Sunday, October 30, 2011

Scaring the BeJeezus Out of Someone with Food

Happy Halloween Weekend Everyone!
Eat me!
If you really want to creep people out, and test their "will you eat this" skills, then take a trip to Hmart and skip on over to the kimchi room. There, they have little cartons filled with these tiny little crabs. Teeny tiny little spicy crabs. It takes a lot of moxie to pop one of these suckers in your mouth. But once you do, you too will experience the sweet, crunchy, spicy deliciousness that I once feared.
Dig in. Delicious scariness. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gyoza: One of Life's Simple Pleasures

There are few things in this world that I love more than the anticipation of a dinner with a full plate of gyoza to share with someone that appreciates those succulent little dumplings just as much as I do. They're fun to make, they're easy to make yourself, and they usually result in what one would call a gyoza coma. My own father loved gyoza so much that he gave my mother the nickname of "gyoza bum." Not sure what I should really draw from that one, but I think of it fondly.
So, how to make gyoza? Well, my mother's recipe follows this one almost exactly. 
First off, when making the recipe, I recommend doubling the quantity. I do this for two reasons. 1) I like to make a lot of gyoza at once, freezing about half of the amount to safely whip out when I need something special to eat. 2) It makes sense to double the quantity because when shopping for ground pork, odds are you're more closely going to buy something portioned to about a pound. 
Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds'
Ground Pork
Also, on this particular occasion, I'd like to note, that we used some excellent ground pork, a pound from our pork sampler purchased from Jen and Pete's Backyard Birds. The pigs at Jen and Pete's are allowed to forage and run around like crazy for their short period on this earth, and then when it's close to closing time, they're encouraged to plump up on generous amounts of barley. The package itself says "finished with barley" indicating that the pigs were allowed to feed on the grains at the end (not that there's actual barley mixed in with the sweet meat). 
Bonito Soup Base (I think)
There's a second variation we apply when mixing the pork filling, that might be of interest to you. I find that if you boil the chopped cabbage in a dashi, then there's a much more round flavor to the filling. It adds salt content and umami flavor to the entire dish. For those who don't know, you can purchase a bonito base in a box like the one shown, add a tablespoon or two of the little particles to your water, and there you have a nice stock to flavor your chopped cabbage.
And of course, the third scary element to making your own dumplings is the actual wrapping. I promise it's easier than you think it is. Purchase your gyoza skins from an Asian supermarket, unless you're super Asian and can make your own skins. (I dream of the day when I will be a dumpling skin master... alas, we're not there yet.) 
Step 1: Take a skin into the palm of your hand. Dip your pointer finger into a little dish of water, and rub it around the circumference of the round dumpling skin. 
Step 2: Take a teaspoon of your pork filling mixture. Trust me, a teaspoon, only slightly more. Less will make it easier to make nicely sealed dumplings.
Step 3: Sort of loosely fold your dumpling skin in half, so that it resembles a taco, and lightly press the filling down with your left hand's pointer finger. Think like you're rolling a joint. I'm just sayin...

Step 4: Create the little creases, coaxing a little fold with your left hand's pointer finger on one side of the skin, and your right hand's thumb on the other side of the skin. Now, with your left hand's thumb, you can press down over the little fold that you've created.

That's all there is to it. About five creases should create a sealed dumpling.
Now that you've created all of your dumplings it's time to cook. Just follow the directions from the recipe. They basically fry on the bottom and then there's a bit of water added, they're covered for a few minutes and they steam to finished.

AMAZING FLAVOR. A single bite from the dumpling, lightly dipped in the vinegary sauce that I also lift straight from the recipe, and you have a juicy, savory, fun to eat, and wonderful to make treat. This is fantastic food, and in my opinion served best with beer, rice, or both. Impress your friends at your next party by making these ahead of time. Or simply gorge with someone that can appreciate delicious, homemade Asian food.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Early Fall Vegetable Soup

King oyster mushrooms
We've definitely entered an ideal state for making soups. There's a little bite in the air, and a windbreaker in the evening hours no longer cuts it. At the same time, I'm not quite sure if I'm ready to go totally just meat and potatoes in preparation for cooler weather. There is still a wealth of vegetables available as part of a late harvest. Sure, the tomatoes are no longer picture perfect and super sweet, and the corn is probably going to be gone in a week, but there are still tasty tomatoes, the last of the corn, fantastic, big fat green beans, thick and hearty carrots, and even the last of those beautiful, pink-speckled cranberry beans.
So in the spirit of keeping things healthy and appreciating the last of the vegetables, while also appealing to the need to ward off some of those growing chillier still fall nights, I ventured to simmer up a fantastic vegetable soup based all on what veggies are still available. For this recipe, you'll need one head of garlic, four ripe medium-sized tomatoes, four big fat king oyster mushrooms, some parsley, a good slice of rind left over from a piece of parmesan, two cobs of corn, two cups of cranberry beans, two cups of chopped green beans, four large carrots, and about six cups of good chicken stock. Everything about this faux recipe, like I said before, is about just using what is still available, and what you might have on hand. The only way to screw it up is to mis-time things so that some veggies are soggy and overcooked while others remain undercooked. That's why we're using this particular sequencing.
Roasted garlic
1. Starting out is nice and easy. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Slice the top off of your head of small garlic, and place on top of a sheet of tin foil. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil over the top, and then wrap tightly in the tin foil. The idea is to roast the garlic for about forty-five minutes so that the insides are nice and soft, and easily dissolve into the actual broth throughout the cooking process. Plus, roasting garlic is one of those smells where you find Jesus. Jesus is in the roasting garlic in the kitchen... look for him there.
Peeled, chopped tomatoes
2. While the garlic is roasting, take this time to peel and chop your tomatoes. You'll want to set a pot of water on the boil, and then slice a shallow x into the bottom of each tomato. Drop them into the boiling water, count to ten, take them out and rinse under cold water. The skins should come right off. After peeled, you can remove some of the seeds, and roughly chop the rest of the tomato flesh.
3. When your garlic is done roasting, and nicely cooled on the kitchen counter so that you can handle it safely, pour about two tablespoons of olive oil into a large dutch oven over low heat. Squeeze all of the garlic that you can out of the head and into the olive oil. Stir it round to mingle with the oil for a moment, and then add your chopped tomatoes. Allow to cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly to get the tomatoes really going.
Parmesan rind
4. Now we'll want to add a bunch more ingredients to really get a well developed, earthy broth. First, with this particular soup, I chose to wrap about five sprigs of parsley into a little cheese cloth and throw this in with the tomatoes. I also took this opportunity to slice the kernels from my corn cobs, and throw the actual cobs into the soup to add more corn flavor. (The kernels themselves will be cooked near the end, because they don't take that long to cook.) Now, you can pour in all of your chicken stock, slice your king oyster mushrooms into approximately 1/2 inch rounds and throw those in, and as a final boost, though it may sound a little odd, add your rind of Parmesan cheese. This rind is going to add a lot of salt, will complement those delicious mushrooms perfectly, and also add a sort of nutty flavor to the soup. We'll take it out later on, along with the cheese cloth parsley packet. At this time, you can cover the pot, and allow it to simmer for about an hour or so, until you feel that perhaps the tomatoes have melted down nicely into the rest of the stock.
5. After your tomatoes have merged with the liquid stock quite a bit, you can start adding your other elements. First, add the carrots. Those should cook for about thirty minutes.
Cranberry beans
6. This might seem a little bit like cheating, but I like to precook my beans so that I can add them at the last minute and know that I won't be over cooking them. Beans can be tricky, even fresh beans. If they burst, your soup will begin to thicken up and get murky, which we do want to avoid with this soup, since we want it to be chunky, but still have a fairly clean tasting broth. So boil a pot of salted water, and add your cranberry beans. Let them jump around for about fourteen minutes and then taste. If the beans are no longer mealy tasting, then they are finished, and you can drain and set aside. Also, once the beans are cooked, you can use this as your cue to take out the parsley packet and the cheese rind.
Green beans
White corn kernels
7. After thirty minutes have passed, you can add your green beans. Let those cook for about twenty minutes. Then it's in with the corn kernels. After about five minutes, those should be well on their way to cooked, and you can add back your cranberry beans. When everything is warmed up, add salt and pepper to taste, and you're done!
Finished vegetable soup
This is a delicious, chunky, wonderful vegetable soup. The mushrooms add a little bit of a savory depth to the soup, not to mention that the texture of a long cooked mushroom is really fantastic, such a satisfying chew. Then there's the freshness of the parsley, the saltiness and nuttiness from the cheese, those sweet thick carrots, and then the bit of color from the green beans and those bright white kernels of corn. And let's not forget the cranberry beans, which add yet another element that really comes together with the earthy mushrooms and the nutty Parmesan. I hope you enjoy this tomato rich, sweet and homey vegetable soup.

1 head of garlic
4 medium tomatoes
6 cups chicken broth
4 king oyster mushrooms
Rind of Parmesan
2 cobs of corn
2 cups cranberry beans
2 cups green beans
4 large carrots
Salt and pepper

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Jang Su BBQ Restaurant

New Jang Su
Korean Barbecue is basically the best beer drinking dinner of all time. It's flawless. It's fun. It's definitely up there among the "interesting going out for dinner adventures" category. (Others in said category include shabu shabu, rodizio, habachi, robata, dim sum, etc.) There's pretty much nothing more fun than sitting around a grill table with friends, drinking cheap beer, and grilling some delicious meat. Furthermore, with Korean Barbecue, you're guaranteed all those fun little pickled dishes called banchan. There's the traditional kimchi, but odds are you'll also be enjoying some sort of pickled daikon, a bit of fish cake, some marinated bean sprouts, and then some pickled cucumber, among other possibilities.
Dining Room
New Jang Su is among the best Korean BBQ that I've experienced. It's located not far from the Asian supermarket that we've just explored known as Hmart in Burlington, and while you may find yourself tempted to conclude your visit to Hmart with a bowl of noodles at one of the little restaurants located inside of the supermarket, I recommend that you spend the extra four minutes or so to drive to New Jang Su down the road for Korean BBQ. It's just that much better.
The Banchan
If you're a newcomer to the experience of Korean BBQ, there's no need to be intimidated. It's easy to fall in love, and actually at this restaurant, they're fairly accustomed to newcomers. The kind server will ask if you're here for the BBQ, and at that point you should nod your head, and allow her to seat you at one of the tables with a grill in the middle and a little exhaust dome hanging overhead. When perusing the menu, head straight to the bbq section; it's a single page. There are about ten different items on this page, all involving some kind of meat, or a seafood and vegetable, or all of the above. We usually select the short rib item (kalbi) and then the bul go ki. After you order, one of the staff will run over and light your grill from underneath. While the grill and the charcoal heat up, another server will bring over little dishes of cucumber pickles, daikon pickles, kimchi, marinated bean sprouts, a sauce of salty fermented beans, and a final little dish of thin little fish cakes. There will also be a bowl of rice for each person, and a little basket of crispy lettuce leaves. Feel free to taste each to see what they have going on, but don't eat too much, as you'll need each of these to build your little lettuce wraps as soon as your meat is cooked. Also note, if you happen to run out of any one item as you make your way through the meat, you can ask for as many refills as you need. 
Short Rib
Soon after the grill has heated up, the server will bring over two dishes of meat: one of them is the bul go ki, which will look like a mound of marinated thin slices of short round beef. The other is the short rib kalbi, which will include two thick bones, and then long strips of marinated beef. The first dish to go on the grill is the short rib. The server will ask whether you would like to grill the bones, and the answer is yes, because you want to be able to pick every last bit of meat off of that plate. She'll lay the long strips on the appropriate place on the grill, and then place the bones. After a few seconds, she'll draw her weapon, a sharp pair of scissors, and cut approximate three inch pieces from the long strip of beef. She'll turn them over, and retreat from the kitchen for a moment, returning when the beef is done. At this point, the strips are placed to a cooler part of the grill and you are free to feast.
Assembled Wrap with Short Rib
Now to assemble your lettuce wrap. Pick up a lettuce leaf and place in the palm of your hand. Apply a little bit of the fermented soy bean sauce. Grab a tablespoon of rice from your bowl and place on top of the sauce. Add a slice of the short rib meat. Top with a piece of kimchi. Fold over your lettuce leaf ends to wrap, and maneuver to pie hole. It's really such a simple dish, but so delicious. Every element is essential to the overall depth of flavor in the wrap: the crisp lettuce as a vehicle from hand to face, the fluffy rice, that salty, funky sauce, and then the marinated, tender savory beef, all kissed with a bit of heat from the leaf of spicy kimchi. It's really a perfect couple of bites at a time, and each time that you make your wrap, you can vary the flavor by adding more pickles, or going without on occasion. Also, I can't emphasize enough how delicious the short rib is. It has such developed flavor from their tangy, salty marinade, made just a bit more complex by the little caramelized bits from the grill and the general fun of watching the meat shrink up in front of you. 
Assembling Wrap with Bul Go Ki
The bul go ki is just as good as the kalbi, but since it arrives in a mound of thinly sliced beef, it has just a bit more of the flavor from being covered at every possible angle with the marinade. It's also texturally different after being cooked. While with the kalbi you have the straight bite of beef, the bul go ki is a little bit easier to bite off as it has kind of a well-cooked shredded quality after being grilled. So just as fun, and just as delicious, and just different enough that it's an essential order for your table to make.
I go back to this place every time I happen to find myself in Burlington. It's just fantastic Korean BBQ, from the service, to the kind of unusual location of the restaurant (strip mall territory), to the fact that the food is just that good to draw you outside of Boston and into "Greater Boston." I highly recommend that if you need a good meal, and have some time to sip some beer and eat some delicious meat in an interesting atmosphere, you make your way to New Jang Su with a group of friends ready to have a great time. 


New Jang Su BBQ
260 Cambridge St
Burlington, MA 01803

Saturday, October 22, 2011

HMart: An Asian Wonderland!

Admittedly I've been slacking a little bit in the writing department this week. Late nights at work can do that. However, once the work week is through, on occasion, that paycheck should be blown hardcore on all things consumable. And here's another big revelation on the part of the writer, I'm of Asian decent. My mother, lovely little sprite she is, hails from Ibaraki, Japan, from a quaint little farming village known as Tokizaki. Growing up on foods like chouri├žo and peppers, clam chowder, clam cakes and coffee milk can occasionally be confusing when on certain hot summer days we were treated to feasts of cold somen noodles and futomaki or on cold winter nights, big plates of gyoza, or snacks of ochazuke soup with left over rice. It's all part of that little thing we know as heritage in these parts, because everybody's got a mom or a grandma that makes stuff that your neighbors have never heard of before. 
So like a good daughter, I've embraced those awesome meals that I've known in childhood, and later in life, those foods that I'd look forward to while living in Kawasaki City outside of Tokyo. But let's face it, whenever I have a craving for these things, they're not necessarily easy to find. Sure, I can buy rice at different supermarkets. And I have had some success in locating inari skins, and furikake to sprinkle on rice at the CMart in Boston's Chinatown. But for the more exotic goods, I've had to head down to Jersey to Mitsuwa, the closest Japanese supermarket. 
That is, until fairly recently. Lucky for us, Hmart, a Korean supermarket has opened in nearby Burlington, MA. And it's an amazing supermarket. With a huge array of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese deliciousness, I find myself wandering these aisles with "eyes bigger than my stomach" sickness, hence why it's best to visit on a Friday night after securing one's paycheck. Whether you're of Asian decent or not, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take a trip to Hmart, especially if you've got kids. Encouraging one's natural curiosity in exotic foodstuffs can only be a good thing, and man they've got some beautiful fish, meat, and produce. Or if you're the type that's on a budget, they've got noodles upon noodles upon noodles, and good noodles, not your typical Maruchan Yakisoba crap. ("What's a yakisoba?" Ugh. That commercial probably even pisses off the midwestern folk that it's marketed towards.) At any rate, if you're intimidated, let's take a little photo trip to Hmart...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Roasted Chicken over Potatoes and Fennel

Roasting a chicken for Sunday dinner is always a good idea. With a simple brine, and roasted over a pan full of potatoes and fennel, you are guaranteed a succulent, juicy chicken, and a well developed, roasted side dish, all made in one receptacle. In our case, we are roasting a Redbro Freedom Ranger chicken, picked up from Jen and Pete's Backyard birds. The specific variety of bird we are using has a more even distribution of dark meat to white meat, a characteristic of this heritage breed. Frankly, the distribution of white to dark meat makes it taste more like a real bird. It has more of a mineral rich flavor and is generally richer, more savory and less bland than the Perdue you're picking up at Market Basket.
Freedom Ranger, ready for oven
So start out with a simple brine. We like to use enough water to cover our bird in a large pot, maybe around a gallon and a half to two gallons of water. Then it's a matter of using a ratio of approximately 3 parts salt to 1 part sugar. So maybe 1 cup of salt to about 3/4 cups of sugar for this size bird. The bird was left to soak for about 4 hours, and then taken out of the brine and allowed to dry on a pan in the refrigerator for about forty-five minutes.
While the bird dries, you can half a whole bunch of beautiful potatoes. Last week, I picked up about a pound and  half of lovely multi-colored new potatoes, each about the size of a golf ball, from the Kimball Fruit Farm Stand. We also roughly sliced a big bulb of fennel picked up from Milk and Honey Green Grocer in Salem. All our veggies were tossed with a touch of olive oil, and parked into a large saute pan. The chicken went on top. Add a bit of oil to massage into the chicken, and liberally salt the chicken skin. When ready, the pan of chicken, potatoes, and fennel can go into a preheated 425 degree oven for twenty minutes. When your timer goes off, reduce the heat to 375 degrees, and allow the chicken to cook until the juices run clear (for us this was approximately forty minutes longer).
Sunday dinner is served
Crispy chicken skin
Crispy, golden brown, salty chicken skin is an irresistible component of this dish. Dig a little further, and you have succulent, juicy morsels of dark and white meat to pick apart. Dig a little deeper, and there are those potatoes that are just so satisfying to bite into. Not to mention, the flavors of the chicken fat has been allowed to penetrate each and every potato and all those lovely liquorish kissed slices of fennel. Another fine, keep it simple Sunday dinner. 

1 heritage breed chicken. NOTE: Definitely pay a visit to Jen and Pete's website.
1 1/2 pounds of new potatoes
1 bulb of fennel
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Simmering chicken
PS. Right now, we have the pleasure of smelling a lovely chicken stock simmering on the stove. Any time that you choose to cook a whole chicken, save the carcass, and take the time afterwards to roast the chicken carcass with oil, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, three stalks of celery, two carrots, and a large onion. Then add in enough water to fill the entire pot. When you're finished, after hours of watching the stock come to life, you'll have over fifteen cups of beautiful stock. 
Last time I checked, chicken stock can get a little expensive. If you make your own from something you're just going to be throwing in the trash, I promise it'll be better than something you buy from the store, and you'll get to enjoy a savory aroma warming your home for at least a few hours on a cool fall evening.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oxtail Ragu

Oxtails from Batcheller Hill Farms
Way back in early summer, I had stopped by the Batcheller Hill Farms area of the Dewey Square Farmers Market, and discovered that they had oxtails. Holy crap! Oxtails! What will I do with those? At the time, I hadn't the foggiest. But sometimes you come across a really good quality "cheap cut" of meat, and decide that you should get it now, and an actual plan will come later on. Only a few days later, I strolled by the River View Farm stand, and they had beef bones. Like dinosaur-sized beef bones. Wrap 'em up. Bringin' that cheapness home with me. Once again, I'll think of what to do with the things later on, when I'm bored or at a bar somewhere discussing the awesomeness of dinosaur-sized beef bones. (A common conversation among my traveling band of thieves.)
Three and a half months later... Alright, so we've had our first frost in New England, albeit a light one, and though of late it has been freakishly warm, I decided earlier this week that Sunday was in fact the day. The oxtails and beef bones would have to emerge, and there would be much braising to be done. Also, despite the warm weather, this would be a perfect day to spend all day close by the condo to check on that meat again and again and again. You see, I live in the maritime paradise, jewel of the North Shore known as Salem, Massachusetts... smack in the middle of downtown. I love this little town, from the rich history to the quirkiness of the fact that it now makes a whole heap of money from the horrible occurrences of 1692. If I look out my window right now, there are hundreds of people walking by, smiling and enjoying themselves, clad in costumes and witch hats. Like I said, I love this place, but it takes me a while to adjust to the hoards invading to enjoy all our fun. So, anyway, I'll watch from my door step and adjust as needed. (Also, later in the month when things really get crazy, I promise I'll do some sort of a boozy Haunted Happenings rundown. Until then.)
So back to the oxtails and beef bones. Now, I've eaten many a braised ragu in my day. They're very rich, and some are more beefy and reduced than others. Some are also very tomato saturated, while others have no trace of tomato. I find that I enjoy a ragu that is pretty chunky, but not so much that sauce isn't covering parts of your pasta. I also like the day long simmered tomato flavor. But let's disclose something. I've never made a ragu before. I've made plenty of red sauces and marinara, but never a true ragu. The key? If you're patient and use good stuff, I'm told you can't screw it up. Therefore, today's endeavor will feature the creation of one pot of tomato sauce, one pot of braised meat, and then the end of the day marriage, and continued simmer of the two in order to achieve the ultimate braised beef sauce. Here is my story.
Peeled tomatoes
1. Let's start with our tomato sauce. Set a pot of water on the stove, and apply high heat. You want the water to boil.
2. Wash your plum tomatoes. I started with about ten, and cut a shallow "x" at the bottom of each. When the pot of water on the stove boils, drop in the tomatoes and count to thirty. Drain the pot into the sink, and rinse the tomatoes with cold water. Starting at each corner of the "x", you should now be able to remove the skin very easily. After peeling, roughly chop all of your tomatoes. 
The tomato sauce, early stages
3. Wash the large pot that you used to shock the skins of of the tomatoes. Now put that back on the stove at low heat, because this is going to be your receptacle for the tomato sauce. Add about three tablespoons of olive oil, and mince three cloves of garlic. Add the garlic to the pot, and allow to cook about five minutes, just enough to soften a bit. When softened, add in your tomatoes, partially cover, and simmer. This tomato sauce will simmer on low heat basically all day. Add salt and pepper to taste, and if it seems like the liquid level is too low, add in a half cup of chicken stock at a time. In total, I ended up using two cups of chicken stock over a period of about five hours.
Herb satchel, diced onion, celery,
4. With your tomato sauce safely on its way, it's time to prep the more intimidating piece of this recipe. (For the record, I started with a recipe by Mario Batali, and I think it worked out rather well.) Set your oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a little satchel of a few twigs of rosemary, a handful of flat leaf parsley, and about five little twigs of thyme. Set aside.
5. Dice one large carrot, and three smaller stalks of celery. Also dice one medium onion.
6. Take out your oxtails and beef bones. Liberally salt and pepper all of them, and then dredge through flour.
Seared oxtails and beef bones
7. Add about five tablespoons of olive oil to your dutch oven and set to high heat. When the oil is smoking hot, add your bones and oxtails. Sear on all sides, until they're all browned. This should take somewhere around 10 minutes. Remove from the oil and place aside.
8. Reduce heat to about medium, and add in your onion, carrot, and celery. Stir for about five minutes. After five minutes, add your little satchel of herbs, pour in a bottle of dry red wine. I used a bottle of Malbec. Bring to a boil, then add your meat and bones back. Bring again to a boil, cover, and throw the dutch oven into the actual oven.
Everything ready to braise
9. Allow your meat to braise for about 2 1/2 hours.  Remove the pot from the oven, and remove your meat from the bones. The meat should easily fall off of the bones. If it does not, it needs additional braising time, so you should ship the whole lot back into the oven for more slow cooking. Now when you're removing the meat from the oxtails and beef bones, don't be surprised if your hand at one point starts sticking to the cutting board. Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously expect some sticky collagen action from this recipe when stripping the meat from bones.
10. When you have finished removing the meat from the bones, and the dutch oven is waiting patiently for your attention on the stove, you can skim a whole heap of fat from the surface of the ragu. There should be a lot of fat. Don't panic, just continue skimming. In total, I had approximately a third of a cup of fat when all was said and done. The entire layer of fat will be easiest to skim while the pot is off the heat as it floats easily up to the top of the sauce. After skimming as much fat as you possibly can, feel free to add back your shredded meat to the deep red/brown sauce.
11. At this point, depending on the consistency of the ragu, which should have already reduced A LOT, you'll want to set the dutch oven on low heat on the stove. Add ladles of your tomato sauce until the sauce has enough tomato flavor, and it's completely up to you. Due to the amount of meat that I was able to claim from those bones, I actually felt pretty comfortable adding all of my tomato sauce that had been cooking all day long.
Braised sauce & tomato sauce
All-day simmered tomato sauce
12. I allowed the sauce to simmer for about another forty minutes, and when the flavor of the tomato and the wine sauce had intermingled enough, I decided it was done. At this point, you can feel free to use the sauce over your pasta, polenta, gnocchi, etc.. We used some higher quality egg noodle fettuccine purchased from Milk and Honey Green Grocer in Salem.
An excellent fettuccine
for our ragu
As I'm sure you can deter from the length of this entry, this is kind of a lot of work. There are multiple pots, and hours and hours of monitoring, but at the same time, the toughest part is at the front end of the process, and after that you're simply left with the smell of braising meat and garlicky tomato sauce flowing through a warm kitchen. The taste of the actual sauce is so rich, meaty, herb plentiful and with remarkable depth that on the first bite of pasta, I spent a good few minutes chewing, exhaling and enjoying the fruits of my labor. It's a delicious (and fatty) sauce that coats the inside of ones mouth with all of that pleasant savory comfort food goodness and also a touch of sophistication due to the great quality of all of the ingredients we used along the way. I'm pretty sure that I won't be making it again for a while, especially since I've now used all of my oxtails, but I'll have to keep the recipe for a large family gathering in future.

Oxtail ragu on fettuccine, worth every scrap of effort

For tomato sauce -
10-12 fat plum tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper

For oxtail ragu -
Satchel of rosemary, thyme, parsley
1 carrot
3 stalks of celery
1 onion
5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, pepper, flour
1 1/2 lbs of meaty oxtails
Beef bones (really just a bonus ingredient)
1 bottle red wine (malbec)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kale, sausage, sweet potato soup

I wasn't really going to write about this soup, because I didn't really start with a recipe, and I didn't expect it to be all that great. But it turned out to be one of the best soups that I think I've made all year. Plus, we're entering soup season. So why not share?
1. Start with a bunch of red stemmed kale, and strip out those woody stems. Rip each leaf into bite sized pieces. You should end up with a huge fluffy mound of kale by the time you're through.
Jen and Pete's Backyard Birds
Pork Sausage
2. With about half a pound of ground pork sausage (not in casing), start rolling the sausage into little meatball looking things. We had some lovely pork sausage from a pork sampler that we had ordered back in spring from Jen and Pete's Backyard birds. The pigs were dispatched and our sampler became available a few weeks ago. The bag of sausage meat laid waiting for a spark of inspiration, but the bigger half impatiently opened it a few nights ago for a midnight snack, so I figured I'd better use it quick before it was all gone, or ::GASP:: it went bad. So sausage meatballs for the soup, it is. Sounds pretty darn good to me.
3. In a large dutch oven, throw in a tablespoon of canola oil and heat on medium until the oil shimmers and is ready. Throw in your meatballs, and give them a good toss. When all the meatballs are seared on all sides, and are pretty cooked through, remove them with tongs and set them on a separate plate.
Add kale to your dutch oven.
4. Still on medium heat, throw about four diced up cloves of garlic, and then all your kale into the dutch oven. It should look like a lot. Toss the  kale for the first couple minutes, add about a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and cover.
5. After five to ten minutes of stirring occasionally, when your kale looks a little wilted, add about five to six cups of chicken broth. I like a lot of broth in my soup, but you might like your soup chunkier. Use your judgement. Make this soup yours. After you've added as much liquid as you like (remember also that you're going to add in sweet potatoes and your sausage meatballs later on), cover the soup, reduce heat to about medium low, and let simmer forever and ever and ever. Longer it simmers, more flavor develops, but I feel pretty good letting it cook for about an hour, and just checking the heat to make sure everything continues on a gentle simmer.
Crazy-lookin' sweet potatoes!
6. We picked up some really wacky looking sweet potatoes the other day from Kimball Fruit Farm at the Dewey Square Farmers Market. Admittedly, they were the ones left at the bottom of the barrel, which is why they were probably so weird looking. But I can't walk away from double ended sweet potatoes, can I? Plus, the ugly ones taste just as good. Trust me. Anyway, peel and cube your sweet potatoes. I had a little over two cups of sweet potatoes that I added to the soup. When you add your potatoes, turn the heat up to about medium, and again cover. It should take about fifteen minutes until the potatoes are tender depending on how big you cut them.
Piping hot kale, sausage, sweet
potato soup
6. Taste your broth. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Add back your sausage, let it cook for another few minutes, just to make sure that the sausage flavor can again marry with the soup, and then serve. 
Like I said, I wasn't intending on writing about this, but it turned out to be so darn good that I couldn't help but share. The earthy greens, packed full of vitamins, a well developed, slightly spicy and garlicky broth, and then that outstanding play between salty, zesty sausage (and Pete and Jen's is some of the best pork sausage I've ever tasted), and those incredibly sweet, soft and pillowy sweet potatoes. I think you'll find that the combination of kale, sweet potato, and sausage really should make more appearances on your dinner table. 

1 bunch of red stemmed kale (enough leaves to fill a large Dutch oven to the brim)
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 lb of pork sausage, rolled into balls
5 cups of chicken broth
2 cups of diced sweet potato
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bacon, Blue Cheese, and Brussel Sprouts (BBB): Pasta Salad

Your ingredients
Batcheller Hill Farms makes some of the best smokey, thick-cut bacon I've ever had. I don't know how they coax such richness out of a fatty piece of pork when the rest of the world seems to produce only junky, greasy slabs of crap. I guess it's because they care, and maybe they treat their animals right. Actually, I'm sure it's a combination of the two. And so when Batcheller Hill Farms shows up at the Dewey Square Farmers Market on Tuesdays, I head over to see what they have, and if they have bacon, and I've got some room in my freezer, it's like a match made in heaven.
Brussels Sprouts
Another treat that I've been looking forward to at the farmers market are the brussels sprouts from Kimball Fruit Farm. These large little cabbage looking things are a little bitter, but altogether also very sweet. Quickly baked at a high temperature and sprinkled with balsalmic vinegar, you have a really marvelous side dish for those days when you feel fall creeping in. Since I had already purchased my bacon, and bacon and brussels go together perfectly, however, I would not be doing a simple bake. In fact, I would be employing a couple other wholesome ingredients I had at home, including some Gorgonzola and a few apples that had been pickled last week at Brooksby Farm. Add in some cheap, run of the mill penne, and you have a pasta salad fit for the gods. What's the secret? You have to sautee the brussels in the bacon fat.
So here we go.
1. Set a pot of water on the stove and set it on high heat. Salt the water in preparation for your pasta. You'll want about a cup and a half of penne. You can also take this opportunity to preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. In the meantime, Slice up about three strips of large, thick cut bacon. You'll want about 1/2" pieces so that you get bacon in every bite of pasta. I can't emphasize enough how much better this dish gets when you use great bacon. ::wink wink @ Batcheller Hill Farms::
Fry up your bacon
3. You can also prep your brussels sprouts. Cut off the bottoms, and then slice into the sprouts as if you were cutting a teeny tiny watermelon. You may want to remove the outter most leaves, but if they are nice sprouts, I don't really bother.
4. Take a large frying pan, and add about a half tablespoon of canola oil. Set on medium high heat, and add your bacon. When the bacon is crispy, remove to a plate with a paper towel on top to drain. Immediately add your brussels to the oil. Sprinkle with a little salt, and then also a dash of balsalmic. Sautee until bright green, and then stick into the oven for about five minutes to finish cooking.
Brussels in bacon fat
5. While the brussels are cooking, peel and cube up three apples. Toss them in a big bowl (enough to toss your entire pasta salad) with a bit of lime juice to stop from turning brown. Also take about a tablespoon of the gorgonzola and sprinkle bits all over your apples. The trick is that we'll add the warm penne, and the flavors of the cheese will saturate the pasta.
6. Whenever your pasta is cooked, you can go ahead and drain and add the noodles to the apple/blue cheese combination. Toss vigorously. Now add your brussels and your bacon bits. Toss everything again to combine all the flavors.
BBB Apple Pasta Salad
Bacon, blue cheese, brussels. What a flavor smack. With the pasta absorbing every ounce of delicious blue cheese flavor, plus the saltiness of the chewy, thick bacon, and then the tartness of the apples to balance everything out and add a touch of crunch. Then there are those brussels sprouts. If you've never liked them as a kid, I think you'll be pretty pleased with brussels fried in bacon fat. It's a marvelous, hearty salad, and indubitably a crowd pleaser.

3 slices thick cut bacon
1 1/2 cups of penne pasta
Approximately 10 large brussels sprouts
3 large, tart apples
1 tablespoon gorganzola cheese

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Topsfield Fair: Navigating a Food Jungle

Pffffftttt! I'm at the Topsfield Fair.
Me too.
And us.
There is no questioning the quaint, friendly, enjoyable atmosphere of the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Massachusetts. They've held the fair since 1818, and have therefore secured the title of "America's Oldest Agricultural Fair." Just as with the turning of the leaves, each year as summer retreats, I hold fast to the next best thing, looking forward to the coming of the Topsfield Fair. You could say, why not go to the Big E in Springfield, MA? Why? Because it sucks compared to the Topsfield Fair. After attending the Big E once, and dodging throngs of tour buses, and generally ill behaved young people (you know who you are... your grandma would be ashamed, and it's hard to shame a grandma), I left feeling like it was too big, and lacked any real charm. ::shrugs:: I don't really mean to offend anyone that loves the Big E. But I am here to advocate for my favorite agricultural fair of all time. So, may I suggest making the journey up to Topsfield, and you're in luck because the fair is still running for the rest of this week. There are cows, sheep, goats, alpacas, rabbits, guinea pigs, elephants, ponies, horses, vegetables, flowers, gadgets, gizmos, and demonstrations of all sorts. Today, I enjoyed holding a baby chick, and petting a number of soft, fuzzy creatures, while later in the day staring in awe at the prize winning pumpkin, and wondering if next year I should enter the pie baking contest. 
But, let's face it. You come to this site to read about the food!!!!! 
There is a food stand at every corner of the Topsfield Fair, and this increases the danger that you might squander a space in your stomach on a not up to snuff Italian sausage, or a piece of fried dough that isn't fresh. So, I'm here to encourage you to dabble, but also to point out what items we have found over the years that are not to be missed.
Anna's Fried Dough
1. Anna's Fried Dough. It's kind of like breakfast right? Arriving at the fair around 11 am, and needing a little sustenance, I find that our party most often looks forward to that first bite of crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, freshly fried, frisbee of fried dough. The key to finding great fried dough at the fair is to look for the sign that reads "Anna's." If you look for this sign, you are guaranteed to see the nice young lady in the stand venture to the rear of the cooking area, carefully pull a wad of dough until it's pretty darn thin in the center, and then gently drop it into a bubbling vat of grease. She'll collect your money just in time to serve the puffed up snack. A sprinkle of sugar and you're good to go. 
The Fried Dough
It's not greasy at all, and the warm interior to the dough is one of the delights that accompanies anything that has been freshly fried. My mom delights in the fried dough, sprinkling with powered sugar and cinnamon, just enough to have stray dust particles adorn her clothing. I can't say that I blame her, as every bite is warm, buttery, sweet, and chewy, like a perfect yeast donut. Of course, the danger is that if you order your fried dough from just any stand, then they might have a pre-fried disk, just in the back ready to be handed down to you, and this makes for a soggy bit of greasy mess. So avoid just any stand, and head straight to Anna's.
Smoked Turkey Leg
2. Smoked Turkey Leg. Now, I love the irony of somebody like me walking around anywhere with a Flintstone looking thing like a smoked turkey leg. If I walked to work once in a while just to see what reaction I get, wielding a smoked turkey leg, the looks would be some mix of horror and envy. But at the fair, it's just "where did she get that" sort of glances. And why not? It's big, and it's delicious.
So, at the Topsfield Fair, there are only a couple stands that I've noticed that sell the smoked turkey leg. The best is probably the Dragon's Feast stand out near where all the kiddie rids are located. The smoked turkey leg is heavily salted, and speckled with pepper, deeply smoked, and surprisingly not dried out. Bite after bite, the dark meat of the turkey leg is just salty, savory, and since it's not fried, I feel a little bit like I'm still allowed to eat more later. Hell, if it were fried, I'd still eat more later. This is my time to shine. And yours too, but if you want something to hold and roam with, the turkey leg is a great selection at the fair.
Where to get your Gobbler
The Gobbler
3. The Gobbler. Oh my goodness, the gobbler. There are a number of stands at the fair offering sandwiches and other items that feature some kind of meat wrapped in a bun. There are also a number of stands, including church groups, that are offering full turkey dinners. But what if you want both? I want a sandwich and a turkey dinner, and guess what? I want it to be delicious and memorable! The gobbler is a beautiful thing. In a large, speckled with grain, torpedo roll, the people that run the stand pile on freshly carved turkey breast (from a real turkey!), heap on delicious, home made stuffing with fresh spices and probably loads of butter, and then dollop generous globs of cranberry sauce right on top. I've never been disappointed with a gobbler, and if you're into sharing, I'd say one gobbler is big enough for two people to split, and then still charge head on into the food scene with a little space left, and high hopes for something equally as delicious on the fair grounds.
The German Fries Stand
The German Fries
4. German French Fries. I love french fries. I love potato chips. And if you go to a fair and don't eat some sort of potato in fried form, you're probably doing yourself a terrible injustice. Let's face it. They're the ultimate side dish. So when you order your gobbler, make sure to head next door for an order of the fried German potatoes. Each piece is sort of a thick ripple potato chip, but so thick that the center has the consistency of a french fry. After each order, the cooks proceed to take pre-fried potatoes back to the vat for their necessary crisping. They come out of a wire strainer, glistening with oil, and super hot. Sprinkle with salt as you move down the line with your little Styrofoam dog dish looking thing, and make sure to add some ketchup. 
Fry after fry, they're difficult to stop eating, and a lot of fun to share. Who doesn't like any excellent rendition on a french fry or a potato chip? If you know someone you who feels animosity toward fried potatoes should submit their name to the "I suck" bureau for immediate review.
Get your Funnel Cake,
Fried Oreos, Fried Kool
5. Funnel Cake. Having grown up in the South, my bigger half loves funnel cake, but I didn't even know what the hell it was until I met him. Since then, he's waxed poetic regarding his beloved funnel cake, and wept at a world with me where it was largely absent. I guess it's much more prominent south of the Mason-Dixon. But not at the Topsfield Fair. They have excellent funnel cake, consisting of little noodles of batter squirted into the shape of a circle into a bubble vat of oil. When finished, those little noodles bubble up in an abnormal shape, and create a crispier version of fried dough. Generous shakes of powdered sugar, and the love of my life trots away from the stand like he's won something grand. If you like funnel cake, then this place is not to be missed. Also, if you want to try offerings like fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fried koolaid, and fried oreo cookies, this is the only stand that offers it. So take a long hard look at that picture, because that's where you'll find the new big thing that might kill you.
Pickled Eggs!
6. Pickles and pickled eggs. In the vegetable building, you'll find the proud winner of the biggest pumpkin prominently on display in a huge glass display. There are umpteen varieties of vegetables that have won all of the ribbons throughout the building. There are painted pumpkins from the local girl scout troops, and the biggest gourds you've ever seen. But if you're still hungry, you'll find hot apple cider donuts, apple cider, and a whole slew of vegetables for sale. I personally like to end the day by snacking on a pickled egg or a dill pickle.
Now, we all know what a dill pickle tastes like, but if you want a great dill pickle, you go to the little stand in the vegetable building, and you tell me whether it hits the mark. If you want something a little unusual, something reminiscent of bar food that still hasn't come back for a serious killing, you order one of their pickled, hard boiled eggs. One of the gentlemen will reach down into a large jar of hard boiled eggs that have been brined in vinegar, a mix of spices, and a good dose of garlic cloves, and hand you one of these white oblong beauties in a little plastic bag. The pickled eggs are tangy, they're salty, and they're saturated with flavor. For one last delicious close encounter before leaving the fair, and a little bit of a weird food item that may prove less harmful than a fried twinky, you'll do well to enjoy a salty, tangy pickled egg.
7. The Jerky. There is a little known jerky stand at the rear of an offshoot room of the trade show auditorium. While multiple venders try to sell their vegetable peelers and hot tubs, you'll find a small stand with oodles of elk, bison, venison, and beef jerky in different flavors. The kind gentleman running the stand will offer you all sorts of delicious samples, before you inevitably shell out a little cash for the best jerky in these parts. Today, we left with a hunk of the teriyaki jerky, and a stick of the elk, before munching our way happily throughout the rest of the stands. (Apologies for no photo on this one.)
As you can tell, I had a lovely time at the fair with my family, which is how it should be. There are plentiful rides, loads of cuddly animals, entertainment and games, but the food is truly fantastic. I hope that next time you venture to the fair, you can seek out some of the more delicious offerings that I've described above. Don't be suckered into eating shitty fried dough. Nobody deserves that.

Topsfield Fair
207 Boston Street
Topsfield, MA 01983