Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh no! Not again! (zucchini)

The first time it happens, it can be attributed to naivete and excused. But the second time it happens the only conclusion can be 'you are a fool.' And so it is; this fool once again ended up with a gigantic zucchini (this time weighing in at a whopping 4.5+ lbs!).

Sleeves were rolled up, brows were furrowed, and squash was shredded; we had a long day of cooking ahead of us.

You may remember the whole wheat chocolate cake from last time... it was so stunning it made a delicious comeback.

French-inspired vegetable tarts were constructed (using up an eggplant from our CSA haul)

A multitude of tomatoes were cooked down with onions and zucchini and made into breakfast tortilla scrambles

and a lovely whole-wheat bread (that kind of looks like a pushing in face!) was baked.

And in the realm of 'normal' zucchini bread, this lovely tea cake was the natural result.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pig Liver (not for faint of heart)

No witty headline here; this is pictorial of blood and guts. This was also my first foray, EVER, into the world of liver (and one from a pig, to boot!).

When you buy half a pig you get a lot of parts. Shoulders, Boston Butts* (actually, shoulders), Hams, loins, chops, sausage, bacon, and a hybrid-monster loin-roast-thingy. But you also get liver and trotters.

Cursory research on the interwebs yields that pig liver is stronger in flavor but very tender. However due to the assumed infrequency of consumption I couldn't find good or consistent information on prepping or preparing. So I made a complete leap of faith. I heard (somewhere) that the liver should be soaked in milk, and after reading a number of recipes online I decided to stick with something that was going to have a sauce to help this 'strong flavored' meat go down.

So I went with the Brits and went with this recipe from the good food channel, trusting my instincts that a fricassee with a beer reduction sauce was probably going to fit the bill.

After acquiring some quintessentially British ingredients (Colmans mustard powder and St Peters English Ale)

And after letting the chopped liver soak in milk for just over an hour (note the lovely pink hue from the blood!)

And after finding that my scale can handle metric (thank goodness!)

I was ready to move ahead.

Above is the dredged liver bits in the flour and a side of fresh mustard made from the Colmans powder; just in case I needed extra help in swallowing this down!

The liver was fried (note how dark it is; I think that from the butter browning... definitely a point for improvement in the future)

In goes the beer

And it's set on a plate with toast and mesclun salad. Now, for the first bite!

It's good! It's REALLY GOOD! It's beefy and tender and its...


Hmmmm, what's that after taste?

Ahhhhh yes. Blood. A rush of memories from my youth of bloody noses came flooding back to me.

This liver was tender. This preparation (*despite over-darkening the fricassee, perhaps due to the butter) was fantastic. This flavor was top notch. But... the blood.

So I hereby turn in my honorary vampire card (I could never stay up late enough for the parties, anyway) and am left to wonder how I could come so close to awesome yet be left with something that was eventually inedible. This is a situation where I really need to stand on the shoulders of giants to get a baby-step analysis of what I did wrong. Did I not prep the liver properly? Did I not soak the liver for long enough in the milk? I haven't given up pig liver forever but I will not attempt to prepare it again, all by my lonesome.

At least I had extra beer to "cleanse my palate", as it were!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

And for my last act...

My cheese excursions come to a close with my final shipment from Cowgirl Creamery.

This months box had Montgomery's Cheddar from Manor Farm - North Cadbury, Somerset, England. A rich and full flavored farmhouse cheddar that would work equally well on a cheese board or in the middle of a grilled cheese sandwich on home made bread.

Next comes a Comte Reserve des Granges from France. This is my first comte and it's quite something. It reminded me of a gruyere but with less bite and less 'stink' (for lack of a better term). This is a smooth and delicate cheese; I think I would eat it as-is or with apples (something that won't lose the delicate creaminess of the cheese).

And finally, Sierra Mountain Tomme from La Clarine Farm in CA. This one poses the biggest conundrum. Almost before biting into it, it comes on like a baby-swiss. Then you get a hint of goat, then you find a nice dryness on the palate. The very center pate almost tastes of pure, soft milk. The pate closer to the edges brings on a wonderful grass/herby flavor. There is a lot going on with this cheese an I'd love to treat it right! If I come up with any additional uses aside from slicing and savoring, you know I'll post about it here.

If you have any advice for Tomme or Comte uses beyond the cheese board... I'm all ears!

Also included is the latest swag from my CSA. Carrots, Zuchs, Cucumber, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, leek. Not pictured: A purple cabbage and about a million ears of corn (read: 12. But that's a lot for two people). Last time was Silver Queen, this week it's Bi-Color (my favorite). For dinner last night we had corn and beer (we don't eat very heavy on the nights that we work out). The corn had a little home made roasted garlic butter. It's from the Weber Big Book of grilling and intended to adorn a steak. As such it has a lot of Worcestershire in it. But this allows you to just rub a little bit of butter on your grilled ear of corn and have flavor that doesn't over power or over butter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the cheese recipe...

Now that I'm done wrestling with my computer and camera we return to our regularly scheduled cheese-out.

The July shipment from Cowgirl Creamery was the "Red, White and Blue" collection.

The blue was Smokey Blue from Rogue Creamery. Cold-smoked over hazelnut shells, this blue cheese had the distinct taste of bacon. And that is just fantastic.

The white was Carmody from Bellwether Farms. This is a butter bonanza.

And for red? Why, Cowgirl Creamery's own RED HAWK. A washed rind soft ripened cheese that can stink with the power of a thousand suns.

To illustrate, a digression on how the cheeses are packaged and shipped to me.

They are placed in a thick, styrofoam box (with an ice pack to maintain freshness), which is taped shut; sealed all the way around the seam, then a cross of tape for good measure. That box is then placed in yet another box (also sealed) and shipped to me.
And you could smell the Red Hawk 'goodness' from the outer-most box. That, my friends, is power.

The odor is an indicator of quality; this cheese is absolutely delicious. Hands down, no question. Creamy center, supple pate near the rind, and a pungent rind. The whole effect has a wonderful egg-like taste to it. But even wrapped in paper and double zip-locked it threatens to take over your fridge.

So the *plan* was to do a gratin; cook four slices of bacon crisp, cook onion in the bacon, slice some yukon gold potatoes, slice the Red Hawk cheese (slice when cold, then allow to come up in temp), make two layers of all of the above, add a bit of cream and bake.

However I never actually quite made it to the execution stage. Didn't have potatoes at first, then no cream, then no bacon. So what happened to the Red Hawk?

I ate it. As pictured up top it was paired with a homemade bun (with a nice onion taste) and beer. Now if you do a cursory web search you'll see that some recommend pairing Red Hawk with champagne. Sounds like a good idea, but I think it shows a roadblock in most people's thinking. Wine and Cheese, wine and cheese, wine and cheese. In Laura Werlins book every chapter has a "wine and cheese" pairing section. However for the stronger cheeses and the lighter cheeses, she basically says "These don't pair very well. Use caution." Well, how about a crisp pilsner?

In the case of the Red Hawk it's an almost perfect match. Perhaps in the same way that the effervescence of the champagne helps the clean the palate the carbonation of the beer does the same (Insert "champagne of beers" joke, I can't bring myself to do it!). There is no competition of flavors here and if anything a cleansing sip of the pilsner prepares your mouth for the full joy of the next piece of cheese.

So maybe this is kind of a cheese recipe; good bread, good cheese, good beer.

/Side note: Presidente is hands down my favorite pilsner/"Lawnmower"-style beer (better than Heineken, Red Stripe, Pilsner Urquelle, etc. etc. etc.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I was hoping to continue the "cooking with cheese" theme and include a gratin made with a pungent washed rind cheese, however I still haven't done it yet. :( Hopefully this weekend? I'll keep you posted (provided that the cheese keeps!).

So our talk turns seasonal, to that subject of tomatoes. As evidenced by Ruhlman's extension of the BLT challenge this has been a hard/late year for tomatoes. But I'm finally firing on all cylinders and the Baby Girls are producing in force (Why yes, I do have all hybrids planted).

This reminds me of a fantastic recipe that uses two pounds of cherry tomatoes to make an excellent roasted tomato sauce. Even if you don't have your own garden any one you know who does is probably getting swamped now; and an offer to take two pounds off their hands will be viewed as a blessing!

An important modification about this recipe: Cooks Illustrated has you making this in March with off-season tomatoes. And you are welcome to eat that way. But if you are going to use in-season, at their peak cherry tomatoes I suggest you absolutely lay off the sugar. You don't need it.

Eat 'em while they're fresh!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cooking with "fancy" goat cheese

As the name suggests I took a wonderfully creamy chevre from Cypress Grove that is 'delicately dusted with lavender and fennel pollen' and threw it into a taco. But soft; allow me to explain!

Rick Bayless has a version of this recipe in his Mexican Everyday book (major difference, in The Everyday Book he recommends using bacon grease to cook with) and it's like the Mr. Potato Head of meals. Don't have Chard? Kale, Collards or Spinach will do! Don't have bacon grease/vegetarian? Use some kind of oil. No chicken broth on hand? Use vegetable broth or just water. No Queso Fresco? Shoot, use any fresh cheese that melts well to decently-well and has some kind of tang to it (salt, or otherwise). Shoot, I've even used ricotta (mixed with a very litttle bit of goat chevre) and it works great! And in lieu of salsa I just hit mine with a few drops of Cholula. And it's a satisfying meal. Oh, and it's quick to make on a week night. THIS RECIPE CANNOT BE STOPPED.

I made this recipe once with a very very mild local chevre and I have to say... I was disappointed. But then again, I have the palate of a gourmand and if flavors are too delicate they can get lost on me. So I think you can see where I'm going with this.

The Cypress Grove purple haze is dynamite. It absolutely explodes with intention and doesn't even need a cracker. Could it compete?

We started with some Chard from the back yard

Cooked some onion in bacon fat (I think those are garlic scapes in there, too!)

Added chard, chicken broth, and salt:

covered, and wilted for a few minutes, and then we get to the cheese. As a precaution, I had some cotija (a fine fresh cheese with a good melting character and a bit of salt to the taste) for the second taco in case the first didn't work out

And then they were assembled

Oh yeah, I added a few jalapenos. Just because. And even with all that flavor and heat, all those strong components, this cheese not only stood up but blew the doors off. If I had this in a restaurant (You know, if I *went* to restaurants anymore!) it would have been a revelation.

In conclusion: those fancy cheeses that have depth, character, and second/third/fourth order flavors to them? They bring their magic to the other foods they touch, too! Get brave, and get mixing!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The gift that keeps on giving

As a birthday surprise my wife gave me the best gift possible; three months of Cowgirl Creamery's cheese of the month.

As expected, the cheeses are fantastic. Cabot cloth-bound is a wonderful cheddar that has an almost mustardy after-taste. Great Hill blue is a rich, luscious, raw-milk blue. And the Purple Haze chevre is a creamy goat with lavendar and fennel.

But this isn't just about getting great cheese shipped straight to my door. The smartest thing the Cowgirls did? In the first shipment they also included a book: Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials.

"Oh... uhm... GREAT!" you feign, unconvincingly. "A two-hundred and fifty page book! Full of... lists. And minute details. And... wait. Is that HOMEWORK at the end of each chapter?!"

This book is the real thing. Are you completely scared when you step to the 'specialty' cheese section, searching for that one cheese your recipe calls for, that the person behind the counter will notice you and ask "May I help you?"

Maybe your not that meek but perhaps the only thing you do with a Roquefort is to pair it with crackers, or perhaps a baguette if you're feeling saucy!

If you don't want to read, you can just enjoy the cheeses as-is. No sweat. The book has some nice photographs in it, as well. But if you're into the nitty gritty details of things you can get as much out of this book as you put into it.

The biggest thing I've gotten out of the book is some of the fundamentals of the seven classes of cheese (Fresh, soft ripe, surface ripe, semi hard, hard, blue, and washed rind (of course this was from memory!)) but more importantly their major qualities and how to best showcase them with food and in recipes.

Also I felt like a champ when I did get the "May I help you?" from behind the cheese display and was able to say "Yes. I'm looking for Brick cheese. It's from Wisconsin." And was met with wide-eyed terror from the other side of the counter! (Rookies... *sigh*)

Now the blue cheese was eaten straight through, I think without crackers, in a few days time. But this deep cheddar was paired with a lovely millers bran bread (the likes of which you've seen before) for perhaps the most 'grown up' grilled cheese you may have had. But what about the chevre? Well, I've got to save something for tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

[Insert witty beet/beat homophone joke here]

One thing I've neglected to mention over the past few weeks is the status of my CSA share. We've actually done a really stellar job of keeping up with the incoming vegetables. The only problems we've had have been cucumbers. We had a plan for them (pickles) but they went soft too quickly.

The grand majority of the vegetables are pretty easy to deal with but beets tend to be one tough nut to crack. Even stewing in South Asian spices (a la Madhur Jaffrey) still leaves me wanting (but if you have success with the linked recipe, let me know!).

My wife came up with the plan to use them to make pasta. Seems like a great idea! In the past when we've made lemon pasta or pumpkin pasta we've noted that there isn't a very strong flavor imbued by the new component but it frequently gives you a great color. Then you can use it as you would any regular , fresh pasta.

However here's where the caveat comes into play. Some people have a sense of dough (like Smilla has a sense of snow) but I am not one of these people. It's been at least five months since I'd last made pasta. Also, new additives to a basic pasta recipe (semolina flour, egg, water?) throw off your moisture profile and it's up to you to put the balance back in favor. But if you don't have a sense of dough and you've haven't made it recently...

It doesn't mean things will lead to disaster. But it does mean you will think "This sheet of dough is fine!" when in reality it will be a tacky mess once you extrude/cut some fettucine and desperately try to peel the strands apart.

Also, making a gigantic batch 'seems' like a really good idea (especially if your earlier efforts aren't going to have the right moisture balance) but it is a very easy way to get burnt out on making pasta. Thus, you don't make it for five months. And forget how the dough should feel. And enter back into the vicious cycle again!

In the end, things turned out fine and I now have extra frozen fettucine at the ready. But next time I will not tackle more than I can handle at once, and I will perfect my moisture balance; one delicious handful at a time.

Lessons Learned
Making pasta should not be hard. If it is, you're doing it wrong and there is a good chance your moisture balance is off. Work in small batches while you are perfecting your technique; don't bite off more than you can chew.