Friday, October 21, 2005

Peace out, blogger

I've moved. Please visit!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Alice Waters and Me

Yesterday I threw caution to the wind and watched almost all of Alice Waters's demo in the amphitheatre. I know that my boss might not approve, but it's not every day that Alice Waters is speaking down the hall, and I wasn't about to miss it.

She's really a lovely woman, with a very strong message about organic, seasonal, local and sustainable agriculture. She stood in the demo kitchen surrounded by beautiful produce from the Union Square Greenmarket, and she made it a point to explain that everything around her was New York produce, and that it was fabulous. She thinks we have an unnecessary dependence on California produce here, and that the only advantage over there is a slightly longer warm season.

Alice opened Chez Panisse in 1971, before there was much produce to be had in Berkeley. She would literally go foraging on the side of the road, and she'd buy ducks in Chinatown. Eventually, her demand created a supply, and 34 years later, she runs one of the best restaurants in the country. She explained that she has two master chefs, and each one is paid full time but works only three days a week in the kitchen (spending two additional days at the farmers' market and working the menu). This is expensive, she says, but it makes a huge difference in the quality of the food.

We tasted some delicious treats. A farmer from New Jersey was there offering us several cheeses and some raw milk that had come from the cow that morning. It tasted strange and good. It's illegal to sell raw milk in this country, he said, but not illegal to drink it or give it away. And he said we shouldn't fear raw milk, but we should fear pasteurized milk. Anyway, we don't have much choice there.

Inspired by Alice, I'll do my best to stick to local, seasonal ingredients. This isn't always affordable, but I'll try to make weekly trips to the Greenmarket.

Last night I made my butternut squash risotto for Bianca. It wasn't as good as the first time, and it's because I didn't cook the squash enough in the first round. Make sure you taste it before you take it out of the skillet in step 1!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Best things, Part I: salad

For those days when I have nothing to write about (i.e. the day after I make a mediocre dinner), I'll try to report instead on some piece of equipment or a particular ingredient that I think rules and doesn't drool. Things that make my life easier or more fun, and things that I'm pretty sure are the best in their class.

We'll start with an old favorite, something I have tried and failed to live without at different points in the last few years: the Oxo salad spinner. I used to sell these babies at the Kitchen Wizard. In fact, they were so easy to sell that we hardly ever had them in stock. I'd put one on the counter, demonstrate how it worked for anyone who would listen, and then it would be gone. Pump the handle, and press the little brake if you want it to stop (left alone, it will spin for a couple minutes). The handle can be fastened down for easy storage.

I can't make a salad without a spinner. Lettuce should be a little moist, but it should not be wet. Whether you've taken the 2 minutes necessary to make your own vinaigrette or you've spent $3.59 on a bottle of Newman's Own, you don't want to dilute it with a bunch of water. And I don't want to waste 18 paper towels getting my lettuce dry (not to mention all the available counter space).

A lot of Oxo products are crap, but this isn't one of them. The spinner is usually about $25 (or you can get the mini version for around $17). If you need an excuse to go buy one, here's my personal favorite.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quote of the day

Let's face it, everybody wants to live in one of my homes.

-Martha Stewart to the New York Times, October 13.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

First date jitters

On Monday night I had my first friend from work over for dinner. I was quite nervous to ask her because I know her to be an excellent, trained cook. We have lunch together every day and talk mostly about food, and it's clear that she's passionate about it.

Since the beginning of my garlic days a few weeks ago, I have been making an excellent chicken stew that's a twist on James Beard's famous Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. Sabena told me how much she enjoys this dish, and I told her about a new recipe I'd been enjoying. She started to ask me regularly for the recipe, but I kept forgetting to bring it in. On Monday, she asked again. Since I was planning on making the dish that night anyway, I asked her to join me. She was thrilled with the invitation.

We left together after work and headed to the wine store (Warehouse Wines & Spirits--the best), where we got a bottle of cold Alsatian white for the apéritif, a red Bordeaux for the stew, and a couple extra bottles of white Rhône that were on sale. She only let me buy one of them, and then she made a quick stop at Whole Foods for ice cream, which gave me time to tidy the apartment for this unexpected company.

The dinner turned out marvelously. She made the side dish: green beans tossed with olive oil, fresh thyme, and lemon zest, baked in a 400°F oven until brown and tender. I handled the main dish, the recipe for which is below. She was a wonderful dinner guest, full of laughter and interesting stories. Her father was in the service. Though she is Punjabi, she was born in New York and has lived all over the world. I have no idea how old she is, but she's a joy to dine with and I look forward to being invited to her apartment for a meal.

Autumn Chicken with Many Cloves of Garlic

Ingredients (for 2)
Grapeseed, corn, or canola oil
4 chicken thighs (I've used bone-on and skin-on, and boneless and skinless)
Many cloves of garlic
Diced prosciutto (optional but lovely)
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 star anise
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon Chinese hot pepper
A few slices of fresh ginger (there is no excuse for powdered)

1. Heat two tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a skillet that can be covered.
2. Add the chicken. Brown it lightly on both sides (just a few minutes per side) and remove to a plate lined with paper towels.
3. If the pan is full of fat and liquid, get rid of a bit. It should be wet but not flooded. Turn the flame to medium low and add the garlic. A few minutes later, add the prosciutto.
4. After about 15 minutes (you can make a cup of white rice during this time if you like), add the white wine, soy sauce, 1 cup of water and the sugar. When the sugar dissolves, add the spices and the chicken. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cover it.
5. After about 15 minutes, turn the chicken over. The cooked side should have a beautiful brown glaze it. It needs another 10 minutes or so. If it looks too saucy, leave the cover off and turn up the heat. If it looks too dry, add some water or wine.
6. When the chicken is done (it's ok to cut into a thick piece just to peek--it shouldn't be bloody or pink), remove and discard the star anise and cinnamon stick. Serve and enjoy.

The other night, we served the chicken over the green beans. Sabena has worked as a plater in fancy restaurants, so it looked beautiful. If I had it to do again, though, it would have been nice to taste the green beans on their own. And we didn't use rice because I had a beautiful loaf of bread from work. You'll definitely want one or the other to sop up your delicious sauce.

We had ice cream for dessert and drank quite a bit of wine, and Sabena left after 10 pm. n8 and I can't wait to do it again!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Nuts for butternut!

I made a most delicious butternut squash risotto last night from a recipe in Cooks Illustrated. I've realized in the last few months that I have trouble following recipes. It's not that I can't follow the directions (my job, after all, is to edit recipes), it's that I either lack the diligence to follow all the steps to the letter, or I'm missing some exotic or expensive ingredient, or I decide to make additions or substitutions (thinking that I can improve the recipe before I've even tried it!). I have to get out of this habit, because I know that following good recipes is the best way to learn how to cook. It's the closest home cooks can get to the coveted apprenticeships that make so many great chefs. So, with this posting, I vow to find good recipes and follow them at least once before I start making changes.

Since the butternut squash risotto recipe is not available online unless you're a Cooks Illustrated subscriber, I'm going to do you all a big favor by putting a quick, smaller version of it below (theirs is for 8 servings, I reduced it by about 25% because my squash was a bit small). While we were eating it last night, I told n8 that it was the best dinner I'd ever made.

Olive oil
1 butternut squash (about 1.5 pounds), peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/2" dice (reserve the fibers and seeds)
Salt and pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, cut very finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup of dry white wine
3/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Minced fresh sage

1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, and add the chopped squash in one layer. Cook it until brown, adding the salt and pepper after about 5 minutes. It should take about 10 minutes for it to be brown and tender. Put it in a bowl and set it aside.
2. In the meantime, heat the chicken broth and water in a saucepan that you can cover.
3. Add the squash fibers and seeds to the empty skillet. Cook them for about five minutes, until brown. Add them to the broth and simmer until further notice.
4. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in the empty skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until brown, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, cook it for 5 minutes or until it begins to turn translucent, and add the wine.
6. In the meantime, strain the broth over a bowl. Press on the fibers and seeds with a wooden spoon to get all the liquid out, and discard. Put the strained broth back in the saucepan and keep it hot over low heat.
7. Once the wine is absorbed, add half of the squash.
8. Stir frequently until the wine is almost absorbed, then add a cup of the hot broth. Stir it constantly until almost absorbed, and repeat a few times until the rice is al dente.
9. Turn off the heat, add the remaining butter, the Parmesan cheese, the remaining squash, and the sage.

I added some cooked spinach to the final mix, as well as some toasted pine nuts (don't worry--this was sanctioned by Cooks Illustrated. I wasn't cheating!).

The brilliance of this recipe lies in the addition of the squash in two different steps. Squash gets cloyingly sweet if it's cooked too long, as well as mushy. Adding half of it early and half of it late results in a great combination of flavors and textures. Do yourself a favor and cook up a batch of this on some chilly night.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

squeak squeak!

Today was a very exciting day. n8 actually chased a mouse around the apartment and caught it! He had apparently been seeing it all week. I saw it for the first time last night, running around, and I kind of sensed its presence for the last few days (since it was crapping on my kitchen counter!).

We decided that he had come in under the radiator (since that's where he went out last night). Armed with that knowledge, I did a real number back there with duct tape this afternoon. Unfortunately for Immodest Mouse, he was partying in here all day while we were at Ikea, and he didn't have time to leave. While I was making lunch, he started darting around the living room, and n8 caught him with a sticky trap. I was completely oblivious to this whole scene. Like Martha Stewart, I decided to focus on my grilled cheese instead.