Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lasagna Bolognese

Lasagna always seems like such a fuss, and I'll admit it, I usually just go for a frozen one. It always seems like too much work to make a real one, from scratch, and frozen ones aren't that bad (if you avoid the orange grease stain that is Stouffer's). So it's kind of ironic that I made this last night, because real work at my real job was eating my figurative baby and I needed to be able to put something in the oven for an hour and forget about it.

This is why I took the time to can my tomatoes last summer. It was precisely for this reason. I can totally shirk my duties without feeling like a lazy wife or a shitty blogger, because technically, this is homemade sauce. (Not that any of you should ever feel bad about using store-bought sauce. I'm just an over-achiever.)

This is why I grow and sauce my own tomatoes, grind my own beef and can my own Bolognese sauce. I'm banking my time and energy in canned food form, to withdraw at a future, overworked date. A good thing, too, is a box of no-cook lasagna noodles, already snuggling in my pasta drawer amongst my jars of summer sun. A bag of baby spinach and a cube of extra firm (silken) tofu got blitzed to stand in for ricotta (adding a spoonful of creme frâiche for dairy twang, and a little sea salt and fennel seed for flavor).

A nutmeggy bechamel layer, noodles, Bolognese (heated through with some leftover sausage and mushrooms), noodles, spinachy-tofu smoosh, noodles, then all remaining sauce, topped with shredded mozz and parm*. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Wait, it looks like I had to cook after all...

Serve with a juicy Spanish grenache and unmitigated languor.

*Note: this got a little on the extra-browned side of melty, but was still good. I just added extra cheese when it came out of the oven. Next time I'll cover to bake.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bacon cheeseburgers on green onion brioche

Last night we went to see the Department of Eagles play at the Doug Fir. I love that band so much, and it was a really great show (though they pretty much stuck to In Ear Park and mocked my cries for Forty Dollar Rug). Before the show, I didn't really know what to make for dinner, but had a pound of ground beef (the last of the grass-fed beeve we bought last summer) and two days-old green onion sweet buns from the Vietnamese bakery. I kept forgetting to take them to work for breakfast, and boy howdy! Am I ever glad about it.

Those Vietnamese really know how to bake. They don't, however, seem to be too fond of printing the name of their food on labels or the internet, because I have no idea what they call these buns. They're slightly sweet and tender like brioche (or Hawaiian sweet bread), and come in a variety of flavors like sweet bean, ham and cheese, hot dog and corn (a personal favorite), or green onion. I usually go for the green onion, because I'm a slave to green onion on sweet pastry (which reminds me, I'm overdue for some dim sum).

I sliced the bánh-something (I'm pretty sure these are actually Chinese in origin, but who knows) in half cross-wise and assembled them: first, a little mayo and mustard; then the mammoth gluttony burgers (a whopping half pound each); a slice of thick, smoky bacon; sauteed mushrooms and onions; a slab of Madrigal cheese and barbecue sauce. If they weren't $2 each, I'da put some avocado on there too. I know the purists are giving me that look. Don't look at me like that, this is my way of a burger. Besides, if you're using fancy scallion buns you've already ruined everything. Fucking live a little.

Serve with blue box and not a shred of irony.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pork fried rice with kimchee and dou miao

...or, What To Do With Leftover Shogayaki and Rice.

Hey, Xin Nian Kuai Le, everybody! I really hate posting this bowl of beige and blur after all the pretty and the comfy, but it's Chinese New Year and I'm making burritos for dinner tonight. I was gonna post it on Thursday (when I made it), but my mouse AND my keyboard shit the bed at the same time, then our internet connection was being a dick, so here it is, later.

I got my wok rippin' hot with vegetable oil, and tossed in some sliced leeks (I need to use them), garlic and onion, then threw in the leftover rice and stirred it around ostentatiously. Tossed in the dou miao (pea shoots; I chopped them for manageable bites, because otherwise you're chewing that cud for an hour) and a chiffonade of kimchee. Let the dou miao get a little wilty, and add the thinly-sliced pork (per Peter's suggestion, I pulled the bones out of the chops and simmered them to a rich stock, to which I added soy sauce and sake of my own volition). When everything was getting toasty, I added the flavorful jus and a couple eggs, and scrambled everything around until the liquid was absorbed and the egg was set.

Serve with a drib of hoisin sauce and a healthy disdain for technology.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lemon-cornmeal ebelskivers with blackberry preserves

Scott and I were up so, so late last night, finishing an evening celebrating Norm's birthday with friends and 20-year old syrah that smelled like goat testicles (and Saxum Rocket Block (2005?) - a grenache that was like making out with black cherries and literally made me giddy). We got home late and then hung out for a few more hours until it was eventually 4:00 in the morning and we reluctantly collapsed from so much ado.

We woke up at around noon, ravenous and rheumy-eyed. A light dusting of snow covered the ground outside our window and we didn't hurry out of bed, despite our rumbling tummies. Planting kisses upon his bearded face, I promised pancakes with blackberry jam and whipped cream. Once in the kitchen, I decided to kick things up the proverbial notch and busted out the ebelskiver pan that he gave me for Christmas.

I whipped up a basic pancake batter, but subbed a third of the flour for cornmeal and folded in lemon zest and a little juice, and some sour cream. This made a very thick, yet porous batter (the acidic lemon juice reacting with the baking soda really kept things airy, despite the thickness of the sour cream). This was my first time using the ebelskiver pan, but it's really pretty easy. I just filled them 3/4 way full (allowing room to expand), and when they started smelling nice and the bubbles started to look dry, I flipped them in their little divots with a fork.

When they were all ready, I gave them a little pool of blackberry preserves (warmed with melted butter) and whipped some cream to a light froth. I dusted the ebelskivers with powdered sugar to mirror our snow-sprinkled day and we had a lovely brunch.

Serve with pink grapefruit mimosas and marital bliss.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Swedish meatballs with buttered noodles and nutmeg gravy

Wow, what a week. Not even a (much-needed, and well-spent) paid holiday or a sexah new president could shake the funk of cold weather and crampy ladytimes. I made it to the gym again, to try to run off some of my shitty attitude, but it just made me more tired. When push finally came to shove, dinner had to come with gravy.

You love those Ikea Swedish meatballs so much, don't you. Of course you do, you're not made of stone. You don't, however, love driving through traffic to circle the 50-acre parking lot, or swimming through the crowds of mouth-breathers that hoved in from the suburbs to buy exquisite plywood shelving with sleek birch veneers. What in the fuck can you do, though? You love those meatballs.

So make them your damn self already. Mix together some ground chuck and ground pork (about 3:1, respectively, for about a pound total), an egg, a half-handful of plain bread crumbs, a quarter of an onion (minced), more nutmeg than you think you should (at least ten scratches across your microplane zester), four or five good cracks of pepper, and a few pinches of crunchy salt. Mix only until combined, and use a little ice cream scoop to perfectly portion out meatballs onto a silpat. Roast these at 400 for about 20 or 30 minutes, until they're browned and lovely.

Whilst the meatballs are roasting, get a roux going. When it's nutty, whisk in milk until the lumps are all gone, and it is creamy and gravylike. Add some cracks of pepper (white is nice, if you have it), salt and 10 or 15 scratches of nutmeg. After it's bubbled for a spell (and the floury taste is gone), add some minced fresh thyme and a generous spoonful of creme frâiche, and taste. Whilst the gravy is simmering, boil some egg noodles. When they're done, toss in a knob of butter to coat. Toss a squonch of chopped parsley at it artfully.

Serve with a mug of hefedunkel and bork bork bork.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Roasted parsnip soup with bacon and caramelized leeks

I am so into the toasty-crouton-on-soup thing right now. It's the reason for soup, almost, to get crispy bread and buttery, melty goodness into my gaping maw. This soup is of typical creation myth: too lazy for a trip to the store, too much good shit going bad in the fridge (this time, leeks and a bag of baby parsnips) and cold weather. This one was delicious and even worthwhile in its own right. But it didn't come without snags. Does anything good ever?

I got this soup started on Tuesday. Tuesday was a gym day, and I always try to eat something somewhat conscientious on gym days, so "a roasted vedge soup it would be", I'd decided. We got home from the gym, and I rushed to the kitchen to peel an entire bag of baby parsnips (20 minutes), shallots (prolly only 5 minutes but I swear it feels like the lifetime of ten thousand kings) and a few cloves of garlic, and then washed and washed and washed the leeks after splitting them and chopping them into rough spears (another 15 minutes). It's going on 7:30, and I'm just now getting this shit into the oven for its requisite 45 minutes of roasting.

GAH. Finally, the roasting is done. The house smells amazing. The leeks are crispy like they've been in a campfire, all ashy and shit. Not good. I try to simmer the whole thing in chicken stock and a little bacon, but it occurs to me that I'll need to flesh this soup out a bit, but have nothing to add any body (not even motivation to go the store). It's 8:35, and I almost start to cry with the realization that it'll take another hour before this soup is really edible (let alone good).

I stick the soup, pot and all, into the fridge and we go to the trashy Italian-American restaurant around the corner for tortellini and pizza instead.

The next day, I pull the pot out. I'd gone to the store this time, for a little loaf of seeded baguette, a pint of cream and some more leeks. I pull out the bacon, and simmer the soup for an hour (it's only 6:00 this time!). Clean the one of the new leeks, slice into a near-chiffonade and slow-sauté with a pinch of salt over low heat until completely creamy and melted. Add a splash of cream to the soup (maybe a couple) and whiz it smooth with the immersion blender. Add the leeks and the chopped bacon, a splash of red wine vinegar, some salt and white pepper.

I sliced the baguette thick on the bias, and toasted both sides in the buttery leek pan, then floated them in the bowls of soup, topped with shredded Pecorino and Madrigal (and some French-fried onions for shits and gigs), then put the tray of bowls under the broiler for a minute or two.

Serve with a brambly Côtes du Rhône and smug criticism of Top Chef contestants.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shogayaki with sunomono

I just lost some of you, didn't I. It's just gingery pork chops and cucumber salad, nothing weird. I have noticed that I get a lot more comments on classic diner favorites and American comfort food than on the Asian food I make, but I'm hoping some of you will come around on that. There's a whole world out there, people.

Some of my friends, blog and real-life, are still mystified by Asian cooking. I was once, too, but started small: Thai curries (with store-bought curry paste, added to coconut milk). Hippie stir-fries flavored only with hoisin sauce and garlic. Pad thai made with ketchup and peanut butter. I eventually picked up Asia: the Beautiful Cookbook and made a real massuman curry from scratch, and it was all downhill from there.

Japanese food is so simple and clean, there's no good reason for you to not be making it yourself, and from scratch. "But I don't have your pantry," some of you are whining. Well, quit yer bellyachin'. All you need to make shogayaki are three ingredients (besides pork): shoyu (soy sauce - I used tamari), mirin (sweet rice wine) and grated ginger. I added a pinch of sugar to hit that sweet spot without being too boozy, but that's optional. Marinate for 15 minutes, then grill.

Sunomono is just any little vegetable dressed in vinegar, salt and sugar, and differs from tsukemono (pickles) only in that it's eaten soon, while it's fresh (not fermented or pressed). The ingredients for mine are all basic: a cucumber, the same mirin (I use Koku Mori, a Taiwanese brand that is pretty good), rice vinegar (an aged version that is malted, also Koku Mori), salt and sesame seeds. Again, you can add a pinch of sugar to sweeten it up a skosh.

Serve with steamed rice and a premium hot sake such as Momokawa Diamond, whose subtly cucurbitaceous, canteloupe sweetness and nectary mouthfeel complement the sunomono.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Beef sirloin meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy

There's just no way to make meatloaf look pretty, is there? Too bad.

In an attempt to make room for all the pig that I just bought, I had to pull a couple things from the freezer, among them a 3-lb sirloin tip roast from the half beeve that I split with Greta and Matt last spring. Matt is always good for going in on meat en carcasse - it's good to have coworkers and friends who give a shit about where their food comes from.

Normally, I'd never do such a thing as grind a lean cut of meat like sirloin tip roast, but I also didn't want to wait another day to roast it on the weekend, nor did I want to slice steaks off it. And I have meat coming out of my ass right now anyway, so why not a meatloaf? It's cold out, and gravy is the cure.

I ground the roast (and some ends of bacon for fat) on the coarsest grind, added an egg, a slice of stale wheat bread and a small onion (these went in the grinder, too), the last blob of gochujang and some squirts of Worcestershire sauce, some fresh thyme and parsley, some paprika and lot of salt and pepper. Mix gently and just enough - overworking makes a tough meatloaf. Form into a babyloaf shape and bake on a sheet in a 375-degree oven for about 45-60 minutes.

I never use a loaf pan to make meatloaf anymore because that juice will sit in there and boil the meat, which is not tasty. Also, when you try to cut a slice, it falls apart like loosemeats. The baking sheet technique is just way better, trust me on this.

I mashed some boiled white and russet potatoes with cream and butter, then folded in some grated cheddar because I am evidently trying to get a big, fat ass. I honestly don't know why I added cheese, I was like on autopilot or someshit.

Serve with an ice cold Coke and The Office.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Idaho trout with macque choux and Meyer lemon beurre blanc

Since I split a half a pig with Matt, I had to pull a lot of shit out of the freezer to make room. Miraculously, my already-packed freezer could fit a quarter hog. Must be my mad Tetris skills.

I always buy seafood several pieces at a time, when the hankering hits hard, but then I cook one piece (or don't) and the rest has to go to the freezer. This time, one had to come out. This little brown paper package contained two trout fillets.

Some astute readers will notice my flagrant substitution of fingerling potatoes for bell peppers, making this a mountebank macque choux, but don't hate. I didn't think to call this macque choux until I got to writing it up. Besides, macque choux literally translates as "brakes cabbages", making potatoes the least of this dish's problems. I don't know (I've been saying that a lot lately, haven't I). I just kind of knew how this was supposed to taste and named it later.

I sliced these giant banana fingerling potatoes and gave them a hot water bath to parcook, then drained and pan-fried them with minced shallot in olive and rendered bacon (the first taste of the pig, and it's good). When they started to brown up on the edges, I tossed in a cup of frozen white corn and halved grape tomatoes. Then a squonch of chopped thyme and Meyer lemon zest, crunches of flaky sea salt and black pepper. Let it get brown and crusty, and then pull everything out of that pan, turn off the heat and deglaze with half the lemon's juice and a splash of white wine. Whisk in a couple knobs of butter until creamy-dreamy. That's your sauce, baby.

Now just rinse and pat dry the trout fillets, and salt and pepper the flesh side. Get the pan pretty hot (not quite rippin', but hot), and lay the fillets in skin-side down. Now the most important step: walk away from the pan for a few minutes and don't fuck with it. It'll take all of your strength to not poke it or try to move it, but you gotta just leave that shit be.

Okay now you can flip it. Turn off the pan (the pan is still hot enough to cook the other side of the fish, so don't freak out). Stir a sexy little wad of crème fraîche into the macque choux, then stir in the beurre blanc and a few fatty pinches of chopped parsley. Top the wee piles of sweet-crunchy/dense-crusty/tangy-juicy with a crispy trout fillet.

You know you're dying to, so go ahead and throw some crunchy pinches of sea salt at it.

Serve with a bright chard and smug self-satisfaction.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Honey-tamarind chicken with rice vermicelli

Today, Scott and his broworkers went to Green Papaya to get some delicious Vietnamese food, as was their daily wont until the bulk of them relocated to an office further away than across the street. Today was Green Papaya for old times'. They sat down at their table, took a glance at the menu, and noticed that it had been totally chopped since their last visit months earlier. "The fuck?" Scott recounted to me, as we walked downtown's mizzled, brick streets, our gym gear in tow. He'd has his heart set on his Green Papaya favorite: honey barbecue chicken. Instead, he was relegated to the fare of a clunky, meatball sports club owner trying to phase out "seafood foe" and phase in "TVs".

I grew livid at the thought that my wantless husband was denied. His cravings are so humble and infrequent that he deserves to have every one slaked. And some stupid motherfucker thinks another sports bar is what this town needs instead of good Vietnamese food. I had to take matters into my own hands.

Okay, no, I didn't go break that dude's kneecaps, but I figured I could cook Scott his denied honey barbecue chicken. We already had skinless/boneless chicken breasts, green beans and red bell pepper that needed eating, and half a bag of fresh rice vermicelli. A bag of lettuce that I saved from the brink of compost (washed and cut, bagged for easy use) could flesh things out and provide a refreshing crunch.

I don't know if you can see the julienne on those carrots, but I did that by hand. Just so you know. (I just got my knife sharpened and am showing off.)

To make the barbecue sauce, I combined honey and tamarind (soaked and pressed through a sieve) lime zest and juice, a few squirts of fish sauce and a drib of soy sauce, a little palm sugar and a splash of rice vinegar, and some sambal oelek and crushed garlic. Slice the chicken breasts into thirds width-wise (fillet them into thin sections) and marinate the pieces for at least 15 minutes. Grill until sufficiently charred, then toss some red bell pepper and green beans on there. Scott said it tasted pretty much the same, and was happy. Yay.

Serve with rice noodles and lettuce, nước chấm, and righteous indignation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shanghai-style nian gao with soy-braised short ribs and broccoli

I dunno. I totally made this up. A few weeks ago Scott and I ate at Castagna, in the more casual cafe (we save the restaurant for fancy occasions). Scott had the cassoulet (of course) and I had their pasta dish de la saison: maltagliati with braised short ribs and turnip greens. It came sauced in butter thickened with Parm Redge. It was fucking insane, and a perfect toe-curl, and I knew I had to recreate it with Asian flavors. It was such a logical translation - the bitter greens with the sultry beef and chewy, stubby noodles.

A few months ago, Claudia (the sylph behind cook eat FRET) tried some nian gao in Cleveland right about the time I first saw them at Fubonn. I knew then that I needed to try them, but wasn't really feeling the arbitrary purchase at the time. It took me this long to get around to actually picking some up to experiment.

I also picked up a couple pounds of rough-cut flanken-style beef ribs (labeled "back ribs" - I think these were the castoffs from cutting galbi), which were comprised primarily of sinew, tallow and bone. The meat that remained was sufficiently laced with connective tissue and marbling that a 4-hour braise melted it to goulash. I browned the ribs in a Dutch oven with a knob of young ginger and half a head of garlic, a couple bay leaves and some peppercorns, then covered it in soy sauce (laochou that I thinned with some water), Chinese black vinegar, mirin and a spoonful of veal demiglace. When it came to a simmer, I plunked it into a 250-degree oven and went about my day.

I actually shopped for this dish a week ago, and it took me this long to muster the motivation (and time) necessary to properly execute a braise. During this time span, I used up almost all of the Shanghai pak choi (qingcai ). I buy these greens by the bagful, and usually never use up the whole thing until they're almost compost. My garden greens got pwned by snow, and I didn't want to make another trip to the store just for greens, so I gave a "meh" and used broccoli.

The nian gao cooked up in about a minute, then I tossed them with the beef, broccoli, and a ladleful of the braising liquid to coat. At the last minute, I decided it needed a shred of omelet on top. I cooked the egg with a little sugar and chile flake, and it lightened up the dish nicely.

My mental picture of nian gao as the Asian answer to bite-sized maltagliati (translates to "badly cut") proved eerily accurate, and this odd dish worked, rendering this disjointed, disorganized conversation about it a propos. I'll try this again, with an easier cut of meat (maybe pork - we bought a quarter pig yesterday) and the shred of greens for which the nian gao's density yearns.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Split pea soup with pancetta and ham

I should just go ahead and change the name of this blog to Soup and Brekkie, cuz I'm on a fucking kick. Soup is a basic thing, though, and anyone can make excellent soup if they're willing to keep bags of bones and carcass in their freezer. If they're not, though, they can still crank out a reasonably fantastic split pea.

Split pea soup doesn't even require stock to be awesome. The peas bring plenty of flavor of their own, particularly when combined with a (celery-less) mirepoix of minced carrot and onion, ham and pancetta. Render the pancetta in a drip of olive oil, then brown the mirepoix in the bacon fat. Add the diced ham and the split peas, and stir them around to coat in the fat (sorta like making risotto). Add a couple bay leaves and thyme sprigs, then a bunch of water. Simmer for an hour (stirring once in awhile), or until the peas are softened but still retain their shape when stirred. Salt and pepper to taste, and stir in lots of chopped parsley and mint. I like extra mint and black pepper in mine.

I made some fatty croutons from some leftover pugliese (although I lied to Peter and told him it was ciabatta, just to fuck with him). Just cubed and browned in butter with a crunch of salt and some thyme, and there was a nice textural contrast always welcome in a bowl of soup.

Enjoy with early pajamas and a mug of budget chardonnay.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Minestra al pomodoro e pesto

It's finally soup weather. We've gotten back to the sodden, gloomy, winter weather that makes people slit their wrists when they move here. I love it. It's damp and moldy, and it smells like warm compost and fecundity again after all that stupid Arctic Blast nonsense. Snow and ice doesn't make me crave soup, it makes me crave hard liquor and sweets, preferably combined. Soup in rainy weather, however, is the pink in my cheeks.

This is Soup. It is a rib-sticking bowl of salubrity that chases the hate away. I wanted a minestrone-type affair, but don't really care about beans enough to make room for them among the sausage and tortellini. If you want a vegetarian-ish version of this, by all means, omit the sausage. But everyone knows that vegetarians will lose the fight against the zombies when the end times come, so you may as well start building your strength and perfecting your aim.

This is a soup of leftovers and fridge-purge. Bulk pork Italian sausage got browned with leftover chopped onions, red peppers and chopped mushrooms. Tubs of fire-roasted tomatoes (puree with a half a can of tomato paste and a glug of budget Syrah) chicken stock from the freezer sauced it up all brothy. Tortellinis in, and after they softened up a bit, Blue Lake green beans and choy sum joined the party. A moment later, half a tub of leftover arugula-pumpkin seed pesto enriched the broth and brought some much-needed garlic. Soup's on.

Top with copious amounts of Pecorino Romano and a spoonful of pesto. Serve with olive ciabatta and Les Hérétiques. Buon appetito.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pub Grub

Doesn't this look like a happy picnic of all of your favorite fried foods, fresh from the pub, all laid out on a blanket of glee and sunshine? Don't be fooled, it's rainy and sardonic out there. This new lamp burns my retinas until I see only magenta and green splotches, and I can't adjust the white balance on my camera if it's on the macro setting. The bloody fuck?

When Scott and I quit smoking a year ago (next week), we knew there was only one place that we'd miss terribly: the Horse Brass. We had our commemorative send-off into ex-smokerdom there, to add one last wisp to the raw umber patina on the walls and to engage in what would be our last blissful respite in overt self-destruction. Not being ones for doing things half-assed, we had to order the halibut fish and chips (Scott's favorite) and the Scotch egg (my downfall).

In case you haven't surmised, a Scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg that's been wrapped in sausage and deep-fried. I made bite-sized ones with quail eggs. It was a total hassle, but worth it. I made a honey-horseradish dip for them and it rocked me like a hurricane.

Just as big a hassle, but similarly worth it, were the halibut fish and chips (in a Boddington's ale batter) and sweet potato fries. With plenty of homemade tartar sauce (store-bought mayo thinned with a little red onion vinegar, Dijon, lemon zest, chopped homemade pickles and S&P). The fries were alright, not awesome - they could've been a little crispier. We joked about making onion rings too, but there was so much golden brown on the plate already. To be honest, after eating the first perfect Scotch egg, I wanted to eat only those and didn't need anything else.

I also made a batch (actually, a restrained bowl) of simple slaw by finely slicing savoy cabbage and scallions, and whisking together a dressing of mayo (opting again for store-bought), Dijon, white balsamic, honey, lemon juice and zest, salt and lots of pepper. It would've benefited from a denser crunch in retrospect, and I wish I'd added some apple or kohlrabi to the mix.

My cravings for fried, crispity goodness having been thoroughly slaked, it'll be a long while before I wreck my kitchen again doing this (and at $18/lb., halibut was a real once in awhile treat to buy fresh). Besides, bars are smoke-free now. Horse Brass here we come.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Napoleon Complex

I get a wild hair up my ass for weekend breakfasts. I'm never in a very big hurry, and I have the rest of the day to burn off the calories, so I can really splurge on two or three proteins and as much dairy and starch as I want. I can always, I dunno, go shovel snow or someshit.

This little treat is a testament to that philosophy. I wanted pancakes, but was really craving savory flavors, like salty ham, melty cheese and drippy yolks. I didn't want to phone it in with a Ham and Egg McChee™ (my go-to weekend brekkie), so I thought about making blini. Without buckwheat flour (or caviar), though, blini seemed pointless. But think about it: blini are just a savory pancake. Why can't I make a basic pancake recipe that's savory? I couldn't think of any reason why not, so I did.

Halving Joy of Cooking's basic pancake recipe, I omitted the sugar and added minced onion, chopped thyme and parsley, salt and pepper and a handful of grated Madrigal cheese (a French baby Swiss). I cooked little silver dollar pancakes, poached two eggs, and browned some shaved Niman Ranch applewood-smoked ham and some sliced mushrooms. When everything was ready (45 minutes later, including pre-cooking cleanup and prep), I stacked the little pancakes with a layer of ham, a layer of mushrooms, and a poached egg on top.

Served with some boiled potatoes tossed in crème fraîche and herbs (and the requisite mimosa), it was a luxuriant and elegant brunch. Let the diet start on Monday.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Salade Niçoise on Belgian endive

I picked up these beautiful little quail eggs at Fubonn. I was thinking of what little appie I could bring over to Carolyn's house that wasn't crackers and dip (she was making Amy Sedaris' Lil' Smoky Cheese Ball) or something that would require heating in situ, so I thought about mini deviled eggs (excellent idea, but way too cumbersome) or a little salad of some type served on endive leaves. I know, 1989 called and wants its hors doeuvres back. Fucking sue me. Greta had given me some gorgeous albacore that she canned, and I had some lemons and olives, so this seemed like a no-brainer. And after all the holiday stodge, a crisp, citrusy salad sounded perfect.

This is the difference between starting your photography at 3:00 and finishing at 3:30. Night and day, innit? It gets dark early, and all of the shots of the salads in natural light were migraine-inducing blurry (I really should get in the habit of using my tripod, but like I need one more thing in my kitchen), so I had to resort to my new lights (thank you, darling husband!). Unfortunately, I broke the reflector umbrella when opening it so I've been directing the eye-piercing lamp directly at the food to simulate daylight, but it's just harsh and red and obvious, even after shopping the fuck out of it. Look at the size of those shadows. Okay, stop looking.

I blanched and slivered haricots verts, cut a brunoise of olives and home-made pickles (sharp as cornichons, they are, but from full-size Persian cukes), and finely diced a boiled red potato. I added these, with minced shallot and parsley, to the flaked albacore. I loaded the whole mix up with lemon zest, and a vinaigrette of olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, anchovies and S&P. I added extra luxuriant crunches of Maldon over the top for flourish.

I forked a little of the mixture onto each endive leaf and then topped with a little softboiled quail egg. I wasn't trying to be stingy, it was just such an extreme pain in my ass to peel each of these wee eggs and I was in a hurry (and the whole thing was getting to be waaaay too precious), so I opted to quarter the eggs instead of serving halves. This ended up being the perfect amount of egg anyway.

Tomorrow night I'm making tiny Scotch eggs and Boddington's-battered halibut fish and chips (fagging pub grub up a little more with sweet potato fries and a savoy slaw with a creamy lemon vinaigrette).