Sunday, March 28, 2010

The patina of the cold immemorial.

Being invincible is largely a matter of convenient timing and clever diet. Avoid sick people and eat only what you like. This winter--now that it's over we can finally talk about it, taxed the senses more than most. More snow fell in February than in any other month in recorded history. Love lives involved neighbors, a triumphally sad piano dirge called 'I Wonder' by an unknown balladeer named Big Ceasar (sic), and a thoughtful, indeed thorough, rethinking and remapping of the notion "the silent treatment." Some weeks I deep fried balls of gelato in duck fat and chased them with foie gras and mayo, others I don't think I even looked at food. I distinctly recall cutting into the vividly colored concentric design in a watermelon radish--the one I used for the salade Nicoise piece probably, and thinking it was astonishing that something so beautiful could live so comfortably in the natural order with no discernible purpose. It was only later, lying in bed, no doubt fucked off about the aftertaste of PBR and love gone bad, that I realized with a perfectly startled air of discovery that the radish is in fact a tuber, and by the parameters of our archeological reckoning a food stuff with a decided purpose.

Again, there were days when I did eat. And days when I surprised myself.

Maybe because JJ knocked one out of the park at Dinette or just the rote banality of making them I found this season populated heavily with pizzas. JJ's involved anchovies and thinly sliced serrano chilies. It was, to say nothing of its godfatherly standing among other pies, one of the finest foods I've ever eaten. So too did I find it behooved me to make a few myself.

Running the cheese counter at the store presented me with a rather novel challenge. How do I get people to try something they regard as over-priced continental elitist garbage? I could shave wafers of Societe Roquefort off for people wearing Dale Earnhardt t-shirts all I liked. In the end it's just shwag. It dawned on me that the only way to effectively convince people that cheese is in fact the culmination of our worldly initiative with the Earth was to dislocate it, give a fresh context: Everybody loves pizza. So I made pies for people to sample, pies with Beemster's goudas, with Sini Fulvi Pecorino Romano, with homemade ricotta-stuffed burratas, anything I could get my hands on. I still only sell about five bucks worth of cheese a day but when Dale Earnhardt's flock tastes those pies every Saturday morning they are, if only momentarily and of course unwittingly, transformed into les becs fin.

History clings exclusively to those particles of our discovery and invention that provoke the senses.

The pie pictured above was made with Hodgson Mill-brand yeast, and honey where the recipe's author, Mario Batali, employed wine. For a conventional oven you must resign yourself to a slightly inferior crust--yes even with a pizza stone. The heat is insufficient to achieve that ideal crisp edge and pillowy streak in the interior. Sorry Charlie.

Oh yeah, fair warning, if in the course of our co-habitation you should discover me building a wood-burning pizza oven in your back yard it's a fair signal of my intention to marry you.

With a handicap on the crust the emphasis shifts even further to the cheese melted over-top. On this occasion I chose a buttery stinky Taleggio. Previously I hung the contrastive balance on tomatoes and salty Pecorino Pepata, so as a foil for the rich flabbiness of the cheese I went with roasted endive and radicchio. In general I prefer a sauce rich with olive oil. There are several reasons: first, it's a very flavor-friendly element and showcases your aromatics dutifully, but in terms of simple mechanics I have found that loose fresh tomato purees tend to sog the crust down. The solution is to treat the sauce like a vinaigrette: emulsify chopped tomatoes with olive oil and whatever herbs you like. In the mortar of the cheese you will find it becomes veneer-like.

The final accent, crucial in the lightless winter months is a handful of loosely chopped green herbs--in this instance I had parsley basil and thyme. Dress the herbs in a mixture of olive oil lemon juice salt and pepper then add to the finished pie--it should look like an afterthought. The effect is pretty invigorating and momentarily winter abates.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alright, I'm awake.

Ashley makes a formidable coconut flan, tries on a fried eggplant taco.

"There is no malice in him; he is as trustful as a child. In point of fact, his childishness is more prominent than his creator intended it to be. When...he suggests performing "mad things" as a penance--additional deliberate "mad things" on top of his normal madness--so to speak, he shows a rather limited schoolboyish imagination in the way of his pranks."
-from V. Nabokov's lectures on Cervantes' Don Quixote, Harvard Univ., 1951.

"America don't want to see us work, they want to see us LIVE. Tron is livin' for the ci-TAY!"

Ask Ashley for the flan recipe--annihilating business, forcing shameful predawn trips down the stairs to scoop it out of the fridge between gulps of Brunton's 2% milk--I remember ribbons of raspberry sugar syrup running from my tipping spoon, evidentiary only to the moon and my own fatigued sense of place and time.

My life as an educator has yet to begin so it would be egregiously premature to make lessons of my poverty, my secular self searching and the like as if a bare shred of enlightenment grew in either anyway. Now, Lent and Siddharthan confrontations set aside, purposefully and to the enrichment of color and flavor alike, we must, you and I, go back to fucking around in the kitchen, flower petals and cashews on the floor. With whiskey.

Eggplant tacos with chili mascarpone crema and pickled cabbage.

The one in the middle looks like Willie Nelson.

Feeds 3.

18 corn tortillas
1 medium eggplant
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 c. fresh bread crumbs
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 c. pinto beans
1 sm. yellow onion chopped

1/2 sm. head green cabbage
1 sprig cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, pulverized
1 bunch scallions, chopped--greens and all. DO NOT WASTE THE GREENS!
2 heaping tbsp. white vinegar

1/4 c. mascarpone--I recommend the tasty, cloudy Vermont Creamery brand--they're sustainable too!
3 chipotle chilies in adobo, chopped
1 tsp milk
a pinch of annato seeds steeped in 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil--seeds discarded once a deep blood orange oil color is achieved.

salsa--see note.

The tacos, since meat was out of the question were amply substituted with fried eggplant. I sliced one medium eggplant into disks the thickness of an average magazine--quite thin. Salt them and leave them for a half an hour or so to dry. The salt will cause moisture to bead on the surface: pat the disks dry of any pooling water with a dry towel. Add to a paper bag with flour, shake to coat. Dredge in egg then coat in bread crumbs. Allow the disks of eggplant to air dry while you prepare the accompaniments.

Saute the beans and tomatoes, beginning with the aromatics--I think this time I had some leftover fennel greens which I added to the garlic and onions. Celery is always welcome too. As you add the beans and tomatoes adjust the liquid level--water is fine, but stock or tomato juice is even better. I also like to secret in a squeeze of anchovy paste. Allow this to simmer, moving right along.

For the cabbage you will simply slice it in the fashion of a slaw, adding the cilantro, aromatics and acids, adjusting to taste. A pinch of sugar will take the sharp edge off if you notice one--or simply sub in orange juice for the lime. In the end this element is primarily added for textural contrast. The flavor, though supportive, should at least be pleasing.

The crema is, too, purely a matter of consistency. As long as you can rely on the quality of the two fundamentals, the mascarpone and the chipotles, the flavor is an unspoken promise. Start the mixture with the colored oil, mixing the mascarpone and chilies in, adding the milk later, only if needed. It should be the consistency of sour cream, the color of cantaloupe.

At this point time management should be a consideration: The tortillas will take about about twenty minutes to griddle to pliability--you'll want them to appear at once darkened in spots and slightly puffed with steam. So too you'll want to watch the beans and tomatoes. With your final season, mash the beans--keep the consistency of refried beans or loose mashed potatoes in mind.

Meanwhile fry the eggplant in neutral oil set to 350 degrees. It will brown, then float. Season, then allow the crisped pieces to air dry briefly. This will ensure the eggplant will provide an inner meatiness and an exterior crunch so you don't feel like such a loser ass vegetarian--not that you should necessarily.

As the last of eggplant emerges from the fry and the tortillas rest under a warm damp towel you might want to consider a salsa. Frankly at this point it's all salsa anyhow, but if you have an avocado, a bit of corn and a pinch of broccoli sprouts lying around, it's fair game: mash em up. Otherwise anything, prepared or easily assembled on the spot is fine. I don't like particularizing salsa--or anything truthfully, as it really does encumber our availability to surprise. On a hurried lunch between shifts days after making these tacos I added a sliced pear to mine in the place of guacamole and found it jarringly appropriate. In fact, I recommend it.

In the order best suited to your already taxed post-lenten sense of ritual you will want to construct and consume the tacos, then and there, or later as you like, evidentiary only to your own moral compass and the moon.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Salade Nicoise always struck me as one of those things, alternately haughty and boring, that could stir up debate among the indifferent without ever compelling their hunger. I grew up thinking a salad, plainly, was a dewy green phone book gathered in a wooden bowl from the underbelly of a push mower as gustatory scapegoat for whatever Frito Lay product had been last--and more shamefully, partaken. I was nearly right.

Whatever the debate or ennui this salade seems to inspire in others I jumped for it. Long before frat bars piled French fries on landfills of iceberg lettuce, jerk chicken and shredded cheddar (don't knock it it ain't half bad) the salade Nicoise added potatoes to greens--or so I thought; it had blanched string beans, lending a gardeny crunch--or so I thought; and of course the tuna itself meant the pious water-canned albacore--or so I feared (and kinda hoped).

Then I came across this. No potatoes, no lettuce, no beans, no jerk chicken. Hell, no dressing really, just the olive oil from the tuna. And don't ask, no, no albacore in spring water. Turns out the Europeans have built an industry of exquisite oil-cured tuna.

Salade Nicoise
(for 2)

1 poblano pepper--try to select a mild one , or simply forgo the chilies.
1 long stalk celery--stripped of floss
1 red onion
1/3 medium daikon, shaved

1 bunch scallions, finely chopped at the white bottoms, then lankier the further and greener up
1 tbsp capers
2 tbsp roughly chopped cornichons--keep the brine handy.
chopped parsley.
crushed chilies
a few additional splashes of very decent olive oil.

1 watermelon radish or 2 red radishes, slice across into wafers

7oz. jar of Flott oil-preserved tuna
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled, quartered.
1 grilled half of lemon--well-concealed from Nicoise purists!

1. Arrange radishes in a circular fashion along the perimeters of two medium plates.

2. Chop the first four ingredients into stubby match sticks, add to the radish-lined centers of the plates.

3. With the final of the six, a good olive oil, scud the ensuing six ingredients in a mixing bowl. Toss and muddle-infusing the ingredients. Add salt and cracked black pepper to assist and taste. Spoon over raw vegetables, coat by tossing gingerly between your fingers.

4. Add the tuna to the salad plates. Combining leftover oil with any oil-scud leftover in the mixing bowl, drizzle on tuna and salad. Place eggs.

5. Dress by adding salt, cracked pepper and juice from grilled lemon. Shave Piave Vecchio over it if you like...