Archive for August, 2015

A Mushroomy Meal

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Sometimes it just comes together. The Universe hands you one. I walked into my local wonderful co-op this morning to get a lemon and they had a little basket of exquisite local porcinis, which a gatherer further north found after our recent major rainstorm. They were actually affordable (more or less.) I nabbed the whole pound and went home thinking that it was a shame to cook them on a blistering August day, but I planned to eat them anyway. Then it turned dark and cloudy and cool this evening. Perfect! I pulled some sablefish out of the freezer.
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I sliced the porcinis in half lengthwise, then cut a “steak” out of each half that was nearly half an inch thick. I salted the mushroom steaks, and also the ends of caps and stems left over. I sprinkled the thawed fish liberally with salt and added some blackening seasonings to help it stand up to the assertive mushrooms. I chopped a clove of garlic and got some chicken glacé out of the freezer. You can buy glacé de poulet for about $6 for a quarter cup from http://www.olivenation.com, or you can make and freeze your own. Chicken glacé with fish? Hell yes. I learned this when tasting shrimp dishes in Mexico, which often have some chicken bullion concentrate added. It keeps the plate as a whole from getting too fishy, and makes a bridge between fish or seafood and some side dishes that wouldn’t usually go with it.
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Everything happens very fast from here on. Preheat the oven to 275 and put your fish in it. The fish can spend anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes in the oven without harm while you sear the mushroom steaks as long as your oven is accurately regulated at 275. Heat your biggest skillet over high heat with the hood fan sucking air furiously. Put a hefty glug of good olive oil in the hot skillet and lay the porcini steaks in one layer. When well seared on one side, turn them and sear the other side. Remove to warmed plates putting the mushroom steaks on one side of each plate, add some more olive oil, and sear the remaining bits of porcini. When seared, add the chopped garlic and toss about furiously for maybe 30 seconds, then add the chicken glacé and a glug of good white wine, maybe a shot glass full. Boil hard until it thickens, salt to taste, and remove to a bowl. Wipe out the skillet very quickly, reheat over high heat, put in more olive oil, and sear the fish pieces quickly on each side. They should have been in the low oven about 15 minutes, and should be done when seared, but check and cook another minute if needed. Plate them across from the mushroom steaks and pour the mushroom sauce down the middle.

Eat with gratitude and a light but flavorful red wine. Give thanks for the rain and the edibles that appear behind it.
If you can’t get porcinis or they are the usual obscene price, you can use fresh shitake caps cut in half (all stem removed. Really.) Or use portobellos but use a spoon to scrape out the gills, which turn a nasty black-muck color in the pan.
So far my efforts to grow edible mushrooms outdoors haven’t come to much, but I’ll keep trying, and I’ll reward our local foragers whenever I can afford to.
Incidentally, if two people eating a pound of porcinis sounds gluttonous to you, well, uh, no kidding. All I can say in our defense is that we eat basically one meal a day, plus snacks. And I think that wretched excess is a wonderful thing when practiced in moderation😉

A Hot Treat

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I love hot food, and one of my favorite snacks when other heat-lovers are around is stuffed jalapeños. Couldn’t be easier: slice 2 or 3 jalapeño chiles in half lengthwise, pull out the seeds and veins, salt liberally ( helps keep the heat in check,) put a piece of good cheddar about 1/2 inch square and two inches long in each half, and bake at 425 until done or cook on a part of the grill that you’re not cooking something else on, being careful not to burn the jalapeños. Eat with fingers. This amount of cheese will overflow a bit, causing crisp cheese crust to form on the baking pan. Yum. It’s low-carb and suitable for ketogenic eaters.
One split pepper makes a good cook’s treat when you have things in the oven anyway, and if you have a willing sous-chef don’t forget to roast a second one.
Jalapeños are good for growing in the front yard because they are sturdy and attractive. They may need a little judicious staking to keep them upright. They can get hot as blazes. The longer they’re left on the plant, the hotter they get. 1 or 2 plants per person are plenty.

Pork Belly and Eggplant

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Recently I scored a big chunk of local outdoor-raised pork belly and have been gleefully cooking with this delicious cut for about a week. First I seasoned it with salt and pepper, let the seasoning sink in overnight, then sous-vided the piece at 143 degrees for 24 hours, finishing with a rapid sear on both sides over hardwood charcoal. That was delicious, but today’s planned-overs are the best pork belly so far. This dish uses the eggplants that my garden is pumping out right now.

You will need:
6 slices across a half pork belly (raw or cooked, but salt if raw) about 1/4-1/3 inch thick. In effect, you have six very thick slices of unsmoked bacon. Cut the slices crosswise into pieces about 2″ long.
4 Japanese long eggplants cut into chunks 2″ long and then quartered, salted liberally and set aside to drain.
3 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed, soaked, and drained (you can find salted fermented black beans in bags or bulk at good Asian groceries. DON’T get the unfermented kind.)
Half a cup or so of my Quasi-Korean Sauce I have this in the refrigerator all the time.

Press the salted eggplant pieces hard with your hands in a clean towel to get out as much moisture as possible. Lay the pieces of pork belly flat in a hot skillet and fry them good and brown and crisp on both sides, but don’t burn. Set them aside on paper towels and pour most of the fat out of the pan, leaving a few tablespoons. Put the eggplant pieces in to fry, keeping the heat medium-high and turning with a spatula. They should be browned on the cut sides and pretty soft. Meanwhile, mash the fermented black beans with your mortar and pestle or grind them in a mini-prep. Add them to the Quasi-Korean sauce. When the eggplant is cooked add the sauce to the hot pan, stir and flip to coat the eggplant well and cook it in the sauce a minute, add the pork belly chunks, and stir to coat them thoroughly. Serve forth with suitable green bits on top. I used cilantro, but slivered green onions would have been better. Serves two. If you aren’t a ketogenic eater, you will want some white rice with this, and it will serve three.

Now, my rant about pork. Pigs are intelligent animals and the conditions under which they are kept in factory farms is heartbreaking and disgraceful. They go insane, as would we under similar circumstances. Please seek out a local farmer who raises pigs humanely and buy from him or her. Often local food co-ops are sympathetic to your quest and can either help you get the meat or direct you to farmers. Go to farmers markets or look on Craigslist. If you have no other source, ask meat dept. managers at Whole Foods. They may surprise you.

Tadpole update

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The little jellyish tadpoles introduced in a previous post now have well-developed hind legs, growing front legs, and are beginning to look like tiny toads. And there is no such thing as too many toads, in my opinion anyway. If you want to get them in your yard, in most parts of the country all you have to do is build it and they will come. Have a ground-level source of fresh water, plenty of shade, and some insects, and you will have toads pretty soon. Listen for their high-pitched “singing” around your pond some time. They sound more like katydids than like frogs, and it’s music to the gardener’s ears.