Archive for the 'What I Ate' Category

Biscuits N Gravy

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

I like to make square biscuits because there’s no waste, no scrap, no re-rolling and re-cutting (especially because the re-rolled and re-cut round biscuits inevitably wind up tougher than the ones that were cut on the first go round).  I use butter, not shortening, and leave the chunks rather large to help yield a flakier biscuit.  Don’t over-knead the dough or they wind up chewy (like re-rolled biscuits) because the gluten has been over-developed.

For the gravy, I browned links of spicy sausage, then cut them into small chunks and finished cooking them.  Stirred flour into their fat to make a slack roux and whisked in skim milk (no need for anything fattier with so much sausage fat already in the mix) until it reached the right consistency.  Simmered a full 30 minutes to cook the starchy, pasty flour texture out, adding additional milk as necessary.  I probably used about a quart of milk all told, but that ratio has to do with how much roux I made.  If you want to make less gravy, pour off some of the fat before stirring in the flour—or use a lower-fat sausage.  I finished the gravy with a touch of fresh thyme.

The gravy would go equally well on French toast, if you don’t feel like making biscuits.

To reheat leftover gravy, heat a small amount of milk in the bottom of a saucepan and whisk the cold gravy into the hot milk in small portions, waiting for one addition to combine and heat before adding the next.  This method should allow you to get the gravy hot without breaking the emulsion, which would lead to pools of fat rising to the top and makes for an unsightly sauce.

Kaleidoscope Couscous & Mustard Brussels

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I had this particular plate in April of 2008, wrote down the recipe, snapped a photo of it, and promptly forgot about it.  I discovered the evidence today when I was cleaning out some computer files.  It’s tremendously easy to make, and I hope you enjoy it!


Roasted Vegetable Medley

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Cut new potatoes into chunks: eights or quarters depending on the individual potato.  Halves if they’re really small.  Cut onions into one-inch chunks and peel garlic, leaving cloves whole.  Toss in bowl with oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper.  Spread onto baking sheet with lip and roast at 375 F for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are exhibiting some browning, tossing once about halfway through.

As root vegetables roast, snap stem end off of green beans and break into 1-inch pieces. Dice red bell pepper into 1/4-inch pieces (small dice).   Cut fresh heirloom tomatoes into chunks, or leave whole if using cherry tomatoes (can use mix of different size and different types of tomatoes.  As pictured, there are green zebra tomatoes, black cherry tomatoes, and yellow tomatoes (exact varietal uncertain).  Toss these vegetables in the same bowl used for the root vegetables with the same spices and another drizzle of oil.  When potatoes exhibit brownness from roasting, add these vegetables to the tray and return to the oven for 10-12 minutes.

Slice green onions and basil thinly.  Add to tray at conclusion of 10-12 minutes of roasting the beans and the onions, and return to the oven for a final 3-5 minutes.

Serve immediately in the vessel of your choice.  Liquid from the tomatoes provides a stew-like image if served in a casserole dish (as pictured above).

Plum Disappointed

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Saturday at Penn Mac: cheese in hand, approaching the checkout, taking a look around the produce.  The bulk mushrooms, as usual, were dried out and older looking.  Not a hot pepper to be seen.  Red bells, as usual, looked good and were selling for the same price as their green peppers.  Avocados are cheap, sure, why not, let’s grab a couple.  Anything else?

The plums looked good.

The PLU stickers said “Chile.”  I knew they’d been shipped across the continent to get here.  But, the plums looked good.

They reminded me of summer days when I’d pluck similar-looking fruit from my family’s fruit bowl and bite through tart, crisp skin into moist, syrupy flesh.  The peculiar sensation of having your mouth pucker and smile at the same time.  The dribble of juice that escapes and runs down your chin and onto your t-shirt.

I bought four.  I ate two today.  There was no tartness, no juice, no moistness to the flesh.  The body was pasty and the flavor was dull.  It was, beyond question, the out of season fruit I should have recognized it to be when I read the country of origin, as clearly marked on the sticker: Chile is approximately 5,000 miles away from Pittsburgh.  That’s a long distance for a fruit to travel.

Caveat imperator—that’s Latin for, “You should’ve known better, stupid!”

Mmm… Short Ribs

Friday, April 9th, 2010

So, yesterday, I did in fact use the accidental tomato soup as braising liquid to finish my ‘boiling beef’ short ribs.

One of the big pains of serving short ribs on the bone is that the diner is then forced to navigate massive amounts of fat and bone to discover the tender and flavorful meat encased therein.  That’s part of why I went for a 2-day cooking process on these particular ribs.  Day 1, I seasoned, seared, and then put the ribs, covered,  into a cool (250F) oven for about 4 hours so that they could slowly steam and their connective tissues could start to loosen up and melt.  I refrigerated the ribs overnight.

Day 2,  I began by picking the meat off of the bones so that I could serve the good parts unencumbered by the scraps.  This is a long process, about an hour to get the meat from four ribs.  But it’s worth it, because while the ribs are cold, they can be handled easily and as a result, I could get a higher yield from each as opposed to searching for morsels with a fork and knife at the dinner table.

It’s also a messy process: a combination of tearing meat from fat with both hands and using a sharp knife to cut through thick chunks of fat to get at the meat encased therein.  Therefore, it’s absolutely essential to the overall success of the mission that the chef in charge of the operation maintains a healthy fear of the knife blade as s/he is using it: greasy hands on the knife handle have a tendency to slip.  The other option would be to wear a path in the floor between the sink and the work surface washing your hands before each time you pick up the knife blade.  Come to think of it, that may be the safer way to go about this operation.

Anyhoo, meat stripped from the bones, I put it into an oven-safe stockpot and added the quart of accidental soup that remained from the night before.  As it came to a boil, I added potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, and a bit more of my coffee steak rub.  Then, seeing that the vegetables weren’t quite immersed in the cooking liquid, I added red wine to make up the difference.

I put the lid on the container and slotted it into a 250F oven for a couple of hours.  No need to look after it while it’s in the oven simmering.  the low heat surrounding the pan makes certain that there aren’t any hot spots and the food won’t scorch.  It just does its thing—and assuming you’ve put proper care into the initial steps leading up to that simmer time, you can take care of whatever else you might need to get done and know that you’ve got a gourmet dinner awaiting you.

Accidental Tomato Soup

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Sometimes the best results in the kitchen come when, like a jazz musician, you are willing to improvise along familiar themes and discover new interpretations while the notes are being played.

Yesterday, I started a 2-day cooking process on some beef short ribs.  I seasoned the meat with some of my coffee steak rub, and seared it in a large cast iron pan.  Meanwhile, I put a quart of chicken/ham stock, a pint of applesauce (both pulled from my freezer), and a cup or so of red wine into a saucepan to heat up, intending to use them as braising liquid for the beef.

Once the meat had browned, I transferred it to a roasting pan with a rack in it (like I already mentioned, there’s a lot of fat in these ribs, and I didn’t want them frying in it) and slotted them into a 200F oven for a long, slow, low cook.  Then, I deglazed the cast iron pan with the stock/sauce/wine mix.  I decided I wanted a little more kick to the braising liquid so I sliced a jalapeno pepper and a habanero pepper into thin strips while the liquid reduced out and sauteed them in the fat that remained in the pan once the liquid was gone.

In the meantime, i decided that a brown stock (stock that contains caramelized tomato product) would be preferable as a braising liquid, so i opened up a small can of tomato paste and caramelized it in with the hot peppers, adding a little bit of water into the mix to keep the paste from scorching (this is a fairly standard procedure known as making a pincage–it helps to remove the tinny taste of canned tomato paste and develops a fuller flavor).

Pincage having been developed around the hot peppers, I combined the stock/wine/ applesauce mixture with the pincage and realized that I had a tomato soup staring me in the face.  Thick, rich, and hearty–this soup was good!  Aurora and I finished off about half of it for dinner last night, accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches.  I’m planning on using the other half as braising liquid when I finish off the boiling beef for dinner tonight.

Bacon Extravaganza

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

There was a good crowd yesterday at Harris Grill for the Pittsburgh edition of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour. The bacon-themed event, organized by local bacon blogger Mr. Bacon Pants (AKA Jason Mosley), featured more variations on bacon than I had considered possible.

My favorite of the evening was probably the Chicken-Fried Bacon, basically bacon that had been breaded and fried. It excelled through its simplicity.   The same is true of the bacon wings: buffalo wings that were tossed with bacon-laced salt.  The bacon sushi (not pictured) was also a hit; the flavors of bacon, rice, and salmon are a natural match.

The “Pittsburgh Penetrator,” a pork loin that had been stuffed with a mishmash of kielbasa and bacon, then wrapped in bacon and roasted, was a bit much for my tastes. A contributing factor may have been my general aversion to kielbasa, but all in all, I thought that there was just a bit too much happening to be contained by one dish.

The highlight of the afternoon was quite possibly the bacon eating contest.  I participated, but did not compete.  I don’t know how the winner managed to do so, but he polished off a full three pounds (pre-cooked weight) of bacon within the three minute time frame.  To put that in perspective, I doubt I even took care of one third of my allotment.  After time had been called, I passed the remainder around to the spectators at my end of the bar.  When I left the stage, even with audience participation, there was still bacon left in the tray.  Suffice to say, the victor probably doesn’t put much stock in the teachings of Horace Fletcher.

One guest at the Blue Ribbon Bacon tour was Heather Lauer, author of Bacon: A Love Story, a full book dedicated to the history and lore of bacon.  I purchased a copy of the book and will plan on reviewing it sometime in the next several weeks (once I’ve had a chance to read it).  Though I’m impressed by the fact that Ms. Lauer had the dedication and interest to study bacon in so much detail as to write the book, I don’t think I would be able to stomach the research. Just one day of such a bacon-intensive diet was enough to put me to bed early with a fat-induced bellyache.

I had a great time at the Bacon Tour, though, and hope it becomes an annual event.  Just don’t count on seeing me enter a bacon-eating contest ever again–especially not the day before running a 5k race.

Make Like A Banana & Get Outta Here

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

I think banana splits taste better if served in the appropriate dish.  Otherwise, there’s just not a bowl large enough to accommodate a split banana.  Though if you chop the split banana in half the short way and insert quarter bananas sticking up around the edges at appropriate intervals from an ordinary bowl, that’s an acceptable approximation.

Just don’t slice the banana into medallions over top of your ice cream and try calling that a banana split.  Sure, it’s a banana sundae, and you can even get away with calling it a banana royale.  But what did you split?  Nothing.  If you haven’t split the banana, it ain’t a banana split, so make like a banana and get outta here.

Fabulous Fungi

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Mushrooms are magical.  When they’re good, they’re delectable but when they’re bad they can kill you.  The knowledge of how, where, and what to forage is a specialized art known to few but from which all of cuisine benefits.  That’s why the Allegheny Mountain Mushroom stall is quite possibly my favorite at Farmers at the Firehouse.  The variety of what you can get there is exotic and exciting, and usually includes types I’ve never heard of.

The slippery jack has octagonal pores and a speckled top.  The Butter Bolete has a red cap and a yellow underbelly.  As opposed to the Gilled Bolete which, well, has gills; or the White Bolete, which is quite spongy.  Who knew?


Your Goose Is Cooked!

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

All I knew about roast goose before I roasted mine was a story that my dad tells from time to time about how when he was a kid, his cousin (Janet, I think, if I remember correctly) visited from college, and his dad decided to spit-roast a goose in her honor.

The story:

I obviously wasn’t around for the meal, but I can imagine the preparations that went into it.  Lew probably measured the heat at various intervals from the coals to determine exactly where the bird should be placed, and had several heights pre-arranged with holes drilled into a piece of sheet metal in case the bird needed to be moved while it cooked.  He had probably measured the goose to determine its exact center of gravity, and skewered it so that it would turn on a precise rotation.  And, the turning mechanism for the skewer was probably an old turntable that had been co-opted for the purpose of cooking outdoors.