Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | June 3, 2013

Time Moves On, aka, Part-Time-itis

Time marches … if not necessarily in a straight line, I think we can all agree it moves “on”.

This blog I’ve neglected pretty profoundly over the last few years, which is just pathetic. Some day, I may resurrect it, but that day isn’t today.

In the last few years, I’ve actually been attempting to eat healthier. Sure, I still cook. Occasionally. My wife does most of the cooking, though, as she’s far pickier than I and if I can be honest for a moment, she’s simply better at it than I am. She’s just bolder and more daring. And she’s mostly vegan. Eek!

Wasn’t what I’d been targeting or even thinking about when I started cooking, much less, learning French Cookery at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland. Great school, but not a whole lot of focus on making healthy eats, if you know what I mean. Anyway, since we made the switch to “plant strong”, which for me usually amounts to vegan four-to-five nights a week, I’ve lost 40+ lbs. And no, that’s not “with exercise”. That’s just from changing our diet. And only for the weekdays. Interesting, no?

I take over the kitchen on Fridays for home-made pizza night. My dough recipe is a single-day version of a whole-wheat crust I found in Cooks, minus the honey. I don’t make my own sauce, nor do I make my own cheese, but whatever. Pizza and a movie — and the kids love it.

Sundays, I make pasta. And yes, I mean “make pasta” — with my trusty KitchenAid mixer, 3 eggs and 2 cups of whole wheat flour (which I double), I get some spanking noodles that I’ve been spoiling my family with for the last 3 years or more. The kids are nuts about them! Sadly, the whole thing has utterly ruined me and my patience with restaurants that don’t make their own pasta.

Which brings me to my latest online obsession: high-end audio. For the last few years, I’ve been dabbling with writing audio reviews and providing media coverage of the audio events in the U.S.A. It’s been a hoot. I started offering banner space there last year, and as of January 2013, The Absolute Sound signed me on as a contributor. High-fidelity is treating me well, you might say. Not well enough to do much more than dabble, but hey, everyone needs a hobby.

So, thanks for stopping by! And feel free to check me out at Part-Time Audiophile whenever you get the chance.

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Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving time again

Well, the turkey is air-drying in the fridge and the loaves of home-made sourdough are sitting on the counter, waiting to be chopped up for stuffing. Broccoli will be pan-sauteed with a bit o’ garlic and some chicken stock. Saurkraut is all done. Cranberry sauce’ll be two ways — a can of the jellied stuff for the heathens and a fresh cranberry-orange version for those interested in something more adventurous.

This year, we’ve gotten some takers on sides, so my Mother-In-Law is bringing the mashed potatoes and green beans and my brother-in-law is bringing the yams and a pie. Sounds like a plan to me!

Can’t wait.

I think I’m gonna do the same thing as last year — big rub on the bird and basting with butter throughout. Worked like a charm last year, so why mess with success? I have some mushroom base that I might use instead of powderized dried mushrooms, but that’ll be the only serious deviation. The stuffing is going to be my special sourdough, chopped up with bacon, onions, celery and mushrooms, with some stock poured in. Mmmm.

Later today, I’m gonna be making an apple tart and a pumpkin pie. I’ll probably be unable to resist making a chocolate tart, too. I’m thinking: sucre crust, with layers of dark chocolate ganache and white chocolate mousse, served with raspberry sauce. That’ll be my dressy dessert. Oh, and I’m going to convert a pint of heavy cream into a whipped goodness, too. That should round out that end of the meal.

Served with your choice of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot!

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | November 3, 2010

Lasangna Two Ways

 

For those of you that don’t have a Cooks Illustrated subscription yet, shame on you. Okay, that said, I made a couple of lasagnas last week for a big family dinner. They were, in short, a huge hit. Which makes sense, because those Cooks Illustrated recipes rock. Of course, I deviated (wildly) from their base, so I’ll try and recreate a bit of what I did, here.

First up is the noodles. I made those fresh and, unlike last year’s lasagna attempt when I didn’t pre-cook the noodles, this year, they didn’t dissolve. Ahem. Anyway, I made 3 batches of the noodles, following this:

  1. 1c Whole Wheat Flour (I prefer King Arthur “white wheat” for this as you really need gluten development to make this work. Your “regular” bulk whole wheat might work fine, but expect that you’ll need to add some extra gluten to make the dough hang together well).
  2. 1c Bread Flour
  3. 3 large eggs
  4. 1t salt
  5. ~4T water

Mix flours and salt with paddle in bowl of stand mixer. Add eggs one at a time. Remove bowl & paddle from mixer. Lift “dough” from dry flour and sprinkle with water and knead with hand until dough comes together a bit. Attach dough hook and knead 10 minutes. Note, if you don’t add enough water to get all the dough wet early, kneading in the mixer is going to be very hard as the dough won’t come together. You’ll need to do it by hand at this point, which isn’t a lot of fun. Dough should be dry to touch and very smooth when finished. If during kneading, dough is very sticky and/or wet looking, you’ll need to add some flour. Add by the teaspoon until, after 1 min of kneading, flour is absorbed before adding more. If dough gets too dry, the hook will just spin the ball around in the bowl, so you’ll have to do it by hand, which again, is no fun.

Cover finished ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Put water on to boil — be sure to add 2+ T of table salt to the water.

Cut into quarters and flatten according to the pasta machine. I use the Kitchen Aid attachment. I put my dough hunks through a couple of times to get each to be about the width of the flattener itself before moving on to the next hunk. I start on “1” or the widest setting, then move to “2” and then jump to “4” and stop. Noodles are ready for cooking at this point. Dump them in the water all at once and cook ~2 minutes before removing carefully and transferring to a very large cutting board or directly on the counter. Don’t use paper towels as they’ll stick and that’s kinda gross.

I made two lasagnas with these noodles, a Spinach & Mushroom and a Hearty Meat Lover’s. I also used disposable lasagna pans — get the 3-4″ deep ones to get a nice stack of noodles!

Deep Dish Spinach & Mushroom Lasagne

Veggies

  • 2 bunches of spinach (or some other leafy veg), washed thoroughly
  • 2 boxes of button mushrooms (or whatever you can get, about 1#), trimmed and sliced

Bechamel

  • 1 stick of butter (unsalted), +2T
  • 1/2c of all-purpose flour
  • 1 lg onion, diced
  • 6 lg cloves of garlic
  • 6c whole milk
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1t nutmeg
  • 1t salt
  • 1c Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4t ground black pepper
  • fresh herbs (basil, thyme)

Cheesey Goodness

  • 1# Cottage Cheese
  • 2 lg eggs
  • 1/2t salt
  • 3c Parmesan cheese, grated

Rinse the spinach thoroughly. Blanch (cook for 2 mins) in boiling water and ladle spinach immediately into a bowl filled with ice and water. No reason to dump the blanching water  — just use it for cooking the pasta noodles too (or vice versa). Drain the ice water off the spinach and press as much water as you can out of them. I left mine in a colander sitting in the sink after this until I needed them.

For the sauce, first cook the shrooms in 1T of butter and 1/2t of salt on med-high heat till browned and about 1/3 of original size. I used a big 7q enameled Dutch oven, FWIW. Reserve. Add another 1T of butter and cook the onions on med heat till translucent, about 4 mins. Add garlic, cook ~1m, till aromatic. Reserve. Add the stick of butter and melt it. Add flour and make a roux. Cook on med heat, stirring, until roux has a nice nutty aroma, about 5-8 mins. Gradually whisk in milk to make bechamel. Add herbs, onions and garlic and the mushrooms. You’re going to want to bring this up to a boil (but don’t boil!). It’s going to get very thick at about 180 degrees — as it gets past this point you’re going to need to stir often to keep it from burning. At 200 or so, bring heat to low and cook for 10 mins. Discard bay leaves. Whisk in Parm, then salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.

Mix all the cheesy goodness together with a whisk. Reserve.

Ladle 1/4c or so of sauce on bottom of well sprayed dish. Add spinach to the remaining sauce.

Lay noodles across. Spoon sauce mix on top. Add another layer of noodles. Spoon sauce and layer of cheesy goodness. Noodles. Sauce. Cheesy Goodness. Repeat until you run out of space.

Should make one battleship of a lasagne.

Bake @ 425, uncovered, for about 10-15 mins until bubbling and browning, reduce to 375 and slip greased foil over lasagna and continue to cook till internal temp is 165, about 15-20 mins more.

Hearty Meat Lasagne

The noodles for this is going to come from the amount above. Note, if doing the recipe alone, one “batch” of pasta dough is usually enough.

Sauce

  • 2lbs of ground “meatloaf mix” (beef, veal and pork)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, mince or pressed or pasted
  • 1t salt
  • 1t black pepper
  • 1c heavy cream
  • Fresh herbs
  • 3 cans (28oz) of diced tomatoes

Cheesy Goodness

  • 30 oz of ricotta (whole milk)
  • 3c grated Parmesan
  • 1c chopped fresh basil
  • Fresh herbs, minced
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1t salt
  • 1t black pepper
  • 2lbs fresh whole-milk Mozzarella, grated as well as you can

For the sauce, use a large pan/pot and cook onions in olive oil & salt till translucent, ~4mins on medium heat. Add garlic, cook 1 min till fragrant. Turn up heat to med-high and add meat & black pepper. Brown meat lightly (it’s just tastier that way). There will be a lot of fat in the pan here and the temptation will be to drain it. Feel free, but I wouldn’t (and didn’t). Add cream and cook off the cream till mostly evaporated, another 4 mins or so. Add any fresh herbs you want, say, marjoram or oregano (basil is going elsewhere). Add tomatoes and bring the whole mess to a simmer for 20-30 mins or so, until tomatoes start to break down into sauce.

For the cheesy goodness, make sure to use Ricotta. This is the real secret to this lasagna, so don’t skimp on it and don’t use anything but whole-milk cheese or it’ll suck. Ok, maybe not, but it won’t be awesome. Mix 2c Parm, the Ricotta, herbs, eggs & seasonings in a big bowl and set aside. Keep that Mozz & extra cup of Parm handy.

In a well-greased pan, ladle some sauce to cover the bottom lightly. Noodle layer on top. Cheesy goodness on top of that in dollops — don’t worry about being even here, it’s gonna melt all over the place. Using a light hand, top with some Mozz. Ladle over with sauce. Noodles, cheesy goodness, Mozz. Repeat. Use that last cup of reserved Parm as the topping on the very top.

Cook as above.

Let the lasagnas sit on the counter 10 mins before cutting and serving. It’s gonna be messy, so don’t sweat it.

OMG. Soooo delicious.

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | November 3, 2010

Ruhlman on Grass Fed Beef

Ruhlman has a nice post about the differences in grass fed beef — and I have to say, he’s on to something. Like Ruhlman, I’ve completely bought into Michael Pollan’s manifesto on food — including the natural superiority of grass-fed beef — but my results have been very mixed. Interesting that there might be a reason for it: FAT. Or rather, not enough of it. Makes sense. Grass-fed beef producers take note — please fatten those cows up!

Locally, there’s a couple of places to get grass fed beef. Hedgeapple Farm is the one that stands out in my memory, but I find it hard to recommend them as all their beef comes totally frozen, but what I’ve had has been good.

EatWild has a list of the local producers in your area.

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | October 29, 2010

No, I Don’t Want To Be A Chef

I read this post by Anthony Bourdain on Ruhlman’s blog back in September and while it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, it did capture the feeling of not-quite frustration that I’ve had about career changing.

As I started to learn how to cook, and more, when I started taking all those classes at L’Academie de Cuisine, friends, family and colleagues have been pestering me about When I Am Going To Do It. Quit. Leave IT and go off and be a world-famous chef. I mean, I’m a cook now, so why not? Follow my dream! Be a chef! Live the life of glory and butter and bacon. So, okay, while I haven’t always thought this was a horrible idea, especially given how miserably bad my management is at my current job, I’ve never been seriously tempted. Why, you ask?

I’m too old.

It’s really not any more complicated than that. My knees are fine, but my back isn’t. Standing up for 8 hours a day is hard. More damning, I like being home on holidays. I also enjoy spending time with my family. And probably most importantly, I really like having money to be able to pay my bills. Being a chef — or more properly, a cook, since no one starts out being a chef — would pretty much eliminate all those pleasantries. Yes, perhaps I’d get real satisfaction out of my time at my job. Maybe. But it would break me, my family and my wallet to do it. And while that’s fine for a 20 year old who doesn’t know any better, for a guy like me, that’s just fucking stupid.

So, no, I’m not going to quit and be a chef. Instead, I’m taking quite a bit of satisfaction knowing that I eat better — at home — than all you folks do, even when you eat out. Ahem.

Just thought I’d share.

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | October 29, 2010

Tempus Fugit

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I updated this blog. Whoops.

Since I’ve been gone, I’ve started (and now almost finished) another 20 week program, this time with pastry. This was a bit of an impulse — I desperately needed to do something other than work — and by and large it’s been a lot of fun.

I think that’ll be my next project — updating with all the pastry stuff. Yum.

Stay tuned ….

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | November 24, 2009

A Cooks Illustrated Thanksgiving Turkey!

I have the in-laws coming for dinner on Thanksgiving. A whole lot of ’em! Luckily, the duties were doled out, so I’m pretty much left with the bird and gravy. Not too shabby. I ordered a 22lb “natural” heritage turkey from the local co-op, which I just picked up today. Immediate problem? It’s gi-NOR-mous. So much for brining that sucker in a stockpot. Out came the cooler!

Brine

  • ~3 gallons of cold water
  • 1.5 cups table salt
  • .5 cups light brown sugar
  • 1T cracked peppercorns

A lot of folks add all manner of stuff to their brines, but I have to tell you, I think it’s pretty much a waste of time. Sure, water-soluble chemicals can be dragged back into the meat, but in my experience, it isn’t much. Salt, however, works like the dickens — and is the key to having your bird hold onto its moisture during the cooking. Sugar helps brown that waterlogged skin — that and a prolonged air dry. Peppercorns? Why not.

Whatever you decide to add to your brine, just be sure the entire thing stays very cold — below 40 for the entire period!

I brine with a “light brine” over for a long period — 14 hours or so. You can halve that pretty easily — just double the salt! (My bird is in the brine right now, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving!).

Tomorrow morning, I’ll rinse the bird off, pat it dry and set it in the fridge to dry for the following day.

Thanksgiving morning, I’ll start prepping the skin with the rub. Rub? Yeah!

Rub

  • 2T Sage
  • 2T Parsley
  • 2T Thyme
  • 2T Rosemary
  • 4t Powdered Porcini mushrooms
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter

Gently melt the butter in the microwave — you don’t want this too hot when you apply it. Powderize (super-finely chop) the herbs and add to the butter. The mushrooms I use are a dried package — I clean out the coffee grinder and render the ‘shrooms to powder and add them to the butter too.

If the skin of the bird is very dry, apply the rub to the outside of the skin, coating liberally. If it’s loose, slip the rub under it! If your bird is really big, double the rub!

As for cooking the bird, I’m going to follow the Cooks Illustrated method. Preheat the oven to 400. Nuke my stuffing to 130 degrees, jam it in the bird, strew 2 chopped carrots, 1 large onion, and 2 chopped celery stalks into the pan with 1 cup of chicken stock. Put the bird on a rack over the veg, breast side down. Roast for 1 hour at 400, then turn down the heat to 250, and continue to roast for another 2 hours. Then, flip the bird (easier said than done), and crank the heat back up to 400 for the last hour. The bird is “done” when the breast is 160, the thigh is 170 and the stuff is 165. Larger bird? Might want to extend that low-heat period by an hour — but you don’t want the bird at 150 when you crank up the heat or it’ll over cook. I’m guessing here, but I’m thinking that you should be about 130 when you flip for that final stretch — the goal here is to brown that skin while everything comes up to temp.   Bird

Let it rest 1 hour before carving.

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | November 24, 2009

Roast Beast w/ the trimmings

Prime or Choice, I love rib roast! The “trick” to rib roast is to slow-cook it, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. High heat is the enemy of tender meat. That said, a fine sear really does boost things tremendously! So, sear-then-roast was my way to go. But what to go with it? How about Yorkshire pudding, turnip puree and a nice horseradish-cream sauce? Mmmm. Yum.

I really need to get around to putting those recipes together.

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | September 30, 2009

Hiatus

Had to take some time off. Vacation followed by new job followed by interminable training for said new job. Assisting at L’Academie was one of things that got lost in the shuffle. [Sigh]. Maybe next year.

I’ll be back!

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | August 14, 2009

Mushroom Ragout on Puff Pastry with Spinach

Day 4 of CT101 at L’Academie. On the menu, a series of dishes showcasing mushrooms & greens. This one was my favorite:

Mushroom Ragout on Puff Pastry with Spinach

Ingredients

  • 2T shallots: finely chopped
  • 1T garlic: finely chopped
  • 1C Shiitake mushrooms: medium dice, stems removed
  • 1C Cremini mushrooms: quartered, stems trimmed
  • 1C oyster mushrooms: large “dice”, stems trimmed
  • 1C button mushrooms: quartered, stems trimmed
  • Sheets of puff pastry, cut into 3″ squares
  • 1/2C Madeira
  • 2tsp dried mushroom powder
  • 1/4C sun dried tomatoes: fine chop
  • 1/4C heavy cream
  • Spinach bunch
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Chives
  • Fine herbs (your choice)
  • 1 egg, whipped (egg wash)
  • Optional: bacon/lardons
  • Optional: veal stock

Preparation: Ragout

If you’re using bacon or lardons, start with these. Large “chop” is fine. Sweat in large pan — and by “sweat”, I mean low heat as you’re not looking for color (but that’s fine), just reducing their moisture content. You’re not going to need any fat in the pan at this point. When the bacon has released “enough” fat, you can add the garlic and onions. I’m guessing that this’ll take about 5 minutes. Remove and reserve.

Turn up the heat, say, medium high. Add olive oil. You don’t want the oil to burn, so add the oil to the already heated pan. When it starts to smoke, add ‘shrooms. Pan should sizzle! Add big pinch of salt, toss to mix & coat, then saute for color. That is, let them sit for several moments, then sti … then sit … then stir … until they’re nicely browned.

Note: my “other” chef instructor like to dry saute his shrooms. That is, no fat in the pan. This is kinda cool — as the dry shrooms bounce around in there, the squeak and squeal. However, this instructor thinks that this unnecessarily dries the mushrooms out, so he always cooks his shrooms in fat. I’ve done this both ways, and cooking in shrooms in fat does lend to better coloring, but if you’re counting calories (LOL), then skipping the fat here is an option.

Add about a teaspoon (or more) of olive oil to the pan as necessary, and add the shallots, garlic & tomatoes. Keep the heat up, but keep an eye on those shallots & garlic as they’ll tend to go from “okay” to “burnt” pretty quickly.

As the onions begin to color, add wine to “deglaze”. The recipe we were following recommended Madeira, but dry white wine or brandy would also work very well. Scrape up anything on the bottom of the pan (assuming nothing is burnt). Bring back the bacon, if using, add your chopped fresh herbs — parsley & thyme are nice, but marjoram and/or basil would probably work too. At a guess, I’d say, maybe, 2T of chopped herbs would be nice at this point. Add mushroom powder.

Note: mushroom powder is another interesting use for dried mushrooms that you can get at the store in little pouches. Many moons ago, I posted a rant about these things — how the texture never comes back when they’re reconstituted, how they kinda suck, and how they’re only good if the end product is a puree. Well, I’m changing my stance. Now, these little bags are going into the grinder. Blitzing the crap out of them renders a really fine powder that you can use to pop the hell out any mushroom dish, or any old dish you want to add some shroomy depth to. Since they’re dried, grinding them is a snap. Storing them is likewise a snap — but do keep them in a cool, dry, dark place. Remember that ground anything looses its pungency faster than whole anything, so to maximize your investment, you might want to consider freezing the ground powder until use. Just a thought.

Cook the wine au sec, which means pretty much cook the wine off. You’re ready for the cream when the pan no longer has a punchy wine aroma and/or the wine is all but gone.

Turn heat down to low.

If you’re using veal stock, this’d be a good time to throw some in. I’d say add a couple of ounces, or 1-2 ice cubes worth of the stuff if you made your own. Don’t add too much as you’ll want to reduce it to near-dry, that is, a bit wetter than au sec.

Add cream, stir, simmer till thickened. Cover, set aside until necessary — refrigerate as needed.

Preparation: Pastry shell

At this point, it’s probably time to start fussing with the pastry. Preheat oven to 400.

Puff pastry, or just “puff” as you’ll hear cooks and foodies talk about it, is pretty awesome stuff. Essentially, it’s layered dough, with flour and water sandwiched between butter. Good puff has oodles of layers, so when it’s heated to a decent temp (400 is a good rule of thumb), the water in the dough and butter starts to evaporate, causing the dough to lift quite rapidly, creating a matrix of flaky goodness. You can buy puff pre-made, and I recommend you do so and just keep some in the freezer till you need it.

What you want is a sheet or two, depending on how many of these squares you’re going to do — but that’s what you want, squares. I’m suggesting 3″, but there’s no reason you can’t go bigger or smaller, depending on how much you want to emphasize the puff in the final dish. Cut them, lay them on parchment paper, then stick ’em back in the fridge to firm up.

Note: be aware that puff is dough. It’s a pretty wet dough, so it’ll stick like crazy to just about everything. Hence, we want it kept cold. Do not pull puff out of the fridge until you’re ready to play with it!

To prep the squares, you’re going to make two interesting cuts. The goal is create a puff cup that the ragout is going to sit in, so we need to create a lip around an indented center. To get this, you can make cut-outs in the puff and fold them over. It’s a bit hard to explain, but what you want to do is this:

With your very cold puff, find a corner. You’re going to start at that corner, about 1/5th of the way toward the center, so very close to the corner. Very carefully, begin to cut through the puff in a line parallel to the edge of the square as if you were cutting a second, smaller square out of the center of your puff. Take that cut about 4/5ths of the way to the next corner. Go back to the start of that cut, right at that first corner, and make the same cut along the other edge, again stopping about 4/5ths of the way along that edge. What you should have at this point is a “flap” of puff that is unattached except at the two corners. Repeat this for the opposite corner so that you have two flaps.

Once cut, brush the entire surface with egg wash. Be careful here — you do not want to glue the puff to the parchment or it won’t rise, so keep all the wash to the surface exclusively.

Then, very carefully, fold one flap over till it’s corner lies flat and flush with the interior corner you just cut. Repeat with the other flap.

What you should have is a square-ish shape with loops on two ends, but essentially it’s a cup shape of cold puff. Brush with egg wash again, and again, taking care not to glue the puff to the parchment.

Pop into oven and bake until it not only rises, but turns a rich, dark golden color. If your a Thermapen addict, you’re looking for 210-plus.

Remove from oven. You should have a cup with a nice raised edge. With a sharp paring knife, gently cut through the top layer of the golden crust that forms the base of your little bowl and pull that off and set aside. You’re going to put your goodies in your bowl and use this as a lid!

Preparation: Spinach

Wash your spinach thoroughly — get all that sand and grit out of there. In a hot pan with some liquid — water or stock is fine. Big pinch of salt. Manipulate with tongs to keep the spinach as close to the heat as possible, and wilt the spinach. Remove from heat and pour off any liquid.

A good idea to warm the ragout while this is going on — finish it with 1T of butter, whisked into the sauce.

Assembly

Puff on plate, add spinach to cup, top whole with ragout, add some chopped chives. Serve.

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | August 6, 2009

Endives

Endives are very bitter, which is an interesting thing to add to your plate especially if you’re paying attention to the whole salt-sweet-bitter-sour thing (which is an unadulterated goodness, IMO).

Endives are grown entirely enclosed in dirt, so the only thing that should have a greenish color is the very tips (the part that pokes out of the ground). Note that this growing method tends to create a rather fussy vegetable, that is, it likes what it likes — which is darkness. You need to store endive? Don’t put it in a plastic bag. Try paper. Better yet, aluminum foil — just keep it away from the light or it’ll start to oxidize and turn a delightful shade of gooey brown as it dissolves. Yum!

They’re hard to find, unfortunately. Unpopular, I guess. But this means that the “endive section” at your local grocer is likely to have some rather un-spectacular specimens on display. For you the shopper, you want a clean, yellowish-white veg with pale green only at the very tips. The whole should be exceedingly firm to the touch. Softness or brownish spots = old endive, so stay away — they’re extra bitter and since part of the endive joy is crispness, old ones kinda suck.

I’ve had endives raw — in appetizer salads, or even as the vehicle itself for a salad, such as an endive leaf holding a small salad of mandarin orange slices and shallots tossed in a light white wine vinaigrette and topped with toasted almond slices. Pretty much perfect.

A common (for Europeans, I guess) way to prepare endive is to braise it. That is, slow cook it in stock (veggie or chicken are fine) and serve it up as a side dish to something light, like chicken or fish. Personally, my favorite way to do this is with a “meuniere preparation”. Observe:

Braised endive meuniere

Ingredients

  • 2 (or more, as needed) whole endives
  • Stock (chicken or veggie)
  • All purpose flour
  • Butter
  • Chives (or some other fine herbs, including parsley, thyme, sage, &c)
  • Lemon juice

Preparation

Cut the endives in half and lay cut-side down in a buttered skillet. Partially cover in stock, say, up to the halfway mark on the endives.

Season with salt, pepper & a pinch of sugar.

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the endives.

Cover with a buttered “cartouche”, a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of the inside of the pan, leaving only about 1/2″ on the outside exposed.

Bring to a boil on the stove and finish in the oven at 350. Should take about 20 minutes, maybe more. Endives are finished when you can pass a knife easily through the stem end.

Remove from any remaining broth and let cool.

Dredge in flour and shake off any excess.

In clean skillet, add ~1T clarified butter. Heat on med-high. Lay the floured endives in the pan and generously brown on both sides, ~5 mins a side. Make sure to turn enough to brown all the flour.

Remove to plate.

Working quickly, add ~2T of “regular” butter to the hot pan. Brown the butter — that is, cook the butter in the pan till the milk solids begin to turn brown and smell nutty. Do not burn the butter! Add herbs, toss to coat, and cook for ~1 minute.

Pour over endives.

Serve!

Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | August 6, 2009

Ratatouille

I have tried. Hard. And no matter what I do, how I make it, what I change up, whether I roast the vegetables first or not, I simply … DO … NOT … LIKE … ratatouille. It’s just gross. At it’s best, it’s veggie soup without the broth. At worst (and by far the most common), it’s partially digested lumpy baby mush. And who really likes eggplant, anyway? Ewww.

It seems to be de rigeur to make this dish in just about any French cooking techniques class, but for the life of me I can’t imagine why. I guess it’s because “vegetables” happen early in the curriculum, early enough that knife skills are still being over emphasized, and ratatouille has a bazillion things to chop up. Not that it matters, since when it’s properly cooked, none of that precision dicing is going to be visible. Like I said, this is mush.

Ok, fine. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • Zucchini: md dice
  • Yellow squash: med dice
  • Eggplant: large dice
  • Fresh tomato: chopped
  • Red/green bell pepper: med dice
  • Onion: med dice
  • Garlic cloves: whole, smashed
  • Tomato paste
  • Tomato juice
  • Salt, pepper, bouquet garni

Note about quantities: generally, ratatouille is “equal parts” of all the veggies. So, if you’re going to use a single zucchini, use comparable amounts of every other vegetable, with the exception of the garlic. 3-4 cloves should be more than enough for a pot of 1 zucchini, 1 squash, 1 eggplant, 1 onion ratatouille.

Preparation

In a skillet on low heat, sweat the pepper and onion. Use a decent EVO if you have it. Add a pinch of salt to get the juices going. This should take about 15-20 minutes.

In a large bowl, drizzle the eggplant, zucchini & squash and toss to lightly coat. Spread out on sheet pan and broil to add some color and dry them out. Watch this closely — 5 minutes may not do much, but 20 may char them. Color = good. Char = not good. Check & stir ever 5 minutes.

Add garlic cloves to the skillet.

Add ~2T of tomato paste to skillet, and work it to cook it through. You want the sweet tomato smell to give way to some nuttiness. Add chopped tomatoes and broiled veggies.

Add ~1c of tomato juice.

Add bouquet garni, season.

Optionally, add (pitted) olives.

Optionally, add sprig of fresh rosemary.

Simmer on low, covered, for about an hour till all veggies are cooked and the veggie flavors have had time to meld. And turn to a mushy slop.

Ratatouille should be soupy, but not runny, and all veggies should be cooked to the point where the bits of veg are soft and cut edges are indistinct.

Top with chiffonade of fresh basil & serve.

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