Thursday, February 2, 2012

Homemade Beef Jerky

It was so easy, once I convinced Erica to let me leave our electric stove on overnight.  Yes, that's right, carnivore's rejoice I have proven you can make your own delicious beef jerky in a 550sqft apartment.  Behold!
So dry, so meaty

I followed the recipe in Ruhlman & Polycn's Charcuterie basically to the letter, except I didn't add the chiles and my oven only went down to 170 degrees so I had to leave the door open.  The results were solid with a couple important notes.  First, i didn't get the salt evenly distributed and so some pieces ended up quite salty, while others didn't.  Second, my butchering skills need some work so the cuts were all over the place.  Here are a couple more glamour shots of beef:

This was the test run for a Super Bowl appetizer and it encouraged me enough to try it again.  Going to go with a cheaper cut of meet, London Broil, and see how it turns out.  Really working to get the cost down to where this is more cost effective then anything Oberto has to offer.

FYI - I've been really digging the recipes in Charcuterie recently.  I've already executed a salmon and shrimp mousseline and will be attempting a pork terrine with pork tenderloin inlay this weekend.  Your standard Super Bowl snacks, they are not.

Keep cooking.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Beef Jerky Time

It's been quiet over here at Drinking, Cooking, Eating despite the fact I've been doing plenty of all.  Hopefully I get some posts up soon, but I had to share what's on the agenda for this weekend.  Press play:

Oh yes, it's beef jerky time.  I've got over 2.5 pounds of eye of the round roast sliced and hanging out in delicious spices.  Tonight I'll begin the 16 to 20 hours process of drying it out.  Deliciousness or death will follow.  Stay tuned.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Ultimate Dilemma - Graffiato

My girlfriend, ERICA, and I had made a deal with each other here a couple months ago.  Once we both got new jobs, we would go to Graffiato to celebrate.  And so we both did and so we went.  For those who don't know, Graffiato is restaurant conceived and run by Top Chef fiend to favorite, Mike Isabella.  And we saw him expediting when we showed up for our reservation.  We didn't go the picture route just because that's not really us and I like to let a man who's working keep on working.

The decor is the increasingly popular industrial chic look, which I don't really have any particular feelings about, but certainly worked for the food that was to come.  Honestly, what got my attention even at the hostess stand was the Tool song playing in the background.  What followed was like the playlist I burned onto CDs for my Discman back in high school.  There was Nirvana, Metalica, Pantera, White Zombie, Black Sabbath, Alice in Chains, and Disturbed.  Some people would not have liked it that but I loved it.  It sent me back to younger days that once sent me to the ER following a rather vigorous head banging session, and it also all seemed very intense but in a comforting way.  Or as comforting as Pantera (RE!  SPECT!!) can be.  I don't know who put together that playlist, but mad props.

Graffiato is kind like a tapas place and you're meant to order several plates to share.  Erica and I needed about ten minutes to settle on what we wanted and on more than one occasion we considered just ordering one of everything.  In the end we settled on five items.

Flatbread with Pepperoni Sauce
Had to get this.  I mean Isabella's pepperoni sauce and Gail Simmons foodgasm on cable TV are almost more famous then Mr. Isabella himself.  And it's good, like liquid pepperoni good.  It smacks you upside the head with flavor.  At that moment I had two thoughts: 1) I will not be able to physically take it if all the dishes are this powerful.  2)  The chicken thigh with pepperoni sauce is probably amazing because it would blunt some of the sauces natural heft.  That said, if you're not going to do the chicken thigh then you gotta have the pepperoni sauce on the menu somewhere for all the Top Chef junkies that flood in.  Easiest $5 Graffiato will ever make.

Polenta with Crispy Goat, Pears, and Saba
This dish was truly the unsung hero of the night.  The first bite, for me, was relief.  The flavors were mild and subtle.  If you had all the elements on their own it was good.  If you put together that complete single bite, it was great.  Just a perfection of texture and taste and so much quieter then the pepperoni sauce.  For a meal that was full of bold flavors, the polenta was a welcome respite.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Maple, and Egg
I'm a late in life brussel sprouts whore, but when they're done well they could be the best vegetable ever.  Better than even broccolini.  My reaction after one bite was to exclaim, "This is somewhere between cotton candy and God."  I mean awesome.  I mean, "Where the f*** are you going with that plate?!?!  I haven't licked it clean yet!!!" awesome.  I was concerned the pancetta or the maple would over power, but neither did.  No the maple set the whole thing off and took the excellently crisped sprouts into the sublime combination of flavors.  We nearly ordered seconds.

Wild Board Flatbread with Chestnut, Apple, and Balsamic
Another winner without a doubt.  It tasted like the forest.  I can't think of a better way to describe it and once again, much like the polenta, you had the fantastic balance of savory and sweet.  The chestnuts took on so much flavor.  Just fantastic.  I must admit I still regret not getting the bone marrow flatbread, but in case you couldn't tell by now I'd be fine with going back.

Jersey Shore Pizza with Fried Calamari, Tomato, Provolone, and Cherry Pepper Aioli
The Jersey Shore pizza is already gaining a following and who are we to buck convention?  There's a lot to potentially love about this.  Fried calamari, cooked to perfection.  Cherry pepper aioli that had some great heat to it, but never overwhelmed.  But the thing that impressed Erica and I the most was the tomato.  I mean there it is, buried beneath fried squid, pepper aioli, and provolone, but without a doubt it was the star element in the pizza.  And the singular bite with the squid, the aioli, and the sauce was just fantastic, a symphony.

Warm Pistachio Cake
After the preceding five dishes I was stuffed.  I even suggested we take a couple slices of the pizza home, but Erica would hear none of it and ordered the pistachio cake.  It was a great finish.  Admittedly I only had a couple bites but it was great because it wasn't too sweet.

Overall, this was probably the single most delicious meal I've had in easily the last 6 months if not the entirety of 2011.  I'll also say, I tend to not like tapas style because I'm afraid I'm just going to want more, but the portions were just right even for my outsized appetite.  And when you consider that we got all of that food plus a drink for just over $80, you just can't argue with anything about the experience.

The title of this post is "Ultimate Dilemma" but what could be the dilemma after my unequivocal support for every dish we had?  Sitting at the table last night Erica and I discussed never telling anyone how awesome it is.  The dilemma is that the food is so great you want to be able to walk in and get it at any time, but great food very rarely affords you that convenience.  With apologies to Erica, I have decided to share the awesomeness.

Now go make a reservation at Graffiato right now, or Pantera will get you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Duck Prosciutto Pizza

As I mentioned yesterday, with all this duck prosciutto what's an amateur chef to do?  Given it was a week night and when I bought ingredients I didn't know if the prosciutto would be good or not I decided pizza would be a good idea.  If the duck prosciutto had been awful, I could pivot to something else edible fast.  Thankfully it did turn out so I went with my original idea of duck prosciutto pizza with mozzarella, arugula, red onions, and balsamic reduction.

First I made the balsamic reduction which simply requires taking some balsamic vinegar, bringing it to moderate heat so it does reduce and then stirring in some sugar.  It take a bit of time, and I guess on proportions until I think it tastes right.  One word of warning, making balsamic reduction makes your house smell like balsamic vinegar, but it's worth it later on.  Once it had lost about 1/3 to 1/2 it's liquid and I'd added about 4 to 6 teaspoons of sugar I pulled it off the heat.  While I was letting that reduce, I sliced 1/4 of a red onion into thin strips.  Next, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees.  Why 425?  Because that's what the Pilsbury pizza crust told me to do.  Yeah, I took a big shortcut here, but again, it was a Monday night after work.  Besides the Pilsbury classic pizza crust is a great blank canvas to work on and far better then the pre-baked discs you'll find.

I laid out the pizza crust and once the oven was preheated I put a little olive oil on the crust and stuck it in the oven for five minutes.  After five minutes I added the onions, the mozzarella, and the duck then back in the oven for five minutes.  Finally, I pulled it back out and put the arugula on it an drizzles some of the reduction over it then it was back in the oven for a final five minutes.  This staged process was meant to do two things.  First, I was concerned the rich fat of the duck with render in the oven if left in for 15 minutes.  Second, I was concerned the arugula would wilt too much.  When it was all said and done, the first concern was handled, but the arugula was a bit too wilted.  Here's the finished product after I drizzled a bit more reduction over it.

As you can see, the arugula is quite wilted, but otherwise the taste was solid.  Erica made a salad with mixed greens, arugula, walnuts, blue cheese, apples, and cranberries to go with it.  We used the reduction as a dressing for the salad as well.  All and all a great meal.  The pizza took about 40 minutes to make and 25 minutes of that was reducing the balsamic.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Duck Charcuterie At Home or Trying to Not Kill Myself or My Friends

I have to admit something.  I'm a whore for good charcuterie.  That's probably already been established by my glamour shot of a meat and cheese tray and further confirmed by Erica and some friends who saw me moan my way through the charcurterie board at Brassiere Beck.  You can see the fetching little devil hiding so coyly, dare I say coquettish, behind some delicious oysters in this photo.  I disturbed the table next to me with my intonations of delight and I am not ashamed.  It was that good.
Look who's hiding back there
And then was this bad boy I had over the weekend in Minneapolis.  This is like the charcuterie horn of of plenty right here, complete with copa, prosciutto, salami, rillete, terrine, and head cheese.  How much of a whore am I for charcuterie?  I had to negotiate with the restaurant to serve it a few hours before the menu it's one took effect.  Behold!
Tasted every bit as good as it looked.
Yet as much as I love to eat charcuterie, I have dreamed of making it too.  I've bought what many people say is the definitive book on the subject called Charcuterie as well as "borrowed" my dad's copy of Rytek Kutas's Great Sausage Recipes & Meat Curing.  By now, most of my friends know of my dream of a charcuterie chamber and roommates, and even Erica, have been concerned it might someday become a reality.  Alas, as that dream remains unrealized, I knew I needed an outlet and so I took to the internet, googling for in-home recipes for charcuterie and I found several center around duck prosciutto.

I could do this, I thought.  I mean is it slightly dangerous to plan to let raw meat that's been smothered in salt for 24 hours just hanging up in your apartment for a week or more without fully regulating temperature and humidity?  Probably, but life and cooking is adventure.  This idea of duck prosciutto hung out in my mind for a long time, but I never could find duck.  The Whole Foods on P Street let me down so many times and it wasn't until they opened a new location in Foggy Bottom could I find duck breast.  I bought it instantly.  From there is was just a matter of buying some (a lot) of kosher salt, cheesecloth, and meat string.

So I opened up the packaged duck breast and to my surprise I found two complete duck breast, or rather four individual breasts.  I set aside a pair for latter and then laid out one whole duck breast on the cutting board like so:

The bits you see just a little above are parts of the tenderloin.  From here I split the breast with my pairing knife so I had two pieces.  From there I took a 9x9 glass Pyrex baking dish and covered the bottom with a solid foundation of salt resulting in a 1/4" to 1/2" layer of salt in the dish.  I laid the breast, skin side up, into the dish and then just poured salt over the duck breast.  In the end I used at least 2lbs of a 3lb kosher salt box.  When pouring the salt in I made sure that I was getting around the edges of the duck, even taking a moment to make sure it was nestled into the salt.  Once completely covered I wrapped the top of the baking dish with cling wrap.  Here's how they looked, covered in salt and wrapped up:

I made sure, once it was wrapped, that you couldn't see the duck anywhere.  I even lifted up the dish to make sure no duck showed through the bottom.  Satisfied the duck was sufficiently covered in salt I threw the dish in the refrigerator for just over 24 hours.  Even in that short time period you realize how much moisture the salt pulls out of the duck.  I took the duck out of the salt, rinsed it off, and dried it thoroughly.  Here's what they looked like after 24 hours in the fridge, one skin side up, one skin side down.

You can notice even just between the picutre above and the picture below how the salt has had an effect.  From here I wrapped each breast in about two full covers of cheesecloth and then tied them up with some butcher's string.  You'll notice in a lot of recipes this is where you can add different seasonings to change the flavor.  This being a first attempt, I decided to keep it simple.  Here's a single breast wrapped and trussed:

Now to perhaps the most important part.  All the recipes I read said the duck should lose about 30% of it's weight through lost moisture during the curing process.  But how do you know what 30% is unless you weigh it ahead of time.  So I weighed them both, noting ounces and grams.  I think took two dry cleaning hangers, cut part off and formed some make shift meat hangers then leveraged the hangers between the recipe books on my fridge.  I hung them up along with a piece of paper with their initial weights on them.  Of note, the breasts don't touch anything while there hanging.  Here's what Erica came home to after her internship one Sunday afternoon:
Welcome Home Erica!
And so I waited for over a week, weighing them periodically.  In fact, I ended up being out of town when they were finally ready so Erica took them down, unwrapped them from the cheesecloth, and then wrapped them up in plastic wrap.  Of note, they were much smaller then when I wrapped them.  That sounds pretty obvious when it's supposed to lose 30% of it's weight, but striking to see in reality.  Last night was the big tasting, so I busted out my mandolin, set it to 1/16" thickness and trimmed one of the duck breasts into little pieces.  Here's what it looked like after slicing.
Sliced Duck Prosciutto
Erica, my buddy Ben, and I all tasted it just like this and it was really good.  Ducky, not too salty, great fat content.  Just good prosciutto.  I'm marking this a success for a few reasons.  First, it happened just like the book said it would.  Second, it's been over 12 hours and to my knowledge no one who consumed the duck as gone to the hospital.  Third, it was really freaking good.  Tomorrow I'll put up the recipe for what I did with all this beautiful sliced duck prosciutto for dinner last night.  Hint: Duck Pizza.  Oh, and in case you were curious, yes I did order two duck breasts online last night (because Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom failed).  They should arrive on Thursday and be curing by Sunday.  I am still negotiating for the charcuterie chamber.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lou's City Bar: It could be perfect, but it's not

I've lived in and around Columbia Heights for the six years I've lived in DC, and I always lamented the fact that there wasn't a good sports bar in Columbia Heights.  Sure Ventnor Sports Cafe in Adams Morgan is solid, and Old Dominion Brewhouse is an adequate refuge to watch football on Sunday, but they weren't convenient.  So I was ecstatic when Lou's City Bar opened just a few blocks from my apartment several months ago.  But now, after several months and several visits I am here to tell you that I am underwhelmed and that there is still a place for a great sports bar in Columbia Heights.  Let me explain.

It should be perfect.  There's a critical mass of TVs, an extensive beer selection both on draft and in the bottle, there's a solid bar, good service, and a fantastic outdoor patio that they have three TVs out on most nights.  The beer is reasonably priced and there's always a beer special of the month (for a time it was a $4 Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, "Yes, please!"), but there's still something lacking.  The food is painfully mediocre.

I've been to Lou's a number of times and always enjoyed the beer.  I've also eaten there a number of times.  In fact, I've tried the buffalo wings, the calamari, the nachos, the french dip, the reuben, the blackened bleu burger, and the benedict burger.  That's constitutes a good percentage of the menu and while I never sent anything back, I've also never ordered anything more then once.  In fact, part of the reason I've had so many different things is because every time I order something I am so underwhelmed by it that I think something else has to be better.  The search continues.

I'll begin with the buffalo wings.  I am a wing fanatic, especially on a Sunday afternoon.  Some of my favorite places to get wings are Mackey's (which is inexplicably closed on Sunday much to my chagrin) and Ventnors.  At Lou's the wings come unbreaded, but fried.  All that is normal, but the sauce, well it's not good.  It's a sweet-ish spice the departs a long way from say a Frank's Red Hot sauce or anything similar.  Also, the wings look a bit scrawny, which could be a consequence not being breaded, but it could also simply be that they're puny wings.  When you want me to pay $10 for wings, I expect some meat on the bone.

Next, the burgers.  They tend to come out dry and a bit overcooked.  That lack of juicy-ness though is the real killer for the burger.  When I think about the better burgers I've had at a bar like at Sign of the Whale, or even a no frills place like Lindy's Red Lion, those burgers are juicy and flavorful.  The taste of beef and the toppings come together splendidly.  But sadly, that's not the case at Lou's.  I dare say the best thing I've had so far is the reuben, but taste to price the $10 they charge me for it seems a couple dollars too expensive.  That's really the issue with all the food at Lou's.  None of it is awful or offensive, but when the bill comes and you wonder was that a $10 sandwich the answer for everyone I've ever dined there with is no.

Now I'm dogging on the food pretty bad and I don't know what the chefs are working with in the kitchen.  It could be they don't have the materials to be successful.  It could be my tastes are wrong.  And I don't say any of this to try and run Lou's out of business.  I want Lou's to succeed, because I've waited a long time for a sports bar in Columbia Heights.  But I worry that the take on slow sports nights will be so abysmal that it could sink the restaurant.  People will come to a bar like Lou's on a Sunday afternoon for the beer and the TVs, but they'll come back after work on Tuesday if the food they had on Sunday was really good.  I worry that for Lou's, nobody will be there on Tuesday.

But I'll keep going back to Lou's.  They've got a great beer selection.  They've got a great vibe, and they're just around the corner.  But I'll eat dinner before I head over for a brew.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Away Game: Seattle's Pike Place Market

It's a tourist trap, but a functioning market.  It's vendors and hawkers of all sorts, but it isn't over commercialized.  It's a place I visit every time I'm in Seattle, but I feel a bit shameful every time I do it.  It's Pike Place Market, perhaps the second most famous tourist destination in Seattle behind the space needle.  I love a good market, and even if it's for tourists I gotta believe it's also for restaurants in Seattle as well which is why I make a point to come down to the market for lunch every trip, and this is the culinary chronicle of my most recent visit.  Now one thing to know about the market.  It's a maze of levels, shops, food stalls, flower stands, and curios packed to the rafters with gawking tourists who seem to be setting new lowest walking speed records.  Don't fight against it.  Let yourself get lost.  You'll find something interesting, I assure you.

Oddly enough my first stop is not to a seafood vendor, but rather to a stall that, when I first visited several years ago, made me remember a lost loved childhood dish.  Just about 100 feet from the famous fish throwers is this unassuming stand selling something that was wholly familiar to me as a kid.
Chicken (Death) Valley
I was here that I rediscovered the beauty of fired chicken gizzards and offal meat in general.  Since that chance culinary encounter I've had grilled chicken hearts, head cheese, livers,  made a pate and it all started with this little stall that took me back to Decatur, IL when growing up we used to get Brown's Chicken and I'd devour some delicious fried gizzards.  And so every Seattle trip, I return to this stand.  Yesterday it was a combination of fried chicken gizzards and hearts.
Fried Chicken Gizzards & Hearts
If you like this then you already know how awesome it is.  If you don't, I encourage you to give it a shot.  You might just surprise yourself by how much you end up enjoying it.  Everything was fried to perfection and the breading was a flour based that added just a little texture to the parts, though obviously these are two things that have their own distinct texture anyway.  I sat at the viewing point with a bottle of water and my chicken parts taking in the sound.

From there it was on to Jack's, which is across the way from the main market.  They are a wholesaler and retailer selling a great selection of seafood cocktails, oysters, and always clam chowder and cioppino.  I decided to go with a bowl of the clam chowder and a half dozen of the raw oysters.
Oysters and Clam Chowder
As you can see, this is no frills dining.  They've got a very small counter for those "dining in" and the bare bones set up suits the food.  The chowder has clams, potatoes, carrots, celery, and seasoning in it.  It was a bit peppery for my taste, but given a crisp fall day it really hit the spot.  The oysters were small bodied, slightly briny oysters.  To be honest, I could have used them cleaned just a bit more but they were very tasty.

After scarfing down some solid appetizers, I decided to wander around the market and the surrounding streets a bit.  One thing about it, whatever kind of food you're looking for you can probably find it at the market.  There were bavarian sausages, greek delis, numerous vegetable stands, a fresh made pasta stand, and of course seafood stands with scallops that made we want to break into someone's house just to use their kitchen they looked so delicious.  There are also a variety of shops, especially down under.  I found a used book store, a great distraction and a bonus destination.  Before leaving on this trip I'd been trying to download something, anything by Graham Greene to my Kindle, but I'd found no ebooks are released to U.S. markets by Greene so I wanted to see if I could find the old fashioned book version and what better place to look for the old fashioned then a used book store.  And there it was, a copy of Journey without Maps, paperback, printed in 1986 for less then 10 bucks and with the slight yellowing of the paper that demonstrates it's worn in.  But this isn't a blog about books, it's about food and the coup de gras is yet to come.

Even after chicken parts, oysters, and chowder I thought why not have a proper lunch.  As I'd been walking the market I'd been looking at the menus and settled on Lowell's for lunch, in no small part because they had a crab cocktail on the menu.  I have a compulsion about Dungeness crab and so I ordered both a crab cocktail and a crab roll.
So much crab.
Did I need all this?  No.  Were the fries a wasted starch filler?  Yes.  But a compulsion is a compulsion for a reason.  The crab roll had greens, tomatoes, and avocado mixed with the crab.  The bread was very good and the crab and avocado were fantastic together.  The crab cocktail was a 10oz glass full of crab, cocktail sauce, and just a little bit of lettuce.  I could do without the lettuce, and I wasn't a big fan of the cocktail sauce, but the crab itself was delicious.  I devoured the two dishes and meandered, far slower then when I went to the market, away from the market fully satiated for having tasted some old favorites and new delights.

If you're ever in Seattle, stop by Pike Place Market, but don't linger over the fish tossers, avoid the bus loads of retired meanders, find the food, sample a little bit of everything.  And if you have access to a kitchen, buy a bunch of seafood and make yourself the best damn meal of seafood imaginable.  For my part, I let others cook for me and I wasn't disappointed.