Judge and Jerry

Everyone gets all upset about marijuana, saying that users lack drive, ambition. Those people have never seen a pothead looking for a bag of Funyuns. They’ve never seen them painstakingly carve elaborate canals into a Braeburn apple, using nothing but a Bic lighter and a McDonald’s straw, in hopes of crafting a functional, organic pipe. That’s DRIVE.

Disclaimer: I don’t smoke pot. I’m a functional adult with a kid and a mortgage, and I graduated high school 10 years ago, so it’s no longer in my wheelhouse.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember being a teenager, driving 15 miles to the closest Fazoli’s because DUUUUUUUUUUUDE. Unlimited breadsticks. Yes.

Which explains, in part, how I ended up in a Wal-Mart the other day.

I hate Wal-Mart. HATE. I’ve gone twice in the last year. Once at midnight when I was nine months pregnant because I needed a box fan for our bedroom RIGHT NOW.

And once two days ago, to locate the new Ben and Jerry’s flavor: Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack.

I’d been to seven other grocery stores before saying “Screw it, I’m going to Wal-Mart.” SEVEN. Because DUUUUUUUUUDE. Vanilla bean ice cream with salted caramel swirl and fudge-covered potato chips. Yes.

Which brings me back to my original point. How high must Ben and Jerry and Jimmy Fallon have been to conceive that offering?

Ben: “Dude. I want ice cream.”

Jerry: “We OWN an ice cream company, jackass. Let’s get some ice cream.”

Jimmy Fallon: “Shut up about the ice cream. I want potato chips. And chocolate.”

Ben: “Dude. Brah. Let’s put potato chips and chocolate IN some ice cream.”

Jimmy Fallon: “YES. Let’s do that. Now.”

Jerry: “I want Funyuns.”

Anyway, once I read about the new flavor, I wanted it immediately. It was like I was pregnant again, only when I was pregnant I didn’t really have any cravings except for vinaigrette. I drank a LOT of vinaigrette.

So, after searching fruitlessly for two days, I decided to suck it up and call Wal-Mart. Here is an actual transcript of the conversation I had with the Wal-Mart “customer service team.”

Wal-person: “Wal-Mart customer service, how may I direct your call?”

Me: “I’m looking for the new Ben and Jerry ice cream flavor…”

Wal-person: “Hold for Earl in Grocery”

Earl: “Iss Earl, how can I help you?”

Me: “I’m looking for the new Ben and Jerry ice cream flavor…”

Earl: “Wassit called?”

Me: “Late Night Snack”

Earl: “I ain’t seen it.”

Me: “So you guys don’t have it yet?”

Earl: “Just cuz I ain’t seen it, don’t mean it ain’t there”

Me: “Fucking Wal-Mart”

So I packed the baby up, drove to Wal-Mart, girded my loins, and headed inside.

SUCCESS!!! I can’t tell you how excited I was at that moment. There were four pints in the freezer case. I bought four of them. What?

That night we demolished the first of them. The verdict? DELICIOUS. Best ice cream ever. Better than Mission to Marzipan, which was my favorite up to this point.

Again, I reiterate. It’s vanilla bean ice cream with a swirl of salted caramel, and fudge-covered clusters of potato chip. Salty. Sweet. Creamy.

The ice cream itself is very vanilla-beany. You can actually feel the flecks of vanilla on your tongue. It’d be a solid offering for a plain vanilla bean ice cream.

The salted caramel is tasty, but I wish there were more of it. It ends up being kind of thinly stratified, rather than ending up in pockets and pools. So it was a win, but could have been more of a win in my book.

The fudge is assertively chocolatey, without the waxy characteristic so often found in frozen chocolate pieces. Very nice.

And the potato chips within? Very good. They remain crisp, and have little rocks of salt throughout for extra crunch. I cannot emphasize how important they are. They could sell the little fudge-chip clusters independent of the ice cream, and I would buy them.

So eight thumbs up for Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack. And it’s Fair Trade certified, which almost nullifies the evil of the store I patronized.

It was catnip. Or “cat pot.”

Going Aggro

This is more of a follow-up post to yesterday than anything else, because the recipe was poached from Thomas Keller’s sous-vide guide. I can’t claim any of it as originally mine, except for the pictures. But it’s important that you see it, because it was REALLY GOOD.

And I’m pretty sure you could adapt it to suit your home kitchen that isn’t overrun with fancy gadgetry and impulse-bought technology.

A word on duck: There are a lot of things that my mom eats that I won’t touch. Gin, tonic, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, coffee, earl gray tea, mayonnaise, sour cream, soft cheeses, etc. I guess you could say it’s mostly drinks, some cruciferous vegetables, and things that are creamy AND white, AND savory all at the same time.

And she has a laundry list of things that I love that she won’t eat: raw tuna, bison, duck, squab, tofu, mushrooms… see the trend? Her “meaty” preferences are pretty limited to the standard pig, cow, chicken, and turkey. She hates duck. Even duck confit. It’s beyond my understanding, because I find duck to be absolutely delicious. It somehow manages to encompass the meaty redness of beef, the versatility of chicken, and the salty, fatty appeal of pork. And duck confit is so good that when it dies, it’ll be sent the same place that Dumbledore and Gandalf are spending their eternity. Some kind of magical heaven, I’d assume. Probably Grant Achatz would go there, too, if he weren’t such a cocky weinermobile. Still love the guy’s food, but his public persona irritates me to no end.

My sister is a vegetarian, so my big, family meals involving the more advanced meats are limited to when my brother comes to visit. This was one of the meals I cooked for him while he was here visiting, and it was the best treatment I’ve ever seen for duck breast. I include duck prosciutto in that statement.

It’s duck breast with caramelized endive, confit of oranges, toasted almonds, and sauce aigre-doux.

I made couscous because I really love the way fruit and couscous marry. It was a good choice for a side flavor-wise, but in no way kept with the French spin on this dish.

The aigre-doux is just a sweet and sour sauce. It’s called “agrodolce” in Italian cuisine. The confit orange supremes are a great amplifier for the undertones of the aigre-doux. Oranges are in season right now, so it’s a great time to take advantage of them at their peak.

To make the aigre-doux:

Take 4 oranges. From them, gather 1/2 t zest, 1/2 C of juice, and set aside the remainder to make orange supremes.

In a small pan, place the orange juice, 1/2 C sugar, 1 cup water and bring to a simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and reduce to a sauce consistency (1/2 C).

Stir in the orange zest and a tablespoon of white wine vinegar.

Bam. That’s it. You could pour this sauce over anything. Fried chicken, for example. Completely eliminates the need for you to ever go to Panda Express for their Godforsaken Orange Chicken ever again!

But I’d recommend pouring it over duck. With some orange segments that have soaked in sugar syrup for a bit. And some braised endive. The endive adds a fantastic bitter element to the dish. Not something I’d be into eating on its own, but a bite with the duck and the endive and the sauce? Absolutely balanced flavor. Perfection.

My brother called it “squid vegetable,” but that’s probably because it looked eerie in the light after being chamber sealed.

It’s less threatening without the backlighting.

And even less threatening when it’s with its friends, about to be IN.YO.BELLEH!

Honestly, it’s flavor combinations like this one that put Keller in the French Laundry, while I languish in the cloth diaper laundry at home.

P.S. I hung the cloth diapers on a clothesline in the yard the other day, flying bravely in the face of the HOA regulations against them. Full hippie. Rebel. Running with gangs.

P.P.S. I bet this sauce would be the BUSINESS drizzled over some grilled asparagus. Can’t wait for spring veg to hit the market.

de Resistance

I can hear myself thinking right now. Not in a
“crazy person, end of the world, put on your tinfoil hat, Tea Party” kind of way. But in an actual, “Hey, wow! That’s the sound of my own brain, having original thoughts, not being drowned out by the sound of baby yelling or fear thereof” kind of way. It’s awesome. Because I’ve had some caffeine, nutrition, dropped the baby off at his Grandma’s for a couple of hours, and completed a load of dishes. Apparently that’s all it takes for my brain to start thinking things again. Who knew? So I’m going to write this blog and then take the dog for a run. I might even have an opportunity to brush my hair. I know! It’s like Mardi Gras up in this bitch!

Which reminds me, I should thaw something. I don’t know what yet, but I’m honestly considering a turkey. I’ve got a couple in the freezer from WhoFo’s day after Thanksgiving sale, and turkey pot pie sounds fantastic. As does a good brine, and then sous-viding the other parts. I’m eager to see how juicy a turkey can be when all of its parts are cooked to their ideal degree of doneness, and not a penny more.

Sous-viding has been taken up about 50 notches since the miraculous, post-Christmas birth of the full-sized immersion circulator. We bought the PolySci version shortly after Christmas, and it’s lived up to its hype. It’s mantastic enough to handle large pieces of tough meat with ease, leaving them tender and juicy and priceless.

It’s difficult to think of a better way to show off the benefits of sous-vide cookery than the short rib. Most omnivores have had them before, and they’re pretty beloved for their unctuous richness and flavor. The only downside to a short rib has been that they require braising, which breaks down the collagen well, but also can leave them stringy and, worst case scenario, dry.

The sous-vide, however, gently caresses them for about 50 hours in 131 F of warmth, allowing the collagen to break down, but the meat to remain medium rare. Try to imagine that for a second. Or, if you’re not familiar with short ribs, try to imagine your favorite crockpot meat. A roast, for example. Then, imagine if you could get all of that beefy goodness (not referring to Vin Diesel) and fork-tenderness, but keep the meat at medium rare.

What-what-in-your-butt, right?

The sous-vide makes it possible. Like the make-a-wish foundation for meat. And it really couldn’t be easier, though it takes a LONG time. Did you see that above? 50 hours of waiting. Which is about how long I think gestation should take.

Anyway, here’s a picture series of the process:

Step one–obtain grass-fed short ribs

Step two–season with salt and pepper, then seal in a chamber vacuum sealer if you have access to one. If not, use a Foodsaver.

Step three–Set immersion circulator to 134 F and insert packet o’ ribs

Step four–allow to swim in this bath for 48-72 hours

Step five– briefly sear the outsides and serve it up

I served them ontop a mound of pureed potatoes and celariac, redolent of cream and butter. I reduced and strained their jus, drizzling it ontop. And I made shredded, glazed carrots for a bit of texture and vegetable contribution. Celeriac and short ribs are BFF.

Now’s the interesting part.

Note the bright pink, uniform interior. Note the meat texture, which is ready to fall apart faster than Charlie Sheen’s life at the mere suggestion of a fork. Note the gorgeous fat cap that is straight up ready and willing to melt given a flick of your tongue.

It’s gorgeous. I’m not one to brag (I am totally one to brag), but this is where meat meets its destiny. I read once (can’t remember where) that sous-vide short ribs are everything that a prime rib wants to be, but can’t. I couldn’t agree more.

The major downside is that 50 HOURS OF WAITING gave me only about 15 minutes of eating payoff. So in the future, I’m going to make several vacuum packs at once, sous-vide them all, then freeze the remaining packets for “quick” sous-vide short ribs at a moment’s notice. Not sure how that will affect the texture, but I’ll let you know.

Now I’m starving, but I’ve got to go get a run in. We’ve got the Denver marathon and the Tough Mudder coming up this summer, and I’m prepared for neither. Babies allow you to train about as effectively as they allow you to clean, write and do dishes.

But they’re pretty cute.