September 2008 Archives

Name My Drink!
By Lydia on September 26, 2008 2:32 PM| | Comments (7)
The Tentacular Spectacular has been selling well. Eli, my manager, said when it went on the menu that he would be happy if it sold one a week. Well, we sold 10 just last weekend!

New from the Land Of Deliciousness trapped in Lydia's head:

Tablespoon Tahini paste
2 oz Pisco (Pisco is a chilean brandy)
1/2 oz cream
3/4 oz simple syrup

Shake and serve up, garnished with crushed pistachio. It tastes like halwa. I cannot figure what to call it, though. Comment with ideas, and the best one wins a free halwa-drink!

Coming soon: Scary Dinner in the Land of the Little...

Intimidating Dinner
By Lydia on September 18, 2008 11:33 AM| | Comments (2)
Dinner parties are an essential part of my household cleaning. Generally, I only mop my floor when I know guests are coming over. Guests do not include my family, my boyfriend, or anyone I have seen vomit, visited in the mental hospital, or picked up from jail.

I woke up early yesterday and rode my bicycle to the farmer's market. 20 dollars and one incredibly full backpack later, I realized I had gone completely overboard and had to invite some company over. "Company" was to include the lovely Miss Audacious, Mr. Eddy, old friend Taylor and girlfriend Allison. Unfortunately, I had forgotten how nerve-racking I find cooking for people who are good cooks. Ted and Chris and Audrea, of course, ran the Bootleg Breakfast series, and I've been over to the house a few times for really awesome Indian food. Also, my guests had never been to my apartment before, so I was also nervously rearranging my books and records, trying to hide my less than cool infatuation with crime novels and the Matador back catalog.

At this point, I am almost done putting away groceries and suddenly remember my little fruit fly problem. It started about a week ago, and I thought that the source had been some little cherry-bomb peppers that had grown worms when they were supposed to be drying, but they had left the building, and my flies remained. That's when I looked with new eyes on Beer Mountain. Ah, Beer Mountain, epic in scale, the product of my and my guests perhaps unwise rates of imbibition, and my carless summer state, it had grown out of two cupboards and was spilling out of a closet into my kitchen space. It was time to let go. My mom took me to meijers, and I made out with a cool $25.

Back at home, it was cooking time. I had an idea of a sort of fall-ish menu with apples, onions, cabbage, and some fresh ham slice I got at the market. First the cabbage, a red one, also from the farmer's market, got shredded and apples got peeled and chunked. Those went together in a big pot with a few cloves, salt and pepper, and some butter. A few minutes later, I added a bit of wine and a bit of cider, and covered it, cooking on low. That went to the back of the stove while I dealt with the pork.

Meat, I think, is tricky. I don't really understand the different cuts and how to cook them, so I need frequent reviews of my most helpful cookbooks. More problematic is that I rarely find a recipe, then go to the store with a thorough list, then cook the food. Its more along the lines of find good looking food at the market, then go home and figure out how to cook it. This usually means that I have the wrong ingredients for any exact recipe, so there is intense cross-referencing action while I try to piece together cooking technique and flavor profile. The pork I got at the market was a fresh ham slice. The ham is the hind leg, fresh just means uncured, unsmoked, whatever. The ham can be cooked in any recipe for shoulder (shoulder is sometimes called "butt" which just makes no sense, but go with it) but it is leaner, and so can dry out sooner. Ham nowadays is much leaner in general than in decades past, and is much more likely to dry out with long, dry cooking times. Knowing this, after trimming the ham of bone and excess fat and I cut it into niblets and browned them in a dutch oven in a little olive oil, and then removed them. In the rendered fat and oil I cooked one and a half onions, chunked, until browned. Then I added a couple cloves of garlic and some ginger and about a palmful of cinnamon.Then the pork went back in with about half a bottle of 4 dollar pinot grigio, set on low, and covered.

Vegetarian dinner I had to make simple, as Bones was coming on, so I just whipped some pesto up and mixed some creamed tomato soup from the day before into it (Day before was You're Going To College Cooking Class, we made potato-leek and tomato soups.)  Both dinners were going on egg noodles.

Lastly, I threw an apple crisp together, with cardamom and dessert masala on top. Then everyone came over and I drank too much wine and pretended that my cool square plates weren't from the Crate & Barrel. I am a moron, but at least no one knows I am a moron who shops at outlet stores...
Scary Fish
By Lydia on September 10, 2008 4:50 PM| | Comments (6)
I've been, I fear, particularly absent in recent weeks. I blame the weather and the high cost of at-home internet service to one who lives alone. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade my roommate-free existence for anything, but there goes my fleeting dream of being able to afford the interweb...

In any event, my days have been fairly full of food, most of it maritime, most of it popularly undesirable. Welcome to Lydia Clowney's World of Fish, in ascending order of creepiness/ickyness.

Level One: The Approachable
I've been eating a really absurd amount of sushi, and I must say this: as much as I love Sushi-yama, I find it annoying that they are not open at dinner time. Actually, I can get around their hours, I understand that in their location there aren't all that many people around past 5pm most nights. What I cannot forgive is the existence of a "dinner entree" section on their menu, and their refusal to make dinner entrees at lunchtime, i.e., the only time they are open. How, exactly, am I to try their bibimbap, and how, exactly, am I to write my big bibimbap comparison article with only two restaurants weighing in? That really isn't too heavy of reporting, am I right? Get it together, Sushi-yama, I want us to be friends, and I want to try your damn bibimbap.

Now, I recently made friends with the very odd gentlemen of Flying Bridge Fish Market on Leonard and Plainfield. They are rather large, dour men, but they gave away their inner softy by playing Christina's Court on the TV. We all know about Christina; she takes the law into her own heart. They complimented me on my moped, and I told them how much I liked their nautical decor. Who knows, maybe they can be a sponsor for Fleet Week 2009. (Side note, Fleet Week is the Moped Navy's rally, to be held in the spring. um, epic...) Flying Bridge sells a number of different fishes, including lake and ocean perch, tilapia, catfish, and smelt, by the pound, or as "dinners" with fries. I got Herm the ocean perch, which, at 8.99 was about 4 dollars cheaper than the freshwater variety, and I got the smelt.

Getting the fish back to Vertigo was a mite rough, as Flying Bridge doesn't have takeout containers as such, but uses open paper dishes inside a paper bag. This means that it is likely your tasty fried meal will tilt slightly and cause the bag extreme transparency, making it impossible to kid yourself that fish is a delightfully healthy food, and that you are doing you body a really good thing by eating it.  That said, if you get the smelt, you might as well eat them out of a paper bag, as they are the ultimate fishy finger food. If you combine the fries and the fish together and douse them with vinegar and hot sauce, you have one of the most perfect out-of-bag meals ever. They ones I had were crispy and perfectly fried, with tender fish interiors. I am actually salivating a little writing this.

Part Two: The Suspicious
I like making pizza a lot. You throw flour, yeast, salt, water and olive oil together in the food processor, and then let it sit for a couple of hours. In my experience, this is the perfect time to call your friends and ride your bike up to the Meanwhile Bar for a couple of pitchers. Properly sauced, you ride home, throw some garlic and onion and a can of tomatoes in a pan with a little diced carrot, grate some cheese and 8-12 minutes later, Voila! Quicker than delivery!  If you are really lucky, you have a can of anchovies in the cupboard. Drizzle the packing oil onto the crust before the sauce, then top with anchovies and cheese. I like to chop the anchovies and sprinkle them on, that way you get more funky, fishy flavor, and less of that furry sort of mouthfeel that anchovies tend to have. I think it is something about the tiny bones that are in the filets, but the actual canned fish part may have something to do with it.
Pizza Crust:
3 cups flour ( I use whole wheat typically)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or any coarse salt)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water
Put dry ingredients into food processor, turn on, add olive oil and water through feed tube. After 30 seconds or a minute it should turn into a ball, if not, add a tad more water. Knead the dough for a minute, then put into an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for a couple hours.When you are ready to make pizza, turn the oven on as hot as it will go. Knead the dough a minute more, then separate into as many pieces as you need (dependent on how big your pans are) and let "puff" for 10-20 minutes. (I skip that step sometimes.) Roll the dough out. It is easier to roll if you flatten it, then let it sit a bit to trick it into letting you roll it more. It can be very elastic, which can be frustrating. If you get pissed at it, let it sit for another minute before keeping on. Sauce, top, bake for 8-12 minutes and let the thing cool if you can before you eat it. I usually can't.

Part 3: The Unthinkable
I get these epiphanies sometimes. It's not something I can control, it's just sort of like, "Hey! I'm sick of using juice as a mixer, maybe I should use beer!" OK, so I'm kidding. But in the course of my boredom behind various San Chez bars I have come up with some pretty good drinks. Que Bruja was a cucumber-mint martini based loosely on raita, the indian yogurt condiment. The Monocle, a little-appreciated drink that unpopularly used Campari, was pretty and pink, and  had a neat orange wheel floating on top.  The Bear Trap, coming soon to a San Chez drink menu near you uses Assam tea, Berenjager, and muddled berries. All these pale in comparison to the genius that we call the Black & Bloody.

My latest baby is a squid-ink bloody-mary martini. It is black, murky, and terrifying. It has a very round, full flavor, not fishy, but reminiscent of the sea. It is minimally spicy, and has a nutty quality from the sherry. It comes garnished with a sherry soaked stuffed date, and a tentacular calamari clinging to its edge. It is an awesome drink. You heard it here first:
Black & Bloody
1 1/4 oz Chopin Vodka
1/2 oz Oloroso Sherry
TINY splash squid ink
Zing Zang
Shake and serve up, garnished as above.