Happy Holidays!

Christmas is upon us.
Claire and I are going to be BBQ’ing outdoors with the family tomorrow for our yearly ‘steak & eggs’ Crimma brunch. Present opening, meat on the grill and eggs and taters. We started the tradition a few years ago, but I think this is the first time we’re doing it on the grill.

I’m hoping to devote more time to the MI blog in 2011. It’s crazy times with Claire doing her Master’s work (in Social Work) and working two jobs. We don’t get as much time in the kitchen as we used to. Cooking is such a communal activity for us; we’re such social eaters/cooks that being in the kitchen, dancing around each other as one chops and one minds the frying rabbit/beef/what have you.. it’s an important part of our relationship and we’re going to try to get back into the swing of things as she starts her second semester.

Oh; the salumi in the update is a Musica from Criminelli.
From their website:

“Musica Salami, or Salame della Musica, is a regional specialty from an Alpine town outside of Biella. The name comes from the frequent requests for this salami from the local band. They insisted that its strong flavor, thanks to the addition of pork liver and clove, gave them energy to continue playing through the night. You can think of it as the original Italian energy bar. The flavor starts out like a salami and finishes like a liver pâté.”

They’re totally right. It does finish like a pate’.

Happy Holidays everyone; regardless of how you choose to spend them!


Late Night Cravings- an update

Update on my Late Night Cravings post:

Cured beef.
Wow. I didn’t expect my first attempt to come out this flavorful. The curing solution of sugar/salt with the worcestershire black pepper and truffle salt gave the meat a very distinct taste; leaving a softer than jerky texture and dark brown/purple-ish color. I sliced it on the meat slicer into 1/4″ wide strips after rubbing it with a black pepper rub. Next time, I’ll use a thicker steak. Total cost on this was about $3.50 sugar/salt use included.

Chai Tea Ice Cream.
It came out great. Spice-full. Maybe too much. I haven’t decided yet. I used six Tazo tea bags and I think four or five might have been enough. But the finished product is still immensely good. I could see eating it with a slice of pumpkin pie.

I’m thinking about making pickles this week; if it works out, expect an update!

Late Night Cravings

I accomplished very little today, despite my best efforts. It was a lazy day off spent mostly catnapping and movie watching. The unfortunate side effect is that I’m wide awake at one a.m. and don’t want to disturb my lovely little Chef Claire who’s upstairs trying her best to get to sleep.

So instead of heading to the basement to watch a movie, I’ve found myself in the kitchen.

Tonight’s first project was Ice Cream #3: Chai Tea.
I liked #1 (Vanilla) but found #2 (Orange Blossom Honey) to be foul. Honey is one of those “a little goes a long way” things; particularly orange blossom honey, and while the finished ice cream was good on a preparation level, it was just a bit too honey for me.

The Chai is a risky choice. I’m not really in my ice cream making comfort zone yet; not enough to deviate from recipes. Flavor balancing with sweets is new to me…. and for the Chai, I went off recipe. The book I’ve been using for recipes only had a listing for Earl Grey. I used Chai instead, so let’s hope that the amount of sugar and other ingredients balances out the spice level of five bags of tea.

For the record, my least favorite part of ice cream making is removing the egg yolks from the whites. It’s disconcerting to feel them separate in my hands. I’m going to hit up Fante’s in the Italian Market this week for some new knobs for my stove/oven; I think I’ll look for one of the de-yolker doodlehickies.

Tonight’s second project was: Cured Beef.
Emboldened by my last duck breast prosciutto, but without the proper resources for a cured salami (I still need live started cultures) I decided to do a cured beef. Sort of like a hybrid of beef jerky and bresaola.

The recipe and prep are simple; I just hope I picked a good cut of meat. I went for something with very little fat for fear of it going rancid. The setup is just like the duck prosciutto, but instead of a basic salt cure, this recipe calls for sugar, too.

¾ cup sea salt
1 ½ cups sugar
1 steak
Black Pepper. (I used worchesteshire flavored pepper!)

Lay a bed of the curing mixture down, put the steak on top of it. Cover it with the remaning mixture, and let sit in the refrigerator for three days. Unlike the duck, it doesn’t need to be cured afterwards. No cheese cloth/hanging for a week. Just cut and enjoyed.

I’ll do updates on both projects when they’re done!

Meat and Cheese

The cooler months are perfect for dry curing; humidity and temperature is much easier to control. The weather started changing recently in Philadelphia, so to celebrate I hung my first prosciutto of of the season. I mixed up the dry rub this time; running rosemary, black peppercorns and truffle sea salt through a round in my mortar and doubling the amount of rub used on previous ducks.

Claire and I took the prosciutto down earlier today and made a meat and cheese plate featuring the duck and joined by seared foie gras and sweetbread sausages, a truffle infused cow’s milk cheese, cumin infused cheese and a very garlicky cow’s milk cheese.

I made use of the meat slicer that Claire got me for Christmas, slicing the duck a little thicker than DiBruno’s usually does for a more solid bite.

As the fall progresses, I’m going to start experimenting with fermented cured sausages; until then… I’m going to enjoy the rest of this duck!

Dinner at Garces Trading Company

Claire and I joined Robert, Carmela and B4 tonight at Garces Trading Company (corner of Quince & Locust streets) to celebrate Claire’s recent graduation from SUNY Purchase. I’ve been apprehensive about going to Garces since it opened; the Chef/Owner seems very “man of the hour” since his (some would argue overexposed) turns on Food Tv’s IRON CHEF and THE NEXT IRON CHEF broadcasts. His properties in Philadelphia are multiplying at a rate that would make Steven Starr blush and his deal with Pennsylvania’s LCBO to have a “Wine and Spirits” package store inside of the Locust street location has caused more than a few raised eyebrows amongst Philadelphia restaurateurs and foodies.

But the question was: Do business practices have anything to do with enjoying a good meal? At what point does our contempt with “celebrity Chefs” make us sound as bitter as (our beloved) Anthony Bourdain? With that in mind, we showed up shortly after 5pm to take advantage of the dinner menu. We were seated right away; our table was easily two times bigger than our party needed but gave us room to situate ourselves with no pressure of “what if a bigger party comes in”. Our server greeted us right away and was pleasant and helpful as we settled ourselves and started going over a relatively small menu. As a consumer I’m someone who hates a big menu; too many choices mean too much decision making. Too many choices mean too many ingredients behind the velvet rope; when you offer six pages of options you have to supply for six pages of dishes. Garces menu was impressive right off the bat. A few charcuterie and cheese choices with ample explanation of flavor profiles, a few pasta dishes, a few pizzas, salads, soups and grill choices.

We started with “chef’s choice” of charcuterie and cheese. The house chorizo was spectacular; the spices came through strongly (instead of just “hot”) and the portions bigger than expected. Two cured hams accompanied it. This was my first of two complaints for the meal; each of the hams has a light drizzle of a very distinctive olive oil on them. As thinly as the meats were sliced and as subtle the flavor of the prosciutto was the olive oil was overkill and overpowered the taste of the second two meats. The cheeses were standard fair; a nice pungent blue paired with honeyed fruit (I didn’t ask what fruit) dip. A cows milk with fig and an otherwise mild cheese paired with roasted garlic dulce de leche. That’s right. GARLIC CARAMEL. It played well off of the cheese. And the bread we dipped in it. And off of our fingers. Truly the highlight of the charcuterie course.

I moved on to a soup- the Vichyssoise Chaude. Potato, leek, bay scallop, chive and bacon with a little black truffle. Holy christ. I’ve never had a warm vichyssoise before but this played out perfectly. The carmelized scallops (two smaller portions, but just the right flavor) were strongly evident in the potato leek broth; the truffle mainly added garnish but I thought I noticed a truffle aftertaste that could have come from oil or essence of truffle. The bacon was thick cut and pleasantly fatty. A perfect soup and the price was very moderate.

I went with the Funghi pizza; maitakes, royal trumpets, taleggio, & black truffles. I added duck confit to it for a little gamey kick. Great portion size for the price (w/o the duck it was $13) and really flavorful. The duck added a lot to my enjoyment but if you’re a mushroom fan on a budget it would be just as good without it.

Claire had the Pappardelle With Lamb Ragu. Again, the dinner portion size was admirable and the dish had enough lamb to satisfy. She could have went with the smaller size as half of it is sitting in a to-go box waiting for her to get hungry again.

Carmela got the lamb chops. I’m always wary of ordering lambchops at nicer restaurants. Portion size is usually very small; even if they’re good cuts of meat you end up wishing you had more food. This wasn’t the case. The chops were gigantic; just enough fat-for-flavor and the rest perfectly rare chunks of lamb right to the bone.

B4 had the Margherita pizza which he devoured (a healthy six year old appetite loves pizza) and Robert… I think he got the daily special filet.

I was the only one who opted for dessert; house baked cookies. This was the second disappointment of the meal. The “cookies” weren’t cookies. They also weren’t that good. You can’t win them all.

Appetizer/Charcuterie: 7/10.
Entrees: 9/10
Desert: 2/10
Waitstaff: 10/10.
Price: $$$