Friday, September 21, 2012

Good News... No, Great News!

Yeah, you!
Faithful reader!

I'm not going to write here anymore. 

Don't be sad!
I'm still going to write just for you, just, somewhere else.


There's a whole blog page there and it'll be everyuthing you like about bigcitycountryboy and more.

So, come on by!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Just Beet It

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Pickled Beets
These pickled beets are gorgeous -- and tasty. (Photo: Ian Knauer)

When I was a kid, we never ate beets. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, helping my grandfather with his garden, that it even entered my mind that they were edible. As we were finishing the day’s weeding he asked my if I liked beets, to which I had to respond that I had no idea. His eyes almost popped out of his head.

An hour later we were standing in my mother’s kitchen with four paper grocery bags that were overloaded with beets. We never ate beets at home because, as it turned out, my Mom hated them (she still does). She was cringing at the thought of having to cook them. My grandfather was beside himself, laughing.

It turns out, I love beets. I’ll take them any way they come, but that day, since we had so many and Mom wanted them out of her house, we pickled and canned them so she could send me off to college with a year’s supply and hopefully never see a beet inside her kitchen again.

Every year at this time I gather as many beets as I can and put them up in jars for the following year. I crack them open for a snack as a part of a cheese plate to serve in soups all winter long. And every time I get the chance. I teasingly offer them up to my mother. She politely declines.

Picked Beets
Adapted from: The Farm - Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food
Makes 6 pints
6 pounds beets
6 fresh dill sprigs
3 shallots, sliced
2 tablespoons pickling spices
11⁄2 cups distilled white vinegar
11⁄2 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wrap the beets in three separate packages of aluminum foil and roast until they are easily pierced with a knife, 1 to 11⁄4 hours. Let the beets cool to warm, then peel and slice them and divide them among 6 sterilized pint canning jars, along with the dill, shallots, and pickling spices.

Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil. Pour the mixture over the beets, leaving 1⁄4 inch of space at the top of the jars.

Cap the jars and process in boiling water for 20 minutes. Let the jars cool at room temperature until they seal. They will keep for at least a year.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tomato Pie - nuff said...

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Tomato Pie
Ripe, summertime tomatoes take center stage in this savory pie. (Photo: Ian Knauer)
Colavita founder John Profaci Sr. told The New York Times last month that, “There is no tomato in this country or in Italy that’s as good as the New Jersey tomato. Some of the characteristics might be good, but there’s nothing that can match it overall.”

I happen to live two miles from New Jersey, just over the border in Pennsylvania, where I grow my own tomatoes. I have just three plants. This summer, my tomato plants grew to be almost seven feet tall. On any given day, I can pick between two and 12 ripe, red fruits. I’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes.

I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you this to prove one of the points of this column: When you choose to eat with a hyper-local mantra, you’ll be eating a lot of a certain thing for a short period of time, and that thing you’ll be eating might be the world’s best. I live in a part of the world that, according to Mr Profaci—a verifiable expert when it comes to flavor—grows some of the best tomatoes, so I grow tomatoes. If I lived in Florida, I’d grow oranges and you’d be reading a recipe for marmalade. If I lived in Michigan, I’d grow cherries and you’d be reading about pie. Well, you’re still reading about pie—tomato pie.

I waited to make this recipe until I had a pile of tomatoes that were so ripe they bruised if I looked at them the wrong way. When I cut into them, they poured with juice. Normally cooking such ripe tomatoes requires a lot of evaporation, but this pie has a biscuit crust that sucks up the excess tomato juice. It is great hot, cold, or at room temperature. Most importantly, it uses up a lot of tomatoes.
Tomato Pie
Serves 6 to 8
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
fine sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup whole milk
2 1/2 pounds very ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
Stir together flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips, then stir in milk with a fork (dough will be wet). Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Unwrap 1 dough, spreading the plastic wrap on a work surface. Cover the dough with another piece of plastic wrap. Roll dough out to fit in a 9-inch pie plate. Remove top layer of plastic, transfer the dough to the pie plate using the remaining plastic wrap, and then peel off plastic.

Slice tomatoes into 1/2-inch slices and layer them over dough in pie plate. Whisk together the mayonnaise, juice, scallions, basil, herbs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour mayonnaise mixture over tomatoes, then sprinkle with cheese.

Roll top crust out in the same manner as the bottom crust, transferring to the pie plate using the plastic wrap, then peel off plastic. Cut 1 steam hole in crust, then bake until the crust is golden and crisp and the filling is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Homemade Yogurt and the Very Best Way to Use it - Chocolate Cake

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Cocoa Yogurt Cake
Homemade yogurt gives this chocolate cake an appealing tang. (Photo: Ian Knauer)

One of the greatest thing we cooks can do is to become self-sufficient so we stop relying on large food conglomerates for our dinners—and desserts. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to learn how to make things from scratch. Start canning your own tomatoes and make your own ricotta cheese. Then, move on to yogurt.

Making yogurt is so simple that it’s almost magical. You’ll need milk (or if you like your yogurt to be richer like I do, milk and cream) and a couple tablespoons of plain yogurt. This could be the last yogurt you ever need to buy. From this point on you’ll have everything you need for the rest of your yogurt eating days.

The bacteria in yogurt is a living thing and, like most living things, it likes to eat and multiply—it just needs the right conditions. If you supply those conditions, the lactobacillus does the rest of the work, fermenting the lactose and turning the milk into yogurt. After the mixture has set I like to strain it through a sieve to make a thicker version, similar to a Greek-style yogurt.

Now, I like yogurt. I’ll eat it drizzled with honey for breakfast. But, there are things I like more than yogurt—like chocolate cake.

Recently I’ve been toying with a cocoa-yogurt cake using my homemade yogurt. The batter bakes up extra moist and the yogurt adds a curious tang, making it a perfect cake to serve with ice cream as a late-summer dessert.

Homemade Yogurt
Adapted from The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons whole milk yogurt
Bring the milk and cream to 180°F in a saucepan. Cool the milk mixture to 110°F, then stir in the yogurt. Transfer the milk mixture to a pint jar and place the jar in a warm water bath. Replace the water with warm water (100° to 105°F) as it cools. Let the yogurt incubate at room temperature until thickened, 5 to 7 hours. Pour the yogurt into a paper-towel-lined sieve set over a bowl. Cover the surface of the yogurt with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Cocoa Yogurt Cake
Serves 6 to 8
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Greek-style yogurt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil or butter a 9-inch square baking pan. Cut a 9-inch square of parchment paper and place it in the bottom of the pan. Oil or butter the paper.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, powder, soda, and salt.

Beat the butter together with the sugar with a mixer until it is pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla.

Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating to combine. Add the yogurt, beating to combine. Add the remaining flour mixture, beating to combine. Put batter in pan and smooth top with a spatula. Bake cake until a tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Let cake cool completely in pan, then place a serving platter over the cake pan and invert the cake on the platter. Serve cake with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bison Burgers - A Rant.

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Bison-Feta Burgers
If you're going to eat a burger, bison is a better choice than beef. (Photo: Ian Knauer)
I write this as a true-blue patriot. Sometimes I even like to say it out loud: I love America. Still, there are so many things I just don’t understand about this country. I don’t get why so many of my fellow Americans make the choices they make.

Here’s an example: Why would anyone choose not to vote? That’s just nuts! People die, DIE (not just in a figurative way, but in a very real way) for the right to vote. Yet, many of us make a choice not to vote because we’re disenfranchised or busy or lazy or just don’t care. What’s worse is when our elected politicians actually don’t want us to vote and publicly say so, like my home-state Senator Mike Turzai recently.

I just don’t understand why those of us who do vote would vote for someone who doesn’t want all of us to vote. It’s so not the democratic way! (For the record, I happen to think showing ID to vote is not a bad thing. After all, we have to show ID to exercise other constitutionally granted rights, like buying guns. We should focus on getting everyone an ID and encourage people to vote. God Bless America!)

Here’s another thing I just don’t get: Why don’t we eat more buffalo? 

American buffalo have been making a resurgence recently after near extinction in the 19th century. That’s good news, not only for the buffalo, but for those of us interested in sustainable eating. It’s also good news because bison meat is delicious. I mean, really, really delicious.

Bison is considerably less fatty than beef (2.42 grams of fat to beef’s 10.15 grams), partially because it’s grass-fed instead of corn-fed. That means it’s not only better for the environment, but a bison burger brings all the satisfaction of a burger without that familiar gut-bomb feeling.

(For the record, I happen to love a good burger like any other true-blue patriotic American, but don’t like feeling sick after I eat one.)

Take this as encouragement to make all-American bison burgers tonight for dinner—and also, to vote.

Bison-Feta Burgers
Makes 4 burgers
1 garlic clove
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 pound ground bison

Accompaniments: hamburger buns; lettuce; sliced tomato; sliced cucumber; mayonnaise; ketchup

Preheat grill.

Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt then transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in shallot, Worcestershire, pepper flakes, feta, salt and pepper, then mix bison into feta mixture. Form 4 patties.

Grill bison burgers to desired doneness, 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare.

Serve burgers on buns with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, mayonnaise, and ketchup.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Newest, Greatest Thing - Ratatouille Pizza

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Ratatouille Pizza
Roasting the vegetables separately gives this veggie pie unexpected depth. (Photo: Ian Knauer)

We have come to the time of year when farm stands and gardens are busting at the belt. There are so many zucchini and eggplant and tomatoes that we can’t eat them fast enough. Yesterday alone I picked 13 ripe tomatoes from two plants in my garden. This is what I’ve been waiting for all year. We have entered the age of ratatouille.  

Chefs think ratatouille is a bit of an art and I agree. Taking the lazy approach by tossing all the veggies together in a skillet brings on a muddied result. It’s watered down pasta sauce with some zucchini thrown in. The key to great ratatouille is cooking each vegetable separately. Tomatoes take longer to roast than zucchini; eggplant loves the grill.

By treating each veggie as an individual, you coax their best forward. That’s how I say it. Here’s how Chef Joel Robuchon says it (read outloud in thick French accent): The secret to good ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately so each will taste truly of itself.

Oh, the French.

To get my veggies to taste truly of themselves I think about my favorite versions of each. Nothing beats a roasted tomato, so for my ratatouille I roast my tomatoes. Eggplant, when grilled, is a sponge for smoke and char. I’m a sucker for caramelized onions, one of the cheapest flavor tricks of all time. All these steps are taken one at a time, ensuring maximum flavor.

The other secret to good ratatouille is to serve it on pizza.

Ratatouille Pizza
Serves 4
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, sliced
5 medium tomatoes
1 medium zucchini
1 medium eggplant
1 frozen pizza dough, thawed and at room temperature
6 ounces shredded fresh mozzarella cheese
Fresh basil

Cook onions in 2 tablespoons oil with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently until onions are deep golden colored, about 35 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 500°F. Preheat grill.

Cut tomatoes in to 2-inch chunks and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Roast in oven until blistered and blackened in places and when juices have evaporated, about 30 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cut zucchini crosswise into 1/4-inch slices and place on another baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Roast in oven with tomatoes until golden, about 20 minutes. Set aside.

Slice eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch slices and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Grill eggplant, turning occasionally, until charred in places and tender, about 12 minutes. Set aside.

Everything in the recipe up to this point can be made a day in advance.

Toss the pizza dough with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and slowly stretch it to fit a baking sheet. Place eggplant on dough and sprinkle evenly with onions. Top with tomatoes, zucchini, and cheese. Bake pizza until crust is golden and cheese is melted, 15 to 18 minutes. Top with fresh basil.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cookin' Like A Baller

It's been called
It's been called "the caviar of the East."Photo: Melissa Hom
The idea behind most of the items featured in this column is that they're secret ingredients: You put a little Maggi in a salad dressing to covertly pump up the flavor of the salad, not to make it taste like Maggi. You add a few dashes of Angostura bitters to a stew because it accentuates the beef, not because it makes the stew taste like a Manhattan. You want to make the food better, not to show off the ingredients. But XO sauce is different. It's got class; it's got panache. It's a sauce with credentials and you want to put it on display.
XO sauce was first created in Hong Kong — at either the Peninsula’s Spring Moon restaurant or at one of the many totally awesome fish restaurants in Kowloon — sometime in the early eighties. In China, as in every Jay-Z song, cognac is a status symbol, and the sauce was named in order to leverage the prestige and panache associated with "XO," the esteemed cognac designation. There's no actual cognac, or brandy of any kind, in XO sauce — but its off-the-charts-expensive ingredient list means it is fairly pricey ($15 for a few ounces) and, more important for our purposes, absolutely packed with deep, rich, smoky intensity. In fact, Vogue China once called it the "caviar of the East." The sauce is primarily a chunky combination of dried seafood and Chinese ham (though store-bought brands might omit the ham): Dried scallops can easily cost $100 per pound in the U.S., and a layperson in America would have to smuggle a good Yunnan ham.

In other words, even though there's no cognac in XO, it is still fancy stuff. And American chefs have taken to it: At the New York location of Hakkasan, a plate of stir-fried dover sole with XO will run you $46. (A whole Peking duck with XO and Chinese caviar will set you back $295.) David Chang's Ssäm Bardresses up market greens with XO. At Momofuku Ko, Chang's team serves XO with duck heart and tofu. In Chicago right now, Alinea serves grilled razor clam with a dose of homemade XO.

You can buy decent XO sauce in any Chinatown (or online), and it's worth the cost. But if you're going all the way to Chinatown anyway, the better option is to buy the necessary ingredients and make your own — get the highest quality dried scallops you can find, and use good prosciutto or speck in place of the Yunnan ham (unless, of course, you have some secret source smuggling the real thing in for you).

Whether you buy it or make it, you can treat XO like a sort of super-powered soy sauce: In the recipes below, the sauce amps up pan-fried eggplant and grilled steak, but you can even just toss something simple like roasted broccoli in a teaspoon of XO. Plus, it keeps basically forever so you'll always have some on hand in case dinner needs a dash of class.
Homemade XO Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
2 oz dried scallops
2 oz dried shrimp
3 oz Yunnan ham or proscuitto
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 heads garlic, peeled
1/2 cup chopped, peeled ginger
15 dried whole red chiles or 1 tablespoon dried red chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Place scallops and shrimp in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight, then drain.
Pulse ham in a food processor until finely chopped. Heat 1 cup oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot, then stir in ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until ham is browned, about 4 minutes.
Pulse drained scallops and shrimp along with garlic, ginger, and shallots in food processor until finely chopped, then add to skillet. 
Finely grind chiles in a spice mill, then add to skillet with salt and sugar. Cook XO sauce, stirring frequently, until browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a container and add remaining 1/2 cup oil. Keep refrigerated.
You've never had fancier eggplant.Photo: Ian Knauer

XO Eggplant
Serves 4
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 lbs Chinese or Japanese eggplant, cut into 2-inch pieces
5 whole dried chiles
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon XO sauce
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil leaves
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add onion and cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant and chiles and cook, stirring frequently, until eggplant is browned in places, about 6 minutes. Stir in soy, vinegar, sesame oil, XO, salt, and pepper, then cover skillet and lower heat to medium. Let eggplant cook until tender and sauce is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer eggplant to a serving platter and garnish with basil leaves.
This sauce packs an absolute ton of flavor.Photo: Ian Knauer

Grilled Steak with XO Chimichurri 
Serves 4
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup cilantro
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons XO sauce
1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (1 lb) rib eye steaks
Finely chop parsley and cilantro then stir herbs together with oil, XO, chile flakes, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Preheat grill.
Season steaks with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then grill, turning occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes total for medium rare. Let steak rest 10 minutes then slice and serve with XO chimichurri.