Archive for June, 2009
I’ve been really holding back on putting together this post. Not because I don’t think it’s important as a technique or worth the effort, but because I just wanted to get it right. Like making your own pasta, filleting fish is not hard but it’s not easy either. It’s a skill that you have to build over time and with practice. Every different type of fish is a little different, sizes constantly vary and every time I think I have a solid handle on the skill, I still manage to butcher at least one size of a perfectly good fish. So I’m no pro yet, but I’ve done this enough to put together a decent (and somewhat lengthy) beginners post.
I would advise not to try learning this skill an hour before a big date or when expecting a lot of company. An important evening is usually better just buying the fillets or having your fish monger do the dirty work until you’re comfortable with the process.
Lately I’ve been riding a streak of failed plans and missed occasions. I really don’t try to follow any kind of schedule or make long term commitments usually; a random call or a coincidence meet usually dictates my adventures. But when I get a craving for some roasted baby chicken, or decide to put together a beer Olympiad cleverly disguised as “camping”, or any other number of anticipated events, it can be amazingly frustrating when debilitating viruses or crappy weather interferes on a semi-frequent basis. So Sunday was cornish hen day, come hell or high water.
What I thought I’d try given the size of these hens, was to grill them using two different methods for roasting a whole chicken. The first and more traditional is the whole roast method, thanksgiving style. Stuffing is certainly an option here and is much better suited for brining and long, slow cook times on low heat. Then there’s the butterflied and brick method. A little extra prep work cuts down the cooking time to half and ensures a more tasty, crispy skin. A lazy, hungover Sunday is a great excuse to try out both methods. I’ll try on touch on the differences in cooking method and gas vs. charcoal grills throughout the post.
I was so ready to cook up some cornish hens. I had a solid idea for a recipe, legwork had been done to double check different techniques and methods, and most importantly, I was just really craving whole grilled/roasted chicken. Alas, my little Hispanic supermarket owned by a family of Koreans and not in any way affiliated with even the smallest of established and credible supermarkets , cleverly conceals the “Sell By” date on a regular basis. As soon as I unwrapped the plastic from my prize hens, I knew something was wrong and thanks to Alton Brown, precatious paranoia about my poultry’s acceptability was on high. Roast cornish hen = dismal failure.
So I had to take another trip. While the Latin cashiers stared hatefully at my gringo-ass upon my return (this isn’t exactly the type of place you bother tyring to get a refund), this little market sells one thing better than any of the local chain shops: whole fish! A whole red snapper; clear, shiny eyes; clean ocean smell; preserved well in fresh ice. I was sure this time around I had a quality product.
The recipe I used isn’t anything too special, basically me just using what I had on hand that would pair well with white fish. The focus today is on crisping up your fish skin and breaking the long time tradition of leaving the mushy, unappetizing skin as the last morsel on your dinner plate. Fuck that. Would you go to KFC and remove the crispy, battered skin? Of course not, it’s the best part right?
I’m not really sure how I managed this, but somehow I was able to convince the gang over at Endless Simmer to let me take a crack the Top Chef Masters interview for this week. Luckily, BS and gansie didn’t use their better judgment and gave me a shot at it, which is saying something given that the entire experience was a complete trial by fire for me. I really can’t thank them enough for letting me run with it, and the fact that they let me splice in WuTang Clan lyrics throughout the article just goes to show how fucking cool the ES gang is. Check out the full post here.
First of all, and I know everyone says this, but when actually listening to the sound of my own voice after listening to the recorded the interview the next day was extremely cringe inducing. I sound like a clown, and it honestly baffles me that anyone, anywhere can take me seriously. Then there’s the excessive wordiness that comes out of “thinking on your feet” while trying to ask an decent question or two. This amazing folly only produced semi-cohesive statements and resulted in sentences that only vaguely imply that I’m asking an acual question. And of course there’s the actual writing itself. How the fuck was I supposed to write up a four person interview into one coherent and readable piece?! But then again, I expected to face a learning curve and it’s not like I don’t have plenty of experience publicly looking like an idiot.
I’m digressing. The fact is my lunch break the other day consisted of sitting on a conference call with some of the most talented and well recognized chefs in the country. Wiley, Elizabeth, Graham and Suzanne were all exceptionally friendly and excited to talk about their experiences on the show. So if my amateurish attempts to sound professional were as transparent as I thought, they never let me know it. The only hang up I had with the whole process is that we couldn’t talk more about the food. In fact, pretty much everything was clouded in mystery except that they love each other, and the show is great, and blah blah blah. But I guess there’s a contract out there somewhere stating if they leek any details before the air date a baby seal will get decapitated, so fair enough.
One detail I do know (thanks to the commercials) is that the contestants are cooking for the LOST crew… which is possibly the best idea ever, ever. Well played Marketing Execs and your piles and piles of demographic data. Blending two of my favorite shows sure will keep me tuned in. Maybe next episode you can use The Wire as a theme and have the chefs cook on the sketch-town neighborhoods of Baltimore.
Given my love for geeky baked goods in general, I figured I would put something together for this episode, but ran short on time this week. Low and behold someone else beat me to it! Sydney over at Crepes of Wrath busted out a true blue Dharma Initative themed cake. Not only was this cake a technical achievement but she deserves full fan-girl credit for making this delicious looking sliver of Lost lore to celebrate/mourn this season’s finale. Now now if I could just find my Transformer and Ninja Turtle culinary brethren..
I’ve never been a huge pancake fan personally. It’s not that I don’t like pancakes; they are a great excuse to break out the maple syrup on a Saturday morning, and they blend brilliantly with fresh blueberries or strawberries. I suppose my disinterest stemmed from the fact that given the choice between a pancake or a waffle, who in their right mind would rather have a pancake? Waffles with they’re compartmentalized pockets perfect for holding ingredients, firm crispy texture and toaster friendly nature just seemed like the superior product. Not to mention growing up going to the local Waffle House in the wee hours had a more than a little impact on my preferences.
But growing older, I suppose my tastes are evolving. Not so much for pancakes, but for similar doughy breakfast substitutes. I wasn’t planning on toying around with what I didn’t consider to be broken, but a friend of mine turned me onto Orangette’s new cookbookfeaturing Dutch Baby pancakes. A baked pancake that required the use of one of my beloved cast iron skillets? There was simply no way this wasn’t going to get tried out. So enjoy, they reminded vaguely of the New Orleans’ beignets I still love to this day.
I really shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of people were a little grossed out by my photos of the butchered heritage hog from Cochon 555. While the post about Cochon focused on the food and the chefs, the gang over at Endless Simmer encouraged me to post some of the more “explicit” photos on their site for all the world to enjoy. I was thrilled that they were as excited as I was about the demonstration, but as I indicated before, reactions were mixed.
Now I can appreciate people not caring to see this part of the cooking process. It’s sometimes a hard truth that something has to die in order for us to enjoy the foods we love and consumer everyday. To feel some note of compassion for the slain animal is normal and healthy. But to me, the more I learn about the animals we eat and their anatomy, the more respect I develop for those ingredients. It’s an animal, not another processed, prepackaged ingredient I get at any grocery store. The steak or chop stops being just some cut of meat, and I can see it as part of a larger picture, as something that has a little story behind where it came from. My appreciation grows the more hands on I can be with the ingredients. And this applies across the board: growing veggies, filleting fish, or seeing first hand where a tenderloin comes from. I love this stuff, I geek out to this stuff, and if it grosses my friends out a little bit, even better.
So I figured I’d throw the whole breakdown out there and let God the Internet sort it out. The following pictures aren’t bloody, there are no guts being thrown around, but if you enjoy the ignorant bliss of not knowing where your favorite piggie parts originate from, this post may not be for you. If however, you’re like me, and would love nothing more than to try your hand at breaking down a whole pig, then by all means enjoy the photos after the jump.
BS over at Endless Simmer inspired me. I’m usually the one that is struggling to figure out a technique, usually it’s my friends that suffer from my failures and misunderstandings. But this time around I was happy for once it wasn’t me going, “What the fuck?!” So learning from someone else is a welcome change.
In this instance it’s simply peeling asparagus so you can toss it with some pasta. Basically your making noodles out of ‘gus and in theory not only is it sexy meal, but it’s delicious. Don’t worry too much about cooking or blanching the ‘gus, the cool crisp texture of the strands brings this dish together. This is a Jamie Oliver recipe I’ve been itching to try for ages now, but just never really got around to have the right set of ingredients. But it’s spring, I’ve been trying to O.D. on crab (unsuccessful) and you have to love a good summer pasta dish.
No, that’s not a pizza, although I certainly don’t mind the occasional leftover pizza for breakfast. The frittata is just one more out of a thousand things you can do with some eggs and a few leftovers. Have a bunch of mushrooms that are about to turn? A sausage link you don’t know what to do with? Any assortment of leftover veggie and you my friend can make yourself an tasty breakfast that can easily be split into slices to serve company.
Unlike the omelette the frittata doesn’t require a lot of technique. The only thing you’re really worried about is getting the added ingredients cooked just through and then setting the egg base. Another item that is key is a pan that can go into the oven without the handle melting or catching on fire. A small cast iron skillet is best, or any pan with rounded edges will work well. This may not be the most traditional frittata, but it’s great in a pinch or when you’re too hung over to leave the house to pick up breakfast.
You know, there are days when I question the merits of running a food blog. It’s a time consuming, frustrating, often unappreciated process. Juggling HTML code, photography, cooking and writing can consume a considerable amount of one’s time. Sometimes it’s bit too similar to real job than I’d prefer my hobbies become. This is natural I suppose, especially when you have to turn down a happy hour with friends. But then, once and a while, you have a day like last Sunday. Or more specifically, when Foodbuzz hooks you up with free tickets to check out an event you’d normally wouldn’t be able to afford. So from here on out, when I start balling up my fist and shaking it furiously my computer, I’ll just lean back in my chair, close my eyes and think back to Cochon 555.
Cochon 555 got it’s start down in Atlanta as a benefit to showcase local chef skills, ecofriendly farm raised animals, and to help raise awareness for ICompassion. I was really lucky to have a chance to attend as well as bring a few friends. With a $125 price tag per ticket this was a luxury all of us would probably pass on despite the fact FIVE different top notch DC chefs compete with a whole pig Iron Chef style. Oh and did I mention wine? Well, that’s intentional. After Vintage Virgina I was a bit drained on wine note taking, but I took more issue with the fact that most of the wines were flown in from California. What the fuck?! This fact was made all the more annoying given that I had just spent the entire day before surrounded by 50 local wineries. But this event was all about pig, and by god Cochon 555 did not disappoint on that promise.
Featuring Brian McBride’s team from Blue Duck Tavern, RJ Cooper of Vidalia, Nicholas Stefanelli of Mio, Jamie Leeds from Commonwealth Gastropub and John Manolatos of Cashion’s Eat Place, Cochon 555 very much delivered on showcasing some diverse, local culinary talent.
Saturday AMF went on a little field trip out to Virgina. Making it outside DC is a rare occurrence these days for me given my lack of transportation, but how can you not when good friends, good weather, free flowing alcohol, are all in abundance. Is there any way better to spend a Saturday? Ok, fine, I’m sure there are valid answers to that question, but if you’re a yuppie, scratches by to build a “career,” looking at a picture just a tad bit larger than your immediate-post college counterparts, this is a good day. So lets talk a little wine shall we? Vintage Virgina Wine Festival was a great chance to pay homage to our local guys, and worth waiting in traffic. I was glad to see some really good things going on once I finally cut to the front of the line.
Honestly, I’m not going to hate on any VA vineyards, because they all had something to contribute. I enjoyed at least one varial at every booth, was treated well by each and every taster. It was a welcoming and enticing event, and it’s really great to see the VA wineries really start coming into their own.
Also, the live music had some exceptional talent. Thankfully the country cover bands stayed home and we were treated to some quality jazz under a few different tents, not to mention the main stage provided patrons with good bands to sit and relax to when they needed to give their palates a break. Think I even saw a mosh pit forming in front of the stage towards the end. Also, how can you not love the county fair selection of food vendors?! Fuck caviar and bruscetta (not really), give me funnel cakes, foot long corn dogs and the biggest mount of jambalaya I have ever seen in my life. It was a perfect trifecta of quality music, excellent vino and greasy carnival food. Enough foreplay, lets talk wine.
As I said, I don’t want to be critical of the various wineries. If I had not found a single decent wine at any of the booths I visited, I would make note of it, but that thankfully was not the case. Not to mention given the length of the day, varying crowds and my refusal to spit out any wine I tasted my experiences would vary I’m sure from others. Overall, was really happy to see a variety of Cab Francs and even a few appearances of Petit Verdot in a couple of blends. Here are my Top Three vineyards and my Top Three wines from each.
First reaction: “Only three wines? Seriously? Kind of a jip.” Reaction after the first taste: “Holy fuck..”
These guys sacrificed quantity for quality in all the right ways. Maybe I’m a sucker for the Petit Verdot grape which adds an almost syrupy richness and body to any wine it touches, but Mountfair’s blends were simply excellent on all three of their offerings. These guys are small time, about 100 cases of each wine produced, but they certainly make up for it in quality. All three need a taste, so I’ll just list them and you go find them.
Inagural ‘07 (60% Cab Franc/25% Merlot/ 15% Petit Verdot) – Lush and fruity
Engagement ‘07 (60% Merlot/20% Petit Verdot/ 15% Cab Sav/ 5% Malbec) – soft but well structured. Hints of berries and chocolate
Wooloomooloo ‘07 (60% Petit Verdot/20% Merlot/ 10% Cab Franc/5% Cab Sav/5% Malbec) – almost a true Bordeux blend including all five of the major grapes. Well balanced with fruit and earth. One of my favorites.
I won’t lie. I have a soft spot for irreverant branding and interesting labels. So I could be bias here, but I really dug a lot of what these guys were putting out. Don’t let the names fool you, these are legit blends that would hold up well at any dinner party.
Yesterday – A bright, crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Not too fruity or herby. Inspired by youth apparently.
Erhoneous – I’ve always really enjoyed the Rhone wines, so when I saw that this was a Grenach/Syrah blend I was excited. Very smooth, lush and fruity. The Grenache isn’t overwhelming at all.
Franc the Tank – A Cab Franc that is advertised as “so good you’ll drink it by the pint.” My notes betray me here. All I can tell you is that I circled “pint” and ”so good” and then added a bunch of “!!!” after the name.
I’ve actually had the pleasure of visiting this little vineyard outside of Charlettesville a little while back, and I’d highly recommend the trip. If you’re an American History fan, you’re in luck since the house on the hill was designed by Thomas Jefferson. He also brought over a lot of the grapes from Italy to take root, but failed miserably. Lucky for us, that didn’t keep the people who owned the land from trying again. I really enjoy Italian grape varials, so I’m always excited to see what they’re putting out.
Nebbiolo – a Northern Italy grape clone, a tannic wine with a lot of body, well suited for roated meats and cold evenings.
Octagon – Barboursville’s signature blend. It’s a solid sturdy wine, but if your really want to learn a thing or two about this wine, and digg some tunes check this link out.
Also, it should be noted Valhalla and Breaux both did impressive jobs and deserve more attention than I was able to give here.