avoiding mistakes, find.eat.drink, over cooking, polenta, pulled short ribs, reading recipes

Plethora o’ Polenta Fries

There are things to consider when looking at recipes on the internet:

  1. Are the ingredients things you already have on hand or do you have to put on pants–normal pants, not the sleepy pants you’ve been putzing around the house in for the better part of the morning–and join the rest of humanity? (This is very important and usual makes or breaks a recipe option).
  2. How much time will it take? Should I have started this 170 degree slow roast last night, before I went to bed, or should we just plan on having dinner tomorrow morning at 2 am?
  3. Can I remain sober while cooking this recipe or, because it’s my day off, will I find myself melted into the couch listening to a killer ’76 show and playing PS3, forgetting that the recipe calls for more than just peeling two shallots?
  4. What is the exact yield of the recipe?

It’s that last question that I fail time and time again with. I over produce. I blame a bit of it on my grandmother. She grew up during the time of food shortages and rationing. She always made sure that there was enough for anyone, if you had it then you were lucky and you shared it because it may not be there tomorrow. Even to this day you could stop by for a visit with her, explaining that you just had a five course meal, and she would still offer you something to eat.

“Want me to make you a sandwich? Something small? Potato salad?”

For her, it was her way of making sure that her family never went without. For me, it’s pure obliviousness. I’ve overcooked my entire life mostly because I don’t tend to pay attention to the yield. I know this. I went to culinary school so I know one of the first things you’re told is: “Read the entire recipe over. Then read it again before you start anything.” Absorb and understand the task you’re about to take on. I’m mostly good about that rule, except for not paying attention to the amount of food I would be producing.

So, instead of soup for two, I get soup for twenty; lasagna for 15, pork belly for 10–you see where I’m going with this. Those things are all well and good to have an abundance of because they, somewhat, keep for a few days or can be frozen for a future dinner. Polenta fries, however, do not translate so well.

I had been eying the recipe for the fries on Find.Eat.Drink when they were posted some time ago and, having fallen in love with them at Caiola’s, I thought I’d give it a go at home. They were wonderful, I must say. Crispy and creamy, with the nuttiness of the added imported Parmesan– they were wonderful and I quickly gobbled up three before the oil had a chance to cool.

They were, in fact, better than I thought they would be–which is to say that they reached beyond my hope that they ‘not suck’ and made for a hearty and filling side with some braised and pulled short ribs.

So, yes, all was well and good. Until you realize that I made over 5lbs of fries.

See? This is an army of polenta soldiers waiting to turn into rocks an hour after they’re consumed. A half pan would have been more than suffice. In fact, we could have done with less than a dozen fries–not the 32 I ended up with, most of which died a quiet, greasy death in the refrigerator before they were tossed.

So please, learn from my mistakes and when you read the recipes–actually friggin’ read them or have the shame that I did at seeing so many go to waste.

brining, charcutepalooza, corned beef, pickling, the year of meat

Charcutepalooza pt. 3: Brine It.

This month’s Charcutepalooza assignment seemed like the easiest one we’d have overall. We were told, using Michael Ruhlman’s ‘Charcuterie‘ book as a guide, to simply brine something. Chicken, duck, beef or what have you–just throw it in your brine for the appropriate amount of time and cook it how you see fit. This was our next step in our lessons on salt and worked to show us how our chosen cut would react to a long bath in a salt water and seasoning medium.

Brining is an easy way to add flavor and moisture into your cut and I’ve done it numerous times with chicken, pork and beef–basically anything I could fit into my gallon sized Tuperware container without taking over my refrigerator.

For me, with this being right before St. Patrick’s Day, there was little doubt that I wanted to use a brisket to make a corned beef boiled dinner. But, I wanted it to be a bit more special and my goal was to have the meal completely composed of Maine grown/raised/procured ingredients. Luckily, even in the last gasps of a long, snowy winter, it wasn’t too hard to gather it all up.

The brisket came from Cold Springs Ranch, in North New Portland, ME, via Whole Foods; the pickling spice was purchased at Rosemont Market on Munjoy in Portland;the cabbage and Potatoes from Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, ME; the side of Jewish Rye Bread was baked in Litchfield, ME at Black Crow Bakery. The only ingredients, though purchased at Whole Foods in Portland, that aren’t Maine made were the butter(for the bread), salt, sugar and pink salt.

The centerpiece, of course, was the beautiful brisket with it’s deep red flesh from it’s grass feeding and lean with just the upper shell of fat across the top. It bathed in juniper berries, clove, cinnamon, chili peppers, mustard, oregano, dried citrus peel, coriander, salt, pink salt, water and sugar for exactly seven days. Half way through the week, though, panic set in as I checked on the progress of the whole experiment. The meat, so striking in the picture above, sat gray in it’s brine.

Gray meat, I don’t have to tell you, is not a pretty sight and I’ve had it before with previous corned beefs I’ve made and, most recently, the tongue(that apparently did traumatize me so much that I can’t stop bringing it up lately). But, this isn’t suppose to happen, right? I mean, isn’t that the whole point of using sodium nitrates to eliminate this meat unsightliness?

I became angry, frustrated and then disappointment. I looked at the recipe in the book 10 times in less than 20 minutes, rechecking the required amount of pink salt. I blamed a possible error on my part as the cause of the gray mass. But, I had it right. In fact, I followed it to the letter and was baffled at what was before me, still lingering in the brine.

I stomped out onto the deck and had a cigarette when, to calm me down and give me some clarity, the Missus reminded me that I had 300+ bloggers I could reach out to for advice and to see if this was happening to anyone else. So, after my ‘chill the f out’ cigarette, I went to bed and logged onto the groups Facebook page when I woke up the next morning and posted:

The following was a conversation I had in my head after reading the posts:
See, this is normal *exhale* *inhale* You’re not the only one. See, everyone using a brisket or tongue is having a bit of gray, too *exhale* With a string of recent cooking/baking fails, I couldn’t take one more long project failing because I had misread something or mishandled ingredients. The admin of the Facebook page was also nice enough to post a picture to prove that they’re all a little gray on the outside. I hadn’t failed, I had only overreacted.

And, thankfully, this one wasn’t a failure. While it was slightly gray on the outside, it was exactly what I had hoped for on the inside: pink and peel away tender. Towards the end of the cooking time I cut the cabbage into eighths and added it to the pot with the corned beef. The potatoes were done in a style that I knew growing up as “salt potatoes.” It’s a style, introduced to me by my mom when I was still living in Albany, where you essentially add several cups of salt to the water you’re adding the potatoes to for boiling. They turned out to be a well chosen side as the brisket, even thought it was more than half the weight recommended for the recipe, had very little saltiness to the meat.

Then, after several hours of a very low simmer, the meat was pulled and set aside for slicing as I plated up everything else.

This Irish girl’s early St. Patrick’s Day tribute to my adopted home was complete and worth every fret and flutter it caused my heart. Thanks to the Charcutepalooza crew that helped to ease my fears and reminded me that one of the huge points of doing this group project is to learn from, and lean on, each other when we need it.

chocolate brownies, condiments, cravings, eating too much, eating until your belly hurts, edible obsession, Local foods, mid afternoon snacks, pairings, WTF

Shelf Analysis

‘Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are..”–Jean Anthelme Brilliat-Savarian

Some people get a kick out of going through other people’s medicine cabinents to see what secrets their friends and neighbors are hiding–and lets face it a good number of our friends and family are on some pretty fucking interesting medications. But, that just may be me projecting(Busy Brain is as interesting as I get these days). My little fetish is that I’ll snoop your fridge for an insight in who you are. With all of us either labeled, or self proclaimed as, ‘Foodies,” your refrigerator holds your modern shame. If I had taken this photo one hour later, you would have seen three cans of Pepsi Throwback on the top shelf. If I had photographed the vegetable crisper you would have seen a noticible lack of vegetables and and abundance of cheese: Petit Agour, Dubliner with Stout, Dubliner Cheddar, 8 year Gouda and VBC’s Herbed Chevre.

Some of our predilections are obvious and well established, like the ones in my family. I have a feeling if I were to walk right now into my mothers house and open her freezer, there would be 5 gallons of ice cream, frozen dinners and frozen meat. My sister, Rachael, would have left over pasta and meat balls and lots of milk for my three nephews and brother in law. There would be something in there made out of one of her cuilinary school books. I’m guessing there would be remnants of a cake.

This is a look inside of my refrigerator, something very few have actually seen the inside of–the most notable person being a vegetarian coworker I traumatized by showing off my pickled tongue to. I think my food experiments freak a few of my friends out. Hmm… that explains so much..

  1. Butter: Lots of it. This was actually bought to make brownies and polenta with. I ended up not even needing either pound.
  2. Cream Cheese: Plain. We rarely have bagels in the house and this was brought in to make a peanut butter cream for the middle of #7 in the next picture.
  3. Cat stuff. You know ‘Ashy Larry’ from The Chappelle Show? Our cat, Sophie, is a bit like that, minus the crack problem(she opts for catnip, bud and lemon grass). This is cost $10 and was suppose to help and she refuses to consume it willingly.
  4. Pickled Jalapeno’s. I’m actually not sure when I jarred these and, now that I look at the picture, am a wee bit afraid to open it. I think it will remain one of those fermenting things in the fridge that just gets moved around and never opened.
  5. White Truffle Oil. Fancy, I know. It’s only use has been for risotto. It expired last month.
  6. Hakushika Snow Beauty Sake. I’d like to say what I purchased this for but I can’t remember. It may have been after a trip to Pai Men. It may have been because I thought the bottle was pretty. It may have been because I thought I would actually drink it. I obviously haven’t.
  7. Cholula Hot Sauce. One of 5 hot sauces in the refrigerator at the moment. This is their chili garlic flavor and my favorite topping for scrambled eggs on a day off.
  8. Three Wishes Cabernet. Whole Foods answer to ‘2 buck Chuck.’ It cost $2.50 and was purely purchased as a cooking wine. It’s probably vinegar by now.
  9. Sriracha. Purchased to help recreate the Pai Men Pork buns we had for Thanksgiving dinner.
  10. Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar. Like many things purchased at TJ’s, this was bought out of pure curiosity over functionality or use in my kitchen. And, like so many other TJ’s branded things it wasn’t that fantastic. I believe this was used for a marinade. The only thing I buy from TJ’s these days is coffee.

  1. Polenta setting overnight to make ‘Crispy Polenta Fries‘ from Find.Eat.Drink. For us, the recipe should have been cut in half, or even 2/3’s, as it made a good 2-3 dozen thick cut fries.
  2. “If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream”–Julia Child. I’m afraid of neither and often have both in the house. This was used to make the ganache for #7.
  3. Morimoto Soba Ale. I brought this into the house sometime over the past year because of a reading a while back that Joe @ PFC recommended it highly. Because I don’t drink beer I rely on others to turn me on to brews to bring home to the Missus. This was one of them and it’s been there for over 6 months. If it’s salvageable, it will be used to make tempura.
  4. Cranky Rooster Eggs from my Cape SoPo Winter Share. Since posting about it two months ago there has hardly been a day where these eggs have not been in my kitchen. Truth be told, my last pick up from the Winter Share had three dozen eggs in it. Three dozen for two people. The yolks, as orange, tall and firm as ever, have made me catch my breath more than once at the sight of how just exactly perfect they are. I probably shouldn’t have said all of this because now you’re going to scoop them up before I’ve placed my order. Jerks.
  5. The required slab of bacon. Uncured, smoked thick cut from Whole Foods 365 line. It was the least expensive bacon in the cooler and far from the best. Too thin(even though it clearly said ‘thick cut’) of a strip made for an easily overcooked, dry piece of bacon. Thankfully it was easily saved on a breakfast sandwich made with the above mentioned eggs.
  6. Beef Shank. I was going to braise it and went for short ribs instead. It’s now living in the freezer.
  7. Peanut Butter Truffle Brownies I dropped the ball on photographing these before they were devoured to the point of pain and then given to my co-workers to get them out of our sights. They were heaven. I added a bit of Mascarpone to the peanut butter mix and substituted some all-natural Nutella knockoff for the peanut butter in the ganache. This was at their final chilling stage.
  8. Castelvetrano Olives. The ‘Kermit’ Olive. So bright green that it turns people off. It seems unnatural but they are one of my absolute favorite olives and worthy of their own ‘Edible Obsession’ themed post. Think less briny and more sweet; A black olive in green clothing with more tanginess than meatiness to it’s flesh. Primary use: sliced and added to a four cheese quesadilla.
  9. Bay Leaves. All of my days off are spent cooking long projects, like braises, and it also includes stock making, whether beef, chicken or vegetable. So, naturally, I use a lot of bay leaves.
  10. Hellman’s Mayonnaise. There are three major things I just can’t make the ‘all natural’ switch to: Ketchup, Peanut Butter and Mayonnaise. I don’t care how bad it is, I refuse to part with it. From creaming up some deviled eggs(do you sense an addiction being confessed before your eyes??), slathering on a sandwich or going Dutch and having some with french fries, I refuse to compromise on mayonnaise. Not only is it a dressing in so many childhood linked food memories(like Grandma’s Potato Salad, Mom’s Deviled Eggs) but it just has a better flavor to me.
burger-o-rama, district, new restaurant, o-rama, restaurant week, trying new restaurants

Burger-O-Rama pt2: Fine Dining

I’ve been looking at the lights of District for over 4 months now. Literally a stones throw from our apartment, the Missus and I have found ourselves saying over and over again, “We really need to check it out.” But, as days became weeks and then turned into months, we found ourselves still saying but never going. So, when the ‘Fine Dining’ was the next theme of our reviews, and I saw that District was available, I chose it to finally force our stomachs into going– especially after hearing a friend call their burger one of the best in the area.

I will say that my one regret is that we didn’t go at night, instead opting for a lunch visit late last week. The space, which was extremely quiet at lunch time, has a larger interior than the outside lets on and I could easily imagine the space packed with happy, buzzy diners. I wanted to see it at it’s full stride because it felt like we were seeing it a bit out of context. It’s not that the service lacked(in fact our waiter was very sweet and engaging and obviously loved working there) or that the food was sub-par(nothing could be further from the truth, in fact)–it was just the space itself seemed awkward not full of people. Of course, this desire to see it at it’s full potential just motivates me more to get us over there for dinner sooner than later. The quality of the food also already has me wanting to go back.

Falling at the beginning of Restaurant Week, we had their lunch menu available to us–which included a full offering of their apps and a few sandwiches–as well as a special 3 course (app, entree and dessert) offering for only $15. I will say that I was a bit miffed that my burger cost($12.00) nearly as much as the Missus’ choice for the special menu, but that was soon dissolved when her choice of in house made charcuterie arrived and she cared enough to share it with me.

A perfect quinelle of duck rillette, paired with caperberries, cornichons, mustard and crostini. From the first bite, we were believers. The rillette, one of many offerings of in house made charcuterie, was one of the best we’ve had in Portland–and we’ve had some damn fine rillettes in this town, from the former Evangeline to Bar Lola. It was creamy, flecked with whole grain mustard and cornichons and had the perfect amount of gaminess from the duck. I wanted to walk upstairs to the kitchen and give a giant hug to the chef who made it and ask him for a mason jar of it for the road.

But, you’re here for the burger, right? Now, I will admit that this is probably the first and only time I’ve ordered a hamburger at an upscale restaurant. I don’t equate the two at all in my head. Upscale dining gives you dishes you can’t make at home while it tends to be the greasy spoons that give you the burger you rave about for the rest of your life. However, it can easily be said that District makes a hell of a burger.

House cured bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato confit and the ever popular brioche bun combined with a huge 1 1/2 inch thick patty cooked to a beautiful–just slightly over rare–medium temperature and a whopping side of fries. I assume, because so much of what District offers on it’s menu is house made and local, that the beef was ground on site and traveled less than 100 miles to get to their door. Beautifully marbled meat made for an interesting time of trying to out pace the juices that ran down my chin. Though, I must admit, it was a bit odd to be wiping it away with a crisp linen napkin instead of a throw away paper one. But, it was worth the effort as the burger was beautifully seasoned and satisfying.

The ‘buttered bun’ was a fine vessel for the dense patty, airy crumb and slightly toasted. The bacon, thick cut,slightly smoky and crisp seemed to melt into the fat of the burger and made for the perfect meld of beef and pork. The cheese, a cheddar, was something I actually never order on a burger, was alright though it didn’t seem plentiful enough, or sharp enough, to really stand up to density of the whole thing. But, we know my affinity for cheese and sometimes it needs to be pretty definitive to stand out. The only thing that was kind of ‘meh’ about the whole thing was the tomato confit–which I’m still not sure that was the dressing on the burger– that was below the bibb lettuce leaf beneath the patty. It gave a slight acidic note the whole burger but, for the most part, was lost beneath the richness. After a week of barely eating,the whole meal proved to be too indulgent and half the plate came home that evening to also be my dinner.

Now, was it the best burger in Portland, as a friend mentioned? Sadly, it was not–but I didn’t really expect it to be. I expect them to rock my face off with bone marrow salads, braised beef and Schnitzel–not a burger. In fact, I would say that the pulled pork sandwich that the Missus had as part of her RW menu was a slight step above the burger as far as all around enjoyable. But, because the burger was as good as it was, and because that little taste of the duck rillette sent us over the edge with joy, we’re more likely to pop around the corner for a bite to eat–and you should too. It’s obvious, by the care, flavor balance and presentation, that there’s a hell of a lot of talent in that upstairs kitchen and I can’t wait to see what else they can do.

District on Urbanspoon

Want to read about some other burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here, here, here and here.

cupcakes, lemon curd, martha stewart rules the world, meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon Cupcakes–Foggy Brain edition

I’ve been sick for the past week and haven’t had much energy to cook. There’s been a lot of rummaging through the pantry for something edible and a lot of questionable meals thrown together with items found. The past two days, while I’m on the mend, my cooking has been more out of boredom than a true desire. And, because I lack the energy and mind to write something of substance, this post is kind of piddly.

The recipe, for the cupcakes above, is a combination of this lemon curd and a half batch of Martha’s cupcakes. It’s nearly Spring–at least that’s what I keep telling myself–and the flavors are a nice departure from the heavy winter fare I’ve been sustaining myself with over the past few months.