On Baking Bread…

14992458020_7c46f5cbfb_kLast year I got frustrated with the quality of bread I could get in my neighborhood.    Compared to a lot of places in the states, we actually have great bread on Capitol Hill.  There’s a Le Pain Quotidien just around the corner,  Fine Sweet Shop at Eastern Market, and until recently, Marvelous Market.

But none of them quite game me the bread I was looking for.  So I started baking my own.    I’ve found it meditative, challenging, and very fulfilling.  It’s forced me to rethink some of my cooking as well, as the precision required, and the variables of humidity, temperature, and time focus my thoughts on the science … not just the art… of making food.

I started out trying to fabricate a really great baguette – something I thought we were missing here in DC even before our spring trip to Paris.  After a couple of mediocre attempts, I first got a product I was really happy with using Weekend Bakery’s 80% Hydration Baguette.  Crisp  and chewy, depth of flavor, it’s  a really wonderful and simple bread that requires a little more attention than, well, I sometimes have available.   But it really got me thinking about other ways of developing flavor, and how working flour, water, salt and yeast could yield so many different results.

Since then I’ve experimented more and more.  Natural levain, long rises, etc.  Now I bake pretty much every weekend, and with a few exceptions, we haven’t bought bread in months.

“South” Korean: Kimchi Fried Halibut with Cheese Grits, Smoked Pork, and Hot Honey

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I’ve been thinking about Korean and Southern flavors for the past few weeks.  There are so many commonalities … smoke, sweet, vinegar, cabbage, fried, spicy, fermented …

I started making  my own kimchi a few months back – a basic nappa & daikon based pickle with  Korean chili, lots of garlic, ginger,  a little hit of fish sauce, and a few days room temperature ferment.   The result is delicious, and we’ve been eating it on ride bowls, in rolls, and just set as a side with other Asian dishes.

Bot somehow my mind kept coming back to shrimp and grits.  I originally thought about doing a Korean spiked shrimp and grits and this is the result.  Halibut fried in a rice flour batter hydrated with blended kimchi over cheese grits, with a hash of bacon ends and  kimchi, topped with jalapeno honey and black sesame seeds.  Rich, smokey, creamy grits,   crisp fish,  vinegary hash, and a hot sweet topping.    Recipe after the break

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Rose’s Luxury. Go. Go Now.

I’ve been struggling all day about what and how to write about our meal last night at Rose’s Luxury, Chef Aaron Silverman’s eclectic Barracks Row eatery.   That struggle hasn’t yielded any clear results, so I’ll just start with this:

Go to Rose’s Luxury.  As soon as possible.

Since opening in October, the Capitol Hill restaurant has taken DC by storm, and for good reason.   The meal we had was exceptional by any standard.  And the fact that it’s only a few short blocks from our home … well, that just means we’ll probably be back next week.    Continue reading

All the kids say …

Whey brined roast chicken

So my vegan experiment didn’t last the week.  Lack of dedication?  30%.  Lack of flowing water in our house?  %70.  The pipes froze.  Blame the polar vortex.  Blame global androgenic climate change, blame the 100+ year old house below the Mason-Dixon line where insulation is … well, insulation comes in a bottle with a label that says something about 51% corn.

Regardless, I’ll try again.  Part of the idea behind a week of plant based cooking was to see how my rapidly aging ass handled it, and whether I felt better or worse at the end of seven days of legumes and well … more legumes.  So sometime in the near future watch out for more.

I got through a few days.  A few lunches.  A dinner party.  I’m happy with what I cooked.  I’ll do it again.

Since then I’ve played with a  few other things . The above whey brined roast chicken to start.   I’ll post a recipe soon … but it was a bit of a revelation.

More soon.

Day One: The Dinner Party

CauliflowerSoupA close friend, and one time frequent dinner guest – before she callously moved away – came to dinner last night.  This presented a bit of a challenge, since while i can churn out one hell of a vegetarian meal, skipping the eggs and dairy was entirely new.  What, no mushroom cream sauce?  I can’t use Parmesan everything?

Mushroom Tortelini

I settled on three courses (with bread and cocktails, of course):  A cauliflower soup, a simple chopped salad, and tortellini stuffed with mushrooms, herbs, and breadcrumbs.  What I discovered?  Cooking without butter is hard. It’s such a crutch, and without it most components needed a lot more seasoning, and (in general) more acid in order to shine.  But textures … textures came out beautifully. And in the end, it was really quite a delicious meal.

Vegan Cauliflower Soup

The Soup:
1 medium head cauliflower, some florets reserved for garnish
1 medium russet potato or other starchy potato, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 rib celery
1 small carrot peeled
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp whole peppercorns
Up to 1/4 cup seasoned vinegar/chili vinegar
Salt to taste

Break the cauliflower into florets, reserving some smaller ones for garnish.   Place cauliflower and potato pieces in a pressure cooker or large stock pot with peppercorns,  garlic, carrot and celery whole.   Add water 1/3 of the way to the top.  Cover, and bring to pressure.  Cook 20-25 minutes on the second ring.    Allow pressure to release naturally.    Remove celery and carrot and discard.    With a slotted spoon transfer solids to a blender.  Add enough liquid from the pot to begin puree. Add additional liquid to achieve desired consistency and puree until smooth.  Taste, and add vinegar & salt to taste.   I ended up adding almost a 1/4 cup of hatch green chili infused white wine vinegar to ~1 qt of product.  To serve, ladle into a bowl, top with some fried cauliflower bits, rough chopped pistachios, and pickled dried cherries.  Sprinkle with sumac.

For the pickled cherries:
1/4 cup chili vinegar
1/4 cup dried sour cherries
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp kosher salt

Add all ingredients to a microwave save bowl, heat for 2 mins on high.  Set aside and allow to rest and flavors to combine  for 30 mins.  Drain, chop, and use as desired.

The Week (or Two) of Living Dangerously

Today I start an experiment. For the next week (at least) or two (at most), I’m going to cook and eat only plant based foods. For shorthand, I’m calling that vegan, but I’m people who’re particularly strict about a vegan diet for certain ethical reasons might disagree. I won’t, for example, rule out using honey. I may use some fish sauce or Worcestershire. I want to know if this is something I can do … meaning I want to know if I can cook good food without relying on butter, pork fat, cream, milk, eggs … as a crutch. So today it starts. Tonight I have dinner guests. Tomorrow I have to pack a lunch that I want to eat. But this morning … sitting here drinking Counter Culture La Golondrina and eating slow simmered oatmeal with dried cranberries, pistachios, maple syrup, and a drizzle of soy milk? This morning I’m pretty confident that this’ll actually be fun.

A Snowy Night: Quick Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

Snow, blowing wind, deep, deep cold.  Winter has descended on the Capital  (and the Capitol … a few blocks from us) .   Nothing says comfort on a cold night like a bowl of piping hot beef stew.  And because I have a pressure cooker in the cabinet, that’s a possibility even on a weeknight, and even without advance planning.   If you don’t have a pressure cooker, get one.  Seriously.  Its possible that I used mine more than any other single cooking instrument in the kitchen.  Quick stocks, fall apart stews, and creamy curries in literally minutes instead of hours.  They’re not cheap,  but they more than make up for in in time saved.

Quick Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

1 lbs whole chuck cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
2 ribs celery sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cup into 2 inch pieces
1 large onion, quartered
1 large carrot, peeled, and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 clove garlic , crushed
12 oz  porter, stout, or other dark beer
2 oz bacon, julienned
2 tbsp AP flour
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt & Pepper to taste

Add bacon to pan, cooking over medium heat until lightly crisp and well rendered, removed bacon leaving the rendered fat in the pan. Coat the meat generously with flour.   Cook beef in bacon fat over medium high heat until well browned on all sides.  Add vegetables, seasonings, and beer, cover, and bring to pressure. Cook on second ring for 25-30 minutes.  Allow pressure to release naturally.  Stir, reduce to thicken if necessary.  Serve with fresh bread or biscuits with butter and honey.

Two Days Later

New Years Eve … a busy day of cooking.  A day I missed writing.

New Years Day. Bread and water.  That’s a recovery day.  And a day I missed writing.

New Years Eve was a small feast … clams casino, shrimp cocktail,  whole leaf cesar, a frenched rack of pork in a two day cure, black eyed peas, simmered greens, “scalloped” potatoes (rounds cut and cooked to look like seared scallops) and far far too much wine.    The overall winners … the ones worth reproducing, were the clams casino and cocktail sauce.  Weird, but delicious.  The clams came about after a minor disaster with the intended oyster course.  I had planned on service oysters with a  frozen bacon mignonette – an herby vinegary bacon granita.   But upon shucking them, found out that all of the oysters I had were infested with pea or oyster crabs.   All fine and good if that’s what you want, but I wanted fresh, wet oysters.  So I improvised with clams I had intended as chowder stock.

Clams “Casino”

1 Dzn fresh live Cherrystone Clams
1/2 Cup crushed Wheat Thin crackers
1/2 Cup finely shredded smoked cheese (I used Idiazabal .. which isn’t technically smoked but has a smokey flavor)
1/4 Cup chopped cooked bacon
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp minced shallot
1 Tbsp minced mixed herbs  (parsley, sage, thyme)
1 Tsp malt vinegar
1 Tsp salt
Ground pepper to taste

Add bacon, shallots, salt, and vinegar to a bowl.  Allow to soak for 10 minutes or so, and drain any liquid.  Combine all ingredients except clams, and mix well. Scrub clams, and steam them open.  Shuck the bodies and remove top shell. Return clams to shell.  Top with crumb mixture.  Broil for 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned.

A Recovery Day Meal: Sorta Like A Tagine

After a week of rich roasted foods – and more than a couple meals made from my brothers spectacularly huge Christmas roast – we were craving something a little different.   My own quick take on a tagine  served over couscous  definitely fit the bill.

Sorta Chicken Tagine

1 small fryer (2.5-3lbs)  or 4 leg quarters
1 medium onion diced
1 cup peeled seeded and diced tomato or 1 small can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried dates
1/2 cup almonds
1 preserved lemon
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
dried red pepper flake or harisa paste
1 tbsp dried ground cumin
1 tsp dried ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
salt to taste (or fish sauce … which’ll add a remarkable depth of flavor)

If using a while chicken, break it down into quarters. Layer chicken, onions, ginger  and fruits  in a tagine or a shallow pan with a tightly fitted lid.  There’s no need to brown the chicken first.  Add dry spices to tomato and add to pan along with water or chicken stock to cover.  Bring to a very low simmer and good 2-4 hrs or until chicken is fall apart tender.  Serve over couscous with chopped cilantro and a drizzle of good olive oil.