Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Game of Squash

Acorn squash with almond oil, honey, garlic and sage butter over jasmine rice. The picture really says it all.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Midnight Snack Musings

Midnight snacks are about primal urges and though I will always love Ramen noodles and grilled cheese sandwiches, sometimes something new will only do. Late night snack improvisations are the stuff of legends, everyone has a favorite story to tell of the amazing sandwich made with left overs or the odd food combination magic inspired by drunken laziness. After cooking for work all night and getting home late I rarely want to extend much energy so Ramen will do, but last night, out of noodles and wanting more, I turned to the can of smoked sardines in oil I keep tucked in the cabinet for emergencies. Raiding the fridge for mise en place I came away with freshly bought pitas Thao had picked up, cream cheese she claimed I would never use, four lonesome olives huddled together in a forgotten jar, and some preshredded cheese, a parm and mozz mix with garlic flavor added. I pretoasted the amazingly light and fluffy pitas then topped with said ingredients and popped back into toasted oven briefly on broil to finish. In minutes I was rewarded with one of the best, simple and rustic, soothing and satisfying snacks in memory. Paired with a Goose Island honkers ale, I was in snack heaven.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Simply Ceviche

The weather is improving and it is feeling like it could be ceviche time again. I do not often like ceviche, it is often over done. Too much lime, too many ingredients, too long marinated. My first, as often is the case, was perhaps my best. A now defunct sushi restaurant in Florida had a very nice ceviche, well balanced with spicey red chilis, not too tart, with sugar to balance, and just enough salt. The place I work now has a ceviche of the day, which is to me a bad idea. It is too often cobbled together with left over ingredients and poorly conceived. The version pictured was one I considered carefully before assembling. The halved shrimp rest on slices of scallop, all marinated for a few hours in a mild mix of lemon, lime, honey, salt and citrus soda. At the end I topped with sea salt and a bit more fresh lemon juice for a bright, fresh flavor. The orange slices and firm red grapes added more sweetness and complexity, scallions offered a touch of grassy counterpoint, and the micro greens looked pretty on top but were not really necessary. For more thinly sliced fish a much more brief marinade will do, depending on the amount of acidity applied. On a recent tasting at a Chicago ceviche bar, one incorporated coconut milk to good effect but was sadly unsalted. For such a simple dish it is still important to have an experienced and thoughtful cook composing, and salt is nice too.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Perfect Pizza

Perfection is elusive, subjective, and ultimately unattainable but worth striving for nonetheless. Isn't an almost perfect pizza better than a pizza that doesn't even try. It seems the simpler things can be the hardest to perfect. A pizza has just a few components, so there is no hiding for a flawed crust, a lackluster sauce, an unwise choice of cheese. No one pizza will be perfect for everyone but is it all subjective? Taste is ingrained and trained, some things I will never like, some things I've learned to love that I once despised. Pizza is like a haiku, so few words, so few ingredients, each must be perfect, or at least strive to be.

Each week I make pizza dough for work, each week I get closer to what I think an ideal dough is. It isn't fancy cuisine, but there is no hiding behind an expensive ingredient, or fancy equipment. Flour, water, yeast, salt. Just as a proper sushi chef must perfect his rice before being allowed to touch a fish, a proper dough is the foundation of pizza. Some may say the sauce is essential, but really, without the dough there is no pizza. I think there is a lesson in this, that there is something necessary and essential about focusing on the basic things in life, an obvious conclusion but something we often forget in the face of expensive ingredients and fancy techniques.