31 July 2006

Long Time No Blog


So I've been remiss in blogging recently. I have two momentous things to get to eventually: our trip to Paris and our dinner at Jean-Georges. But really, that's all about someone else's food, and this blog is supposed to be about my food. I could go into transports of joy about the multiple slabs of foie gras with Sauternes on the side that I gobbled down in Paris. I could go on and on about the creamy sherry-spiked orange sauce they poured over the turbot at Jean-Georges, but you can get the same experience by going to Paris or JG yourself. I suppose this disqualifies me temporarily as a travel writer, but I was always about the food anyway.

When my folks were here, I made lemon-garlic chicken thighs to go along with the stuck-pot rice I served. They were simple and tasty and most importantly, I learned a lesson about how to cook these little beauties. I started with 2 lbs of boneless, skinnless thighs, cut them into pieces and marinated them for an hour in the juice of 1 lemon, 2 crushed cloves garlic, and lots of salt and pepper. In the fridge, the pieces gave up a little liquid but I could tell it was working.

Then, that much chicken wouldn't fit into the pan, so I just cooked half to bring to the table with the rapidly cooling rice. I dutifilly heated up some oil in the pan and didn't crowd the chicken, making sure to shake off the excess liquid so when I put it in the pan it would caramelize and come out brown and savory. Well, I came away with some pretty good chicken pieces that went well with the rice for a basic meal. For the rest of the chicken, though, I was tired of taking pains and, realizing that you can't really overcook chicken thighs if you're using wet heat, I just threw the rest of the thighs into the pan, set it on low to simmer and went back to the living room to talk to my folks.

Now, I had just read in the Oxford Companion to Food about a southeast Asian dish made with coconut milk. I'll go back and find out the name. Anyway, he says that this dish is pretty singular because it starts out as a boiled dish and ends up as a fried dish. As the water in the boiling coconut milk evaporates away, it eventually breaks and yields oil which becomes the cooking medium for the rest of the preparation time. This dish ended up being somewhat like that. The chicken thighs, as they cooked, gave up most of their liquid and fat. The liquid then reduced and caramelized, and was cooked back onto the outside of the chicken pieces, giving a very flavorful glaze to each piece. Very nice.

I made this dish again for M this past weekend, but looking for something to spice it up, stumbled on smoked paprika. I threw a couple teaspoons in and stirred it around, then thought maybe some mustard would perk things up. I got on the Interweb and found this recipe which seemed to confirm my suspicions. I followed the same procedure as I had with the chicken thighs previously. This time, I used a nonstick pan, just threw the whole mess in there, let it reduce, and at some point there was a magical transformation where I went from a pink-orange soupy dish to deep-brown, fragrant, tender chicken pieces. I served it with cherry tomatoes that I burned in a cast iron pan, and with unstuck pot rice (fully-cooked basmati with yogurt, curry powder, and lime juice). The rice wasn't any good until I threw some cherry preserves in there, but that might have been because I neglected to add oil, which would've kept the rice grains separate.

Anyway, it was darn good and easy to make.

Yesterday morning I made pappa al pomodoro, the Tuscan bread-tomato soup, using a can of San Marzanos, a couple cloves of garlic, and a day-old garlic bagel from Tal Bagels downstairs. Some homemade chicken stock added a good base of flavor. It ended up a bit chunkier in the bread department than I'd have liked, but I had a bowl and put it in the fridge. Then, last night, I had some cold, with olive oil and shavings of fresh pecorino. It was unbelievable. The soup had gone smooth and the unpleasant chunks of crust had turned into little chewy dumplings. The unctuousness of the smooth soup was accentuated by the fruity Umbrian olive oil we brought back from Orvieto, and cut by the sharpness of the pecorino. Funny, because I was a little disappointed after buying the pecorino that I still hadn't found anything as wonderful as we usually have in Umbria. It was sharper and more crumbly, but was a perfect accompaniment to the soup and olive oil. Yum.

I also make a downmarket crab tower for dinner. I used half an avocado for each bowl, half a can of crabmeat (the junk stuff, not the beautiful lump meat), some fresh-steamed sweet corn, finely diced red onion, and some cubed mango. Lots of pepper and a little salt on each layer, plus some good squeezings of lemon juice along the way and a big hit of olive oil at the end. I garnished with five grape tomato halves and a wedge of lime for color. It was a beautiful dish and perfect for a hot summer night. I got all of this stuff except the onion and the crab from the
fruit guy on the sidewalk across First Avenue.

All told, a great and successful weekend of cooking, and I didn't have to go down to the Union Square farmer's market to do it. In fact, with the exception of the olive oil and the spices, I bought everything within a block of my apartment. I love New York!

07 July 2006

I bought and butchered an entire leg of lamb last night, in advance of tonight's dinner party for M's friend's birthday. The leg of lamb was $29 at Fairway Market on the West side, a little more than half what FreshDirect wanted for a boneless leg of lamb. I wasn't super-clear on what I was doing, but it all seems to have worked out. I took the top portion for a tied, boneless roast, the major muscle on the inside (?) got set aside for an eventual lamb curry, and the rest of it, silverskin and all, got chopped up and thrown in the Cuisinart for stuffed grape leaves.

It was my first time butchering a leg of lamb and I found it relatively easy. I tried using my Japanese knife first, but found that the tip just wasn't sharp enough, and the blade was too wide, making it not very nimble. Being that I don't have a boning knife, I just used my Henckel parer and got some pretty good results. The removed bone looked appropriately creepy. I wish I'd taken photos. And there wasn't much waste. All told, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

Made some hummus this morning for tonight's dinner, too. It seems to me that hummus is probably the most abused appetizer/side dish of all time. How many freakin' poetry readings have been accompanied by some limp veggies and gummy, grainy pureed chickpeas with a little tahini? Hummus is cheap and easy, which means it takes special attention and good ingredients to make it anything more than workaday. Chickpeas are cheap, yes, but you're not going to go broke laying on thick with the tahini, so when I made it this morning, I treated it as more of an olive oil delivery system, with the chickpeas and tahini serving basically as an emulsifier for the oily goodness. I made it with a lot of Umbrian olive oil brought back from Orvieto, a lot of tahini, and a good hit of cayenne. It's pretty strong-tasting, with two lemons and two cloves of garlic to one can of chickpeas. I left the food processor running, adding water and drizzling in olive oil until I got more of a light, whipped consistency than the normal paste. This makes it a lot more satisfying in my book.

More to come...