Friday, January 29, 2010

H&S 100: #1 Bittman

Taking the lead from our friend Apur, we refer to Mark Bittman’s behemoth How to Cook Everything as Bittman*. When we’re making the Saturday morning pancakes with the boys, we’ll say to one of them, “Get Bittman.” The cookbook has become indispensable for recipes and techniques. When I bought Bittman, we already had Lukin’s and Rosso’s The New Basics Cookbook, as well as Julia Child’s The Way to Cook, and thank goodness we did because I learned a lot from them. Ultimately I found The New Basics kind of overdone and, though I love Julia, The Way to Cook is kind of out of step with the way we eat.

Bittman’s great if you’ve got a gorgeous cut of meat, say a New York strip, or even a tough cut of meat, say a skirt steak, and you want to know how to broil or grill or pan-saute. You look up steak and find straightforward methods that are completely do-able, regardless of your kitchen skills. You may even find pan sauces, as well as references to recipes that go well with steak. Even if you don’t think you need a recipe for something as obvious as, say, deviled eggs, you can use Bittman as a guideline. Maybe you need a reminder of how long to boil an egg. He also give good recipe tweaks. How about adding herbs to your egg-mayo-mustard mixture?

I love Bittman's voice. Here's his note on Basic Pancakes:
Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make.
Our copy's binding is broken. It opens right to breakfast foods. You’d think we’d have that pancake recipe memorized by now.

*We also really like Bittman’s Minimalist column in the New York Times, as well as the themed 100 lists that occasionally run as larger features in the Wednesday food section.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saveur 100

One of my favorite food magazine issues is Saveur’s January issue, which features their annual 100. The 100 is a staff-generated list of favorite food-related items, typically including kitchen gadgets and equipment, recipes, prepared food items, cookbooks, personalities, websites, and restaurants. Basically, almost anything food related. From this list, I get an ego boost from things I’ve already discovered, but I also add to the lengthy list of must-eats. This year’s 100 was, for the first time, culled from reader recommendations, which I enjoyed for the wonderful personal stories. Here are some of my favorites items:

#3 Pacifikool Hawaiian Ginger Syrup
I think this ginger syrup would be a great stand-in for ginger ale in a Dark and Stormy. Fortunately friends are traveling to Hawaii in March…

A community-driven visual potluck. I will lose productivity but gain inspiration from time spent on this website.

#35 eating at New Orleans Jazz Fest
I agree, best festival food anywhere. Some folks even strategize their eating ahead of the festival, based on which the stages where they’ll be listening to music. I’ve eaten the pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo, but next time I’ll also be sure to try the deep-fried boudin balls.

#36 Den Gyldene Freden, Stockholm
In 2001, Hambone’s brother, who lives in Stockholm, took us to this restaurant. We had a table in the cellar, where candlelight played off the creamy stucco walls. I don’t remember what we ate, but rest assured in was an exquisite dish of traditional Swedish food. The restaurant has been open since 1722.

#55 Rittenhouse Rye
Goes on my to-try list

#59 kruk
More elegant than a molcahete, this traditional Thai mortar and pestle goes on my kitchen tools to buy list

#71 Hot Doug’s Chicago
This haute hot dog joint has been on my radar for a long time. I stood in solidarity as they received the first citation of Chicago’s since-rescinded foie gras ban. Yes, a hot dog featuring foie…I live to try one.

#87 sumac
Hambone turned me on to this super-tangy Middle Eastern spice, which ate on rice—a super cheap meal at a long-gone Lebanese restaurant. We now use season house-made pita chips with sumac and sea salt with sea salt. I’m making a note to use the spice more often—on grilled meats, on roasted vegetables, in stews, and in meatballs.

#91 Wisconsin
Oh yes, Minnesota does great sausages and smoked fish, too. I love Death’s Door gin and appreciate the staunch German fare. But, I’m really interest in the “melty bars” and the wintergreen patties from Oaks Candy, Oshkosh. Wisconsin can keep the squeaky cheese curds, though.

#100 Sweetwater’s Donut Mill Doughnuts
I hope I have the occasion to travel to Kalamazoo, MI, one day…

In the spirit of list-making and of celebrating our favorite things, I am inaugurating the H&S 100. Throughout the year, I will be featuring beloved kitchen equipment, restaurants, food stuffs, recipes, cookbooks, ideas, websites, and more. Stay tuned…I think I already have some catching up to do!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Greek-Style Pasta

One of my very most favorite dishes in the whole wide world is only available on a buffet. Usually I’m loathe to eat buffet-style lunches because they can be the greasiest, nastiest foodstuffs, plus there’s the whole Petri dish nature of it that I try not to think about. But the yuckiest thing about buffets is the manner in which one eats—heap a plate high, snarf it down, and reload. A few lunch buffets in St. Paul have changed my mind, though, and I feel the need to mention them.
If you’ve never eaten at Christo’s, the lunch buffet is a fantastic way to sample their Greek menu. The restaurant is located in Lowertown, in the magnificent Union Depot (soon to be a light rail hub). The buffet features a couple soups (an outstanding butternut squash soup makes frequent appearances), a few hot entrees, vegetables (buttered carrots are a favorite), piles of warm pita, spit-roasted lamb sliced for make-your-own gyros, lettuce and fixings for Greek salad, and more. One of the hot entrees—braised beef in tomato sauce—never fails to comfort. The beef is tender and rich, the tomato sauce is spiked with cinnamon, and it’s the most unexpectedly delicious thing.
On many occasions, I have tried to order this dish for take out, but am always told that it’s not on the menu. So sometimes I would order the buffet and request a take-out container and would be obliged with strange glances. Then I would march my take-out across the street to my office and eat at my desk. I’ve never tried to re-create the dish at home. It’s that special thing I hope is on the buffet when I go, and I always thought the thrill would be ruined if I cracked the code. Silly, I know.
Now that I no longer work across the street from Christo’s and now that 4th Street is ripped up with light rail construction, I’d like to make the dish at home. Imagine my excitement when I ran across a pasta recipe in Bon Appetit that comes remarkably close. The recipe features ground lamb instead of braised beef, which is a welcomed time-saver, as well as a cinnamon-driven tomato sauce. A liberal sprinkle of salty feta cheese is a great foil to the sauce’s spiciness. But, the best element, in my opinion, is the addition of parsnips. I love the earthiness of this underrated root veg and feel like this pasta is a complete meal. We'll add this to our regular pasta rotation.
My apologies: no photo. We dove right into this meal, without setting up a shot. I don't even have "stock" photography of pasta with red sauce. Instead, I present saucy younger son, Winston, plugged in with his best Combat Rock.

Greek-Style Penne with Lamb, Parsnips, Tomatoes, and Cinnamon
adapted from Bon Appetit magazine (November 2009)
6 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, halved through root end, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 2 cups)
12 ounces medium parsnips (about 4), peeled, cut on slight diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick slices
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1-1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 14-1/2 ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup tomato puree
12 ounces penne
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Crumbled feta cheese

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and parsnips and sauté until slightly softened and deep golden brown around the edges, about 9 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add lamb and sauté until no longer pink, breaking up with back of spoon, about 2 minutes. Stir in cinnamon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes with juice and tomato puree, bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until parsnips are tender, about 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bit, stirring occasionally. Drain, then return pasta to pot. Add lamb-tomato mixture and parsley. Transfer to plates and sprinkle with feta.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

best eats of 2009

Happy New Year! Hambone and Spice continued to eat well in 2009. We enjoyed many fantastic and memorable meals in restaurants, in our friends’ homes, and in our own home. Food was an important balm during a transition year, in which I became a full-time student. Food also helped to cement friendships and fueled many delicious conversations.

Here are some highlights from our year in food and drink:

Cocktails continue to quench our thirst. The side car kept its place at our table, as did Rick Bayless’ margarita. Perhaps it wasn’t much of a coincidence that fresh citrus features prominently in both cocktails. Cutting a lemon or lime in half and giving a squeeze takes no more time than opening a bottle of mixer, but makes a big difference to quality and flavor. We also added Pimm’s Cup to our repertoire, cutting the liquor with Gosling’s Dark ginger beer for a crisp, slightly herbal refreshment. This summer, I invested in a bottle of St. Germain’s elderflower liqueur but have yet to fully realize it’s potential, though I’m sure I’ll find some use in Artisanal Cocktail, a gift from Friend Tracy. One of my favorite cocktails in 2009 was the Mariposa Aviation, a recipe taken from Artisanal Cocktail. It’s simply gin, maraschino liqueur (we like Luxardo), and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. My other favorite cocktail was the apple martini—shaken by the brothers who run Phillips—that I sampled at the Mill City Farmers Market. I despise the name but have yet to come up an appropriate moniker for this concoction of apple cider, [Prairie Organic] vodka, simple syrup, and a cinnamon stick. A few local restaurants, particularly Lucia’s, are serving these “martinis” on rocks, which makes for a tasty fall/winter cocktail.

favorite cooking techniques: paillards and pan sauces
In the last quarter of 2009, Spice had a night class two nights a week so Hambone was required to do more of the cooking. He nailed paillards, primarily using chicken. By flattening the breasts, the meat cooks quickly and leaves some browned bits in the pan that can be loosened with an agent, such as wine or stock or (even) water. With the addition of minced shallots or onion, herbs, mustard, and cream, you’ve got an instant pan sauce that transforms chicken into something a little more luscious. Plus, chicken breasts and pan sauce are amazing kid pleasers.

another soup session with Caryl
In 2008 my friend Caryl and I made caldo verde, a Portuguese kale and sausage soup, from a recipe in The Soup Peddler’s Slow and Difficult Soups. The soup was hearty and nourishing and easy. The cooking session was a blast so we decided to pick another soup from that cookbook and have another cooking session. This time we made shorbat rumman, which seemed appropriate for many reasons: it’s delicious, easy, and slightly exotic. Here’s what the soup peddler, David Ansel, says about this soup: 
Neither slow nor difficult, this delightful Iraqi yellow split pea soup is derived from a recipe on the world’s greatest soup website, Pomegranate and mint are the surprises that lie in store for your guests at this soup session. Dazzle even your most Republican friends with this soup, and when they ask, “What’s that taste?” just say casually, “Oh, that’s pomegranate syrup. We like to keep some around the house just in case we’re having Iraqi food for dinner, don’t you?”
The pomegranante and mint were love surprises, but my favorite part was the buckets of greens—one pound of spinach and two bunches each parsley and cilantro. The soup was bright and, undoubtedly, healthy. I’m looking forward to our next soup session!

favorite food stores
France 44’s cheese counter—St. Paul Cheese Shop—opened a St. Paul location. This news came with mixed blessings. It means there is no need for me to open the cheese store of my dreams, but it also means that awesome cheeses—stored at proper temperatures and cut to order—are available on my beat. In addition to cheese, the store offers some fancy foods, such as Theo Chocolates and Ames honey, and some of the best $8 sandwiches around. My favorite is the prosciutto and provolone with caramelized onions. I’m determined to hack their recipe for the dried fruit compote that they serve on chevre. Further down Grand Avenue, Golden Fig still rocks for their house-brand spice, herb, salt, and sugar concoctions, as well as such goodies jams from Heath’s Glen Kitchens (damson plum chutney and the heirloom tomato jam are two favorites) and Barsy’s Almonds (“naughties” with sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and cayenne, and “smokies” with sugar, spice, and smoked salt).

Best things eaten this year, restaurant category
~pho and the pork loin sandwich at Ngon (and sweet potato fries with sriracha aioli)—two years running
~Khyber Pass’ lunch buffet, especially the hummus and korma e murgh—two years running
~charred ahi tuna and shishito pepper, lemon, coriander, lime salt at Porter and Frye
~seared foie gras with hazelnuts, frisee, vegetables a la grecque, and curry emulsion at Meritage
~chocolate cake with ginger-candied apricots and cream at Grand Café
~muhammara at Sanaa’s in Sioux Falls
~tri-fry tower: hand-cut russet fries, maple-bacon sweet potato fries and parmesan waffle fries with smoked tomato ketchup, béarnaise, and blue-cheese dip at Burger Jones
~“continental” breakfast (skinka and farmer’s cheese on rusk) at the Columbus Hotell in Stockholm
~red chile, chorizo, and fried egg enchilada at Barrio

 Favorite things eaten at home/friends’ homes
~Will and Helena’s tossed green salad with tomato and mango
~Bill’s smoked ribs
~fig-olive tapenade from David Lebovitz's memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris
~Steve’s smoked brisket
~Colin’s pork loin with roasted shallots and fresh figs

Unforgettable drink
~2006 Sarah Powell pinot noir
~2001 Stag’s Leap
~chilled aquavit in Stockholm
~Visby medeltidsol from Gotlands Bryggeri
~salted caramel milkshake at Burger Jones

The economic downturn at the end of 2008 precipitated many restaurant closings, as well as chef turnovers. It goes somewhat without saying that not many new restaurants opened that we could put our radar, until recently, that is (more on those later). Not immune to the economic downturn, we took fewer meals in restaurants. When we did treat ourselves, we would head to favorites, such as Meritage, 112 Eatery, and Alma. Food at each of these joints remained consistent and exciting, rarely disappointing.