Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Remember the Wonder

In today's New York Times, "A Soft Spot for the Anti-Artisanal" a brilliant pro-Kraft/Hostess/Wonderbread manifesto:

Into every life some Kraft Singles, Hostess Sno Balls and Snickers bars must fall. Could you possibly substitute a wedge of that pampered Camembert for a workaday Kraft Single on a tuna melt? Never. And equal only to the fetishistic satisfaction of eating the filling of an Oreo before you eat the cookie is peeling the Sno Ball’s coconut-sprinkled dome of marshmallow from the chocolate cupcake beneath it and saving its creamy center for last. These products are sui generis in our great American culture where variety rules; you can’t find a real substitute for any of them....

Don’t get me wrong. I’m genuinely glad about the progress being made in the culinary world, and I’m grateful that our daily diets are improving thanks to the tireless efforts of local farmers and obsessive compulsives who have chosen heritage pork as their final frontier instead of space. I salute them.

All I’m saying is that sometimes, people, you’ve still got to remember the wonder.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Kangaroo with Fig Sauce

Welcome to Part II of the ToastPoint exotic meat series. Today, kangaroo in fig sauce. When we ordered from, there was some sort of procurement delay. To make up for the dreadful incovenience of tardy deliver of bits of dead exotic animals, the fine people at Exotic Meats sent some extra kangaroo with our order.

We decided to pay the windfall forward by having a kangaroo dinner party, fairly bold considering that we figured there was a decent chance the meal would be inedible, either through native nastiness or ineptitude of preparation. To up the ante, we even invited a gen-u-ine Australian to the table.

We stocked up on cheese, made extra large portions of side dishes, plied our guests with (Australian) wine, and crossed our fingers. And lo and behold, the kangaroo was awesome. The tender, extremely flavorful, appealingly rosy meat was wolfed down (apologies for mixing species) by one and all. I can only assume that the reason humanity domesticated cows and not kangaroos is that cows are easier to catch in the first place. The sweetness of the caramelized fig complimented the meat perfectly.

Discussion at the table revolved around whether a kangaroo was, in fact, a giant rodent and its status as a pest Down Under--all of which were basically efforts to keep ourselves from feeling bad about eating such a charismatic megafauna.

It will seem like there is a lot of oil in the marinade, but kangaroo is very lean so many recipes recommend variations on a oil bath before cooking. And since the meat is so lean, it will dry out if you try for anything more the medium-rare--thus the quick sear and little else.

This fig sauce would be brilliant with pork or beef as well. So if you can't lay your paws on some kangaroo, you can still give it a whirl.

Kangaroo with Fig Sauce

2-3 Tablespoons fig preserves
1 small onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 inch fresh ginger, minced
4 generous Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon French mustard
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tablespoons fig vinegar, or balsamic vinegar with a bit for extra fig preserves

Pour marinade into a freezer bag and add:
1- 1 1/2 pounds of kangaroo loin filets

Marinate for as long as possible. I marinated mine overnight in the fridge.

About 1 hour before dinner, removed the bag from the fridge and bring kangaroo to room temperature.

Heat on high in a non-non-stick pan (cast iron or aluminum is best. If all you have is non-stick, it just means a little less tasty brown crust on the meat):
1 scant Tablespoon oil

When oil begins to shimmer and smoke, removed kangaroo from marinade, shake off excess and add to the pan. After 3 minutes, turn the filets. After three more minutes, removed the filets to a warm oven (250 degrees) and keep them there until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, reduce heat and pour the marinade into the pan. Deglaze with a little wine or water if things are too dry. Reduce the juices to a thick, syrupy sauce and serve on in a little pitcher or bowl on the side of the kangaroo.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Buckwheat Noodles with Napa Cabbage and Almonds

Charmingly, the recipe that inspired this dish calls for crunched up packages of ramen noodles, not the snooty buckwheat soba you see above. If you have some TopRamen on hand, go for it and tell me how it turned out. I've never had anything like what this recipe--and the dozens of others like it I found online--so I don't know what it was really supposed to be like. I suspect it was meant to be more like an asiany crunchy salad or slaw. What I wound up with was more in the spirit of the sesame noodles or peanut noodles from your local Chinese place as an appetizer.

On the last sunny day in Boston before the recent bout of distinctly unspringlike weather, I tossed together this quick lunch for two while the H.V. napped upstairs between classes. When he descended, we munched these savory noodles in companionable quiet and enjoyed the warm sun coming in through the windows of our apartment. The toasty almonds and the tender cabbage seemed tentatively springlike, but the hot noodles were substantive enough to line our tummies and anchor us for one last battle with winter.

Buckwheat Noodles with Napa Cabbage and Almonds

Start some water boiling for the noodles. Meanwhile, melt in a large skillet:
3 Tablespoons butter

1/2 cup slivered almonds (I only had whole almonds, which I "slivered" with a large chef knife. The final result was rustic, but served its purpose)

Toast the almonds until golden, then add:
1 head Napa cabbage, chopped into coleslaw-like ribbons

While the cabbage softens, boil for a scant 2 minutes:
1 package buckwheat soba noodles, snapped in half or in quarters

Drain and rinse under cold water, then add them to the pan with the cabbage. Toss in:
4 scallions, green and white parts, chopped

Then add:
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar (or other white vinegar)
2 Tablespoons rice wine (or honey mixed with water, or maple syrup)

Let the whole thing bubble away for a minute or two on high heat, then garnish with sesame seeds and serve hot.

For more pasta, presto!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Crocodile in Lime and Ginger (Seriously)

The Human Vacuum is on the march. His campaign to consume bits of increasingly bizarre animals led him to, where he bought crocodile and fragments of several other strange beasts, which will be featured here in the coming days. For now, our freezer is a veritable menagerie.

The results so far: I hate to say it, but crocodile really does taste like chicken. Maybe chicken with a touch of the spongy, fishiness of swordfish. But basically chicken. Which isn't to say that the dinner pictured above was lacking in any way. It was delicious. But you could probably make it with chicken or swordfish to excellent effect and at much less expense.

Still, half the fun is just beng able to casually mention that you had crocodile for dinner last night, right?

Crocodile in Lime and Ginger

Combine in a shallow bowl:
Juice of 2 limes
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 inch fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 Tablespoon soy sauce

1 pound crocodile, cut into 1 inch chunks (or chicken or swordfish)

Marinate for an hour, or as long as possible (see here for my laissez-faire policy on marinating)

In a large skillet over high heat, warm until shimmering:
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

Retreive chunks of crocodile from marinade and add them to the pan, reserving the juices for later use. Sear the crocodile for about 2 minutes on each side, then remove and keep warm. Turn the heat down to medium high and pour the leftover marinade into the pan, along with:
1 scallion, minced
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Let it bubble and reduce to a thick sauce. Put the chunks of crocodile, along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate, back into the pan and toss to coat.

I served the croc on a bed of cubed zucchini sauted with 1 Tablespoon butter, 2 Tablespoons of fresh mint, salt, and cracked pepper.
Check out more experiments in reptillian eating here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Salmon with Soy, Maple, and Adobo

Thank god for people who refuse to follow directions. I was drafted into an email recipe exchange (sort of a chain letter/pyramid scheme, but with recipes) and, for the first time in my life, actually decided to participate. It was a simple calculation--potential for a bunch of good recipes, versus almost no effort to send a recipe since I already had a website full of them. I got a decent yield, but the best of the bunch was this salmon from a person who, by the rules of the recipe exchange, shouldn't have sent it to me, but to the next person down on the list.

I opted to saute a plastic bag of baby spinach in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 3 cloves of minced garlic, and serve with some Whole Food corn bread muffin tops. The original recipe suggested serving the salmon with brown rice and oven-roasted asparagus, which I'm confident would be delicious as well.

The Human Vacuum said "You could get exactly this plate for $27 dollars at a nouveau cuisine-type place." It's true. The glaze was just fresh interesting enough, and the plating was very attractive, even if I do say so myself.

Salmon with Soy, Maple and Adobo

Mix together in a shallow bowl:
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tablespoon adobo, the red tomato-based sauce from a can of chipotle peppers (you can get these in the Mexican section of almost any grocery store, even though they sound fancy)
1/4 cup soy sauce

1 pound salmon filet

Marinate for a bit. (I had already broken that age-old rule and gone to the grocery store while absolutely starving. When I got home, I threw the marinade together, put the groceries away, and started cooking. 10 minutes at best. It was still awesome. The original recipe says to marinate for half an hour, which you should feel free to do. I consider it a point of honor to treat marinating times as loose suggestions at best--and am willing to do away with that step altogether if I'm in a hurry. Sort of like stop signs at deserted intersections.)

Anyway, saute the salmon in a skillet, browning both sides and cooking until just approaching opaque in the middle (see below for my super no-fail salmon sauteing technique). Meanwhile, briskly simmer the marinade in a separate saucepan until it is reduced to a scant 1/4 cup.

Drizzle glaze over fish and serve with the sides of your choice.

Super no-fail salmon sauteing technique
Heat up a dry skillet on high. When the skillet is very hot, drop in the salmon, skin side down. Wait for 2-3 minutes until the fat starts to render out. Then flip the salmon, scrape the skin off (which will be incredibly easy at this point), and throw the skin away. If the skin sticks to the surface of the pan, all the better. Just flip the fish to another part of the pan, scrape it up and throw it away. Sear the other side well (another 2 minutes, until a brown crust forms). Flip once more, then turn the heat to medium-low and cook until the fish starts to threaten to become opaque in the center. The gorgeous brown crust this technique creates is worth the house full of fishy smoke it produces, so open the windows before you try this technique and enjoy.