Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just Like Narnia

Today a construction worker appeared randomly in the back-store at work. He looked around confused, a bit dazed, and disoriented. His eyes met my face, and he asked. "How do you get out of here?"
"Outside?" I asked, sharing in his confusion.
"Yeah," he answered, his eyes darting around like a captive beast. I pointed to the doors and he scrambled out. A few of my co-workers and I just stood there looking at each other, pulling dumb faces. He had come from the meat room, but it was like he came from some other world, a dream world of magic...

The Lion, the Witch, and the Water Heater Closet

Transport yourself.

To the future.

This is only the beginning.

Cooking for Couples, Pt. 2

Some of us out here really do believe that simple is delicious. Honoring the quality of the ingredients that I use is the foundation of my cooking philosophy. It is really easy to take great ingredients and muddle their subtle, delicious flavors by over-seasoning them, or improper cooking. It feels good when you know that you've let the quality of the food you're serving speak for itself, and your guests get to taste individual items that they're eating. Totally rewarding.

I've been wanting to roast a chicken for the past three weeks. At the outset of this desire, I had scored a Dewberry Hills Farms pastured bird from the free-box at work, but as it is with life, I was unable to get to it for a few days. When I opened it up, and inspected it, it was just not right. I tried an eight hour brine to possibly knock out what ever had made it off, and although the bird was looking plump, and saturated, I just didn't feel good about it. I do not like food borne illness, and as a certified food manager, trust my judgement about what should and should not go in my stomach. That being said, I also dislike wasting food, especially meat. That poor little chicken died for nothing, and that sucks.

Friday, I went up to the Ville and bought some groceries that I needed to cook my friends KJ and Bianci dinner, including a beautiful Dewberry Hills Farm chicken. Earlier in the week, we had gotten some of the most gorgeous brussels sprouts from the ladies out at Montesino Ranch in Wimberly, which may have been the first organic brussels I'd ever seen in the six and a half years I've been working in a natural foods grocery. They sold like crack rocks in drought season, and I, being the dealer, set some aside for myself. Always thinking ahead...

Ain't they cute, too!

Anyway, I've roasted my share of chickens, employed a myriad of techniques, and have always enjoyed the results. I chose to use the Gastronome's recently posted recipe, mainly because of its spotlight on one of the season's finest products: the Meyer lemon. Plumper, rounder and more sweet than its sour, oblong cousin, the Meyer lemon is a mid-winter treat that should be enjoyed as much as possible in its short window of availability. We'll have them for a few more weeks probably, but I can't guarantee that.

To compliment this beautiful birdy, I made some mac and cheese with gruyere, applewood smoked cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano, topped with homemade rosemary bread crumbs. The brussels--which KJ practically jizzed in his pants over--were blanched along with some orange chard and turnips from the garden, and finished in the chicken fat (a.k.a. schmaltz). Everything was served up family style, and I carved the bird at the table, ensuring that everyone got the pieces they wanted. The bird turned out rather perfectly; the meat was succulent and flavorful, and the skin had a nice crisp to it.

Not Mr. Bock-ba-gock!

On a non-couple feeding related note, this week has been kinda crazy, and not much cooking has transpired in my home. There will be some more consistent posting beginning tomorrow, and a few sweet food events going on this weekend including a pig roast and a venison dinner party. Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Let Her Sun Never Set Redux

The BBC news has a great little video about my friend Vicky who passed away earlier this month. Check it out here


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cooking for Couples, Pt. 1

As a man in his late twenties, it's inevitable that most of my friends are in relationships, or married. You get used that, yet it becomes difficult to hang out with one part of the whole, absent some designated 'boy's night out' thing, which leads to someone's partner asking, "What do y'all do when you're alone, anyway?" 

Well, I'm not telling; I might get my bro-man card pulled, and then where does that leave me? Fortunately for yours truly, most of my buddies' significant others are pretty damned awesome, and a blast to be around. Of course there are exceptions, but I'm all about setting expectations, and managing the exceptions. This leads to a healthy lifestyle, free of conflict with your friend's lovers whom you cannot stand to be around. You know who you are, you swine!

Anyway, I've seemed to cook a handful of meals this month for some of these dynamic duos. Last weekend after softball practice, I had Jim Jam and the beloved Cici over for dinner. This particular couple happen to be a great match, fun to play with, and overall badasses. They had me over for dinner on New Year's Day, so it was time to repay the favor. Cici is an art grad-student, and Jim Jam is a musician, and co-worker of mine at the Wheats; good people. 

Ain't they cute?

I wanted to do something that I could prepare ahead of time, and simply reheat after softball. I decided to braise some oxtail, and make some Tuscan bean stew. In order to serve up 'perfect' beans, free of explosions or cracked skins, I used a technique that in theory would simmer slow and low enough to avoid such annoyances. Unfortunately, I failed to take into account that the beans I was using had a shorter cooking time than the beans suggested in the recipe that I was basing this meal on. The end result was still delicious, but a few beans went the way of the Challenger. So. Be. It. Lesson learned. 

We started this meal off with a nice Prosecco and salumi plate of mortadella, spicy sopresseta, and olives stuffed with feta or sun-dried tomato courtesy of Mandola's. This was followed by a simple salad straight from the garden, topped of by a traditional balsamic vinaigrette. After reheating and shredding the oxtail, it was time to serve up the bean stew. The flavors of the stew were complimented nicely by the oxtail; Old World flavors of salty pork and rosemary marrying the sweet, red wine and thyme infused beefiness of the braise. Simple and delicious, just like me. We enjoyed a nice, big, dry Ruffino Aziano 2006 Chianti Classico with our main; a well crafted Tuscan red to sip while eating food inspired by the same region.

Gotta love that kitchen lighting!

An island of oxtail amid a stormy sea of gastronomical delights...

Since you've been such a good reader this year, here is a recipe for you. Sorry, no braise for you!

Tuscan Bean Stew

Ingredients
1 lb dried canellini, great northern, or navy beans*, rinsed and picked over
1 Tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
6 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice (use bacon if pancetta is not available)
1 large onion, chopped medium
2 medium celery ribs, 1/2-inch dice
2 medium carrots, peeled, and cut into 1/2 inch dice
8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 cups of chicken or beef stock
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch of lacinato kale, or collards, stemmed, and chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 14.5 can/package of diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
1 sprig fresh rosemary
ground pepper, and salt as needed
crusty bread

Method
Dissolve 3 tablespoons of salt in 4 quarts cold water in a large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250º. Heat oil and pancetta in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, 6 to 10 minutes. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 16 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in stock, water, bay leaves, and soaked beans. Increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are almost tender (center still firm), 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove pot from oven and stir in tomatoes and greens. Return pot to oven and cook until beans are fully tender, 30 or 40 minutes longer. Remove pot from oven and submerge rosemary sprig in stew. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves, and rosemary and season the stew with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle bowls with olive oil; serve with parmesan and crusty bread. Mangia! 

*Reduce cooking time if using navy beans, they are smaller and less dense than cannellini. 

Beans are finicky and may have adverse reactions to salt and acids. Some think that adding salt too early causes the beans to never fully soften, others think that adding salt too early causes the beans to be mushy. Same with the acids. Texture and tenderness of the beans seem to be affected most by salt, this is mostly due to the swelling of the starch granules within their tender husks, resulting in mealy or gritty beans. The skins also are affected, often resulting in bean skins that are thick and chewy, which doesn't contrast well with the creamy, tender innards. Brining the beans doesn't affect them the same way as adding salt to the cooking liquid. The skins stay soft, and the insides get tender; life is good. The slow simmer in the oven is meant to reduce the number of vigorous bubbles in the pot during the cooking time. A vigorous stovetop simmer is the usual suspect in the case of burst beans. I used navy beans--which are kinda small--so I had a few beans burst, but overall I got what I wanted. Enjoy this on a cold day, with loved ones, or at least someone and their loved one. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tasting Notes: IPA From the Land of Fried Cheese Curds

Two years ago I went to a co-op conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin--the city with the most bars per capita in America--and fell in love with the beers from that region. One brewery, New Glarus, shines above the rest. New Glarus' beers are crafted using mostly Wisconsin barley, and some feature other ingredients that are produced regionally, such as Door County cherries, and apples. I am very fortunate to have a friend and co-worker from Wisconsin, who has willingly shlepped trunk-loads of these fine beers back to Texas for me on several occasions. She recently went home for the Holidays, and sadly, this was my last chance to have her play courier, as she is moving back home in May. 

When she returned from her trip, I was stoked to see what kind of goodies I was getting this time. I had requested the usual booty of Wisconsin Belgian Reds, Raspberry Tarts, and any Bell's beer she could find. I was like little boy on Christmas when I came home and saw a New Glarus sampler twelve pack on my porch, nestled next to a box containing the sour beers, a six pack each of Bell's Two Hearted Ale, and Consecrator Dopplebock, as well as the most recent New Glarus Unplugged series - Apple Ale. This was a major score. 

For this edition of Tasting Notes, I'll be reviewing New Glarus' Hop Hearty IPA. I first had this beer in La Crosse at a party in a hotel room full of a wide spectrum of Co-operators. We had made a crazy, several hundred dollar beer run to the local co-op, buying them almost entirely out of their New Glarus stock. It was a great night. Flash forward two years to a chilly Texas 'winter' night, and a lone Flapjacks carefully selecting one beer to drink, and review. It was a tough decision, but Hop Hearty won out in the end. 

Rob Baran laying down the mack.

Best picture of Steven ever!

Rose Marie of Wheatsville Board Prez fame, and Dill Pickle's Steven admiring bottles of Stone Soup

This Wisconsin IPA is not bashful by any means; massive citrusy hops aroma dominate the nose, but the rich, caramel malt backbone stands up to the Cascade and East Kent Goldings dry hop additions with the grace of a career alcoholic. The alcohol content is average for a New World IPA, weighing in at 6.2% ABV, yet due to its deliciousness, you could regretfully kick back a few of these with ease. One of the things that I really like about this beer is the tasteful use of the ubiquitous Cascade hops. Unlike craft brewers from the West Coast, Daniel Carey doesn't overload the flavor of the beer with this hop variety, instead, I feel he utilizes its strengths of providing aroma and lingering bitterness. Think of any beer produced by Sierra Nevada to get an idea of the abuse of the Cascade hop. Their beers, although consistent and often even great, rely too heavily on this hops variety, diminishing any true variety in the flavor and aroma of their products. 

New Glarus wins for their simple, yet classy labels. 

Unfortunately, this whole post is just a tease. New Glarus does not distribute to Texas, but if you're really nice to me, I might share one with you, or at least let you smell it. Safe and happy drinking in '09; don't drink and drive, you might spill your beer.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Musings on the Mysteries of Laundry

Why do I have so many incomplete pairs of socks, and where does the other sock go? Where did all these t-shirts come from? How do I have more pillows than pillow cases? How close can a hole be to the crotch of shorts and still be acceptable? What type of activity led to each of my laundry baskets breaking or losing handles? I'll never know.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Draped Up and Dripped Out

For the past three years, Wheatsville has held a staff appreciation party at the Clay Pit. Now, the Clay Pit is by far not my favorite eatery, but the upstairs room is a great place for a party. The format has been the same, more or less, for all three of these parties: greeting, eating, appreciation presentation from the Management Team, karaoke/dancing, the end. Despite this cloned line-up, this year's party was by far the best, free of incident, full of adoration, love, and respect, capturing the true essence of co-operation.

This year I wanted to play dress up, so I went and rented an all white zoot-tux which resulted in me looking either like an extra from a UGK video, or a Pakistani Colonel Sanders. You decide. Now, you may be thinking, "Flapjacks, why would you wear an all white suit to a dinner of saucy, multicolored Indian food?" Simple. That's how I roll. Draped up and dripped out.

The Butcher and I

Miss Cruz and the Colonel

A pre-dinner bottle of wine, and a shot of Scotch later, I was ready to go. I was looking forward to this year's appreciation presentation. The past two were so-so; at the first our Finance Manager stole the show with his fifteen minute speech, during which I heard a few, "Does that guy work with us?" comments; last year's banked on a comedy routine that staled faster than a luke warm Lone Star on summer day. We worked hard to try and keep this one fresh, sincere, and humorous. Hard. Three meetings worth of hard. We decided on a mad lib format that would mention every staffer's name, and be filled out at the dinner. The results were hilarious. It is impossible to avoid perversion, lewdness, or non-sensical word placement when you have prompts like: body part, verb ending in -ing, or nationality. After all the blanks were filled in, the managers read them aloud to entire staff, starting with yours truly. Beautiful.

Here are some hightlights:

"Alan was busily stocking the dicks."
"Marisa humped a box of ferrets on to the floor."
"Soutter sipped from his gourd full of purple drank."

Of course, there were many, many more. The ultimate comedic high-point for everyone was hearing our accountant say "taint." I doubt that anything, anything will as funny as that over the next fifty weeks. Good fucking times, dear readers, good times.

After party.

There were also some awards for various categories like Wheatsville Comedian, Best Kept Beard, Most Behind the Scenes Employee, Most Likely to Clean the Break Room, and Wheatsville Sweetheart. I won for comedian, the Professor won twice for his beard, and being the most likely to start a revolution, the accountant, John, for most behind the scenes, and Aldia for most likely to clean the break room. Well thought out gift certificates were given as prizes to each of us who won. Thank you Communications Team for all your hard work.

Love will keep them together...

Karaoke was also a blast, and the highlights too long to mention. In the end, it was a night of revelry, appreciation and warm fuzzies. No one made a scene, no one got too unexpectedly inebriated, and we all made it home safely. Cheers to the many merits of co-operation.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shearing

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm on the constant growth plan. Chances are if you're doing this thing right, you are too. Sometimes I like to mark periods of distinctive internal change by changing my external appearance, which helps keep the whole package in balance. You wouldn't want to go overhauling the interior of your pimped out '64 Impala, taking the time to really buff up those new cream leather seats, just to drive down the block with bondo and duct tape holding the rear quarter panel on. No sir, no you wouldn't. So, new year, new Flapjacks.

Snip it.

Holy shit! Kill it, kill it!!!

The rare flapjackius shornicus in its natural habitat.

I now realize how many of the great people around me that I love and care for I've met in the last two and a half years since my last shearing. Lots. The only real downside is that my head no longer has that nice, curly insulation that it had last week. Good thing is, that without that mop, I can once again fit a beanie (or any hat, really...) on my head. Cheers. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gettin' Regal for the Biegel

Of all the meals I've cooked recently, my lunch with the Biegs on Saturday was by far the most anticipated. In my opinion, cooking a meal for someone is one of the most sincere ways to show them that you care about them, and the Biegs is one of my most favorite people in the whole wide world. Ellie, who actually doesn't like being called the Biegs--which is why I call her that, of course--recently moved back to Texas from New Mexico. Unfortunately for those of us who would like to see her more regularly, she moved back to Arlington instead of Austin. Oh well, she's still closer than she was, and after not hanging out with her for several months, twice in a month is a treat.

Beigel at the table.

We originally were going to do dinner, but the cards were stacked against us this month. She didn't know when she would be heading back to Austin after that weekend, had a friend's birthday hoorah to attend on Friday, and I had picked up the second half of one of my employee's closing shift on Saturday in order to help them out of a delicate situation involving husbands and a forgotten couples' improv performance. 

We decided that lunch on Saturday would work, which meant that I would be scaling down the meal I intended to cook, settling on a small plate affair instead. I had saved a duck breast back in December for just this occasion, so if we would have waited another month or so, it may not have been the best it could have been. I also reserved the stock that I made with the same duck for this meal, with the intention of doing a butternut squash soup similar to the one I made for Shaddley when we ate the other duck breast in early December. Yeah, I've been making a lot butternut squash soup lately... Fuck it, it's good; I like!

I planned ahead and made the soup the day before, which made a difference both in time saved on Saturday, and in the flavor of the soup. Everybody knows soup is better on day two, so score one for Flapjacks. We went out and picked the lettuce for our very simple and nutritious salad, as well as kale for our main. I still had turnips lurking about, so this meal was ready to go. After gussying up the soup it was time for service. I took one picture of the soup before I knocked my camera directly into it, lens first. The Biegs got a good laugh out of it, and the camera survived. I guess that's karma biting me in the ass for harassing my Dad about giving me that tripod for six months. After a little cleaning, it seemed to be okay; the lens cover still doesn't close properly, but it's functional.

Maybe if I just got a little bit closer...

Good job, dumbass.

After our light salad, it was time for the duck breast. I had marinated the breast over night in sherry and paprika, which gave it a nice, deep flavor that didn't overpower the natural flavors of the duck itself. The breast got pan seared; the crisp skin protecting the supple fat from the evils of the outside world. As it rested, I had time to finish up the turnip puree(which was loaded with Remember When Dairy cream and butter), the kale, and the blood orange gastrique accompaniment. The sweet and sour complexity of the gastrique really went well with the earthy flavors of the duck, providing just the right amount of acid to the dish. The turnip puree may have been the whitest food I've ever seen, but the whole plate really came together nicely, making for a fine lunch with great company.

Kinda looks like Stay Puft spooge.

I tried hard not to use the word unctuous in this post...

I realized as I sat there conversing with the Biegs, that pretty much everything but the components in the gastrique(blood orange, vinegar, wine, and sugar), butternut squash, spices, and the fats and vinegar used in the salad dressing I either grew myself, or was produced locally. The duck came from Countryside Farm Products, the pork sausage from Richardson's Family Farm, the yogurt from White Mountain, and the dairy from Remember When Dairy.  This meal was the epitome of how I want to eat: seasonal cuisine with an emphasis on using fresh, locally-sourced goods. Michael Pollan would be so proud. Those of us living in, or around Austin are fortunate to have so many local sources for food, good, clean water(for now), and a well established food co-operative. These things are the backbone of the local food movement, and if we can get our shit together, we very well may be at the vanguard of such a movement right here in Austin.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Going Feral

Eating wild game in the winter reminds me of my childhood. I grew up eating rich stews and chili made from elk, deer, feral hog, and aoudad sheep throughout the winter. We pretty much always had some frozen venison laying around, and would eat it fairly regularly. So, when my father came by work last week and dropped a bunch of frozen animals in my lap, I was stoked. My Uncle Fuji, who is in fact not my Uncle at all, but rather a friend of my Pop's since High School, had brought him some snook, catfish, and feral hog earlier in the week. Fuji lives out in Roundtop, TX on some of the most beautiful sprawling acreage that I've seen, complete with a several acre lake, and tasty wild life. 

Feral hogs are pretty much pests, albeit tasty pests. Some people open up their land and let others come out and shoot these beasts. They can get pretty fucking big, and have nasty, Staph covered tusks that will fuck you up royally if they get close enough. Some people trap these things, and then shoot them, which seems kinda sketchy to me. Anyway, a gift of game is always appreciated, especially when the giver actually tells you that the snook has the scales still on it... 

I went to check out the new Twin Liquors that recently opened in the Hancock Center on Friday. I was dressed to the nines in my blood striped navy track pants, green mesh tank top, flip flops, and top knot. Hey, after all, it is January, right?! I was instantly stoked to have such a nice liquor store across the golf course from my house. I was really excited to see that they had such an extensive wine selection. This year, I'm trying to get back to my wine roots that dug deep at the beginning of the Aughties. Less beer, more wine and Scotch; the makings of a great year. I called up Shaddley, to see what wines he was distributing to the jernt. After a few phone calls, he asked if I'd like to come down to North Buda to cook some food for him and his wifey. Damn right! I had plans to go see a co-workers show, but those plans quickly dissolved into the abyss as I headed down into the depths of the dirty South with YogaMarketingBrownieGirl. 

A quick stop by the 'Ville to procure a few more provisions, and I was set to cook some grub. I had some leftover prepped butternut squash from some soup that I'd made that day for a meal set for Saturday, a bit of gnocchi, feral hog, guajillo chiles, and some Swiss chard. A co-worker of mine from New Mexico had shown me the proper way to make a red chile, not chili (no tomatoes here!), and I planned on braising the feral hog in this crimson deliciousness. I made a quick soup with the butternut squash, some stock, and sake, which turned out to be quite delicious. The sake provided a nice backbone for the sweet, subtle flavors of the squash. I'd like to try this again with kabocha squash, which is a little bit more flavorful, and shares a common origin to the sake. 

Shaddley in his element...

Anyway, the wine was flowing freely, and we managed to drink nine bottles over the course of the evening. We started with with some open bottles of Porter Bass Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. The Zin was pretty jammy--some of which went into the braise--but not too overpowering. The exact order we drank the wine is a bit fuzzy to me, but I do recall some of the standouts. I've not been a fan of Rieslings in the past, but as I get older, I seem to like them more. The Joh Jos. Christoffel 2002 Riesling Urziger Wurzgarten Auslese was probably the finest I've had; crisp, sweet, and not overly fruity, I'd like to try this again with some wintry soup or goat cheese. I'm somewhat into Sauvignon Blanc at the moment, despite this cooler weather; Shaddley opened up some Domaine Mardon Quincy Sauvignon Blanc, that was from another world compared to the New Zealand Sauvingnon Blanc's I've been drinking recently. French wine is just, well, crazy. Dirty and dry, with complex flavors popping up all over the tongue. Thanks for sharing this one! The last standout for me was the Charles Krug Zin Port. I love port. Shaddley could have peed in the bottle and I would of lapped it up like a stray dog drinking out of a pothole. At his wedding I polished off a whole bottle of Becker Vineyards Port, so there seems to be a theme here...

She's got legs...

There were a few other folks hanging around, Siobhan (you extra points for correct pronunciation), a good friend of Shaddley's since High School, two dudes from Moving Matter, Chris Holland, and good ol' Chicago Fats, Ellen Greenwood (the Woo's sister), and some dude named Sham, who in fact was a sham. Only Chris ate with Shaddley, YogaMarketingBrownieGirl and I, and the food slammed. There were a few ideas popping up in my head about what I'll do the next time I do this braise. The color was so intensely red it was frightening, and the flavor of the chiles was a perfect compliment to the hog. 

Flapjacks at the table.

Red is the color...

Big thanks to my Uncle Fuji for the feral hog, as well as my Pops for bringing it to me. Thanks again, Shaddley for the hospitality, and for being so generous with your wines, you rule. Stay warm, and happy eating in '09.

It's the Woo Mutha Fucka, Greenwoo Mutha Fucka

I had an excellent weekend cooking meals for friends, old and new. Thursday night, I got to hang out with my buddy Greenwood, or the Woo, if you're into that whole brevity thing. The Woo gave me the arbitrary nickname of Flapjacks, which at the time--2002--was actually Jihad Johnny Flapjacks. This name, which is banking on my ethnic ambiguity and fondness for facial hair, is not too safe in our modern political climate. So, Flapjacks, Flappy, or Flapper it is.

The Woo works at the north Whole Foods, in produce, and used to work at the Wheats about five years ago. We hadn't kicked it in a while, and both of us are going through some life changes right now, so it was a good time to get together and reflect on our states of being over a nice meal and some wine.

The Woo helped me pick some lettuce, and other veg for our meal. He did a damn good job holding the flashlight, and I even let him shred some cheese. I had picked up some Niman Ranch center cut pork chops, which got a quick marinade in some olive oil and sherry, as well as some organic shrimp, which also got a quick citrus bath, from work that afternoon. I wanted to do a simple salad with blood oranges, and a play on some Southern comfort food, Flappy style. The salad was indeed simple, as well as quite fresh and delicious(and nutritious!). Nothing beats fresh picked lettuce, and herbs. Nothing.

Tossed salad...

The main was pretty straightforward, I suppose, but damn good. I think you could run over this Niman meat and it would still be amazing. No lie. It's like meat heroin, and I'm the man with the golden arm. I had an abundance of fresh picked turnips, and some fingerlings on hand, which were blanched and roasted in duck fat until golden and delicious. I added some lacinato in at the last minute, which was plenty of time for it to wilt and marry flavors with the unctuous duck fat. What Southern meal is complete without grits? Cheesy, jalapeño, grits at that!? Yum. The pork got dressed up like a coming out debutante, with some of my homemade apple chutney, shrimp, and a nice chile ginger foam.

Clutter

Fuck, someone spit on my meat!

Woo Tang Clan ain't nuttin' ta fuck wit

I'd like to take a moment to discuss the merits of the fine products from the folks at Remember When Dairy. Really, this shit is bananas! B-a-n-a-n-a-s, bananas. There milk is more like half and half, the butter smells like butter flavoring, and the cream is the ridonkey-donk chronic shit. I would take a bath in it. Hell, it would probably be great for my skin. Wheatsville has been selling so much RWD, that they've stopped selling at the Farmer's Market. They make the only whole milk buttermilk available in Austin, and I foresee their chocolate milk taking the town by storm(now available in a dairy cooler at a co-op near you!). Anyway, if you haven't tried these products, you're missing out, and you should treat yourself to some of their dairy goodness. Happy eating in '09.

Friday, January 9, 2009

There Must Be Something in the Air

Risotto. This dish seems to be rather ubiquitous at the moment. It had been a few years since I'd last made risotto, which is to say that some brushing up on the subject was necessary. I had already been thinking about risotto, when the most recent issue of Food & Wine showed up featuring a small column on 'Perfecting Risotto'. The recipe included was for Milanese style risotto, which is flavored and colored with saffron. The day I decided that I would try and get risotto down by the end of this month, risotto posts and articles were popping up everywhere.

I decided that I would use the Milanese recipe as a base for duck confit risotto. I had some friends coming over for dinner, and thought this would be a perfect meal served with a simple salad, picked fresh from my garden. I unearthed a leg and thigh from their protective duck fat layer, wiped off the excess fat, and stuck these well preserved animal parts into a hot oven on my roasting rack. I wanted the skin to get nice and crispy, and it didn't disappoint. 

Risotto is a dish that has to be done right, or else it's just some rice dish. It is very easy to overcook risotto, resulting in mushy, dense failure. I like to avoid failing most of the time, and would really like to get the basics down for this delicious dish. I put my patience hat on, and got to work. All of the ingredients, except for the parsley, which I grew, I purchased at Wheatsville, and a few were local, like the duck, butter, and the wine. The results were great, and the only critique I have, would be to use homemade stock rather than store bought. I didn't have any chicken stock on hand so I went with the Pacific brand chicken broth, which was an okay substitute, but I know that homemade stock would make this better. 

Return of the poorly lit kitchen pics.

I was really excited to get to use some of the duck confit. It tasted amazing, and the texture was sublime; supple, rich, and unctuous. The well crisped skin made a delicious garnish, and overall the dish was well received. After a few more attempts with this base recipe, I will share it, but for now, I'll share a nice vinaigrette recipe of my own. It is beautifully green, and healthful. 

Hemp Vinaigrette
scales up easily

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp hemp oil
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1/4 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp finely minced garlic
1/4 tsp finely minced shallots
Salt and white pepper to taste

Method:
Combine oils and set aside. In a small mixing bowl, add all other ingredients but the salt and pepper, mix. Slowly drizzle in the oil mixture, whisking to form the emulsion. Taste, and add salt and pepper to taste. 

Let Her Sun Never Set

Victoria Johnson(center) December 5th, 1985 - January 6th, 2009

On Monday, my friend Victoria Johnson was hit by a car while crossing the street. She suffered serious head trauma, and was taken to the Royal London Hospital non-responsive. She was brain dead when she arrived, and after twelve hours her family decided to cut life support and she passed away Tuesday afternoon.

Vicky burned bright, and lived her life to the fullest. We had some really good times together; I will celebrate her life, and its impact on mine. She had a promising career as a barrister ahead of her, and her passion, intellect, eccentricity, and vivacity will be dearly missed. My thoughts go out to her family and friends in their time of loss. Light and Love. 




Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fear and Loathing on the Information Superhighway

Be careful out there. Yesterday, after a day of interrupted internet service, I called my provider and asked them what was up. 
 
I asked the customer service representative, "Hey, my internet's been down all day, just wondering what was going on?"
"Have you tried restarting the modem?" The man responded.
"Yeah, I tried that, and I ran a network diagnostic on it as well."
"Okay, well, I can try and see what's wrong with it from this end... Oh, here it is. You downloaded some copyrighted material, the Dark Knight."
Silence. 
"Yeah..."
"We got a message from the owner's of that material, and your service has been suspended. Let me transfer you to someone in that department."

After speaking with this other guy, and assuring him that I had, in fact, downloaded this content, and that I was a good boy and deleted, my service came back on immediately. Fucked up. Don't download anything that has to do with Warner Bros. or HBO. Welcome to the future.

Now my IP address is flagged, and two more violations along these lines will cause Grande to cancel my internets. It wasn't so much that I downloaded the material, but that was seeding it(which I usually don't do). What I can't get over is this: THEY TURNED MY INTERNET OFF!

The swine.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sunday Lunch

When I was in England last year, one of my favorite discoveries was Sunday Lunch. This, of course, was dinner, not lunch, but the Brits can do as they please with the English language, so let's not question them. You could also call it Sunday Roast, if you'd like, and the idea is very traditional. You have roasted meat (pork, or beef), all the trimmings (roasted potatoes, carrots, haricot verts, and cheesy cauliflower), gravy, and Yorkshire pudding. 

Sunday Lunch at the Cock and Hoop, Nottingham, England, UK.

The Yorkshire pudding was the most recent addition to this traditional British meal, serving as a filler during the hard times from the beginning to the middle of the last century. Meat was expensive, and everyone looked forward to eating this delicious roast every week. When England was rationing food during the first World War, the yorkie appeared. From what I've read, it was originally served before the meal, to take up some space in your belly, ensuring that there would be left overs to eat throughout the next week. 

Sunday Lunch at Chez Flapjacks, Austin, TX, USA

Poppin' fresh.

Yorkshire pudding is really a biscuit-souffle hybrid. It's predominately egg, and thanks to it's hollow middle, it is a great vehicle for delivering gravy to your mouth. Nowadays, the Yorkies have made it on the plate with the rest of the goods. I really like them, and after trying a few recipes, feel that I found one that really works, which I will share with you now. 

Yorkshire Pudding
To be served with roasted meat
Yields about eight puddings

Indgredients:
2 cups flour
2 Tbsp milk
4 eggs
AN salt

Method: 
Pre-heat oven to 400º. In a medium size bowl, lightly mix egg and milk with a fork. Whisk in flour until a thick, smooth batter forms. You want the batter to be easy to pour, if it is too thick, add more egg, not milk. Let rest for fifteen minutes to hydrate the flour. Fill muffin pans 1/5 of the way with oil (or fat from the roast), place in hot oven for 10 minutes (should be done while batter is resting). When the oil is starting to look hazy, but not quite smoking, remove muffin tin from the oven, and pour in the batter. If it doesn't sizzle, place the tin back in the oven for a few more minutes. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the puddings rise. If they start to fall when remove, you can put them back in the oven for a few minutes. Pour out excess fat, and fill with gravy/drippings, and serve immediately. 

From what I've read about these, if you need to thin the batter, use egg, not milk. You want it to pop. The hot oil will keep the center hollow, and you want them to be browned and crispy, but not too crisp; they should retain some of their chewiness. You can reserve the hot fat to reuse if you like. Happy eating!



Garden Banter

As I said a few posts back, I have been eating turnips like they are going out of style (or season). That's good though, I like me some turnips, and find that the smaller sized jobs that I've been harvesting are far sweeter, and tender than their store bought brethren. The greens are great as well, especially when married with animal fats. Actually, I need to plant some more turnips to carry me through until spring. 

Nips and a red dragon carrot. 

Beauty.

My beets are being a bit persnickety, and I'm not sure if it's a water or sunlight issue that is keeping them from really doing their thing. The reds, and golden are looking okay, but the chiogga haven't done much in the past few months. They're quite pathetic, actually. New radish sprouts are coming up, and the snow peas are in bloom. I planted several snow peas, mainly for the leaves. Snow pea leaves are one of the most delicate, and amazing things I've ever eaten. I first had them at First Chinese BBQ, and am hooked! We get an order of them every time we go up there--which is about every two weeks--for duck. I'm going tonight in fact...

I came home on Tuesday to a surprise: my landlord and his son had rebuilt my log cabin style compost heap with all new landscaping wood. They even drilled holes through each piece, securing the whole thing in the ground with rebar. It's not going anywhere, hell, I may slap a rough roof on it and let it to an unsuspecting undergrad.

Break it down.

I'll now have enough compost to get me through the apocalypse. Anyone need to hide a body? 

Saturday, January 3, 2009

So This is Christmas?

When you decide to no longer celebrate a major cultural holiday, you tend to get asked a myriad of questions about your choice of abstention, ranging from politely inquisitive to indignantly offended. I won't tell you why I choose to not celebrate Christmas, and hope that adds to the mystique a bit. What I do celebrate, however, are gratuitous days off of work; days free of obligation and responsibility. Without having to go to see family, or partner's families, Christmas has been just one of those days for about six years. 

This was a stellar Christmas, in that regard. I stayed home, hung out with two of my best freinds, and saw my father. It was like I was the Christ-child and they were the Three Kings, bringing me gifts of humor, wisdom, and books. Marisa, who, no offense, is always good for a laugh, came by and we watched some older episodes of Top Chef. I made her an omelette, showcasing the absurdly fast and delicious technique that Julia demonstrates below (thanks Ruby for telling me about this!). Marisa had left some fakin' bacon in my freezer, which finally got used, relinquishing space that will be better used taken up by real meat. I think I've gotten her hooked on Top Chef.



Nearly right after she split, the Professor came by, and we watched more Top Chef! We also drank some beers. As always, a visit from the Professor is full of great discussion. My father came by as I was making dinner for myself, and hung out with the Professor a bit. We switched gears, and watched some Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares -- the British version with all the f-bombs! -- as the Professor drifted away into the ether, in search of neck-bearded Kiwi's and former roommates. Pops brought me two books, a massive tome of the works of Gibran, and a cookbook from Jamie Oliver, whom I'd never heard of, as well as this tiny camera tri-pod that I've been trying to hustle off of him since June. The book, Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life, is actually pretty informative, and the recipes are broken up into seasons, based on what each yields in his home garden. After a stretch of recipes, on say, tomatoes, he describes how he grows his tomatoes, which varieties, and where to order them. I like that.

For dinner, I had a Niman Lamb Shank, that was braised for most of the day, and was finished with a glaze made from a reduction of the braising liquid and honey. I'm not much of a chard eater, but I figured I should give it a chance (Hey, it was Christmas!). I picked some chard, and kale, which got blanched and sauteèd lightly in duck fat. I did the same thing to the fingerlings. Duck fat and potatoes are friends. I hope we continue to carry these lamb shanks, because they are delicious, and I'd like to do more with them. I wasn't the only one eating these shanks that night, although, maybe the only one alone. This was a pretty nice meal to eat in front of people who had already eaten, as well. Lamb shanks just look primal, and have that handy bone grip.
 
Shiny shank.

Chard, you're alright. 

So, this is Christmas, and a happy New Year.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Tasting Notes: Home for the Holiday Ale

For the past few years, I've had a great holiday party that centered around tasting the season's special beer offerings to look forward to. My friend Chris, who I met through the Black Star Co-op, is  an outstanding homebrewer, and host, opening his home up to other zymurgist and drinkers alike. 

Shiny.

This year there were some standouts from the usual suspects of well respected seasonal specialties. This is one of those parties where guests dip into their reserves and bring out something special, well aged, and appropriate or the occasion. I brought a New Glarus Raspberry Tart, my last, to share with these fine people. The taste I had of the 2002 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale, may have been one of the best beers I had that evening. Stone's Bitter Chocolate Stout was very nice as well. Someone was kind enough to bring a magnum of Anchor Christmas from 2005, and was doling out the glasses of this sprucey, spricey seasonal rather generously. 

Blurry tart.

Proof  he was near!

Sweet.

Of course, there was plenty of homebrew on tap. Chris' amazing kegerator had a variety of beers to offer. He had brewed a delicious holiday ale, which I really enjoyed, and there were two versions of a Black Star beer, Cul Sec, that were fermented using different strains of yeast. I like them both, and if I had to chose a favorite, it would be the "b." As usual, the label maker was floating around, and we were all having fun making up names for each other. Unfortunately, I don't seem to recall any other than my own. I was dubbed Fidel Garcia, the label now attached to some Food and Wine mag in my house. The food that was available was very good as well. I ate the hell out of some sausages and cheese. Yes, please. I can't wait until next year!

Professional Liar Man

For as long as humans have congregated in groups, there has been a natural marriage of celebration and food. A few weeks back, my best good friend, Cory, finished up his last final of law school. To honor this momentous occasion, we went to parkside for oysters and Champagne.


We were seven of the rowdiest, half-drunk (some were drunk), food service veterans that could have possibly strolled into a restaurant at closing; potentially the best or worst customers possible. They stayed open for us, and we treated them well for making the right decision.
Straight out of the gates we ordered two bottles of Veuve Clicquot Yellow label, and three different varieties of oysters. I also had a thirst for some Scotch, ordering a luscious Oban 14 to start. parkside has by far the largest selection of oysters in Austin, with an average of fourteen varieties on the menu. Almost nothing beats a fresh oyster drenched in malt vinegar washed down with a little bit of bubbly. Recession this.

Frosty.

Beautiful bivalves.

"And they'd eaten every one..."

The kitchen was closing, so the few of us that actually wanted to eat dinner had to make a decision quickly. Appetizers were being spouted out at our accommodating server, and one of our brood slunked after her to order some secret bottles of wine. Unfortunately, they were out of the marrow bones, which are divine -- I think they lifted the recipe from St. John, because the presentation is damn near the same -- so we had to skip those. The table started to run out of room as our apps came out: calamari, and patè grand mere (chunky and porky=crazy delicious). After some discussion with our server about innards and funky bits, she brought out a plate of their patè blonde on the house. This mousse style patè was delicate in texture, and robust in it's flavor. It was served with a strawberry salad that perfectly complimented both the texture and taste. You can guess what was in it that made it sooooo good.

Juste comme le mon grand-maman utilisée pour faire.

Livery goodnes...

Only two of us ordered dinner, I think... I had a braised lamb shank, served with a turnip puree, that was unctuous and earthy. Tim opted for their bar steak and fries, which I really enjoy, which was cooked perfectly. I must confess to you dear reader, that I have been going to parkside about once a month since September, but have been reluctant to do a proper review. This is not a review either, more of a tale of revelry, so stay tuned for one.

We drank the two bottles of Buehler Cab that were ordered secretly, and rejoiced. Cory was going quickly to the land of the sentimental drunk, frequently interjecting a sloppy "I love you guys," every now and again. We had dessert, which was probably unnecessary, but delicious none-the-less. We had their doughnut holes with three dipping sauces, and some caramel laden cakey thing with ice cream. Both were great, but I was already overstimulated by patès and grape juice so these were just icing on the cake. In the end our group of former law students, Hudson's servers, produce managers, and unemployed dudes laid waste to parkside, leaving a high water mark on our souls as we walked or stumbled out onto Sixth St.

I got shanked.

Doughnut holes.

Finger on the lens.

We were denied entrance to two separate bars; one wouldn't let me in with my bag on (!?), the other stopped Cory at the door, because his legs apparently weren't working the best that they could've been. As if we needed further stimulation, there were shots, and more shots. Car bombs, and sake bombs... blegh. It made for a great morning. In the end, it was a memorable night, full of revelry, and camaraderie; good booze, and better food.

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