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Two new obsessions: One Seasonal, One Not

Three things today for all of you guys:

1) First of all, I have only recently discovered the joy of the sunchoke, or jerusalem artichoke.  These little tubers are delightful.  Roasted plain, they are delicious.  They are like an artichoke heart, but better.  I cannot believe that it’s taken me this long to discover these little guys at the farmer’s market.

Get yourself some and try them for yourself.  They are delicious.  Just cut them in half and roast them up with some oil, salt, and pepper.

2) Num Pang.  12th St. and University.  Get there.

The place opened up last year in March, but somehow escaped my realm of cognizance.  But not any more.  They have a few sandwiches, but I can only speak to the pork and skirt steak sandwiches.  They arrive with some cucumber, carrots, and cilantro, on a toasted piece of bread with a spicy mayo.  A few squirts of sriracha, and we were good to go.  The pork is fatty and smoky, and as the picture above illustrates, it’s as tender as can be.  The softness of the meat is offset by the toasty crunch of the bun.  Just load up on napkins, it’s juicy.

There’s another shot.  Just because.

On another occasion, I had the skirt steak.  It’s more or less the same, but features some freshly griddled skirt steak.  It takes a little longer than the pork, which is already prepared, so be ready for a little bit of a wait.  The steak showed up with a lovely crust on the outside, but was just a little too medium for my taste.  I actually prefer my skirt steak cooked all the way through, especially when it’s been marinated, but this was still pretty good.  I still prefer the pork, but the steak was pretty good, too.  They have some other stuff, too, and I think they will soon be tried.

3) Monsanto gets named Forbes company of the year.  Quite a recovery from all of the negative press and the slamming in Food, Inc.  I haven’t read the article yet, but it definitely piqued BB’s interest.

mmm, silky.

It’s been too long, I know.  Based on all of y’all who end up on my site after searching for “silky (or any variant of spelling) chicken,” I figured it was time at long last to cook the darn thing.

As you will recall, I bought some chickens from bo bo chicken farm, based out of upstate New York.  They are not organic, as mentioned, but raised locally, so that’s still better than nothing.  I roasted that regular young chicken ’till he was GB&D (golden brown and delicious), to steal from Ming Tsai (what’s that guy up to, anyway?).

Now, it was time for his silkier cousin to get cooked up.  There are a lot of choices for chicken, but I knew that black chicken would be a special case.  When I was sold the chicken, they tried to push some baggie of sticks and stuff that was the base for a soup.  Silky chicken tonic soup, they call it (here).  At the time, I wanted to roast the thing, just to see what it tastes like by itself.  But when I pulled the little guy out of the freezer, I didn’t think that was such a great idea.

There were other braising recipes, like one from Patricia Yeo, but again, the ingredient list consisted of too many items that I would have to travel to get and/or require some sort of special translation.  I decided to make something up.  The only thing I knew I wanted to include was star anise.  That was pretty much my only requirement.

So I pulled a few items out of the spice cabinet.

I was making this thing up, so I figured I could use as many ingredients as I wanted.  The basics were: star anise, cinnamon, lemongrass, soy sauce, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, brown sugar, juniper berries, pink peppercorns, red wine, vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, and these wasabi sesame seeds that my stepmom gave to me (re-gift from her bro).  I also had diced carrots and onions.  I wanted it all in there.

I started out by butchering the chicken.  I realized one thing about the silky chicken: not a lot of meat.  As in, REALLY not a lot of meat.  Practically none.  It’s just a mass of grey flesh and grey bones and purple skin.  Maybe the one I got in particular was particularly devoid of breast meat, but there was nothin.  Tiny little breasts and decently sized thighs, although nothing to write home about.  I also couldn’t figure out where everything was, it was all just a little bit different from a normal bird.

Anyway, I probably mutilated the thing, but it’s all good.  This was all in the name of science.

After that, I went about my way with pretty standard braising steps.  Browned the chicken.

Now, if you will notice, when the breast is cooked, it still turns white.  This is because it has less myoglobin, which apparently is what makes meat dark or light when cooked.  More myoglobin= darker when cooked (also means that it was a slow-twitch muscle, like legs, shoulders, etc).  Anyway, this was kind of disappointing, since I wanted the flesh to be grey, even when cooked.  Also, in case you were wondering, the blood is still red, too.  Can you say “disappointment?”

After browning it up, I took the chicken out and sautéed the veg in the fat (there wasn’t much) and then threw all of that stuff into the pot after deglazing with a combination of rice wine vinegar and red wine.  Everybody went into the pool.  Then, I cooked it down for about 45 minutes or so.  That was it!  Roasted some fingerlings on the side, and cooked up some baby bok choi in butter and sesame oil, and Bob’s your uncle!

As you can see, it looks kinda like chicken.  And, sorry to disappoint, but it also tastes… like chicken.  It really didn’t taste much different than the other Bo Bo chicken.  Which isn’t a bad thing, but I was hoping it would taste like, well, something else.  Anyway, enjoy, and try to get one if you can.  Buy local!

Speaking of local, I got some Milk Thistle farm chocolate milk.  Quite tasty.  Ronny has competition.

Also speaking of local again, got some R-brook Vanilla ice cream.  And I put chestnut purée on it.  That was delightlful.  See if you can get some of that stuff, too.  The purée is from France, but I’ll allow it.

Waffles without a waffle maker? No problem.

After a long string of eating out, I have not been cooking as much as I’d like to.  However, over the weekend, burgergal and I decided that it was time for pancakes.  Time for easy pancakes.  The type that you just add water to.

I know, not very b4b style, but hey, they are quick and tasty.

On this Saturday morning, however, I wanted something different.  I wanted waffles.  But I don’t have a waffle maker…

until now.

I do have a foreman grill.  And no, it’s not the fancy kind that has replaceable plates.  I just have an old school one that has not been used in around five years.  After a thorough washing, the only issue that existed was the slant of the plates.  An obvious fix was propping that bad boy up.

A measuring cup and a moist paper towel, done.  Now, a quick mix of Aunt Jemima complete pancake mix and a little oil, we were ready to go.

Thinking that the plates would be too close together if there weren’t any spacers, I rolled up some aluminum foil and put it on the sides.  I told you these were budget waffles.  I put the lid down, waited a few minutes, and then I had these.

After a few minutes between the plates of the Foreman, you have  an interestingly shaped, slightly shaped ruffled pancake.  But it TASTED like a waffle, and that is all that really matters.  With a little fresh maple syrup from Vermont, it was all good.  Try it next time you want to recreate a memory of Belgium.  Belgium, Wisconsin.

Look it up, it’s real.

Another brilliant idea for egg nog.

In addition to the egg nog ice cream I made a few weeks ago, the Expatriate’s Kitchen has a great-looking recipe for egg nog french toast.  More than I wish I could have it right now, I wish I had come up with it first 🙂

Check it out here.

Also, she highlights a great website in her post TODAY to help manage your environmental footprint: Brighter Planet.  Check it out.

Butternut squash Faux-sotto. Almost as good as the real thing.

As promised, the second half of the butternut squash saga.  The first half, of course, included the squash mash.  For the second installment, I wanted to do a healthy take on risotto.  I’ve been eating like a heifer lately, so it was time to trim it down.

I decided that it might be interesting to try to use butternut squash as a substitute for the rice.  The challenge: getting the squash to stay al dente while being cooked.

Since I was using a lot of squash, which is pretty sweet when cooked, I needed some additional flavoring that would complement the dish well.  I decided to go with some great tamarack farms bacon (I mean, why not), onion, garlic, and rubbed sage.  For a twist– instead of parmesan and butter, I decided to use blue cheese for the richness, which I felt would add some tang to the dish.  Then some fresh green onions and chopped apples to brighten it up a bit.

Since I don’t have a ricer, I had to cut all of the squash by hand.  As you all know, I am a master with a knife, so this was a piece of cake.

Actually, it was a PITA.  I wanted a good mixture of small pieces that would be the “rice,” while some larger chunks would add some of the texture and really make the butternut squash stand out.  When it was done, it looked like a bunch of cheddar cheese, but smelled like a pumpkin carving contest.

With the squash ready, it was time to start building the base flavors in the pan.  First step: BACON.  First of all, this Tamarack Hollow Farm bacon is just tremendous.  It crisps up perfectly, but retains a nice chewiness that melts in your mouth.  These guys are another example of a small step doing something great– the couple that owns the farm up in Vermont basically bought a couple of pigs so that they could eat ethically-raised meat, despite their long distance away from such a food source.  Great story, and from the looks of things and the positive press that they are getting, it’s working out for them.

I made only a few some small lardons and rendered some of the fat.  Being a healthy recipe, I didn’t want to use too much fat in the dish, especially since it was going to be finished off with some blue cheese.

After this had rendered a bit, it was time to add some onion (some of those green bits are scallions that got mixed up on the cutting board), and then finish that off with a quick dusting of rubbed sage.  I only had the dried stuff, but in this case I think it worked out.

After cooking this stuff until just tender, it was time to add the butternut squash.  Everything was smelling great and it was time to pump up the party.

After adding all of the squash, I realized that this was not going to cook quite as I had hoped.  The small pieces would cook through, but the bigger chunks would not cook all the way through.  I realized I was going to have to take a risk and add a liquid, much like a traditional risotto would.  My fear was that this would make everything turn to mush, so I was very light-handed with the liquid I added.  Knowing that the dish had enough flavor as it was, I was ok with adding water, but I would have preferred to maybe use some veggie stock.  I added it slowly and cooked it off just like real risotto.  As my boy on Chef Academy says, I put in the crushed garlic in at the end of the cooking process.  Lastly, when everything was cooked through to my liking, I added the blue cheese and the green onion, finished it up with a few of the chopped apple chunks.  DONE.

Delicious.  And pretty healthy (I think).  Tender bits of butternut squash mixed in with more al dente bits, all coated in a light layer of creamy blue cheese (saga blue).  A little brightness and some of that allium-flavored goodness.  A few cracks of black pepper and some sea salt to finish, what a masterpiece.  Definitely will be making this again.

A man, a plan. Squash, beets.

I have made time to make dinner for myself two nights in a row now.  While I usually do eat at home during the week, I rarely make it a big production.  For the past two nights, however, I have found myself wanting more than mere sustenance.  I have wanted to eat something a) fresh b) relatively healthy and c) tasty.

I was off from work on Wednesday, so I made the trek down to the Westside Market on the UWS.  I was going to go to Fairway, but didn’t feel like it, to be honest.  It was already 5.30pm an I knew the lines would be out of control already.

Totally unsure of what I was going to make, I picked up a few random items and decided I would challenge myself: parsnips, a butternut squash, Saga blue cheese, a couple of tomatoes (I know, I know, not seasonal, but they looked pretty decent), baby arugula, bartlett pears, gala apples, vegetable stock, this great pre-made roasted artichoke couscous they have there, and some other stuff unrelated to this blog post (cereal and soy milk if you must know.  burgerboy like soy milk).

I got home with no idea as to what I was going to do with these random ingredients.  Since I have been doing a lot of traveling and galavanting about town, I have had little time to keep my refrigerator very stocked.  I took a quick inventory of the fridge: random condiments of various ages, corn tortillas, couple of Ronnybrook yogurts and an eggnog, an old ziploc bag with dark miso, baking soda, a bottle of club soda, ground flaxseed (yes, I am an 80 year-old man. And I am allergic to salmon, so I need to get my omega-3’s, ok?), and some really old coffee grounds.  The freezer was not much better.  Although that black chicken is looking ready to be used and abused.

Slightly discouraged and ready to call up Land Thai, which I have saved in my phonebook, I gave one quick glance in the far drawer.  This drawer takes a lot of effort to open, because it requires the refrigerator door to be fully opened, which requires moderate agility and effort based on the configuration of my apartment.

Here is a diagram.

The drawer is on the left side of the fridge.  See, that requires some work.

Anyway, I opened this drawer and discovered… BEETS!  I had bought them a few weeks back from the Rexcroft Farm at the D’ag farmer’s market, and they provided me with the inspiration that I needed.  I was going to make a roasted beet, pear, and blue cheese salad with arugula and toasted butternut squash seeds, and a butternut squash mash over the roasted artichoke couscous.  BAM.  How’s that for some quick thinking?

I threw the beets into the oven at about 375 degrees and let them work their magic while I prepped the rest of my dishes.  I cubed up the butternut squash and toasted the seeds with some cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt, and set those aside to top my salad (after snacking on about half of them).  Then it was time to make a bartlett pear wish it had never been picked from the tree.

Look at those skills.  That’s my handy steel in the background. I really showed that pear who is boss.  I think it looks like a big grub or something like you’d see on Andrew Zimmern’s show.

There’s another view.  I thought it was cool.

I pulled the beets out of the oven and let them cool down a bit as I prepared the butternut squash.  For that, I took the cubed butternut squash (pretty good-sized chunks, maybe an 1-1.5″), threw about a cup and half or so into a non-stick pan with some oil, browned them, then added a little water into the pan and covered it to steam the squash through.  When they were fork-tender, I dusted them lightly with some cumin and a little rubbed sage, added a touch of brown sugar to glaze them, and threw in some freshly chopped green onions.  Done.

With that completed, I put my knife skills to the test yet again, this time with the beets.  They didn’t look as cool so i didn’t take a picture.    But I did take a picture of the finished product.

Look at that sweet action.  Look at that layering, look at the attention to spacing and composition.  Look at those nuggets of creamy blue cheese and crunchy bits of butternut squash seeds poking through the spicy baby arugula.  So many simple flavors, coming through in a symphony of salty and sweet, creamy and crunchy.  Dressing, you ask?  Something this good needs only a light-handed pour of some organic olive oil and a few splashes of balsamic vinegar.  It kinda reminds me of a culinary school 101-type dish.  Since I didn’t go to culinary school, I am ok with that.  Well, technically, I did go to a culinary school, but I didn’t learn to cook there.

I also had my couscous on the side, but it looked a little more bland by comparison.  But it tasted damn good.  And just so you guys don’t think I am out of control with portion size, the plate below is not a full-sized dinner plate, I promise.

Tune in next time for but’nut squash, part 2: Faux-sotto, or, “I wish I had a ricer.”