Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lamb tenderloin with tomatoes and white wine reduction

Step 1: Travel to another country for a conference. Feel a bit lonely and sorry for yourself, because you miss your fiancé. Meet new people, work hard, and wish the local food were better.

Step 2: During the weekend break between the two weeks of the conference, walk to the local Farmers' Market with one of your new friends. Find a meat stand selling lamb tenderloin, and buy one (about 200g). Spend the afternoon hanging out and talking and having the best day all week.

Step 3: Call your fiancé on Skype. Crush four cloves of garlic and set aside. Slice in half eight plum tomatoes and set aside. Heat 100 ml cheap olive oil (the one the "guest house" stocks in your small shared kitchen) in a small sauté pan.

Step 4: With a sharp knife, trim the tenderloin of its membrane and remove the tendon. Meanwhile, discover that last night both you and your fiancé made whole wheat pasta with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, fresh basil, crushed garlic, and olive oil. He had access to buffalo mozzarella and expensive olive oil. When the tenderloin is trimmed, add it to the hot pan.

Step 5: The tenderloin should begin to brown quickly. After a few minutes of discussion about bison steaks (your fiancé's dinner tonight, with sweet potato), turn the tenderloin. Pour yourself a glass of very cheap white wine, and a few minutes later add about a glass to the cooking meat (enough to get about 1/3 of the way up the side).

Step 6: The meat will cook quite quickly. Turn it once more, and check it with a knife: you want the meat still a little pink in the middle, but with no dark red. When it is cooked, remove it to a plate to relax. Add the halved tomatoes, skin side down, to the pan, all in a single layer. Sprinkle liberally with salt and white sugar. Cook for a few minutes.

Step 7: Destem some fresh thyme and add it to the garlic. When the tomatoes are starting to cook, turn them onto their faces in the wine-and-jus. Cook the tomatoes a few minutes longer, and then add them to your bowl with the mashed garlic and thyme. Toss to combine, and pour over the tenderloin.

Step 8: Bon appetite! You should eat everything in combination, but leave a pile of tomato skins on the side of your plate: the tomato flesh will separate easily, and the skins toughen with any heat. While writing up everything for your blog (you still miss your fiancé, afterall, and the blog reminds you of him), mop up the remaining juices with the leftover baguette from your bread-and-cheese lunch at the Farmers' Market.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Towards Duck Confit

Today I broke down a duck. We bought the duck whole (cleaned) and frozen at Al's Meat Market, and thawed it in the refrigerator. Once thawed, we opened it up, and removed the giblets from the inner compartment. The neck, heart, and kidneys (with the last of their fat trimmed off) went into a gallon freezer bag for stock. The liver is in its own bag in the refrigerator, waiting for tomorrow's lunch.

I then took off the thighs, leaving on them a generous amount of skin, and set them aside. Next I skinned the bird. This took the most time, but it's well worth it: save all the skin and fat (and attached connective tissue) that you remove from the meat. Skinning the wings is a pain: it's worth removing them first and saving them for last. Once the duck was skinned, I took off the breasts, trimming them of any obvious fat and connective tissue, and saved them in the refrigerator.

I then set to work on the carcass. The point is to save any usable meat (but clean the pieces of connective tissue) and all the fat. The meat goes into a bag in the fridge or freezer for use in a soup or as chopped up meat in some other dish. The fat goes into the same bowl with all the skins. The bones and unusable meat go into the stock bag. Try to keep your stock lean — you will have to skim off some fat form the top anyway, but might as well avoid putting visible fat into the stock bag.

When the bird was finally completely dissected, it was time to render the fat. Cut up the skin into roughly 1-inch bits. Place all the skin and any other fat trimmings into a pot, along with about 1/2 a cup of water. Cover the pot and set it on the stove on very-low to simmer about an hour. The fat should render out. Remove the skins (toss with salt, or maybe fry again in hot oil first, and call them "duck rind", or just discard), and strain the liquids as best you can. Let the liquid cool in a measuring cup so that the fat and water completely separate; then pour just the fat off the top to save. You should end up with about a cup of fat.

Meanwhile, create an herb-and-salt mixture with about 1/4 cup kosher salt, a bay leaf, four cloves garlic, a shallot, and about 1 tsp each dried thyme, black pepper corns, onion powder, and tarragon; combine everything in a food processor. Rub the salt mixture onto the reserved duck legs, pressing it in. Place the legs snuggly into a nonreactive bowl, cover tightly with foil, and refrigerate one to two days.

Tomorrow I will make the confit. First I will rub the legs of any salt mixture and discard it. Then I will place the legs to fit snuggly at in an oven-proof container. I will reheat the fat so that I can pour it, and completely submerge the legs in fat. I will also add some more garlic and bay leaf to perfume the fats. Then I will bake this at low temperature. The goal is to cook the legs an hour or two at between 190 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Then I will store the legs in the refrigerator covered in their fat (they can also be canned and kept up to a year, or so I've read).

To serve, crispen the skin in a hot cast-iron skillet for a few minutes, and have on top of a salad.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Eating out in Chicago

We've been in Evanston, IL, for three weeks now, and I'm finally recording some of our meals. Why are we in Evanston? Well, B is a Resident Fellow at the Newberry Library in downtown Chicago, and I'm a Visiting Predoctoral Fellow at Northwestern. During our first two weeks we went to four different shows downtown, and ate out each of those nights. The rest of the time, we've cooked in — we're house-sitting for a Northwestern professor, who has a beautiful house and two wonderful cats. I'll tell you about the restaurants now; the meals in will have to wait.

Shiroi Hana: Sushi

The first of our four restaurant dinners may well have been the best. We were going to StarShip, which was playing at the Center on Halsted, in Boystown. Lonely Planet recommended Shiroi Hana, and we do too. Pretty good fish at very good prices — we shared the "Sushi Sashimi for two", the vegetable tempura, and some teriyaki uni, along with a full carafe of the house white wine (they offer only wine, or BYOB).

The play was fun, but way too long, running at about 3.5 hours. Then again, we stayed the full time, so they must have done something right. These kids will make it big, probably sooner rather than later. If I were a producer, I would try to fund them, on the condition that I'm allowed to edit them for length.

The Gage: English Pub

Our least favorite dinner, at The Gage, was also our most expensive. Lonely Planet was pretty useless at finding us a restaurant downtown, near the Chase Auditorium, where we saw Wait Wait Don't Tell Me (amazing show!). At the restaurant, we gravitated towards the Prix Fixe menu, hoping that it would be tasty and cheeper, but alas. My "lobster soup" was mostly salt and pepper and canned-flavor, with little meat; B's "parsnip risotto" was largely flavorless. B's salad, with dried cranberries and walnuts, was good for coffee-shop lunch fare, and my white fish was the highlight, but they served maybe a quarter pound of meat (and the fish couldn't have been more than $10/pound). The dessert was supposed to be a peanutty riff on white chocolate cheesecake, but ended up tasting like peanut-butter-and-jelly. And a $12 bottle of wine for $40? That's a restaurant.

Silver Spoon: Thai

We quite enjoyed Silver Spoon, a BYOB Thai place behind the Thai Consulate and below an over-priced sushi bar. The restaurant is windowless and probably better for lunch, but the service was fast and the food tasty. We had shumai, spring rolls, and various curry-infused spicy dishes with catfish. Was was supposed to be the highlight was a deep-fried whole snapper; it was certainly tasty, but too spicy, and next time I need to remember to ask beforehand what "market price" is. After dinner, we saw Working, which was pretty much awesome.

Oysy: Sushi

Finally, Oysy sushi gave Shiroi Hana a run for its money. Or, rather, Oysy is a bit more expensive (we brought wine and paid the $10 corkage; there's no "sushi for two"; ...), but over all better fish. We began with miso and a slightly-spicy tuna tartar. From there, we moved to the sashimi platter. We ended on an eel-and-cucumber roll, very happy. Then we walked to Navy Pier for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of As You Like It, one of the most enjoyable comedies.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dinner in Austin: Rabbit with orange glaze, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and pots de creme

We've spent the last week in Austin, TX. I gave a talk, we went to the LBJ Presidential Library, and we've tried to get work done. S has given us her house for the week, as she spends most of her time at her partner's place. They're great cooks, so we've happily eaten with them most nights, but last night we got to have them over and show off our own cooking.

Go to the Farmers' Market in Austin, and check out all the meat stands (there are many, especially in winter). Hopefully, you'll find Countryside Farm, where you can pick up a whole rabbit. Defrost it in a bowl of water in the fridge overnight. Also look for broccoli and sweet potato, which are available in February even after a week of frigid temperatures (this week has been in the 70s, but last week saw highs in the 30s).

Main: rabbit baked with orange-honey glaze

A few hours before you're ready to eat, butcher the now-thawed rabbit. We prefer smaller cuts, so ended up with eight pieces: forelegs, ribs, sides and belly, and hind legs. Be careful to find and remove and save the kidneys, liver, and (if you're lucky) heart. Lightly salt and pepper the pieces, and set them in a single layer in an oven-safe pan.

Meanwhile, reduce three cups orange juice to one cup, and then whisk in juice from half a lemon, ¼ cup honey, salt and pepper, and add thyme and four cloves fresh garlic. Pour the hot liquid over the rabbit, and let the meat marinate an hour. Top the meat with sliced oranges and more fresh thyme. The rabbit needs to bake 25 minutes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven.

Sides: mashed sweet potato with ginger and sage; baked broccoli

Cube sweet potato, and boil in salted water until tender, 20-30 minutes. Mince some fresh ginger and lots of fresh sage. Drain the potato, and mash it with the ginger and sage, a little salt and pepper, and some butter. Transfer to an oven-proof casserole with a lid, so that you can warm the potato back up near the end of food-prep.

Cut up some broccoli, pack it into a casserole with a lid (we used a terrine), and add plenty of minced garlic, juice from half a lemon, and some grated or shaved parmesan cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes, covered.

Dessert: pots de creme de chocolat

You should make the dessert first. Preheat the oven to 300°F, and also bring a teakettle of water to a boil.

In a heat-proof bowl or large measuring cup, place 2-3 oz chopped (or chip) milk chocolate. Then scald between 1 ½ and 2 cups cream, and pour over the chocolate to melt. Meanwhile, whisk together 3 egg yolks with ¼ cup sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. Temper the yolks by whisking in a little of the hot cream, and then combine the cream and yolks. Whisking, heat the mixture over medium until it thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon.

Prepare a water bath by pouring the boiled water into a small lasagna tray or two loaf pans, just enough so that with four ramekins set in the water, the level is about 2/3 up the sides of the ramekins. Ladle the thickened egg mixture into four small ramekins, wipe down any spills on the outside, and place in the water bath. Bake 35 minutes at 300°, until centers are still a little jiggly. Cool a little on a wire rack, and then chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour — the centers will firm up the rest of the way.

For serving, whip some more of the cream and dollop on top of the pots de creme. Decorate with mint leaves if you have them.


Set the table lovely with dinner knife and fork on the sides of each plate, salad fork and dessert spoon above the plates, and white and dessert wine glasses. Also set out pads for hot foods. Time the baking so that you can remove everything from the oven a little after the guests arrive, or anyway to bring everything still warm out. (The casserole pans will hold their heat, and you really don't want to overcook the rabbit — it's ok if the meat cools a bit before serving.)

Begin with the meat and veggie sides, accompanied with a nice chardonnay. We discovered that Fall Creek Vineyards, a Texas winery, is quite good, and bottles are under $10.

Once everyone has eaten their full, remove the dinner plates and silverware and the food, and bring out smaller salad plates (we love salad between the main course and dessert; it's refreshing and light). Salad should consist of washed and dried red-leaf lettuce, dressed in something with plenty of minced shallots and just a little salt and acid (white wine vinegar or a while balsamic), with maybe a little honey mixed into the dressing. Salad's a great chance to continue talking, start digesting, and finish a second bottle of chardonnay.

Finally, remove the salad plates and forks to the kitchen. Whip the cream and decorate the pots de creme, and bring them to the table. Open a bottle of Fall Creek sweet moscatel, and enjoy the dessert slowly accompanied by good conversation.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Photos from downtown LA

Of our three days in Los Angeles, we only remembered the camera our middle day, when we explored downtown. Enjoy the slideshow!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Walking and Tapas

We woke up ready for a day of walking and cooking.

We took a long walk, starting downtown and heading along the river until the northern edge of the city.

We made a "tapas" dinner for my family. Olives, grilled peppers, goat and sheep cheeses, rabbit liver with onions, lima bean spread with rosemary, roasted garlic, canned mackerel, and the highlight: dates stuffed with manchego cheese and wrapped in prosciutto and broiled.

Photos from the Oregon Coast

Most years we spend the week between Christmas and New Years at the Oregon Coast. This year, we stayed in a house about fifty yards south of the Oregon-California border — the driveway was under the "Welcome to Oregon" sign. Our camera got wet the second day of our trip, so we only have a few photos (it got better, but only after a week of thoroughly drying): the first few days were sopping rainy, whereas the end of the week was lovely and sunny.

Christmas pictures

As I have already described, Christmas Eve dinner consisted of oyster bisque and crab, and Christmas dinner was rabbit with parsnips and Brussels sprouts. Between these two wonderful meals, we hung stockings and read 'Twas The Night Before Christmas; we discovered many presents below the tree the following morning; we took a lovely family walk and fed the neighborhood ducks and geese alfalfa-pellet chicken-feed (we used to bring bread for the ducks, but have since learned that this is very bad for them).

Photos from Spencer's Butte

As always, I am a bit slow to post photos. Here are some from our ten-mile hike up Spencer's Butte:


One of our best dinners in Eugene was the night we made Sushi for my parents and sister. We had noticed that one of the local supermarkets had good prices on sushi-grade tuna, sushi-grade scallops, and pre-made pieces of teriyaki eel. We served the tuna as sashimi, and also made California roles (cucumber, avocado, and imitation crab) and the unagi and scallops. We began the meal with cups of miso, and accompanied everything with an Oregon pinot gris. (Sorry about the low-resolution photo — it's the only one we took.)