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Meat.

Ladies… a word.

I talk some game about the dudes, and how they need to learn to cook for their loved ones. But isn’t the converse valid, too? But unlike the pressure on the modern man, you can be bone tired and turn around a meal that makes almost every guy happy: meat and potatoes.

The rumors are true. There is no mystery.

Meat and Potatoes. Don’t fight it; embrace it.

One of my favoritest ladies in the realm, Tami, of erstwhile roommate fame, had a seder for Passover a short while ago. Coincidentally, my brother gifted me with a series of oven smoker bags, perfect for the urbanite limited by a lack of grilling space. Suffice it to say, I got all medieval on some brisket.

Smoker bags are a thing of simple glory. You get you some brisket, you rub the brisket with your preferred cocktail of spices. You open your windows, you heat your oven to 260. Like gangbusters, this thing worked. (Thanks Steve!)

You leave it for several hours. You salivate. Done. Also featured, potatoes and turnips tossed in butter and veal broth and roasted. And asparagus sauteed to perfection by Ms. Curry. (…It’s in season.)

Chow (sic.)*

*I’m going to start using sic here because people might think I don’t know how to spell ciao, or that I’m being overly precious. Happily for me the use of sic in a document appearing for the first time is a clever and catty play on darstellung/vorstellung. So double the pleasure, I suppose.

Gentlemen, a word.

If you’ve strayed into your late twenties unable to piece together a meal suitable for the entertainment of a companion on a busy Tuesday, I humbly posit that you may be inviting evolution to phase you out.

I know: specialization, blah blah blah. That’s why you have a job, so you can pay the local grease master at TGIFridays to make you the awesomest of awesome blossoms. Fine. You don’t need that skill. I get it – you’re a dude.

Young men, in their fashion, seem to compete to determine who can extract biological functioning from the worst possible food. (In the UK, women do it too!). Guys, I grant that on your own down nights you can live pretty damn happily on a nice piece of fatty animal, gone ripe and leaking on the searing metal of a scorching pan, and nothing else. You have tasted of the mac and of the cheese, hedonistically, at the same time. (And let me be the first to say – glory friggin’ be the mac and cheese.)

Maybe you’ve got some game – add some rosemary and some potatoes in some duck fat. Or maybe you’re the dude nuking Trader Joe’s, or pre-fab sodium-laced carb festoons from your local frozen food aisle, and that might rock your socks. Heck, a bag of Doritos, amirite?! Believe me, I get it. There’s no shame.

But then there’s the dames. You may have to feed a fine lady, on occasion, if there’s a fine lady in your life. I’ve seen bad books written on how to GET a fine lady into your life by way of cooking.

Fact is, at some point you’re going to encounter the drastic specter of gender inversion: date night at your place. It’s part of the landscape now – don’t be nervous. One of the nice additions to the American cultural dialogue in the last thirty years is that dudes are allowed to cook: they are, in fact, celebrated for it. It took a while to puncture those gender-atavistic behavioral holodecks born of Victorian spheres of influence, but by gumshion…  Amerrr’cuh, we did it.

Three broad tips, offered with all respect:

√ Keep it simple. Whatever you’ve ever had that tasted good together – find ways to think about them inventively. Fake elaboration fails; flavor layering prevails. A major rule is this – Serve what you would want to eat, or you will not like it. If you don’t like it, you can’t share joy over it. It will suck. It’s like selling something a product you despise to a client you don’t respect – in the long run, pawning it off will emotionally bankrupt you. I’ll touch on this later.

√ At some point in any series of dishes you will have to improvise. At least I do, because I’m no professional. No need to panic. Taste, add, dilute. Add acid, add salt, add cheese. It’s like anything else in life – a bad thing can be converted to something else and a really bad thing can be thrown out. Your dining partner will love that you tried, if nothing else.

√ Proportion rules.
As every cultures’ aesthetitions and clinicians and scientists (really any fields’ experts) have informed us, success is dependent on a harmony of parts. Dosage, cries the great Paracelsus! A few suggestions for harmony:

Have one thing carb-rich and decadent, a slow note that melts and remains.
Have one thing bright and clear, an acid or a vegetable or fruit, sweet, tart, long.
Have one thing inventive, something of yourself that means you thought about the thing – but not gimmicky. (Really, this depends on your feminine caller.)
Have. a. dessert. For the love of God. You may not need it. But have it.

It’s date night in America, and I’m a busy Brooklyn boy. I’m about to fuse those harmonious elements into a frenzied little dance served on rice. Let’s rumble.

Prep Time: 40 Minutes

Ingredients:

1.5 Cups Rice – sweet rice best.
1 Cup Condensed/Evaporated Milk
1 Cup Sweetened Coconut
⅓ cup Berberre mixture, toasted (see below)
½ lb raw cleaned shrimp
1 mango, 1 avocado
Salt, glorious salt.
A lil brown sugar

Berbere: A pant load of heat, and mad Spices. Like, all of them -

I first encountered Berbere through an Ethiopian restaurant – traditionally good for stews (Wat) it’s equally useful as a spice rub. I found a recipe for it in something called The Congo Cookbook, which appealed to me for personal reasons. One of the original ideas of this blog was to explore broad, bald intersections in international cuisines by jamming them together in the particle accelerator of my sauce pots and saute pans. Also, a certain culinary experimentation is de rigeur with Curry and I.

Onward.

1. Soak the rice. Rinse, drain, rinse, drain, until clear. (Fifteen minutes or so)

2. In a rice cooker or pot:

Combine Rice with ½ the can of condensed/evaporated milk
Chai tea – black tea grounds, ginger, cardamom (sieved)
Brown Sugar
Salt

Get the rice going.
3. Rub the shrimp with the spices and a dash of oil to get them going. Coat those boys, get all up in there.

4. Dice the avocado and shred the mango in a food processor – retain ¼ of the pureed mango in the freezer.

5. Pour the other half of the can of condensed milk into a stand mixer or bowl, put those soft fats (milk and avocado) and tart fruit (mango) together and mix until its a thick, glorious cream. If you feel like going nuts, add a dash of sugar and an egg white and make it a foam. Hell, you could make a semi-freddo from it, or use a sheet of gelatin and make it all kinds of stable.

6. Blacken the shrimp in one pan on high heat, quickly.

7. In another pan, toast the sweetened coconut, also quickly.

Take a bowl and form the finished rice into a shape. Sprinkle the plate with toasted coconut. Quickly toss the berbere shrimp with squeezed lime. Drizzle with the cream sauce as you see fit and side it with the now-almost-frozen mango puree.

And the villagers? They rejoice.

Easy.

Chow.

As a studly male domestic goddess, I can assure you that the right strategy – for entertaining – is mission critical.

ITEM: My buddy Rich is a bottomless pit. I considered dressing that up somehow, thought about contriving some florid turn of phrase to make it endearing that he can eat an entire cow and be hungry twelve minutes later, but why gild the lily? Dude’s a pit. The man eats like a boss.

It’s sick. In fact, making folks like Rich sick becomes a challenge to me, an act both generous and sadistic simultaneously. The nice thing about eaters is that they are perfect guinea pigs. Feeding true eaters does present a dilly of a pickle for entertaining, though. On the one hand, I generally make enough food to feed a family of nine. On the other hand, an hour after dinner he’s hungry again so volume alone does not prevail.

The solution? The Forever Meal.

The Forever Meal is a self-explanatory concept I have created to deal with people like Rich. The key is to stagger the presentation of food, or provide nibbles that rest like rocks in the stomach throughout. It is a meandering, often aimless jaunt around my kitchen during which I just keep cooking. But last night was movie night, and we endeavored to watch Tommy Wiseau’s cult classic “The Room.” You don’t want to cook through “The Room.” No, you want to laugh and vomit.

My solution: kebabs, homemade flatbreads and dips.

I would be hard pressed to enumerate the advantages of dips – versatility, pre-prepared-friendly, portions elected by the eater, crowd-pleasing, etc. My favorite is a hummus because it always satisfies and never disappoints; everyone can eat it, everyone will love it. It’s a simple creature with a billion web entries dedicated to it (by the by, Google’s recipe search algorithms favor “quick and easy” recipes and are, besides that fact, terrible). You can ignore all of them – ignore this. Beyond basic requirements of proportion, no recipe can save you if you have no imagination and you’re afraid to adjust for taste. It’s all about your tastes.

The Hummus:
⅓ beans
⅓ lemon
⅓ tahini

From there, you’re driving. I’m one of the four people in the world who prefers chunkier hummus, but again, your call. What’s that, you’re a purist for the silky smooth stuff with a drizzle of olive oil on top? Mazel tov, blend it longer. Want to throw sardines in? Delicious. Crazy for cocoa puffs? I would eat cocoa puff hummus. In fact, I will now try that with white beans and vanilla yoghurt.

Here’s what’s on my tap for movie night:

Your basic Tzatziki (a couple cups of thick yoghurt strained through cheese cloth, a clove or two of minced roasted garlic, half a lemon’s juice, scooped and shredded cucumber, salt + pepper to taste).

Roasted Red Pepper and Jalapeño hummus: an industry classic of chickpeas blended with the above and (you guessed it) peppers.

The other was a play on the sweetness of caramelized onion. I love candied nuts, toasted nuts – hazelnut and onion hummus -  cannellini beans, tahini, lemon with 1.5 onions, caramelized. I used a cup of hazelnuts:  ½ cup pan-toasted hazelnut and ½ cup hazelnut caramelized in brown sugar, worcestesire sauce and black pepper. So you get a lot of sweet and salty in that hummus.

And because of those of us in the room of the carnivore persuasion – the kebab action, just ‘cause. Just throw spices, and if you use too much cumin this time, you won’t next.

Coat well in heating and aromatic spices: Red pepper flakes, chili powder, paprika, cumin, cayenne (basically whatever heat you like), garlic and some onion. I put turmeric in, juice of a squeezed lemon, and mix well with enough yogurt to cover comfortably. Marinade overnight.

Plant that sucker a few inches from the broiler (or the grill, for you lucky few) with a bunch of pearl onions, cut red onions, peppers. Your place will smell terrific. Flip when dark. You’ll know when it’s done.

Chow, eat fiends.

-WB

 

Hey there Tiger…

Come on in. Had a tough day, huh? Sheesh! That world out there, right?! Golly.

Sit a spell. Come on, sit with me. Can I get you a soda, Sport? Put your feet up. Let’s jam, for a hot minute.

Listen, Champ. As the cowboy says, sometimes you eat the baar, and sometimes… well, the baar… he eats you. What? …Lebowski.

Never mind. Man. You just… you miss every reference, don’t ya, Cap’n? Hey, that’s ok. Buck up. Everybody has their thing, you just have to hit your groove. Tomorrow’s another day.

Anyways, here’s a killer quick recipe for lemon spaghetti.

Get a whole mess ‘o spaghetti (3/4 lb.)
2 Lemons (for their juice, + zest of 1/2 lemon)
Sage oil – or sage butter, or just oil, really
Splash cream, half/half or high fat milk
½ cup dry white wine
2 sprigs thyme
Basil
Cheeses of your choice (here: parmesan, goat, asiago)

Have you ever noticed that the most versatile foods are those that absorb other foods’ flavors? Noodles and beans – they’re essentially sponges that rehydrate and – in doing so – suck up all the flavor to be had. I’m declaring a noodle week.

Can you imagine flavors brighter (and more Spring-worthy!) than lemon and basil? Yeah? Well, keep it to yourself: I didn’t think of it.

This thing is so brightly flavored, it levitates. It meditates upon the palette like some serene noodle Buddha.
Here’s the specs:

Simmer lemon zest from one lemon in ½ cup of a sweet white wine, until reduced slightly. Let cool, then add a splash of heavy cream and return to heat, simmering with a few sprigs worth of macerated thyme. Let it thicken a bit. At this point I’d like to point out: you don’t have to use the cream. In fact, I use barely any cream. But I find it gives a little body that I would otherwise miss, makes the noodle wetter.

Take yourself some sage oil (if you don’t have sage oil, no bigs… if you really want that velvety undertone, you can simmer some sage in a little butter then wring the leaves).

Sauté three minced cloves of garlic in said oil. Now it’s super oil. (Technical term.)
Let it cool a bit while you boil the pasta in some heartily salted water until it’s ¾ cooked.
I like a pretty salty noodle infusion – a couple solid pinches, for me.

Start pan-frying asparagus.

Toss the garlicky sage oil with the cream/zest/thyme, and the juice of two lemons and – if you like – a little bit of grated parmesan. Whisk this together into a somewhat thick little sauce. Thin this sauce slightly, to your desired consistency, with some of the pasta’s cooking water.

Again: It’s important not to entirely cook the noodles. You want the doneness of the noodles a shade shy of al dente, so it still has some bite – the reason is simply so the noodles continue to cook and absorb the liquid of the sauce, in effect finishing them in herb/lemon-oil.

Put that whole mess together (pasta + sauce) while the noodles are still cooking, and toss well.

I put a little chicken on there because I am man.
Top with crumbled cheese of your choice (goat and asiago here).
Top with chiffonades of fresh basil, salt, pepper.
Chow noodle fiends,

WB

When do you take out a patent on a french fry? When it’s that good.

 

You patent a potato technique when you’ve mastered the thing, and when “taking out a patent” is – for you – about on the same order as ordering orange juice with brunch. A guy I know recently attended a press brunch catered by Nathan Myhrvold. When he told me about it, all he could say was, “I had the perfect french fry.” (The patent is for an “ultra-sonic” fry method.)


You may well have read about the new publication Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. You probably haven’t read the book itself, since Myhrvold’s Food Lab in Seattle commissioned a press run of only 6,000 copies and they’ve pretty much all been snatched up in their first week. But in the off chance that your food news comes from me and not, say, the tony folks at TNY, Scientific American, Saveur, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, HuffPo, and on and on… then I thought this is a book you should know about. A lot of folks are talking about it. At 2,348 pages in six volumes of explication, there’s a lot to talk about.

Nathan Myhrvold is basically the real-life Doc Brown, if Doc Brown happened to also be a virtuoso French chef. He is, to say the least, eccentric. He’s also brilliant. Ask him for a reference and he may jot down Stephen Hawking’s home number: they pal’d around at Columbia, studying quantum field theory in curved space time, and other made up words that scientists use to hide their Elven powers). Last year, Foreign Policy named him one of their top global thinkers. His CV will make your eyes bleed (UCLA at 14, M.A. and P.h.D., Princeton). He holds 30,000+ technology patents. Bill Gates bought his start-up in 1986, after which he worked for Microsoft for thirteen years (Chief Technology Officer).

The absurdly rich man recruited his team from the Fat Duck, but the work is as much about physics as about flavor – the guy has a 50-G centrifuge in an industrial warehouse, where he cooks. Essentially, a bunch of awesome geeks have taken it upon themselves to lock themselves in a test tube and simply try everything. The result is a crusade of  demystification. Some are decrying the work as esoteric; others praise it as definitive and transformative. This is no “Bittman list of 500-ways-to-salt-something-else,” and it is no mere dalliance of encyclopaedia (yeah, I broke out the diphthong): this thing endeavors to be both anthropological and forward-thinking, simultaneously. If nothing else, that denotes staggering ambition. It also happens to be gorgeous – polished to a precision of excess and as much a work of photographic curation as chart design.

I love people who cause a ruckus and don’t qualify it. One of its dust cover endorsements comes from Ferran Adriá, the guy who chose to close El Bulli for six months out of the year simply to reinvent his food as a matter of personal necessity. I admire that. Uncompromising figures of invention are easy to admire, when they’re successful. Mhyrvold, on top of that, is fundamentally a scientist publishing a scientific work (on paper, of all things, that aging whore of a medium), and he is positioning himself as Promethean, un-apologetically. His hubris is provocative and his tone is the opposite of your casual hippie foodie. And yet, I see Mhyrvold as a proto-foodie.

The foodies, a poor taxonomy loosely describing largely a group of hobbyists, are not given to endeavors so piercing and divisive. And yet it bears a semblance to the culture’s curiosity, which I think is a hallmark. The foodie loves the niche – you got our slow food foodie, your locavore, your vegan, your fat-fiend, your snob, your counter-cultural snob (I’d like the $32 pork belly Ramen please…), etc.  But if they are united by anything, surely the foodies are grouped by a vague sense of indulgent exploration and gastronomic greed. This guy did the same thing that you do when you see something, want it, and try to figure out how it works: he simply also applied his vast fortune and a rigour that would shame Descartes.
I am, of course, the first to admit that buzz abounds. Basically what we’ve got here is the sweet old man from Jurassic Park who sees no problem foisting his leviathan on the world, and I absolutely love it.

Will his epic ego amount to just another niche du jour for the food community, or will science once again prevail and convert the hungry masses to perceive the magic of flavor within the Matrix of measurements and controlled physical realities? My money’s on the smart guy.

Lemony Likket Tart

I’m a fan of tart and citrus.  What that says about me, I’m not sure.  Needless to say, I embrace the savories and the sweets when they’ve got the zesty zing of citrus to tickle my tongue.

Winter blues had me in a pie mood some time ago so I invited folks over for an evening of pie, otherwise known as the Pie Off.  It was a fantastic event with 10 different pies and lots of forks, plates and happy faces.

My entries included a strawberry custard tart and a lemon tart that, with the first bite, became far and away my FAVORITE new dessert.

The beauty of this recipe lies in its simplicity.  It’s not overwhelmingly sweet or sugary, nor is it tart to the point of puckering mouths.  Plus, it basically uses butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and lemon.  That’s it.

Amazing.

On my first attempt, my tart shell was beautiful, resulting in a very crunchy, buttery setting for the lemon filling.  The second time, I forgot to employ pie weights so the crust bubbled and shrank away from the sides.  Still, I filled the tin with the lemon filling and without a pastry side, the edges of the tart carmelized into a gorgeous brown, adding an even more intriguing caramel flavor to the lemony deliciousness. Readers, I leave it to you to design your tart shell as you wish.

Now the details.

Lemon Tart (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Tart Dough (makes 3 9-in tart crusts)
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (I made my own by grinding granulated sugar in a spice grinder)
1/2 cup ground blanched almonds (again, ground the almonds in the spice grinder)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter.  Once creamy, add the confectioner’s sugar and mix until well-combined.  Add the almonds, salt and vanilla until everything is smooth.  Lightly stir the eggs to combine the yolk and white, then slowly add to the bowl while blending.  Finally, add the flour and mix until the flour is incorporated and the dough just starts to form into a ball.  Be careful not to overwork the dough!

2. Gather the dough into a ball and divide into 3 smaller pieces.  Flatten the pieces into discs and tightly wrap with plastic wrap.  Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for about an hour (or up to 2 days).  You can also freeze the dough (make sure it’s wrapped air-tight!) for up to a month.

3. When you are ready to roll the dough, place a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and top the disc with another piece of plastic wrap.  Roll the dough on a counter between the plastic, frequently pausing to re-apply the sheets so that they don’t crease and fold into the dough.  If the dough is too soft, stick it back in the fridge and let it cool for a few minutes.

4.  Once the dough is an appropriate tart size, remove the top sheet of plastic and flip the dough into a pie pan, cutting off excess dough around the pan.  Then rest the dough in the fridge for another 20-30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line the crust with parchment or wax paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

6. Parbake the crust for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool.

Lemon Filling
1 lemon (average size), thinly sliced into wedges, seeds removed
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. In a food processor, combine the lemon and sugar until well-blended.  Remove any larger chunks of lemon that did not get pureed.  Transfer to a bowl.

2. Gently whisking, incorporate the eggs, then cornstarch and butter into the lemony mixture.

3. Pour into tart crust and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.  Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 15-20 minutes until the crust is browned and bubbling.

I served this tart at room temperature two days after baking and it was delicious.  Dear readers, be sure to let me know how your own lemon tarts turn out!

Boy it’s good to be back!

Curry

Redux that Bird.

Ok, readers.

You rousers of rabble. Don’t go beating down the door, all at once. Simmer down, meow.

I’ve been sad for a few weeks. Brian Jacques, the Children’s Fiction author, died recently. As far as I’m concerned, Frank Bruni and Alan Richman have nothing on this man. Brian Jacques introduced many avid young nerdlings to the real meaning of flavor text, which is to say, text about flavor – the man specialized in baroque recitations of endless feasts that signified, in the fictive realm of Mossflower, a time of peace and plenty. Despite having sold a bajillion books, he also took the time to respond to his readers’ letters, mine included. He was a man of great variety (longshoreman!) and tremendously gentle of mind. RIP, kid lit rock star.

But, to the food….


It seems like just a year ago we did our first spring chicken joke. (Research informs me that is accurate.)

Anyways, sadness in Spring calls for chicken, as ever… An easy, graceful, and inherently perfect meal.

I give you a simple brined bird with a  rub, a tamarind glaze, and chipotle-yam mash with fennel. And some other stuff.

The Brined Bird:

Brine: Why do we brine? We brine because we love.

Brining for flavor is a naturally occurring elegance born of previous necessity (preservation-brining). I’ve discussed the science before, but what it comes down to is this – What’s outside the meat will get in, but what’s inside the meat won’t get out. (The former is because of ionic diffusion via osmosis, and the latter is because of protein denaturation.) Of course when it cooks you’re going to lose water – but you’ll end up with way more water than you would have had otherwise (see note below about mush, and brine times).

By the by, have you ever mainlined the brining solution that bathes your feta…. No? Oh. Me neither, then.

Ok. Brine it. Get yourself a large stock pot.
Throw a few quarts of veggie stock or water into that mother.
Throw a cup or so of kosher salt in there (I just pour until it clouds, until it clouds so right.)
Throw a half cup of brown sugar in, a handful of peppercorns, and a teaspoon or so of whatever you fancy. Here I used –> crushed cardamom, thinly sliced ginger, coriander, star anise, fenugreek, cloves, bay leaves, garlic.

Boil. Cool to room temperature, and wash the bird.
Put the bird in a solid zip lock bag (or a massive chilled cooler, if you’re a baller like that – Houston once brined a massive turkey this way).

I’ve heard you should brine the thing for around one hour per pound, but don’t go crazy – don’t leave it over night or anything (it can get mushy on you).

After four hours or so, I rubbed the bird with oil, salt, pepper, ground coriander, cardamom and cumin. I stuffed the cavity with sectioned lemon and garlic. I roasted that mother at 350.

In the last few minutes, the skin growing crispy, I mixed four or five tablespoons of tamarind concentrate with a good bit of honey and a couple pinches pinch of cayenne. I slathered it up, switched the oven mode to broil, and let it finish.

The Mash:

I’m a huge fan of putting yam and chipotle together. Usually I simply boil the yam in well salted water, throw some chipotle in adobo (yeah, the canned stuff) into a processor, and hand mix it with a hefty pat of butter. Salt and pepper to taste.

Served with almonds, slivered fennel and blanched mixed vegetables.

Chow, foodniks.


Keep it secret. Keep it safe.

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