Friday, April 30, 2010

On Ramps: Grilled Ramps, Ramp Chimichurri

I'm excited to say that I'll be writing a weekly Greenmarket report for Serious Eats: New York! So, what's at the market? Right now it's a shit ton of ramps.


Yes, the ramp hype is way out of hand. No, they wouldn't be this exciting if they were around for more than a few weeks in the beginning of Spring. But this is the case, and so I am going to eat as many ramps as is possible before they're gone forever.


The most straightforward thing to do with ramps is to grill them, and Bittman's recipe for Grilled Scallions does the trick. Just rub some oil on the ramps and throw them on the grill or in a grill pan on the stove and cook until they're just tender. It's hard to really overcook these; I like any member of the onion family to get as charred as possible, and with ramps the green leafy tops get this wonderful crispiness when they hit the grill (or grill pan). A little salt and pepper is all these need. Once grilled, you can eat them as a side dish or put them into any pasta, salad or on top of pizza or really anywhere. I have trouble thinking of a dish that wouldn't receive a boost from the addition of ramps.


But as I mentioned before, my yearly love affair with ramps is a fleeting one. They pop up for maybe a month total, and for the first couple weeks of that period it seems like restaurant chefs are hogging the whole supply. When basil's in season, I make loads of pesto and freeze it. I figured I'd try the same thing with ramps. Now, you can make ramp pesto, but I figured that I'd try something new: Chimichurri, the ramped up variation on the Parsley (or Other Herb) Puree recipe. It's a puree of ramps (usually it would be parsley), olive oil, a bunch of garlic, vinegar or lemon juice (I used lemon juice but both work really well) and some red pepper flakes. Bittman sternly warns you, "do not refrigerate." Oh well, I'm still freezing it. I'll let it come to room temp before I use it, I promise.


Aren't food processors just the best? This stuff can be used as a condiment anywhere, really, but I like it to get cooked just a little bit so the harsh bite of the ramps mellows just a bit. I spooned it on some asparagus and put it under the broiler. Tastes like early spring in the best way possible.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down: Beef Stew, Buttered Cabbage

I don't want to waste a lot of time or words on this one. I made it back in February when it was freezing and it was quite good, but not earth shatteringly delicious, and nowhere near as good as the Beef Daube.


It photographed poorly and frankly, it's springtime now and I don't even want to think about braised meat until next year.

Served it with Buttered Cabbage, a pretty great vegetable dish that basically consists of butter, cabbage, salt and pepper. But again, it's such a wintery dish that looking at it now is bumming me out.

If anyone needs me, I'll be eating an enormous salad.

Monday, April 19, 2010

How to Cook Everything: The Super Cheap iPhone App!

When I got a Kindle a couple weeks back, one of the first things I downloaded was How to Cook Everything. It's been super handy, great when I want to check a recipe if I'm standing in the green market or grocery store. It was a bit steep at $20, but I figured I'd get my money's worth.
Well, this morning Bittman himself sent out the following tweet:
Good news. Iphone app for How to Cook Everything alive, fabulous, feature-packed, and $1.99. Really. The whole book.
So there you have it. Two bucks, you get the whole book on your iPhone or iPod touch, plus neat features like kitchen timers, shopping lists, and customizable search ("Show me fast vegetarian recipes with spinach in them, iPhone!").

I'm trying not to get too excited, as I haven't really tested the app, but this is basically the one I've been waiting for. This looks good. I'm talking Instapaper good.

How to Cook Everything [iTunes App Store]

Friday, April 16, 2010

I'm Never Making Pancakes Again: Everyday Pancakes

The batter is easy enough. But are pancakes so good that they're worth standing over a griddle for what feels like forever?


No, they're not.

Of course, there's another pancake recipe in How to Cook Everything, so I'm not going to get off that easy. Good news: this one is more involved!

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Favorites: Beer Glazed Beans

Okay, here is the best way I've seen (so far) to prepare black beans.

Beer Glazed Beans

Cook some onion, add some garlic, then add everything else: black beans (cooked, or canned), some honey, salt, pepper and a cup of beer. You can also add some cayenne or hot sauce or chiles or whatever you like for heat. Bring it to a bubble and just let it cook until the sauce has thickened. That's it. The beer gives it real depth, the honey just a bit of sweetness. I want some right now.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Doing It Right: Cold Brewed Coffee

It's warming up around here, so now is the perfect time to talk about iced coffee. I'm a big fan. I like my iced coffee strong. There's going to be ice melting in there, so it better be. Now, for years I just kept leftover coffee in a pitcher in the fridge. There's no shame in that. The only truly unacceptable way to make iced coffee is to pour hot coffee over ice. If you try to give me that shit, I am sending it back.

But in 2007 I read about New Orleans iced coffee, also known as cold brewed iced coffee, in T Magazine. T is the New York Times' quarterly-or-something glossy style mag. This marks the first and only case of T Magazine being useful in any way, to anyone, anywhere.

Anyway, cold brewed coffee is great for a few reasons, first and foremost being that it is delicious and refreshing in a way that no other brewing method can achieve. By steeping the grounds in cold water for at least 12 hours (longer is fine) and then straining through a paper towel (don't laugh, it works) or cheesecloth if you're fancy, the coffee acquires absolutely zero bitterness. Hot water hitting cool grinds is a big part of what makes traditional coffee bitter. By starting with cold water and cool grinds, you eliminate all the bitterness, and a fair amount of acidity as well.

What you end up with is sometimes called coffee concentrate. It's dark and inky, almost like a super smooth espresso. I like to drink it with an equal amount of milk and a ton of ice. Sometimes I add a bit of simple syrup, but it's not really necessary--this stuff has a sweetness of its own. I compare it to coffee ice cream. If you take your coffee black, dilute this stuff with some water. If you drink a whole cup of it you'll be vibrating for days. For more info, and the recipe, follow the link to the Times below. You'll probably never look back.

Iced Storm [t magazine]
(Photo from flickr user thebittenword)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Steak!: Pan-Grilled/Oven-Roasted Steak, Simple Pan Sauce, Braised Potatoes and Raw Beet Salad

I like steak alright, but it's not my absolute favorite thing in the world. Ambivalence combined with my own trepidation at trying to make it kept me from ever attempting to cook a steak myself. Turns out it's easy, and it'll make you look good! I mean, come on, steak is impressive. It just is. I don't know why, as it's super simple.


I was scared because there's not a ton of wiggle room with steak. It's just a piece of meat. You can't really mask any big fuck ups. But that's also what makes it fairly easy to make. It's just a piece of meat. There aren't a lot of places to fuck up, short of overcooking it, and even then, it's probably going to be edible. And as long as you're not cooking for a big jerk, shouldn't be a huge problem. It's a good litmus test, actually: feed someone an overcooked steak, see how they handle it.

So, we turn to the first recipe in the Meat chapter of How to Cook Everything: Grilled, Pan-Grilled, or Broiled Steak, Many Ways. Many ways, indeed! I settled on the Pan-Grilled/Oven-Roasted Steak, "an excellent method if you don't have first-rate exhaust system or your steak is thicker than 1 1/2 inches." Mine were about 1 1/2 inches, rib steaks that were on sale at the store, and my exhaust system I would say is good-not-great.


Basically you crank your oven up to 11 (at least 500 degrees), then heat a cast-iron skillet (I used my huge dutch oven, as it's the only cast-iron cookware I've got) until it's really hot. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with some kosher salt and add the steaks. Then you immediately transfer this to the oven. Turn once, cooking until the steaks are done. That's really it; I don't know why I was so freaked out about all of this. Really it's one of the simplest things I've made, and that says a lot.


With the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, I turned to another recipe I probably should have made by now: Simple Pan Sauce. Pour off some of the fat, and with the pan back on the heat, add some red wine and minced shallots, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan until they're all free and floating around and most of the wine has evaporated. Then add some stock or water, turn off the heat, and add some butter, a little bit at a time. As much or as little as you like works here. I didn't use much and it was still delicious. Then just add a bit of lemon juice or vinegar (optional), and you're done. You can garnish with parsley but I was eating this with my brother, and he hates parsley.*


On the side, I made Braised Potatoes, which is basically just potatoes seared then cooked in stock with a bit of chopped onion and whatever other aromatics you like. The stock gives them a lot of flavor and they end up perfectly tender, soft enough to soak up some of that extra steak juice and pan sauce.


Finally, I made the Raw Beet Salad, where you grate beets (thanks food processor!) and toss them vinegar, mustard and a bit of olive oil. I topped it with some goat cheese, because goat cheese is delicious. I also added an arugula salad to the beet salad, because they go well together, pretty much. I would have made it all one glorious amalgam of a salad but arugula's not everyone's favorite. I know, I don't get it either.


And that was our steak dinner. It was freaking great.

*How can you hate something as inoffensive as parsley? Hell if i know.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bittman Speaks!

Grub Street pointed out this great video from Big Think, embedded below, featuring the man himself speaking on a number of food related issues. Some interesting tidbits in here. I like the reminder that it's very rare that you mess up a dish so badly that you can't enjoy it. Truth.

Meanwhile, I just got a Kindle and the second book I downloaded for it? That's right, How To Cook Everything, now ultra lightweight! (The first book? Street Gang, Michael Davis' in-depth history of the groundbreaking early days of Sesame Street)

If You Don't Like Bittman's Food, 'Something's Wrong' [grubstreet]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Minimalistist: Stir-Fried Pork with Spinach

The longer, more involved recipes in How to Cook Everything are great. But it really excels in the fast and dirty recipes that Bittman has been dispensing in the Times' Minimalist column for years now. This is one such recipe, so fast and simple, utterly delicious, and endlessly adaptable that you wonder why anyone would ever spend more than an hour or so in the kitchen.

stir fried pork with spinach

The trick with this recipe is to get all your prep work done beforehand; it only takes ten minutes once you get your pan hot. So, take some pork shoulder, slice it into bite size pieces as thin as you can get them (freezing for 30 minutes will be a huge help here), then wash the spinach (or whatever leafy green you want) and tear it up a bit.

Okay, oil in the pan, get it really hot, cook the pork 'til it's just cooked through, then get it out of there. Throw in the garlic, let it get some color for a mintue, then add all the spinach. Lots of spinach. It cooks down like nobody's business. When it is cooked down, throw the pork back in, along with some lime juice and soy sauce. Add scallions (lots of scallions). That's it! I'm sure you can do this with any kind of meat, or any kind of veg thrown in, but the pork/spinach combo seems to work really well.