The Gastronomist Manifesto

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Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Eating Lenten

I have a forthcoming post about what I made, ate and proposed everlasting love to on Fat Tuesday (steak and potatoes, but better!) So it feels odd to start talking about Lent before the last hurrah before Lent, but chronology is out of my hands at this moment.

Lent is mostly a time when Cradle Catholics and non-Catholics alike make a declaration to “give something up for Lent.” This is sort of keeping within the spirit of the season, but I think there’s always one fatal flaw people make that causes them to miss the point entirely. The idea of Lent is not to take something you like and stop doing it for 40 days, the point is to take something you like BUT! that you feel you over-indulge in, and give it up for 40 days, WITH! the understanding that you intend to moderate or separate yourself from that indulgence from then on out.

Maybe you want to give up Coke for Lent because you drink 10 a day. Great! But the point is not to prove come Eastertide that you *could* do without, but to come to the hopeful realization that you can live happily without it for a substantial period of time, and thereafter put the indulgence into check. If your plan is to slam three 2 liters the moment Lent ends, then you’ve done nothing. The indulgence is what Fat Tuesday is for.

I’ve moved away from the “give one thing up” tradition and taken to a much older tradition of merely cutting back on all indulgences. I am not going to deprive myself of chocolate or meat or ice cream during this season, I’m just going to make myself more aware (hopefully) of what I am doing when I eat, speak, enjoy, fuck and such. To me, the Muslims keep it legit with Ramadan, Ramadan is closer to my ideal for Lent than most of what goes for Lent. Another way of looking at it, is I am putting my hedonism under scrutiny. Hedonism sounds nicer than penance, but done to excess both can be a loss of control.


Baked Cheese with Double Salsa.

This is a dish I made a couple days ago after getting the craving for a homemade salsa. I don’t like to go too far out of my way for food, so when I saw a good price on some tomaillos at the nearest market to me, which specializes in Mexican food I got them, and made a simple salsa verde (literally, “green sauce” in Spanish.) Because cheese and verdant, tart foods don’t generally mix I also got some chipotle peppers that went into a rich red salsa. These were layered into queso fresco and baked in a tortilla as brie is so often done. The results were colorful and delicious. Wish I’d had this written before the “Big Game.”

Salsa Verde:

1/3 onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
chilis to taste, I used two entire jalapenos but you can tone it down or up as you like
about 7 tomatillos chopped, about 2-3 cups worth
1 lime, juiced

Start by sauteeing your onions, garlic and chilis in a bit of oil until they start getting soft. Maybe 8 minutes? Add the tomatillos and lime juice, plus about a teaspoon of sugar (tomatillos and lime are both sour, but you don’t want this salsa to pucker your mouth.) Cook until the ingredients are soft, that is when you can basically mash any of it with the gentile pressure of a spoon. Take it off the heat, LET IT COOL, and throw it into a blender or food processor until liquified. Why do I CAPS LOCK “let it cool?” Never put near-boiling liquid into a blender; even if you feel sure the lid is on tight, that whirlwind of liquid pain will find a way out and onto your arm.

Salsa Chipotle:

1 7oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (adobo is just a basic marinating sauce; if you use dried chipotle peppers just soak them and keep all their moisture, don’t drain them) diced up
1/4-1/8 cup of minced onion
a splursh of liquid; either white wine, dark beer, tomato/marinara sauce, stock, water…
1 pinch of oregano

Add all the ingredients straight to one sauce pan. When I say a “splursh” of liquid, basically it is to give a bit of something to break up the absolute power of the chipotle flavor, like 8oz or so, the approximate of a “shot.” Chipotle is hella smoky, so if you don’t cut it then you’re basically just applying smoke to the dish. I borrowed a bit of ale from a half used bottle of beer a roommate left in our fridge to nice result. Wine and tomatoes will add a tartness; beer or stock will add richness; or add juice or what you have on hand. Let it simmer until it’s reduced, thickened and the peppers are broken down.

Last preparations:

Prep your oven to 400 degrees. Take a cylinder of queso fresco and cut it into thirds against the width of the cheese (12 oz and you’ll have more than enough salsa for this  if you wanted to make two or three of these, or reserve the salsas for chips.) Place one layer of the cheese onto a large tortilla, add one of the layers of salsa, then a layer of cheese, another of the second salsa and the last cheese layer. Flip it over while tucking the tortilla over the cheese. Place on a baking tray covered with parchement paper or foil. Break and mix an egg and give the tortilla surface a wash. Place this into the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes.

*Actually, the tortilla thing is for show. If I ever do this again I think I might omit it.

Serve warm with tortilla chips or your standard crudite. Also, you might want to really pile on the salsa. I thought I had but as you can see in the second photo the layered effect was kind of lost in the end. So I spooned over the excess salsas. In fact, you might want to just make it easier and skip baking the salsas in layers of the cheese and just skip to serving them alongside. Maybe meat or vegetables instead of the salsa in layers?

Que es queso fresco?! Queso fresco is an unaged cheese–like cottage cheese, paneer or feta–that is indigenous to Spain and popular in Mexican cooking. I would describe it best as being like feta without the salt or a less chewy paneer. The great reason to look for it and use it here is that queso fresco practically does not melt. Meaning you can bake it and wont form a gooey pool as a Monterrey or Cheddar will. This is due both to the type of milk used and also the process that makes it curdle. I thought I saw a bit off spillage with mine, but it turned out to be run-off from the egg wash. Queso fresco will not melt.

The Reggie Sandwich: Pine State Biscuits

I try to keep a sharp eye on restaurant reviews here in the great city of Portland. And if you’ve watched episodes of shows on the Travel Channel or Food Network that featured Portland then Pine State Biscuits was probably mentioned. And it wasn’t hard for me to find this place as it’s literally four houses away from me. Their most famous offering is the Reggie sandwich, a mix of fried chicken, bacon, cheese and gravy laid between biscuits.

I felt like I was right to treat myself so I laid down for a take-out Reggie. This this is indeed super awesome. For starters, the bacon is perfect–neither crunchy or greasy–just bacon as it ought to be. The chicken is good, the biscuit is golden and tender. The gravy, just this perfect hint of cayenne. So hard to be financially responsible when this place can be walked toward quicker than it takes to tie my shoes.

Broccoli Romanesco Con Besciamella Arancio

No idea if I got the Italian even remotely right there, nor is this an Italian dish in any sense. But mmmmmmmm… did I enjoy this. This maybe the best broccoli of my life. And as I said in my last post, features the unique and mathematically beautiful features of broccoli romanesco–more or less just your average broccoli with only a slight passing for cauliflower too. And as promised, I made it totally vegan.

First thing you need to do is steam the broccoli. That’s just a matter of a pot of  boiling water with a steaming basket. Ask you can see, I quartered a carrot too, mostly for color but why not, right?

That sauce you see on the broccoli and the plate is just a standard bechamel sauce with the addition of the juice of a blood orange. Bechamel and its base of a roux I feel can sound intimidating, I imagine, being so French-y but conceptually it’s very simple. First you need a fat, butter is the standard, but I was going vegan so I used about 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a pan on medium heat (and aim your medium towards low, depending on your stove, burning is the greatest danger here.) When the oil heated I tossed in a heaping tablespoon of regular flour (plus maybe another small half, this wasn’t a good measuring day.) Just as the flour goes in you whisk–with a whisk or a fork–the ever-loving crap out of it. Do this until the oil and flour are mixed into a single substance and you notice some *slight* browning. Then start adding soy milk (or regular milk, either way) a bit at a time, still whisking your ass off, until it coats the back of a spoon nicely.

Comrades! What does it mean “coats the back of a spoon?” This is a common trick for getting sauces to a nice, velvety consistency. As you go you can take an ordinary spoon and run it through your sauce, then pull it up, turning the “bowl” of the spoon upside down. If the spoon is evenly coated–no glaring lumps–good start. Then draw your finger across the spoon, if the sauce holds form, doesn’t run into the gap created where you parted it like the Red Sea. You’re good. Also, as always, just use good instinct and add more milk or keep cooking to reduce liquid content if it seems too dry or too wet. A low heat and lots of stirring will save you.

Finally, at the end, take an orange (I used blood oranges because they’re in season and I love the color, but navel, tangerines, mineolas, etc. are all most exceptable) and juice it it. Add the juice to the sauce, mix to incorporate and serve on your broccoli or other steamed vegetable right away.

I like my work here because the citrus really adds the perfect flavor to the sort of sulphurous and semi-bitter flavor of brassica vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, but without the fat and over-powering taste of cheese. A bechamel sauce also lets you skip on the dairy completely while keeping the texture and much of the taste of a creamy sauce. I give this one an A.

Slow Week Going

Been trying to account for each penny spent this month, which hasn’t lead to a lot of grandoise kitchen experiments. But I made this yesterday and I thought it was worth at least a mention, if only to serve as reminder that I am still eating food

These purple potatoes made an appearance on my Peruvian steak night, and the co-op by me still has them on special so I nabbed a bunch to roast. For the potatoes, it’s just laying them on a baking tray (preferably metal for more even heating) in  a 425 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, depending on the potato size.

For an accompaniment I just made a fast relish out of onions–a yellow onion sliced about the width of a fingernail–which was slathered in olive oil and roasted sitting on top of the potatoes. Chopped it up with dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and olive oil in mostly equal parts. I also threw a frozen veggie burger in the oven in time to go with this. Was pretty good, but nothing to rock your socks off. But it does reveal my love for one culinary thing: relish.

I have checked dictionaries and seems there really isn’t a very specific term for what counts as a “relish,” but it’s also not just the chopped up pickles as you see in stores or associate with hot dogs. A relish is basically any fruit or vegetable prepared as a condiment to another dish. I have no problems with traditional cucumber pickles in any form, but there are also a lot of relishes that I also adore. Red onions marinated in red wine vinegar and chilis make a great, “cooling” addition to many Mexican dishes. A fast “pickle” of carrot and daikon in vinegar and sugar make the fabulous addition to the classic, Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. Cwikla (my Polish keyboard set up seems non-functional, but it’s pronounced “ch’veek-wah”) is a relish of minced beets and horseradish that I’m also highly partial too and owns the crap out of ketchup on hamburgers.

I think the whole concept of a relish is very neglected. In a country where obesity is a national crisis and everyone wants to talk about eating more plants, why not the relish? It’s not the focal point of a dish, but uses the subtle flavors of plants and seasonings to enhance the protein or whatever main staple of a full meal. Along with a side dish it can double your fruit and vegetable intake even if you’re not a fan of plants. And the varieties are quite endless; tart, savory, sweet… it’s a creative cook’s free form design!

And coming later today, speaking of things that are good for you, I’ve seen these at my co-op regularly and I was finally tempted to buy:

Brassica! Romanesco broccoli! Another thing about me, I am sort of a math geek, so a food that perfectly resembles a fractal cannot help but earn my admiration. I don’t want to chop or break its form though, and the only way I’ve eaten broccoli straight up was when my family slathered it in Velveeta. For reasons of want and necessity, I want to dress it with something vegan without resorting to the stand-by vegan substitutes–should you follow this blog regularly you might note on my vegan entries that I am not a fan of “substitution.” So that is my culinary task for the day.

The Rant and the Recipe: A Twist on Macaroni and Cheese

Recently NPR’s “All Things Considered” did a feature on a series of billboards in NY trying to scare Americans into thinking cheese is a prime cause of obesity in America and working towards banning it (“no more cheese! except in our taste for billboards!”) The perpetrators of this horrendous propaganda are the PCRM–one of the most illegitimate and scam-fueled crack-pot organizations on the food scene today. Dig yourself into the bounty of their scam charade.

Granted, foods topped with cheese are often bad on a nutritional level, but the campaign reaches the lowest dregs of logic and reason. A lack of general nutritional sensibility in America is not going to turn 180 by a ban. But research-based information is not for the PCRM and their financiers’ (PETA) strong suit. Scare tactics are. Good, legit, pragmatic diet tips from experts (the PCRM is none of those things) say the same thing: Moderation.

Moderation is not “cleanses” that do absolutely nothing but psych you out. It’s not the “Diet Plan of the Season.” It’s not “lose 20 pounds in a week with this simple trick.” It’s not PETA acting under and funding false “physician” groups to promote vegan diets. Lose weight? Cut calories. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Above all, a good, moderate health plan means not expecting results in unreasonable time spans. I myself am trying to lose weight, and I’ve dropped 13 pounds in several months, and no special diet plans were involved, just the same common-sense and scientific advice that’s been preached for decades now. And you know what else? I get to keep my cheese! As in this recipe…

Mac ‘n Cheese… With Chorizo, Roasted Peppers and Baked in Acorn Squash

This was a tinge of inspiration. I’ve seen plenty of recipes calling for baking items in hollowed out squash; and I know of baking mac ‘n cheese. This was just a touch of inspiration and more-so, this is a middle-finger to the PCRM, who say we should banish cheese. Here is my counter strike. This dish is *not*, I should say, low in fat or calories, but it does take a very common comfort dish and does diminish the calories, adds hella flavor and is really fun to prepare. And it’s pretty easy, despite the number of steps involved.

To start, you need to heat an oven to 400 degrees. Let it heat and take a baking pan/dish and line it with foil (this makes for 1 second clean-up later.) Take an acorn squash and split it in two.  Advice, comrade!: Acorn, butternut and many squash varieties are hard to cut even with a sharp chef’s knife or cleaver; thankfully, my friend Jess passed along this amazing bit of advice for cutting squash: put it in the microwave for one minute at a time, repeating and testing the process until that squash yields to your knife. I don’t know how I’d prep squash without her advice. It works like magic.

When your oven is heated, throw your squash in, on the foiled sheet, for about 40 minutes. I would advise using the top rack as it’ll crisp up and brown the top of the squash more, but this is not really important. Meanwhile, or within that cooking time….

Take approximately 1/2 a link of Mexican chorizo and draw a knife across it so you can split its casing. It’s important here to note that there is a major difference between Mexican and Spanish chorizo. Normally, I prefer Spanish, but Mexican chorizo is raw, soft and essential here. Add it, whole, to a small pan with a light coating of oil on a med-low heat (and when I say “med-low” I don’t mean “medium!”) Stir and try to break it apart gently with a spatula or spoon. More advice from Party Command: I rarely cook with chorizo, and even though I bought fresh-made, spatulas and forks could not break it down to a “crumble.” If this just happens to you too, just pass it too a cutting board and use a knife.

So when the chorizo was getting brown, had released some juiciness; I tossed in one minced garlic clove and about one half of a roasted red pepper (store-bought, you can find them in the deli section of a Whole Foods.) With a dash of paprika, salt and pepper; I lowered the heat to low and just let them sit.

Back-tracking a bit, just a bit before you start that mix of sausage and peppers, put a sauce pot of water to boil for the macaroni noodles. For the mac ‘n cheese part of this dish I went all out… Whole Foods boxed, but you can use the old Kraft if you want too. Although boxed mac ‘n cheese is not as good as the “real thing,” this recipe is not about “the real thing.” This is about simplicity and comfort food. So take your box, cook it as the directions say, and wait for MY further instructions…

Watch your pan of sausage/peppers/garlic and when the garlic starts getting a slight tan and your chorizo is cooked through, stop cooking. Add this to your mac ‘n cheese from a box when that’s done too, and stir. After 40 minutes in the oven the acorn squash should be tender–you can test with a fork–remove and when it’s cool enough to handle scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Reduce your oven temperature to 300. Spoon out a seedles bowl in the squash and add the mac ‘n cheese to where it’s just overflowing. Here you can sprinkle bread crumbs over top or hit a drizzle of olive oil if you like–but this is optional.

My gorgeous girlfriend, displaying the final result of the mac ‘n cheese.

Place the squash-mac back into the oven and let it cook until it gets to your level of done-ness. Here I do not think opening the oven to check is going to harm anything. If you want it lightly browned or crispy–use judgement and remove. Allow the bowls to cool. When ready serve on a plate. Best of all, this is easily tweakable. Vegetarian? Omit the chorizo, use tempeh or a diced veggie. Unsure about, or can’t find chorizo? Swap chorizo for Italian sausage or Andouille sausage.

This is comfort food at it’s best.

Purple-Orange Salad

One advantage to living in Oregon is closer access to California produce.  And one advantage of this time of year are blood oranges!

So at the store today I just wanted an easy, light salad for lunch. In these situations I usually will wander the produce department looking for things that seem interesting, well-priced and in good quality. And there… today…. were one of my favorite fruits in the world–the blood orange. If you’re unfamiliar with these, they are produced in Italy, are mostly available this time of year and they are…

PURPLE! Vibrantly purple too. Also, sweet and delicious.

I also saw dandelion greens that we’re cheap, not terribly fresh, but I knew how to crispen them up (more on that in a moment.) Dandelions are another food a lot of people are familiar with because they’re mostly known and hated as the most oppressive weed of them all. But here’s the thing, dandelions are weeds because they were first food. In Europe dandelions have been eaten for ages, used medicinally and naturally European settlers brought this with them to America. And we all know what can happen when you introduce a non-native plant to an ecosystem (not that your lawn is in any sense, an “ecosystem.”)

Dandelions have a rather definite bitterness to them, a bit like escarole with a deeper, plant-y flavor. Fortunately, a great way to cut that bitterness down so that it’s subtle is to add sweet… like orange juice. And it didn’t occur to me until I got home that I’d bought: purple oranges, orange carrots and purple-veined greens, plus had purple cabbage in the fridge. So it just turned into:

How to make:

1/2 of dandelion greens, rinsed and dried.*
1 medium-sized carrot, sliced or julienned
1 loose handful of finely shredded red cabbage
(optional) thin-slices of red onion

*if any greens you have are a bit wilted, but not turning brown/expelling liquid; give them 5 minutes soaking in cold, cold water.

These things just get cut into salad-sized pieces. Next you need a quick vinaigrette of:

the juice of one blood orange
about a teaspoon/dash of yogurt, sour cream or tahini (vegan version.)
salt and pepper
olive oil, or any dressing oil you may have

First juice the orange. The easiest way to do this is to cut it in half and squeeze with your other hand catching seeds as the juice runs through your fingers. Or just juice straight into the bowl and pick the seeds out. Add the yogurt/sour cream, salt pepper and stir. Why not use dijon mustard like most? For one, mustard and orange juice; second the creaminess also tempers the bitter greens; it sharpens the color of the blood oranges. Now you SLOWLY! add olive oil and whisk (whisk or a fork) until you’ve doubled the size of the dressing 1:1 ration. Toss this with the vegetables in a bowl and go.

Again, breaking with tradition of a usual dressing. 1:1 ratio is no way to make a vinaigrette in a classic way. However, these are sweet oranges and not strong vinegar so obviously I don’t need to drown them in oil. Another tip is to actually toss the salad. Salad dressing advertisements pour dressing and serve as presentation; this is great if you want to taste nothing but dressing at first, then have raw greens on the bottom. Final word on this, another way to make a vinaigrette is to add all your items to a small, clean, glass jar and shake vigorously. I don’t find this easier, but if you have trouble coordinating a whisk and slow poor, it works just as well.

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