Saturday, June 26, 2010

goat milk mac-n-cheese

I can't even take credit for this creation.  It was born of an Alton Brown recipe and a modest amount of creativity, driven by a meager selection of items at the store. 

The theme for yesterday's supper club was "White Trash Picnic," complete with cheap beer, coke cake (it's a southern thang), and cornhole.  My task: macaroni and cheese.  Yes, someone brought Popeye's fried chicken, which we all ate without remorse.  And I didn't really believe anyone would trash-talk me for bringing a pot of Kraft Dinner... or at least not to my face... but I thought I should at least make a mac-n-cheese from semi-scratch, using preformed elbow macaroni and preshredded cheese. 

Now there's more than one way to skin this cat so I had a few options.  I chose to go with Alton Brown's recipe because Mr. Brown said it would only take 25 minutes and the supper club was convening on a weeknight, so I didn't have a whole day to prep.  And nothing says "white trash" louder to me than a quickie recipe that involves preshredded cheese and a can of evaporated milk.

The Sunflower Market four blocks from the Speakeasy Kitchen doesn't always have the "normal things" you see at grocery stores (incidentally, this is really the reason I didn't want to bring Kraft Dinner -- they don't carry that either).  I scoured the aisles in search of evaporated milk and found only this stuff: Evaporated goat milk.  "Gourmet Taste. Easy to Digest."

Crunched for time, I decided to give it a whirl.

I cooked the macaroni and went about mixing the goat milk, which had an yellowy-pinkish color, with the eggs, mustard, and hot sauce.  
For hot sauce, I had a couple of choices.  Although the crazy colors on the Blind Betty's hot sauce looked appropriate for the occasion, I opted for the Boulder Hot Sauce version because I figured the smoked serrano would be a nice flavor bridge between the goat milk and sharp cheddar.

I was right.  The result was a creamy, slightly goaty cheddar mac-n-cheese that was quick and easy.  Pleased with the results, I donned my wife-beater and giant belt buckle and headed to the park, bringing my cornhole and trash-talking A-game and the best mac-n-cheese I've ever eaten.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Garden tour

I had a little bit of trepidation over the 16 pea shoots I dropped into the garden -- what on earth would I do if all 16 went into hyper-production?  Well, it's starting to happen.  But I no longer worry.  My recent dinners at The Squeaky Bean gave me confidence that there would be plenty I could do with good fresh peas.

I cracked into the first pod, popping the peas out into my mouth.  They were so tender and sweet!  I got so excited that I temporarily lost my mind and gave the empty pod to Margo Frances, my smallest and hungriest dog.  She gobbled it up in a hurry, and now she lurks around the back side of the garden, as if she were stalking a cat.  She's waiting for me to look away so she can steal some of the good stuff right off the vine for herself.

There's plenty of good stuff in the garden.  There will be plenty of good recipes for fresh vegetables in the months to come.  I'm most excited about the mixed beets and the multi-colored carrots.  Carrots on the left, mixed beets on the right.  Under each bunch of greens will be an unexpected pop of color!  The suspense is killing me!

Also in the works are about 8 different varieties of tomatoes.  We've already had a few salads of mixed greens complimented with yellow cherry tomatoes.  But these Better Boys are on their way in.  I expect to be plucking them by the end of this coming weekend.

And last, but not least, we have 8 square feet of garden dedicated to kale.  Yes, that's right 8 square feet.  Due to our inexperience and/or laziness, we decided to do raised beds according to the square foot gardening method and so far, it seems to be easy enough to follow.  Mr. Rose put in some backbreaking work up front and before his ACL reconstruction surgery and built some boxes, I helped mix dirt, vermiculite, and compost into the boxes, and we roped off the dirt into individual, square zones.  It keeps us organized and there is seldom a question as to whether something is a weed or an unusually shaped sprout.  It's phenomenally easy and, so far, we're pleased with the results.  And looking forward to the endless supply of kale chips.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The egg and the fish.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love mixing my proteins.  Chicken and tofu in a Thai curry.  Eggs on cheesy garlic grits.  Surf and turf.  A menagerie of animals in a bolognese sauce.  My latest favorite combination of proteins: fish and eggs.

On Saturday evening, in the middle of a hot summer weekend filled with 5 hours of biking and attendance at a smattering of lively local festivals, we had dinner with Dr. Ku and Mike.  Dinners with Ku and Mike have become a pleasantly regular occurrence, switching between the Ku and Rose residences, occasionally intermingled with dim sum, Ethiopian, or other ethnic fare.  But on this busy weekend, there was no time to get elaborate.  I went to my simple go-to.

Seafood Landing had a large selection on Saturday morning.  I had in mind some fillets with the skin still on, so they would get crispy when broiled.  The barramundi looked the best, though I would have preferred little fillets of trout or John Dory.  I parboiled and grilled scallions, shaved parmesan reggiano, mixed a mustard vinagrette and soft-boiled an egg to  garnish the plate before I laid down the broiled barramundi, which I finished with a pinch of Maldon salt.

Thankfully, Ku and Mike were able to appreciate this combination of proteins.  It shouldn't have been hard to appreciate, since the plate was lovely and I didn't get too creative with the egg... unlike the egg from the red wine-poached egg on butter-poached halibut that I photographed for a certain casting call (I poached it in white wine when I showed up for the actual casting call... the egg comes out in a barely yellowish hue, a much more palatable color for an egg than the purpleish blob that comes out of a red wine poach).  That was no less delicious, but admittedly, the color in the photograph was a little off-putting.

Nonetheless, there's nothing quite like a juicy piece of fish paired with a perfectly cooked egg.   It's a more delicate kind of surf and turf.  Unlike the brute force of a slab of beef wrestling against a lobster tail for dominance, the fish and egg nestle in harmony on a plate.  When fruit of the mighty sea comes to the shore and meets with the humble and earthy egg, you end up with something light, yet fulfilling, and perfect for a busy summer evening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The fate of a shrimp in endangered habitat

It's not entirely clear to me how it came to be that these pink shrimp were available "on special" at Seafood Landing.  They hail from the imperiled waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and although the species itself had a "stable" existence earlier this year, it's not hard to imagine that they'll be a little more scarce in the months and years to come.

So how did they find their way to this land-locked state, only to be placed on sale like they were going out of style?  Perhaps the shrimp trawlers sifted them all out of the water before they could meet their oil-slicked doom.  Or maybe Bruce foresaw the BP accident and made the biggest fishmonger futures trade boon in history and was sharing the wealth.  No matter what brought them here, I had Old Bay Seasoning and limes at home, waiting to make their sweet and tender acquaintance.  Together, with a few other accoutrements, they would become ceviche.

Last year, I met a Mexican civil rights lawyer-cum-painter named Clay.  He was helping me fix up my house in Washington DC.  We spent a week working side by side and, one day, we spontaneously decided to make ceviche for lunch. 

It was a typical day in DC, hot and humid.  We were tired and hungry.  We had plenty of hardware, but no kitchen utensils.  But, where there's a will, there's a way.  A bathroom mirror came down and became our cutting board and a Swiss Army Tool our knife.  The lime juice was our sanitizer.  I felt like McGyver.

We butterflied the shrimp and soaked it in lime juice.  Thinly sliced onions and tomatoes went in to add more flavor and acidity.  Then a few splashes of soy sauce and a few dashes of Old Bay Seasoning.  We used a blow torch to toast thinly sliced garlic and crushed red pepper in a bit of sesame oil -- it smelled heavenly!  Ripped up some cilantro, sliced some avocados, tossed everything together with an extra squeeze of lime, and Voila!  It is the best thing I could possibly hope to see on the end of a tortilla chip heading towards my mouth.  Not to mention, it's hardly the worst possible fate for a shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico.

*N.B. This is a recipe (be)for(e environmental) disaster.  If shrimp becomes extinct, I do not recommend that you try this with raw chicken.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Freeloaders and Fungi

All the rain we've gotten in the last twelve months made me really regret I haven't been taking advantage of what has been highly hospitable climates for mycelial growth.  We didn't do any gardening last year, and only had some miniature mushrooms growing indoors, in buckets.

Without a doubt the Espresso Oyster mushrooms were delicious and a delight to find springing up from their humble abode.  But they were limited in number and one bucket never really produced.

Meanwhile these little toxic creatures cropped up all last summer around the yard. They're pretty fascinating, but I looked every one of them up in my field guide, and not a single one of them won't cause at least a couple of days of gastrointestinal distress if eaten.
Not to mention the horribly obscene Stinkhorn that showed up overnight in our front yard.  The Stinkhorn is also known by its Latin name, phallus impudicus, and I've posted a photo elsewhere, but I will not post here because it is highly unappetizing.  (Click on "Stinkhorn" if you're curious).

But I digress.  I've decided to capitalize on the mycelium-friendly climes of late and, killing two birds with one stone, make it so that a couple of trees in our neighborhood have not died in vain.  I ordered mushroom spawn plugs online.  Then I got to work.

First, I started with some logs.  Different mushrooms like different substrates.  I have three varieties of spawn: Lion's Mane, a milky-colored, fluffy, sponge-like mushroom; Phoenix Fir Oyster, a white mushroom with taupe, velvety ruffled tops; and Pearl Oyster, a prolific, almost blueish oyster mushroom.  The Phoenix Fir Oyster prefers conifers, while the Pearl Oyster must be grown on hardwood, and the Lion's Mane is an equal opportunity innoculator.  Luckily, we had a Douglas Fir come down in our backyard this spring, and our tree guy gave us a few sections of an Elm he took down a couple of weeks later.

While waiting for the logs to age, the spawn arrived and really took off.  They had completely saturated and filled up the grooves in the wood dowels that they come packaged in.  Three precious little baggies, each filled with 100 promises of tender fungi!

I set about making homes for these little promises, drilling a diamond shaped pattern of 5/16" holes around the logs.  Then the promises went into the holes, plugging them up.  I tapped them in so that they ran flush with the outer surface of the log, then sealed them in with melted beeswax (yay!  the kitchen torch found a use other than for creme brulee!) so that the mycelium had nowhere to go but into the wood.

Now all I've got to do is keep the logs damp and shaded.  Some are on the north side of the garage and east of a giant silver maple tree, while others are on the north side of a giant lilac bush and east of the house.  They need a bit of sun, but not too much.  It'll be 6-9 months before these babies fruit, but it will be well worth it when they do.

As a reward for my patience, I hope to have beautiful colonies of Lion's Mane, Phoenix Fir Oyster, and Pearl Oyster fruiting proudly and prolifically, and perhaps their spores will spread throughout the yard in years to come, taking the place of the pretty, but inedible parasols.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Roasted Beet Salad

No one remembers liking beets when they were kids, and I'm no different.  I only ever saw them at the all-u-can-eat salad bars at the Ponderosa "steak house" and The Sizzler, on display under florescent light and a sneeze guard.  They were gelatinous-looking, circular slabs with an unnatural magenta hue.  I always watched in awe as Dad popped them into his mouth by the forkfuls, waiting to see if he'd spit them out.  Being a kid who thought green jello was cool, I can't explain why beets weren't. But then again, I was a complex kid, full of contradictions.

Now fast-forward to a new decade, 2010, when I buy anything that looks pretty in the produce section and find a way to make it taste as good as it looks.

For me, the beet greens are the loveliest part of the beet.  They're almost magical, with bright green leaves springing forth from the red stems and veins that, when you cut them, bleed hot pink.  And, invisible to the naked eye are the beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron and calcium that they also bring to the table.

I separate the beets from the greens, wrap the beets in foil, and roast them at 400 degrees F till they're just tender.  The greens, I chop and saute in olive oil with a pinch of salt, till wilted.

The beets come out of the oven and get diced.  Beets and greens are reunited, and tossed with extra virgin olive oil and peach-fused white balsamic vinegar from a local purveyor and topped with crumbly gorgonzola and sunflower seeds for the best salad love can make.
Kind of makes me wonder what I could do with green jello if I put my mind to it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Childhood Redux

Training for a century requires that I spend a lot of time away from the kitchen and more time on the road.  But now that I've finished my first century, I finally realized that I am addicted to cycling.  It's like being a kid all over again -- spending hours outside, zoom zoom zooming around with no purpose other than to be out on my bike -- only better, because now I have a carbon fiber frame and sleek, moisture-wicking fabrics.  But that's not the only thing that's improved from when I was a kid.  The food's a helluva lot better too.  (No offense, Mom and Dad.)

It's been an alternately rainy and hot/sunny season in Denver, which makes cycling outdoors a bit of a challenge, but it's great for the garden.  Exhibit A: Photos from the herb garden.

Chives and dill, from seed.

Most people look for recipes based on main ingredients.  "I'm in the mood for fish sticks," they'd think to themselves, and then Google "fish stick recipe."  Not me, not today.  The herb garden's ready for picking (I'll be Googling "rosemary recipe" early next week) so I decided to make the most of the available herbs and looked for a "dill chive recipe."  What did I find?  Fish sticks!

Snip, snip, snip!  Add some capers... Chop, chop, chop!  The recipe called for halibut, dipped in egg, and rolled in panko.  I have never been able to get egg to stick to anything without using a starch primer first.  So I lightly dredged the fish through some flour, before dipping in egg.  And because no one I know doesn't love panko, I pankoed with gusto.

The results were wonderful.  I resisted the urge to dress up the bone china plate.  The grown-up version of fish sticks didn't need a sprig of dill to remind me of how far departed I am from the fish sticks of childhood.

Next up: Roasted beet salad... not your average sliced canned beets at the salad bar.