aioli made with lemon, grapefruit juice, and cider vinegar. I garnished the plate with some halved kumquats which seemed to go well with the citrus dressing though they shocked Jen to the very core with their internal tartness.

I had purchased a veal shoulder to braise for tonight's meal, however, given the 45 minutes allotted for preparation I didn't feel this was adequate time to braise. So, cutting further into my time, I stopped in a at a store on my way home and picked up a veal loin chop with seared and roasted up in less than 15 minutes. I topped it with a gremolata I made out of shopped parsley, lemon zest, and shredded horseradish.

In the same pan with the veal loin I also roasted some garlic, carrot, yellow carrot from the Union Square Greenmarket, radishes, fennel, and shallots.

I also had to stop at the wine store to pick up a kosher wine. It's extremely important to have a kosher wine, particularly when you're as observant about tradition and authenticity as I am with all of my Passover preparations.

It's traditional to have four glasses of wine for Passover to symbolize the Pharoah's four evil decrees. All I can remember is the year that I had four glasses of Manischewitz. The only thing evil about the that particular seder were the curses I was muttering under my breath the following morning.

This year we opted to have four glasses between the two of us which was more than sufficient. However, how were we to cap off this meal? What dessert could follow this?

Oh, my friends, I'm afraid that will have to wait until tomorrow.


To be continued . . .

Sunday, April 17, 2011

International Burger Banquet

There isn't much that conjures up culinary sadness quite like the words "burger banquet." It just reminds me of the worst of mid-90's food trend when everyone was doing things like that. That and baked potato bars. Oh, baked potato bars.

The only thing that could be more 90's would be opening an Asian fusion restaurant with a name like "Green Ginger" or simply "Galangal."

Sometimes, however, I feel compelled to recall these terrible moments of American food trend history with a thematic meal. Last night was such a night. Unfortunately because of the rain I had to postpone this stupid idea until tonight. I wasn't really in any mood to do it tonight, actually, but given the fact that the ingredients were on hand I did it anyway.

The theme of the night: fake American ethnic foods! What better way than to start with a trio of salads representing different ethnic cuisines? Well, that is to say the American version of different ethnic cuisines. I like to call this "Applebee's Ethnic."

No dinner is complete without a Mexican or Southwestern, or Spanish themed item. It's hard to tell which it is at this point. Maybe it's even Tex Mex. All I know is that for this first salad I combined tomato, avocado, red onion, cilantro, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, olive oil, lime juice, and tequila. Because you can't have a Spanitexmexicasouthwestern meal with tequila and lime!

For the second salad a Greek theme! That's right, that means spinach and feta are featured prominently. I also served this salad with lemon, olive oil, and honey drizzled over the top.

The third salad was American style so that means bacon, blue cheese, and ranch dressing over mixed spring greens.

The burgers were made to match the salads. I started off with a salsa burger with cotija cheese and lime. The second burger was a spinach feta burger with sliced green olives on top. The third was a bacon blue cheese burger.

I'd have made matching desserts but I was already tired of this concept by the time I was done making the salads. Besides I didn't feel like making flan, baklava, AND an over-sized cheesecake this afternoon.

Instead I served this all up with a single tall glass of Hennepin from Ommegang. Apparently Hennepin is named after father Hennepin who discovered Niagara Falls. Strangely the falls were not named after him and, instead, he has some state park in Minnesota named after him.

He may have been screwed out of being named after North America's most famous waterfall but some of that terrible oversight has been repaid in naming this fantastic beer after him.

Truth be told, I'd rather have a beer named after me than a waterfall.

Don't go chasing Hennepins.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hot Buttered Sole

Today we had the great plan to make hamburgers. Oh how glorious it would be as we started up the grill and, in the early month of April, enjoyed our first burgers of the season.

First, we needed to stop in at the Macy's in Stamford because Jen thought this would be a good idea despite my cries of protest.

When we got to Macy's I was struck with the architecture. I'd seen this place somewhere before.

Unfortunately this particular Macy's was no Sandcrawler. It could have benefited from the merchandizing prowess of the Jawas.

After that disappointing retail experience we returned home to turn our leftover bread and cheese into some sandwiches with some leftover basil pesto.

A sudden and violent rain storm kicked in. That meant a change in plans. We had a good friend coming over with her two-year-old son. Since I pretty much know everything about what kids like I put out a kid's favorite: Midnight Moon goat cheese!

For dinner I cooked some spring onions, shallots, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and ramps with olive oil and butter. I served these over some sole that I cooked lightly in garlic, olive oil, butter, parsley, and the worst white wine on planet Earth. I had made the mistake of purchasing two bottles of this terrible French white wine because it was an incredible deal. That is if you can consider a virtually undrinkable wine a deal. I hesitated to even use this wine to cook with but it didn't completely ruin dinner. At least I don't think it did.

As an accompaniment I boiled some Yukon Gold and red bliss potatoes, mashed them with some butter and olive oil then sprinkled them with truffle salt.

Basic wine knowledge would tell you that the best accompaniment for sole would be a Reisling or a nice white wine from the Chablis region of France. Given that the terrible white wine was the only white wine we had at all I had to go with the next closest thing to a Chablis, this Grenache from Tarpena Spanish Wines.

The two-year-old also enjoyed this as an accompaniment. Kids love red wine almost as much as they like ramps. Don't worry, we only gave him two glasses of the wine. We're not barbarians.

For dessert Jen made a strawberry and rhubarb pie. One of Jen's favorite things to do is purchase a bunch of rhubarb with big plans to use it then to let it stay in the fridge for two weeks until it's as limp as a wet noodle. Then often for another two weeks when it was like a mushy wet noodle that smells a little funny. This time, thanks to my tenacious reminders, Jen was able to use up this batch when it was only at the wet noodle phase (of the unsmelly variety).

With a little vanilla ice cream the warm strawberry rhubarb pie was delightful. It probably would have been a better follow up to some grilled burgers but such is the trouble with planning a grilling event in mid April. Strawberry rhubarb pie is not your traditional dessert for cold rainy nights. But you know what? Toddlers go wild for it!

I'm the greatest baby chef in the world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beer Braised Lentils and Bears on a Rampage

About a month ago I had purchased what I thought was a large amount of thickly sliced bacon. Tonight I decided to finally use it. When I opened the package I discovered that it was, in fact, very thickly sliced bacon. In other words it was just one 3" slab of bacon. I had intended to take a few strips to render for tonight's dinner but instead I hacked it up into large cubes which, when dealing with bacon, is even more preferable.

As I tried to figure out what to make for dinner I poured myself this Pollenator from Long Trail Brewing Co. When I saw the label depicting a bear riding a giant bee I thought that this beer was a no brainer. I'm not quite sure how the sunflower on the label could nap while this bear was flying around wreaking havoc on what appears to by an idyllic flower garden.

My friends with allergies may find this beer a bit of a turn off. Indeed I felt my nose tingle a little at the yellow label but as I looked at the bear who was spraying what appeared to be DDT it occurred to me that those flowers were not sleeping. Those flowers were dead!

After coming to terms with what the bear had done I began rendering the bacon with some olive oil and butter. After it had crisped up I tossed in some diced onion, celery, garlic cloves, and sweet potato. Once that had stewed down I added some lentils I'd cooked and a bottle of the Pollenator and allowed this mixture to braise. I seasoned it up with some smoked paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, and a dash of hot sauce. Right before serving I tossed it with some fresh spinach.

The result was a very nice hot lentil dish on a cold rainy night. Still, as comforting as this meal was it was hard to get over what this bear had done. Then I finally realized something.

This is why the bees are dying!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lazy Sunday, Part 2: The Grilled Grouper Gambit

Sunday's dinner was exceptionally easy to put together. This was mostly because of the fact that I had put way too much charcoal on the grill on Saturday night. Because the grill was roaring at 600 degrees Jen reminded me that it would be wasteful not to take full advantage of it. So it was that I tossed on some extra vegetables and a nice piece of grouper in preparation for Sunday's dinner.

This turned out to be a boon. Mostly because our late afternoon start to making three varieties of Girl Scout Cookies had left me precious little time to actually make anything for dinner. I finished the grill-marked grouper in the oven. I cooked up some finely chopped onion with butter then tossed in some arborio rice, sherry, and some water before adding the remaining grilled vegetables from Saturday night's pasta. I finished the risotto with a little Parmigiano-Reggiano and served the grilled and roasted grouper on top with a quick mix of butter and basil pesto melted over the top.

For a drink I poured this Old Speckled Hen from Morland Brewing. This reminded me of a nicer version of the crappy English ales I used to drink in my early 20s. Perhaps that is why it says "Fine English Ale" right there on the ale instead of all those beers I used to drink that said "Crappy English Ale" on them.

Take that as a keen observation from a beer lover: avoid beers that announce their crappiness right on the label. The life it saves just might be your own.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lazy Sunday, Part 1: Girl Scout Cookies

The other day Jen and I were talking about how we didn't know any girl scouts. This was unfortunate because it meant we had no access to their cookies. Last year there was a troop of them who had set up shop outside our nearby train station learning the important art of how to be a shyster. This year they must have done new demographic research and found better areas in which to teach eight-year-olds how to sell snake oil to an unsuspecting public.

This got us to thinking: why not make our own girl scout cookies? It can't be that hard to do. And think of the savings!

Girl Scout Cookie Tip #1: It turns out that it costs approximately ten times as much money to make girl scout cookies from scratch.

We were able to track down a few recipes for the cookies online. Most of them start out with a basic shortbread as pictured here.

Cutting out the cookies is probably easier if you have an actual cookie cutter instead of using the screw cap from a spice container and a wine stopper.

Yesterday, while buying the necessary ingredients, we needed some peppermint oil to make the thin mints. We were sure we purchased it, but somehow when we got home it was not in our bag or on our receipt. I suspect it was overlooked during the forty-minute stay in the laundry detergent aisle to find the perfect scent. This meant I had to walk and drive all over town and go to four different stores to find someone that sold peppermint oil.

Girl Scout Cookie Tip #2: For best results start the baking process before 3:00 PM.

We made three types of cookies: Tagalongs, Samoas, and Thin Mints. All of them required being dipped in melted chocolate. I think it is safe to say that on an average day we keep a much larger supply of chocolate chips than your average folks. Generally we like to keep at least 3 full bags at all times just in case some sort of baking project may sneak up on us. Even so today's project completely cleaned us out.

Girl Scout Cookie Tip #3: Be prepared to use up hundreds of pounds of chocolate, most of which has dirtied just about every surface of your kitchen.

The recipes we made were a little too large. We ended up making over 100 cookies in the end. This became very challenging in that we started to run out of pans and tables to put them on. Since all of them have to be laid flat for the chocolate to set this means every available bit of workspace in your kitchen will be covered in messy, dripping, chocolate-coated cookies.

Girl Scout Cookie Tip #4: Consider renting a kitchen or buying an extra ten or twelve cookie sheets before attempting to make these cookies at home.

In the end, after several hours of baking, we had eaten enough scraps of shortbread cookies, chocolate, and caramel coconut mix, we weren't really in the mood to actually eat any of the cookies. Instead we just quickly made dinner and ignored the piles and piles of cooking chocolate-dipped cookies covering every available surface of our apartment.

Girl Scout Cookie Tip #5: Just buy some damn Girl Scout Cookies.

To be continued . . .




Thin Mints