Saturday, May 12, 2007

A lot of catching up

This is the first post in quite awhile. I really have no excuse, especially considering the year-long period of intermittent employment that just ended in March.
My return to this journal has been long in the making, but the straw that broke the back of my stubborn and lazy camel was the truly life-affirming meal I had this morning as the first brunch-eater at the Tasting Room, my favorite restaurant. It is easily the best brunch in town, and as was concluded in my conversation with Renee(the amazing manager), co-owner with her husband Colin(the amazing chef), it is "the thinking man's brunch." Did I mention seared foie gras with an iddli-like rice and lentil-flour cake with peach butter and caramelized onions? And the best bloody mary around? Well, I will let you go and find out for yourself. Have the duck confit and french toast with sorghum molasses. Or maybe the asparagus with soft-cooked eggs and Japanese fruit tomato. And great Rwandan coffee from Counter Culture in NC. Anyway...
I now feel more comfortable writing about food. It is all that occupies my mind, so I am simply pouring the contents of my skull as freely into this thing as I can type. And I am pretty excited about what I have been up to food-wise as of late. So here goes...

I am now a cheesemonger. It came out of left field, to say the least, but it is definitely my preferred type of monger. It easily beats out hate- or war-, and is at least nosing out fish- at the moment. But that may change.
My cheese education has been intensive, as has the development of my palate for the stuff. And I am meeting others in the growing NY cheese scene. They are a mostly jovial and supportive bunch, willing to put the good work of spreading the gospel of cheese before juvenile competition. For the most part.
It is an amazingly multi-faceted world, this world of cheese. My mind is learning to reorder itself. I am learning a lot about the affinage process and caring for cheese. It is a definite challenge for my touch- and taste-memory. But cheese is amazing, far beyond what I had imagined.
I hope to end up making it at some point in my life. But enough of that for now.

A brief review of my recent culinary exploits at home:

After a movie matinee, I wandered through Prospect Park looking for a good spot to read. I happened to stumble across large amounts of wild rhubarb and wild garlic, which I felt obliged to collect. I did my duty and returned home unsure what they would become, so I cleaned them and waited for inspiration to strike.

And it did. Pickling.

I trimmed the garlic, saved the greens(i will get to them later), and pickled the bulbs and lower stems in vinegar, salt, and few caraway seeds.

The rhubarb got pickled too. Apple cider vinegar, demerara sugar, anardana(dried and crushed pomegranate anils) and a little salt.

More news from the home front, preparedness division:
I have, for reasons beyond my knowledge(and joy), become a consistent closer at work, which gets me home at around 12:30 on most nights. Despite my love for cooking myself complicated meals no matter the time of day or night, I am most often too tired to do any serious cooking. So I thought to myself "What can I make ahead of time that I will always be willing to eat?" The answer was dumplings. I really enjoy making them and I have been wanting to improve my dumpling-related skills, so I set to work on two kinds, as follows.

Dumpling No. 1: "Vaguely Asian"
wrapper: flour, water, salt; rolled out to maybe 1/16" thick rounds
filling: ground pork, wild garlic greens, soy sauce, mirin, fresh ginger, black pepper.

Dumpling No. 2: "Vague"
wrapper: flour, water, salt, egg; rolled out to a little less than 1/8" thick rounds
filling: ground beef, ground lamb, pureed raisins, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground pistachios, yellow onion black pepper, sea salt. I made this all very smooth.

Both are pretty damn good. I will add pictures of them cooked. I think I will probably eat No. 1 with black vinegar or make some broth with the pork and chicken and duck bones I have in the freezer and cook them in it. No. 2 will be eaten with Old Chatham Greek-style sheep's-milk yogurt or tonjes kefir and carmelized and/or crisp onions. Maybe a super-runny fried egg too.

I am psyched to have a bit of the dough left as well, which will most likely become some dumplings tonight with the meat of one of the duck legs I bought from quattro's today, with a fried duck egg, some of the pickled garlic and a bit of tonjes kefir. The other duck leg is gonna get confited if I get my way. And at this point I don't think anyone or -thing is challenging me on that.

Just finished making a jar of grated horseradish with some skinny little beauties from paffenroth farm. Before I got the lid on the jar I felt close to fainting from the aroma. I am excited.

Other news from the home front, baking division:

I have covered the racks in my outrageously uneven oven with quarry tile. They are solid, pure-clay 8x8 slabs, and were a total bitch to drag home from Lowe's. But man is it worth it(although being worth 77 cents/pc isn't too hard). The first(and only as of this post) bread I baked in the newly bricked oven was damn good, especially considering my lack of bread-making confidence. Whole wheat(KA white whole wheat), a little wheat germ, salt, yeast, fennel seeds and cut up Kyoho grapes(juicy japanese slipskins with a crazy fermented taste). It was ugly to look at(due to a failed first attempt with a new brotform, see below), but strike me down if it wasn't delicious. I slid a cast-iron frypan of boiling water on top of the upper shelf for a bit of steam. It will take some experimentation but I think I'm onto something. Also looking forward to making pizza.
Good crust, good crumb and structure with just enough air pockets. And it hung around for days cut in a paper bag without going stale or too dry. Not totally sure why, so I'll just chalk it up to the magic oven.
Looking forward to whatever I bake next. Thinking about a traditional rye with caraway seeds, maybe a cabbage bread, a bitter chocolate bread and something with honey and flax seeds. And getting a starter going. Maybe tonight.

Baking is such a satisfying thing, especially when you begin to get the hang of it. I am starting to get to the point where I can just throw ingredients together on the fly without the aid of recipes and end up with something good. Maybe I will start writing some of my own down.
More to come soon. I plan on keeping track of all of the food I make, if not everything I eat. I am going to make a list of memorable meals from the period of silence. And I hope to spend a few days working on a farm this summer to see if I'm up to it.


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