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Cooking with Sean Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "Cooking with Sean" journal:

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July 22nd, 2009
07:24 pm
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My drink

My drink is now a sidecar.

The cruise ship's happy hour deal was something that could only work on a cruise ship: order a drink, get two of them. I mostly used this as a chance to experiment, since my father was happily picking up the tab. The ship's Manhattan was not very good, as if they'd reversed the ratio of whiskey and vermouth. The negroni made me decide that I probably wasn't a negroni fan. The aviation was pretty good, and the sidecar was quite tasty.

Upon returning home, I decided to do some follow-up research. Making an aviation requires maraschino liqueur. Not only does my local liquor store not carry it, but the good stuff is staggeringly expensive ($60/fifth in Washington). Making a sidecar, meanwhile, just requires brandy (which is cheap), Cointreau (which I already have, of course), and lemon juice. As with margaritas, the trick is the ratio. Neither 2:1:1 nor 4:2:1 made for an interesting drink, with the former being too tart and the latter being too boring.

Despite rumors I'd heard about the sidecar being a popular drink these days, the Internet provided little until I came upon a Gourmet feature suggesting a 1:1:1 ratio. This, it turns out, is the way to go*. The drink is balanced, interesting, and even mildly refreshing. My minimum requirement for a cocktail is that it doesn't just taste like booze-y fruit juice (or, worse, booze-y Coke), and the sidecar happily meets that requirement. Thus it becomes 'my drink'. On the rare occasion that I order a cocktail at a bar, this will come in handy.

Right now I'm trying to get rid of the bottle of vermouth I bought in my dubious attempt to drink more martinis. The curse of the martini is that vermouth actually goes bad and thus I end up either drinking martinis far more often than I normally plan to or I throw out half a bottle of vermouth. This time I've resolved to drink it rather than pour it. Today I borrowed a trick from Simon & Seafort's and threw a bit of Laphroaig in my martini (about an 8:4:1 ratio of gin, vermouth, and scotch). It sounds weird but is actually a nice twist on the tradition. The slight smokey flavor interacts well with the herbal notes of the gin and vermouth to produce something that's simultaneously familiar and foreign. It also makes the drink smoother than a regular martini, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.

*Since I have them and like them, I also threw in a few dashes of bitters. This is the secret to making simple, homemade sours and martinis like they were made by a real bartender.

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June 12th, 2009
09:10 pm
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Anthony Bourdain tells me how to make lamb stew

Sometimes I see a novel ingredient at the grocery store and buy it because I remember seeing it in an interesting-sounding recipe. This usually becomes a problem when I remember that the recipe sounded interesting in part because it contained so many obscure or expensive ingredients.

Lamb neck, for example, is used in Anthony Bourdain's recipe for Daube Provençale. The first thing I thought when I got home and looked a the list of ingredients was "wow, I don't have any of that". It stopped seeming so daunting when I made a list of what I did not have and realized that most of my needs were readily available.

I got around the suggestion to use homemade lamb or dark chicken stock by throwing the last bit of bone marrow in with my Swanson's broth, but there really isn't any good way around a bouquet garni. I rarely use herbs, meaning not only that I don't have fresh herbs on hand but also that buying fresh herbs at the grocery store tends to feel like a waste of money. Parsley is cheap, but rosemary and thyme are not. My solution: leave out the rosemary and thyme and hope that a bay leaf is enough.

The rest of the ingredients turned out to be easier to acquire than I first expected. Potatoes, carrots, onions, and white wine are sold everywhere. QFC is even so kind as to sell single stalks of celery. Finding slab bacon was only a problem until I figured out where QFC was hiding it. My favorite white cooking wine (Gabbiano Pinot Grigio) has been on sale for ages. I still have plenty of garlic, flour, and tomato paste at home.

Once I had a reasonable facsimile of the ingredients together, it was surprisingly easy to make the stew. Brown lamb, render bacon, pour out fat, brown vegetables, deglaze with wine, simmer meat, cook potatoes, and eat. It does take almost two hours to cook, but during that the simmering period I only had to spend about five minutes attending to the stew.

With bone-in meat, the biggest challenge is removing the meat from the bones without making a mess. With lamb neck, this is not exactly easy no matter how tender and succulent the meat is after 90 minutes of stewing. Fortunately, nobody was looking when I used my hands to remove the last little bit.

Although the flavor certainly would have been complex had I used better stock and a real bouquet garni, I can't really can't complain. This is a delicious, hearty stew that hits all the right notes of meatiness. Thanks to the fact that lamb neck is only $2/pound, the recipe was surprisingly cheap relative to most of the other recipes in the same cookbook. Making my own stock is a project that will have to wait for a day when it's not too warm to simmer a pot on the stove for six hours straight.

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May 24th, 2009
11:20 pm
[lavaca]

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Getting my goat

"Hmm, I don't think I've ever seen that booth here before", I thought to myself as I noticed a goat vendor at the U District Market yesterday. The Internet keeps telling me that goat is the new lamb, so I figured I'd give it a shot. My admiration for lamb shanks is well-documented, so I made the natural choice and bought a goat shank.

The problem with goat meat is that there just aren't that many goat recipes out there, despite its popularity in the rest of the world. The Silver Spoon has a "kid" section, but only has three recipes: two for leg of goat (including the wonderful line "lard the kid with pancetta") and one for chops. I did come across a recipe for braised shanks but do not own the proper pot for such a thing.

In the end, I just resorted to my usual roasting method. The shank was salted, studded with garlic, and thrown into a 400° oven for thirty minutes. As goat is leaner than lamb, I turned the heat down to 325° rather than 350° for the remaining 90 minutes. I'd previously only eaten goat in curry form, so I decided to hedge my bet by making a bit of chimichurri. I also pickled some radishes, but the recipe was lying when it promised a combination of flavors (or much flavor at all).

On its own, goat tastes sort of like leaner, beefier lamb. I would certainly eat it again, although I probably won't buy more until I can figure out how to get it without paying the farmers market premium (about 75% more than grocery store lamb). This is the real limitation, since I do think it would be worthwhile to try a Mexican or Indian goat stew recipe. Until then, I will have to stick with lamb.

Current Mood: chupacabra-esque

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May 13th, 2009
09:17 pm
[lavaca]

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A man's risotto

My giant Italian cookbook told me to put bone marrow in my risotto alla Milanese, so I did.

The result easily put all of my previous efforts to shame. Rather than add a beefy flavor to the risotto, the marrow instead gave the finished dish the satisfying richness of a really good steak. This is quite a feat, as adding such meatiness to a non-meaty dish normally requires stacking the deck with demi-glace or some other time-consuming secret ingredient. Mushrooms? That's amateur stuff.

I added the marrow to the butter at the beginning of the recipe. Next time I think I'll roast the marrow bones while the risotto is cooking and stir in the marrow at the end as I would grated cheese. Vegetarians are right to fear me.

A recipe, incorporating all of my latest techniques:

The given quantities are per serving. It would serve twice as many people as a side dish.

  • 1-2 oz. of butter
  • Marrow from a 1" length of bone, chopped fine.
  • 1/4 cup finely-chopped shallot (no bigger than the rice grains)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped just as fine
  • 1/2 cup arborio or other risotto-capable rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 14 oz. can of low-sodium chicken broth (Swanson, not Pacific or Whole Foods)
  • Parmigiano-reggiano, piave, or other glutamate-laden hard cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Soak the marrow bone(s) overnight in water. When you're ready to use it, just push the marrow out of the bone your finger. It should come out in one solid piece.

Heat the chicken stock over low heat in one pot and melt the butter over medium heat in another. When the butter has melted, add the marrow, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.
In a small dish, pour a little bit of stock over the saffron threads.
Sauté the shallot in the butter mixture until it starts to brown. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute. Add the rice, stirring frequently to coat with fat, and sauté until the edges of the rice become translucent.
Stir in the wine and continue to stir frequently until the mixture begins to thicken.
Add 1/2 cup of the stock and stir frequently until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add more stock in 1/4 cup increments, continuing to stir often.
When about 75% of stock has been added, pour in the saffron mixture (make sure to get all the threads) and keep stirring until the risotto turns nuclear yellow.

A this point, it is a good idea to taste for texture and seasoning. It will probably need a decent amount of salt. The ideal risotto texture is similar to al dente pasta: soft but with a bit of resistance to it. You won't necessarily need all of the stock, so make sure to start testing the texture before you think it should be done.

To finish the risotto, add grated cheese and, if you're really gluttonous, another pat of butter. I like to grind a bit of pepper on top just before serving.

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May 4th, 2009
07:34 pm
[lavaca]

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Two great meals

New York strip steak and mashed sweet potatoes may seem like a one-trick pony, but pair it with a strong IPA and you've got all five flavors in a single meal. I cooked the steak thusly: one minute per-side at medium-high, three minutes per side at medium, and ten minutes under foil. The sweet potatoes were diced, steamed for about 15 minutes, and combined with butter, salt, and pepper. With only 20 minutes of work, I had a meal so delicious it was hard to fight off the urge to leap out of my chair and start doing cartwheels of joy across the living room.

Curry is a different story. I've become so jaded by the bland dryness of chicken breasts that I've sworn off chicken curry altogether. With a freezer full of bone-in thighs, I decided to give it another story. I browned the whole thighs for a few minutes on each side while chopping up an onion and the aforementioned yams.

When the onion was in pieces, I set the chicken aside, poured off most of the fat, and browned the onion in the remaining chicken-infused oil. Five minutes later, I returned the chicken to the pot, poured in some water, and added a few pieces of ginger to keep the braising liquid interesting. This got ten minutes of covered simmering and then I gave it fifteen more with the diced yams. When the yams were tender, I pulled out the chicken and began the process of melting down pieces of curry paste.

The benefit to using bone-in, skin-on chicken is that it provides a whole lot of flavor. I removed the skin, pulled the chicken from the bones, and gave it a few passes with the knife until it was in bite-sized pieces. I then stirred the chicken back into the pot and scooped it over rice. The resulting mess was probably the most delicious Japanese-style chicken curry I've ever eaten, combining the delicious curry flavor and texture we all know and love with tender, flavorful meat.

Although I tried to be clever and wash down the meal with a giant can of Sapporo, I guess I've reached the point where I mostly like Japanese beer for the novelty of drinking it at Japanese restaurants rather than, say, because it is actually any good.

Tonight I ate risotto from a box. We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.

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May 2nd, 2009
02:03 pm
[lavaca]

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Japanese beer, Japanese curry

Even at hole-in-the-wall Asian markets, it is no longer possible to buy Japanese beer that was actually brewed in Japan. Asahi is brewed in Los Angeles by Anheiser Busch and the "imported" label on Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban refers to the fact that these beers are imported from exotic Ontario.

This revelation came as I was stocking up on supplies for chicken thighs, round three. Do I look like a dabbler if I walk into an Asian market and buy a 5-pound bag of Niko Niko Calrose, an extra-large package of Golden curry, and a giant can of Japanese beer? The Internet seems to think that even real Japanese people usually make curry with the stuff that comes in bricks, so I can't say I feel too bad about it.

I've never made Japanese curry with whole chicken thighs before. Usually I just brown small chunks of chicken or pork, add onions, add water and roots, and cook for a while. My strategy this time is probably going to be: brown the chicken, set it aside, brown the onions, add back the chicken along with the curry paste, cook for a 10-15 minutes, and then add some diced yams. The effect is similar to using both potatoes and carrots but without the annoyance of having to manage vegetables that cook at different rates (also, they cook faster than either potatoes or carrots).

(But first: steak and mashed sweet potatoes. Let's see if I can do it without setting off the smoke alarm this time.)

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April 29th, 2009
08:53 pm
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Polenta with a side of other things

Making polenta the old-fashioned way really is as bad as they say: 40 minutes of slaving over a hot stove with the very real chance of being burned by exploding cornmeal.

I am not an Italian grandmother and have no real interest in filling such a role. Alton Brown claimed he was being edgy by making polenta in the oven, but true iconoclasts make polenta in the microwave. Just combine one part cornmeal, four parts water, and any necessary flavoring agents and give it a few minutes. I used half a cup of cornmeal, which required five minutes, a stir break, and four more minutes. To obtain flavor, I threw in a pat of butter and a bit of cheese. In a true mark of defiance, I was even wearing a short-sleeved shirt at the time.

Man cannot live by polenta alone (for one thing, I'd get pellagra). That was not my goal. In fact, the goal was to serve the polenta alongside chicken fricassee. Which I did! Chicken fricassee is a simple matter of combining browned chicken with tomatoes, onions, and various other things. The recipe I used suggested baby artichokes, but I cheated and threw in some marinated artichoke hearts because it isn't really artichoke season here yet. The recipe did not suggest pancetta, but this seemed like as good a time as any to use it up.

Fricassee and polenta was not exactly a novel or outrageous combination, seeing as how it was one of the suggestions in the fricassee, but it really did come together nicely. The mild creaminess of the polenta was an ideal contrast for the chunky, flavorful sauce. I will admit that the polenta probably should've included a bit more butter and cheese, and I plan to test that theory tomorrow night when I make a new batch of polenta to soak up the leftovers.


Alongside lamb, chicken thighs have been a staple meat as of late. They are really cheap reach an ideal texture in as little as 30 minutes of braising. I buy bone-in, skin-on thighs, because that's the only rational way to eat them.

This is probably the point at which I should also admit to having bought nine pounds of chicken at Costco over the weekend. On Sunday night I made a Spanish stew of chicken braised in a paste of almonds, garlic, bread, and sherry, tonight I made the fricassee, and at least one batch of thighs (I got six individually-sealed packages out of the deal) is destined to be part of a big pot of curry. Any suggestions for the rest?

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April 16th, 2009
07:37 pm
[lavaca]

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Silence of the lamb chops

Inspired by Easter's feast, I decided to buy a shoulder (arm) chop and prepare it with another recipe from the source of my braised lamb shoulder recipe. This was simpler, as all I had to do was cook the chop and make the chimichurri paste. Because I was reducing the recipe to a single portion, I made the chimichurri using a mortar and pestle rather than a food processor. This gave the paste a nice hearty texture; it was smooth enough to drizzle but thick enough to pick up a bit with my fork after I'd run out of meat and spinach.

Although I don't have a grill, I made up for it by using the same pan in which I cooked the lamb chop to fry a few garlic slices and sauté a bit of spinach. Perhaps one day I will learn that I have to buy far more spinach than I think I should, but today was not that day. Underwhelming portion size aside, it was still a nice foil for the lamb.

Lamb isn't as cheap as pork, but it's a better deal than steak now that I've figured out that shoulder chops (no more expensive than good-quality pork chops) are so rewarding. The meat chewier than a rib chop, but the flavor is richer and the fat is nicely distributed throughout the entire chop. Six minutes of medium-high heat may not be enough to melt the collagen, but it does produce a texture close enough to a roast to be a good weeknight alternative to a two-hour braise. I am hooked on eating cute little baby sheep.

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April 12th, 2009
05:56 pm
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Braised lamb shoulder

I volunteered to roast a leg of lamb for Easter. While researching useful things to do to a leg of lamb, I came across the suggestion to use lamb shoulder instead of leg of lamb. Shoulder, you see, has more fat and connective tissue than leg and is therefore even better for roasting and whatnot. I wasn't able to find a boneless shoulder roast, but nobody seemed to mind when I presented them with chunks of meat rather than neat slices.

Putting a plate of fork-tender lamb on the table is a good way to look like a hero for Easter. The simple procedure: brown meat, deglaze with white wine, add rosemary and bay leaves, and simmer for about an hour. After an hour, add some peeled pearl onions and simmer for another hour. Ta-da! I served it alongside the spinach with yogurt sauce and other contributors added rice pilaf, roasted broccoli, and Italian Easter bread.

The only drawback is the difficulty in finding lamb shoulder. Whole Foods had whole shoulder, but only when I requested it, and even then I was only able to get bone-in shoulder. Any grocery store that sells shoulder chops should have whole shoulder, but it is definitely not a cut that usually shows up on the shelf. Boneless shoulder would be a better choice for a fancy presentation, but bone-in does offer a flavor advantage.

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March 25th, 2009
05:34 pm
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Dry Vermouth

The Internet told me two things:

  1. Vermouth has a finite shelf life, and it's shorter than I thought
  2. Dolin is much better than Martini & Rossi or Gallo

Inspired more by the latter than the former (though, to be fair, my previous bottle of vermouth is at least a year old), I decided to buy a bottle of Dolin. Alas, Dolin does not seem to be available around here yet. Not wanting to leave a third grocery store empty-handed, I ended up with a bottle of Noilly Prat instead.

Now, this certainly seems like it's a good problem to have: drink an entire bottle of vermouth in less than 60 days. However, drinking enough martinis in a month or two to use up 750 ml of vermouth isn't really my style. Even with a "wet" martini like the one I'm quaffing right now, that's still at least 24 drinks left in the bottle.

To make a short story shorter: what can I do with dry vermouth other than drink it alongside gin or vodka?

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