Not made of Buster

January 26, 2010

I love my local farmers market. Not only are there fruit and veggie purveyors, but we can also get eggs, bread, cheese, meats and seafood. And all lovingly raised and sold to you by the same people every week who will ask how you liked last weeks ground goat meat, or do the same weird rubber band trick with a carton of eggs. (Yes, egg man, I'm talking about you.) But back to seafood: one time the guy had a LIVE EEL in a bucket with a sign that said "I'm Buster. I bite." Ha! I did not try to pet Buster. I also did not take him home to eat. In fact, I think I may have shrieked a little. But I do like that fisherman's oysters. Fresh, briney, salty, slimy, yum.

I should think about changing the name of this blog to Miss Fried-in-Cornmeal Hands, because surprise! my favorite way to eat these oysters is to coat them in cornmeal, fry 'em, shove them in a hot dog bun, and top with a liberal dash of chipotle hot sauce. Aka - the oyster po' boy.

Oyster Po' Boys, adapted from Gourmet October 2001
Serves 2

1 pint fresh shucked oysters
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle powder (if you don't have this, use 1/8 teaspoon cayenne)
6 cups vegetable oil
2 hot dog buns*
chipotle hot sauce, to taste

Begin heating the vegetable oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium high heat. When it gets to a temperature of 375 degrees, you're ready to fry.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg and milk together in a medium bowl. Combine the cornmeal, salt, pepper, and chipotle (or cayenne) in a second bowl. Oysters first take a dip in the egg and milk, then on to the cornmeal. Keep them on a plate until the oil is hot.

Fry the oysters in batches of about 6-10 at a time - don't crowd the pot. They'll take about 1-2 minutes to get brown and crispy. When they are all fried, shove as many as you can in each hot dog bun, and sprinkle with hot sauce as you please. If you have more oysters than will fit in each bun, just snack on them on their own. Or make yourself another sandwich. : )

*Did you know that in New England, hot dog buns are split on the top, as opposed to the side, like in the rest of America? As a matter of fact, if you live with an ex-New Englander, that person might insist on purchasing split-top hot dog buns in mass quantities when they do become available.

A big pile of New England

January 22, 2010

Ok, so sometimes things taste WAY more delicious than they look. Hmm, can I think of an example? Finger tapping against pursed lips... Oh, yes - how about the photo at our left? I mean, this dish is AH-mazing, really one of my favorites, but it kind of looks like a third grader threw up on a piece of bread. Just to deconstruct it a little for you - we've got a thick slice of bread, topped with a piece of pan-seared cod, and then smothered with a chunky clam-chowder broth. And yes, those are pieces of bacon. Which my pescetarian brethren could leave out. In addition to the delish factor, this plate also has freez-a-bility going for it. When my husband and I make it, we make the entire clam chowder portion, but only cook two pieces of cod. Pop the leftover chowder in the freezer, and then you can just thaw it, sear up a couple more pieces of cod - and you've got a REALLY great, warming dinner in like 15 minutes.
Just a brief parenthetical word on bacon: I urge you to try the black forest bacon from the meat case at Whole Foods. Delicious.

Seared Cod and Clam Chowder on Bread, adapted from The Mist Grill: Rustic Cooking from Vermont*
Serves 4

6 pieces of bacon, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
3 small red-skinned potatoes, well-scrubbed and diced (keep the skin on)
1 quart clam juice (I've also used fish stock with good success)
2 cups milk
2 small cans of chopped clams (you'll use the whole thing, so don't drain them)
4 cod fillets (whatever portion size works for you)
4 thick slices of bread

In a heavy dutch oven or soup pot, cook the diced bacon over medium heat until brown and crispy. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Keep about a tablespoon or two of the bacon drippings in the pot. Cook the celery, carrot, onion, red pepper and potato until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Pour in the clam juice and simmer for 20 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary. Stir in the clams (with their juice) and milk and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. Put the bacon back in the pot, and season to taste with salt and pepper. The cookbook notes: the chowder is not meant to be thick, but rather more brothlike. Sage advice - thanks cookbook!

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Once you've stirred in the clams and milk in the broth construction above, you are about ready to start these steps. In a heavy, ovenproof pan (have I mentioned my love of cast iron recently?), melt a tablespoon or so of butter over medium-high heat. Season the cod with salt and pepper. Once the butter stops foaming, but before it burns, add the cod fillets. Sear until the first side is golden brown. Turn them over, and then pop the skillet in the oven, cooking until the fish flakes easily with a fork - about 6 minutes.

To serve, put a piece of bread in each of four bowls. Top with a cod fillet, and then ladle the chowder broth on top. Note: The bread will soak up lots of the broth and get soft. This is supposed to happen.

*Apparently, the restaurant closed five years ago, and the cookbook is out of print. Ha! (I mean, I'm sad for them and all, but it's funny-ironic a little, right?)

That's what she said

January 21, 2010

I am not much of a baker. Mostly this is because I hate measuring - I'm more of an eyeballer. And since I usually prefer to stuff myself to capacity with dinner and then have a tiny bite of something sweet an hour later, I don't really want to have baked goods just sitting around because I'll never eat them. But for special occasions I'll whip out the measuring spoons - but only if its brainlessly easy. Which is why this originally fell into my repetoire. Add in the fact that it is SO SO GOOD, and bam - we have a winner! In fact, its known around our house as Chocolate Orgasm Cake.

Spicy Chocolate Orgasm Cake, adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2002
Serves 4
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper (or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick salted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 oz. dark chocolate chunks

Stir the flour, cocoa powder, hot pepper and baking powder together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Spoon the batter equally into four small ramekins and divide the mini-chocolate chunks on top. Cover with plastic wrap and let the cakes chill for at least an hour in the fridge. (This is when you can eat dinner.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the cakes stand at room temperature for a few minutes, then bake for 12-15 minutes. Let them cool for 5 minutes, then serve warm. They'll be puffed, warm and deliciously gooey in the middle.

Oh, the Pete's I've known

January 20, 2010

Okay, so by beer of the week, I actually meant, sometimes I will write a beer review.

I have had the good fortune to know many wonderful Pete's in my life. First, there was my Uncle Pete. Technically, he was my dad's uncle, the husband of my grandmother's sister. (I know, you totally read this blog for the family tree, right?) Affectionately known as Buggo, he loved to sit in his chair and watch Western movies and never failed to make everyone around him laugh with a (sometimes delightfully tiny-bit off-color) joke. Everyone loved Uncle Pete.

The next Pete who came into my life was not a human, but a joke, told by my dad:

Dad: Pete and Repeat are sitting on a bench. Pete fell off and who was left?
4 year old me: RePete!
Dad: Pete and Repeat are sitting on a bench, Pete fell off and who was left?
4yom: ReRete!

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, until I was crying and my sides hurt from laughing so hard. I couldn't understand WHY on EARTH, when I said ReRete (a name that seemed like the formal of Pete, kind of like RuPaul) it caused my dad to say the first part again. (In other words, I was not yet familiar with the definition of "repeat.") And if there's anything hilarious to a small child, it's repitition.

And that brings me to the final Pete I know well (omg, I really hope I'm not leaving out a close, intimate Pete) - my friend who covets the ranch dressing hose. He's kind, generous, loves food and drink in large quantities, and his biggest joy in life seems to be helping people move. He has also made me laugh until my sides hurt.

So, I guess that's the thing with Petes. They make you laugh. Which is why I was so disappointed in the Peter's Brand beer pictured above. It did not make me laugh. Or even smile. It did remind me of something one would drink at a flip-cup table - and flip cup can be fun.

Peter's Brand, by United Export Brewery
Pluses: It comes in 16 oz. cans, which is a nice size. Nice head, neutral smell. Available cheaply at Trader Joe's.
Minuses: Tastes like bitter Busch Light. I wanted to like it. But I didn't.

Recommendation: If you're throwing a beer blowout for someone named Pete - IT WOULD BE PERFECT. Otherwise, eh, pass.

We had a little lamb

January 16, 2010

I used to love watching Crossing Jordan on Sunday nights. Her dad had the best accent! But he was usually in hiding because I think he was kind of a shady character. People were always trying to kill him, and then Jordan would try and rescue him by going out to the pier alone at night. Oh Jordan. She never learned. Once she fell down an abandoned mine shaft that started filling up with water. And she was a medical examiner! It made no sense - which was why it was so awesome. A couple times NBC (who I'm totally mad at right now - Team Conan!) did a Crossing Jordan/Las Vegas crossover. Which I never watched. Well, I watched the Jordan parts, but not when Jordan was on Las Vegas. Anyway, so now I'm doing a crossover with my friend Emily, who has a delightful blog called Wild and Crazy Pearl. She and her superfun sister Rebecca came over for dinner - which had to be scheduled a month in advance because they are both very cool and know lots of people and are always doing fun things (I, on the other hand, am not cool, know only 12 people, and will be spending my Friday night putting together Ikea furniture) - and we ate and drank and much merriment was had by all.

Even though lamb isn't really a game meat, people sometimes say that it tastes game-y. So I'm including it in game meat week. (See also: it's my blog and I can do what I want.) Plus it's cute and cuddly like the rabbit from the other day's post.

Lamb with pici, from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano
Serves 6 (he says it serves 4, but we had loads leftover)

Lamb ragu
4 oz. pancetta, chopped
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped (you can chop and add the fronds if you like)
1 carrot, chopped
1 bunch of basil, picked from the stems, and roughly chopped
1 lb. of freshly ground lamb shoulder (yes, I put mine in the meat grinder)
salt and pepper
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (either homemade, or the simple stuff in a can in the tomato aisle)

Pici (a type of pasta)
2 cups semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1 1/4 cups water, room temperature

To serve
Ample amounts of grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a little bit of olive oil in a sturdy dutch oven and add the chopped pancetta. Once it browns, add the onion, fennel, carrot and basil and cook until the veggies are softened, stirring frequently. Add the lamb and continue to stir to allow all the lamb to brown. Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with the wine, making sure to scrape up those browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato sauce, and stir to combine. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and let it cook for at least an hour. Stir occasionally.

To make the noodles, mound the flours on a really large cutting board or countertop. Make a well in the center, and slowly add some water. Swirl in the water with your finger, but still maintain the well-like shape. Add some more water, swirl, etc., etc., until you form a dough. (The amount of water will depend on how humid your kitchen is.) Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Note: this dough is REALLY stiff, and kneading the dough will likely be exhausting. You may need to take a shower afterwards. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it stand for at least 10 minutes before proceeding.

Okay, so now you've rested from all that kneading. Pinch off a 1-inch ball of dough and roll it between your hands to make a snake of dough. This seems like it should be easy - I mean, who hasn't done this same thing with play-doh? But, again, the dough is stiff, and it will seem like quite a process. I highly recommend that you recruit at least one other person to do this with you. You want the pici to be about 1/8 - 1/4 inch in diameter. You'll have long snakes of dough, so cut them into 3-5 inch pieces for easier eating.

To cook the noodles, place in salted boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Toss with the sauce, and serve with the Parmesan cheese.

Hippity, hoppity, into my belly you go!

January 13, 2010

Many things in life baffle me. Several that are on my mind right now are:
1) Why on earth the Director of Uniforms at the Pittsburgh Pirates insists on dressing the team in those heinous baseball vests. They a major fashion don't. Sure, they were big in the '70's, but now they are ugly. Maybe their seventeen consecutive losing seasons can be blamed on the fact that they hate what they are wearing. I, for one, feel better about myself when I put on a cute outfit.
2) What the hell was the person driving the SmartCar buying at Ikea this weekend? He or she was there longer than I was, and I was there for two hours. I'm sorry, but most of the SNERGS and FLOYVECS that one buys at Ikea cannot fit in a SmartCar.
3)And finally (here's where I get back to talking about food), why are so many meat-eaters skeeved at the idea of eating rabbit? Is it because you had one as a class pet? Because they are cute? Well, the ones you eat were never someone's pet, they are actually big and not-so-cute (think Bunnicula) and lambs are cute, and if you eat meat you probably eat lamb for Easter every year at your mom's house. So please consider yourself debunked of the myth that eating rabbit is weird. Because rabbit is really delicious.

Rabbit braised in wine and tomato sauce, from Gourmet magazine
Serves 4

1 rabbit, cut into 8 pieces* (you'll probably have a neck and a tailbone piece too - toss those in for flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 strips fresh orange zest

2 bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
a pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup water

8 ounces dried egg tagliatelle or egg fettuccine
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the rabbit pieces with half the salt and pepper. Heat some olive oil in a heavy dutch oven and brown the rabbit pieces. Remove the browned rabbit to a plate and add the onions, garlic, orange zest and bay to the pot. Cook until onions start to brown, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pot with the wine, scraping up the browned bits. Add the pinch of cinnamon, tomatoes and water. Tuck the rabbit pieces in so they are as covered by the sauce as possible. Bring to a bubble, then cover and put in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes, then flip all the rabbit pieces over, again tucking them in under the sauce. Braise for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta. Toss the cooked pasta with the butter, parsley and salt to taste. Serve the rabbit and sauce over the noodles. (Note: my favorite pieces are the ribs and legs. Please remember this if I come to your house for rabbit.)

*If you want to see before/after pictures on cutting up a whole rabbit, click on the link below. NSFV (not safe for vegetarians)

Stear clear, my veggie friends

January 11, 2010

Welcome to game meat week! If you eat meat, but tend to stick to chicken/beef/pork - this week is for you! I'm going to share some dee-licious recipes about all those fun, fabulous meats that are just a little different. If you are a vegetarian, well, I have a yummy tofu recipe coming up!

Once my husband and I went to a venison farm. The woman who ran it also had a flock of exotic chickens - including one that had feathers on its legs that reminded me of my beloved cocker spaniel, Buffy. (Moment of silence to remember Buffy. Sigh. I miss her.) We talked with her for over an hour about how she runs her farm and manages her flock of fallow deer. (Are deer a flock? A tribe? A murder?) Before she would sell us any meat, she insisted that we peek through the fence to "meet" the deer. (Pun intended.) And no, this wasn't disturbing. I was buying animal meat. It used to be alive. The other members of the flock seemed to be have a good life. But it was also there because it was intended to end up in my belly.

So if you live near a venison farm, or you're lucky enough to know (or be) a hunter with extra bounty, or your local market sells it - give this a whirl.

Juniper venison medallions, from the Shelburne Farms cookbook
Serves 2

6 juniper berries, crushed in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder
3/4 tablespoon gin
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon salt
small fresh rosemary sprig
2 venison medallions, 3/4 inch thick (if yours are thinner, you won't need to cook them as long)

Whisk the crushed berries, gin, syrup, and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in a shallow dish. Add the venison, turning the meat so it has a little of the marinade on the top side. Crush the rosemary in your hand to release the oils, then lay it on the meat. Pop the dish in the fridge for an hour, flipping the meat over halfway through. Don't marinate it longer than an hour or the texture of the meat will get a little weird.

Put a cast iron skillet (or other heavy, ovenproof skillet) in the oven, and preheat your broiler for 15 minutes. (Yes, the skillet preheats too.) Pat the venison dry and reserve the marinade. Sprinkle the steaks with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and place in the superhot skillet. Broil 4-5 minutes per side for medium rare meat. (I think venison is best medium rare, and don't recommend you cook it any longer.) Remove the steaks from the pan and pour the reserved marinade into the hot pan and let it sizzle for about a minute. Drizzle this over the venison.

Rub my crepe for luck

January 7, 2010

Here we've got a photo of my New Year's Day lunch. Jealous? Yeah, it was awesome. (Obviously my resolutions did not include "modesty.") My parents always have pork and sauerkraut that day - I think it must be a western PA thing, because when I've mentioned that to other people they just think that's weird. Delicious, perhaps, but weird. Apparently the idea behind it is to bring you fortune in the new year - something about eating like a pig instead of scrounging and pecking like a chicken (it is apparently totally bad luck to eat chicken). Not sure about the sauerkraut - maybe so you always stink like a hobo? That night for dinner my husband and I made rabbit - I hope that ensures that we are as cuddly and cute as bunnies in 2010. (Yes, recipe forthcoming!)

But back to the crepes. We had them for a late brunch and I really can't tell you how great they tasted. Perfectly chewy, and of course, a great vehicle for cheese. I only wish I had one of those ginormous circular crepe hot plates that Paris street vendors have. My cast iron pan worked pretty well, though.

Crepes (adapted from the King Arthur Flour cookbook)
Makes 6 crepes (serving 2 hungry or 3 dieting people)
warning - the batter has to sit for an hour!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Additional butter for greasing the pan
cheese* (I tried goat cheese, sharp cheddar, and beemster. You'll only need about 1 oz. of cheese per crepe. The beemster - which is nutty and sharp - was our favorite.)
fresh greens (I used baby arugula, but spinach would be great)
condiments of your choice (I chose tomato marmalade and mustard)

*obviously, you can fill crepes with anything you like, such as Nutella and bananas, jelly, sauteed mushrooms, etc.

Combine flour and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the milk and eggs. Make a well in the flour, and slowly pour in half the milk/egg mixture. Blend well, then add the rest of the milk/eggs and stir until well-mixed. A few lumps are ok. Stir in the butter. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Using a wad of paper towel, rub a bit of butter on the skillet. Pour 1/3 cup batter into the pan, immediately spreading it around with a spatula or a nifty crepe-spreader. When the edges begin to curl slightly, and it is looking kind of dry, peek at the bottom. You don't want it too brown. Flip with a spatula. (They hold together really well, so flipping is easy.) Take a little bit of cheese (be conservative, it's not a quesadilla) and spread it on half the crepe. Smoosh some greens on top. Fold the non-filling side on top of the filling side and press down. Fold in half again, and keep warm in a 250 degree oven while you finish cooking the rest of the crepes.

Serve with the condiments of your choice.

Warm and cuddly

January 6, 2010

Sometimes as a kid my husband would just have a "fruit and nut plate" for dinner. This is exactly what it sounds like - dried fruit and nuts. Maybe, if he was feeling crazy, he'd have a yogurt too. You know, hippie food. (Have I mentioned he is from Vermont?) But hey, he loved it, and I'm sure it was easy on his parents. I probably wouldn't have touched a piece of dried fruit with a 10-foot pole as a child, and the only nuts I ate were the walnuts I would sneak out of the produce drawer in the refrigerator. But I've come around, and now I actually really like dried fruit as a snack. Once I was carrying around a baggie of prunes in my purse as a treat and I went to the Capitol Visitors Center - where all outside food is banned - and the security person held them up with disdain and was all, "And what are these?" He seemed a little judgy about a 20-something woman carrying around prunes as a snack. And I had to throw them away. I was sad about it when I got hungry later.

So now that we both like dried fruit, I made this great, warming wintery recipe. And no one judged anyone.

Chicken thighs with dried fruit, adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison Serves 2

4 chicken thighs (I used boneless/skinless)
salt and pepper
olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
5 bay leaves
2 large shallots, roughly chopped
1/3 cup red wine
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 dates, 4 dried apricots, 4 prunes (or any combo you like), chopped into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 cups cooked Israeli couscous, tossed with some slivered almonds (to serve)

Soak the dried fruit in the wine.

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat a light coating of olive oil in a large skillet and brown the chicken thighs on both sides. Deglaze the pan with the chicken broth and add the bay leaves. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook the chicken until no longer pink, about 10-12 minutes. Remove the chicken to a bowl. Heat a little more olive oil in the pan and cook the shallots for a minute or two. Add the bowl of dried fruit soaking in the wine, the vinegar, and scrape up any browned bits from the pan. Add the chicken back to the pan and cook for another 10 minutes or so to let the flavors come together.

Serve on top of the couscous and garnish with the parsley.

Beer, beer, beer of the week! It's the beer of the week!

January 3, 2010

I like beer. This is probably obvious from the pumpkin beer tasting during squash week, but I thought I'd mention it again just in case anyone out there forgot. So I'm going to try to introduce a new regular feature about some funky, interesting, or seasonal offerings from the many great microbreweries out there these days. If you have any suggestions of beers I should include in the new "Beer, beer, beer of the week! It's the beer of the week!" feature, please let me know in the comments.

Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer
21st Amendment Brewery

Watermelon? In a beer? How crazy is that?! I first had this out at The Black Squirrel in DC, and was so excited to see it my local liquor store I may have squealed a tiny bit. (Brief shout out to the staff at Cleveland Park Wines, who can and will order anything you want - including the Scottish beer for my wedding - and will also make the beer truck driver move when he is blocking your car in its parking space. Thanks Santos!)

Back to the beer - it's an extremely refreshing, light, crisp wheat beer with the perfect hint of watermelon. It has a slightly sweet finish, but nothing that should scare you off. It's a good sweet. (If you're weirded out about fruit in your beer, think of Magic Hat #9. That's brewed with apricots.) It's the dead of winter, but I can't wait to have this at a picnic in the summer.

Recommendation: A must try. But maybe wait until a really hot day.