Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Techniques: Breakfast Potatoes

This morning, I made some breakfast potatoes, mostly because I discovered a forlorn, half-empty bag of yellow roasting potatoes on top of the refrigerator. I guess "breakfast potatoes" is kind of a generic term- to me, they're bigger than hashbrowns, smaller than homefries. The point is, they're the right size to cook relatively quickly, without the hassle of grating (I don't even own a grater of the size appropriate for hashbrowns, and I suspect many others don't, either. Microplane rocks my world).

So how did I get good breakfast potatoes, without taking decades?

-Cut the potatoes in small (about 1/2cm), uniform cubes so they cook quickly in a pan. This can be the world's largest pain in the ass, or extremely fun, if your knife is sharp and you're a little OCD.

-Think about regulating the heat. First, preheat your pan and preferred fat source. I did butter, but there was a little pork fat residue in the skillet I could taste on the potatoes. This was a good thing. The big key is to preheat for way longer than you think you need to. Try a couple of minutes. Watch to make sure nothing spontaneously combusts. But you want that pan hot.

-Speaking of which, skillets. My personal opinion is that a nonstick skillet works just as well as my old-school cast iron. Sure, the one that's a pain to season and clean looks cooler, but I don't notice much difference. Maybe you'll get a little more color, faster, with the cast iron, but it seems cosmetic.

-Do you want them crispy? I did a mix of crispy and smushy. I started with high heat to develop some crispiness. The important part, however, is covering them so they'll steam and cook thoroughly faster. Preferably at lower heat, so they don't burn. If you want really crispy, start with the steaming and then crisp at the end. Mine were a happy medium.

For fun, I tossed a little freeze-dried green onion on top when I was done. They didn't overpower the delicate buttery potato flavors, and I didn't have to worry about food poisoning from fresh ones.

News from Gen's Kitchen (Cue the Food Geek)

Ok, so I mentioned awhile back that this format is getting boring (for me, and probably for anyone else reading). After some thought about what might make this more interesting, especially in light of the billion-and-a-half "look at what I ate!" blogs out there, I've decided to go educational. But creatively, and hopefully not too obnoxiously.

Why educational? I love reading cookbooks that explain techniques, rationales for a particular process, and unusual ingredients in-depth. I'm also obsessed with vintage cookbooks, for what they say about food, but also culture and how it's changed over time.

I'd like to think all this semi-arcane knowledge is useful. I find having a fuller understanding of ingredients and techniques makes it much easier to spot issues in my cooking, and take into account factors people who don't read a lot of cookbooks might not notice. That's why I do so many odd and crazy things, and yet generally come out with an edible result. And, of course, there's always more to learn- sometimes it's fun to see how I fail, and to explore why.

And maybe there will be a lazy What Gen Ate post sometimes. I still have to eat, after all.

(I also apologize for the lack of visual interest in this post. I was going to do some cool MS Paint thingy like all those other cool blogs out there, but I discovered it's actually really hard. Computer artist, I iz not.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

I'm Secretly Dutch

For lunch, I had falafel and fries from Amsterdam Falafel, with soda water to drink.

You may recall that I dislike falafel. [This whole excursion, which also involved CaBis and me cursing vociferously at the many drivers in the bike lane, was Jon's idea.] But this place is delicious. Their falafel is inoffensive (high praise from me), and the toppings are fabulous. They have pickled radishes (the fuschia things you see in the photo)which I love on Middle Eastern wrapped things, and excellent, very garlicky hummus. There were also a variety of interesting toppings, such as sweet veggie salad, minced jalapeño, beets, and fried, caramelized eggplant. Perhaps the only improvement would be labeling all the cool toppings, so we don't have to guess.

In any case, I didn't have to guess, because the dude manning the counter was either a very proud owner, or the best employee ever- he gave great service, and excitedly explained all the toppings. I was a little skeptical of his description of arduously prepping all the toppings from scratch every morning, but accidentally poked my head into the kitchen later, looking for the bathroom. Sure enough, there were huge piles of veggies, and an employee chopping away.

The fries were classic vlaamse frites. They're somewhat fat fries, crispy on the outside and fluffy inside, with a good amount of salt and served in a traditional paper cone. There were a few yummy sauces available at Amsterdam Falafel, including "garlic cream" (heaven) and peanut. The peanut sauce had a nice touch of vinegar, but I found it needed a little heat- add a bit of the minced jalapeño, and it's perfect.

Finally, the soda water. I love that, in addition to taking Euros and being located in a very Amsterdam block of rowhouses, they still have soda water in their soda machine. It seems like that's getting more and more rare. It's refreshing in the summer, and way better than actual soda.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Yucatecan Salmon at Home

For dinner, I had some coho salmon, with fava beans, plantains, tomatoes, and a glass of shiraz.

The salmon was interesting. I took a mild risk by dousing it in one of the Yucatecan spice rubs("recados yucatecos") I've been obsessed with lately. They're quick to make, and pack a huge punch of warm spice flavor.

This particular one, adapted from Rick Bayless, contains garlic, cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, oregano, black pepper, and achiote, aka annatto, all ground with apple cider vinegar and flour to form a paste. I added some olive oil to make a better rub for fish, and rubbed away.

The rub worked really well- I went kind of light with it, figuring the flavors would be a bit heavy for the salmon. It paired nicely with the wine, a rather heavy Australian shiraz that had an ABV higher than I'd normally go for. I figured the label art went with my Mexican theme at least:

The wine was awful by itself, though slightly better slightly chilled. Paired with food, it was average. It was described as "heavy fruit" by the Trader Joe's wine assistant; I knew at the store it wouldn't be a wine that appealed to my somewhat spare, minimalist, subtle, low ABV self, but somehow we ended up with it anyway. Oh well. Like I said, cute label.

The favas and plantains were nice- the favas (actually a fava/garbanzo mix), were canned, from our local Middle Eastern grocery, and a little salty. The plantains, from our local Mexican grocery's freezer case (Goya ftw), were a little sweet. So it all balanced. Maybe they would have been better with a little crema.

The grape tomatoes were tasty- I've recently discovered they're awesome roasted in the oven with some olive oil and salt. Pretty much every veggie is. Maybe that's why I love veggies so much lately.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Poaching at Home

For breakfast, I poached an egg, with Aleppo pepper and butter, and had coffee to drink.

What possessed me to poach an egg? More food geekery. Someone asked a question about poaching technique this morning, and it reminded me of an article I'd read about quick microwave poaching. So I googled, found this, and went for it.

As with most novel techniques, it has its benefits (namely, speed and ease) at the detriment of others (quality). I found the cup used for poaching retained (absorbed?) heat at the edge a higher rate than the center, leading to a rubbery ring of egg at the edges. Despite draining, the egg stayed watery, more so than with conventional poaching techniques. And it's hard to tell when, exactly, the egg is fully poached but not overcooked- after one minute, there was still a large area of raw white visible. After 1:25, there were no clear areas of white. But things looked a bit translucent, and the yolk appeared completely uncooked. I let the cup sit outside the microwave for a minute, wondering if the continued cooking would be enough to finish the egg. It didn't appear to progress, so I cooked it for another 20 seconds.

Keep in mind my microwave is a beast made in 1998, but this is what 1:45 looked like. I'd say it's a bit overcooked for poached, though about half of the yolk was a nice semi-solid consistency. The white remained oddly watery. Next time, I'd try cracking the egg and then gently adding water (and maybe a little acid, like vinegar or lemon), and try a slightly shorter cooking period. It's definitely less of a pain than poaching in a full water bath.

This morning's coffee was Mayorga, purchased in bulk at Costco. It's locally roasted, and the bulk price wasn't bad. But I'm not a huge fan- to me, it's just average, boring coffee, but definitely serviceable. Jon noted excessive bitterness, maybe because he grabbed a cup well after the brew cycle was over. I'm curious to try their beans in our Moka Pot or coffee press and see if my impressions change. But I definitely miss Qualia's beans.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pasta Leftovers with Tomato

So, I just spent a few weeks in Florida. And I may do a roundup post of odd Florida food someday (it's a retirement community, there was TONS), but not today.

Today for lunch, I had garlic linguini with butter, Aleppo pepper, and grape tomatoes.

It was extremely tasty, especially considering the pasta has been sitting in our freezer since mid-June's excursion to the Cheesetique. It tasted much more like shallot than garlic, which makes sense because garlic flavors mellow extensively upon freezing (did I mention my in-laws' huge stack of Cook's Illustrated, aka my primary means of entertainment for the last two weeks? I am FULL of food dorkage right now).

I also tried a strategy gleaned from CI in my saucing technique- after draining mostly cooked pasta, I returned it to the warm pot, added a pat of butter and some pasta water, and let it absorb by cooking over low heat for a minute. This created a much tastier sauce, because it coats the strands well, while also integrating into the pasta itself. A sprinkle of Aleppo pepper added color and a nice spicy counterpoint to the super-creamy sauce.