Bachelor chow

No, not the Futurama kind, though I’m sure it will strike many as close enough.

Lisa is back east for training this week. Unlike past weeks where I got super ambitious with food, I thought I’d make it simple tonight. Bratwurst and leftover mashed potatoes.

Except after browning the brats I decided to make gravy. With beer. Bert Grant’s Fresh Hop Ale, to be exact. I let the brats cook down in the beer, then added mustard for flavor and flour for thickness. As Neko Case sings, “It looks a lot like engine oil and tastes a lot like being small.” Except it’s like nothing I ever had when I was growing up. I think I had to wait till my first trip to London to taste it.

Yes, I’ve now mastered pub cuisine…

Leftovers night

The Julie/Julia Project may have its Spicy Thursdays; I have, at least while Lisa is on the road, Leftover Tuesdays. In this case, though, the leftovers were steaks from a beef tenderloin that had been roasted in an herbed salt crust (for the curious, you dispose of the caked salt—it just ensures consistent temperature distribution, retention of juices by the meat, and some small amount of seasoning).

Being a fundamentally masochistic person, I decided that I couldn’t just do leftovers. So (after using our new random-orbital palm sander to buzz off the trim in the Gold Room prior to tomorrow night’s painting) I tried cooking mashed potatoes with parsley and chive oil (it’s in this month’s Gourmet, but probably won’t be on Epicurious for another few months). I halved the recipe but had proportion problems. For instance, I decided to substitute sautéed shallots for chives, since we only have one very small pot of the latter. And I probably didn’t have enough parsley (though our parsley plant is overproducing, I didn’t want to cut off every leaf). So as a result, the potatoes that were supposed to be bright green and presumably bursting with herbaceous flavor…weren’t quite. Still good, but next time I’ll stick to roasted garlic.

Yeah, I definitely need to add a Food department

I wasn’t going to blog any more today, but I gotta brag. I was talking to someone today about Lisa being on the east coast this week, and she said, “Oh, so you’re eating a lot of pizza, huh?”

Yeah, right. With Lisa out, I can cook risotto and pork chops and all the other food I really like that she doesn’t like on a regular basis. So that’s what I did. Basic white risotto with pancetta (from Boston, natch), rosemary, and sage. Grilled pork chops with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Fresh string beans on the side.

The pork chops are a revelation, actually. I left a few in a brine of sugar, salt, juniper berries, and peppercorns for about 48 hours and then grilled them. (Well, technically they’re pancooked, but the pan has grill ridges, so that counts, right?) The resulting flavor is too intense to describe. Tony can keep his birthday lapdance from Christina Aguilera; I’ll stick with my risotto and pork chops, thanks.

Better dinner at Wild Ginger; day with Shel

On a friend’s recommendation, we went back to Wild Ginger for our anniversary last night. This was a complete 180 from our last visit. We were seated promptly, the service was attentive and knowledgable, the wine steward was brilliant, and the food was exceptional.

Today our friend Shel is visiting. We’re about to go to the public market for ingredients for a vegetarian feast, after eating bread, cheese, and a salad made with greens from our garden (arugula, dandelion greens, frisée, etc.). Shel is the sort of friend who can make a drizzly Northwest day a lot of fun.

Mario in the house

We watched Mario Batali make orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe yesterday afternoon in front of a large crowd at the Festa Italiana Seattle. He was appropriately fun and informative, explaining the rationale behind using hard semolina flour for his orecchiette, then busting a little on Emeril (he added a clove of garlic to the sauce he was cooking and said, “Bam. Now you’ll notice that’s the only ingredient that makes a noise going in…. Don’t get me wrong, I like Emeril a lot. But we have different styles. I prefer to let the food do the talking.”)

Mario also managed to set a towel on fire. He had been letting his saute pan heat over a gas burner, and as soon as he added oil flames jetted up a good two or three feet into the air. He said, “Now when this happens in our kitchen we don’t get loud or panicky. We just say, ‘Smokey, put that fire out!’” He then proceeded to try to smother the flames with a towel, which promptly caught fire. He tossed it to the stage and stomped it out into the green plastic carpet. Afterwards his dad (who runs a great salumeria in Seattle) crept onto the stage to retrieve the towel and could be heard saying, “It’s stuck…”

Afterwards we tried out some of his dad’s salumi, which were tremendous, and got an autographed copy of Babbo, Mario’s cookbook. It was a good time.

James Beard rocks

Before I went to Ikea to get a replacement cabinet side, I put dinner in the oven. We had some brisket that I needed to cook, so looking over my newly unpacked cookbooks, I found a recipe idea from one of our James Beard cookbooks that looked good.

I put a long piece of aluminum foil in a roasting pan, sliced an onion and a half thinly and put half down in the foil, laid the brisket on top, put the rest of the onion on top with salt, pepper, a little olive oil, and a splash of red wine. Then I sealed the aluminum foil over the meat, put the whole thing in a 250° F oven, and forgot it for the next four hours. As I was putting rice on the stove, I just peeked into the foil after verifying the meat was up to temperature: it’s swimming in juices and smelling heavenly. Pot roast in a pan. This James Beard guy knows what he’s on about. (Surprising I don’t have a “food” category—I guess I’ll need to start one.)

Working on the move

The WSJ says that housing purchases were really up last month. Glad that we bought when we did.

Dinner at Todd English’s Kingfish Hall tonight. Much better than the Rustic Grill across the way. Great wine list, excellent seafood, beautiful outdoor seating. Bloated now, but happy.

Finally, I’m grateful to announce that this site has the #1 hit for the term “sammiches” on Google (including Google Belgium, from where the referral hit came that tipped me off). For the uninitiated, a “sammich” is related to a “sandwich,” only with much less lifting of pinkies in the consumption thereof.

Other North End recommendations

New York Times: In Boston. Julie Flaherty reports about the state of Boston, including dining out.

I agree about the Daily Catch (and note that it’s possible to find a meal for two for much less than $50, especially if you’re not shy about trying unusual calamari dishes—they range from the normal fried squid to squid meatballs!). It’s long been one of my favorite restaurants. It’s got about eight tables around an open kitchen, where olive oil and garlic is in splattery abundance. House wine is served in plastic cups and a really excellent pasta con seppie nero (black squid ink) is served in a hot sauté pan. Don’t go if you don’t like smelling like your dinner; it took a week for the garlic odor to come out of the coat I was wearing the first time I went.

There are plenty of other excellent options, though, like Taranta (where we talked to a few of the wait staff about living in Campania), Mamma Maria (which had some really outstanding pappardelle with rabbit), Limoncello (which is next door to us and served so much good food and limoncello that I don’t know what to write about), the newly opened Carmen (a wine bar next to Limoncello that has $3-$4 wine plates, an enormous wine list, and outstanding pastas), Trattoria à Scalinatella (run by the owner of the Wine Bottega), Artu, Antico Forno, Assaggio,Terramia… and then all the pizza and sub joints…

Man, I’m going to miss living in this neighborhood.


A justification for my behavior

New York Times: Chug, Don’t Sip. Relax, they’re talking about tea. Suddenly my wife’s habit of returning from weekend trips to London with enormous Harrod’s shopping bags full of loose tea seems sensible:

Those who drank the most tea — about 19 cups a week — were the least likely to die in the three to four years after [a heart] attack; they had a 44 percent lower death rate than nondrinkers.

Now if there were only advice on how to keep one’s teeth from browning under that regimen…


Let it snow

It’s been a great weekend. Primarily because I’ve procrastinated.

Friday I got in a solid chunk of work on a project for New Product Development. Then I crapped out. We made an Italian meatloaf — that’s made with ground beef and Italian hot sausage, with hard-boiled eggs in the middle, and some other good stuff that I won’t discuss now, then covered in the tomato sauce that Lisa canned this summer. Saturday I got a little work done — mostly just hung out with Lisa, shopping etc.

Today was the real red-letter day. It was the first snow of the winter last night–supposedly two inches, though the ground was too warm for accumulation. Lots of pretty flakes with no side effects–my favorite kind. We got up early, went shopping. Came back with Lisa’s Christmas present. We definitively decided — she’s a Tiffany girl. Did some cooking afterwards: a killer pork rib roast. Dry rub the pork with salt, pepper, cinnamon, rosemary, fennel… wet roast it in beef stock and wine with quartered oranges… serve it with more sliced oranges and reduced roasting sauce. Oh yeah. I’m delighted to report that two years in business school haven’t killed my cooking abilities.

So this week will be miserable. That’s ok. The weekend was worth it.

Why you should buy cases of wine

Got this list in an email from our friends at the Wine Bottega (who still don’t have a Web site; hmm, maybe I should do something about that). It’s excerpted from Wallpaper magazine:

Buying Wine

There’s one golden rule when purchasing wine: buy it by the box. No, we’re not talking about wine in a box but 12 tempting bottles packed into a cardboard container. While this does involve a little planning and is perhaps not as spontaneous as nipping out for an extra bottle of Kent Rasmussen you should remember that:

  1. You will always drink more than you planned
  2. A box demands you try new varieties.
  3. You usually get a discount for buying volume.
  4. For every degree the thermometer drops in winter, the wine shop moves another block away.
  5. It will never go to waste.
  6. You always have something to bring to impromptu dinner parties.
  7. Carrying home a single bottle of wine after work makes you look like an alcoholic.
  8. Walking out with a full case suggests you have your intake under control.
  9. You never know what you are going to cook, so diversity is important.
  10. Boxes usually mean delivery. Delivery means delivery boys (or girls). You fill in the rest.

Popcorn, Peanuts, Cracker Jack, and BEER

Many thanks to my employers for the summer for getting me tickets to a Mariners game last night. While the team lost (one of only 32 times this summer, out of 115 games), it was still an amazing game — probably more so because we were on the first deck rather than up in the nosebleed seats.

Safeco Field, despite the name (who started this whole corporate naming trend, anyway? It’s pretty hideous. Candlestick Park is so much more evocative than 3 Com Park, even if the stadium is in bad shape), is a really great space. Only about three blocks from the water, there’s a great view out over the harbor from the outside and good local color provided by the trains that come by once or twice a game.

The only criticism I have is the beer. I like Alaskan Amber, but it’s the only drinkable draft that I could find in the ballpark (though Red Hook was available in bottles, part of the magic of the ballpark experience for me is draft beer outside). And it cost $6 a cup. Not only that, but they were serving Coors Light in 16-oz. cups, while you could only get 12 of Alaskan. I remember Camden Yards fondly: They had microbrew stands that carried a wide variety of regional beers at much more reasonable prices. Then again, they didn’t have the Number One Team in Baseball.

Tasty Medicine

Why do I obsess on the beer issue? It could have something to do with the fact that I don’t normally follow baseball. But the real reason is that it’s good for you! German and Czech medical research shows that beer lowers the risk of coronary heart disease by raising the levels of folate and vitamin B12 in the blood. While I don’t doubt that the German and Czech researchers had a subconscious stake in the results (what, you thought they’d recommend grappa?), I’m still going to be quoting this study for a long time.

For Amateurs

Not that this has anything to do with the rest of the piece, but my wife and I (yes, she’s back in town for a few days–yay!) ate at Seattle’s famed Wild Ginger last night. Sadly, we were very disappointed. While the food itself was quite good (though very mild compared to the Thai food that inspired it), the service was so far below sub-par it wasn’t even funny. We got there half an hour early for a 9:30 reservation (so we could hang out in the bar and chat) but weren’t seated until 9:45. The waiter was condescending about the wine list (which was overpriced)… Enough rant. Bottom line: go to Flying Fish instead. Much better experience.

So, “for amateurs.” Douglas Rushkoff in the Guardian wrote this piece that echoes my feelings about the possible harm from the dot-com fallout. Rushkoff says, “The point is to do what we do online because we love it…Anything done in this very transparent medium for any other reason gets exposed. It’s as if the more active mindset we use to navigate the internet allows us to detect the intentions of its many posters and navigators. If there’s no real passion for anything but revenue, we know it. We can smell it.”

I have long thought the same about music (in the immortal words of choral conductor Robert Shaw, “Choral music is like sex. Both are far too important to be left solely to professionals”). I think on some very fundamental level this can be generalized to our work, our private activities, our interaction with our families. Purity of motive and honesty about motive count for a lot in my book.

Of Good Beer and Bad

I make it a point to try beers that I’ve never had before whenever possible. It’s kind of the same principle that makes me want to eat tripe in Florence or beef tongue in London–both of which were pretty darn good, btw. The nice thing about beer is that rarely is even the worst stuff anywhere near as scary as the concept of beef tongue.

Le Mal

One exception was a fine brew made by a former housemate of mine. Those of you who have the misfortune to have a friend, relative, spouse, or close acquaintance with more beery enthusiasm than skill know what’s coming and can skip ahead.

After a day of the 1996 version of the snow “storm of the century,” and being thoroughly unable to move my car, my housemates and I decided to empty the fridge of all drinkables instead. There were a few OK beers, which were passed around for tasting in an early 1970s Polynesian-restaurant tiki glass (now in the possession of Jim Heaney). Then we started hitting the bottles with no labels.

It is indicative of the state of our minds that we took a minute to remember that our former housemate Dina, who had left us in the late summer of 1995, had experimented with making beer with her then-boyfriend, now-husband Ian. Both had pretty impeccable scientific credentials, and with much excitement they put away some beer and some hard cider. There were two bottles of each left in our fridge six months later.

We were lucky and hit the cider first. I say “lucky” because the pure alcohol left in the bottles by the yeast they had never removed prior to bottling numbed our taste buds for what was to come. Then we tried the beer. To this day, I can’t remember what it tasted like, only that it cured my desire to make beer for good.

Le Bien

Fortunately, if the brewers at New Belgium Brewing ever had this experience, they moved past it. Michael Jackson (the beer hunter, not the “king” of pop) isn’t kidding when he says that their Trippel has “a huge, earthy floweriness.” If I hadn’t bought the beer myself I wouldn’t have believed it to be an American brew. Figures I had to go to Seattle to find this Colorado gem.

More beer notes to come after the Washington Brew Fest this weekend.