Early last summer while walking into a Lowe’s hardware store we saw fig trees for sale. Not being an expert on figs I assumed that being native to the Middle East they weren’t something for Ohio’s climate but upon further reading of their detailed tag that indeed the variety of Chicago Hardy was listed as fit for Ohio’s winters. We took home one tree and planted it, and it barely looked like it did any growing over the course of the last summer. Now I wasn’t expecting fruit anytime soon, but amazingly this summer after moving the tree to make room for our eventual wood fired pizza oven that we were digging the foundation of, the tree took off and really grew nicely and put out two figs. Amazingly they grew and ripened and the other day, at the end of a rough day we cut the two little figs in half and ate them. They were quite good, better of course having picked them feet from where we were eating, maybe not the best figs ever, but something I never expected to be eating in Columbus fresh from the tree.
Yesterday was the ‘official’ grand opening of the new stage at Columbus Commons, the park in Columbus on the former site of City Center Mall. The park is an amazing addition to downtown and the new stage makes it just that much better. To open up the new venue a free concert of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and Michael McDonald. After some mild convincing my fiancee agreed to go see the yacht rock show on what was a perfect weather night in Columbus. One of the great features of these shows is the ability to pack a picnic, sit on your blanket on the lawn – meaning if its a show you didn’t really feel like seeing, its still a good time.
I was trying to figure out what to pack in the cooler when I stumbled on this post from a few years back by Mark Bittman on 101 Picnic Dishes to Make in 20 Minutes, the roast beef sandwich sounded appealing, so after a quick stop to Weiland’s made up some sandwiches with blue cheese, horseradish, some tennesse tomatoes that looked really nice and some lettuce from our garden. Grabbed some pasta salad and a bean salad that was already prepared, grabbed a blank and some drinks and we were off to downtown. We got lucky snagging a meter right by the state house and in no time we were spread out on the lawn enjoying the Jazz Orchestra and our dinner. The lawn was packed but not painfully so and it was quite the cross section of Columbus who came out for the show. All in all a very good time, can’t wait to pack up another picnic and get back to another show.
You can’t get much more American than the Fifth of May, better known as Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo’s origins are not surprisingly Mexican and come from the State of Puebla, where they celebrate on May 5: El Día de la Batalla de Puebla, commemorating the Mexican army’s victory over the French in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. As many of you know by now, Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s independence day, let alone national holiday – yet here in America it has grown into a holiday not just for Mexicans in quite an American way. The origins of the American celebration go back to the year after the battle, with Mexicans and Latinos living in California being the first to celebrate in the US. What has followed is what happens to most things that get tossed into the cultural blender that is the United States – mutations and mixing ensue and what emerges is wholly American. So instead of some tame holiday remembering a battle, what we now have is a day for Mexican restaurants to make out like Irish bars (and every other bar) on St. Patricks day. Cafeterias get to serve tacos, bars stock up on tequila and in general a lot of people get to have a good time.
This isn’t that different that what has happened with what we think of as Mexican food has gone through. This past week the NY Times had an article (How the Taco Gained in Translation) discussing a new book Taco USA by Gustavo Arellano about how Mexican food became part of the mainstream American cuisine. I haven’t read the book yet, some of the authors ideas I think I am going to disagree with (he has a problem with Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless – without having read all of what he says about it yet I think I am going to disagree there – as I think educating Americans on non-fusion, regional Mexican cooking is a good thing). The book still does sound interesting for its accounts of how Americans (primarily white Americans) have been able to take Mexican ideas and turn them into successful American staples (fritos, tortilla chips, salsa and of course Taco Bell).
As we continue to fuse more and more cultures and cuisines into our repertoire (think Korean tacos, Califonia rolls and all our sushi with cream cheese, Chinese American food and heck spaghetti and meatballs) and continue the melding of older ones. The new Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos – which despite what I may thought about the thing based on their advertising- is apparently doing amazingly well and may be a bit more complicated in its origins than I would have guessed. Soft tacos from Mexico turned into crispy fried tacos and tortilla chips here in America, where years later down in Tijuana street food vendors turned Tostitos corn chips into a dish called Tostilocos: a base of Tostitos chips covered with things like jicama, pickled pig skins, tamarind candies, peanuts, cucumbers, fruit, chilies or anything else one could think of (See Tostilocos, Tijuana Street Food, Hits the Mainstream – NY Times). That kind of miss mash then turns around and comes back to us as Locos Tacos as Taco Bell.
So this brings me back to Cinco de Mayo and what made me think of all this in the first place – the following ad I saw from Donatos. What could be more American?
I don’t have it too often (fortunately or unfortunately), but fried chicken is one of those foods that while seemingly incredibly simple and common, can and often is, so much more. Thomas Keller makes it and so do plenty of gas stations, which makes it kind of democratizing meal of sorts – but rather than get too philosophical about the food (others have and its a topic worthy of it) I just wanted to write up a few recent fried chicken dinners I made here at home.
The first was a few months back and featured chicken that followed somewhat the recipes and techniques of Thomas Keller (from the Ad Hoc cookbook) and from Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty (Also see Ruhlman’s post on fried chicken here). Ruhlman worked on the Ad Hoc cookbook and claims his is better – a bold statement (unfortunately we didn’t try making both head to head – I have made the TK version before and knew it was amazing). Instead the recipe I used started with a brine mostly like Ruhlmans, one that has a lot of rosemary, the predominant flavor he likes in fried chicken. In addition I had lemon and some other herbs (thyme and parsley), but not quite as much as TK uses. The brine was left overnight before taking out the chicken to air dry on a rack in the fridge. (The brine is really the biggest difference between amazing fried chicken and fried chicken and cannot be skipped).
After drying the chicken gets dredged in seasoned flour - I used a mixture of cayenne, paprika, black pepper (a bunch), salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and a bit of baking powder (TK doesn’t use BP, Ruhlman does)
Next is a dip in buttermilk and back into the flour mixture, before frying it up, and finally topping w/ some fried rosemary and some lemon zest. (Actually some of it sat for a while in a 250 oven on a rack – dark meat especially actually benefits from this and lets you do the chicken in advance, something I should have done rather than frying huge batches of chicken with my friends standing around – oh well next time.)
Even though this chicken was of the American variety, I served it with some sauces that are somewhat asian if people felt like it (this chicken doesn’t need anything and really your just gilding the lilly, but I do like sauces…) One of them was Momofuku’s Octo Vin (a reverse vinagrette with a lot of garlic and ginger. The sauce/dressing’s full name is shortened from Octopus Vinaigrette, and was intended to stand up to octopus and has the reverse ratio of a vinaigrette with the oil and vinegar amounts flipped, the stuff is amazing and goes with fried chicken amazingly well, among other things). I also served a korean style sauce (discussed again below) and siracha honey which is amazing on fried chicken and is as easy as combining the two.
[Thanks to Ham Sandwich Indicted for the above photos as well as for the amazing biscuits that featured homemade cultured buttermilk - those could have been dinner alone.]
Fast forward to yesterday and I tried out David Chang’s recipe for fried chicken in the Momofuku cookbook (which is not the fried chicken they serve at Momofuku I might point out as they serve a breaded version there – amazing I should also add – but the one in the cookbook has no breading and is sauced with the octo vin). Anyway the gist of DC’s version is that the chicken is brined (simple sugar and salt brine for several hours) and then steamed for 40 minutes – thats right its fully cooked by steaming. The idea is clearly inspired by Asian preparations such as crispy duck where hot oil is used at the end to get a crispy skin, but the steam is used to cook the meat and cook and render the skin so that it is ready to quickly crisp. After steaming the chicken, take the chicken out and put it onto a rack in the fridge to dry / chill. After a few hours its ready to be fried and as you can guess it doesn’t need long. Word of warning have a splatter shield or at least be careful frying this chicken (I learned the hard way and was hit with quite a few large oil pops). Not being a scientist I assume this has something to do with the way moisture was trapped in the cooked chicken versus raw chicken, but just consider yourself warned.
The chicken crisps up quickly probably takes only about 5 minutes or so at 375. After draining it I tossed in the octo vin (and served more on the side of course). I also tried dipping some of the chicken in a thin (Korean style?) batter, basically cornstarch, AP flour, some salt/pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, and very cold seltzer water (I guess that part is maybe Japanese). This battered batch I tossed with a sauce made from gochujang (the amazing fermented Korean chili paste), garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey and siracha.
The results were amazing and compared to the breaded versions a whole lot less work, way less mess and means you can essentially precook the chicken and fry it up at the last moment. It isn’t quite the same thing however and is really its own dish as the intense chicken flavor that comes from frying chicken isn’t quite there due to the steam cooking. Don’t’ get me wrong though this is a dish worthy in its own right, just not quite the same thing. In case you were wondering I served this with some cabbage/fennel slaw and some beans from rancho gordo (Yellow Indian Woman – one of their heirloom varieties) that were cooked slowly all day with onions, celery and bay leaf, salt and pepper, which leads one not in the know to think there is meat in the dish as they are so rich tasting and flavorful.
Okay, so been a Vietnamese kick recently as the post on Pho may have hinted at, today I’ll turn our attention to bánh mì:
Bánh mì in Vietnamese refers to bread – specifically the baguette that we can thank French colonialism for introducing to Vietnam, but the name bánh mì at least here in the States also speaks to the amazing sandwich that is served on the crisp airy baguette. The basics of the bánh mì tend to include pâté spread on to the bread on one side, mayonnaise on the other, some kind of meat or protein, and a variety of veggies- often cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots and diakon radish and here in the US jalapeños as well as a splash of Maggi seasoning. The sandwich may sound a bit odd if you haven’t encountered it before, but trust me this is one of the most amazing combinations of flavors and textures that is not quite like anything else. If your in downtown Columbus you can get a pretty decent one in the North Market or if you head up to Mi Li you can get a really great one.
For whatever reason I haven’t ever really tried making my own, without really planning it out I suddenly found myself with the ingredients to make my own version. It all started when I was cleaning out a chicken to roast for dinner and wanted to do something with the liver. Having just made a fresh baguette that was still cooling on the stove (it was Presidents Day so I had the day off and had time to bake baguettes and roast chickens and make a bánh mì. So back to the liver, I quickly whipped up a simple pâté using the liver in a mini food processor with some bread crumbs, milk, salt, pepper and a little duck fat. I baked the tiny pâté in a ramekin in the toaster oven in a water bath for 30 minutes and then chilled it.
Meanwhile I made some pickled carrots by slicing match sticks of carrots and putting them in a vinegar, sugar and salt mixture to quickly pickle. My bánh mì didn’t feature a main protein (and really it doesn’t need one I learned) and if the pâté was replaced with a mushroom pâté it would be a great vegetarian sandwich.
So once everything was ready, carrots having sat in the fridge for an hour I was ready to make the sandwich. On one side of my freshly toasted baguette I spread the pâté, layered on cucumbers, a layer of pickled carrots, some pickled hot peppers from our garden, and a bunch of cilantro. The other side got some Kewpie mayonnaise, I didn’t have Maggi seasoning so I put a few drops of soy sauce on top of the contents and combined the two haves together. This improvised version of bánh mì turned out pretty awesome and was pretty simple to pull off.
A couple weeks back when my fiancé was feeling under the weather and was making up some ramen (including the little packet – something I never quite developed the taste for) I decided I’d go a bit more for the flavor of Pho, but without having many ingredients or the time to make it for real, I came up with a really quick pho that was pretty good in a pinch. With the right ingredients this could easily have turned into a bit less faux pho without much more work. Really all I was doing was infusing stock (in this case chicken, but for pho bo, my preference you’d use beef stock). Into the chicken stock I put in some of the standard elements (the ones I had on hand) – cinnamon sticks, slices of fresh ginger, star anise, fish sauce and sugar and let that all simmer on the stove. I didn’t really have any of the garnishes aside from some cilantro and dropping in the ramen noodles and splashing on some hoisin sauce and siracha but in a quick pinch it filled in for pho.
So also on the pho front here in Columbus I’ve had a couple recent trips to Pho Asian noodle House & Grill (1288 W. Lane Ave., Columbus, OH 43221 – info on yelp) which is a mixture of mostly Chinese food (despite the name) and Vietnamese. The people who run it are super nice and despite the building being an old Taco Bell the place transcends its former self (I should mention that they still have the drive through and its operational – yes you can get Pho, good pho at that, through a drive up window). Anyway, its quick, pretty cheap and good. The roast duck noodle soup is awesome as is their standard pho and their pad thai (I guess they do have more than Chinese and Vietnamese) was good as well.
Buckeye Pho Asian Kitchen (761 Bethel Rd. Set E195, Columbus, OH 43235 in front of the Micro Center ) - seems to be a recent addition (not sure how old it is the place appears to be brand new – the interior is spotless and super bright) to the thankfully growing Vietnamese dining scene in Columbus I think I heard it was somewhat related (relatives or the like) to the owners of Mi Li Cafe a great spot for awesome Bahn Mi and while Buckeye Pho comes through with really good Bahn Mi (like Mi Li they make their own mayo and pate and it all comes on the super crispy baguette to seal the deal). The difference from Mi Li are pretty obvious starting just with the name, which is carried through on with a wall covered with buckeyes and an OSU color scheme. The other thing that sets Buckeye Pho apart is the sports bar appearance of the place. 3 huge TVs overlook a long bar in the middle of the place – but don’t let these throw you as it is decidedly not a sports bar and the food is awesome and the owners/staff are super nice. Their special pho was fantastic, including all the various types of beef they have (you can order specific versions with just what you want if your trying to avoid something, like say tripe which comes in the special version). So far it seemed like they have a nice reception, the night we were there it was packed but with quick service they were turning the tables over quickly so we barely had to wait to get seated.
So it’s a new year and a lot of folks are trying to live up to their resolutions. I’ve never been that into them, maybe its the cliche nature of the whole thing, but this year I’ve come up with a few basic ideas of things I’d like to try and do and hopefully cliche or not I can stick to some of them. One of course is going to the gym. Having quit my last gym when I moved a year ago its been quite a while since going and its hard to get back into the routine (when you get into the routine its great – it’s amazing how hard it can be to break the cycle and get going again, seems like the new year is my chance). Found a place near where we live that seems like a good value and not too crowded. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
The Wall Street Journal had a funny list of 27 Rules of Conquering the Gym – which while often unsaid are pretty spot on.
15. If you’re motivated to buy an expensive home exercise machine, consider a “wooden coat rack.” It costs $40, uses no electricity and does the exact same thing.
19. If a gym class is going to be effective, it’s hard. If you’re relaxed and enjoying yourself, you’re at brunch.
27. There is no secret. Exercise and lay off the fries. The end.
One of the other things I’ve been aiming to stick to in the new year is following some of Mark Bittman’s advice about reducing meat intake and going to a more veggie diet. While I don’t intend to become a vegetarian (just yet at least) making vegetarian meals more often is part of the plan as well as making other meals more veggie focused. To aid in this effort grabbed the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian Edition iPhone app and flipped through it (also plan to buy the paper copy as despite sharing the material they aren’t exactly substitutes). I am surprised to learn from friends that they aren’t that familiar with the original How to Cook Everything cookbook and am always thrilled to point them to it as a reference. Its the first place I usually go for basic dishes and everyday simple things. I’ll probably posting more on some of the new dishes I try out so heads up on that.
Northstar is officially a Columbus institituion, having grown from a location in the Short North to having locations in Beechwald and Easton as well as opening Third & Hollywood in Grandview. Northstar does a great job of mixing genres, combining simple with upscale, quality with casual, and mixing healthy with not so much. One of those not so much items is the ham and cheese scone. Like all Northstar’s baked goods they sport a small sign showing what time they were made – although some of us would gladly eat a day old one if one made it so long. The ham and cheese is of course a classic combination that is done to perfection, with some of the cheese getting crusty around the edges and a nice ham that adds without being too hamey.
The sadness of all this is that I rarely get one of these scones because I always get the sweet potato turkey hash for breakfast when we go, meaning only if we splurge for some take out biscuits to eat later will I have one of these – and never in its fresh from the oven state.
A month or two ago while making some biscuits, I thought, hey why not toss in the ham and cheese to these? Not having ham and cheese I had to wait awhile until I remembered the whole affair again at the grocerry store.
Problems emerged immediately though, what kind of ham? what kind of cheese? I thought I’d like to use Virginia ham (to some country ham), a salty, cured ham, which could be added in moderation to deliver texture and intense flavor, but I was foiled when the store doesn’t sell it. (They did have deli ham called Virginia ham, but from my guess it wasn’t what I was thinking of). Instead I settled on a package of pre-diced prociutto (we were at Kroger, so our options were a bit limited in this department – although I should add this was at the new Clintonville Kroger, which is really nice – just not a gourmet destination I guess). For cheese grabbed some gruyere and emmenthal, being unable to decide, so went with the classic fondue duo.
To make the biscuits I made up a batch of biscuits inspired by Sam Sifton’s recipe a while back in the NY Times, been really happy with his recipe, don’t follow it exactly as I am going from memory, but basically I made a half recipe in the food processor, adding the cheese. Into a bowl to add the milk and then in the proscuttio.
I try to minimally handle biscuits and to that end I don’t cut them out with a biscuit cutter, instead cutting them with a knife into squares (in this case 4 big biscuits). The proscuitio and cheese biscuits turned out amazing, I think next time I will leave in some bigger chunks of cheese to get some pockets of cheese (I’ve since done this and can attest it is a good idea), but the little squares of proscuttio were delicious. The recipe is quick enough to make on a work morning if your not a dash out the door person and delicious enough to make for a special sunday brunch.
Just like the hipsters in Brooklyn we’ve been doing some home canning this summer, and with the last harvest of the year we grabbed a whole bunch of green tomatoes before the first frost hit. Hating to see such a beautiful lot go to waste we decided to turn them into some relish and can it so that we could share it and get a taste of summer (or I guess autumn) later in the winter. The recipe came from the University of Florida IFAS Extension School, and is really simple and easy if you use a food processor to make quick work of it all (while slower a good old fashion box grater would work and would likely add some hipster cred to your finished product). Basically the recipe consists of green tomatoes,peppers (we used green peppers and some banana peppers from the same harvest), onions, vinegar, mustard, cornstarch, and sugar, we also put some pickling spices in a tea ball to infuse with all that.(see the link above for the recipe, as always with canning its a good idea to follow an established recipe from a credible source – don’t want to flirt with botulism). Everything gets chopped up in the food processor into a fine dice and gets cooked up for five minutes in salted water in a big pot before being drained and then cooked up a second time for five minutes with the vinegar, sugar, etc. I wish we had thought to split the batch to make an extra spicy relish, but the stuff turned out great and would be great anywhere you’d use pickle relish and beyond.
Saw this recipe the other day on WOSU our local PBS station on an episode of Cooks Country. The recipe is for Apple Cider Chicken, which uses bone in chicken pieces, seared in a pan, where a braising sauce is then made, with the chicken then going back into the pan to finish in the oven in a kinda shallow braise allows the skin to stay super crispy and for an amazing sauce that braises the bottom half of the chicken into deliciousness. The recipe is quick to which is nice on a weeknight and was on the table in no time leaving us a nice lunch of leftovers for the next day. (I used a whole chicken the I cut into a fairly standard 10 pieces – legs, thighs, wings, and cutting each half breast in half again to give four quarters of the breast meat – all left on the bone of course).
The technique in the recipe is one that is really useful and could be used in countless other ways, using the pan to sear, sauce and bake makes for easy cleanup (something I am not very good at). The other reason the recipe sounded so good to me was to achieve the apple flavor the recipe uses apple cider, apple brandy and apple cider vinegar and we already had some Ohio cider already sitting the in fridge as well as a bottle of Ohio’s own Tom’s Foolery Apple-Jack (recently made available here in Columbus at Weiland’s - where and enthusiastic clerk pointed it out to us and didn’t take any convincing on his part to take it home).
Tom’s Foolery Apple-Jack is an apple brandy made right here in Northeastern Ohio and the stuff is small batch (they say micro batch actually as they say it would take four years to maker the amount that small batch folks make). Either way the stuff is fantastic (more fruity I would say than a calvados, but with the complexity and warmth you’d expect from a brandy) and finding out that there is another great local distiller is very exciting stuff and I am really pleased that Weiland’s down here in Columbus carries it (there aren’t too many places in Ohio to buy it – I think Weiland’s is the only place in Columbus). Hopefully the trend of creating artisan spirits continues and people will continue to support the fantastic local liquor scene.
Ok so back to the chicken. After about fifteen minutes cooking the chicken in the skillet, made the sauce by cooking the onions and scrapping up the fond from the chicken. Next in goes some garlic, thyme, cider, the brandy and some diced apples, bring it to a quick boil and the chicken goes back in and into the hot 450 degree oven that crisps the chicken even more. After the oven you finish the sauce with a bit more brandy and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. The sauce is reminiscent of a good french onion soup (but applely) and was fantastic and worthy of eating on its own with a spoon. Served it with some potatoes from the oven and some green beans that are easily prepared while the chicken is in the oven. Forgot to take a picture of the results as we started to devour it so quickly, so the top picture is courtesy of Cooks Country.