Monday, November 27, 2006

Bread and Onions

Recently I have been attempting bread again, and I have a nice, bubbly starter going in a crock in the fridge. However, it seems that I do not have the best of luck with bread. True, I have a good bubbly starter, good flour to work from, using a scale to consistently measure, long rises, the steam method for baking, and using an instant-read thermometer. But no matter what, no matter how great it smells, how pretty it looks, it just...isn't bread. I'm hoping if I keep plugging away, eventually I master a decent bread, but until then, maybe I'll have to stick with other talents.

To that effect, I decided to make some pickled pearl onions today. I used a variety of onions grabbed from Trader Joe's, so they make a pretty contrast as you can see. Hopefully I can make myself wait at least a month or so before trying them so they'll develop more flavor. Also, I really want to try them served along some nice cheese and some homemade sausage.

Yup, I hope to try my hand at grinding and making my own sausage someday soon. I have asked Santa to bring me a food grinder attachment for my lovely KitchenAid, and I hope to enter the realm of charcuterie soon.

Of course, on a related note, this is due in part to a local fabulous restaurant called The Linkery which is not only dedicated to local producers and knowing where your food comes from, but they also make their own sausage in house! And wonderful sausage and food it is! In fact, to celebrate my new job, Kyle and I went to The Linkery about 10 days ago, and we had such a delicious meal. First, we started with a simple picnic plate with two links (Thai green curry chicken sausage and Romanian beef sausage), yummy cheese, and red wine onions. Kyle had a cask-conditioned Pizza Port Good Grief brown, and I had the San Pasqual Meritage, a local red wine, to drink.

We then had a mixed herb salad and the "grilled filet of wild kangaroo (Australia) with vegetable curry, multi-grain saffron pilaf, and organic kiwi". And I have to say, the kangaroo was cooked to perfection! Cooked like a medium rare filet mignon, it had a delicious pure beef taste with just a final hint that echoed vast spaces of land, sun, and wild grasses. Of course, the multi-grain pilaf and kiwi paired very well with it, two things I wouldn't have thought would work so well together. And to finish we had a Mexican Chocolate Mousse Cake which was beautifully light and fluffy in texture, but sinfully rich and spiced on the tongue. Obviously, we will be going back and enjoying many, many more meals there!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Fall's bounty

So it has been awhile since updating, and I have been quite busy in the kitchen. Besides the normal cooking that I do, mostly with the CSA box bounty, I have done a few other projects to speak of. Firstly, I made a new batch of jam, a Pear Lime and Ginger jam, of completely my own creation. And it seems I've been in a big ginger mood lately, as I also tried a new recipe for ginger cake, or Gembertaart, as Gourmet magazine calls it. It's quite good, but the recipe has some ridiculous steps, such as making a foam out of egg whites and folding it into the very dense batter, which completely deflates the whites. But it is quite good, and makes an excellent tea cake or something to eat a slice with a small glass of sherry.

Speaking of sherry, I have to share that Kyle and I are wine club members of Mount Palomar winery in Temecula, CA and they make the best Solera aged cream sherry. Very nice and hazelnutty in flavor. Anyway, we went up to Temecula for some wine tasting, and we picked up another bottle of this divine liqueur.

Hmm, what else? Well, I made cheese again, this time a mascarpone cheese. It's a very rich yummy cheese, perfect mixed with a tiny bit of vanilla sugar and served along ripe, sliced pears. And of course, like many other people, I keep mispronouncing it "maRSCapone" instead of what it should be, "masCARponE". Otherwise, I have stumbled upon a really interesting vegetable item at Bristol Farms (which has a great full-service butcher, by the way), an upscale market. Brussel sprouts. Yup, you read that right, Brussel sprouts. But on a full stalk, which I had no idea they grew on. I ended up cooking them with a roasted spatchcocked chicken and some roasted potatoes for Thanksgiving. Of course, the best way to cook Brussel sprouts is to cook them simply and quickly. Briefly, I trimmed and washed the sprouts, boiled for 10 minutes, then tossed in a saucepan with some melted butter, minced garlic, some lemon juice, and minced parsley. Very good. And nice to have a simple meal, as I mostly boycotted Thanksgiving this year, as for some reason it always stresses me out every year.

Of course, when spatchcocking the chicken, I used my kitchen scissors and realized they aren't as heavy duty as I would like. I went ahead and bought some Messermeister heavy-duty kitchen shears that should easily handle chickens, and I can also separate the blades for cleaning and sharpening. Of course, Kyle doesn't get how I still need kitchen stuff, but oh well. And related to that, I was able to purchase some lovely All-Clad pans, like a saucier and a fry pan at their outlet, which carry factory imperfections. This means i got both pans for quite cheap, actually for more than 50% off retail since I purchased the pans with a friend and got an additional 20% off. I can't wait till they arrive!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bones, lard and more

So I haven't been blogging lately, but I have a good excuse, I swear! Well, a few actually. First of all, I have been looking for a new job recently, one with more challenge, more chemistry, and more pay. I found a job to fit all three categories, and I'll be starting in 2 weeks! So besides a job search to keep me busy, I've also been doing a lot more volunteer work for the Central Shelter. Okay, okay, I guess they aren't that great of excuses. But at least I tried some new dishes over the last bit that I can talk about.

For starters, I checked out the cookbook "Bones" from the library (by the way, everyone should use their local library as a resource, especially for cookbooks). Basically, the cookbook is based on the premise that the bones really need to go back into cooking. Keeping meat on the bone while cooking results in more even cooking, moister meat, and usually more flavor. Unfortunately, cooking with meat on the bone has become harder and harder, mostly because supermarket "butchers" are providing few cuts on the bone to meat consumer demand. And by consumer demand I mean paltry, tasteless, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, boneless pork with no fat left, etc. And don't even get me started on what they call a butcher these days! Which is why, expensive as other things are, if I want a real butcher, I make a trip to Whole Foods or Bristol Farms. But better than that, they can give me scraps of fat, stock bones, and helpful advice for not more than a buck or two.

Okay, off track a little, but here goes. So I decided to make braised beef short ribs on inspiration from the cookbook. The first time, I made a red wine reduction style braise, and served the short ribs atop a cheddar polenta. It was amazingly good, although a bit rich as the ribs contain quite a bit of fat, along with the rich polenta. The second time I made braised short ribs I used a recipe in "Bones" for a dish with a balsamic vinegar glaze that was quite good. Served along with some fresh arugula from my plant pot (plus some roasted marrow bones for me), it was a very tasty dinner.

That's right, I said roasted marrow bones. Very yummy and very bad for me, but perfect spread on some toast with a sprinkling of coarse salt and a bit of chopped parsley, shallots, lemon juice, and capers. I can definitely see why people rave about roasted marrow bones.

Also inspired by the book, I made a basic brown stock, and then concentrated it down so I wouldn't have to store so much in the fridge. And of course, while I was at Bristol Farms, getting the beef bones and veal knuckles (for almost nothing at all), I picked up some pork back fat from the butcher for rendering my own lard.
Which sounds pretty crazy and weird, and I know it is. But lately I've been wanting to get into sausage making, but without a sausage grinder, I kinda stuck just fiddling around with pork bits in other ways. Still have to try using the lard for refried beans or tortillas or such. I wanna try a pie crust, but as it smells a trifle porky, I'm not sure how it would turn out. Maybe I should make a crust for empanadas or meat pasties instead to take advantage of the pork smell.