Friday, December 23, 2011

Oh right, the blog

I give up. I had been counting on a new CSA subscription re-igniting my interest in cooking from the low ebb it had fallen to, but the Teena's Pride gourmet box's the opposite of inspiring? I'm going to go with soul-crushing. Another week of squash and eggplant and herbs. And three small beets. That's great; Thanks for that. There's always either too little or too much and it's never too much of something I actually want.

Blogs always linger on too long either tapering off with apologies for lack of posts of bilious rants about what the blogger used to like. I'm cutting this off before I do any more of either. If I find I have something to share later, I'll try some new social media instead of putting it up here. Blogs are so 2008, anyway.

I'll just end by wishing you all happy holidays and that you can enjoy cooking more than I can at the moment. If you've got a blog or somesuch you'd like to send whatever readers I've got to, please post it in the comments.

Friday, December 16, 2011

CSA week five wrap-up, week six start-up

Now then where were we? Oh yes, last week's share; Did I cook anything interesting with it?

Well, there were the chile rellenos, but I have to admit I made them yesterday. They're actually quite simple, unless you go full-Bayless with them in which case they're extraordinarily complex and take all day. But if you just stuff the peppers with cheese and use enchilada sauce from a can, pretty simple. The one interesting thing is the batter which is made by whipping egg whites then mixing the yolks back in along with some flour. Whipping just two egg whites is difficult so I wasn't able to get quite the loft or stiffness I wanted, but you can see some light blobbiness in the results.

As for the rest, I picked away at the squash and herbs. The best thing I did was roast the squash down along with some onions and peppers and blended it into sandwich spread to use with slow-braised turkey. I probably should have taken a picture of that. I may well make some more and pack it in a jar as it wasn't bad at all. If I do, I'll take a picture.

On to this week, then.

Oh joy. These squash and eggplant are going directly into the freezer in the hope that I'll be happy to dig them out in six months time. Next week's squash and eggplant are going directly into the trash. Scallions are a nice change of pace. I think I'll make a scallion shrimp stir fry with them as that's been successful in the past and makes good use of the copious green bits I've got.

The best bit is the tomatoes, of course (although rumor has it I'll be cursing another batch of them soon enough). Slicing tomatoes plus basil (top right corner) means I'm breaking my mozzarella-making kit. I've used the kit once before and it makes cheese that's not quite as good as store-bought for only a slightly higher cost. I wonder if I can find a gallon of buffalo milk. That might improve it. I should probably hold back some eggplant to go with that too.

Once again, I'll let you know if the muse happens by. In the meantime, you should go back to last week's post to read Meow's comment on how she used last week's share. She wasn't any more inspired than I was, but it's good to get another take on things.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cobaya dinner at Azul

My apologies to those who tuned in for your weekly dose of CSA dissatisfaction and regret. You'll have to come back tomorrow for that. Today, I've got my write-up of last night's Cobaya dinner at Azul in the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

The event was filmed for the Bizarre Foods television series (unless Zimmerman's got another hosting gig I don't know about. The dinner wasn't particularly bizarre, but I haven't seen more than 15 minutes of the show so I don't know how closely it sticks to its remit.) but it wasn't disruptive at all so far as I could tell. The production crew did take notice of my note-taking and asked if they could film me, but I declined and apologize for depriving you of breathless footage of blogging action. On the plus side, the room was all lit up for the cameras so you'll be getting better photos here.

We started with a couple cocktails concocted by the executive chef Joel Huff. First up was a champagne cocktail with green tea and Asian pear. It started blah, but the flavors came through as it warmed up. Sencha nose, fuity roundness and champagne bitterness. Not bad, but no real improvement over a decent glass of plain champagne to my mind. I didn't catch the multitude of ingredients that made up the second cocktail. Huff demoed how to make it, but the scrum of photographers was too thick for me to get near the front and I feel like a fool holding my camera overhead like a paparazzo. I can tell that that's frozen mint spuma on top, though. I'm no cocktail connoisseur, so I found it a whole lot of effort to make fruit punch. I do like the touch of vanilla, though. Perhaps there were subtleties lost on me.

After the drinks it was time to get seated. It's a nice space. The overly numerous and solicitous waitstaff made me rather uncomfortable. A sign of my lack of class, I'm certain, but I can put my own napkin on my lap, thank you. As we waited for the first course, We got a basket of some really tasty house-baked breads--crisp and slightly warm. The olive bread is especially nice as it is redolent of sweet olive oil.

That first course was uni from Santa Barbara topped with a little fresh horseradish and sorbet made of monstera from Paradise Farms. I enjoyed the separate components, but the whole was much less than the parts. The sweet bubblegum flavor of the monstera makes great sorbet, but with uni? Ech. Maybe if there was more than a couple bites I would have figured it out, but it just did not work right off the bat and that's the only chance it had.

The second course was a pumpkin swordfish tataki. Apparently, "pumpkin" is the variety of swordfish as well as three different components on the plate. There's crisp fried green onion and a little pool of soy sauce (maybe) as well. Pretty presentation, but difficult to manipulate. Lovely flavors, though. Different combinations revealed different aspects, but everything together was the best with the sweet pumpkin jelly, salty sauce and tangy chutney (that's what I'm calling the stuff on the far right) all working with the fish in different ways. Nicely balanced.

The third course--Pickled squash and pumpkin oil--never arrived. If that's because it didn't work and Huff decided not to present it, then good for him.

Instead we skipped straight to beetzanella: beets prepared in a half dozen different ways paired with four or five preparations of Wisconsin blue cheese. This wasn't my prettiest photo of the plate, but I wanted the overhead view so you could everything. Visually stunning and at least as good to eat. There wasn't a unpleasant flavor or texture or a combination that didn't work. A fabulous plate.

And then there's this. Smoked octopus, cauliflower vadouvan. Like the previous course, this tastes as good as it looks. I'm assuming here that you understand that it looks unpleasant and off-putting. Some people at the table complained of tough octopus, but mine was tender which, combined with the overwhelming smoke, gave it the flavor and texture of a hot dog and not a particularly good one either. The big squeeze of mildly spiced goop only adds to the resemblance. Let's just move along.

Now this is much nicer to look at: Carnaroli rice risotto with chanterelles, snails (under the rice) and a poached egg over a bed of forest floor aromatics. The snails were fed on basil which we were told affects their flavor, but I can't say I could tell. Oh yeah, Huff came by to shave white truffle over top but my after-shot was overexposed. I tried to defend this dish to my fellow diners as an inoffensive mushroom risotto, but my table was in open rebellion after that last course. The bland truffle and actively offensive smelly junkpile under the bowl came under particularly harsh attack. The latter was matter of the chef's vision not being well received rather than a problem with preparation. Although, if you want that, the risotto was rather stiffer than I prefer and a touch underdone. The mushrooms were tasty, though.

I should mention at this point that I had the wine pairing and all the wines were pretty good. The pairing with the next course, Morgon Beaujolais was outstanding--easy drinking, but still complex. Not boringly fruity or overly harsh. And a surprisingly good pairing with fish.

The aforementioned fish was turbot, served with preserved lemon, artichokes, sunchokes and a mild perfumey crumble of something we couldn't identify. This was a controversial dish at my table, but I liked it a lot. Every component on the plate worked harmoniously together and none of them, individually or together, overwhelmed the mild fish. Toning down preserved lemon without losing its identity takes a level of finesse that wasn't evident in some of the other courses (unless the octopus was supposed to taste like that).

Next up, a beef duo. 72-second waygu New York strip loin and 72-hour braised shortrib served with seawater potatoes and dots of unidentified green and white stuff. The brown dust by the shortrib tasted of cinnamon which was an interesting choice. Both beefs were juicy and tender, modestly flavorful and distinctly different. They went well with the sauces, but the didn't deliver the wow I know these cuts can. I got they feeling they weren't intended to. The potatoes were about as good as potatoes get and there was a baby brussel sprout I liked too.

Finally, dessert. There's a sesame butter cookie under the strawberry jelly sheet, also strawberry curd, thai basil anise, pickled cardamom sprout, a caramel soy strawberry and one or two other components too. Sorry, I was fairly pickled myself by this point so I didn't get the full explanation and my notes are semi-coherent. I think I liked the flavors but not all the textures if I'm reading this right.

And that was it. It was an oddly schizophrenic meal with wide swings in quality between courses. I'm curious if that reflected responsibility by different teams in the kitchen. Overall, I'd say the highs were high enough that I can forgive the lows. Well, maybe not the octopus. If you were watching Twitter last night, you'll have seen swooningly positive response to the meal, including high praise of the octopus. I'm quite curious to read some alternative views if any get written up.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CSA week 4 wrap-up, week 5 start-up

I talked about the eggplant curry already; What else have I cooked?

There was the squash and chard quiche with ham and leftover herb chicken. Not bad, but nothing special.

There was the Thai basil beef where I reduced the beef to a quarter pound and added pak choi, peppers, onions and cilantro. I managed to stir fry the vegetables to just the right level of tenderness and the basil flavor came through surprisingly assertively given how mild it seemed uncooked.

And there was the chili that started out as a green chili with the jalapeños, tomatillos and more cilantro, but turned at least as much red with the tomato paste and red dried peppers I added. Tasty, but seriously hot. It'll mellow in the freezer over time, I think.

I've still got the cabbage and a little leftover eggplant and squash hanging around, plus plenty of herbs, of course.

Let's see what this week brought:

Pretty much the same as the last couple weeks and so buyer's remorse starts to set in. More squash and the six more packs of the same herbs I've already got (basil, mint, dill, lemongrass, chives and parsley) are the last things I need right now. I'm going to start drying and freezing so they don't go to waste. I had to clean out too many remnants of rotty herbs to make room for this new batch.

Greens are easy enough to find a use for, although I could live without the double dose of salad mix and a head of lettuce. The sugarcane is a useless novelty. But the tomatoes are good to see and those poblano peppers look stuffable which could be interesting.

If I come up with something worth writing about, I'll let you know.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Vankaya gasagasala kura

or eggplant poppy-seed curry. This strikes me as an odd combination, but it is, aparently, a standard Andhra-syle dish.

Indian poppy seeds are a different sort than the European variety we use in the U.S. For starters, they're white and, although it's tough to tell scale from the pictures, I think they're bigger. That's why the dish can call for grinding them to a paste when all my efforts to grind my poppy seeds came to naught. I have no idea if they taste any differently. Or, now that I think about it, if Indian eggplants taste any diferently from what I'm using. In any case, the dish turned out OK even if it's entirely different from what the author (Sailaja of the Sailu's Kitchen website) intended.


3/4 pound eggplant, peeled, halved and sliced 3/4-inch thick
2 Tablespoons oil

3/4 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder

2 cloves garlic
a knob of ginger of similar size to 2 cloves of garlic
pinch salt

2 cups water
4 1/2 Tablespoons poppy seeds, toasted and a good-faith attempt made at grinding them into a paste
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar or that solid chunk sugar if you've got it
2 inch diameter lump of tamarind pulp, dissolved

1. Heat half the oil to shimmering over a medium-high heat and add the eggplant slices, in batches if necessary. Cook on both sides until well-browned and translucent. Set eggplant aside.

2. Meanwhile, mix the cayenne, coriander, fenugreek and cumin with a judicious amount of salt.

3. Grind the garlic and ginger into a paste with a bit more salt.

4. Reduce heat to medium low and add the rest of the oil to the pan. When the oil shimmers again add the mustard seeds. When they pop add the cumin. When those pop add the garlic/ginger paste. Cook, stirring, until fragrant or the garlic threatens to brown whichever comes first.

5. Add the mixed spices, stir and cook until differently fragrant. Add the water, turn the heat back up to high, and bring to a boil. Add the poppy seeds and sugar. Strain in the tamarind. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure nothing sticks to the pan. Be skeptical that this could possibly turn into a proper sauce.

6. Return the eggplant to the pan, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes until the eggplant is falling apart and, wonder-of-wonders, the sauce has thickened to a gravy-like consistancy.

Serve with rice, roti, or, if it's all you've got, naan. Possibly you could get away with flour tortillas.

Not the world's most attractive dish, but curries rarely photograph well. The eggplant is meltingly soft in a thick gravy. The rich flavors of sweet tamarind and mellow spice dominate but the eggplant adds earthiness and the poppy seeds give a toasty aftertaste. Using a piece of naan as a scoop brings out the toastiness and rebalances the flavors nicely. It also hides the gritiness of all those unground poppy seeds. Also, it's pretty cool how the dish makes its own spice-oil condiment as the oil absorbed by the eggplant in step 1 are released, pick up the oil-soluble flavors and float to the top.

So, overall, tasty, but not really presentable to company.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CSA week three wrap-up, week four start-up

As I predicted last week, I cooked a lot of stuff, but nothing so complicated or interesting it was worth it's own post. Mostly, I focused on using the herbs in quantity and in combination.

First off, I had a few herb-heavy salad filled with basil, parsley, garlic chives and tarragon along with the salad greens, but that's boring to look at so I didn't take any photos.

I herb crusted a pork chop and cooked some pole beans with that. If I recall correctly, that was tarragon, thyme and basil.

I stuffed a bunch of herbs under the skin of a chicken and roasted it. I roasted the squash with it, but didn't get a picture. I used rosemary, bay and parsley for this. Too much really as the bird tastes as much of herbs as it does of chicken. The rosemary came out a too strong really, but it's not bad.

I topped pasta with sage, parsley and ham.

I used half the dill to pickle the okra. There are a couple jalapeños, a small eggplant and a small squash in that jar too.

The other half I used for gravlax. Along with the dill, salt and sugar, I seasoned the salmon with a smokey, peaty scotch that added a lot of really nice flavor to it.

And I made an agua fresca from a handful of mint, a cucumber, sugar and lime juice. With a sugar cane swizzle stick.

I left the cabbage alone. It'll keep until a really good application presents itself.

On to week four then:

Another herb-heavy week, but they're varieties easy to use in bulk so I don't mind.

That's a big bag of basil in the lower left hand corner. It's a mild sweet variety, but I'm probably going to go Thai with it anyway. I'm just not a big fan of pesto.

To the right is a bunch of cilantro. Along with the four tomatillos and the jalapeños center top, I could make a tiny batch of green chili. Or I could do some salsa.

Above the basil is mint. That agaua fresca was mighty refreshing with a jigger of rum added so I'm definitely making that again. That uses the cucumber too. Actually, that cucumbers pretty tiny. I'll have to buy some supplemental cukes to match the mint.

Above the mint is another squash and zucchini sampler. I want to pair that with the chard in the upper right corner as they both go so well with cheese and cream sauces. I could do a risotto, but it would be a big batch and it doesn't store so well. Maybe a bread pudding?

A couple eggplants in the center there. I haven't been happy with the texture I've been getting out of eggplant recently by doing the salting, purging and squeezing method. I'd rather roast them until they collapse this time around. Maybe I'll make baba ganoush.

And finally, in the bottom right are a small head of lettuce and a smaller head of pak choy. A salad and a ramen soup garnish respectively.

Of all that, the basil dish might be worth writing up and possibly the squash. That's about it. I'll probably just end up with another wrap-up post.

But, in the meantime, Friday UM's hosting a food truck night. They don't usually come this far south so I'm looking forward it. There's no info I can find on who will be there, but I've got my fingers crossed for Dim Ssam a Gogo and the GastroPOD. Even if I skip lunch I don't think I'll be able to try more than, say, four so I'd appreciate suggestions of which trucks to prioritize.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

CSA week two wrap-up, week three start-up

Lots left unaccounted for from week two.

To start, all that eggplant. I decided to split it up; half went into an Italian pasta bake sort of thing along with a fair bit of the basil. The other half, I tried to incorporate into Vietnamese sugar cane shrimp. Unfortunately, the 50/50 shrimp/eggplant ratio made the resulting paste too soft to stick the sugar cane. Made quite respectable fritters, though.

I left the avocado too long, let it over-ripen and it got watery and bland. It took me a long time to realize that that was my fault and not just the natural state of Florida avocados. They can be good, but you've got a really short window of time you need to use them in. My mistake was putting the avocado in a paper bag with some bananas which accelerated the process rather more than I was counting on. I got to the bananas just in time, but the avocado went to waste.

I should mention the peppers, too. A couple went into the nachos the avocado was supposed to accompany and the others I'm saving to go with the okra. I don't think I've ever encountered jalepenos so fresh and crisp before. Very impressive.

As I just implied, I haven't used the okra yet. I'm sticking with the pickling plan, but held off in hopes of receiving some fresh dill this week. And, hey, some arrived just as I had hoped. I'll be setting them up today, I think.

And speaking of this week, let's take a look at what's newly arrived.

A rather better picture this week. Moving right under the florescent kitchen light and a tighter grouping on the square butcher block both helped quite a bit. You should be able to recognize most everything, I think.

The aforementioned dill is on the bottom mid-left. To the right is lemongrass, mostly stems I have no use for and very little of the actual good stuff. Maybe it's good for making a tea? To the left is a big bag of rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano. Along with all the leftover herbs from the last two weeks (which are keeping up surprisingly well), this is officially way too much. I hope the herb to everything-else ratio goes down soon as this does not serve my needs.

Above the herbs are some generic light greens, grape tomatoes and a cucumber. That's a salad right there to which I can add some of the herbs, I think. Basil, parsley, tarragon--those should all work. Maybe some mint, too. I can use a handful of sage with a brown butter pasta sauce. Rosemary and thyme I can use in bulk with a roast chicken. I'd throw in the tarragon, but I already did that and I've still got leftovers.

The squash sampler pack would be nice roasted along with that hypothetical chicken.

That leaves the cabbage, which I like with pork and/or yakisoba. And the pole beans which look so fabulous (although it's hard to tell through the plastic bag and, I just checked and their color's faded overnight in the refrigerator. I hope their flavor hasn't turned khaki too.) that I'm probably just going to steam them up and eat a big bowl full.

Nothing really blog-worthy in that list, is there? This may be a slow week.