More Autumn Food

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I know, it's been forever since I posted. It's not just that I'm lazy, I swear. What I noticed is that, when I started this blog, I had been working very diligently to improve my cooking technique. I've always been good at following recipes, but not as much at improvising. So for a while there, I was making lots of recipes, learning new techniques, classical preparations, fleshing out my repertoire.

I've been reading McGee cover to cover. I'm about halfway through. I started with the last couple chapters on cooking methods and common food molecules and then went back to the beginning. I've read eggs, dairy, meat, fish, shellfish, vegetables, and fruit, and am now at herbs & vegetable flavorings. Still to come: seeds, nuts, coffee, tea, wine, beer, maybe a couple other things. I'm getting there.

I've been reading several of my cookbooks, not just looking up recipes but really reading them, cover to cover, reading the sections on technique and the opinions of the authors and the nuances of various ingredients and cooking techniques.

And I've made a lot of progress. In particular, I can walk into the grocery store or farm or farmer's market now and just look around and see what's good and buy it and in my head ideas are floating around where they weren't before. Before it was more of a vague anxiety, like, I hope I can find something to do with all this stuff.

My cooking has been a bit less flashy and certainly less recipe-driven as a result, but it's been good. When I realized it had been far too long since I'd posted here, I thought, well, I can just post a random survey of what I've been eating lately.

For Thanksgiving I used the rest of the giant bag of sweet potatoes I got from Marysol, peeled, sliced, and roasted them in the oven with a bit of butter so they browned nicely, then mashed them with a little leftover cream, layered them in a pie plate, and topped with an improv crumble topping that I sweetened with blackstrap molasses and scented with orange juice and orange zest. It was great.

Sweet Potato, Orange, Molasses

Here are my cats:


For the Thanksgiving meal at my office, I made vegetable pot pies. I took the ingredients on the left and, using only my knife, no mandoline (I'm working on my knife skills), turned them into the mise on the right.

Veggie Pot PiesVeggie Pot Pie

Then I cooked the veggies variously (roasted the carrots, fennel, and potato in a big baking dish until tender, sauteed the mushrooms in cream) and lightly browned some chopped onion. I made two pie crusts ala Tartine (read: 2 sticks of butter per pie) and filled them.

Veggie Pot Pies

I closed the tops, trimmed it all down, and then baked them in the morning before heading into the office, naturally forgetting to photograph them then. But come on, obviously they were delicious. Tartine pie crust filled with savory veggies and cream and spices? Duh.

For cooking night, I promised something hearty and filling, so I went to Whole Foods. On finding that they finally had Meyer lemons in stock (they're on trees all over the place here, why'd it take so long?) I picked up a bunch of those, some good Granny Smith apples, some carrots, and a few shallots and just cooked it all down separately:

Carrots, Apples, Meyer Lemons

I cooked the lemons into a marmalade with as little sugar as I could tolerate, cooked the apples down into a straightforward applesauce, cooked the carrots until they were soft enough to mash, then turned the heat up to brown the bottoms a bit, caramelized the shallots, and layered it all in a pie plate. I mashed the carrots with the shallots and spread them on the bottom of the plate; I topped that with the applesauce, and finally spread the marmalade on top.

Man, it was an interesting dish. Sweet but herbal carrots, sweet but very brown and bulby shallots, sweet fruity applesauce, and super-tart, thyme-y, gelled Meyer lemon marmalade on top. It was kind of intense, especially the way the caramelized shallot flavor and Meyer lemon flavors went together. But it was really good! It kind of reminded me of the flavor of beets (a vegetable I am still learning to love) -- not that it actually tasted like beets, but it had that sweetness combined with the odd off-flavors and sharpness. I'd make it again.

Speaking of beets, last night I roasted some, topped them with a good Roquefort, simply pan-fried a chunk of good thick tuna steak, and ate it all with the leftover carrot/apple/lemon stuff:

Tuna, Beets, Blue Cheese, Carrots, Apples, Meyer Lemons, Shallots

Now you see why I didn't photograph the carrots/apples/lemons separately: They don't actually look very photogenic. It's just three orangey-yellow pastes on top of each other. The appearance belies the complex, delicious taste.

Yesterday while the beets were roasting, I also started another marmalade, this time cranberry-orange. Again, I used as little sugar as I could bear (still a reasonable amount, since cranberries and orange peel are both completely inedible, the one tart and the other bitter.)

Cranberry-Orange Marmalade

I just simmered that for a long time. Cranberries and oranges have a ton of pectin in them, and I threw in the orange peel while it simmered, so it was basically a Jell-O mold in a saucepan by the time I took it off the heat.

Cranberry-Orange Marmalade

I also prepped a chicken yesterday, drying it off and salting and peppering it, trussing it, and then wrapping it back up and refrigerating it overnight. I took it out tonight, drained the fluid that the salt pulled out, and dried it again with paper towels so the skin was as dry as could be, and then roasted it in the usual manner. About a half hour before it was done, I took it out and glazed it with a nice thick coat of the marmalade.

Cranberry-Orange Glazed Chicken

Here's my weirdo cat trying to eat my Rock Band box:


And again:


I always take my chicken's temperature from a different place. Usually I go with the Bouchon instruction: stop when the flesh between the thigh and body hits 155; it'll keep going to 160 on its own while resting. This time, it's the Joy of Cooking: stop when the thick part of the thigh hits 170 to 175. It should be about the same time, but it's an easier thing to consistently measure.

Cranberry-Orange Glazed Chicken

It sure looks good, anyway. Now I have to let it sit for 15 minutes. You'll have to wait until next time to find out. (And at my rate, that might be 2008.)


At December 4, 2007 10:46 PM , Blogger Roberto N. said...

I used to go for the old school, clear juice technique...

At December 5, 2007 8:22 AM , Blogger brian said...

Yeah, I should probably just do that. The problem is, with a bright red glaze, it's hard to see the juices sometimes to tell.

This chicken actually came out a little undercooked in the thighs; I'm gonna pan-fry them tonight to finish them up. But the breast meat was the best I've ever had. So I think it's just a question of oven temperature; I preheated it to 450F and turned it immediately down to 350F on putting the chicken in (the 450 to brown the skin right off the bat.) I think I need to leave it higher, like closer to 400F for a 4lb chicken, so the exposed thighs cook faster before the heat can penetrate down to the breast meat and make it dry.

At December 5, 2007 11:58 AM , Blogger And said...

I was inspired by Steph to buy some beets this weekend, but still haven't made them. Maybe I'll try them with cheese on top. I like the random pictures of your cats!!

At December 5, 2007 3:44 PM , Blogger steph said...

How can you not love beets????? They're my favorite. I also like your cat pictures. I want a kitten.

At December 5, 2007 3:45 PM , Blogger steph said...

I also forgot to write that we expect you to do most of the cooking when you're around for Christmas. Just so you know...

At December 12, 2007 8:13 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another idea for your apple sauce thing. The other day I had a quince and cranberry chutney. It was delicious. I think the quince might go very well with your meyer lemons.


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