Cornichons: Éditions spéciale “Mexicains aigres” Saturday, Aug 27 2011 

Gherkins;  special sour Mexican edition. 

Planet of the grapes.

Last year’s garden bounty of paste tomatoes, peppers  and cucumbers exceeded expectations, perhaps raising them too high for this year’s harvest. Novelty Mexican sour gherkins  were planted on a whim for the sake of originality and at the onset were the runts of the litter, dwarfed by “de Bourbonne” French varietal cucumbers.  However, the community sharecropping garden has finally paid off dividends, bountiful in numbers, though diminutive in size.  “De Bourbonne” produced a plethora of flowers but the fruit yield was low as the leaves began to inexplicably wilt.  Heirloom ox-heart and paste tomatoes  had a promising start as well but soon followed the dB cucumbers’ discouraging demise. Meanwhile, the border buds burgeoned at a furious snail’s pace.

Not sure of how prevalent gherkin stereotypes are in our greedy, ignorant, chubby god-fearing society, but these little Mexican bastards appeared to thrive in the heat, quickly established roots, multiplied exponentially and eventually overwhelmed the ubiquitous tomatoes, squelching their sunlight, pilfering nutrients and entombing the garden’s predecessors in a suffocating ivy cabaña.

Itty bitty gherkin commission.

Efforts to raise a purebred calf in the 4’ x 6’ enclosure were hampered by NIMBY gardeners who selfishly objected to the conscious (and trendy) renaissance of super locally raised livestock, even refusing to allocate the unkempt, muffy herb garden for hay despite an inevitable return in rich, honest to goodness local manure.

Bumper to bumper crop.

Other personally scaled, highly popular agricultural ventures to receive a throng of green thumbs down from the temperamental garden community included:

barley, beach glass, butterscotch, cashews, cèpes, cinnamon, free-trade coffee, geese, grapefruit, hazelnuts, beef jerky, mahogany and other precious hardwoods, meth amphetamines, papyrus, peaches, peanuts, pineapples, qat, raisins, rice, rigatoni, sheep,  sugarcane, truffles and possibly uranium.

Barrel of sour Mexicans.

The gherkins had their flower ends washed away and were pickled in a simple 33%, vinegar brine with 3% salt, aromatics, this & that, bay leaf and so on.  Their skins are relatively thick considering their size and texturally resemble a grape sized cucumber; snappy skin though with a higher water and seeds content inside.  Otherwise, they taste like pickled gherkins and should best be eaten with olives and mixed nuts.

Cornichons de Mont Plaisant Tuesday, Jun 22 2010 

Mount Pleasant Gherkins

Ceci sont des cornichons.

The 0.00055 acre community sharecropping venture has finally paid off huge dividends in the form of diminutive cucumbers (cucumis sativus, though a different cultivar group). Growing at an alarming rate with late 60’s hippie hair breadth due to a strict regimen of cat food, hard boiled eggs and cheeseburgers. The fruits were picked throughout their adolescence for the purpose of pickling. There are few pleasures that surpass that satisfaction of growing sustenance from seed, nurturing it and preserving it for consumption well after its seasonal prime.   Mount Pleasant cornichons follow prescribed preserve protocol and provide a proper pickled pairing with homemade charcuterie.

Cucumbers in numbers.

Carmen and cayenne hot peppers are being grown for drying, along with paste tomatoes, heirloom carrots (all from seed), meth amphetamines, wheat, peaches, artichokes, cashews, corn, soy beans, pork bellies, rice, wax, wool, and, -if there is enough vertical space- rosemary.

Power to the pickle.

Half the cucumbers were pickled with cider vinegar (white wine vinegar is far from thrifty and the Swedish vinegar far too dear for pickling), water, 3% salt, coriander, black pepper, mustard seeds, pixie dust, dried chili, a few radish & garden carrot slices, fennel fronds and sour tears from a season past.

Trying to get bees with vinegar.

Julbord. Monday, Jan 4 2010 

Swedish Christmas table

Amish dough table, actually.

Inclement weather remnants, frantic holiday motorists, faulty zippers and not being able to remember a telephone number other than my own conspired to form a Mid-Atlantic maelstrom of some real F’ed-mas cheer.  Finding that my childhood 80 sq ft room’s dresser drawers were being used as a trash receptacle  for an unemployed 43 yr old hermit’s empty Kodiak dip cans, candy wrappers, loose change and food containers did little to liven the mood.  Even less after he threatened to place his fist in my old man’s face.  Some Nordic booze in ice provided a well deserved, albeit temporary analgesic distraction.

Linie Akvavit, chilling.  Up yours Martha Stewart.

Then saw an excellent movie about an emotionally vacant man, his accordingly suited job and his seminar schtick.  Such continuity in a story is what every menu should strive for. It left a remarkable  impression.  Anvil did the same in validating purpose and determination, albeit financially and professionally unsuccessful as is the case for most purist epicureans and craftsmen who do what they do for the self-rewarding passion.

7 Jews, 2 Swedish shiksa and the reclusive aforementioned temperamental groundhog descended upon a nicely set table on the Eve of Christmas day to feast on Sweden’s limited end of year bounty.  Swedish matron provided all the Swedish herring.  I provided the brined herring for the matjes which could have benefited from another fortnight’s worth of soaking to easy the stunningly salty brine.  Aunts Mimi, Bunny and Nan made the cookies.  91 year old Uncle Max brought the depraved teenage libido.

Hobo Jultomten.

Menu

Tre Sorters sill  – Three kinds of herring
Matjes sill  – Soused herring
Rökt lax – Smoked salmon
Sill salad -  Herring salad
Grav lax – Cured salmon
Jansons frestelse -  Janson’s temptation
Prins korv -   Prince sausage
Julskinka -  Christmas ham
Köttbullar -  Swedish meatballs
Rödkål -  Red cabbage
Rödbetor -  Pickled beets
Gurksallad -  Cumucber salad
Lingon  – Lingonberries
Ris a là Malta -  Rice porridge
Små kakor -   Small cookies

The 3 varieties of pickled herring were served in sauced of red wine vinegar, dill cream and mustard.  Matjes was another type of milder, smaller, immature herring and salt-brined rather than pickled.  The herring salad was assembled from mature herring in a very strong brine which were soaked in milk overnight in  a hasty attempt to degorge the salt.  It didn’t work too well as the dish was still considerably salty.  The grav lax was made at home, the smoked salmon was not.

Fish fit for Viking. Some by Abba (not the band).

Jansson’s Temptation is where it gets interesting, a less familiar dish but very representative of Nordic fare:  pickled sprats, potatoes, cream and onions.  The potatoes are cut into batons, smaller than the French Pont Neuf cut and randomly strew about a buttered baking dish with a layer of sprats and thinly sliced onion rings in the middle, covered with cream and finished with a top layer of onions cut in the same fashion.  It is essentially a gratin Dauphinois, augmented with the onions and sprats.  The sprats permeate the cream and give the otherwise rich and 2 dimensional dish notes of acidity and pleasant salty fishiness.  The Frenchified Thanksgiving version consisted of thinly sliced potatoes with a middle layer of caramelized onions deglazed with water and a lemon juice, thyme, dried chili and anchovies, then covered with nutmeg infused cream.

Anchovies erroneously found their way into international versions since sprats are called ansjovis by Swedes, whereas anchovies fall under the sardeller appellation.

The three folkloric Norse origins of Jansson’s Temptation’s legend are inconclusive and subject to very little debate by neither mythological conspiracy enthusiasts nor epicurean historians.

Some suspect the namesake of the dish to be Per Adolf “Pelle” Janzon, a gluttonous 19th century opera singer whose troubadour regimen allegedly consisted of beer, schnapps and the dish which won him marginal posthumous celebrity on the 40th anniversary of his expiration date.

Gunnar Stigmark, author of the Gastronomisk Kalender hopelessly attributes the dish to the eponymous 1928 Swedish silent-movie box-office flop starring Edvin Adolphson.

Hippie publishers of the 1967 American Heritage Cookbook believed that Erik Jansson, the really pious Swedish religious reformer who founded Bishop Hill, Ill in 1846 (2000 census pop. 125) was spied eating a decadent dish of anchovies and potatoes bound with rich, creamery butter and farm fresh milk. Janssonist zealots considered Jansson to be the second coming of Christ and cursed the dish as Jansson’s Temptation. He was murdered in 1850.

Blonde and blue dyed Nobel prize piece.

Yours truly brought the cooked ham from DC to Long Island where it was decorated.  The shank end of the picnic ham (minus the butt) was injected and brined for 5 days in a 5%/2.5% salt/turbinado sugar solution with #1, cinnamon, clove, allspice, rosemary, gumdrops, orange zest, garlic and chili after which it was left to dry and develop a pellicule.

The ham was then smoked in the faulty file-cabinet smoker which due to its placement in an alcove outside the back door manages to efficiently smoke the apartment when the door opens.  Hickory chips were burned on the electric hot plate at the bottom of the file-cabinet and the ham placed on a rack in what would be the second drawer whose base had been removed.  Once sufficient smokage was attained, the ham was cooked in seasoned “smiling” water for an internal temperature of 150F.  The resulting liquid was traditionally clarified  with egg whites,  gelled with additional gelatin and colored upon arrival at the holiday destination.

Few, if any foods are blue in nature and food coloring sleight of hand was required.  Turmeric provided the yellow…and was boosted with some yellow from the food-coloring 4-pack for good measure.  A cross mold was cut into cardboard, lined with plastic wrap and filled with the yellow aspic.  The blue aspic was poured into a dish and cut to fit the flag design.  A clear coat of aspic was poured where the skin was removed and the flag elements were “glued” to the ham.  More clear aspic was applied to seal the pieces.  Romanesco, yellow and purple cauliflower were pickled (the purple separately) in 24% ättiksprit (Swedish vinegar) with carrots, carawy, lemon zest and chili.

An assortment of home made cookies and strong coffee trumpeted the finale.  The host chef got the almond in the porridge and modestly won the prize, which she instinctively shared with everyone.

Små kakor taste better than it reads.

Christ is Björn: Though Christmas is fundamentally a Christian holiday and I bear a Semitic surname, it has always been a secular feast day to enjoy with the Protestant French and something Swedish maternal sides of the family.  Oysters, shrimp, pork and many other not kosher items have graced the 10 Swedish versions which have all been attended by a Jewy majority with a supermarket style choice of faith.  The herring were all bought canned from Sweden with the exception of the heavily brined herring which I brought up as well and not much can be said for their taste other than the consistency with last years.  Grav lax was a little wet and could have been cured differently, but it was not my event.  The Nordic breads were immensely satisfying, particularly the dense home made multigrain loaf rägbröd.  The harder circular rye flatbread knäckebröd is a sturdy instrument for herding food items onto a fork and an important nod to the Viking heritage.

The ham was very well prepared and pleased all palates.  The aspic was a kitschy delight for the Swedes and Heb’s alike.  The generous holiday buffet was a delicious representation of  fundamental Nordic ingredients, traditional preparations and humble compositions.    Tack så mycket, or tak for mad as the beloved Danish ladies would garble.

Holiday bush with Nordic trim.


The Best of the Wurst. Sunday, Dec 13 2009 

The Great Extrusion.

3 efficiently calculated varieties of tübesteak inspired from the 600 or so Germanic forms of extrüded meat for the send off the dearest sibling ever  to the Bundesrepublik Deutschland’s capital after 8 years in this one.  Many of the 20th Century’s most sinister Aryans’ wieners were smoked, (on and off the battlefield) though Kitsch und Klassics’  smoking hardware is severely  crippled; a modified file cabinet (the Germans coincidentally kept very good files) which erroneously filled the basement apartment with more noxious hickory gas than it did onto the meats to be flavored.  Consequently, a triptych of non-smoked finger-shaped finger food was conjured, the specific proportions of which will remain appropriately Top Secret:

Clockenwise von der top swine: Bierschinken, Nürnbergen rostbratwurst, Fingürlicken rindswurst.

Bierschinken: a breathtakingly large emulsified cooked pork sausage served cold not unlike mortadella or cervelas with chunks of pork and pistachios in it.  Ground twice, seasoned with salt, #1, paprika and puréed with onions cooked in lard.  Should have added more raw pork chunks but forgot to put enough aside.  Poached for 3 hours until an internal temperature of 150F was reached.  Awesome on its own.  The additional dab of whole grain mustard made it more awesome with mustard.

Fingürlicken rindswurst: a plump emulsified beef sausage not unlike the venerable Frankfurter, poached then grilled.  Twice ground rib-eye (erroneously sold as chuck at the neighborhood bodega) and chuck blade were puréed with cooked onions and caraway.  The idea to include a coloring agent of tomato paste and paprika diluted in ice water to preserve the reddish beef flavor was shamefully forgotten.  Despite the use of sodium nitrite (in all 3 varieties), the color was closer to brown than a reddish ochre. The sausages were poached then grilled.  The casings were crisp and after a characteristic “snap” yielded a tender, moist, beefy texture with a hint of caraway that supplemented by repollo curtido (Salvadoran pickled cabbage)  almost conjured the elements of a Ruebenesque hotdog by way of Central America, save for the cheese.  The next aisle over from the pickled whathaveyous featured analgesic Pediatyle style hangover juices fit for a delicate baby , notable a Latino themed horchata version.

Nürnbergen rostbratwurst: a short, stubby, fresh,  ground pork sausage flavored with cardamom, mace, chili and marjoram.  A delectably savory grilled sausage.  Properly seasoned and moist, though perhaps a bit over cooked by our generous host bar’s cooks.

An accoutrement of cauliflower pickles.  Romanesco, yellow and purple cauliflower with red onion, carrots, chili and lemon zest  in a 3% salt, 1.5% sugar and 33% concentrated vinegar solution.  Swedish Ättiksprit (24% acetic acid) was used in lieu of decongesting German essig (25%).  Outside of pickling, such strong vinegars are excellent antiseptics, formidable showerhead cleaners and offer merciless self-defense fumes.

Power to the Pickle.

An excellent evening which brought together a cherished group of all sorts from  parts, albeit to say goodbye to a beloved sister, colleague, teammate and social fulcrum.  However, the sausage innuendo jokes were limp before they even started.

Thanksgiving 2009, the recapitulation. Saturday, Nov 28 2009 

TG09: Old World France meets New World America.

A moderate case of PTD (post-turkey depression) affected the host after having cogitated then gestated the menu and its formulations for the better part of 3 weeks, but the dinner was not  offered without gustatory success. No breakage, pretty girls and a weekend of early morning grazing on tryptophan & cheese scraps with fingers by the twilight of the Frigidaire brought savory solace, albeit cold and perishable.

Exemplary guests provided long sought company, anecdotes and booze.

Preamble: My Mt. Pleasant dry cured sausage, turkey pâté en croûte with currants,  Chris Bradley’s blood pudding and a salt cod brandade in the style of Nîmes. Pickled purple cauliflower accoutrement and mulled cider to warsh it all down, adulterated with some trickle of George Dickel’s whisky for some social lubricant. The pâté en croûte was not as successful at the pâté pantin poultry edition in terms of pastry crust which was far too wet.  Escoffier’s measurements called for far too much water (2dl water for 25ogr flour), though such proportions were respected on account of the esteemed author’s reputation.  The same pâte á foncer proportions were used in the coq en pâte prototype  with diastrously wet results but technique and choice of fats may have been the culprit.  Whatever the case, notes were taken the recipe has been adjusted for future endeavors.  The  cooked pastry tasted good but was not as flaky as it could/should have been but was removed from the over for fear of overcooking the forcemeat.  The forcemeat  however–turkey, pork, chicken livers, cooked gizzards and hearts marinated in gin and augmented with currants was satisfying. Aspic was of the proper consistency, though perhaps a bit too sweet as a result of the crappy sweet wine used.  Patience and the fundamental practice  of  waiting for the pâté to cool before applying the aspic was not respected causing the aspic to run through a seam that did not have time to seal upon cooling.

Turkey trimmings in a savory pastry sarcophagus.

Variations of tubesteak.

Pickled Purple Caulimonster.

1st plated course: An almost ethereal turkey consommé with a few cauliflower-mornay agnolotti and florets of different cauliflower varieties (white, yellow and romanesco) clearly visible at the bottom.  The stock was made from chicken legs, 1/2 a turkey neck and turkey drumstick bones, the meat of the chicken legs being used for the clarifying raft, and that of the turkey for the pâté.  The other half of the turkey neck was caramelized with mirepoix and tomato purée, covered with the cold stock and clarified with a raft of ground chicken leg meat, vegetables, egg whites, salt and vinegar.   The cauliflower florets and agnolotti were blanched in advance then heated in extra stock upon serving.

Shots of Armagnac all around.

The bird: Heartier traditional sustenance manifested itself in 2 preparations of an Amish heritage turkey, a descendant of the original birds the Hittite pilgrim brought over with Columbus on the Mayflower .

Start cold turkey.

The breasts were brined on the bone and then roasted on a bed of vegetable and pear trimmings with slices of Bosc pears shingled under the skin, essentially basted with pearoultry juices.  The rest of a bothersome extra bottle of orgeat syrup replaced the sugar component of the brine (pears and almond blossom seemed compatible) and was injected into the breasts.  The shingled pears were apparent under the skin but pictures were blurry.  The ambitious vision was to reproduce a crude feather of sorts under each breast.

The legs for their part were transformed into ballotines.

Double barreled poultry.

The legs were skinned in a manner to provide the largest canvass and the meat broken down into major muscle components and any tendons removed. A forcemeat was fabricated from scraps and the remaining meat from the pâté marinade. Pistachios, dried cranberries, diced fatback and the larger turkey leg muscles were rolled into cylinders, wrapped in the skin, tied with string and poached in turkey stock with a calf’s foot until an internal temperature of 150F was attained. The poaching liquid cooked into a rich braising liquid with a tender garnish of standard mirepoix, leftover cranberries, sliced gizzards and fluted mushrooms for showmanship shits & grins. The flavor was nothing short of remarkable. Well seasoned, moist, delicious and classically refined. Nitrite was added to the forcemeat so as to ensure an appealing rosy hue rather than the drab autumnal brown.

Winner: Turkey legs in a supporting roll.

Another round of Armagnac.

Nods to the fall harvest: A gratin dauphinois. Scalloped russet potatoes with a middle layer of caramelized onion deglazed with white wine vinegar and anchovies (inspired by the Swedish Jansson’s Temptation) bound by mace and nutmeg infused cream which helped to permeate the saltiness of the filling throughout the dish.  Fresh cranberry sauce with orange zest, cloves and some more currants.  Brussels sprouts off the stalk with rutabaga, turnips, rainbow carrots, parsnips and pearl onions glazed in veal suet, finished with toasted almonds.

My rye bread was turned into stuffing with pomegranate seeds, celery root, celery stalks and their leaves. Could have benefited from further toasting of the bread.  Vehicles for sopping up the juices were sweet potato biscuits (courtesy of Mr. Bradley) and my pan coudoun: bread rolls with a segment of cooked quince inside.  The leavened biscuits were made from roasted sweet potato, lard, butter, buttermilk, flour and 2 sieved hard boiled egg yolks to absorb any excess moisture from the sweet potato.

Lou Pan Coudoun (the quince bread in Provençal dialect) was hearth bread dough with a wedge of cooked quince (oven cooked in a light syrup until tender and red) inside, then baked.  Traditional recipes called for a whole raw quince, peeled, halved, cored put back together with honey and butter inside and baked in a dense bread for 40 minutes or so which is supposed to cook the quince.  The safer M.O. was to use cooked quince and work backwards to less cooked quince.   The cooked quince were extremely soft, like firm apple sauce and not at all unpleasant.  Delectable, actually, though a little fleur de sel on the bread before baking would have balanced the sweet/salty.

Your quince charming.

Yep, more Armagnac.

Cheese: courtesy of Mr. Bradley’s affinage program.  Clockwise from center: Livarot, France;Nettle Meadow Kunik, NY; Gorwydd Caerphilly, Wales; Twig Farm Square Cheese, VT; Tarantaise, VT; Mondegueiro, Portugal; Rogue River Blue, OR.

Cheese course, of course.

Dessert: A honeycrsip apple tart with a nappage of my qunce jelly perfumed with rosemary and cinnamon.   Standard pâte sablée with 1/2 lard 1/2 butter for the fat proportion and a whisper of orange zest and ground cinnamon.

In lieu of a flower.

Ef’n Jelly. Disclosure: after countless attempts in making pectin-free apple/quince jelly, pectin was called in from the cupboard in desperation. The cursory theory appeared simple.  Cook quince scraps (cores & peelings) in water with rosemary and cinnamon,  add 55% sugar by weight, chill and glaze apple tart. Quince are heavy in natural pectin and based on numerous recipes, none such additive would be needed.  In practice the results were anything but jolly jelly.  Reduction made a remarkably tight and sticky syrup better destined for pest control than desert.  Cooking new scraps in the previously attained liquid boosted the quince flavor but did not make jelly.  Powdered pectin was considered and obtained, but in what quantity?  The properties of quince and pectin were researched and Eureka!, the gosh darn good jelly scholars at University of Minnesota, oh yah, had the explanation

A certain amount of acidity (below pH 3.5) is necessary for jelly to form. If the fruit juice is not sufficiently acidic, a gel will not form. If too much acid is present, the jelly will lose liquid or weep. Acidity can apparently be tested.  To form a gel, fruit juice should be as tart as a mixture of 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water. If the fruit juice is not this tart, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for each cup of fruit juice.

What’s more, the kind folks up there provided a simple test for determining whether the jelly juice base has sufficient pectin to gel, which begs the question: “why jelly and not gelly?”  A tsp of the juice is mixed with rubbing alcohol and if the junk gets hard, you’re on.  If it stays limp and juicy, there is a powder for that.  Don’t drink the rubbing alcohol-quince juice mixture, unless you are a hopeless alcoholic.

The proper Ph matrix for apple/quince jelly has not yet been figured out despite 11 prototypes and a mathematically derived 11% lemon juice formula.  Quince scraps and apples were cooked in water with varying proportions of acidulated water ranging from 6.7%-11% lemon juice based on the U of M’s recommendations of 1tsp of lemon juice for 3tbsp of water for proper gelling Ph.  However, weight is a more disciplined unit of measure than volume, even if the weight and volume of both lemon juice and water are the same.  55% sugar was added to the strained liquid, cooked for 20-30 minutes each time and nothing happened. Many recipes, both French and American called for a range of a whole lemon’s worth of juice, half and none at all, despite the science that mandates a fruit juice can not gel without the 3.5Ph.  So 1% powdered pectin was grudgingly added and the damned stuff set.

Eat it, William Tell.

Coffee, cigarettes, more Armagnac and a joint or two rounded out a superlative meal helping to easy digestion and induce well deserved sleep.  Enthusiastic thanks to all the guests for allowing the host the pleasure of hosting.

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