Thursday, April 9, 2009

Super Fish Time GO!

I'm a born'n'raised good old country boy. Fishin' is one of the primary forms of entertainment in the sticks, and occasionally you actually manage to land a mess of fish. At this point you're left with an important decision...what the hell do you do with it? If you answered anything but "Fry it!" you're completely wrong. People grill fish, people poach fish...I've even heard of people steaming it. What the hell? Have you ever heard of a great big family gathering where everybody comes up from the hollar and has a grand old time called a Fish Poach? Can you even put malt vinegar on a piece flacid grilled fish? Toss a bunch of broccoli and cauliflower and fish into a steamer and then smell it. You want to eat that? Well, I'm sorry...even the re-cook has his limits.

At any rate, this has lead to my enduring love affair with fried fish. There is a problem however. See, fish live in water. Unless you live right next to some water, said fish has to be caught, processed, and transported before it can be eaten. This means that the farther you live away from where your fish live, the greater difficulty you have in obtaining that fish 'fresh'. You know how when you do laundry, your socks smell awesome? And then after you wear them for a couple of weeks they get all stiff and weird and smell? Fish works exactly the same. Ordering fish is therefore always a gamble. Sometimes you get fish that is delicious. Other times, you get fish that is like this:

You can't see them, but there may as well be stink lines...
All is not lost, however. Through the magic of re-cooking, even stale fish can harbor flavor (Did you catch that? If not, it a-piers that you do not afishiate ichtich puns--enough). This calls for a metafood!

Case the Fifth: Fishy Cakes

Source Food: A 'rustic' sea food trio from The Half Shell. All my complaining aside, they actually have a pretty good record of doing good seafood. The King Crab Bisque is almost always delicious. I'm not quite sure what made this 'rustic' (could it mean old?), but it consisted of fried tilapia, shrimp, and scallops servered over a 'pepper cream sauce' (which...I believe consisted of diced peppers in some cream). Scallops were tiny but good. Shrimp was actually pretty wonderful. The tilapia was....not great.

Pantry Items:

That potato and egg configuration seems suggestive...
Peas and Moirpoix (which we've seen before, and will see again), Potatoes, an Egg (singular), a bit of dry mustard powder (awesome to keep around, and it doesn't go bad), and a healthy dash of Old Bay (seasoning for anything seafood and other stuff....please remember that it's salty!).

I knew I wanted to do fish-cakes from the beginning on this one. I'd been itching to do a metafood since the last post, and this oppurtunity couldn't be missed.

Oven on to 350. I cut up that bit of roll into cubes, put some OldBay on it, and tossed it in the oven to dry out a bit. Water in pot, cut up potatoes, left alone to cook. Next, in classic metafood style, I seperated everything into bits:

The bits of seafood almost seem to be swimming don't they? It's an Illusion, they're not that fresh...
Moir Poix in a pan with some butter to saute a bit. Cut up the fish roughly with a knife, and then ran through the mini-food processor. Normally, I'd leave the fish roughly chopped to provide texture, but the thought of plowing into a stalefish chunk really turned me off. Once the Veg was good and heated up, I put it in with the breading bits and processed that a bit as well. Once the taters were ready, I mashed them with a fork a bit, and then stirred in the 'cream sauce'.

Combination time. Seasoned the breading/veg mix with mustard powder and old bay, then mixed it with the fish crumbs. Put in enough of the potato mix to get a kind of mush (play it by ear here, it's hard to screw up). Lastly, put in frozen peas, bread from the oven (left corase, to provide the texture I lost by crumbing the fish), and cracked an egg on it:

Seeing this, I ate it all up. I actually had to go back to the resturant and re-order the meal to finish this post.
Time to get the ol' mitts dirty. Don't be squeamish, dive in there! The goal is to distribute the bread and peas all through the mix, and get it all coated in egg. Anytime you're making a patty, cake, or loaf you will need to use an egg in the mix. Eggs are the magic that holds the bits all together and keeps them from disintegrating in the frying pan. Next, I fashioned some cake/patty things:

See how thick these are? Don't do that. Also: why is the knife in every picture?
Time for the fryer. Used the tongs (tenderly, so tenderly) to transfer and flip. While they were cooking on the first side, I mixed up some Peanut Satay sauce and mayo to create Spicy Thai Mayonnaise (which sounds nasty, but tasted awesome). Did the flip, and then got out my bread and applied my Condiment liberally. Removed from heat, they looked exactly the same as they did before I fried them:

Grey-brown, lumpy, thick, and proxiknifal
The final step was to let them sog a bit, and then apply them to bread, thusly:

On the good china, with a little swirl of Condiment, what like in a Fancy Eatery

Ease: A (only took about 25minutes from start to stop. Metafoods are generally pretty easy)
Flavor: B- (given what I had to work with, it was ok. Biggest problem is that OldBay is saltier than drunken sailor and the patties are about 8 times thicker than they should have been for the onna-wheat-slice serving style)
Criminality: B+ (ordering fish, not enjoying it, leaving it in a car for 4 hours, refridgerating it for a day, and finally deciding that what it really needed was more cooking...that's pretty much Food Apostasy defined)

Monday, April 6, 2009


As human beings, we're creatures of hopes and dreams. Some people want to find riches, while others merely wish to be enriched. Me? I have legions of dreams (running the gamut from going to a class to take a final only to realize that I've missed every previous class all the way to starring in my own apocalyptic zombie adventure). Those are small dreams, and not really a great fit for this space.

Instead, lets talk about a greater dream of mine. That dream is cheese. Not tawdry dreams involving cheese, don't look at me like that. Rather, the dream of creating such wonders for myself. For too long cheese making has been the province of the industrial cheese monger, a cold anonymous face grimly doling out his cheddars and neufchatels. No more, I say. Furthermore, you too can share this dream with me. Read on, and imagine a kinder gentler world.

Firstly, while the world of consuming prodigious provolone and pounds of parm (also: crates of chevre, a gross of gouda...I'll stop) is a familiar one to me, I know very little about actual cheese production. On the theoretical level, I understand that cheese is simply milk. Technically, if you leave your milk out for a week or two, you will get a "cheese". Experiments in this area have yielded only stinks and icks...a far cry from the fetas of my fantasy. Clearly, more know-how is required. To that end, I purchased the D-Lux Cheese Making Super Kit from Leener's (a fine purveyor of all manner of DIY cookery kits). They advertise it as a kit, but in reality, it is a kind of Cheese Mongering Course. You start at the basic level (where we are now) and work your way all up the spectrum to the Aged-3 Month-Minimum-Traditional-English-Cheddar. Despite the gratitutious praise and prompting of my friends, I knew that I was not ready for such an event, and began at the begininng: The One-Hour-Mozzerella.

All cheese making starts with two things: Milk and a BDP.
Big Damn Pot (center)
The manual suggested that I sterilize all the equippage before beginning. Normally, re-cook policy is to sneer casually at such blandishments, but since cheesemaking is about controlled bacterial action, it seemed like a good idea.

The tools of a cheese-makers Art
Want to have a nice relaxing time? Slowly pour an entire gallon of whole milk into a pot. Don't dump it in like you're ashamed of it. No, let it trickle in, unaware of everything that is about to happen to it. Like the walk of a friend who foolishly went to the bathroom on his birthday at the ChiChi's, and is sauntering back unaware of the cacaphony that awaits.

Sorry that we sing so bad. DO DAH DO DAH.
Now, let your friend milk slowly begin to heat up. While that happens, let me take a moment to create an understanding. Most of the stuff in this compendium can be easily (if not wisely) replicated by aspiring re-cooks the world around, and to that end I provide detailed instructions about what ingredients I use (often inappropriately) and how I use them (frequently ineptly). Turning cow juice into cojack is not quite re-cooking however. It is instead, I submit, total magimythical alchemy. As ordered by the dusty vellum included with the kit, I spent a good fifteen minutes before beginning preparing my potions. Mixing this with that. Spooning that into the other. Stirring thrice widdershins with one eye closed. Quite literally taking spoonfuls of mysterious powders from small stoppered jars. Squeezing several drops of clear and bizarrly named liquid into water (all while my helpers did the Dragnet Goat Dance and chanted).

From left to right: Benzine, Powdered Ear, Liquid Snake, Salt (in spoon), and the liquid from a box of Wet Ones
I'm not exaggerating. Cheese is freakin' magic. For example...2 minutes after adding several of the above solutions to my pot, my innocent warm milk turned into this:

If you could smell this, you'd be dead.
I bolted the lid on and let it set for twenty minutes (after which it both looked and smelled much worse). Next, I drained the "greenish liquid" (their words, I'd have used far worse). The next recipie in the book involved using that lethewater, but as I didn't have a biohazard container and I still valued my relationship with the person in who's kitchen I was squatting, I put it down the drain. Wisely (in my opinion) the next process was to get as much of that stink out of my transforming cheese. This was done by smushing:

Under the master's hands, the cheese dances
As well as such other dignified techniques as straining, more smushing, heating, yet more smushing, a bit of squeezing, and finally kneading (which works out essentially to smushing). Finally, you end up with a nice shiny mass of proto cheese that is hotter than you can belive:

Shown here: smushing
Now the fun begins. I got to take this pile of searing white goo and stretch it. And then stretch it. And then pass it around the apartment, letting everyone stretch it. Nominally, this is to incorporate some air into it, and to help it to become more "stringy". In actuality, I believe it is to instill in the brand new cheesemonger a sense of wonder and awe.

Look at what I have created!
Normal men are content to drink their milk peacefully (or perhaps in a cereal). Not I. I have taken that innocent milk through dark places; and at the end, I have produced something beautiful that is far more than the sum of it's parts.

I'm still holding it. It feels so good. Milk No More.
I wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it firm up a touch in the fridge. Nothing for it but to slice and serve.

Top: Slice. Bottom: Serve (super haute cusine)

PS - If there are any special requests, post 'em in the comments! I'll work with anything, and while I cannot promise it will end up tasting or looking good, it will be one hell of a trip.

PPS - A shout out to all the folks from the Fugly Forums!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Footware to Fantasy

I have this love-hate relationship with steak. For the longest time, I thought that I just didn't like it. After all, it was tough, chewy, and bland. It took an A1 bath to get me to eat it at all. It turns out that I was missing something pretty vital: My da' has the uncanny ability to turn any piece of meat into a piece of shoes. All the time I thought I was eating strips and sirloins, I was actually eating the equivalent of tongues and heels. Can you blame me for not liking it?

This has led to me being picky about steak. When it's cooked right, it's delicious. If it's not cooked right, it brings me right back to the days of pulling laces out of my teeth and choking on aglets. A note on 'cooked right'...I'm an open-minded and non-judgmental individual. That means I will tolerate up to 'medium'. Everybody who is anybody knows that the proper way to order your steak is medium rare. Getting a steak 'medium well' or bygods 'well done' is saying: "Please burn the crap out of my delicious and often pricy meat! I'd much rather chew for 20 minutes than enjoy a savory meal!" I don't care if you tell me that it's "just the way I like it"....You're wrong, and you disgust me.

Now, most people seem to order steaks the wrong way, leading to many restuarant cooks being unable cook a steak the right way to save their lives. For example, exhibit A:

A well done(burnt) steak and an ocean of MashPotate

I don't mean to imply that I'm a food snob what gets pissy about every over-cooked piece of meat. In this case, it wasn't bad. I had just wolfed a huge amount of cheese fries (the remains of which will be the next post) and some soup (which tasted and looked exactly like white gravy with potatoes added). I picked at it, but seeing that it was burnt, I decided it was better served as blog-fodder than anything else.

The thing about leftovers...It is never the same meal as it was the first time. Even if you ignore a re-cook's advice and just eat them straight up, it is fundementally different. The first time, your food was served fresh off the heat (and likely still cooking). In much the same way that heating changes the texture and falvor of food (we call this 'cooking' in the biz), cooling back down has the same effect. In a way, cooling your food down in the fridge overnight is merely another type of cooking method. Trippy thought.

The long winded and belabored point here is this: Just because your food wasn't very good the first time does not mean that the leftovers won't be any good. Today is a prime example of this practice, which I'll term Reincarnation. What started as an overcooked steak and some seriously bland potatoes turned into one of the best tasting things I've cooked in a long time.

Case the Fourth: Let There Be Shepherd's Pie

Source Food: Most of a 'Cowboy Sirloin' with Garlic Mash from Rafferty's.

Pantry Items:

Cheesy Biscuit mix (easier to deal with then the canned pre-made variety, since it doesn't expire), red pepper flake, fennel seed, Woozy (Re-Cook gold here. Woozy is one of those things that will turn something from being bland to being awesome. When you're buying it, check the label...if it doesn't have anchovies in it, put it back), Frozen Moir Poix mix (fancy cook word for Carrots, Onion, and Celery), Frozen Peas (frozen veggies are awesome, and I always try to keep at least several varieties on hand)

Lastly, the biscuit mix calls for water. But water is pretty 'meh', so I wanted to use milk. Except that my milk is Gone Round The Bend. Cue a re-cook staple: Powdered Milk. Still your knee-jerk reaction here, and think about how many times you've gone to the fridge wanting to cook something only to find out that you don't have any good milk. How many times have you had to pass on mac-n-cheese and choke down yet another pizza or bowl of ramen becausey milk is stupid and only lasts a week? The twin gods of Value and Sloth demand a better answer, and that answer is powdered milk. Buy a box and stick it in the back of the pantry, behind everything else, a secret kept from all your friends and family (hide your shame!). When you use it, mix it double strength and pretend. Does it taste like milk? Not a chance in hell. But it does taste 'milk-y' and when your actual milk becomes 'cheese-y', you'll be glad you listened to your friendly re-cook.


My original idea for steak was a Wellington (which is still in the cards, so stay tuned!), but I had that whole mess of mashed to deal with. Instead, I took another great tip from Sara and went with Shepherd's Pie.

Note: My friend Mandy suggested that I do a Vegetarian Option. Well, to all the vegetarian types reading, you do have an option. It's called 'meat' and it's absolutely delicious! Offensiveness aside, I work with what I've got skulking in my fridge, and so far it's been meaty. Vegemeals will happen eventually, have no fear.

Ok, it's time to rock. Oven on 350. Tossed some of the moir poix mix into the pan with some butter on medium high heat. Chopped up the steak into bits, and ground up some of the fennel seed in my spice grinder (they're marketed at 'coffee' or as 'spice' grinders, and you can get 'em cheap). Once the Veg was good and soft, I added the meat in a big pile. Then I splashed a whole lot of Woozy over it.

We're in flavor country, here.
I put the biscuit mix in a bowl, used the rest of my 'milk' (probably close to a cup of the powder), and added 1 cup of water. Whisked all that up and let it set. Mix was coming along nicely, so I added even more Woozy and a couple of teaspoons of flour to gravy it up a bit. Look at this:

It all turned into the best food color ever: Brown
Added the frozen peas (don't ever put peas in until last, else they explode into mushnasty). Spoon it all into your vessel of choice (a classy glass pie pan for me). Flatten it out and pat it down with your implement.

Could the peas be more unevenly distributed?
I nuked the potatoes for the lesser amount. Microwaves have all these fancy settings, but it's not really necessary. All you need is a popcorn setting, a 1-lb defrost, 45 seconds, and 1:15. If it's not done in 45, give it another 45. If it's not done in 1:15, give it another 1:15. You're going to want to stir whatever it is up anyway, so why muck around with all the timing guess work?

I didn't need them hot, I just needed to soften them up so I could spread them on top of the meatpile (used a fork, worked fine). Next, pour your biscuit mix over the potatoes. That's pretty much all there is to it. I have a shitty oven, so I covered it with aluminium foil for 20min, and then cooked it uncovered for another 15. If you try to bake things and the top burns before it's done all the way through, use foil. End result:

*tears up* It's so beautiful

Seriously, why aren't you eating this right now?

Pie with huge monster bite out. Yeah, I did that with my mouth, dripping hot beef and gravy all down my chin.

Ease: A+ (this is so easy to do its ridiculous. I took like 10 minutes of prep and 35 to cook.)
Flavor: S+ (I ate a bowlful. Then, ate another bowlful. Then, started on the post. Then had to stop because I was looking at all the pictures, and had to eat more of it. It's that good.)
Criminality: F (This dish is not criminal, it's miraculous. Jesus turned water into wine. I turned crappy old burnt steak into this. I'm not going to post the score here, but you can guess.)