Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lentil Soup

Late January is usually the time when I abandon my new year’s dieting resolution. During the first week of the year, I cook wholesome foods like tofu and exotic, crunchy grains. For the beginning of 2008, I even went so far as to drink a juice cocktail of carrots, parsley, garlic, and wheat grass – a sobering experience indeed. As time progresses, my cocktails begin to include alcohol, and I begin to crave heavy, winter fare.

This year, however, I have an added incentive to keep my resolution: the terror of looking like a whale in my wedding dress. I know all brides are supposed to be beautiful, but the camera adds ten pounds and wedding pictures last forever. So, when I normally would have been braising short ribs or pan-frying chicken, I instead started off January’s fourth week by preparing a lentil soup. This hearty dish satisfied my winter appetite without causing a crisis in my midsection.

Unfortunately, my virtue wasn’t absolute. I couldn’t help but sneak a little salt pork into the soup. But, I limited myself to a tiny slab, using it as a subtle flavoring. I added all the vegetables of my ill-advised juice cocktail, excluding the wheat grass, of course. Needless to say, they were far tastier in this incarnation, which was delicious and provided enough leftovers for healthful lunches for the rest of the week.

1 medium piece of salt pork, scored (see picture above)
2 tbs. olive oil
1 large leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bag, green lentils
1 cup of dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
6 cups of chicken stock
2 tbs. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Blanch the salt pork in boiling water for one minute. Place the olive oil in a large pot and warm over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the leek, carrot, onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Add the lentils and sauté until they begin to darken. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and then add the bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes, stock and salt pork. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the lentils are soft but still retain their shape, about 45 minutes. Puree one cup of the soup in a blender, and then return to pot. Add the vinegar, salt, pepper.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cheap Meat

My first trip to McKinnon’s Meat Market lasted about five seconds. I took one whiff of the store’s nauseous bouquet of rotting meat and chemical sanitizer, turned around, and walked right out the door. In the two and a half years I’ve lived in Davis Square, I never returned, even though the shop is a mere four minutes from my house and I am desperate for a decent butcher. That is, until yesterday, when I finally braved the stench and took a chance on McKinnon’s.

Truth be told, shopping at McKinnon’s wasn’t much of a gamble, since their prices are so low that many of the store’s Internet reviews posit that it must be owned by the Mafia. How else could they afford to sell New York strip steaks at $4.49 per pound, chicken pieces for $0.69 per pound, and the hanger steak that I purchased for $1.00 per pound? How else could a little store with no parking carry a wide selection of exotic meats, including oxtails, tripe, and chicken feet?

The kicker is that the meat is actually delicious. We grilled the hanger steak quite rare, and its robust flavor made Alex remark that this was his new favorite cut of beef. It wasn’t just the cooking; the meat truly was first rate. I paired it with a jalapeno jam from Jeffrey Fournier of 51 Lincoln. The sweet, spicy jam was a perfect match for the rich meat. The entire meal of steak, eggplant, jalapeno jam cost a mere $6.00, and included a bonus sandwich for lunch today.

Jalapeno Jam

½ lb jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced into half moons (if the peppers are more mild, keep the seeds)
¼ lb garlic, sliced
Pineapple juice to cover
½ cup sugar

Combine ingredients and cook until liquid is dissolved.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Unemployed, but Not Starving

A wise man once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.* Now that I have graduated culinary school, these words seem truer than ever. I have finally chosen to pursue a job I will love, and am therefore doomed to unemployment.

This is probably a bit pessimistic, since I only just started my job search. On the bright side, I now have time to cook the elaborate dinners Alex envisioned when I started cooking school. And, I have time to write the about these creations. Starting tomorrow.

* This quotation is often wrongly attributed to Confucius. Like most fortune cookie translations, the master’s actual words have little to do with the English saying, which was probably derived from 知之者,不如好之者;好之者,不如乐之者, or Knowledge is not equal to devotion; Devotion is not equal to joy (translation from

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mea Culpa

I humbly apologize to all two of my readers for the delay in posting yet another toothsome missive. You may blame Slothfullia and Procrastinatorix, Twin Deities and local hearth gods for the delay. Perhaps someday they shall let me out of their clutches, but, I fear, no time soon, as I have much obeisance to make at their altars in the form of endless nail-picking and idiotic website browsing.* I must now return to a fascinating treatise I am writing on Willa Cather's "O Pioneers!" and the early 20th century Midwestern farm novel as a genre of American literature. No, I do not know what this has to do with Gastronomy, either.

*At least a good majority of last night's websites were culinary-related. I prepared a raw cacao-banana ice cream from a recipe on Dr. (not bad...the old granola-head cranks out a pretty good one now and then.) and am planning to do a bunch of holiday baking for friends and family in the area.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Brief, Bad Poems Inspired By The Encounter Of A Potent Symbol Of the Past


Sitting on the ground
Empty forty of O.E.
Hurling in remembrance


Forty of O.E.
Almost empty but not quite
I should take a sip
Reed scroungers unite
It's punk rock, yo.


Oldee English booze
Hope you had fun with that now
And did not pass out
Like me that one time
passed out singing.

Why did you not drink
Those last ten ounces, Bill?
Then again, I sympathize
O.E. is some swill.
I understand the backwash
is likely to appall.
Still, respect The Forty, poser
Next time drink it all.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Slow Roasted Tomatoes, A Dish That Everyone Else Probably Knows About But I Just Discovered

Slow-roasted roma tomatoes, realllllly slow roasted for seven hours or so in a low gentle oven till the skins are shriveled and the flesh is dark blood red, are GLORIOUS. The most effortless dish I have ever made, and easily one of the most vibrantly flavorful.

I've always enjoyed making tomato sauce, that most friendly and useful of basics, but have struggled with the production of a truly tomatoey rendition. This is probably because the State of the Tomato in this country is in tatters. But I've just found out that the slow-roasting of even a crappy bunch of tomatoes brings out that elusive punch of tomato flavor that my sauces usually fail to attain*, even with the addition of red wine, sugar, tomato paste, or other enrichments. Of course, it makes the preparation of a tomato sauce an all-day affair, technically, as you've got the oven going for a good 7 to 9 hours depending on oven temp. But it is WORTH IT to have morsels of tart-sweet goodness you can eat like YUMMY CANDY, or simply food-process or finely chop and saute for a quick sauce to toss with pasta. And you didn't have to go to the irritatingly snobby gourmet foods store to buy THEIR fire-roasted tomatoes for eight dollars a jar or something because two pounds of crappy-ish roma tomatoes only cost you two bucks.

I am supposed to be working on a paper on farmers' reactions to the Country Life movement for Ag History and reading a fascinating treatise on antebellum crop production for same. And I

I think I'll go make myself another bowl of pasta.

Slow-roasted tomatoes

A lot of roma tomatoes, sliced in half from top to bottom
Extra-virgin olive oil
Dried basil

Arrange sliced tomatoes on baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried spices. Roast for about 6 hours in a 275 oven, 7 or 8 in a 250 oven. (Obviously the lower the temperature the longer it'll take.) Tomatoes are "done" when they're darker red and shriveling--these can go for a long time, so if they're not done to your liking, simply roast them longer. Eat as is or chop, mix into fresh-cooked pasta with cheese, or whatever dish you would like to possess a dynamite tomato flavor.

*in my view, at least; like most cooks, I'm my own toughest critic.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Far From My Vegan Days

I stood in a refrigerated room at Kinnealey Quality Meats, trying my best to appear like a tough chef and refrain from shivering. It was the end of an hour-long tour, and I was chilled to the bone. Still, things were much better than I expected. My experience with commercial meat purveyors had been limited to a traumatic reading of The Jungle, so I was anticipating serious blood and gore. Instead, Kinnealey’s was a clean and, dare I say it, appetizing environment. There were no sides of beef hanging oozing onto the floor (most meat is now butchered into smaller cuts at the slaughterhouse to save on shipping fees). The storage rooms smelled of sanitizer; the only carnal aroma in the entire facility was in the dry aging room. Maybe things would have been different if I visited an actual slaughterhouse, but Kinnealey’s completely contradicted the many accounts I'd read of the food industry’s unsavory side.

We returned to school with fresh meat, waiting for our knives. Our instructor gracefully dismembered a whole lamb, making it look as easy as slicing bread. When it was our turn to clean the lamb and cut it into cubes for stewing, we learned that it wasn’t so simple. With such an expensive product, one wrong cut could be a catastrophe. I nervously sliced into the lamb’s silverskin, wincing as if I were cutting myself. The process was awkward and stressful, but my confidence grew with each cut. It didn’t hurt that I was working with a partner, and I let her take a go at some of the more difficult parts. I left the class eager to cut more meat.