Saturday, February 27, 2010

Celery-psychedeliac (root)

Before getting into this post, I have to apologize for the long hiatus. Hopefully it won't happen again. We Clams haven't stopped eating, lest anyone worry. In fact, we may have moved up, just slightly, in the culinary world.

In Clams-related news, esteemed Clam Brett Daniels is now officially in culinary school. The rest of our lives are better as a vicarious result. He has lots of cooking homework, so dinner get-togethers are becoming an even more frequent occurrence than they were previously. The two of us have recently been getting into cooking with celeriac (aka celery root) when we can get our hands on it.

My local grocery store, Tony's Finer Foods, is the kind of place that caters to a largely latino clientele. This means that the produce section tends to include a wide variety of root vegetables that I have no experience cooking with. Celeriac appears to be right at home in this crowd, although, to my knowledge it isn't a classic ingredient in latino cuisines. What I do know, is that it kind of looks like a knobby, weird coconut. Or something. See for yourself:

Flavor-wise, it's really unique. Very distinctive tasting - there's an unmistakable celery note, but it's also nutty and rich.

The Clams got together recently for a weeknight dinner, and Brett had some celeriac on hand. While Brett dealt with the chicken he was roasting in his cast iron skillet, I got to work making a celeriac mash. I was a bit tentative, and kept things simple. After peeling and chopping the celeriac and a couple of russet potatoes, I boiled them until they were fork-tender. After that, I mashed them with butter and whole milk, and seasoned them with white pepper and sea salt.
The end result was quite good, but left me wanting to work with celeriac again in a slightly more experimental context.

Which leads me to brunch this morning. I used a celery root I had lying around to make a gratin, and I'd say it was a good step forward.

RECIPE: Celery-psychedeliac Gratin
**I used Anthony Bourdain's Gratin Dauphinois recipe as a jumping-off point for this.

1 celeriac, about 1 pound
4-5 small yukon gold potatoes
1 medium leek
1 fresh sprig each, thyme, rosemary, flat leaf parsley
2 cups heavy cream
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
pepper (ideally white, but black works too)
a dash or two of nutmeg
small slice of butter
grated cheese of your choice - (I used fontinella, but I could see gruyere or another deep-flavored white cheese working well)

Preheat oven to 350. Peel celeriac with a knife, slice it and the potatoes thin (1/2 to 1/4 of an inch). Place these in a large pot or dutch oven with the cream, add 4 of the garlic gloves and the herbs. Chop off the green leaves of the leek, and slice the remaining white part thinly. Add sliced leek to the mixture with the celeriac. Bring the cream up to a simmer. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes. While the mixture simmers, take the last garlic clove and use it to rub the interior of a gratin dish or an 8x8 baking dish. After you've given it a good coating of garlic, use the butter to evenly grease the dish. After simmering, discard the herbs and garlic from the cream mixture. Pour the mixture into the baking dish, spread evenly, and top with a thin layer of grated cheese. Season with a bit more salt and pepper if you want. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the cheese has turned a nice golden brown.

I served this with eggs, bacon, and sourdough toast. But it would definitely be a good side dish for any number of dinners.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Clams vs. Paul McCartney

I know this isn't entirely fair, as Sir Paul isn't (by his own admission) much of a chef, but here it goes anyway.

At some point - presumably when the internet was still more of a novelty - Paul decided to apply his characteristically cheesy persona to the art of internet cooking instruction. Here's his resulting instructional video: mashed potatoes with Paul.

So there you have it. The McCartney method for mashed potatoes.

Paul's potatoes in summary:
-salted water
-non-hydrogenated margarine
-organic sea salt
-semi-skimmed milk
-chopped onions
-fresh parsley (as a garnish, if you're feeling wild)

No offense to Paul, but these are some boring-ass mashers. I'm not saying that they wouldn't have their charm - I like standard mashed potatoes as much as the next guy. But geez, the guy's a vegetarian, you'd think he'd know how to zazz the potatoes up a little bit. (Hats-off to Murderface for the word "zazz.")

In response to Paul's recipe I thought I'd put forward my own mashed potato dish. Here it is:

Mashed potatoes, Clam style

-6 to 10 white potatoes
-1 to 3 sweet potatoes (potato ratio can vary as much as you want, really)
-unsalted butter
-milk (whole is the best, obviously)
-1 large bunch collard greens, or other leafy green such as chard or kale
-about 8 cloves garlic
-extra virgin olive oil
-fresh-ground black pepper
-ground chipotle, cayenne, or smoked paprika (choose one, or skip)

Scrub all potatoes thoroughly but do not peel. Set a large pot of salted water on high heat, chop the potatoes roughly and toss them in the water. Boil for about ten minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork.

While the potatoes are boiling, peel and mince the garlic. Set a saute pan on medium heat, add a few tablespoons of butter. When the butter has melted add the minced garlic. Saute until garlic is fragrant, but not brown. Remove pan from heat.

Wash and chop the collard greens, removing the rib from each leaf. This may take a while, so it might be advisable to do this ahead of time. There are a few options with the chopped greens. Your goal is to cook them briefly in order to soften them up - but in my opinion you really don't want to overcook them. I suppose you could toss them in with the potatoes for just a minute or so, before you take the potatoes off the heat. But I typically use an extra dutch oven or other large pot and heat a bit of olive oil or butter in it. I then add the greens, cover the pot, and let them cook down just a bit, until they're wilted and reduced in size.

Once the potatoes are done, take them off the heat, drain, and return the potatoes to the pot. Toss some butter in with the hot potatoes. I'd recommend using a decent amount - at least half a stick. Mash the potatoes as the butter melts. I like a relatively coarse mash, but do it to your own liking. Add the garlic/butter mixture and the cooked greens. Give the whole thing a bit of a mix to get an idea of the overall consistency, then add milk until you get the consistency you want. Season with salt, pepper, and a spicy pepper, if you're into it.

This recipe is very flexible, you can really experiment all over the place, if you feel like it. For instance, when you're at the milk-adding stage, you can easily add little or no milk, and use something else to smooth the mixture out instead - such as yogurt, buttermilk, olive oil, or some combination of these with the milk. Yogurt and buttermilk are particularly nice if you want to get a slight tart taste.

And that's it. I'll let you be the judge, but I think I can safely say that The Clams totally win this one. In your face McCartney!

*disclaimer* The Clams still really love the Beatles, but are still of the opinion that Paul tends to be a total chach.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Clams Bake!

This Clam has never been much of a baker. I'm not sure if I can really explain it, but my culinary preferences tend to lean more toward the cooking side. However, we Clams do love good bread, and we also love dutch ovens (cast-iron in particular). So when OCF (Original Clam Friend) Maureen discovered a phenomenal recipe for a simple, dutch oven bread, I figured that my time had come.

The recipe comes courtesy of Mark Bittman's NY Times Dining column The Minimalist. I love his column, but this recipe came out of the archives - from 2006. I don't know how Maureen came across it. Say Maureen, how did you come across it? Anyway, I realize that everyone who's interested in baking may have already seen this recipe, but if you haven't, the recipe is great and the accompanying article is pretty fascinating as well. It's called No-Knead Bread. Here's the link.

So here's my brief recounting of the baking process. I was determined to time things so that I could bake this bread in time for Saturday brunch, so I started the dough around 4:30 on Friday afternoon. Starting this was possibly the easiest thing I've ever done in the kitchen. The process: combine flour, salt, yeast in bowl, add water, stir briefly, cover. And then leave it alone for 18 hours.

When 8:30 rolled around the next morning, following the recipe simply required me to turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface, sprinkle it with flour, fold it twice, move it to a towel, and allow it to rise for two more hours. After that I heated the oven to 450 with the empty dutch oven inside. After everything was at full temperature, the dough went into the hot dutch oven, and then baked 30 minutes covered and about another 15 uncovered.

As is explained in the Times article, the dutch oven provides something that's fairly elusive in home bread baking - moisture retention. Apparently the loaf sort of steams in the dutch oven as it bakes. And I will say, the resulting loaf completely lived up to the hype. Great crumb and crust, as the bakers say. I'm still impressed that such an artisan bread creation took shape in my oven. I'll be putting this baking method into my regular rotation, and I can't wait to experiment with different things in the dough, such as whole wheat flour.

So, you know what to do now. Get your cast iron out. IMMEDIATELY.

ALSO - The Clams are playing tomorrow night at Ronny's in Chicago! We'll be sharing the bill with our good friend Bill Tucker, Nathan Kalish and The Wildfire (from Grand Rapids, featuring our old friend Julio Gomez on guitar), and Shape Note.

Here's a flyer thingy:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

FEEDBACK: Burzum Burgers

Well, concept number one came to fruition. As firework-crazy madness overtook Chicago with the sunset, we Clams and some friends sat out on the porch, waited for the coals to reach an ideal temperature, and made preparations for our metal-themed feast.

We had successfully procured a hunk of head cheese (pictured above) from a local Polish deli, and taste-tested it around the group - consensus: it wasn't disgusting; tasted a bit like corned beef in fact, but with a more gelatinous texture.

And so the Burzuming began.

Burzum Burgers
For the patties, we combined equal parts spicy Italian sausage and ground beef. Then added eggs and rolled oats until we reached the desired consistency, then, to taste: dark molasses, salt, pepper, garlic.

Once grilled, we toasted the buns with slices of provolone, and topped the burgers with mayo, mustard and avocados - and of course liberal slices of head cheese.

As it turned out, we were all pretty happy with these burgers. The patties came out very well, but beyond that the head cheese was a nice, if hilariously excessive, topping. Fun to try. Kuma's Corner can buy this from us any time they want.

Clams Corn Pone
We also grilled up some of our classic corn - which we prepare by making a paste of butter, garlic, queso cojito, salt, pepper, and either chopped basil or cilantro. Roll the corn ears in the butter mixture, grill (it's nice to let the flames get excited for a few minutes, then cover the grill and let the corn smoke a bit). Then when the ears are done, put them on a plate and sprinkle them with lime juice and chipotle or cayenne pepper.

Last but not least we prepared a 4th of July favorite - Jalepeno Boner Bites. We don't remember why they got their name, but just bear with me here, because it's a good recipe.

Jalepeno Boner Bites
Soak some bamboo skewers in water prior to starting. Then take your jalepenos, cut the stems off, halve, and de-seed. Fill the jalepeno halves with cream cheese, wrap each half with a strip of bacon, and skewer. Grill these on a relatively low-heat grill (the bacon grease will reignite even a very calm fire). Let the skewers get a bit flame-kissed, but then you'll probably want to cover the grill so things don't get out of control.

Boner Bites, fresh off the grill:
Burzum prep station:
Burzum vision:


Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Long-Awaited Clams Food Blog!

That's right. The Clams are pioneering a recipe for braised Bassman. Hope your taste buds can handle it.

As a band, we remain entirely committed to things like playing and recording music, but we feel that we've really set the bar for exceptional band eating. One of our favorite band memories involves a day spent recording in Brett's garage (also known as Electrical Audio #2) while taking occasional breaks to tend to the duck stock on the stove. After about 10 hours of stocking (and rocking) we took a significantly longer break to make duck a l'orange for dinner. Booyah!

So, that's an example (okay, maybe the pinnacle) of the way we Clams like to roll. We pretty much can't be together without cooking delicious things and spontaneously creating face-melting, drone-infused rock operas.

So, today's the 4th of July. Something special must be cooked. It's rainy out, but we don't anticipate this hampering the grilling. A significant amount of consideration has gone into today's meal. So what's on the menu? Burzum Burgers.

By way of explanation, here's a quick bio on the band Mayhem:
Formed around 1985 by Necrobutcher and guitarist Euronymous (born Oystein Aarseth), Mayhem was the first death metal band from Norway to make much of an impact in their homeland, which in the early '90s developed a burgeoning underground scene rife with violent, sometimes anti-Christian activity -- as evidenced by Mayhem's non-musical history. Drummer Hellhammer, who at one time worked in a mental hospital, is the only remaining member of the band's prime-period lineup. Lead vocalist Dead committed suicide in 1991 (two years after joining the band) by shooting himself in the head; Hellhammer made a necklace using some of his skull fragments, and Euronymous reportedly cooked and ate pieces of Dead's brain.
Soooo... all that happened. Oh right, and then eventually the bass player (Count Grishnackh) stabbed Euronymous to death because he was jealous of his evil, brain-eating reputation. And then the Count when to prison, for, you know, murder. But he started a solo project entitled Burzum, which is coincidentally the name of the fast food restaurants featured in the show Metalocalypse.

And what have we gained from all this bizarre musical history? Well, in short - Burzum Burgers. Currently the plan is to make some pretty standard burgers (although we may opt for a turkey/chorizo mix rather than beef), and then procure some head cheese
for slicing and topping the burgers with OR we may pull the butcher aside and see if there's any actual brain meat available. If that were the case we could make a saute with some onions and beer perhaps... And then top the burgers with that.

This is a pretty high-concept first recipe, and we do realize that there's a good chance that it won't taste great. But, we'll report back on the results.

Take that, Kuma's.