Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kimchee Donuts!?

Thanks to Serious Eats for making us all aware of the fact that there are kimchee donuts at Korean Dunkies.

I like Serious Eats' rubbernecking attitude towards food: half of the stuff they post about grabs me because it looks delicious, the rest intrigues me just as much for precisely how it does not.

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Coffee: A Seven Hour Thrill Ride

I drank a cup of the always excellent Karma coffee yesterday at 11:30am. I felt like a king, or a god, or the king of the gods. But at 7pm that night I was still twittering, and I'm not talking about social networking.

For those of you who are numb to its effects, allow me to be the canary in the coal mine: coffee does absolutely crazy things to your body. You may not be able to tell because you've gotten used to it, but hear my words. Coffee is black magic. Not being used to it, drinking just one cup changed the entire course of my day.

I respect it, but I wouldn't let coffee into my daily routine any more than I'd invite someone dangerous over to tea, no matter what that series of "How to Be An Artist" posters from the 90's said.

Even in my years as a touring performer, I never wanted to turn to the dark side, for I knew the temptation would be too great. In all those years of 1,000 mile driving days, late night performances and 6am flights, I could count the cups of coffee I had on one hand. And I don't have extra fingers.

If I don't like what coffee does to me, why, then, do I ever drink it? Because, a few times a year, I think "why not?" I also recognize that few ingestibles have the powerful sensory properties of coffee -- that aroma, that viscosity! -- but a few hours after I've had a cup, I inevitably think "why did I think 'why not'!?"

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Cocoa Rose Tea

I recently received a comment asking "when will you talk about tea?" The answer is "now."

With cooler weather more or less here to stay (we've been bouncing between snow and 70 degrees), tea season has officially begun. I've been drinking a lot of mate and tung ting, with the occasional herbal like elderberry, hibiscus or lemon thyme from what remains in the garden. But the most interesting non-true tea I've had in recent memory has been the cocoa rose served at Sofra.

Like soy and flax before it, cocoa is now making appearances where it often doesn't belong due to the fact that people think that it will save their lives due to the fact that it does have some healthful attributes but more because the industry is paying massive amounts of money to make you think so. And so I approached cocoa rose tea about as skeptically as I approach rooibos chai, which is to say very skeptically.

And yet it was wonderful. The bitter richness of the unsweetened cocoa, the full perfume of the rose petals. At once earthy and celestial, it worked.

When I was in middle school, one of my teachers blew my mind by saying that it didn't matter if you ate healthily because you could still get hit by a bus. From then on, I would use this rationale as my excuse to eat ho ho's and drink liters of Jolt, which was a bar mitzvah's version of being a devil may care bon vivant.

To some extent, I still believe in my teacher's words. But if, at the moment that reckless MBTA bus splattered your brains across Mt. Auburn Street, you had a cup of cocoa rose in your hand, you'd go out smiling.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Happy International Day of Climate Action

If you don't know what I'm talking about, see the icon at right or see here.

And don't forget, the way we eat has a tremendous impact on the world around us. And perhaps more importantly, on the world around other people, around the world. So eat your broccoli stems.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Make Steak

As you may have noticed, I'm more of a foraged mushrooms and noodles kind of guy than I am a steak eater. But as you can tell from the photo above, I do also eat steak. And when I do, I lick the cutting board afterward. Hmm, maybe I should make steak more often.

There are several reasons I don't usually make steak. One is that I never buy it. Two is that it's kind of boring. Three is that eating copious amounts of beef doesn't set the best example for all of the aspiring third world peoples who are now destroying their resources to copy our lifestyles. Sorry, planet.

But I do eat beef on occasion, and in my world order there is certainly a place for small amounts of locally raised, lightly seared, grass fed cow flesh. Especially if it's cooked in butter and topped with a rioja reduction, as was the steak I made last night.

I picked up a Hardwick Beef flat iron (the steak formerly known as top blade) from City Feed and Supply in JP, one of the few markets in the Boston area that makes you feel like maybe, if you squint real hard, you could be in one of the lamest neighborhoods of San Francisco.

I did what I almost always do with steak. I heated a skillet, tossed in a lump of butter, waited until the foam subsided and then slapped in the salt-rubbed meat. I didn't touch it until the juice started to bubble up, at which point I flipped it, at which point it was basically done.

I then transfered the steak to a cutting board to rest (forever) while I deglazed the pan with a splash of wine and a little more butter and chopped shallots, rosemary, or whatever I happened to have on hand that made sense. I served the meat over arugula alongside basmati rice and a butternut squash and chicken stock puree, assuming you can still say "served" when it's just for yourself.

I don't describe this process because I feel that it's the best, or even because I want others to follow my technique, which isn't even "my" technique but something I once read somewhere. I share this information in the democratic and confessional spirit of food blogging: this is what I do, know that, and now go do what you do.

But if you do do what I did, you'll be as happy as a cow. Or as happy as I was when eating a cow that, from what I understand, had been relatively happy.

Also, for those of you who think you can't eat responsibly and well for an affordable sum, know that this steak was only a little over four bucks and that I was completely satiated after eating only half of it. In other words, I had one of the best steaks of my life for about two bucks and could still feel plenty smug about supporting a righteous cattle farmer.

And I'm going to do this again any time I'm by City Feed & Supply, so watch out.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Real Deal

Over the weekend Elise and I stumbled upon what must be our best local cider hook-up: One Stack Farm in Stow, MA, which presses its own apples in the antique device pictured above.

And that's the only place you'll find it. Because One Stack doesn't pasteurize or add preservatives, they're only legally allowed to sell on-location. On top of that, the stuff they do sell has to be slapped with a warning label detailing the potential health hazards for the young and old.

Now think about the other potential health hazards in the food we eat, and think about what bullsh*t it is that that crap doesn't have to be labeled while this does. Meat cut by workers who don't get paid for the time it takes to clean their knives gets a pass, yet the kind, old pipe-smoking apple farmer down the road has to put a skull and cross bones on his juice.

Regardless, One Stack cider is so delicious, so fresh, round and balanced, that I'd drink it even if it could kill me.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Tea and Food... and Music!

Last night I had a perfectly good Jack Daniels and club soda at the Avett Brothers show at the Boston House of Blues. If you only read food blogs, stop reading now. For the rest of you, I now present my first ever post on music.

In a nutshell, the concert was absolutely rockin'. I can't think of any other band with two leads who, when not singing and simultaneously manning the drum set, are singing, playing guitar or banjo and banging out percussion with a kick drum or high hat, the latter being alternately played by pedal and by direct kicks from the taller Avett brother's boot tip. The crowd was up on their feet for the entirety of the concert, and not just because there weren't any seats.

Nor have I seen a cellist play with such emotion that it seemed like the bow was a saw he was drawing across his own stomach. Nor have I ever heard a band make a point of saying "Thanks for inviting us back to the stage" when doing that thing that bands do and coming back on after pretending to finish.

Perhaps that gratitude was not as sincere as it seemed and was instead an example of a highly polished folksy affect. If that's the case, then I'm just as impressed with the Brothers' theater skills. They're either the nicest, most earnest band I've ever seen ("Y'alls' enthusiasm is the only reason we can stand straight right now"), or they're superb actors.

I especially recommend checking out the AB's at this catalystic point in their career. As I type, they tip, and it remains to be seen whether they'll become a full blown stadium act with indie roots, like Wilco, or an indie band that plays like they're playing for a stadium regardless of the venue. By the end of their set last night, the Avett brothers, along with the non-Avett brother Avett Brothers, were drenched with sweat, hoarse, exhausted, and, it seemed, delighted.

For the first half of the set I marveled at the manic enthusiasm they brought to the stage, but for the second half I worried about them. Can the kind of guys you'd like to bring home to meet your mother survive an increasingly stacked tour schedule and continue to belt out their anthems with the same blend of ease and energy night after night? It remains to be seen, and the shorter of the Brothers sounded like he was really straining by the end, though not remotely holding back.

Listening to their music or watching their videos alone, the Brothers' shamelessly sincere lyrics and dreamy, lingering gazes sometimes verge on awkward. Watching them do the same live, you don't care, you just stomp your foot.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Peace and Hominy

There may be nothing more comforting than having a bubbling crockpot full of hominy stew. Except perhaps two bubbling crockpots full of hominy stew.

I've been making such meals ever since having the posole at Ole in Inman Square, and I have to say that I'm quite pleased with my results. I've used both beef bones and chicken legs and each has yielded a rich, buttery broth. After a long simmer, the hominy surrenders its starch to the surrounding liquid, and the whole thing tastes like the best corn tortilla.

I've also been using Amanda's slow cooked soup plus fresh garnish theory, which I think I can now call the slow cooked soup plush fresh garnish law. One day, Amanda thought "It seems like such a waste to make stock out of ingredients like vegetables that you could eat instead." And then she thought "What if you could make stock out of something that you wouldn't otherwise eat, like bones and spices?"

So she started making soups with just a spiced bone broth and finishing it with herbs and veggies at the very end, thereby creating the perfect yin and yang of slow cooked richness and last minute freshness.

Here's how my posole works, and I'm open to other suggestions. I brown a few chicken thighs and do the same with onion, garlic and cumin seeds. That all goes into a crockpot with the hominy (previously soaked overnight), a large can of tomatoes, a dried chile, salt and a splash of some leftover wine or vinegar. I forget about it pretty much all day, then take the meat off the bone, reintroduce it, and serve with chopped cilantro, diced raw onion, and lime wedges. It is divine.

Here's the one problem: when the chicken is falling off the bone and everything else is just perfect, the hominy still needs to keep going. What I've been doing is finishing it on the stove on higher heat once I take the chicken out, but it would be nice to get everything to finish at the same time (single entendre). I suppose I could just start the whole thing earlier - any thoughts?


Recipe: Posole (At Least I Think It's Posole - Call It Hominy Stew to Be Safe)
serves 4

The stew:

12 oz of hominy, soaked overnight
4 chicken thighs
1 28 oz can of tomatoes
2 cups water
2 onions
1 whole garlic clove
2 tbsp cumin seed
1 whole, dried, chile pepper
salt to taste
a splash of wine or a slightly smaller splash of balsamic or wine vinegar
2 tbsp pimenton

The garnish:

1/2 bunch chopped cilantro
1/4 diced, raw onion
1 lime, cut into wedges

1. Brown your chicken thighs, onions, garlic, and cumin seed.

2. Add the above to a crockpot with everything else in the stew list.

3. Simmer on "high," about forever.

4. Remove the chicken and shred like pulled pork. Put it back as such.

5. Serve with the garnish.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Destiny Fulfilled

I found this old photo of myself when I was back home in Florida. Guess I've been a foodie since the time that I might have referred to food itself as "foodie."

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Amateur Gourmet on Kimball on Gourmet, Plus Zombies

See here for Adam Roberts of the Amateur Gourmet's brilliant response to Christopher Kimball's op-ed in the Times regarding the fall of Gourmet. (And can we all just note the irony that an old media publication called Gourmet has fallen while a food blog called the Amateur Gourmet continues to thrive? )

Apparently, Christopher Kimball thinks that it's me, a blogger, who killed Gourmet, and Adam couldn't be more lucid in my (and his own) defense. He writes:

"These food blogs represent a welcome break from institutional food writing; they are fresher, brighter and more truthful than the kind of writing Kimball mourns—writing that must pass through board rooms, across copy desks, and into editorial meetings before it’s ok-ed and printed. By the time it hits the stands, it has all the relevancy of a tomato in January."

Well roared, Lion. Adam has voiced my own thoughts better than I could have, though I do have a few additional points and observations. The first is that, while I disagree with his position on new media, I do admire Kimball's dogged, "cold dead hands" defense of his crumbling ivory tower.

If you've seen Zombieland, it brings to mind Tallahassee's climactic stand-off at the film's close. Locked in a cage (closed minded thinking that fails to see the good in new media), Tallahassee (Christopher Kimball) fires his pistols (NYT op-eds) at a seemingly infinite wave of attacking, rabid zombies (Adam Roberts). The only difference is that Tallahassee wins.

Also, Kimball writes that if you "Google 'broccoli casserole' and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing." But isn't every broccoli casserole disappointing?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Understanding the Chicken

After multiple dining experiences (and blog posts) involving the chicken of the woods mushrooms growing near my home, I have only just begun to know how to fully appreciate them.

Though this fungi can run tough and/or dry, when you pick the right parts of the right mushroom at the right time and prepare them correctly, the c.o.t.w. is absolutely divine. Sound like more trouble than it's worth? It isn't. The same guidelines apply to a zucchini, we're just more used to dealing with those.

Here are my rules for having a healthy relationship with this vegan chicken:

1. Only pick specimens that you want to eat. This is difficult to do, because in your ecstasy at having discovered an enormous, traffic cone-orange wild mushroom, you're going to want to take it all. But you really only want the tender, flexible tips of an older mushroom and not quite all of a younger one. They're most tender at the edges and become woodier as you move back towards the base. I suppose the tougher parts are good for stock, but so are onion peels.

2. A mushroom brush is not enough. Unless your 'shroom is growing high up on a tree, or in a hospital, it will have dirt not only on it but in its "skin." The mushroom seems to embed little pieces of the forest that can't just be wiped away, so before you cook it, taking a paring knife and gently scrape or poke out any dark bits. Remember, you'd do the same with an unsightly zucchini.

3. Keep it simple. It's only when I try to dream up fitting preparations for this glorious ingredient that I end up not using it and letting it turn pale and sad. Pick it, clean it, and just cook it up in a pan with a little olive oil and salt. Eat it straight up as an amuse, on toast, on noodles (pictured at top), or whatever. It is so richly flavorful - sometimes like poultry, sometimes like eggs, sometimes with a hint of lemon - that it needs little else.

4. Slice it thinly. Doing so will shorten the cooking time and enhance the texture, which, if you follow the other rules, can be as soft as an omelette.

4. Don't eat it if it's growing on a pine or another type of conifer. Apparently that can make you ill, though your odds are probably still better than if you were eating ground beef.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

My Favorite of Michael Pollan's Favorite Reader Submitted Rules for Eating

"Eat foods in inverse proportions to how much its lobby spends to push it."

From this entertaining and thought provoking NYT feature.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great Ingredients, Horrible Food

Dinner prospects couldn't have looked better.

I had chicken jus, chicken fat, and a fresh chicken of the woods mushroom harvested from the woods behind T&F HQ. I also had a can of coconut milk and an heirloom eggplant from Allandale Farm -- a Louisiana Green -- plus plenty of spices, fresh cilantro, scallion, and my go-to dried noodles. By all accounts, it should have made for a bangin' curry.

It was not, and I blame the Louisiana Green. The eggplant was gaggingly bitter and made my tongue prickle and itch in that special eggplant way. I would have just eaten around it, but like a skunk that's been hit by a car, its influence had spread.

The whole beautiful thing tasted as bitter and as mushy as the eggplant. I ate the noodles with as little of the sauce as possible and, out of respect for the slugs whose food I'd stolen, picked out the pieces of the mushroom with a pair of chopsticks. I was so disgraced that I couldn't even bear to empty the pot for another day, and so it remained on the stove, full of horrible curry, haunting me. It's final resting place was not my stomach, but the trash can. Hence the above photo.

Ironically, I had picked up the eggplant while researching an article on the resurgence of heirloom vegetables. My slant had so far been positive, but now I might reconsider.

It was definitely the worst tasting, highest quality food that I've ever eaten. In that one sense it takes the cake, though I wish I had taken a piece of cake for dinner instead, and I hate cake.


Recipe: Ruined Curry

Directions: Combine the freshest, most flavorful, heirloom, organic, local, seasonal vegetables possible with spices of your choice and equal parts coconut milk and chicken stock. Add a nasty eggplant. Serve over noodles. Throw away.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

My Latest

See the link for my latest article in Stuff magazine (the Boston one, not the now defunct lad mag). The topic: fall wines.

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Fall Raspberries: The Best I've Ever Had

I'm going to be honest with you. Berries aren't as sweet as you think.

Yet when you think berries, you think sweet, largely because you think of what we do to them: crisps, cobblers, cream and sugar. Fresh from the bramble it's a different story, as the flavor profile of a berry is often dominated not by sugar but by pucker.

I generally prefer the taste of unadulterated ingredients, so I appreciate the tang of a real berry, but the fall raspberries I've been eating lately have me singing a sweeter tune. I don't really know what I'm talking about here, but it seems as though there are very different raspberries in summer and in fall. Also, there are raspberries in fall at all.

I usually think of raspberries as a strictly summer thing (barring tasteless - in more ways than one - imports) and am glad to see that they're getting a second wind. My hunch is that the fall raspberry is a different variety that's on the up and up as eating locally and seasonally gains ground.

From what I've observed (and not from any actual research), fall raspberries differ from their summer counterparts in two ways. The color, like the weather, is darker. The flavor is sweeter, more mellow, somewhat honey-like and almost absent of any acidity.

I'm reminded of a passage in the Omnivore's Dilemma about different recipes for eggs from different seasons, and I wouldn't be surprised if, in our recent past, there were similarly varied treatments for summer and fall raspb's.

I'm sure that in the annals of cookery there are absolutely delicious fall raspberry-specific tarts and sauces and such, but they're just so good that I can't stop myself from gobbling them up unaltered.

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