Posts tagged “Beef

Beef Short Rib Chili

Braised beef short rib chili, served with creamy polenta and spicy coleslaw. There is nothing traditionally Texan about this chili, but living in Texas definitely led to making this chili.

Braised beef short rib chili, served with creamy polenta and spicy coleslaw. There is nothing traditionally Texan about this chili, but living in Texas definitely led to its inception. I typically make this around football season, but the rodeo had me thinking about Texas foods.

 

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo just left town, and in honor of its exodus, I cooked a batch of chili. It’s a version I’ve been making that is inspired by living in Texas, but it is definitely not “Texas chili” by any purist’s standards. In a roundabout way, it was Texas barbecue that opened my mind to the possibilities for chili, more specifically the benefits of slow-cooked beef. I’m a Midwesterner, so I have some experience with the provincial oddities and kitsch that accompany state fairs. Even so, I was still surprised at the spectacles and excesses of the rodeo. My initiation to the rodeo actually happened with a surprise. Years ago, on a Saturday morning, I woke to what I thought was a maniac loose on the street, screaming beneath my window. However, when I pulled up the blinds, I saw a stream of riders on horses and wagons, while an emcee in cowboy gear announced their names through a microphone. It was then I discovered I was living at the epicenter of the rodeo parade route.

The biggest surprises were still in store for me when I actually attended the rodeo. The runner-up has to be the chicken fried bacon, a delicacy out of Yoakum and Snook, Texas. Yes, I did eat it gratefully. But the blue-ribbon surprise goes to mutton bustin, an honorable tradition of putting toddlers in hockey helmets and life jackets and then placing them on sheep to see how long the kids can hold on while the sheep run. I remember a lot of tears and a lot of bewildered joy.

Breakfast tostada with eggs, bacon, onions, queso fresco, scallions, salsa, and Cholula hot sauce. The corn tortilla was fried just before making the eggs.

Breakfast tostada with eggs, bacon, onions, queso fresco, scallions, salsa,  sour cream, and Cholula hot sauce. Since I had the dutch oven  out to make the chili, I decided to fry corn tortillas for breakfast tostadas before the afternoon of chili preparation.

 

Moving to Texas was full of cultural discoveries like these, many of them inspiring ambivalence like my rodeo experiences did, yet, there were some unequivocally enjoyable surprises, like breakfast tacos and Texas barbecue. In Minnesota, if Mexican food was served for breakfast, it was usually some version of a bland flour tortilla rolled around eggs and cheese, dolloped with store bought salsa. Barbecue meant bratwurst and hamburgers if you were at home or the cabin. If you went out to eat, you might get pork ribs or chicken. I didn’t even know what beef brisket was before moving to Houston, and I regret all of those lost years. Same goes for real tortillas, flour or corn, and the genius of mixing eggs, salty meats, and cheese together to serve with those tortillas for breakfast.

Searching around for chili recipes a few years ago, I landed on the controversy over Texas chili, which some aficionados claim must be chunks of beef with chili paste made from dried chilies. Tomatoes usually aren’t welcome; beans, never. Looking at pictures made me think of chopped brisket, or my other favorite slow-cooked cut, the short rib. Since I’m an outsider and don’t need to be a Texas chili zealot, I could experiment. Giada De Laurentiis has a recipe for short rib chili that appealed to me, and it suggested serving it with polenta, which just made me think of Frito chili pie, so I had to try her version. I’ve since tweaked the recipe, substituting Young’s Double Chocolate Stout for the instant espresso coffee and dried chipoltes for canned, plus skipping her use of chocolate and adding tomato purée. I serve the chili with regular creamy polenta and spicy coleslaw.

Dried chilies are in abundance in Houston grocery stores. For my chili paste, I use a mix of 2 New Mexico chilies, 2 ancho chilies, and 2 chipoltes. They are seeded, sliced, and cooked in 1 1/2 cups of water until they are soft enough to blend.

Dried chilies are in abundance in Houston grocery stores. For my chili paste, I use a mix of 8 New Mexico chilies, 2 ancho chilies, and 2 chipoltes. They are seeded, sliced, and simmered in 1 1/2 cups of water until they are soft enough to blend with the liquid.

 

The short ribs are seasoned with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and browned in bacon fat. In the past, I have cooked off bacon in the dutch oven I use for the chili, reserving the bacon to garnish the chili. This time, the bacon became breakfast.

The 3 lb of short ribs are seasoned with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and browned in bacon fat. In the past, I have cooked off bacon in the dutch oven I use for the chili, reserving the bacon for a garnish. This time, the bacon became breakfast.

 

I love the flavor of Young's Double Chocolate Stout, and since I only use 10 oz, there is a little left over. After the ribs have been browned, I cook the onions and garlic in the dutch oven, adding the stout once the onions are soft. I reduce the liquid almost completely before adding the cumin, oregano, tomato purée, amber agave syrup, and beef stock. The short ribs are added back to the pot, and once the mixture is at a simmer, it goes into a 325 °F oven for 2.5 hours. Halfway through, I flip the short ribs.

I love the flavor of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, and since I only use 10 oz, there is a little left over. After the ribs have been browned, I cook one diced yellow onion and six chopped garlic cloves in the dutch oven, adding the stout once the onions are soft. I reduce the liquid almost completely before adding the 1 tbsp cumin,  1 tbsp oregano, a 10 oz can of tomato purée, 2 tbsp amber agave syrup, and 1 cup beef stock. The short ribs are added back to the dutch oven, and once the mixture is at a simmer, it is covered and goes into a 325 °F oven for 2.5 hours. Halfway through, I flip the short ribs.

 

When the short ribs are done cooking, remove the meat from the bone and cut off the tough membrane. The meat is chopped and added back to the chili after the grease has been skimmed. There will be a lot of grease. A can of black beans, rinsed and drained, can be added after the grease has been skimmed. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. In the background of this photo is my sous-chef, Musetta.

When the short ribs are done cooking, remove the meat from the bone and cut off the tough membrane. The meat is chopped and added back to the chili after the grease has been skimmed. There will be a lot of grease. A can of black beans, rinsed and drained, can be added after the grease has been skimmed. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. In the background is my sous-chef, Musetta, giving her best effort at a photobomb. 

 

The chili is served over creamy polenta, and I top it with queso fresco, julienned tomatoes, scallions, and spicy coleslaw. The coleslaw is half of a head of purple cabbage and half a head of green cabbage, shredded; two peeled carrots, shredded; half a yellow onion, sliced thin and quartered; 1/4 cup mayo; 1/4 cup brown sugar; 1 tbsp dijon mustard; 1 tbsp whole-grain mustard; 1 tsp apple cider vinegar; 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper; 1/4 tsp ground cayenne; dash of hot sauce (optional); kosher salt to taste.

The chili is served over creamy polenta, and I top it with queso fresco, julienned tomatoes, scallions, and spicy coleslaw. The coleslaw is half of a head of purple cabbage and half a head of green cabbage, shredded; two peeled carrots, shredded; half a yellow onion, sliced thin and quartered; 1/4 cup mayo; 1/4 cup brown sugar; 1 tbsp dijon mustard; 1 tbsp whole-grain mustard; 1 tsp apple cider vinegar; 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper; 1/4 tsp ground cayenne; dash of hot sauce (optional); kosher salt to taste.

 


A Supposedly Fun Thing: Sous Vide Edition

Marinated flank steak cooked "ghetto sous vide" à la David Chang's recipe. Served with a purée of kimchi, quick-pickled cucumbers, and ginger scallion noodles with snow peas, enoki and beech mushrooms, and julienne of radishes and daikon. The kimchi is from Nippan Daido.

Marinated flank steak cooked “ghetto sous vide” à la David Chang’s recipe. Served with a purée of kimchi, quick-pickled cucumbers, and ginger scallion noodles with snow peas, enoki and beech mushrooms, and julienne of radishes and daikon. The kimchi is from Nippan Daido.

This blog is not very linear, and it doesn’t have a cohesive pattern, which I guess I could just claim as contemporary from a literary standpoint and be fine with it. So, here is a meal I made a few weeks ago, and I have (almost) nothing to say about poetry in this post.

It turns out Holly and I have a FoodSaver vacuum sealer. Well, I knew we had it, but I’d just forgotten about it. It’s been hanging out with the rest of the gadgets in the museum of good intentions that occupies the backs of our cupboards. What got me thinking about it was all of the bacon dashi I’ve been making and all the bacon dashi going to waste because I’m not using it every day in order to not waste it. I occasionally buy vacuum sealed ice cubes of demi-glace from a local market (the ever-incredible Revival Market), and I was thinking I wish I could do that. Then, I remembered I could. IMG_2517

Messing around with the FoodSaver led me back to David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook and a recipe I’d seen in there for what he called a “ghetto sous vide” method of cooking marinated hanger steak. I didn’t want to ruin an expensive cut of meat for my experiment or go track down hanger steak, so I settled on a flank steak, a cut that can benefit from a little marinating. I did stick to Chang’s marinade recipe, though. The Momofuku cookbook recommends using a high-quality plastic bag and straw to remove the excess air. I used the vacuum sealer, precariously removing the air while not letting the liquid get out. It was a messy, frustrating, and time-consuming process, even if eventually successful. I’m thinking a straw and a Ziploc bag would have been the way to go. Here’s how it went down:

Flank steak in marinade ready to be experimented on.

Flank steak in marinade ready to be experimented on.

I'm a poet, and poets are know to abuse science, and from what I understand, sous vide cooking is all about science, like thermodynamics. Or so Google tells me. The method suggested in the cookbook is to use a deep enough pot, keep the water temperature constant (125 °F) through constant monitoring and adjusting with running hot tap water, and using an instant read thermometer. The danger with this method is cool spots. I'd be more scared with chicken, but a rare-ish good quality steak doesn't freak me out. Besides, you finish this steak on the grill or stove.

I’m a poet, and poets are known to abuse science, and from what I understand, sous vide cooking is all about science, like thermodynamics. Or so Google tells me. The method suggested in the cookbook is to use a deep enough pot, keep the water temperature constant (125 °F) through constant monitoring and adjusting with running hot tap water, and using an instant read thermometer. The danger with this method is cool spots. I’d be more scared with chicken, but a rare-ish good quality steak doesn’t freak me out. Besides, you finish this steak on the grill or stove.

After the 45 minutes in the water and cooling in an ice bath, I removed the steak from the marinade and finished it in a grill pan to give it the nice grill marks and char taste.

After the 45 minutes in the water and cooling in an ice bath, I removed the steak from the marinade and finished it in a grill pan to give it the nice grill marks and char taste.

I seasoned the finished steak with a mixture of crushed sea salt, toasted black sesame seeds, and some shichimi togarashi (a Japanese 7-spice blend) I picked up at Nippan Daido.

I seasoned the finished steak with a mixture of crushed sea salt, toasted black sesame seeds, and some shichimi togarashi (a Japanese 7-spice blend) I picked up at Nippan Daido. The result was good, but this was a lot of work. Someday, I’d like to try an actual sous vide cooker.


Vocabularies of Obsession/Vocabularies of Habit

When I was over halfway through writing the poems for my first book, I had the opportunity to participate in a reading, and I chose a selection of what I considered at the time to be my best—or at least favorite—work. A mentor of mine was in the crowd, and afterwards when everyone was hanging out and complimenting the readers, as happens at those things, he had some nice words to say to me, and then mischievously added, “a very avian reading.” Um, so it turns out I wrote a lot about birds.

Obsession can be a form of concentration, a way to find possibilities for what you already have at hand. The leftover rhubarb from the Valentine's Day salad and some strawberries I had bought for the occasion but never used taunted me to make a dessert. I'm not ready for pie, but a free-form, rustic, and forgiving tart that is the crostata was a great place to begin. Googling landed me on this super easy and tasty eggless crostata recipe from  the blog EGGS ON SUNDAY.

Obsession can be a form of concentration, a way to find possibilities for what you already have at hand. The leftover rhubarb from the Valentine’s Day salad and some strawberries I had bought for the occasion but never used provoked me to make a dessert. I’m not ready for pie, but a free-form, rustic, and forgiving tart that is the crostata was a great place to begin. Googling landed me on this super easy and tasty eggless crostata recipe from the blog EGGS ON SUNDAY

I’m sure on some level I was aware of it, but I wasn’t painfully aware of it until that moment. I didn’t—and don’t—regret the flocks, the bevies, the congresses and murders and murmurations of birds populating those poems. I needed them at the time. Which is another way of saying they were an obsession. They had become for me a way of talking about some of the themes of that book. Birds were a vocabulary I adopted (and, yes, perhaps a rather conventional or at least traditional one) to express the transactions between an interior life and the external world, for the challenge of trying to capture a present tense that is always winging into the next present moment, for the anxiety over this here mortal coil, and the nostalgia for something transcendent. And in my aesthetics at the time—a kind of meditative poem that makes excursions into a representational report of the world around its lyric speakers—those birds made perfect sense. Yet, once I was aware of that reliance, I had to make the decision to keep trying to perfect and rejuvenate that vocabulary or to move on if I felt it was merely habit at that point. I moved on.

To put things into perspective, here’s a little obsessive inventory. In The Currency, the word “bird” or bird-related terms, including species names and words like “feather” and “wing,” appear twenty-eight times. In my new manuscript, which is nearing its final stages before publication, such words only appear fifteen times, and eight of those occur in a single poem, the most recent one I’ve written for the book. The words “bird” and “birds” were used thirteen times in writing The Currency, but in the five years since I finished it, I’ve called on those words only four times for Pax Americana. Part of this shift was a conscious reaction against complacency, but it’s more complicated than that. With new obsessions, I needed to find new symbols in order to communicate.

This another take on a watercress salad, but unlike the Valentine's Day version, this one has peeled baby heirloom tomatoes, with edamame, avocado, toasted and salted pumpkin seeds, and a pumpkin oil and sherry vinaigrette. It is served over fried firm tofu. The technique for peeling the tomatoes comes from the Momofuku cookbook. It's really easy. Cut an X in the tomato skin on the non-steam end. Prepare a pot of boiling water and an ice bath. Drop the tomatoes in batches into the boiling water for ten seconds and then transfer them to the ice bath. The peels will slip right off. David Chang has a recipe for serving these tomatoes with fresh tofu that partly inspired this dish.

Repetition is the mother of obsession. This is another take on a watercress salad, but unlike the Valentine’s Day version, this one has peeled baby heirloom tomatoes, with edamame, avocado, toasted and salted pumpkin seeds, and a pumpkin oil and sherry vinaigrette. It is served over fried firm tofu. The technique for peeling the tomatoes comes from the Momofuku cookbook. It’s really easy. Cut an X in the tomato skins on the non-stem ends. Prepare a pot of boiling water and an ice bath. Drop the tomatoes in batches into the boiling water for ten seconds and then transfer them to the ice bath. The peels will slip right off. David Chang has a recipe for serving these tomatoes with fresh tofu that partly inspired this dish.

Here’s some additional counting: in The Currency, there are eighteen references to visual art. In Pax Americana, there are four. The Currency alludes to three films (and I mean “films” with all its pretentious baggage). Pax Americana alludes to or directly names seven “movies,” seven television shows (with multiple nods to Joss Whedon, Alias, and HBO series), news casts, and a YouTube video. Writing (in the form of poems, letters, philosophical and biographical texts, etc.) comes up sixteen times in The Currency, but there are forty-four references in Pax Americana (including a Wikipedia entry). It appears that I’m still using poetry as an interpretive act, but I seem more interested in how we organize our lives into language than I am in finding those meanings in the tableaux of paintings. I also find I’m reaching towards a larger range of experience.

Obsessions are often the working out of an idea, and they last until the vitality of that search settles into habit. An obsession in a poem can also be the way a poem is made. Every poem is an expression of what a poem can be. Eventually, you might just be writing a poem because, well, that is how you know a poem is made. If you’re honest with yourself as a poet, you’ll ask why you’re making a poem the way you are. When you stop being able to answer that question compellingly, it is probably time to look elsewhere for a new set of images, symbols, and structures, so a new vocabulary.

Peeling Tomatoes

Peeling Tomatoes

Peeling Cherub tomatoes for a ragout.

Peeling Tomatoes

 

I’ve been thinking about cooking lately in these same terms. It’s as if the dishes I’m cooking and the ingredients and methods I’m using are a vocabulary for me to express what a dish can and should be.  The notion of “should be” is an ever-evolving one. What seems necessary today won’t necessarily be so tomorrow. Sometimes I land on a preparation or flavor that I enjoy so much or that has a potential that has eluded me, and so I obsessively use it. Experimenting. Tweaking. Until it becomes a routine. Just a tired iteration. There was a time when what signified a side dish was a pile of roasted carrots and parsnips. Then, there was the age of the Brussels sprouts. For a while, purées of English peas cropped up regularly. For the past three weeks, I can’t stop making ginger scallion noodles. Besides, it would be a shame to let these leftover ingredients in the fridge go to waste.

Obsessions in cooking, along with their leftovers, can attract new discoveries, like a planet accruing satellites. The vegetables remaining from Valentine’s dinner sent me off to Nippan Daido Japanese Market in west Houston. They also encouraged me to try my hand at making a dessert. Thanks to the Eggs on Sunday blog, that dessert attempt was a success, and I now have something in my repertoire to complete an entire meal, from first course to last.

My trip to Nippan Daido to explore further the Japanese ingredients I've been using resulted in this dish. After using the fried tofu for the watercress salad, which was my first time frying tofu, I tried it again. I made a version of the citrus-soy-ginger glaze I used on the pork belly, but added sesame oil and seeds. The broth here is bacon dashi with dried shiitakes and red miso I've been steadily depleting.

My trip to Nippan Daido to explore further the Japanese ingredients I’ve been using resulted in this dish. After making the fried tofu for the watercress salad, which was my first time frying tofu, I tried it again. I contrived a version of the citrus-soy-ginger glaze I used on the pork belly, but added sesame oil and seeds and used fresh ginger. The broth here is bacon dashi with dried shiitakes and the red miso I’ve been steadily depleting.

At Nippan Daido, I purchased some enoki and beech mushrooms that I planned to use in a batch of ginger scallion noodles. I also got some sake, which I decided to use in a braising liquid for some beef short ribs. The marinade for the short ribs I got from the JUST ONE COOKBOOK blog, which seemed appealing because it calls for gochujang, and I just happened to have some of that tasty, spicy Korean chili paste in the fridge. I marinated the ribs for over a day, then browned them off in a dutch over with some pork belly fat. (I'm going to be so sad when this liquid gold is gone.) I made a braising liquid of sake, chicken stock, soy sauce, and sliced yellow onion. I cooked the ribs at 315 °F for two and a half hours, basting with the braising liquid every half hour. When the ribs were done, I removed the bone, tough membrane, and most of the excess fat, and then glazed them with a mixture of gochujang, brown sugar, and kosher salt in a 475 °F oven.

At Nippan Daido, I purchased some enoki and beech mushrooms that I planned to use in a batch of ginger scallion noodles. I also got some sake, which I decided to use in a braising liquid for some beef short ribs. The marinade for the short ribs I got from the JUST ONE COOKBOOK blog, which seemed appealing because it calls for gochujang, and I just happened to have some of that tasty, spicy Korean chili paste in the fridge. I marinated the ribs for over a day, then browned them off in a dutch oven with some pork belly fat. (I’m going to be so sad when this liquid gold is gone.) I made a braising liquid of sake, chicken stock, soy sauce, and sliced yellow onion. I cooked the ribs at 315 °F for two and a half hours, basting with the braising liquid every half hour. When the ribs were done, I removed the bone, tough membrane, and most of the excess fat, and then glazed them with a mixture of gochujang, brown sugar, and kosher salt in a 475 °F oven.

Because I just can't leave things alone, I transformed the leftover short ribs into this dish the next night. I already had everything I needed except a few vegetables, and these ready-to-used fresh purple hull peas caught my eye at the grocery store. I immediately thought of a ragout, so I picked up some mustard greens and the above pictured Cherub tomatoes. The ragout is composed of one bunched of sliced scallions sautéed in some of that pork belly fat, the purple hull peas, the peeled Cherub tomatoes, a cup of chicken stock, two tbsp tomato paste, and some leftover pan juices I separated from the fat after cooking the short ribs. Once the peas began to soften up, I added the chopped mustard greens with their thick ribs removed. I seasoned with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Because I just can’t leave things alone, I transformed the leftover short ribs into this dish the next night. I already had everything I needed except a few vegetables, and these ready-to-use, fresh purple hull peas caught my eye at the grocery store. I immediately thought of a ragout, so I picked up some mustard greens and the above pictured Cherub tomatoes. The ragout is composed of one bunch of sliced scallions sautéed in some of that pork belly fat, the purple hull peas, the peeled Cherub tomatoes, a cup of chicken stock, two tbsp tomato paste, and some leftover pan juices that I had separated from the fat after cooking the short ribs. Once the peas began to soften up, I added the chopped mustard greens with their thick ribs removed. I seasoned with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. While the ragout was cooking, and before I reheated the short ribs in the oven, I decided to do the ribs two ways. I envisioned a kind of deconstructed ragout with shredded short rib on the side and then a whole rib next to that. I needed something to accompany the whole rib, and I was lucky enough to have a large white potato in the fridge and a can of chickpeas in the pantry. I took up the challenge to be resourceful. I cooked the potatoes in water, a tbsp of butter, a hunk of fresh ginger cut into three pieces, and a sliced garlic clove. When the potatoes were nearly done, I added the drained chickpeas. I strained once finished, removed two of the three ginger bits, and then blended the mixture with a little milk and butter. The result was a little too much of a gluttonous paste, so I added a dollop of sour cream and a spoon of chèvre to give it something it was lacking. The plate was a little bland looking, and I brightened it up with a julienne of pickled beets and some kimchi I bought at Nippan Daido.

So I had all of this leftover ragout and potato-chickpea purée, but no more short ribs, and the Oscars were on, and we had to eat something, so I cooked off some bacon, sautéed some chopped yellow onion in the bacon fat along with halved Brussels sprouts, and then added the leftover ragout. I served this concoction over the reheated potato-chickpea purée, along with the bacon and some chopped snow peas.

So I had all of this leftover ragout and potato-chickpea purée, but no more short ribs, and the Oscars were on, and we had to eat something, so I cooked off some bacon, sautéed some chopped yellow onion in the bacon fat along with halved Brussels sprouts, and then added the leftover ragout. I served this concoction over the reheated potato-chickpea purée, which was surprisingly better the next day, along with the bacon and some chopped snow peas.


Valentine’s Day Dinner

Watercress salad with cucumber, daikon, radish, edamame, pickled rhubarb, bacon, and a sherry vinaigrette, with avocado cream and tomato-rhubard hearts.

Watercress salad with cucumber, daikon, radish, edamame, pickled rhubarb, bacon, and a sherry vinaigrette, with avocado cream and tomato-rhubard hearts. The idea is to blend the two sides while eating to create balance between acidity and richness.

Valentine’s can be an awkward day to be a poet. It shouldn’t be. It should be a day of gratitude since it is one of the main times when the culture comes looking for poets, seeking out those lapidary phrases to commemorate important sentiments. Poets have been insecure about this role for what seems like always, but definitely English-language poetry has been afflicted since the beginning. Just consider Sir Philip Sidney’s defensive blast against poetry’s haters in his sixteenth-century Defence of Poësy: “yet thus much curse I must send you in the behalf of all poets, that while you live, you live in love, and never get favour, for lacking skill of a sonnet, and when you die, your memory die from the earth, for want of an epitaph.” There’s something revealing in the overselling of his poetic returns, and I’m sure if Sidney produced on demand as an inscription for a Valentine’s Day card his sonnet 31 (“With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies!”) or sonnet 45 (“Stella oft sees the very face of woe”), which are two of my favorites from his Astrophil and Stella sequence, there would be a severe case of buyer’s remorse. The problem is those sonnets aren’t really occasional verses. Occasional verse is good for weddings and graduations and inaugurations and Valentine’s Day cards, because in each of those instances the event is more important than the words. They’re times of action, not reflection. They require expressions that are unequivocal and un-conflicted. If you have to clear your throat while giving a wedding toast, you’re kind of a jerk. Just say something nice, and sit back down so the good time can keep on going. That’s what everyone is there for. I can’t think of a good love poem that doesn’t clear its throat in some way. And that’s a good thing. One of my go to love poems is William Meredith’s “Crossing Over,” a poem full of honest doubt and an honest insistence on affection despite it all, with a nod toward a larger historical-social milieu to put that affection into perspective for good measure. I have actually read this poem at weddings, but I imagine everyone just pretending not to hear the complicated parts.

I finally have a steamer again!

I finally have a steamer again!

Littleneck clams with red miso broth, mustard greens, peas, and scallions.

Littleneck clams with red miso broth, mustard greens, peas, and scallions. The broth is kombu, dried shiitakes, water, mirin, soy sauce, and red miso paste. 

 Where poetry has failed me for occasions needing commemoration (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays), cooking has served just fine. It has provided the right amount of ritual and ceremony to acknowledge the importance and has expressed sentiment unambiguously. And it’s a gesture I can believe in (unlike a bad poem) or don’t have to practice selective attention to enjoy.

Through trial and error, I’ve learned to streamline the menus for these celebratory meals. After all, you need to be sharing in the moment, not just cooking in the background. One way I’ve done this is by planning dishes I can prep in advance and that I can finish cooking and assemble quickly.

Beef filet topped with bacon, shiitakes, and pecorino; red miso glazed potatoes; and peas with watercress.

 Beef filet topped with bacon, shiitakes, and   pecorino; red miso glazed potatoes; and peas with  watercress. I pan-seared the filets and then finished them in the oven with the topping. The shiitakes are from the miso broth. While the filets were resting after cooking, I added the peas and watercress to the hot pan, along with a dash of chicken stock, scooping up the pan juices while not turning the peas to mush. The potatoes are Yukon Golds, and the glaze is miso paste and amber agave syrup.

Valentine’s Day this year, I also decided to let certain ingredients appear across the meal to give it a sense of transformation and cohesion. I knew I wanted to do something that would be striking visually, and I got into my head an image of hearts, like what might come with a reduction on a dessert. It’s a little cheesy and gimmicky, but that is the spirit of the day, no? That thinking led me to rhubarb. I diced some of the rhubarb and added sugar, a little water, and some cherry tomatoes that were halved and marinated with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a chopped garlic clove, and salt and pepper. I broke all of that down on the stove and then blended it with a hand blender. The hearts would be created by making a sphere and then running a toothpick from one edge straight through and out the opposite side. I needed a base to hold and contrast these hearts, so I decided on the avocado cream, which is just a ripe avocado, a pinch of kosher salt, and a dollop of sour cream to smooth it out. The hand blender was used for this as well. I also quickly pickled some of the rhubarb with sugar, kosher salt, and a splash of rice wine vinegar.

Dessert was ice cream with homemade chocolate chip and walnut cookies with pink sea salt. No decent pictures came out, but that’s okay. I can only take partial credit for the dessert.


New Year’s Eve Dinner 2012

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For the past few years, cooking an elaborate and decadent New Year’s meal has become a tradition in our house. The rituals of the preparation and the consumption seem appropriate for the reflective mood of the holiday. Cooking, like writing, has its personal pleasures and significances for me. A meal, like a poem, can have private associations and satisfactions that don’t get communicated in the completed creation, but those things are part of what make the work fun and meaningful. When I was making this menu, I wanted it to incorporate and acknowledge as many people and experiences that have been important to me from the year that was now folding over into the next. This year’s menu started with a bottle of Vintage Dom Pérignon, which Holly and I received as a wedding present. I wanted the first courses to center on that, before we transitioned to the meat of it and a bottle of Premier Cru Aloxe-Corton. Following clockwise from the bottle, we have foie gras with a Calvados and agave nectar syrup with brioche toast points. (But I can’t take credit for the foie gras or the brioche.)

2012 was the year of the avocado. Or the year Holly learned she liked avocado, and I started bringing it into meals. The year before was the year of the mushroom and the year we travelled to Nova Scotia and stayed at Trout Point Lodge, partly with the intention to learn to like cooked fish, which is still a work in progress. Raw wins out for now. This dinner was going to pay homage to our evolving eating traditions. So for the second course, we had yellowfin tuna and avocado three-ways: tuna and avocado sashimi with radishes; crudo of tuna rolled around avocado cream with sesame seeds, radishes, and brûléed red grapefruit (a nod to an excellent brûléed red grapefruit we ate at The Inn at Dos Brisas) to accompany a citrus-dressed frisée and heirloom tomato salad; and finally, a tuna, avocado, and heirloom tomato tartare.

For the third course, I initiated a birthday present: the sausage grinder attachment Holly bought me for the KitchenAid. The sausage meatballs are duck meat (breast and leg) ground with smoked bacon. (I saved the removed duck skins and rendered the fat from them to cook the meatballs.) I incorporated the zest of a satsuma orange and a microplaned Oregon white truffle that was rather underachieving. Since I had the foie gras, and decadence is the theme of New Year’s, I stuffed the meatballs with bits of that too. The broth is mushroom based (chanterelles, criminis, and more of those Oregon white truffles), with vegetable stock, soy sauce, mirin, and the juice of the satsuma. Onions, popcorn, and green cabbage (strained out before serving) provided some depth. Rice noodles were also incorporated, along with a shock of frisée. I owe thanks to my brother Matt for the thoughtful gift of those soup spoons.

The fourth course was a New York strip with a port, espresso, chocolate demi-glace; micro arugula; caramelized pearl onions; and a celery root purée. The steak and the port and chocolate covered espresso beans I used for the sauce were all gifts from friends and family. Using those ingredients was an excuse to have them present to me during the meal.

I bought dessert (crème brûlée with a chocolate sauce), so it doesn’t appear photographed here. Desserts, I’m thinking, are on the list of things to learn this year.