New Years’ cuisine

Feels funny to be back at the office today. No one is around. It’s very quiet. I want to go out in the hallway and make some kind of loud sound just to see if anyone is awake.

My in-laws are still in town. Lisa will likely be taking them all over Seattle today and tomorrow in a search for a traditional Italian New Years sausage called cotechino. The usual recipe, which we cooked last year but I inexplicably failed to comment on, is cotechino with lentils. Because the cotechino sausage is so large, it looks like a coin when sliced, and the meal is supposed to bring good luck for the New Year. I don’t know the symbolic meaning of the lentils, but having them is for me a nod to my uncle’s traditional New Years Day dish, Hoppin’ John, which features black-eyed peas rather than lentils.

I hope they find the cotechino. I remember the recipe as tasting much better than Hoppin’ John. Given the dubious existence of good Italian butchers in greater Seattle, though, we may be stuck…

Vacation day 2: more arrivals, cooking…

My parents came in right on schedule this morning, and I brought them straight to the house (where they oohed and aahed appropriately). The day was mostly catching up, as my parents toured the house for the first time and we did some shopping.

The main event so far, appropriately enough, has been dinner. I took two chickens and, with the Lucadamos’ help, got them soaking in a brine solution (half cup each of sugar and kosher salt or sea salt, some black peppercorns, then enough water to cover the chicken) where they waited, refrigerated, all day.

At dinnertime, after I made Lisa and my mom some Blood Orange Cosmopolitans (a Mario Batali recipe), I pressed my dad into service slicing potatoes in thin slices, which I then laid down in a single layer in the bottom of two roasting pans. I then took the chickens out of the brine, cut the backbone out of each (reserving it for stock), flattened the ribcage with the heel of my hand, and laid each on top of the roasting pan. I then threw them into a 500° oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. I filled a pot with water and added a little sea salt, then turned the heat on. When the timer rang, I moved the chicken around, pulled out some of the crispier potato slices, and set the timer for another 15 minutes. At that point I threw broccoli into the pot, covered the chicken on top with foil since the skin was starting to go a little mahogany brown in some places and kept watching the temperature until it hit 155°, then pulled them out and served everything. The chicken was good, though I could have brined it longer, and the wine Lisa picked saved everything.

Hurry up and get here, Esta. We need someone else to cook and wash dishes… 🙂

After dinner reading: Garry Wills, Mr. Jefferson’s University (thanks to Greg for the recommendation).

Quick tasting notes: St. Bernardus Abt

Lots of good stuff tonight. In fact, I was going to post two tasting notes, but I can’t taste the Saison de Silly right now. I have tasted the St. Bernardus Abt and I can’t taste anything else at present.

Oh my God, what a beer. Dark, malty, slightly syrupy. Smooth. Deep flavors. Nose like freshly baked bread like so many Belgian ales. Aftertaste like a fruit—apples, maybe.

This is my first beer in my long delayed membership in the RealBeer club. (I bought it in September at the Seattle Beer Festival but they lost their Seattle distributor, and just started a new contract.) I think I’m in love.

Quick tasting: Sam Adams Winter Lager

My friend Andrew brought a taste of Boston to our housewarming last night: a six-pack of Sam Adams Winter Lager. Like most lagers, this one is a lot lighter than its winter ale brothers—the taste is mostly hops with very little malt. There’s a slight hint of ginger and a very small hint of caramel but not much of anything else. Not bad, but not great either. Disclaimer: I’m not a big lager fan, particularly in winter.

Quick tasting notes: Orchard Street Jingle Ale

The Northwest has a wealth of small independent breweries, and each seems to be in the holiday spirit with the production of holiday ales. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, a holiday (also known as Christmas ale, winter ale, or seasonal ale) is a one-off ale, usually dark, brewed with various spices.

I had resolved to make notes on each of the holiday ales I’ve tried this season; alas, I’ve let the Pyramid Snowcap and one other whose name escapes me by without taking notes. But Orchard Street Jingle Ale is far too good not to review. Dark and sweet almost but not quite to the point of heaviness, apparently spiced with ginger and cinnamon, complex and satisfying. If you’re in the small distribution area of this beer, you’re lucky. I’m going to try to get up to the brewpub to check this stuff out from the tap (they’re in Bellingham, so it might have to wait a while; no official web page that I can find).

Day after Thanksgiving

We had a great Thanksgiving yesterday with Ed and Gina. This was the first time they had a dinner party in their new house, and we were happy to contribute. We did the first course, Risotto a la Milanese, which is a basic white risotto with pancetta and saffron. We then kicked around pitching in here and there on the turkey and other food while drinking wine, which means that the rest of the afternoon while we waited for the food to finish was just a happy warm feeling.

Almost forgot to mention: Ed is a computer monster. With something like six PC towers around, two PS2s, two PS1s, an XBox, a Dreamcast, a Saturn, and shelves full of old Intellivisions, Colecovisions, 2600s, and an Apple IIe for good measure, the place is full of gear. Plus software. Suddenly my 900 CDs don’t seem so bad.

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.