January 28, 2003

No Boil Mac-N-Cheese

I wrote a while back about trying out the "no cook" pasta method on my standard macaroni and cheese. My first attempt was a half-cooking approach due to fear of the unknown. It was unfounded -- raw works fine.

Last night I made my standard macaroni and cheese, with just a tad more liquid than normal. Stirred raw pasta into it (boy did it look and feel weird!), and baked as normal (I put a cover on for the first 20 minutes, but think I could have gotten away without it). The pluses are one less pot, and one less step. The only downside is that you do need to make sure the pasta is pretty well covered in sauce. The result thus went together in under 15 minutes because there was no waiting for water to boil and no waiting for the first cook time. I think I'll refine the amounts and baking time next and do a final recipe posting on the subject (I'm sure I've already worn out my welcome on this topic anyway).

To figure the amounts, I'm going to do an experiment where I cook a batch of pasta and see how much water is absorbed through normal cooking. This should give a "how much extra water to have per pound of pasta" for any given recipe. My guess is maybe half a cup of water per pound.

Posted by dowdy at 02:12 AM

January 26, 2003

10 more things -- If I Had $1000000

So, going along with my top 10 kitchen essentials, here's 10 more things I really rely upon, but could certainly make do without (with each, what I'd use if I didn't have it). I actually had to work pretty hard to come up with 10 items here -- I guess I use less stuff in the kitchen than I thought.

I have a bunch more stuff that I use, but much less often. For example, my food processor and blender are the only ways to really do a good job for some foods -- but they probably see use maybe one a month. That puts them on the list of "nice to have, but not really." And while I adore my chinois strainer -- I know that only a small fraction of people can afford $50, or make stock, soups, and sauces often enough to justify it.

1) Aluminum Half Sheet Pans. I have four of them, two not quite as heavy as the others (you can easily tell when you pick them up). A half sheet pan is also known as a jelly roll pan, or a cookie sheet (although technically, cookie sheets are flat where sheet pans have sides). Get ones from heavy stamped aluminum. The reason these are called "half sheet" pans is that they are half the size of full sheet pans used in commercial kitchens. Most home ovens can't fit full sized sheet pans. The cheapest source is restaurant supply places. In a specialty store you'll probably pay around $20 each -- but they last much longer than more home-directed versions.

Used for baking, keeping mis en place organized, set next to the stove to catch drips/hold spoons/tongs. Placed under things you don't want to drip (like pies, lasagna, etc). You can roast bones for stock in them in a pinch.

If I didn't have them I would: Use sheets of aluminum foil for lightweight work, use large saute pans for roasting work.

2) Small glass bowls. I have about 75 of these (used for soup service at parties) but they get used all year round. I'd probably have a dozen or so even if I never had parties. Any size is fine, but these seem to hold about a cup and a quarter.

Use for mis en place. This is such an important part of my kitchen working process than I do it without really thinking about it. It basically means preparing the items you need together, before you begin cooking. It results in a cleaner kitchen, more organized cooking, and a better flow.

If I didn't have them I would: use paper plates, other plates, bowls, paper cups, plastic cups, coffee mugs, etc.

3) Large Roasting Pan. I'm not especially enamored with mine, but it does the job and doesn't need to be overly fancy. Get one with as heavy a construction as you can afford, and don't get non-stick. Stainless or anodized aluminum (same purchasing guidelines as for saute pans apply here).

Used for roasting large meat items, but more often (for me) roasting bones for stock.

If I didn't it I would use: Large saute pans or Half Sheet Pans.

4) Plastic Squeeze Bottles. They are cheap, get them from beauty supply stores, less than $2 each. Get the kind without a screw adjustable top, you'll need to cut the top in order to let the product out. Get two or three, so you can cut some of the tops to different diameters.

Used for placing sauce on plates in fancy artistic manner. Can also hold chocolate and caramel sauces for longer periods in the fridge (although then you need to warm in a water bath before use). Can hold flavored oils, but I don't recommend this for more than a few days (due to the chance of botulism starting).

If I didn't have them I would use zip lock bags with a corner snipped, or cones of parchment paper.

5) Small paring knife. Most folks will tell you this is the 2nd knife you should get. I disagree. A combination of a chef's knife and serrated knife will do you just as well in all but fancy cooking situations. But, if you do sometimes need to do fine cuts, a paring knife is really the only way to do it well. I've actually got 6: 1 very nice plain one. 1 very nice "bird's beak". 1 cheaper plain. 1 cheaper bird's beak. 1 cheaper flat nose. 1 very very cheap stamped one (which I use for things that I don't care if I damage the knife). If I had only one it would be the nice plain one.

Used for fine mince, shallots especially. Vegetable carving, small dice, tournee vegetables, etc.

If I didn't have them I'd use a smaller chef's knife, but probably wouldn't try fancy cuts like tournee unless I felt like cutting myself.

6) Bowl scraper. I tried to find a link to this because it's hard to describe, but failed. It's a teardrop or "schmo" shaped bit of thin white plastic. Often has a hole at one end (I guess for your thumb) to help you keep a hold on it while in use. They're very cheap. You can find them at specialty kitchen stores. In commercial kitchens and trade shows, they are often "gimmes" from various food and service companies.

Used for, well, scraping bowls out. Way more efficient than a spoon or spatula. One or two swipes and a bowl is completely empty and clean. Excellent and fast for folding cake batter, egg whites, etc. A bit messy to use because there's basically no way to not get some on your hands. Can't be used in pans (they melt).

If I didn't have them I'd use a spatula for some stuff, and my cupped hands for others. You just haven't lived until you've folded cake batter with your hands!

7) Ramekins, various sizes. Plain ceramic, white, fluted outside. I have half a dozen 1/2 cup sized, half a dozen even smaller, and an assortment of larger sizes going up to about 8 cups.

Used for baking items like gratain, custard, souflees, beans, mac-n-cheese, molten chocolate cakes, etc. Use can also use them for serving items, as mis en place cups, salt wells and so on. Can take the place for anything you'd cook in a non-square pan.

If I didn't have them I would use oven proof glass/Pyrex (including measuring cups, which I've made souflees in twice!), plain glass bowls for non-oven use, straight sided oven proof coffee cups or mugs for small cakes and souflees.

8) "Lexan" square containers. I have four of these heavy-duty clear plastic containers with snap top lids. Two hold 1 gallon, two hold 1.5 gallons. Non-staining. You can find them at specialty stores, but again will pay less at restaurant supply places. The 1 gallon sees more use.

Use for holding stock for cooling. Storage of dry goods (short term, they are too expensive to use as your only "storage jars" technology). Brines for, well, brining things. Leftovers.

If I didn't have them I'd use gallon zip lock bags for storage & brining. Stainless bowls for stock cooling.

9) Pizza stone. Get the largest rectangular one that will fit in your oven. Round ones are cute because they remind people of pizza, but are much less useful. Get one as thick as possible also. The point is to hold heat and more mass == more heat.

Used for pizza (obviously), baking bread. Also, I often leave it on the bottom rack of the oven just to help maintain an even temperature in the oven. In fact, it's usually there most of the time. If you have a gas oven, you probably want to consider this -- it's a cheap way to really even out the heat.

If I didn't have it I would use unglazed quarry tiles, which are cheaper and what I used before. But they are a headache to get in and out of the oven, or to move from the bottom rack up to where you want to cook on it.

10) Mixer. Okay, a specific brand is all I'd get: KitchenAid. I really hesitated to put this on here, as I don't like gadgets in the kitchen, and this is an expensive one. But it is one I use fairly often. If you do a fair amount of baking (breads or desserts) consider getting one. It takes making of bread from a somewhat time consuming process to something you can do on a week night if you have time to allow for the rise. I use mine at least once a week, so it goes on the list, while the other appliances don't. Your milage may vary depending upon what you cook.

Things I look for: as heavy a motor as you can get, particularly if you are going to use it for bread. Large capacity (5 or 6 quart). Ability to take attachments (if you think you might want that in the future). I personally prefer the kind where the bowl lowers from the bottom rather than a head that "tilts up." Most pros agree, and the reason for this is twofold: a) up until very recently, large motors (and > 4 quart) were not available in the tilt-up variety and b) you'll see professional chefs "bumping" the bottom of the bowl in order to raise it up and allow the sides to be scraped without stopping the motor. One other plus of this design is that you can more easily apply heat in the form of a blowtorch to the underside.

I recommend getting all three beater types: paddle, whisk, and dough hook. I use all three regularlly. I wouldn't get a multi-purpose device (ie, mixer, blender, food processor, lawn edger, all in one!) unless you neverintend to make bread in it. The motors just aren't as strong, and you end up with a device that's less useful at all jobs and not very good at any one of them. If you are going to use such a device mostly as a food processor and only sometimes for batter work, it can make do. But, then you're not really getting a mixer, are you?

Why all the obsession with the strength of the motor? Aside from the bread making issue, you'll find that in regular use the motor will get hot. Making compound butter, or whipping cake batter often involves upwards of 10 minutes of continuous mixing. A smaller motor will wear out if you do this, because it is being forced to work too hard for its design.

Use for breads, cakes, batters, compound butters. Bowl serves as an extra stainless bowl. Fairly inexpensive meat grinder attachment available and worthwhile. The only reasonable way to make lobster butter (I'll do an entry on that at some point).

If I didn't have it I'd use whisks, bowls, and my own arms like everyone (and I) used to do. For lobster butter, I'd use a blender, but boy is it a pain!

KitchenAid KP2671XWH Professional...

Posted by dowdy at 07:25 AM

January 25, 2003

Rewarding Oneself

The other night I made one of my favorite low-key dinners. It's pretty fancy by lots of people's standards, but since the cooking is mostly about waiting, for me it's not a big deal.
- Slow Smoked Rib Roast
- Saffron Rice Pillof
- Sauce Foyot
I'll call it special. I had a good day at work, and wanted to reward myself. Something out of the ordinary was called for, and I hadn't made this in probably a year. Normally, I would have opened a nice bottle of wine with this, but instead I had a bottle of pilsner beer.

I used about a 3 rib roast, but unfortunately it was boneless. I often will coat the roast with various herbs and/or garlic, but this time I chose to just use salt and pepper. I build a medium fire in my Weber kettle grill and let the coals burn down to ash. Then, added about 4 chunks of hickory wood, placed the roast offset from the coals and closed the cover. I roast this size of roast for a total of between an hour and 15 minutes and an hour and a half. I turn the roast every 30 minutes, and add more wood as needed. I like to keep a fairly heavy smoke going.

I normally like my meat fairly rare. I pulled the roast this time at 115 degrees, which was quite rare in the center, but less so on the outsides. It's difficult to get a real strong smoke flavor and still have a very rare roast, especially with one this small. It's also difficult to have an even doneness throughout -- but that is a plus if you have guests -- unless they all want rare. I let the roast rest for 10 minutes while I finished the rest of the dishes (during this time, the temperature continues to rise about 10 degrees), and then carved it very thin.

This is a very basic recipe as well. Rice, about 1.5-2 times the amount of some liquid (I used chicken stock), some butter, minced shallots, and saffron. You cook the rice in butter with the shallots until you get a nice brown color on the rice -- maybe 5 minutes. Dump in the liquid and saffron and bring to a boil. Cover, place on low heat, and cook for 20 minutes. The rice will hold for a long time, but this time I finished it well before the meat was done. So, into a 200 degree oven with the heating plate. Don't uncover the rice at all until you are ready to serve.

Other methods can include: dumping into a rice cooker after the initial sautee (good for large amounts), or placing in a 325 oven for the cooking (frees up a burner).

Sauce Foyot is basically a hollandaise sauce with the addition of meat glaze. The first time I read about it, I thought it was sort of a strange idea, because I think of this family of sauces as mostly a fish/white meat/vegetable thing. But, with a good hit of lemon in it, this sauce is fantastic with smoked meats. Which, you'll notice, is what I'm making above.

This entire family of sauces (emulsion of egg yolk and melted butter) terrifies many people, but there's no real reason to fear them. Maybe some folks try too hard when making these. A simple approach works best, I find. Here's how I do them now:

Place the egg yolk in a stainless steel bowl. Add water or other liquids from the recipe (in this case, juice from half a lemon). Whisk briskly to combine. Place the bowl over medium-low heat, tilted to one side. Whisk like mad. Keep moving the bowl around, trying not to let any one spot get too hot. As the edges of the bowl heat up, be sure to stir around broadly with the whisk. Basically, what you are making at this point is a zabaglione. When the egg/liquid mixture gets to the desired (thick) consistancy, and is fairly hot (but never above 140, which is where the yolks will cook) to the touch, remove the bowl from the heat, and whisk again strongly to cool it down just a bit. This will all go quite fast, especially with only 1 yolk. You'll really be able to see the sauce thicken as the egg cooks.

Next, drizzle in the melted butter (a bit slow at first) and whisk to combine. Add more butter (it can be done quicker once the emulsion is well taken) and keep whisking until you have the consistancy you wish (for 1 yolk, I think I end up using a little under a quarter of a stick). Then, stir in any flavorings (in this case, about a tablespoon of oxtail beef glaze), and adjust seasonings.

Notice: no double boiler, no 14 pans, no weird starting one way, then adding stuff, then doing yet something else. One bowl, some melted butter, and a whisk.

These sauces don't hold particularlly well, but from start to finish, it probably takes less than 5 minutes to make the entire thing -- so you do them right before you are ready to plate. The first time you do one, you'll be nervous. As added protection, keep a glass with a few ice chips in it. If you think the sauce has gotten too hot, too fast, during the first step, remove from the heat and toss a few small chips in to help it cool off.

The reason this is a low-stress meal for me is that it goes together quickly. When I get home, I start up the fire and pull the roast out of the fridge. Put the butter on to melt, chop the shallot, measure out the rice and liquid (putting the saffron into the liquid to steep), get out the items for the sauce.

Once the meat is on the grill, I'm pretty much able to just relax. I start the rice after the meat as been in for about 45 minutes. It'll be done well in advance, and keeps well. By now the butter is also fully melted, so I turn off the low flame there. Then it's just keeping an eye on the smoker until the meat is ready to come in the house. The sauce goes together while the meat is resting, and then it's all about the carving and eating.

The meat comes out smokey and juicy. The rice is a nice counterpoint with the medicinal/floral scent from the saffron, and the tart and meaty-flavored sauce blends well with both. Heady stuff, to be sure, but one can't eat alot of it at once.

Posted by dowdy at 03:52 AM

January 22, 2003

Top Ten Equipment

What would I have in my kitchen on a limited budget? Here's what I think I could "make do" with if I had to. Specific items I own and strongly recommend I have links to. This list is also roughly in the order in which I'd buy them -- although I would be fairly hard pressed to do major kitchen work without all of these.

1) Chef's Knife and Knife Care items. If I had to have only one knife, it would be a major chef's knife. Knives are very personal things, and the best one to buy tends to depend your hands. I personally use Wusthof Classics, and my 8 inch Chef's Knife is my current favorite.

Size: You may prefer a larger 10 inch, or a smaller 6 inch. In general, shorter knives give you more control, while longer ones speed chopping of larger quantities. I think if you are only going to buy one, error on the side of longer rather than shorter.

Brand: Again, there isn't a "best" here. If you prefer lighter knives, look into Global. If you like those with less of a curve or "rock" to the blade, Sabatier is a good choice. My knives have a squared handle, which some people find uncomfortable, but for some reason fit my own hand well. If possible, use a variety of knives at friends houses prior to purchase.

Sets: In my opinion, knife sets are a waste of money. Typically, one or two knives in the set account for 90% of your use in the kitchen. Spend more on those one or two, and then get cheaper knives if you must have more variety.

Once you have a knife, you'll need:
- steel
- wood or poly cutting board
- sharpening stone
There no point in spending money on a knife if you aren't going to use a cutting board to keep it from going dull, a steel to keep the edge keen, and a sharpening stone to resharpen as needed. If you are uncomfortable sharpening knives, you can save some effort and money by having them done professionally. Butcher shops will usually offer this service for around $2 per knife. Since knives need sharpening once or twice a year (for a typical home cook), you can have this done a fair number of times before you hit the price of a sharpening stone.

Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife
Wusthof Classic 10-Inch Cook's Knife

2) Sautee Pan (not non-stick). 10 or 12 inches. Again, I'd error on the side of being larger rather than smaller. Get the thickest metal you can. Make sure the entire pan is the same thickness, or you'll tend to have burning at the edges.

Material: I personally prefer stainless coated aluminum and like All Clad. They are expensive, but widely available. Anodized Aluminum is also a possibility, but isn't my first choice. With time, the anodized layer will wear down. Copper is great, but quite expensive (unless you happen to be in Paris).

Handle: Must be metal and oven-proof. Many dishes will start on the stovetop and then finish in the oven.

Sets: Like with knives, I generally don't recommend purchasing sets of cookware. You are often paying for thick metal in pots (such as large stock pots) that don't require it. You are also often getting pots that will go unused. You'll be tempted to save money by getting a cheaper set when in the long run it is better to spend the money on one or two higher quality pieces and then economize on the less important ones.

All-Clad Stainless 10-Inch Fry Pan
All-Clad Stainless 12-Inch Fry Pan

3) Tongs. The cheapest best kitchen investment you'll ever make. I use them constantly and every day. Use for turning food in sautee pans, stirring things (including sauce, stock, pasta), helping pans out of the oven, and even spooning out small amounts of sauce. You can find these just about anyplace and shouldn't need to pay more than $8 for them. Some have locking handles, which are fine, but not required -- most chefs hate the locks and will remove them. I tend to prefer a medium length for kitchen work, but have a longer set for the BBQ grill.

4) Saucier Pans. 2-3 quart. These are amazing. I have a 2 quart and a 3 quart, but could get by with only one of them. Much more flexible than straight sided sauce pans, and yet you'll almost never find them in a set of cookware! You can boil things in them, reduce sauces, and even sautee items. In a pinch, you could get by with a Saucier instead of a sautee pan (although I'd rather not).

All-Clad Stainless 2-Quart Saucier Pan
All-Clad Stainless 3-Quart Saucier Pan

5) Cheap serrated knife. It's hard to sharpen these knives, so I usually just buy stamped (rather than forged) ones. They stay sharp a reasonably long time, and when they get too horribly dull, I just toss them and by a new one (maybe once every 5 years or so). A bunch of chefs have started using offset or "L-shaped" serrated knives during service. I don't have one yet, but may pick one up before too long.

6) Large stock pot. Don't spent lots of money on this one. Don't get wafer thin metal, but you don't need copper either. You'll mostly be boiling pasta and potatoes in it. I consider 6 quart a minimum size here, but if I could only have one, it would be 5 gallon.

7) Large coarse mesh strainer. Again, spend as little as you can get away with, and try to get the largest you can find. Use for straining pasta, getting larger bits out of sauces, add a dishtowel to strain stock, etc. If you want to add fine mesh, I go with a smaller one. Unless you do serious stock and sauce work, skip the very expensive chinois -- although if you do buy one, try to find it for closer to $50 than to $100.

8) Stainless steel bowls, various sizes -- at least 3 of them. My most used one is a 2.5 quart size. Plain is fine. The more rounded the bottom, the better. Cheaper, better. Use for prep work, making sauces, salad dressing, whipping egg whites, batters, bread, etc.

9) Whisk. I own two, a long sauce whisk and a larger balloon whisk. If you have to buy only one, get the longer kind. You can whip egg whites with either (although it is easier with a balloon whisk) but only a long sauce whisk works well in a saucepan. Get one with a solid metal handle with the wires firmly embedded -- this type is slightly more expensive, but easier to keep clean and it won't give out on you.

10) Heat proof silicon spatulas. This is a relatively new item to kitchens (in general, and in mine specifically). You can use them to stir sautee pans (you'll think you shouldn't at first, but they really do stand up to 800 degree heat), and they also serve as a spoon if you find the right kind.

Posted by dowdy at 09:57 AM

January 21, 2003

Mushroom Cassoulet

Here's an interesting recipe for a non-meat version of a classic Cassoulet. I've made this three or four times and it's been a hit even with the meat eaters. It's a fair amount of work between the veg demi and the smoking of the bell peppers -- but probably less work than a "real" Cassoulet.

1 pkg white beans
Assorted wild and regular mushrooms
1 Carrot
1/2 onion
1 Stalk Celery
1/2 head roasted garlic
1 tsp thyme
1/2 C bread crumbs
1-2 red bell peppers

4 C brown veg demi (*)

- Instructions roughly parallel what you'll find in a traditional cassoulet

- soak beans overnight
- cook beans in water until medium tender -- about 30-45 mins
- drain beans, reserve liquid
- fine dice Carrot, Onion, Celery -- sweat until soft
- Clean, sautee mushrooms
- Cold smoke red bell peppers, slice
- Layer beans, mushrooms, veg, garlic, bell peppers in high sided casserole. S&P as you go.
- Add brown veg demi to just under covering the beans. Add reserved bean liquid as needed
- Top with bread crumbs
- Bake, 325-350 for about an hour, or until hot and bubbling throughout. Press down browning crust as you go

(*) Brown Veg Demi
See also
5 lb mushrooms
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 large onion
1 leek
(other veg as you like)
2 T tomato paste
1 C red wine
1 T Parsley
1 tsp Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
6 black pepper corns, whole
1/4 tsp each Oregano, Marjoram, Basil

- Rough dice all veg
- Roast in oven at 400-450 with or without oil until well browned. Start with root veg, add mushrooms later
- Stir in tomato paste, continue cooking until browned
- Deglaze and place in pot
- Add wine and seasonings, then water to cover well
- Simmer at least 1.5 hours
- Should be quite brown
- Strain
- Make brown roux from butter and 1/4 C flour -- brown well
- Stir in stock, cook/reduce 30 mins
- Strain
- Makes around .5 to .75 gallon

Posted by dowdy at 09:19 AM

January 20, 2003

Meat Gravy

Tonight I made a long simmered "meat gravy" or "Italian Red Sauce." It's cold and overcast here in the Bay Area, so something warm and comforting made sense.

First, I browned:
- 2 pounds of fine chopped chuck steak "boneless short ribs"
- 2 pounsd of italian sausage, crumbled
- 1 large onion, minced fine
- 6 garlic cloves, miced fine

and then placed them in a large stock pot along with:
- 1 C red wine
- 3 medium cans tomato sauce
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 1 medium can worth of water

and then added:
- basil
- oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- salt
- pepper

and let it all simmer for two hours, uncovered, so that it reduced a bit as well. I hit it with a little bit of vinegar at the end to brighten up the long-cooked down flavors. Served it over rigatoni, which is still my favorite pasta after all of these years.

I did the browning using The World's Stupidest Sautee Pan (tm). I found it in my Amazon Gold Box for around $30. It's a 12 inch Emiralware pan. I needed another large pan, and figured at $30 it was worth it for an experiment -- Boy was I wrong!

It combines the worst of the two worlds of cheap and high end cookware. It has an incredibly heavy bottom of what appears to be 1/8 of an inch of copper and another 1/8 of an inch of stainless coated aluminum. This part is fine -- it does in fact heat up well and evenly distribute the heat over that part of the pan. But, having spent so much of the cost on the bottom, the sides are razor thin, plus this includes the bottom edge of the pan where it slopes upwards. It is impossible to heat the bottom to high-sautee without also scorching the sides. So, you get all of the weight of a high end pan (and it is heavy) with all of the burnt sides of a cheap one. Joe Bob says: don't check it out.

This is the third time I've attempted to use this pan, and from here on out I think I'm going to have to confine it to use as a roaster in the oven.

Posted by dowdy at 10:01 PM

January 13, 2003


I'm sitting here at the end of the night, and my fingers thin coated in butter. The sour, sweet, cheesy, milky scent is unmistakable. Washing has no effect -- even in scented soap -- five minutes later the milk laden fat smell comes through. My parents would not approve.

I've had the most unbalanced dinner imaginable. A loaf of french bread, freshly reheated in the oven (450 for 10 minutes, wetted down first to render a crispy crust), and almost a quarter of a pound of fresh Plugra butter. To enjoy with it, a half bottle of Pinot Noir. Heck, it could have been any wine. Look, I went for Indian Buffet for lunch. I had rice. Lamb. Chicken. Sauces. Chickpeas. More food than one should really have. Time for something -- simple. Uh. Light. Sure.

Arriving home, finding a loaf of bread and reanimating it in the oven. Ah. The butter. Can you get Plugra where you live? I can. In fact, Trader Joe's (a semi-local chain) sells Plugra for less than more boring butter from supermarkets. It is more fat laden. It's real butter, the kind you can smell throughout the house when it is being melted, sauteed with, or baked. It is butter that is in fact a food, not an ingredient. And, as these things go, a cheap indulgence.

But first let it come to room temperature. Soften. Spread it upon the soft white centers of bread with shatteringly crisp exteriors. As you close your mouth you can taste the butter before it is even in your mouth. And then, the taste spreads in hurried speed over all sides of your cheeks. My. Dear. God. In. Heaven.

Crazy? Drunk? Neh. Not I -- not drunk on ethenol. Drunk on butter. For I am truely, The Butter Pig.

Posted by dowdy at 09:16 PM

January 12, 2003

Say Chowdah!

Yesterday I made up a batch of clam chowder. I love doing this, but it's only been recently that I started making it. I call this weeknight, but I usually make it on a weekend. It's pretty quick to go together. This time I timed myself -- 30 minutes from arriving home until things were already simmering.

- 3 strips bacon, cut into slices
- 2 small onions, minced
- 2 celery stalks, minced

I render the fat from the bacon, remove the strips from the pan and reserve. Sweat down the onions and celery in the bacon fat, then add:
- 4 T butter
- 1/2 C flour

And stir to make a roux. To this, I add:
- 1/2 C white wine
- Drained liquid from a large (3 lb) can of chopped clams (about 3 C)
- 3 C water
- 1 bay leaf
- thyme
- salt
- pepper

Bring up to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Adjust liquid to consistancy you like. Then add:
- 3 Large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice

Cook another 20-30 minutes. Then add:
- The reserved clams from the can (I usually lightly rinse them out to try to get rid of any grit)

Cook another 5-10 minutes. (You can actually let this simmer much longer. Clams are tender when cooked just a bit, or a long time. So, either cook them short or long, but not the middle. I usually let it cook for a while to both blend the flavors and break down the potatoes a bit).
Then add:
- milk or cream, about 1/2 qt

Adjust seasonings. I usually add quite a bit more black pepper, a shot of hot sauce, and some paprika. You shouldn't boil the soup after adding the dairy as it can tend to break at that point.

With the chowder I made garlic bread from softened butter creamed with two whole heads of roasted garlic, hot sauce, paprika, and black pepper. I'll often also add cheese, but decided I didn't want that combination with seafood. Spread on halfs of bread and cook in a hot oven (450) until crispy and brown.

Appropriately enough, while eating this, we were watching Bravo's "Page to Screen" and the subject movie was Jaws.

Posted by dowdy at 07:47 AM

January 10, 2003

Marinated Steak

Last night I made a marinated ribeye steak. I buy ribeyes from Costco, which has pretty good meat at excellent prices. The added bonus is that they generally cut their steaks quite thick compared to most supermarkets. I look for a ribeye with a very wide portion of meat above the "eye" section. This part is very well marbelled and is claimed by some to be the best cut of meat on the entire animal.

My standard steak marinade is:
- olive oil
- salt
- pepper
- fresh thyme
- rosemary
- garlic
- lemon juice
All mashed up.

My garlic was icky looking, so I used two whole shallots, and I didn't have any lemon, so I used a splash of red wine vinegar. Wizzed the entire thing up into a paste and spread on the steak overnight.

Grilled in a grill pan to rare, hit the top with a bit of clairified butter and ate.

Posted by dowdy at 09:18 AM

January 08, 2003

When did it ever leave?

Article in the Washington Post entitled Butter Is Back.

Posted by dowdy at 11:35 AM

January 05, 2003

Pasta Hack Redux

Today I made mac and cheese and attempted (sort of) to do the "raw pasta" approach. I say attempted because I cooked the pasta halfway (6 minutes of a recommended 12 minute cooking time) -- what can I say, I'm lame and decided not to "risk" it even though I was the only one eating it this time.

I used a ridgged shell instead of elbow, because I'm not actually that big of a fan of traditional elbow. Boiled the pasta for 6 minutes, it was still incredibly raw. Kept a coffee mug of the cooking liquid to add to the sauce.

The sauce is a standard bechamel (butter, flour, cooked in a roux, then milk added). I was a bit shy of milk, so I added some water as well. Salt, pepper, and plain old yellow mustard (maybe a tablespoon) for color and flavor. I made it slightly runnnier than I want the final pre-cooking sauce to be. This is because the cheese will thicken it up, and it will also evaporate in the oven, again, thickening it.

About third of a pound of generic swiss cheese, and almost double that of sharp cheddar, shredded. Dump that into the sauce and stir until melted. The total amount of sauce came out to just shy of two quarts (this is for a pound of pasta). When the pasta was done cooking, I drained it and added the cup of water to the sauce. The result was very runny (much more so than I normally use with slightly more fully cooked pasta).

Dumped all of the pasta and sauce into a large casserole and shook it around a bit to make sure the sauce was even. I used to be all careful about layering in the sauce, then pasta, then more sauce etc. I've since learned it doesn't make a difference. The pasta is basically swimming in sauce at this point. It looks way too wet.

Topped it all with about two cups of fresh bread crumbs. I had some leftover olive oil fugasse from the other weekend and ground that up with some parmasagn cheese. I used a hefty helping of the mixture on the top -- I love the crunchy part on top of the smooth saucy pasta! Normally I add some melted butter to the crumbs, but this bread had a good amount of oil in it already.

Baked uncovered at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Should be well browned on top and very bubbly. Pretty forgiving on the time, actually. Came out basically the way all of my mac and cheese does (ie, I think it's great) -- so next time, I'll try no boiling of the pasta.

The order I list things about is actually wrong in terms of how I make it:
- preheat oven
- boil water
- melt butter, mix in flour and make roux
- add milk, stir, let simmer, add mustard, salt, pepper
- add pasta to water
- grate cheese and add to sauce, turn off heat
- butter casserole
- grind breadcrumbs
- drain pasta saving 1 cup liquid
- assemble
Total time from start to getting it in the oven was about 10 minutes.

Posted by dowdy at 12:40 PM