culinary adventures

I've embarked on a new lifestyle, inspired by none other than Greg Griffith.

You see, Griffith's abilities in the field of frozen desserts are legendary. Rumor has it that SFiF, the name of the site he built, stood originally for "Sorbets: Fruity (if Frozen)," and calling the site "Stand Firm in Faith" instead was an afterthought.

Sure, he pretended it was all just friendly conversation, that casual allusion to the fabulous watermelon sorbet he'd whipped up that week merely a remark on the summer climate in Mississippi. But those brief allusions became mocking, tormenting, as they echoed through my mind for days afterward. I wanted to experience that frozen goodness.

I'd tried many times to build a healthy lifestyle including homemade frozen desserts. I've abstained almost entirely from cake for years; dry cake was just mocking the lack of decent ice cream in my culinary repertoire. I tried -- believe me, I tried -- with a Cuisinart ice cream maker that people said was perfectly good, but my sorbets in particular found no state in between "ice brick" and "fruit soup." Finally, I started thinking, "maybe I'm just not a dessert person."

And then I realized that perhaps I just hadn't met the right ice cream maker yet. I bought that KitchenAid Pro mixer I blogged about earlier. It's got a lovely, 475-watt motor. I bought the ice cream maker attachment. And I made my first batch of ice cream -- sugar-free coffee ice cream made with cold-brewed Toddy coffee concentrate, and with fair trade 70% dark chocolate-coated cacao nibs from Sweetriot in it just for added decadence. I made it less sweet than coffee ice cream usually is, with a little less fat and with rather more intense coffee flavor. And it was very, very good.

So once more I have SFiF (we know what those letters really stand for) to thank for a valuable service to the community. I've discovered a part of myself that I thought was gone, but was merely dormant:

I am a dessert person! Next week, I think I'll try making mango-mint sorbet.

September 11, 2007 in Cooking, Just for Fun | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

mixing it up

Those of y'all who know me well know that I love to cook, and also have a weakness for gadgets -- not just the newest or shiniest gadgets, but the gadgets of quality most useful for things that are hardest (at least for people like me) to do without them.

I have ONE chef's knife, but I think I treat it a bit like a Marine treats a rifle; it goes where I go, it cuts anything that needs cutting, and I care for it a bit more conscientiously than I do my skin. Masaharu Morimotu is my kind of guy when it comes to the honor and care due to the tools of culinary arts; the way I feel about the One Good Tool that I have in each cooking category in which I have one is probably about as close as I'll ever come to knowing what a samuri felt about his sword (y'all tell me if that's wildly inappropriate culturally; I'm grasping here).

And I have long coveted a really, really good standing mixer. One that will kneed 100% whole wheat bread dough as I did when I was a more hale and ambitious baker. One that (with the proper attachment) will grind the lamb I buy so cheaply at Costco if I want to experiment with burgers and meatloaves including such a meat (which I know a decent butcher would grind for me, but you might not know just how huge the difference in price is between lamb you buy at a good butcher's and lamb of equally good quality at Costco). One mixer to rule them all, one mixer to bind them ...

Well, maybe not quite that magical a mixer, but you get the idea.

Kitchenaid Costco today had a deal that looked pretty irresistible on a mixer that looked as though it might suit my purposes. It's a KitchenAid Pro series -- 475-watt motor -- just like the mixer I've been dreaming about for years (yeah, I dream about kitchen appliances -- what can I say?), though I'd thought that to get the motor I wanted (mmm ... 475 watts ...) I'd need a six-quart capacity. This one has a five-quart capacity -- still enough to make six loaves of bread in a batch, the box says (and the wattage supports).

And the mixer, which I'd walked by at Costco for a year, was $40 off -- down to $239.99. The six-quart, 475-watt mixer I'd been eyeing for the last several years at least is way more than twice that much.

Cooking mavens, tell me: Am I a mixing fool? Will the five-quart capacity that seems perfectly fine to me, given the power of the motor (without which true whole-wheat dough, as well as many pasta doughs are impossible), chafe within weeks? Are attachments harder to get than they seem for this odd creature, the 475-watt but five-quarter? 'Cause I think this mixer just might be The One.

August 22, 2007 in Cooking, Life and Whatnot | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

coq au vin, episode III: the return of the lard croutons

When last we met our coq au vin, its sauteed mushrooms, browned pearl onions, and lard croutons (AKA salt pork, cubed and cooked until crispy and golden brown) were in a Tupperware container in my fridge, which also held my 9.5 quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, in which the seasoned, floured, and browned chicken thigh meat was soaking in two bottles of pinot noir, along with a carrot, a celery stalk, an onion, and a nice dose of garlic.

Two days later (it only needed to marinade overnight, but we wanted for various reasons to postpone coq au vin night, and I figured that additional time to marinade would probably improve the dish), the Dutch oven went into a 325-degree oven for a little over two hours, at which point I scooped out the chicken from the mix, turned the oven down to warm, and put the chicken back in the oven in a covered stainless steel pan. The liquid from the gigantic Dutch oven was then strained into a small Dutch oven to make the sauce, which required reducing and thickening it. It seemed a little too salty to me, so I also added some more wine.

Fifteen minutes before dinner, I put some pasta (we elected to go with whole wheat rotini rather than the traditional egg noodles -- I wanted something a little more robust) on to cook, and I added the mushroom/pearl onion/lard crouton mix to the now-reduced sauce. Four minutes before dinner, I put some frozen organic green beans in the microwave to steam (after going to as much effort as I did on the coq au vin, I was feeling not atypically lazy about the vegetable). At dinner time, the pasta went to the center of our plates, ringed with the green beans. Chicken rested on the pasta, and I ladled the sauce over it and garnished each plate with some fresh thyme.

The result was, I think, delicious. I wouldn't want to make coq au vin every day. I think it would go much more quickly the second time through, and I think that it's a good company dish in that most of the culinary heavy lifting gets done at least a day ahead of time; as long as you're home at least three hours before company arrives for dinner (something that's not at all a problem for a seminarian on winter break, though most of my friends could only do that for a Saturday evening gathering), there's not much that's difficult to do on the day you're going to eat the coq au vin. On the other hand, cubing salt pork is rather unpleasant, in my opinion. It's dense to cut through, and then it sticks pretty tenaciously to the knife. It's also got gritty salt throughout, which gets in the numerous tiny and shallow cuts that any chef is likely to have and not normally notice. I think the dish would be easier to do, though probably not as tasty, with slab bacon, and I think I might experiment with other moves that would make the dish easier to make. As with stews generally, it's that wonderful combination of tasty, comforting, satisfying, and (since it actually requires tougher chicken) relatively cheap to make. If I come up with a recipe that manages to compress prep time (and refrigerator space required -- that's always at a premium in our house), I'll post it.

January 19, 2007 in Cooking | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

coq au vin episode II: the chicken strikes back

OK, so I did my little 'lard croutons,' dredged, seasoned, and browned the chicken, browned the pearl onions (the Barefoot Contessa, whose Food Network show I'm addicted to, clued me in to using frozen pearl onions, rather than having to parboil and peel about 45 of them myself) and then sauteed the quartered mushrooms in the same fat distilled from the salt pork 'lard croutons,' reserving the mushrooms, salt pork, and onions in tupperware in the fridge.

The chicken went into that same 'extract of lard crouton' for browning. This is a dish I would never have been able to attempt were it not for my mother's giving us some enameled cast-iron cookware for Christmas; it's astonishing to me that the heat was distributed evenly enough (I assume that's what it is) for there not to be tons of burned bits from the various brownings and sauteeings and whatnot.

But more importantly, enameled cast iron is non-reactive. Alton Brown's version of coq au vin does something that no other version I've seen does, and that makes tremendous sense to me:

It lets the chicken -- along with savory ingredients (carrots, celery, quartered onions, garlic, and lots of fresh thyme), chicken stock (I had homemade stock, thanks to all those chickens we've roasted, usually on the grill, since moving here, and each time we make stock and freeze it), some tomato paste, and tons of Pinot Noir -- marinade in the fridge in that lovely, nonreactive 'French Oven' at least overnight. I think we'll have it in there two nights, as we've got an unexpected commitment tomorrow night that will probably preclude coq au vin-age.

The day we serve the dish is the day it'll come out of the fridge for the chicken (and savory ingredients) to braise and the sauce to be finished.

This is a genius special dish for special company, I think, for this reason. It requires what many would consider culinary heavy lifting -- lots of chopping and such, and with all of the sauteeing and browning today, I think I was in front of the stove for at least two and a half hours -- but the day I serve it, I'm pretty much just sticking it in the oven for some hours and doing a little sauce finishing of a kind I've done a lot, and find pretty easy.

It was slightly less genius that I gave no thought at all to what we'd eat TONIGHT. My honey had a lengthy job interview (she left in the morning and got back in the late afternoon) followed by a lengthy work-ish conference call, and for some reason she was less than totally thrilled by the lamb stew we've been eating on and off for over a week and the pot roast that we've been eating for the last two nights. I threw together a kind of improvised tetrazini-deal -- ground turkey, mushrooms, and peas (got to get green veggies in somewhere) with plentiful onions and garlic in a sauce with cheese and just a touch of sour cream, served over whole wheat penne. It worked.

The real culinary question is whether the coq au vin will prove sufficiently rewarding to justify the effort. Stay tuned!

January 16, 2007 in Cooking | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

coq au vin blog, episode I

Inspired by the Julia Child DVDs I've been watching of late, and guided by my good buddy Alton Brown, I'm making coq au vin, which is chicken (the older and tougher the chicken the better, as this dish was designed to use the old rooster once he was no longer fit for anything else; for this reason, I'm using chicken thighs) braised in red wine.

Step One was salting and peppering the chicken, then dredging it in flour. Step Two was sauteeing the salt pork -- an ingredient I'd never before dealt with. Having cubed it, gotten it to a nice golden brown hue, and tasted it, I think I'd describe it thusly: all of that healthful salt and fat we expect from bacon, only MORE and more concentrated. It's like crispy little lard croutons.

Not an ingredient to eat every day, to be sure, but I'm betting it will add a lot of flavor to the chicken and sauce.

January 16, 2007 in Cooking | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack