Monday, November 26, 2007

Hash... and eggs

I almost never post photos here, but I came across these in the course of emptying out the camera. So here's what breakfast tends to look like when you're in end-stage cured meat obsession.

A hash in the pan.

Flanken and musings on exercise, values, and food prices

With all the attention I've been giving to brisket, corned beef, pastrami, and now flanken it would be understandable if readers supposed we eat nothing but the heaviest of meats around here. Not so, we actually include lots of lighter fare in the mix - but these items have been the topic of study around here for the past few months. And I admit it's a lot of heavy meat.

So that got me thinking about a piece I saw on tv a while back - I think it was on PBS. They were profiling a guy who had set up his office so he could do all his work while walking on a treadmill. He had no desk or chair. His phone and workstation were mounted for use while walking on the treadmill. Throughout the day, as he did his work, he was walking continuously. He seemed happy. And healthy. I bet he could eat whatever he wanted with impunity.

So now I'm wondering (if only half seriously) how I could install a section of moving sidewalk in my kitchen work area. A challenge to be sure. The way my kitchen is set up, I have a number of workstations. While working at any one of these, the treadmill set-up could work. It's the moving from one to the other that's going to be hard. Hmmm.

Well anyway, until such time as I figure that out, let's talk flanken. Now flanken is a great cut of meat for braising.

But wait - first, stream of impending unconsciousness-wise - I've got to tell you, I just stepped over to my (still stationary) kitchen and sampled some experimental corned beef that's been steaming most of the afternoon. This steaming was actually the second phase of a multi-step cooking process that began early this morning. Wow! This is the tenderest piece of corned beef I think I've ever had. Not falling apart. Not dried out. But buttery soft. And I have to tell you there were times earlier in the day when I was sure this piece of meat would never be any good. Long, complicated procedure but a startlingly good result. Have to try this again tomorrow and see if it comes out the same. And then of course there's the question of economics. Will anyone be willing to pay a fair price for all the time, handling, and energy necessary to this process?

Ok, back to flanken. Talk about stick to your ribs. So I'm working with this stuff because I recently showed a customer a braised kobe brisket product that they went crazy over - except for the price. So now I'm trying to come up with something more affordable for them and that brings us back to flanken. This is a value cut with which you can obtain luxury results. I've prepared it many ways over the years, and it's pretty hard to go wrong as long as you go low and slow. Braised with some wine and aromatics, deviled, tagine with prunes or olives, whatever. Great stuff. I recommend you play with some this winter. There's plenty of good recipes available online.

So before I go, let me pose this question. Where chief-value meat ingredients and prepared foods are concerned, why is the variation in pricing allocable to quality (worst to best) so comparatively small? Certainly where some other kinds of products are concerned the spread is wide. Consider cheese. I can easily find domestic cheese offerings ranging from $2.00 to $32.00 per pound (16X). How about domestic wine? $2 to $200 per bottle is not a stretch (100X). In neither case are these fashion items or branded goods with large marketing budgets. They're just products that vary in quality and price where connoisseurs are willing to pay for what they like.

What about meat (or fish)? If you've been shopping in mainstream supermarkets lately, you must have noticed that run-of-the-mill steaks might cost you around $7 a pound. And, in many stores are likely to be graded "select" (feh). Not a high-quality piece of meat there. In a specialty butcher shop carrying high-quality commercial beef, and perhaps even dry-aging it, you might expect to pay 4 or perhaps 5 times that. Never mind the mail-order guys asking still more - that's a topic for another day. But the bricks-and-mortar retail spread from low to high for a given nominally identical cut of beef spans perhaps a multiple of 5 times. Why not more? I'm not arguing that we should all happily pay more - I'm just wondering why we do it for cheese and wine, but not for meat.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

11/17 Tonight's Dinner with friends from the neighborood

Mediterranean Meze featuring:

Crudités, Marinated Olives, Baba Ganoush, Assorted Dolmas, Eggplant and Pepper Salad, Muhammara, Tomato & Pickled Pepper Salad, Feta & Pepper Crème, Patacabra cheese, Three breads,
And Libations from the Martini Bar

Kofta & Shish Kebabs of Icelandic Lamb
with Basmati Rice
Cotes du Rhone, Cairanne

A highly distinguished Dessert TBD
Domaine Castera, Cuvee Privilege, (Moelleux) Jurançon

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thanksgiving Variations

The Boston Globe food section a few days back did a story on chef's improvisations on Thanksgiving themes. Here, some further, Noshstalgic thoughts on this topic -

For many families, Thanksgiving dinner is a more than a Noshstalgic tradition - it has become a ritual or even a fetish. No variation is permitted. The list of compulsory elements turkey, stuffing, potatoes (often more than one kind), cranberry sauce, a family heirloom recipe or two that makes their Thanksgiving theirs alone, etc. can be long. And, sometimes - at least for the cook - the joy of the holiday and gathering can become mired in the inevitability of the proceedings.

At Chez Noshstalgia - here in the home of someone who's seriously dedicated to preserving culinary tradition - we try hard to approach Thanksgiving as a fresh opportunity for invention every time. We have tended to view the rigorous form of holidays like Thanksgiving as a platform for a special kind of variation. The trick is to somehow hit the compulsories with just the right degree of imagination and flair to satisfy traditional expectations and excite people with something new, delicious, broadening, and (though novel) profoundly comfortable all the same time.

The other thing about Thanksgiving here, is that while we always have family about, we often include others as well. And even within the family, our ethnic diversity gives rise to a big range of traditions and tastes. There may be no other occasion where thoughtful consideration of ones guests is more important in composing a menu.

On a number of occasions over the past few years, our guests at Thanksgiving have presented a challenging array of allergies or other dietary restrictions. Celiac - no wheat, no gluten from any source. Eggs - allergic. Nuts and nut oils of any kind - lethally allergic. Chestnuts - not sure they say, but the word nut sounds possibly lethal, so no thanks.

Here's where the turkey ended up on a couple of such occasions:

Tuscan Roast Turkey with Polenta, Sausage, and Mushroom Stuffing
Roast Turkey with Cornbread, Butifarras and PX Sherry Macerated Figs Stuffing

I confess, those butifarras with figs went on to become something of a fetish around here. Making those sausages and soaking those figs really gets me going.
Same thing has happened with a mango/cranberry chutney side that started out as a response to some menu exigence or other. Funny how invention is the mother of tradition.

What to do this year? Feeding about 20 this year - and about the most traditional 20 I know. Hmmm -

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Follow up on Andy and Vicki Dinner

So, how'd things work out?
A minor disaster along the way notwithstanding, quite well.

Appetizer - Pumkin Ravs, buerre blanc, fried sage + 2000 Boglietti Buio
Everybody loved this course. Even Secondo went for seconds. He never made it to the main course. Disaster disclosure - a momentary lapse of attention cost me an extra bottle of white en route to the buerre blanc. Set the schedule back of course too as I had to reduce another. But this is a mere trifle. The results - even though later and more expensive than planned were stellar. And that Nebbiolo - WOW! Hadn't tried this wine for a while and it has grown into its very considerable self in the interim. Highly recommended.

Main - Venison Roast, Guanciale, PX Cippolini and Peppers, Roast Potatoes + Carlo & Julian Pinot
Mixed results here. Venison was very good, but along the way I found that I had underestimated the intensity of the guanciale and so had to adjust from the intended "robe" to a mere few jullienned strips draped criss-cross over the loins. A minor matter that resulted in no disappointment for anyone other than myself who had entertained a different image. No matter - the roast was very nice. The venison was decidedly not gamy and everyone managed to enjoy it despite some in the group having fond feelings toward Bambi and friends. The cippolini were terrific. The potatoes alas, were the real casualty of the first course buerre blanc delay. Not my best potatoes. Nobody really cared. A good thing, I guess. But it does make you wonder if any of the trouble is worth it. I mean honestly, if people aren't going to complain about defects - how much pleasure can we take in their praise of the good bits?

And then there was the Pinot Noir. I had selected it because I wanted some funk - but this was too much . Actually quite skunky - or maybe I should say rubbery - on opening. Resolved a bit over time - but not an attractive start. Slightest spritz too. Clearly something amiss. I have had this wine before - in a restaurant - and enjoyed it thoroughly (hence the case now on hand). Hope the rest of the case is ok. I'll report back.
And then people refused to go for a walk - and demanded dessert instead! None planned, we fell back on the fortuitous presence of ripe bananas, ginger root, Goslings, molasses, sugar, some good vanilla powder, fire and rich vanilla ice cream. Festive, fun, exothermic, and delicious.