Monday, May 24, 2010

Sandwiches are Sexy Too...

Prove it?

Okay...

Cast iron skillet.

Skirt steak. 4-5 minutes a side on medium high in a lightly oiled pan (you salted and peppered both sides of the steak, right?).

Half a white onion, 5-6 creminis, both sliced (thin for the onions so they carmelize and 'melt' relatively quickly, thick for the mushrooms so they have a bite to them). Throw in the skillet after you pull the steak out to rest (you let it rest...ALWAYS.). You might need to add a dash of oil.

Start toasting your bread here. I had a Rosemary Focaccia. You might have a hot dog bun. It's still bread. You should still toast it.

Slice some baby swiss from South Mountain Creamery. It's really good. You can find it at The 32nd Street Market (Waverly)

Get some mixed field greens from your CSA. Mine's Homestead Farms in Millington, MD. What? You don't do CSA? Okay, then from your farmers' market. Still? Okay, grab some lettuce. Your favorite kind. I think something like butter lettuce would be good here.

And I'm not harping on the CSAs and markets because of some social crusade (at least not in THIS post). No, lettuces are SUPER in season right now. My first CSA box was spring mix (shown below), mizuna (forthcoming post on damn good pasta), vitamin greens (forthcoming post on damn good omelet), and mustard greens (first casualty of the CSA season). Go get your lettuce from someone that picked it that morning at this time of year because it tastes better. Seriously. Compare. It's lettuce that tastes good. On its own.

And we're back...The bread adds the crunch, so ice berg is not the texture you want. Romaine hearts would get to crunchy too. This sandwich is LARGE. You want a green, if at all, that adds a bright flavor and that sits well on a mound of steak, cheese, and onions/mushrooms.

Go like this from bottom to top.

Bread
Steak
Cheese
Onions and Mushrooms hot from the pan to melt the cheese.
Greens
Bread

Got that? It's a sandwich.

Go make one.

Prove it?

Check. Check.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Raw & Soon to be Cooked

Please enjoy this prelude...taken from the 1988 Fine Young Cannibals album "The Raw and the Cooked."



Waverly was good to me today. Good like I needed it to be! Long week ahead and having food at home will get me back there more often after back and forth drives on Tuesday and Wednesday. At least I get to stop and pick up this week's CSA on Tuesday when I roll back in to town.

But that's Tuesday, and this is the day...



Skirt steak from the M&M folks, shitakes and creminis from the mushroom lady, baby swiss from the dairy guys and a rosemary focaccia loaf from one of the bakeries? Flavor of the Month says whaaaaat?



Check.

Three pounds of fresh peas, five bunches of local asparagus, a pint of gorgeous red new potatoes, fresh scallions, muenster and garlic/herb cheddar plus a dozen eggs and a quart of whole milk? Omelets and frittatas heeeere! Get your yummy omelets and frittatas here!

What's that? I have a HAM STEAK TOO??!!!??? Now we're cookin' with gas (well, I wish we were anyway).



Check, Check.

Some spring mix, vitamin & mustard greens from the CSA and a fresh batch of radishes from the market? Salads AND sauted greens to go with it all? Such a green...day...



Check, checkity, check.

Bone-in loin chops busting in at 1 1/2 inches thick and a neighbor with a grill?

Check baby, check baby, one, two, three, four. Check baby, check baby, one, two, three. Check baby, check baby, one, two. Check baby, check baby one. It's called the food shaker...



I have taken this too far. Waaaay too far. Like as far as Elwood P. Fahrpacard and I did when we'd skip high school, go to the Mountain Lair and pop five dollars in quarters into the juke box to play "Ice Ice, Baby" and "Whoomp, There It Is" over and over until a pool table opened up...quickly.





I'm so terribly sorry...but you clicked on them all...didn't you?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ham Steak and Grits



You don't need a whole lot more explanation than that. And if you don't have 2:28 to spare...here...

Beginning:


End:


Go get some.

What I Read Last Week

Two bits from the interwebs this morning. A post about grits later. That's right, you want some of that.

First, CNN actually had an interesting story on its front page this past week. "Food 101: Seeking Clues in the Kitchen" takes a look at people in their 20s and 30s who really just can't cook, some folks who are doing a crash-course in remedial cooking, and a few videos on the courses and their skills. Basic premise, this generation's folks didn't make them learn how to cook and they never did it for themselves. The paradox of a food obsessed culture only worsened the gulf, with people reading and watching food all the time, but only consuming it in restaurants, not learning how to produce it themselves.
From British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to First Lady Michelle Obama, a food revolution is brewing in America, a push to return to the bygone days when healthy home-cooked meals were much more frequent. Despite the efforts to get Americans back into the kitchen, there still exists a group of adults in their 20s and 30s -- like Clark -- who are clueless in the kitchen.

Ironically, these 20- and 30-somethings may have stretched their palates while traveling the world and even spend hours watching the cooking shows and "Top Chef," but they are defeated when they enter the kitchen. They don't own cooking utensils in their Tupperware-filled cabinets. They rely on microwaves, restaurants and takeout menus to feed their empty stomachs. Simply put, they cannot cook.

"Lots of people think, read and talk about food, but they don't know how to do anything," said Jennifer Berg, head of the Food Studies program at New York University. "There is an incredible disconnect to actually knowing how to do something."
The second bit of food news is much more exciting to me. I got an e-mail this week about Placer County Real Food. Two ladies, one farmers' market, 52 weeks, one dinner per week using only local produce.

Pretty god stuff. I don't think I'm in a temperate enough place to do that full year, I just think it's grand someone else can.

And the recipes look fantastic.

Maybe I'll get up tomorrow morning and head to a market myself, since my lazy bones went all of downstairs this morning and I couldn't be bothered to exercise any initiative or motivation to leave the house until about now (that'd be 11am). Oh well, The Quiet One is out of town this weekend anyway, so Waverly would have been a strange and foreign land...though I will miss my Curry Shack this week.

In any event. Two things for y'all to read up on while I get busy writing the next post (and popping up some video about grits...Mmmmm, grits.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

All that Remains are the Wine Stains

"Every time you have a big party, all that remains are the wine stains. And sometimes it's beautiful." ~ Daniel Boulud.

The laughter too. The laughter remains. I hope that part doesn't ever fade. For two Saturdays my house rang with laughter. The hearty kind that comes from friendship and wine, story-telling and comfort, lives led in pursuit of more than just happiness and good food.

I should write two posts here because there were two dinners. Or maybe because there are two styles of writing that need to be employed to get you into the room with us. Or perhaps because there was just so much going on.

Instead, I'll try to mash it all together and you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that it all happened...and that you missed one hell of two dinners.

And I'll share some how to.

We begin with the geek in his natural element, standing in the middle of throngs of asparagus-seekers, my stalks already selected, the shitakes from the mushroom lady in my man-purse-European-carryall, and the thought of NY Strip sliced thin and cooked hot with a dash of soy in my mind. I heard a voice.

"So what time are we coming over?"

And with that, it was dinner party season again.

Sue doesn't live here anymore (and that's all her fault) but she pops in to town about once a month for work. That is frequently enough to see and be seen. And to hear that the kitchengeek likes to cook. And she's bold. And I was talkin' about good food.

It started, you see, at a market. I am convinced that food is not the only thing you bring home from Waverly anymore. Coaches talk about the intangibles, pollsters the "it" factor. I just looked around a table full of friends old and new for two weeks and reminded them that but for the corn meal (WV) and some pantry staples (butter, broth, salt/pepper/etc.) this week and the balsamic vinegar and pantry last week, everything was fresh. Not just from the market, but from as close as I could get it. The asparagus and the strawberries in each week's dinner were from the Shore ('hon). The potatoes were Baltimore County grown this week. The beef and the chicken used to graze and scratch less than 100 miles away from where I type this very moment.

The wine? That's another story. Cava for bubbles at an auspicious occasion such as the first spring dinner, Louis Latour that pops brought at Christmas Eve that was never consumed (HOW did that happen?), Brian Carter Cellars with Termprenillo blends & Petit Verdot blends last week and a Riesling/Vigonnier blend last night. What? Pocahantski brought more Cava for the second weekend? The Quiet One (who was in attendance and NOT living up to her name at last night's dinner) graced us with her presence and some seriously amazing Bordeaux (Chateua Thebot from 2001) and a 2006 St. Innocent Pinot Noir that disappeared much too quickly for me to have a taste.  That's okay, Kim warned me to take some salad when I finally sat down for the the second dinner and I told her I'd get some later...I didn't pipe up when I saw Ms. Vertical scooping the final leaves out of the bowl.

There were improvements (not on the food or company of course, but on the logistics). There was that moment when we finally realized we needed someone to bring still and sparkling beverages NOT made from fermented grapes. Thankfully there were two more people at dinner week two so there were two more things that could be asked of guests.

Ms. Kim got water duty. Scored big by bringing the lemon and lime to go with the waters. Bueno, Kim. Bueno.

What did we ask Scott to bring? We just asked Scott to take the damn Tupperware of potatoes home with him.

When you're invited before the host knows about it and agree without paying attention to what city you'll be dining in that night...you get a gold star from this crew. Or a container of roast new and red-skinned potatoes that baked under a covering of chicken quarters with a head of garlic, a mountain of chopped fresh thyme, and touch of fresh-squeezed lemon juice for 90 minutes.  Waxy potatoes that are creamy with thyme and lemon; soft having poached in chicken fat and olive oil for an hour and a half; steaming with the aroma of crispy skin and soft roasted garlic. Yeah, you get that...

Week before that the prize was given to Jeff. Jeff got to learn how to make whipped cream (chill the bowl people. chill the bowl) and a balsamic reduction. His lady pal got to talk to the other lady friends and howl with laughter while we whisked and stirred in the kitchen.

When we were done, there was dessert bruschetta. A crispy rosemary ciabbata wafer topped with mascerated strawberries from Preston on the Eastern Shore, some of that just-made whipped cream, and a drizzle or three of balsamic reduction. At the end of it all, there was Ms. Vertical and her joy, or the licking of the reduction pan.

Balsamic Reduction

Take 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup sugar. Put over low heat to combine, raise the heat until a simmer reduces the liquid by more than half. Whisk away until the liquid begins to thicken, remembering (REMEMBER) that the liquid will thicken more as it cools...

And apparently reductions and whipped cream make some marriages evolve into Muppets. Apparently 'beepbeep' is a sound that people make. Apparently, it's a good noise to evoke in your spouse. It is possible this portion of the evening's entertainment would have been better served during the second dinner party...where there was water to go with the wine...


Pam and Jeff, this one's for you.




Our second Saturday featured some polenta with a dash (or several cups) of shredded Parmesan next to roast potatoes (you heard about those above) next to roast chicken that had until just before dinner served as the chapeau of the potatoes. Hence the bath of chicken fat and olive oil. And the flavor. The cheese in the polenta was, if you believe in such words, potentially excessive. And it was the real stuff (Thx Pocahantski). I haven't made polenta since the first UGK back in the day. Just re-read some of that and realized it might be time for Fruited Coucous Salad with Tarragon/Buttermilk dressing again soon. Just sayin'.


Creamy Parmesan Polenta


Enough for eight - and this is by sight/feel so don't ask for exact measurements. Get comfy with watching your food to know when you've added enough.

One box chicken broth and 2 T butter brought to a boil
Add Approx. 1 lb. yellow corn meal while whisking (this is THE key. you have to whisk while you add)
Turn the heat down to low
Add in 1/3 cup of whole milk or cream
Stir in 2 cups grated fresh parmesan cheese
Serve it up


But we digress to telling you about the food that has already happened.

The first meal was about the first fresh asparagus and the first local strawberries. But it was also about a memory for me. Sarah, Daniel, Jake, Amber or any of the others there probably don't remember this dinner. It was a summer day circa 1994 and we were heading back from Blue Hole. There was a grocery store run. Before I knew about technique or farming; before I ever owned my own pan or knife. We all headed back to my house and I whipped up a massive pile of stir-fried freshness that turned a couple of heads. I guess all that chopping and stirring for Mom paid off earlier than I thought.

There was ginger there, and there was ginger here last week. I knew it was in the fridge but not how much I'd rely on it until I took a glance at the volume of soy sauce remaining in my small bottle. Right...marinade for the steak goes the soy. The veg gets close to a cup of minced fresh ginger and almost the same amount of minced garlic.

I'll leave you with dessert. As I should. The final course in this two-Saturday extravaganza separated only by  short flow of time and a quick trip to pick up my new dining room chairs and bar console.

I'll leave you with the knowledge that tripling the recipe for Raspberry Clafoutis in the April 2010 Food & Wine magazine, transferring it to a 9x13 baking dish, and substituting strawberries and rhubarb is STILL the same dessert as the magazine. But forgetting the confectioners sugar makes it your own creation. Substituting real pistachio ice cream from the same folks who brought us multiple pounds of chicken leg quarters and NY Strip Steaks? Priceless.

I'd never cooked rhubarb before. Not too shabby. Glad I read first an learned the leaves are toxic and to cut them off. Real glad. I'm usually a 'leave the leaves in with whatever you're chopping because it's fresh and will add more of the flavor of the ingredient.' That flavor? Oh, that's just a touch of Oxalic Acid. Yeah, it's all the rage in the Swedish/Moroccan fusion place around the corner...

I started off with wine stains and laughter. And that's what I'll end with too. The place mats are in the wash, the wine bottles (all of them) are on the curb in the blue bin (filling the whole thing), the dishes are put away, and the new chairs are keeping the table company in the almost finished dining room. I think, perhaps, that it's only ever really 'finished' when there are smiles and glasses, laughter and forks, stories and stains painting the walls. I like to think that starts in the kitchen or at the market when I smell something, taste a new crop of something we haven't seen fresh and local in a year, or read a recipe and think 'I bet X and Y would love that.' I like to think that. I also know with a little smile for the stains I know I didn't get out of the place mats, that it's really at the table where it all finally comes together.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Berries!!!

And more teaser posts. I'll have three or four more NYC posts, and CRW trip to write, AND the dinner party last night.

Speaking of dinner parties last night...it's strawberry season...and the first locals are in from Preston on the Eastern Shore.

That's toasted rosemary ciabatta, macerated strawberries (LOCAL FROM THE SHORE 'HON!!!), whipped cream (yes, we MADE our own in the Geek Household), and Balsamic Reduction (prepared by Sous Geeks Ms. Vertical and Jeff).

I think you will not be surprised to learn there was no dessert left. Since Ms. Vertical's name has been mentioned, you also won't be surprised to learn that the reduction saucier was licked clean at the table...with champagne... More later on the dinner the preceded and the hilarity that lasted all night.

Off to Bal'mer for brunch and then the game...

The Sweetest Thing (Standing on Street Corner in the Rain Eating Pastries)




NYC Pt. 1 - The Dessert

Wasn't that post title a song from 1994? Something about eating quiche in a phone booth?

Eh, whateva...

There may be better places to start. There may be better Lego videos. I am currently unaware of either possibility.

Because when your family is recast mid-twenties and you have the steps and the in-laws and you seem to get along swimmingly at the holiday functions with their cookies and Christmas sweaters (thanks pops, you can take that off now, Bill Cosby wants it back)...you should really all take a vacation to Manhattan together and get a couple hotel rooms in Chinatown.

At some point after dinner, and just before the real rain starts you should go into a pastry shop and get a mixed box of mini pastries.

MIXED MINI PASTRIES PEOPLE!!!

Appoint one sibling to be the 'purchaser' while the others oggle glass cases, take pictures, and generally get in peoples' way, and then head outside to see if the 'purchaser' will really let you have the blackberry/custard mini-tart. Then see what happens...


Sometimes, when you're Reilly, and you've seen the cheese cakes, and you've had an ├ęclair, and you're ready for a new challenge, a new adventure in life...you come across this. Cream Puff Pastry Cream Sandwich of DOOOOOM. I'm still not sure he knows HOW he would eat this thing. But I can guarantee that someday he WILL eat this thing.


Behold, the awesome fury of the blackberry custard mini tart. I used to go ape$#&@ for these things in Paris. That and the kiwi ones. Outrageous addictions. Those and the falafel pitas from the middle eastern place on the small street next to the office. But custard...I mean, there should be custard wrestling, not pudding wrestling.

Well.

There should be BOTH. But you know what I mean. I could swim in this stuff.


I was worried when Reilly decided there was something MORE exciting than the Cream Puff Pastry Cream Sandwiches of Doom. Apparently, he was a Rainbow Cake on Custard with Whipped Cream Tart Guy from waaaaay back in the day.

If you listen closely you can still hear him talking about it.


I will neither explain nor endorse. I will simply let you know that in both Cleveland and Washington, DC...as children...my sister and I ensured that no berry ever lasted more than 3.1285 seconds past edible before devouring it.

My father, who loves raspberries, was not amused.

I prefer them heavy on the berry and light on the rasp.


Broder-In-Law takes a break from looking fierce to enjoy a cannoli. And he can pull that off. Question his ability to FIERCE and he will MOTO your @%&. I'm just saying, he has bikes with tires that would not look good as tattoos on your back. Lucky for y'all he's a nice fella' and I've got a connection. You should be okay. Just don't question the fierce...it's all I'm sayin'.


Food PrON. Self Portrait of a Blogger as a Cannoli Lover. South Park could write a novel about this. I would be willing to sell them the rights to the picture. It would be less controversial than some other issues.

I'm just sayin'.


I leave you with pastry. And Cream. And Chocolate. Because really, dear reader, with what else could I possibly leave you?

After this the rains came, and the bacon-wrapped deep-fried hot dogs invaded, and the fondue pots were scrubbed clean (by people and bread), and the dumplings dumpled, and the dims summed. But for this glorious moment in time, there was flaky and pastry cream and chocolate and berries. There was sprinkles, and glazed and the promise that one day, one day soon, Rielly would GET that Cream Puff Pastry Cream Sandwich. And he'd eat it.

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