This summer, Hank Shaw of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook announced he was going on tour to support his new book Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast . Much like the tours organized by many of my friends in fledgling bands over the years, this was a DIY, couch-surfing, cross-country jaunt, with Hank scheduling the events himself sans (at least to my knowledge) the aid of his publisher. Curious to see if there was anything in the works for Detroit, I emailed him and offered to help out. We went back and forth a bit as far as what type of event it should be, and Hank suggested a potluck. Marvin generously offered up his studio in the Russell Industrial building as a gathering place. I had hoped Hank might be able to spend the afternoon prior to the event foraging around the area to bring in examples of things people could find locally,
but it didn’t pan out that way- the weather was already getting a bit too cold to find many wild plants, and Hank had other plans for hunting woodcock up north.
I put the word out about the event, and was pretty pleased with the response, given that I’ve worked many, many book signings where only a small handful of people show up and even less actually purchase the book. We had about 20 in attendance and probably would’ve had more if not for the really nasty freezing rain that night. But despite the inclement weather, we had quite a spread: home-cured prosciutto, lardo and lonzino, a few kinds of homemade pickles, jams, and home-brewed spruce beer were some of the contributions, in keeping with the spirit of the evening (Hank covers many curing and preservation methods on his blog in addition to hunting and foraging). Not to mention this beautiful pie that my friend Abigail (one of les culinettes) brought!
I decided to make a recipe I’d recently seen on Hank’s blog- a Spanish stew called chilindron, which I could make ahead and warm in the slow cooker. For side dishes, I put together a garlicky raw kale salad with pecorino, and a plateful of the nuptial ham. Last but not least, I was able to make paw paw ice cream thanks to a gift of some foraged paw paws courtesy of my friend Ian. I was super excited about this since I had never tried paw paw before. I wanted to do a full post just about the ice cream, but I didn’t use a recipe and it turned out a little too icy and hard, although the flavor was good. If you ever get a chance to eat a paw paw, they’re wonderful- the texture is sort of like mango but with none of the stringiness, and the flavor is delicately tropical and custardy. Some people compare it to banana but I didn’t particularly get that. Paw paws do have large seeds that are somewhat obnoxious to work around to get all the fruit off, but the effort is well-rewarded. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life in Michigan without trying one until now, and I’m definitely going to seek them out next year.
As folks filtered in for the event, the table grew heavy with food; I think I sampled everything at least twice (you know, not wanting anyone to feel slighted!). We decided to eat first, and then Hank talked for a while about what hunting means to him, sharing some stories of hyper-local meals and other hunting-related experiences. Afterward, he stayed signing books and chatting with guests before heading off to Slows for a beer. I’m not sure how he felt about the event- it was a much more modest affair than many of the fine-dining events he’s been a part of- but the attendees were all thanking me profusely for putting it together, so I’m calling it a success. It was cool to be able to share something I’ve been a fan of for a while with a bunch of people who had never heard of it (I think maybe one or two people had been aware of Hank’s blog prior to that night), and have them react so positively. Continue reading
…make des nouilles «coq au vin»!
It’s always a goal of mine to try to source the most authentic ingredients possible when making food from other countries. Partly for this reason, I had never attempted one of the most classic of all French dishes, Coq au Vin. In the U.S., our chickens are sold young and bred for their plumpness and would fall apart in a recipe that called for long, slow stewing. Coq au Vin is a recipe designed to make the best of a lean, sinewy old rooster rather than a hen barely past pubescence.
So imagine my delight when I saw for sale at the farmers’ market, from one of my favorite farmers, stewing hens for sale! Ok, so it was a hen, not a rooster, but I figured it was as close as I was going to get. They were frozen solid and had a layer of frost on them, but I optimistically bought one anyway, along with some cippolini onions and button mushrooms.
Once I thawed the old girl out, I held her up for inspection. She was the scrawniest bird I had ever seen. In the schoolyard, she would’ve garnered taunts of “flat as a board” while her double-D supermarket cousins pranced past. Her legs and thighs were similarly spare; I wasn’t going to get much meat out of her. But I wasn’t overly concerned; I was looking at this as somewhat of an experiment anyway, so I forged ahead.
I followed the recipe’s initial steps, marinating the bird in wine and aromatics for a day and then braising it in the marinade and stock until the liquid had reduced by about half. Despite the low, slow braise, the chicken appeared tough as shoe leather- what had I done wrong? I decided to chuck the whole thing in the fridge and resume the next day; perhaps it needed a longer braise to break down the collagen? Any bird I’ve ever dealt with, when cooked properly, you can move the joint freely between the drumstick and thigh. This bird’s joints were completely stiff and unyielding. However, the sauce tasted absolutely phenomenal, so I figured all was not lost.
The next day I decided to take the dish over to Marvin’s and finish it there, but fate would intervene. As I was loading the car, walking down my wooden porch steps, unable to hold the railing because I needed both hands to carry my insanely heavy Le Creuset Dutch oven, I slipped on a wet leaf. The lid went flying, as did all the lovely sauce. Somehow I managed to keep the pot itself upright, but my hands were scraped, and the pot handle was broken. And that sauce! I think I was more upset about it than anything.
That night we ended up getting carry-out, but I wasn’t giving up so easily; I still had the uncooked mushrooms and onions, the meat, and a tiny bit of sauce left. I began to hatch a plan. I reheated the meat with a couple more cups of wine and stock, some fresh aromatics, and let it simmer for another hour or so. It wasn’t as spectacular as the original sauce, but it sure wasn’t bad. I added the onions to the sauce, fried the bacon and mushrooms as per the original recipe and added them. At this point it was more than clear that the meat was inedible, but at least it had rendered some body and flavor to my sauce. I boiled up a package of wide egg noodles, and we had a delicious meal of noodles with wine sauce and mushrooms (hence des nouilles «coq au vin»).
I’m still not sure what happened with the meat. I had a similar experience with a braised rabbit recipe- it had a few similarities (the meat was frozen, the recipe called for marinating in wine ahead of time, and used the same cooking technique) and I also ended up with meat so dry it practically crumbled. If anyone out there reading this has any insights, please let me know! Meanwhile, I hope this goes to show that even if a recipe goes awry, many times it can still be salvaged into something delicious and worthwhile.
P. S. I didn’t manage to get any photos for this post (it was 9:30 and after a long day, my hard-working better half needed his supper, stat!), but take my word for it that the mushrooms, onions and bits of bacon looked absolutely gorgeous glazed with the rich reddish-brown wine sauce atop a tangle of noodles, with a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley. Actually, that description probably does the dish justice better than a photo could have!
In my last post I alluded to a picnic with some fellow Detroit gourmands, some of whom I introduced to you in this post. We’re a growing group, and we decided to have a potluck picnic on Belle Isle as an excuse to eat, drink and get to know each other a little better. Molly and Todd scoped out the perfect spot under some willow trees, on the banks of the Detroit river with a view of the city.
Knowing this group, I had high expectations, but wow… I have to say I was pretty blown away by how much everyone put into it. Dave (aka Captain McBoozy), James and Evan ruled the drinks department- Dave made a Rhubarb Rum Punch and some Prescription Juleps, Evan brought a chartreuse-and-pineapple juice concoction, and James (our resident coffee-roaster and token Romanian-American) made a fabulous cocktail with cold-brewed coffee, vodka, passionfruit syrup and Romanian mountain mint.
The food was no less spectacular… I displayed an incredible amount of willpower and paced myself perfectly so that I was able to nibble and sip on and off all day while never feeling uncomfortably full or overly tipsy. This was no small feat, since it was pretty much a spread to end all spreads. My contributions were a big bowl of chlodnik and a mess of honey, cumin & lime-marinated grilled chicken (grilling courtesy of Todd, thanks dude!). The rest of the food I almost hesitate to list for fear of inadvertently leaving someone out, but there were homemade sausages, pizza on the grill (organic dough courtesy of Strawberry Moon in Ferndale), Vietnamese fresh rolls, an Israeli couscous salad with shrimp (don’t tell the rabbi!), bruschetta, gazpacho, Korean beef tartare lettuce wraps, grilled steak with arugula, a huge bowl of guac, and an assortment of gourmet ice cream courtesy of Jeni’s Ice Creams in Columbus. Jarred also brought an assortment of wines provided by Western Market- score!
We whiled away the afternoon until it slipped into evening, and somehow managed to dispatch almost all of the food. We were even making ham sandwiches towards the end of the day, with leftover marble rye, mustard, and some J&M German bacon (not really “bacon”; more like the best ham you’ve ever had). As the sun set over the city, we packed up our belongings and mused about how perfect the day had been, and wondered aloud how soon we could do another picnic.
Back to the chicken- this isn’t the first time I’ve made this chicken, but I usually make it with wings for a better meat-to-marinade ratio. The drumsticks weren’t bad, but I think I’ll revert to using wings from now on. It was hard to “name” this recipe because all of the marinade ingredients are bold and prominent- the sweet-tart punch of honey and lime, the toasty warmth of the cumin and cayenne, and the savory hit of garlic all contribute to a sauce that sings with flavor. The elements are inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine, but I’ve never had anything like it in a restaurant or come across any similar recipes in any cookbooks or blogs, so for now I’ll claim it as my own. We couldn’t do this at the picnic, but if you’re near a stove, the leftover marinade (boiled and reduced) makes a killer dipping sauce.
To see the full set of photos from the picnic, check out my flickr set.
Honey, Cumin & Lime Grilled Chicken
4-5 lbs chicken wings (or drumsticks), preferably free-range or organic
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 large limes should yield this, unless they are particularly dry)
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs ground cumin (seeds toasted & freshly ground if possible)
½ tsp cayenne or 1 tsp Harissa paste (or more if you like it spicy)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 packed Tbs minced garlic (a couple cloves depending on size)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs olive oil
Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, stirring to dissolve the honey. Taste to see that the sweet/sour flavors are balanced. It should taste pretty pucker-inducing, but the heat will tame some of the acidity. Taste for spiciness as well, adding cayenne as you see fit.
Wash and pat the chicken dry. Place in a sturdy Ziploc-type bag with the marinade and seal, expelling as much air as possible. Marinate for at least an hour, longer if possible.
Grill the chicken over medium heat, turning frequently and basting often with the marinade (this should take about 15-20 minutes for wings; slightly longer for drumsticks. If unsure, use a meat thermometer and cook to 160°). If you like, boil down any remaining marinade on the stove until slightly thickened and use as a dipping sauce.
“Why I hate cookbooks” may seem like an odd blog post title for someone who owns as many cookbooks as I do, and who regularly swoons over them. But every so often, I have one of those frustrating cooking experiences that make me almost angry at the cookbook author for whatever flaw in their recipe that caused the demise of my dinner.
The primary problem with cookbooks is obviously that they’re not interactive. Have a question or need something clarified? You’re outta luck.* Unlike blogs, where you can usually get a question on a recipe answered via the comments or an email, cookbooks are static and unyielding, leaving many home cooks up in the air and having to guess at what was intended.
Part of this has to do with the fact that many cookbooks assume a level of knowledge or background that may or may not be there. Many foodies probably scoff at cookbook authors such as Nigella Lawson, who is not a “real chef” but just a home cook like (most of) the rest of us. But that’s exactly the thing I love about Nigella’s cookbooks (and blogs like the Amateur Gourmet)- they bother to describe mishaps or trouble spots they experienced while making the dish, in hopes of sparing you the same problems. Details like “don’t worry if your dough appears clumpy” can be invaluable when making a recipe for the first time. (I try to include these types of details in the recipes I give here- it makes them longer, but I’d rather give too much info than not enough!)
Another pet peeve is cookbook authors who don’t seem to test their recipes with American ingredients, even though the U. S. is the primary market for their book sales (they should take a page from Julia Child- she specifically tested her French recipes in an American kitchen with American ingredients, to make sure they would work). I frequently encounter this problem when cooking from ethnic cookbooks whose authors live abroad. There are big differences in ingredients such as flour or even meat, and adjustments need to be made. The person executing the recipe should not be expected to know to make these modifications.
So, what prompted this bout of cookbook disaffection? Spending an entire afternoon and evening in the kitchen one Sunday, and having two different dishes not turn out as expected. The dishes attempted were pork rillettes (from Charcuterie) and a baked chicken and freekeh dish (from the The New Book of Middle Eastern Food). The rillettes, made with expensive pastured pork, turned out the consistency of chewed tuna fish. Note to self: next time, do NOT use the stand mixer as suggested in the book! Next time I’ll use a fork to gently break apart the meat. Another issue was that there was not even a ballpark indication of how much liquid to add, and I think I added too much, which also contributed to the “wet tuna” consistency.
The baked chicken dish was rescued but turned into something completely different from what was intended. I thought the instructions were a little wonky- boil the chicken for an hour, then cut it up and bake it for 30 minutes- but forged ahead, trusting the recipe. After 1 hour of simmering, however, my chicken was falling apart and unable to be cut up into pieces. What would the additional 30 minutes of baking have done anyway, besides drying out the meat?! Bizarre. (Incidentally, this is not the first time I’ve had an issue with a recipe from this book.) I ended up picking all of the meat from the carcass, putting it back in the broth with the freekeh, and just calling it soup. It tasted fine in the end, but what if I hadn’t been experienced enough to shift gears and transform the dish into something else?
I’ll never fully turn away from cookbooks, but right now, I’m more than a little disenchanted. My resources (both time and money-wise) are limited, and I can’t afford to devote them to recipes that can’t deliver a reliable result.
6/4/10 UPDATE: I had houseguests from France to whom I hesitantly served the rillettes, explaining that it was my first effort, etc. They both said that the rillettes were “tout à fait correct” (i.e. just fine), and judging by the quantity they consumed, I don’t think they were just being polite! They said rillettes can range from fine to coarse. I still think I’ll hand-mix them next time, but it was good to know they weren’t the failure I thought they were. I do think a few weeks in the fridge improved the flavor & texture.
Although I’m an adventurous eater and love all kinds of Asian foods, it hasn’t been until relatively recently (the last 5 years or so) that I discovered how much I love Vietnamese food. Sad, because out of all the types of Asian cuisines I’ve tried, Vietnamese cooking calls out to me the most, with its pungent flavors of fish sauce, chilies, lime and fresh herbs. It’s ironic because although I lived in France, where there is a large Vietnamese population, my experience was limited to snacking on the occasional nem (fresh roll), which you could buy at the counter in many Vietnamese-owned groceries.
Here in Metro Detroit, there is also a significant Vietnamese population in the Madison Heights area (see this post about some of the Asian specialty stores in that area). A couple years ago Marvin turned me on to a restaurant on John R just north of 11 Mile Rd. called Thang Long *insert immature jokes here… you know you want to* and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s not much to look at when you walk in- the decor is all rose-colored and clearly hasn’t been updated since the early ’80s; the vinyl seats are torn in places. There’s a long table in the middle of the restaurant where the family congregates to do food prep, wrap silverware, etc. But none of that matters because when you go to Thang Long, you go for the food.
I’ve tried several dishes at Thang Long, but my favorite is the Duck & Cabbage salad. Cabbage is shredded and doused with a dressing of vinegar, fish sauce, chilies and garlic; there are slices of red bell pepper, mint and basil leaves, a sprinkling of peanuts, and best of all, pieces of shredded duck breast. Last year I acquired Andrea Nguyen’s book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (check out this post for a great stuffed tofu recipe from that book), and happily it contained a recipe for a very similar salad that used poached chicken breast in place of the duck. I made a batch and was delighted to find that, with just a little tweaking, I could now make my beloved duck salad at home. Best of all, it’s an incredibly easy recipe AND super healthy- there’s not even any oil in the salad dressing. The salad is great when it’s first made, but I also like it after it “marinates” in the dressing and the cabbage softens a bit. Either way, you’ll be glad it makes a big batch because it’s addictive and easy to eat huge portions!
Photo notes: The first photo is of the salad I made at home with chicken, following the original recipe without any modifications. The photo of the salad with the herbs and red pepper is the actual duck salad at Thang Long (hence the crappy lighting). The things on the side of the plate are delicious fried shrimp chips.
If you’re looking for a more weekday version of this dish, this salad works just as well with chicken rather than duck. I’m not usually a fan of the rather flavorless white chicken breast meat available in most stores (use Amish or organic if possible!), but the salad has so much flavor of its own that it works out. For the chilies, in a pinch you can do what I did and use dried bird’s eye chilies; just pour a small amount of very hot water over them and let them soak a bit before using. The items marked “optional” are ingredients that Thang Long uses in their salad that were not included in Ms. Nguyen’s recipe.
For the salad:
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 bone-in duck or chicken breast (both sides)
1 small red onion or two shallots, thinly sliced
½ to ¾ cup distilled white vinegar
1 small head green cabbage, about 1 lb, quartered through the stem end, cored, and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-wide ribbons
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded (I use the large holes of a box grater)
a good handful of cilantro, finely chopped (about 2-3 Tbs)
¼ of a red bell pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
2-3 sprigs mint leaves (optional)
2-3 sprigs basil (optional)
2-3 Tbs finely chopped unsalted peanuts (optional)
For the dressing:
1-2 Thai or serrano (red) chilies, chopped (see notes)
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ tsp sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tbs fish sauce
6 Tbs unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
Choose a lidded saucepan just large enough to hold the meat. Fill half-full with water and the 1 Tbs fish sauce, and bring to a rolling boil. Drop in the duck or chicken breasts. When the water starts bubbling at the edges of the pan, remove the pan from the heat and cover tightly; let sit undisturbed for 30-40 minutes. If you’re at all nervous about undercooked meat, use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat has reached 160°. (Alternately, if time is not an issue, you can cook the meat in a slow cooker on low for a couple hours; folks on Serious Eats claim they get a moister result this way.)
Meanwhile, place the cabbage, carrot, cilantro and red bell pepper (if using) in a large bowl. Put the onion or shallots in a small bowl and add the white vinegar just to cover (the vinegar tames the onion’s bite). Let sit for 15 minutes. Drain well and add to the cabbage. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and shred the meat by hand along the grain; when cool, add to the bowl of cabbage.
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, chilies, sugar and salt until they form a fragrant orange-red paste. Scrape the paste into a small bowl and add the rice vinegar and fish sauce, stirring to dissolve and combine.
Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss well to combine. Taste and adjust the flavors as needed, balancing the sour, salty, sweet and spicy. Transfer to a serving plate, leaving behind any unabsorbed dressing. Garnish with the herb sprigs and the peanuts, if using (or leave on the side for your guests to add as desired).