Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beyond the Kitchen

Friends, I have a confession to make. I love baseball at least as much as I love food. And given that humans pretty much count on food to survive, I think that's saying a lot. Specifically, I love the Yankees. And I have a healthy respect for the Boston Red Sox. I was lucky to grow up in New York during the Yankee dynasty years, and I was lucky to move to Boston in 2003 - just at the time that the Red Sox finally came into their own and won something. In the end, I feel blessed to have been surrounded by good baseball teams my entire life (the 1980s and early 1990s in New York don't count in this equation - they're just a figment of your imagination. It's my blog, and thus it is truth).

The last few days of the baseball off-season have been especially interesting. We're in the "hot stove" period. Look, a cooking reference after all! The hot stove is the period when most trades are made and most of the free agent players get signed. All the team general managers, and all the players' agents, are meeting at the Bellagio in Las Vegas this week. Things have moved pretty quickly: the Yankees signed free-agent pitcher CC Sabathia, one of the dominant pitchers of this generation, and they're not done yet. The Red Sox, meanwhile, seem like they're in the hunt for Mark Teixeira, a switch-hitting, slugging, defensively strong first baseman who still has his best years ahead of him.

I admit, I've been cheating on this blog. I've been much more interested in following baseball news and blogging about it on my other blog, The Bride of Hankenstein. But I did want to follow up on my lobster post from aways back. We are thinking of getting cheap lobsters for dinner tonight. I'll let you know how that goes, and how I go about killing the poor innocent creatures (always a concern with lobster). If that doesn't work out, I'm planning on making some sort of pasta with chicken. Not as exciting, but at least there's no maiming and severing of central nerves involved.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tarte Tatin, Alice Waters-Style

I made a tarte tatin on Sunday. My mother's been making them for years, and they're delicious. Plus, I needed a dessert to take to my book club that I could make ahead, transport easily, and that wasn't too big of a deal to put together (a snowy Sunday in Boston means I have zero motivation to get dozens of ingredients out of the cabinets, and even less inspiration to run to the store for anything I'm missing.

Enter Alice Waters. Her recipe for tarte tatin in The Art of Simple Food calls for one pan, four ingredients and about an hour of your time. In fact, ready? Here's the entire recipe in three sentences:
1. Cook butter and sugar in a cast iron pan until it makes gooey caramel.
2. Put apple pieces in on top of the caramel as crammed in as possible, and then put a pie crust over that.
3. Cook the entire thing in a 400 degree oven for about a half hour until it's golden brown.

The only real tricks, as far as I could tell were making sure the caramel cooked enough without burning (low heat, stir a lot, and keep an eye on it - not something you can leave while you go wander off into the bowels of your apartment); and getting the cooked tarte out of the pan before the caramel hardens and you have a freeform permanent sculpture in what was formerly your cheap, durable, and kitchen-essential cast iron pan. To get it out, do the flip thing with a platter that's of a greater diameter than the pan (I used a square bamboo cutting board). Also, clean out the cast iron pan as soon as possible - once the caramel gets hard, there's no chipping it out, really.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving Aftermath

Thanksgiving was, as always, delicious. My mother made the traditional turkey, stuffing, etc. I contributed two things: mashed potatoes, and some roasted butternut squash. I peeled, seeded and cut the butternut squash into about 1 inch cubes. Then, I tossed it with olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh chopped sage, half a minced shallot, and a good tablespoon of paprika. I covered it with foil and roasted it in a 400 degree oven for around 45 minutes, and then uncovered it and roasted it for about another 45 minutes until it was getting crispy on top. I did that early in the day, and then reheated it right before we ate. I also grated some parmesan cheese over the top at the very end.

I also learned that mashed potatoes can in fact be incredibly resilient. I had the whole potatoes boiling in a large pot of water, and a good half a quart of milk with some peeled garlic cloves in it simmering away on the back of the stove in another pot. I didn't think I would need so much milk, but figured it was better to be safe than sorry. In the flurry of last-minute prep, though, my anonymous sous chef poured the entire pot of milk (along with the requisite stick of butter - nobody ever said mashed potatoes are good for you) into the potatoes. They looked like cream of wheat on a very bad day. So, I mashed the potatoes up anyway as best I could, and then put them back on the heat and let the excess milk cook off. Kind of like a mashed potato reduction, if you will. At any rate, about ten minutes after we started our meal, the potatoes were ready to go. And, they tasted very creamy - maybe this could be my family's new traditional recipe?

Today (well, all this week, although I'm just now getting sick of the required stuffing-turkey-gravy sandwich), I'm on a mission to get rid of my leftovers.* I have half a breast of turkey. So, I decided to make soup. I guess I was sort of inspired by the Italian wedding soup Amanda brought me when I was under the weather a few weeks ago. I took a quick trip to the store to grab some spicy italian sausage, some frozen spinach and some crusty bread. When I got home, I started simmering the frozen chicken stock I had made a few posts back in my big soup pot. I also cut up and started sauteing the sausage, to get a nice crust on it. While the stock was melting and heating up, and while the sausage was sauteing, I shredded the turkey breast into bite-size pieces. I put the sausage and the turkey into the stock, and added a can of drained rinsed pinto beans and half a pound of defrosted frozen spinach to the soup. I checked it for seasoning (and I ended up adding salt, pepper, thyme, and a few dashes of hot sauce), and then let it come to a boil. After it came to a boil, I skimmed the gunk off the top, and set it to simmer.

Later tonight, I'll reheat it for dinner. I'll probably also add some small pasta to the soup then. I think we'll have that with the crusty bread, some sharp cheddar cheese, and a cheap bottle of wine. If that's not a good post-Thanksgiving soup, I don't know what is. A word of warning, though - early reports indicate that the spinach is turning the broth a decidedly eerie shade of green. Next time, I might go for whole-leaf spinach and see if the color doesn't bleed into the entire soup.

I also need to cook some tri-tip this week (it was on sale, and cheap anyway). I know tri-tip does well on the grill, but I'm hoping for another method. I don't think it's fatty enough to benefit from a braise or a stew - and also, I'm trying to move away from the braise/stew flavor (delicious as it is, it's going to be a long winter and I want to mix it up a little). Does anyone have any ideas?

* Also, with respect to leftover stuffing: I don't want to let on how much I love stuffing. But, if you woke me up in the middle of the night, didn't give me time to put on my glasses before you shoved me out the door, and pushed me out into the middle of a raging blizzard with no coat on, and locked the door behind me, I'd probably be ok with it as long as you handed me stuffing and a fork before you turned the door latch. I'm just saying. Finishing off the leftover stuffing will not be, and never will be, a problem.