Monday, December 24, 2012

ceci bruschetta

 My friend Ronnie says he likes the short posts. Merry Christmas.

 I toyed with the idea of blowing up this dish a little. Not going to say how, because I still may and it'll be a future post. But it's a bruschetta. Toss some chickpeas and olives with some other stuff and put it on bread. I could make it sound complicated in some way. I guess I could have grown, dried and rehydrated the chickpeas. But I didn't. I opened a can. Like the recipe says.

Boom. Done.

Up next: braised short ribs

Friday, December 21, 2012

big eye tuna al tarocco

This was the first dish where I was at a decided disadvantage not being in Florida.

I ran through the ingredient list on this one, and was like, yeah, I want tuna for dinner tonight. Let's do this thing.

So I went to BlackSalt and picked up a beautiful hunk of tuna. Then I went to get everything else.

Shiitake. Done. Radicchio. In there. Mizuna. Got it.

Blood orange. Blood orange? Where's the blood orange?

Turns out that here, some citrus is seasonal. That never really happened in Florida.

So now I had a fairly expensive chunk of fish and most of the parts I needed to do the dish, but no blood orange.

Worse: The name of the dish is Big Eye Tuna al Tarocco. Guess what Tarocco is?

Blood orange.

So, I called everywhere, and was told I would not be likely to find a blood orange anywhere in D.C. for several months. So I bought an orange orange.

I thought I'd get smart and soak orange segments in Aperol, a digestif that has a bitter-citrus flavor and the color of blood orange.

That didn't really work.

So, technically, what I have here is Big Eye Tuna al Arancio. And for now, that's fine. 

Up next: ceci bruschetta

Monday, December 17, 2012

swordfish involtini

I was itching to cook something. It had been awhile. What was in the book that I was sort of eager to make, that had almost no chance of being bad and wouldn't require a ton of running around for ingredients.

Swordfish involtini.

Having a well-stocked kitchen, the only thing i needed to buy other than the fish was some olives. And that was only because it called for gaeta olives. I almost always have olives on hand, but not necessarily gaeta. I'm still not sure whether what I got were gaeta, but they were small, and they were olives. Done.

Involtini are just thin slices of fish that get rolled up with some bread crumbs. Then they get cooked in tomato sauce. (In the photo, it looks like I could've used more tomato sauce, but it seemed fine.)

About 20 minutes, and dinner's ready.

What's next?

Up next: big-eye tuna

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ziti with cauliflower

In prepping to cook through this book, I looked at all the dishes to assess which I might not be crazy about eating.

The dishes in the book include cow brain, stomach lining (internal and external), jellyfish, thymus glands, pig heads, raw lamb, lamb tongues and several species of liver.

Cool with all of that.

I was not looking forward to the cauliflower.

I hate cauliflower.

I try to reserve hating any foodstuff. But there is really nothing worse than cauliflower to me. From the first time I had it, so many years ago, it's something I have trouble swallowing. I tend to chew it and chew it and chew it until i realize the only reason I'm still chewing it is because I'm actually afraid to swallow it. And by then, it's even worse than when it started. And it started out bad. I try to avoid hyperbole when it comes to food, but I honestly have no idea how people eat that stuff.

The good news is, I love pasta. And I'm always willing to have my mind changed.

This dish called for dried pasta, so I didn't have to make it, which is good, because I don't have an extruder. (Though, if I had an extra $200 sitting around, I would be getting this.) So when I went to buy the pasta, I saw this on the shelf:

 I suspect that will work. (Yes, it was rigatoni, not ziti. They didn't have MB brand ziti. I made the call to go with rigatoni. And I'd do it again.)

Also, I saw cauliflower that was orange, and I saw cauliflower that was purple. Those are two of my favorite colors. If I'm unlikely to like it anyway, maybe getting a different color will help?

"It tastes exactly the same," the guy at the farmer's market tells me.

"Shut up and let me dream," I say to the guy at the farmer's market. In my head. Out loud, I just said, "OK, thanks, I'll take purple."

The dish couldn't be easier. Cook pasta. Saute cauliflower. Add some mint and chili peppers. Toss the pasta with the cauliflower. And the purple cauliflower looked really nice, I thought. And I love mint and chili peppers, so maybe …


I tried. I really, really tried. But I just kept chewing, and feeling the sulfur waft up through my olfactory lobe, and remembering all of the trauma of being forced to eat cauliflower with cheese sauce when I was 8. I could spare you the details, but no, you know what you signed up for when you opened this post: There was gag reflex.

Eventually, I started picking through and just eating the pasta, which was really good, especially when it had mint and chili and no cauliflower on it. Avoiding the cauliflower was really pretty easy, it turns out, because, well, it was purple. It stood out against the pasta. So in the end, the purple totally came through for me.

Up next: swordfish involtini

Monday, November 26, 2012

acorn squash sformato

In Florida, when I was trying to grow a bunch of stuff for this project, I tried to grow acorn squash for this dish. I got a couple of squashes that we roughly the size of acorns, but that was it.

So I got to D.C., and the climate here is more amenable to the possibility of growing such things. But I didn't get them started in time, and kicked myself a bit for it.

"Hey, I got some acorn squash in my CSA this week, and I have no idea what to do with it," Jeremy told me. "You want it?"

And that is the story about how I acquired pristine, organic, local acorn squash for this dish.

This dish was pretty reminiscent of the Sweet Pea Flan, a dish for which I did grow the marquee ingredient, against the best wishes of Mother Nature. I probably liked the pea version better. It tasted definitively of peas, where as this one more-or-less hinted at acorn squash. It was good. It was just hard not to make the comparison. 

Up next: ziti with cauliflower

Monday, November 19, 2012

spaghettini with spicy artichokes and lobster

It's not that this was a particularly easy one, nor that it didn't involve any terribly interesting process.

It involved dispatching a lobster in my kitchen, which I did before here.

It involved the basic tomato sauce, which I did before here.

It involved making the spicy artichokes, one of my favorite things now, which I did before here.

It involved mostly normal ingredients, though the pasta shape was a LITTLE outside the norm. Sort of somewhere between spaghetti and angel hair. I could have used either of those. But I got the right thing when I was at Eataly. 

In the end, it was lobster, artichokes and pasta. There was really no place for it to go wrong. 

Up next: acorn squash sformato

Thursday, November 15, 2012

plum and bay leaf soup

It was clear early on that this dish was going to be a search for marzemino dolce.

I could tell from the recipe that it was a wine. I could tell by the name it was sweet.

And I could tell from the reaction in every wine store where I asked for it that it might barely actually exist.

When the Babbo cookbook calls for a rare or otherwise hard to get ingredient, it tends to make general suggestions pointing you to an ingredient that you, as a mere mortal, can attain. In the recipe for for this soup, it doesn't so much suggest an alternative as hint to the family you're looking for.

"3/4 cup of marzemino dolce, a slightly sweet sparkling red dessert wine."

Sounds like I'd like it. So I was looking forward to it just to try the wine.

"You're not going to find that in a store," said my personal sommelier, Jeremy. "Not even one that sells wine. You might find it on the Internet."

So little faith.

I started this project almost two years ago now. In that time, every time I am in a store that sells wine, I look for marzemino dolce. Because every other ingredient in this recipe is easy, I figured once I found the wine, I could just knock it out.

Almost two years. No marzemino dolce. Most places had no idea what I was talking about. Some said they were unaware that there was such a thing as a dolce, implying that they were familiar with marzemino in its unsweet state. It is also possible they were lying.

So, on a recent trip, I decided to stop messing around. I was in Port Chester, N.Y., about to have lunch at Tarry Lodge, a restaurant in the Batali-Bastianich empire. Attached to the restaurant is a market and wine shop, which Pam quickly dubbed Little Eataly. I went into the wine shop and asked about marzemino dolce.

Morgan, who was working there that day, clearly knew exactly what marzemino dolce was, and knew exactly what the inventory was.

"We don't have that. I don't think we can get it."

Cool. It was almost like closure. I asked Morgan -- who will also feature prominently in a future post, if i ever actually cook the venison leg -- if he could suggest an alternative.

"I know it's sweet, and I know its sparkling. but I've never had it, so I'm not really sure what might be like it."

It's always refreshing when a wine guy has the confidence to say he doesn't know. It actually made me trust everything he said more.

We started talking about alternatives, but we had a trip into New York on our agenda, so I figured I could hold out until then. Surely, if anyone was going to have marzemino dolce, it would be Eataly.

"No, we don't have that," I was told by the guy at Eataly. It was at that moment that I officially gave up.
On the shelf was a bottle of Rosa Regale, a sweet sparkling red wine that I happen to know I like a lot, because I have been instrumental in emptying many bottles of it.

"Would that work?" I asked the guy at Eataly.

"Well, that's a brachetto, not a marzemino," he said, as if two sweet sparkling red wines could be really, really different. He didn't say no, but he definitely wasn't saying yes.

I pulled rank, and decided the answer was yes.

The rest of the recipe basically calls for plums and bay leaf to be cooked in a whole lot of simple syrup. Frankly, I wasn't sure how much flavor could possibly be imparted.

It was intense. There was a ton of plum flavor, and the bay just made it deeper. I was afraid the syrup was going to make it all too sweet, but didn't happen. The other flavors sort of pole-vaulted off the sweetness. Really good.

There was a sorbetto of vanilla yogurt that I managed to mess up. I ran it through my ice cream machine, but it never froze. So I kind of just hoped that the trip through the machine helped aerate it a little, and put it in the freezer. It tasted fine, but the texture was more like ice milk. And the recipe made a ton of sorbetto. I had cut the recipe in half, seeing that each serving was supposed to get three little scoops. I estimate I could have gotten 400 little scoops out of the halved recipe.

The book suggests pairing this with a moscato d'asti, which would probably be pretty good. But I still had most of a bottle of Rosa Regale sitting there, and it was open.

And then it was empty. Just like all the others. 

Up next: spaghettini with spicy artichokes and lobster

Thursday, October 11, 2012

an inadvertent surf and turf

I didn't make these two dishes together, but they were each made in unique opportunity situations: 

Joe's veal chop

This recipe calls for chanterelle mushrooms. I love chanterelles, but they are sort of like unicorns. I'm never really sure when of if I'm going to see them.

So when I saw a Facebook post from the 14th & U Farmers Market that Takoma Mushrooms was going to have them on a recent Saturday morning, I got on the train and picked up enough to make the dish. Then I went to the meat vendor next to them to pick up a choice veal chop.

They didn't have any.

No problem, I can find a veal chop somewhere else. I had just read a story in the Post about Stachowski Market in Georgetown. So I went over there fully expecting to find it.

"We just sold our last one, like 10 minutes ago," the guy behind the counter told me. He seemed to think it was humorous that he had had veal chops at the ready seemingly since the dawn of time, until 10 minutes before I came in asking for one. I found it less humorous.

Who knew it was going to be easier to get wild mushrooms than a piece of meat.

I went to Wagshal's, where I previously found sweetbreads, and, if I ever need it, rattlesnake and kangaroo. They had veal chops. 

The dish was good. The Campari sauce was a little strong for me, but I'm a wuss. I liked the mushrooms. And here is what the veal chop looked like when I was done: 

So, clearly, the sauce didn't slow me down too much.

Scallop crudo

The opportunity here was much less complicated. Pam was going to be out of town. I knew she would not want to eat this dish. She doesn't like scallops. She doesn't like raw things.

This dish was a raw scallop.

I have a personal policy that whenever I am eating something raw, I try to pay as much as possible for it. So for the scallops, I went to Balducci's, where I have found you can pay a whole lot for almost anything. 

This dish was all about the olive oil, really. I use good olive oil. So it was a good dish. I don't know that I've ever eaten raw scallop before, and it wasn't my favorite texture. But it tasted fine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

green fazzoletti with wild boar ragu

I did not bring my pasta maker with me from Florida. As much as I loved it, it was in a big box, and honestly required about seven hands to use it in any smooth fashion. So I gave it to my friend Lawrence, who I hope is making fresh pasta.

I did bring about a pound and a half of chunks of wild boar. That's a long story. Here it goes:

When I started this project, I planned to go all Omnivore's Dilemma and go kill a wild boar for this dish. I ran into a number of issue with that:

a) There are many places in Florida where you can just go kill wild boar. Don't need a license and there is no season when hunting on private land. So a lot of landowners set up businesses where they allow weekend warriors to come in and shoot boar. They will help you "track" them, and have dogs that will help in the process. They charge you to do this, and you pay them for the privilege of removing a nuisance animal from their property. Sounds like a scheme.

b) I haven't shot a gun since I was about 9. It was probably a really weak gun, possibly BB, and I remember thinking it broke my arm on recoil. I had two fears: First, that I wouldn't hit the animal. Second, that I would, but not in such a way that killed it, and it would get away injured, die in the woods in pain and haunt me forever.

c) I needed about a pound of meat. Seemed irresponsible to kill an animal for a pound of meat. I was pretty sure I would put the whole animal to good use. But for the immediate purpose, I needed a pound of meat.

So to address B, I asked my friend Ronnie, who shoots guns as part of his job sometimes, if he thought he could make a kill shot on a boar.

"Heckkkkkkkk yeah." There was much confidence.

Then another friend of mine told me that a lot of these ranches that let you come shoot boar are a little shady. Well, I don't know if shady is the right word. I was told a lot of them basically bait the field, take you to the spot, and tell you to shoot one. Like, it would be hard to miss hitting something. And that jibed with my Internet research on the ranches, which all but guarantee you'll be taking home a boar after a couple hours. That wasn't really how I wanted this to go down.

So I procrastinated.

Then one day, I got an e-mail from a co-worker asking if I could smoke a shoulder. Well, yeah, at the time, before I gave away all my grills, I could smoke a shoulder. It seems that a colleague of his had gone bow hunting over the weekend and taken a boar. He wanted some of it smoked, and offered to let me take a chunk of the smoked shoulder if I wanted.

"What I really want is about a pound of leftover chunks so I can make sausage," I told him.

That seemed to surprise him, but one day when I was at work, I was brought a boar shoulder and a bag of boar chunks.

Boar chunks
To some, it might be weird to have a cooler full of boar parts at their desk at work. But it surprised none of my colleagues that I did.

I smoked the shoulder and returned it, and the chunks ended up in my freezer, where I forgot about them for a couple of months. Then I found them when I was emptying the freezer. I briefly considered making this dish before I left, but I really needed to make that warm testa. Plus, by this time, I had given away the pasta machine.



Fast forward to recently, when I got the pasta rolling attachment for my Kitchen Aid. It was way more expensive than the little hand-cranky thing. But it's totally awesome, and best: can reasonably be used by people who only have two hands.

Seasoned ground boar chunks, aka sausage
The recipe calls for a ragu of boar sausage, so I turned my boar chunks into boar sausage with the addition of some sugar, salt, fennel, pepper and rosemary. After the browning stage, I already knew this recipe was going to work out well. 

I made the pasta, my first batch in about nine months. I triple-heart that attachment. Was soooooo much easier to use than the hand-crank. 


My pasta didn't turn out green. It was pasta-colored, with green spinach flecks. In the book, it is clearly green, like, the verdant flesh tone of a chick that Capt. Kirk might hook up with on Star Trek to prove some nebulous moral point to people in the '60s. Mine never made it there. Mine was of a flesh tone that never would have turned a head in any generation. But with green specks. Shrug. It was delicious.

Fazzoletti apparently translates to "face towels," which means that this pasta barely gets cut. it just goes in in big squares. I can do that. It might be my new favorite pasta shape.

Mario has the recipe posted on Facebook, if you're interested.

Up next: inadvertent surf and turf

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Pappardelle" Bolognese

Hmmmm, that photo hardly looks like pappardelle Bolognese. …

And I quote from the headnote in the recipe for pappardelle Bolognese in the Babbo cookbook:

"Purists first pooh-poohed the idea of dressing pappardelle with what is perhaps Italy's best-known and loved ragu, claiming that the cooks of Bologna would pair this sauce with nothing but tagliatelle. They were actually correct, but since it was my kitchen, and I love pappardelle, I prevailed."

I like lasagna. And I was in my kitchen. So I prevailed. 

I started out making the Bolognese, which is one of the recipes that I've been looking forward to because a friend who is a Bolognese fan and says she rarely has a good one really liked the one at Babbo. And I trust her opinion.

The recipe says it serves 6-8 people, and the headnote says sauce recipe will make enough for leftovers beyond that. So I did the logical thing, and doubled the recipe. I was making lasagna for about 12 people, and I still wanted leftovers.

(The recipe is here, via Epicurious and not precisely as it appears in the book. In the book, there is no butter, more olive oil and no beef. And this online recipe calls for, well, tagliatelle.)

So after making the sauce, I went to put together the lasagna in my lasagna pan, which is from Mario's collection, and it huge. And is made of cast iron, so it weighs a ton. I filled it to brimming with pasta and sauce and cheese, and when I was done, I weighed the pan.

It was 23 pounds. Granted, about half of that was the pan, but, let's just concede the 12 pounds of cast iron. I had a lasagna that was into double digits.

I have rarely been more proud.

My strategy of making more than enough sauce worked, and the leftover sauce made it into the freezer to be thawed and dispatched at a future date, when I need to dress some sort of pasta.

Possibly pappardelle. Or maybe tagliatelle. 

Up next: Green fazzoletti

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

warm testa with potatoes

Warning: This post comes with recognizable pig parts. If you knew the pig we're dealing with here, it might end up being somewhat upsetting.

Or, if you have an unnatural attraction to the movie Babe, this might not be the post for you.

There will be some photos in here that will make it exceedingly clear that it's a pig we're dealing with. Even moreso than when I wrote about the foot.

OK, did that clear everyone who's not interested?

You were warned.

There was a little bit of irony involved when I went to Nature Delivered in Brooksville, Fla., to buy a half a pig. One of the reasons I went to a farm was because I knew I was going to need a pig head to do this recipe. They hardly ever have those at Whole Foods.

But the process by which my pig was dispatched meant that I couldn't have the head of that pig. At the time, the farm did field kills for people buying pigs for personal use, or USDA plant kills for commercial. I was told the plant kills were more stressful on the animal because they don't want to travel. And if we did the plant kill, I couldn't witness, which was part of why I was doing it. I wanted to better understand my place in the food chain by watching the consequences of it.

But the field kill process they had there at the time leaves the head with a certain degree of, um, lead poisoning. Tends to leave it a bit inedible.

But Rebecca Krassnoski, who raised my pig, told me she would save the next noggin from a USDA processed pig for me.

That wasn't the last issue.

The recipe for Warm Testa with Potatoes in the Babbo cookbook technically calls for a half of a pig's head.

"You can't really have half of one," Rebecca said, struggling to figure out how to explain what was really pretty obvious. "It doesn't really work that way."

So I was going to get a whole pig's head. I would have to figure out how to deal with that.

I figured I had two options: I could double the recipe. Or, I could look in some of my other cookbooks and see if I could find another recipe that called for a half a pig's head.

You laugh. I have several.

When I read David Chang's recipe for pig's head torchon, I was struck by a couple of things. First, it called for a half a pig's head. That seemed like exactly as much as I needed to figure out what to do with. Second, aside from some minor spicing differences, the actual cooking of the head was almost exactly the same as Mario describes in his recipe. (In retrospect, that isn't really all that surprising. There are only so many ways to get the meat off a skull.)

In a perfect world, I would have picked up the star ingredient the day I was going to make it. But I needed to pick it up the day it was available. (That it happened in a parking lot in Pasco County is something you'll have to write your own joke about. I've been very careful with my wording on the subject.) Anyway, I was unable to cook it immediately, so it went into the freezer for awhile. When it came out, this is what it looked like, and this is what I've been warning you about:

Rebecca, if you remember this pig's name, please do not tell anyone.

The head went into the largest pot that I had at the time, a 32-quart turkey frying pot. It was covered with water and joined by some aromatics. This picture makes it look like there is still a chance it could be saved:

Alas, it was in there for about three hours.

I started making this at about 10 p.m. that night. The chivalrous explanation for that is that I didn't want to subject Pam to the carnage. And it worked out that way, so that's the official story. But the truth is, this happened just a few days before I moved to D.C., and that was literally the only time I could do this. It was a busy couple of weeks. Well, it was a busy several months, but those couple of weeks were insane.

Some of the stuff I had in the freezer made the trip up with me. But here's the thing. This head weighed 25 pounds, and took up a lot of room in our auxiliary freezer in Florida. In D.C., we don't have an auxiliary freezer. We barely have the one. So I was up until 4 in the morning doing this dish because I had to, or it was never going to happen.

OK, so the pig visage sat in the cauldron for three hours. Done, right? Ha! At that point, after letting it cool, now somewhere on the order of 2 a.m., it was time to start pulling the meat off the face. It harkened back to Biology II in Mr. Mabie's class as I extracted muscle after muscle after muscle. Neither recipe specifically called for the brain, so I didn't have to cut the skull in half, which was good because by that point I had already given away all my saws. Well, I still had a Dremel, and you can do anything with one of those, but I didn't think of it at the time. I did yank the tongue out, though. From the neck end. It was late.

It wasn't pretty work. I'm sure if you've done it before, you're calling me names and exclaiming how it's no big deal. But for me, it was a lot of yanking and pulling at greasy, cartilage-y, collagen-y gunk. Chang goes into way more detail on how to do this than Mario does, which was helpful. He explained that you want to avoid the glands, and that there is "good fat" that you want to keep, implying that there is bad that you don't. When I write a horror movie screenplay, there will be a scene inspired by this experience.

When it was over, here was what I was left with:

A 25-pound pig head, reduced to 2 pounds of meat. Well, mostly meat.

Oh, there was also the skull, of course.

For the Babbo dish, the meat gets put in a small loaf pan with some of the cooking liquid, which is so full of gelatin by now that it could support the weight of a small island nation. Then it gets refrigerated until it sets up. At which point we have head cheese!

For the Momofuku dish, it's a little more complicated. First, you lay down some plastic wrap. (Frankly, I wish I had covered the whole kitchen in plastic wrap before I started.) On top of the plastic wrap, you lay out some fat and skin to form a thin layer. Then meat goes on top of that. That looks like this: 

Then it's rolled tight in the plastic wrap and refrigerated to let its gelatin do its thing.

Then I went to bed. It was after 4 at that point.

The next day, the log is cut into discs, breaded and fried.

Chang has a recipe for spicy mustard and pickled cherries to go with the torchon, which I'm sure is delicious and all, but I was trying to empty my kitchen, not add to it. I had some Dijon and some cherry preserves. I mixed them up to make a cherry-mustard sauce to go with the pork. It worked out. 

The Babbo head cheese gets served with a quick potato salad and pickled onions. 

I took both dishes over to my pal Laura's house. I had strong questions about how much I would like either dish, so of course, the first thing I did was take it to a food critic. Both dishes were fine. I didn't love either. It was a texture thing. A lot of meaty bits suspended in goo. It's a thing, I know, I just couldn't love it. I gave the bulk of the Babbo dish to my friend Alan. I felt confident if anyone I knew would be into it, it was him. He said he liked it. So I was glad that the effort was appreciated.

The ultimate measure of how much I like something is usually: Would I make it again. And the answer is, to almost a certainty, no. Mostly because I gave away that 32-quart turkey frying pot.

To Alan, I think.

Up next: "papparadelle" bolognese

Friday, August 10, 2012

duck braciole with favas and pecorino

I nearly missed the window on this dish.

I thought I had done all the fava-related dishes last spring, but as I was flipping through, I saw this and realized I had missed one. So I planned to make this dish when I started seeing favas in the farmers markets a few months ago.

Then I forgot.

Then there was a recipe I was supposed to test for work that called for fresh favas, so I figured if i could find them, I'd knock this dish out with that one. I had already picked up the duck legs from a farmers market, and had them sitting in the freezer.

So, what we have here is a lesson in shopping out of season.

After looking around long enough, I found favas at an Asian market in Virginia. I bought four pounds, which, after shelling and peeling, netted me 2 cups (the process and travails of which can be read here). Most of the beans were bigger than I would want them to be, and a lot of the pods seemed a bit woody. The dish calls for the favas to basically be raw, cooked only long enough to get the individual beans peeled. So I was a little nervous.

The duck, on the other hand, was beautiful. Got it from Pecan Meadows Farms at the 14th & U farmers market. The dish calls for the leg quarters to be deboned. I once deboned a pig's foot, and that took about an hour. The first duck leg took about 10 minutes, but that was with stopping to wash my hands and take photos about three times during the process, chronicled here:

The whole leg.

The meat pulled back from the thigh bone.

The meat pulled most of the way off the drumstick.

The boneless meat beside the meatless bone. Ta-da.
For the other three legs, I took no photos, and had them all done in about 10 minutes altogether. So there's a lesson about taking pictures while you're deboning fatty animal parts. (Also, there's way more meat in a duck leg than a pig foot, but that's another story.

The flimsy duck leg gets stuffed with bread crumbs spiked with citrus zest, herbs and olive oil. Then tied to maintain their shape, and roasted.

Tied to maintain their shape.

Tied to maintain their shape.

I couldn't find my twine. Why I couldn't find my twine, I have no idea. My kitchen is tiny. There is nowhere to hide. I know I have twine. But I couldn't find it. (Update: I have since found it. It was right where I left it.)

"Eh, I'll just roll them up and put the seam side down. It'll be fine," I thought to myself.

As the legs were roasting, I could see they were not maintaining their shape (maybe they needed to be tied?), the meat and skin contracting so that what once looked like a duck leg now sort of looked like a baseball with a little nubbin on the end.

Oh well.

The other thing I noticed was that the legs had given off so much fat in the roasting process that they were nearly submerged in a jacuzzi of their own bubbling oil. They weren't roasting, so much as they were frying in duck fat.

Let me restate that last sentence to properly convey my reaction to the events:

They weren't roasting, so much as they were frying! In duck fat!

So in the end, my dish looked almost nothing like the photo in the book. And I don't care, because it was delicious. The duck skin was as crispy as I've ever made duck skin. And the stuffing, which was now sort of a crust after the leg basically turned itself inside out in the cooking process, possibly because it hadn't been tied to maintain its shape, was crunchy and citrusy.

The favas, as I suspected, were not very good, through no fault of the recipe. But that was a minor point next to the success of the duck.

Up next: Cover your eyes, it might be time for the warm testa.

Monday, August 6, 2012

catching up

Sometimes, there is no drama. Sometimes, I just go to the store, and everything i need is just there. Sometimes, there is no process that I've never dealt with before. 

These are a few of those stories. Very, very short stories. (And there will be more.): 

rigatoni with five lilies

This one was easy. Pretty much everything I need for this dish is available at any supermarket.

The five lilies refer to all the onions in the dish. There are Vidalia, red, leek, scallion, garlic and chives. Wait … that's six.

Pretty sure they are all alliums, so I'm not sure which one isn't getting credit in the title.

Either way, totally up my alley, caramelize the Vidalias, then sauté everything else and toss it with some big pasta. 

chocolate and valpolicella crema

Easy one: This is basically a thick, rich … really thick, really rich … chocolate pudding, flavored with red wine. Bulletproof.

I had a little bit of trouble finding valpolicella. Well, until I asked at Mazzaro's. Then I had to pick from one of the 4-5 kinds they had. I should really ask about stuff more often.

One thing: The recipe says it serves 8-12. I made 9 servings, and no one … no one … was able to even eat half. And not because it wasn't delicious. It was probably the best pudding I've ever had. Just. Soooooo. Rich.

tomato bruschetta

Easy one: You just have to have good tomatoes. If you do, this will be awesome. If you don't, it can only be as good as the tomatoes.

I got good tomatoes from a roadside stand. They were great. And I got bread at Mazzaro's. So that worked out, too.

The cheese is cacio di roma, a semi-firm sheep's milk cheese. I haven't seen it around here, but I found it at Whole Foods while I was in Miami. I suspect if I looked hard enough around here, I could have found it, but it jumped out at me in Miami. Let this be a lesson to you: Always travel with a cooler.

* Note: These were all made -- and written -- before I left Florida. So that explains some of the references.

Up next: duck braciole

Thursday, July 26, 2012

fennel-dusted sweetbreads

Well, doesn't that look attractive.

No, no, that's not brains, though it sort of looks like it might be, right? It is veal sweetbreads, which, as the punch line goes, is neither sweet nor bread.

(And there are still brains left to be cooked. We'll get there.)

This was an opportunity buy. I was at Wagshal's Market because I heard it was a cool meat shop, and I wanted to see if they had anything that was on my hard-to-find list. They had rattlesnake, but that isn't in the book. All of the traditional meats behind the counter looked good, but all i really wanted was to get something -- anything -- that got me a little out of my comfort zone.

The directions for the sweetbreads include blanching them for 10 minutes, then peeling off its membrane. Mmmm. Membrane. That's outside the comfort zone.

On the door of the freezer case at Wagshal's, it listed some of the items inside. Other than the rattlesnake, the only thing that jumped out at me was the sweetbreads. I thought it was possible that I could get sweetbreads from a meat vendor at a farmers market, but I was willing to consider buying it here if they were local. So I asked where the sweetbreads came from.

"I'm not totally sure," he told me, "but I think from right around here." He was gesturing toward the side of his neck.

In a completely literal sense, he was right. Sweetbreads are a gland in the neck of a cow. I was glad he knew that, but it wasn't what I meant.

"I meant, where was the cow from?"

"Oh. They come from a farm between here and Baltimore."


So I blanched them. And I peeled the membrane. And I learned that blanched sweetbreads smell like farts. Yes, it was definitely the sweetbreads. The next step was to soak them in cold water until ready to cook, and that seemed like an excellent idea at that point. 

The rest of the dish goes together fast. There is bacon. There is a dressing made of quince paste. There are vinegar-y onions. There are fennel fronds.

The sweetbreads are then broken up into lobes -- mmmmmm, lobes -- and dredged in flour that's spiked with ground fennel seed. I actually didn't have any fennel seeds, but rather than run over to the supermarket, I grabbed what I did have, which was fennel pollen. For those not familiar with fennel hierarchy, that's what they call "an upgrade."

The dusted sweetbreads get a quick sauté and stacked with all the other stuff mentioned earlier. 

Suddenly, it looks way better, right? 

It's an organ meat, so it has that organ-meat texture. But it's also basically fried. So it also has that texture. And it has bacon. And the quince vinaigrette. Where we're going is, even for someone generally not crazy about the texture of organ meat, there is so much good going on here, that it's a really good dish.

I've had sweetbreads a few times, and the first several times I kind of had to turn my brain off to what it was before I could eat it, but I've always thought they were good. I did that again with this dish, multiplied by the fact that I was handling them raw for the first time, but I would totally make this again.

And it turns out, sweetbreads are everywhere here. After I made this dish, I saw them at Whole Foods. Who knew?

Up next: catching up/quick hits

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

bigne with honey mousse and red currants

This dish was so epic, only a guest appearance on the Washington Post All We Can Eat blog could handle it. Click here to read it!

Up next: fennel-dusted sweetbreads. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

pumpkin cake with olive oil gelato

The hardest part about this recipe was explaining to everyone at the table that they were about to eat olive oil gelato. Not that it was hard to persuade them to do it, they just hadn't heard of it and might not have totally believed that there was olive oil in there. Which is funny, because that's pretty much the story in the headnote to the recipe in the book: The same thing happened with the staff and guests at Babbo when this dessert was introduced.

But once you taste, it all makes sense. If you use good olive oil. I do.

The pumpkin in the cake comes from a can, so that was pretty easy to find. The cake gets a little bit of rosemary, which turns up in a couple of desserts in the book, and is just fine. Plus, the cake is garnished with raisins that are soaked in booze.

I diverged from the recipe a little. In the picture, the individual cakes are square. Mine were round. Shrug.

Up next: Bigne and the hunt for the elusive red currant

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

asparagus with duck egg

Some dishes require a lot of planning, strategizing and shopping. This one didn't.

I was at the farmer's market at 14th Street & U, and the first vendor I saw had duck eggs. The second vendor I saw had asparagus.

I knew there was a recipe in the book in which those were the two main ingredients. So I bought them and hoped that I could easily acquire the other ingredients to knock this dish out.

Here are the other ingredients: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Olive oil. Salt. Pepper. So, I only had to go to my kitchen to acquire the other ingredients.

In the picture, it looks like the asparagus are miniature. They weren't. It was part that the egg was big and part that the photo was from a weird angle, I suspect. And the egg sort of looks overcooked. It wasn't. I briefly put the lid on the skillet to encourage the white to set a little. There was just more white covering the yolk than I ever might have imagined. When I broke the yolk, it became a rich sauce for the asparagus. As intended.

Maybe I should've done video.

Up next: pumpkin cake with olive oil gelato

Thursday, June 14, 2012

grilled pork chops with peaches; scallion barlotta

Pork chops. Probably the easiest thing in the book for me to get ahold of and cook, right? So why did I drive two hours -- twice -- to get them?

I met the pig first.

After dinner at the Refinery in Tampa one night, chef Greg Baker and I were talking about where to get good pork. He told me that they were getting theirs from a small farmer in Brooksville and gave me her name.

I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to buy at that point. Initially, I thought I'd get all the pork pieces I needed for the book, and maybe a couple other things to play with. But then I started exchanging e-mails with Rebecca Krassnoski of Nature Delivered in Brooksville.

She sent me a "cut list," which I didn't really know what to do with. I studied it, and thought that maybe it was like an order form. Turns out, that wasn't what it was. It was more like instructions to the butcher on how to break the animal down. When it came to the "order form," there were only really three choices: 1/4, 1/2 or whole. Meaning, that was how much of a pig you were buying. The rest came down to how it got cut up.

So, the process by which the pig went from a pen in Brooksville to my freezer in Clearwater (and the final parts made the trip to Washington and are in my tiny freezer here) will be chronicled elsewhere one day. Suffice to say, I was there for its final moments, and I went back a couple days later when it was broken down and wrapped up for me to take home. For the purposes of this dish, I pulled four thick, pink, gorgeous pork chops out of the freezer. They get brined in a sugar-salt water for several hours and then hit the grill. I like it when a recipe ends up with things hitting the grill.

The peaches get grilled briefly, then hit with some balsamic vinegar. Better than applesauce.

Notice how the pork chops seem to have tails? That's all in the butchery. What it is is a little chuck of pork belly hanging off the end of the rib. So, basically, there was bacon hanging off the pork chop. They should cut all pork chops that way.

The recipe calls for broccoli rabe as a contorni, which I previously made for the osso buco. I made it again, but I also made the scallion barlotta as a contorni. I'm a fan of barley. Scallions, however, are pretty much a nice garnish to me, and this was a dish that they starred, so not my favorite.

The pork chops were amazing. The texture and the flavor of the meat -- it had flavor -- was like tasting pork for the first time. It made me less interested in ever buying meat at the supermarket again. It was so good, I don't know if it even needed the brining, but it didn't hurt, I'm sure.

Up next: asparagus with duck egg