One of my favorite simple recipes is the steamed sweet potato. I feel like most often sweet potatoes are mashed, or roasted, or covered in marshmallows and brown sugar, and all of those things are great, but I feel that the flavor and texture of the sweet potato is best exemplified in this preparation. I first had this at the Tao of Tea in Portland, OR, a specialty store and teahouse on Belmont Ave. that takes tea to another dimension. I owe them a tip of the hat for the introduction.
I bought a rice steamer at a yard sale the other day, and it came with a vegetable steamer basket. I used to have a set of those cumbersome bamboo baskets that you would set over a simmering pot of water, until my girlfriend managed to set the lid on fire. I guess it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because now we have this new steaming unit, which is highly preferable. In any case, here is the steamed sweet potato preparation:
Peal, slice in half length-wise, and steam the sweet potatoes. It should take around 20 to 30 minutes depending on how big they are. Pierce with a knife to test for doneness. Chop up a few sprigs of cilantro, and slice a few wedges of lime. Once the potato halves are done steaming, plate and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, a little Fleur de Sel (fancy salt–kosher salt is fine, also, but you want a lager grain salt is all), and finally squeeze some lime juice over the top. Done and delicious!
Pigs are getting a bad rap these days, and it’s just unfair. Things like this so-called Swine Flu are man-made virus’s that are the result of negligent, deplorable business standards set by human beings. Pigs don’t roll around in there own shit unless they have no other choice. Pigs living in a healthy atmosphere do not require a pharmaceutical cocktail designed to stem off illness just long enough to send them to the chophouse, thus enabling the mutation of serious virus’s like influenza! These and other factors are human conditions.
The current issue of MEATPAPER is dedicated to the pig, and what glorious animals they are. In the coming days and weeks they’re going to need all the support they can get, and one way I suggest doing that is to find a copy of this magazine and reading these articles on the history and state of the pig. The following is a poem from the issue, written by Roald Dahl that seems rather apropos to the current events:
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach his feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
“I had a fairly powerful hunch
“That he might have me for his lunch.
“And so, because I feared the worst,
“I thought I’d better eat him first.”
After visiting Fubonn, “The Largest Asian Shopping Center in Oregon”, a few weeks ago and seeing the overwhelming selection in their meat department, I knew one thing for sure: the hour was nigh that I would attempt to make my own bacon. The pork belly was abundant. I went back a week ago and picked up a 3lb slab or so for around $8.00.
Using Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn’s book Charcuterie as a guide I set out to find some pink salt. It says in the book that you will likely have to order it and have it shipped to your home, but being in Portland, a culinary empire unto itself, I just new there had to be some about. I headed over to Pastaworks and looked around for some there, but they didn’t have any for sale. So, I asked their on-site butcher Dave if he might know where I could pick some up. He quickly asked me how much I needed. I said how much can you spare, and he replied, “About 50 lbs.” It turns out that he had ordered what he thought would be a small box, but ultimately proved to be a life-time supply. I left with about 8oz. The Basic Dry Cure in the book couldn’t be simpler. It consists of 1# Kosher Salt, 8oz Sugar, and 2oz Pink Salt. That’s it. You mix it up, then rub it all over your pork belly. For my first attempt I also added crushed juniper berries, garlic, and black pepper, thus creating a savory bacon. Most breakfast bacon, I believe is sweet cured, typically with brown sugar, so this turned out to be quite a departure from what I am used to.
To carry out the curing process the only equipment that is required is a 2 gallon Ziploc bag and a pan to place the pork belly in. Once the dry cure has been applied, you put it in the bag with the other ingredients (you can basically use anything you want to.) Then place it in the refrigerator, and flip it over everyday for 7 days, or until the belly feels firm at the thickest point. Effortless, really. Once it is done curing, take it out, rinse it off, and dry it. Then place the pork belly on a wire rack on a baking sheet, and put it in a 200º oven for 2 hours. Take it out and slice off the skin with a sharp knife, and there you have it: Bacon.
The Croque Madame is a decadent, luxurious sandwich which I learned about in Thomas Keller’s cookbook Bouchon. This is indeed the preparation from that book. This sandwich is a grilled ham and cheese, with a fried egg on top, and smothered in Mornay sauce. Mornay is a basic traditional white sauce from French cuisine called a Béchamel with shredded cheese added to it—-essentially it’s a boojey alfredo sauce. Croque Madames are an addiction for me, and every time the urge strikes me to make them I simply go into auto-pilot and let the madness take over. I was inspired to make them this time during the course of our first visit to the Portland Farmer’s Market, where I came across a vender selling farm fresh eggs with his son, promoted as being no more than 4 days old. Now, I’m no egg expert, but that’s a fresh egg! I have read that eggs in the supermarket can be up to a month old before they are even put on the shelf, and those are mainly the eggs I use, because, well, they’re cheap! So I know about supermarket eggs: pale yellow yolks, and watery whites. These eggs from the farmer’s market were a different story with vibrant, deep orange yolks, and wholesome, substantial whites. The difference was palpable in every way, and it has to do with many more factors than shelf-life, but this is meant to be a post about a sandwich, so moving on. . . .
The Mornay Sauce
click on picture for weights and measurements
To make the Mornay Sauce you will need the following ingrediants: milk, heavy cream, onion, flour, whole cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, white pepper, a bayleaf, salt, and Comte cheese or a similar variety.
To begin, melt the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan set on a diffuser. This is to prevent scorching. I don’t have a diffuser, so I set the saucepan over a second, larger pan.
Once the butter has melted, add the diced onion and cook until almost translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to fry them.
Next, slowly sprinkle in the flour, stirring continuously to avoid burning, cook for about 3 minutes longer on low heat. This is called a ‘Roux’.
Up the heat and slowly add the milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly, and bring to a simmer. Once the sauce begins to simmer lower the heat, throw in the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves and allow to cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it reduces to a rich, creamy consistency. Move the saucepan around on the diffuser occasionally to prevent any scorching. If it does begin to scorch, transfer the sauce to a different saucepan, and continue to simmer.
Once the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency, remove from the heat and add a few gratings of nutmeg, a pinch of white pepper, and salt to taste.
Stir it up, and then strain it into a separate container large enough to hold at least 4 cups.
Finally, throw the cheese in and stir it up again, really well this time, so the cheese melts and distributes evenly.
And there you have it: Mornay Sauce!!
Putting It All Together: The Grilled Ham and Cheese and the Fried Egg
The cookbook calls for Brioche bread, boiled ham, and swiss cheese to make the sandwich, but realistically you could use any combination of similar items, and it would still be good. I’m pretty sure most every one knows how to prepare a grilled cheese sandwich, and fry an egg, but I’m going to do the rundown on how they do it at Bouchon, because that’s how I do it every time at home.
Here goes: Preheat oven to 375º. Heat a large skillet and a small non-stick frying an on the stovetop. Butter 2 slices of Brioche, place butter side down in the skillet, and layer as much or as little ham on the slices as you desire, then top with cheese. Once the bread has evenly browned to a golden crisp, place the whole pan in the oven and bake until the ham is thoroughly warmed and the cheese is melted. Next butter the fry pan and crack the egg. Cook until the white has set, and the egg can slide around freely, then place the pan in the oven to finish cooking off the top of the white. The two should finish in the oven at about the same time. And that’s how they do it at Bouchon. I don’t know anyone else who’s doing it this way. I do it because they charge 17 dollars for this sandwich, and I want the full effect!
All that remains is assembly. Plate one half of the sandwich, and then flip the other half on top of that, top it with the fried egg, and cover it with the Mornay sauce, leaving the yolk exposed (obviously!) Finish it off with some fresh ground pepper and some parsley, and you’re good to go. I think Owen Lightly over at Butter on the Endive said it best when he called this a “fork and knife” sandwich. It is indeed. Dig in!!
[Read fast. . . if you miss something, just keep going. Life could be too important for this post.]
Woke up today with the apartment smelling like gas, but kept sleeping. That was about 9:45 in the AM. That last hour and a half of sleep was killer, though, until Brie came in and let me know that it was Noon—it was time to get up. Looked at the clock—12:17—rolled over and put a firm pillow between my legs did a quick fluff-up of the head pillows; went back to sleep. 12:21: got out of bed. Nine hours sleep. . . a little too much, but the gas smell, well not the gas smell, per se, but the fumes, were so intoxicating. The effects linger even now. Brie was just about ready to leave by the time I got up. Slipped slippers on and walked through the apartment out to check the mail. No mail, no unemployment check. Walked back up the stairs, and farted about half-way up; second day in a row I’ve had gas getting the mail; wondered if the neighbor heard—mildly concerned, rather uncouth, after all. Kept going up the stairs and into the apartment and asked Brie: Did you get the mail already? “No” Well, no mail, no check, again. * sigh *. Sit down at the computer. First: Unemployment site—my claim is pending—no payments have been made. Second: Hotmail—two new messages, one from Jason concerning a rideshare to NYC—turns out he’s leaving too late on Friday. Third: Craigslist—click “Rideshare”, click back, click “Free”, click back, click “Jobs”, click back. * sigh * Fourth: Bookmarks=>Pitchfork, quickly scan, nothing interesting. Fifth: NYTimes.com—funny article about the finger in the Chili at Wendy’s. Farted while reading it. The gas smell in the house soon gets to be overwhelming. Brie is ready to go. I ask her if she has anything to do while I am showering. She says: “Just take your shower so we can get out of here. This smell is making me sick. I go to the Beaudoire and strip down to me underwear. I see the laundry’s all ready to go. I remember that I want to bleach my white stuff, but there’s like one shirt maybe. I really don’t need to do laundry yet. Brie always wants to do laundry. Whenever there’s a day off. I don’t know. I could have gone another week maybe. I’m just lazy about that kind of stuff. Dishes, sweeping, dusting. Who dusts? Anyway. * sigh * Now I’m in my underwear, the light brown boxers. My head itches. It’s been itchy lately. In the bathroom I start the shower. Look in the mirror; I ask myself: Why do I bother with this facial hair? Honestly, I can’t remember if I pee’d in the toilet or down the drain. It’s about 50/50 when I take a shower these days. Is it gross to pee in the shower? I don’t know. Sometimes I do. Half the time. I didn’t pee in the shower this morning. I remember now. It was one less pathetic thing I could avoid dong, so I didn’t. Dodged a bullet there. The shower heats up pretty quickly. Really quick, actually. Turn up the cold, still too hot, turn up the cold, turn up the cold. Just right. Wet, shampoo, lather, rinse. Turn the cold down. Wet down, soap up, rinse. Satisfying shower. Finally, I get a decent shower, but I have to rush out of the house. I want to wear my Marc Jacob jeans, but I’m feeling less than fit today, so I go with the Banana Republic jeans Brie gave me for Xmas. I like them. They are a good fit, and good color blue. Put on a white tee, and burgundy American Apparel pull-over. My dad-on-Sunday outfit. Brie’s wrapping her scarf around her neck. I still have to put my shoes on and brush my teeth. I think about where my shoes are. In the bedroom. I head through the kitchen and am faced with a Peanut Butter Cookie, resist the temptation, make it to the bedroom, grab my sneaks, head back through the kitchen, manage to resist the cookie again, sit down, put sneakers on, stand, look in the mirror, ask: what’s up with this beard? Brie says: “I’m going down to the car, you can bring the laundry baskets. * sigh * You can’t bring one of them? I’m bringing the Library videos, and my arm hurts. My back hurts. “Come on, I’ll get the doors.” * sigh * Apply toothpaste to the brush. Brush. Brush for much longer than usual. I haven’t been doing too good with the dental hygiene thing the past few days. Brush the tongue extra deep; gag a little. Spit. “You ready?” Yeah. Put my coat on, grab the laundry baskets, leave. Brie gets the top door. I get the bottom door. She probably would have gotten both doors, but I was being impatient, trying to make a stupid point about something or other. I felt kind of cranky at this point, so I was being a Mister Bungle, moaning and being extra-silent, things like that. “Where do you want to get something to eat? I was thinking Mamasan’s.” I’m not hungry. “Come on. So after we put the laundry in we’ll go to Marshall’s and then get something to eat.” Marshall’s!? Do we have to got to Marshall’s? “Yes.” * sigh * “How about Basha?” * sigh * So we go to the laundromat and as we turn into the parking lot Brie asks about the change from the beer I bought on Sunday. It’s in my coat pocket, but I reply that I gave it back to her already. Of course she knows I didn’t. “You did not.” But you said I could keep $5.00. “No I didn’t. It’s my money.” You did, come on let me keep 5 dollars so I can get a cup of coffee or something at the coffee shop. “No.” C’mon, for a cup of coffee? You said I could have it. “No.” C’mon, just to get a cup of coffee? I already gave her $5.00 back out of 10, but she wants to see the rest of the change. She thinks there’s more than 5 dollars change. But there isn’t. I pull the other five out and she relents, lets me keep it for coffee. The wind is blowing and it’s snowing like crazy outside by this point. We get out of the car. Brie opens the trunk. I grab the laundry baskets and we head inside. I walk them over to the machines while Brie stops for change at the change machine. This one guy had spilled detergent all down the side of a triple-loader and was asking the lady at the counter for a rag to clean it up. She grabbed one and went to clean it up herself, which I found surprising. Anyway, I put the baskets down and waited for Brie to come over and tried to get a hug. She wasn’t into it, but I wrangled one out of her. Then we separated the wash. Dark clothes—Towels and Rugged Stuff—Light Clothes. Brie put the quarters in and started up the machines while I separated. Done and done, we left and decided on Basha for lunch. We park out front and go in. This kid that worked at the Montage is there. Most of all, he needed a shower. Besides that he just looked tired. Anyway, we didn’t recognize each other. The server seated us at the front booth by the window, and brought us two waters. Brie and I talked about what we were going to order. Hummus ao baba ganush or some other thing for an app. We chose Hummus. The server returns and asks what we would like, and we order. Brie orders the Hummus, and a cup of lentil and the Grape Leaf Pita. I order a bowl of lentil soup and the Kafkah Pita. The server says she’ll bring out the Hummus and the soup to start, and we agree, even though I would have preferred to have the soup and pita together. Brie says: “What did you order?” The Kafkah Pita. “Huh, what’s that?” Marinated crows meat with tahini, tomato, red onion, and greek dressing. She doesn’t believe me, but doesn’t say she doesn’t. I tell her tha Kafka means “crow” in Czech. I talk unconvincingly about the novel “Frog” for a moment, and about the grave tour scene where it is explained that Jews had to chose names corresponding to animals or duties. Hummus and lentils come. Both are decent, but the pita triangles adjoining the hummus could have been better. Eat everything, and in the process I am admonished for eating the hummus with a fork instead of dipping with the pita triangles. The Pita’s arrive. Brie tells me that I don’t know what I am missing in reference to her Toasted Grapeleaf Pita. I assure her that I do. Kakfah Pita is different than I expected, a little cold, perhaps, but still edible. I ate the whole thing. We’re about to leave when Brie spills her glass of water all over herself. Brie and the server bond. It seems they both have a knack for that kind of thing. Many napkins are brought into help. Many. Possibly 25 or more napkins. The water spill is contained. We leave Basha’s and head back to the Laundromat. In the parking lot Brie says: “O.K. Put the clothes in the dryer.” But I say I don’t want to with a pouty face. “C’mon, I do it myself all the time!” Uh huh. . . I don’t have any change. “You’ve got 5 dollars!” But I don’t wanna go—What about the money for coffee! “I promise I’ll give you more money for coffee.” You won’t. “I will.” I don’t want to. “I promise I’ll give you more money for coffee.” Moving in real close: I want an Eskimo kiss. “I hate you” Brie whips here nose back and forth. I tell her I want a soft, sensual Eskimo kiss. Brie whips her nose back and forth. I say I’m not going. I get my Eskimo kiss. Brie whines for a moment, and I indulge in her whining, then go and put the wash in the dryer.