Monthly ArchiveJanuary 2010

Seasonal Cooking 25 Jan 2010 09:36 pm

Celery Root Potato Quiche with Parsnip Custard in Beef Tallow Pastry – a.k.a The Winner!

The butcher at the Meat Hook lit up a little when I asked if he had beef tallow. The Meat Hook is Brooklyn’s newest purveyor of farm-raised meat and center of carnivore culture. It’s a joint  venture between the Brooklyn Kitchen and the minds and cleavers behind Marlow and Daughters, and best of all, it’s only a few blocks from my apartment. Obviously, this was the place to look for a hunk of beef fat. I wanted it for making a pie crust, I explained to the butcher. “Rendered or unrendered?” he asked.

This wasn’t the first time I’d used animal fat in a pastry dough. A few years ago the New York Times ran an article by Melissa Clark that compared crusts made with various combinations of butter, beef fat, lard, duck fat, and shortening. It sang high praises for the beef fat version.  Inspired, I made an apple pie with a crust that was half butter and half beef suet, and I remember being happy with the results.

I thought of that crust again this past week while dreaming up a recipe for the pie contest at K&M bar here in Williamsburg, a benefit for BK Farmyards. I wanted to make a seasonal quiche — ‘seasonal’ at this time of year meaning, of course, root vegetables. I had on hand a big bag of potatoes and a bulb of celeriac (a.k.a celery root), and I wanted to add parsnips too, but not simply as roasted parsnip chunks mixed into the filling (though I’d this recently done with good results).  I thought instead of stirring parsnip puree directly into the eggs and cream that make up the quiche’s custard. This trick, I imagined, would make a heartier pie, and enhance the dusky flavors that I like in winter dishes.

And hence my idea for beef fat in the crust. The subtly darker flavor, described by Melissa Clark as “rich and slightly meaty, though not identifiably beefy” would boost those hearty winter flavors as well. I opted for the unrendered beef fat, which I supposed would taste richer.

Actually, what I got was probably suet, not tallow — tallow is the rendered stuff.  I was definitely working with an unrefined product – it had veiny red flakes and other odd bits in it that I did by best to cut out or cut around. If you’re squeamish about handling meat, particularly meat with suspiciously unidentifiable parts, this stuff isn’t for you.

This time around I didn’t bother using half butter – I simply substituted the beef fat, cut into small cubes, one-for-one in place of the butter in my favorite pastry recipe. It went into the food processor with flour and salt, and after a few spins of the blade it was cut into the familiar pea-sized pieces. The fat didn’t assimilate itself into the flour in quite the same way that butter does — even after moistening it with cold water and giving it a rest in the fridge the dough was still pretty crumbly and not terribly easy to work with. I had to muscle it a bit in order to hold it together and roll it out. I feared this would make the dough tough in the end but fortunately it didn’t. I might suggest using half butter though, if you don’t like fighting with powdery pie dough.

For my quiche filling I roasted two small parsnips with a clove of garlic until they were soft, then pureed them, garlic and all, with half-and-half until very smooth. To this I added enough additional half-and-half to bring the mixture to 2 cups, then whisked in 3 eggs. Meanwhile, I cut 3 medium potatoes and 1 medium celery root into thin slices and blanched them briefly in boiling salted water. I then transferred them to a skillet in which I’d sautéed  4 or 5 sliced shallots, cooked the mixture until the celery root began to brown slightly, and flavored it with chives, thyme, and lots of salt and pepper.

Into the pre-baked, beefy pie shell I spread a layer of shredded gruyere cheese and topped it with the potato mixture. I then carefully poured the parsnip custard over it and baked until firm. The finished quiche was rich and flavorful, slightly sweet from the parsnips and with a bit of brightness from the celery root.  A real winter pie.

And a prize-winning pie! The judges awarded it first prize in the savory pie division. One of them told me I’d scored a few extra creativity points for using beef fat in the crust. I’m glad he liked it, and I’m glad to have such a good source nearby for the stuff. And I’m glad to finally be living in an era when cooking with beef fat meets with such high approval.

Seasonal Cooking 10 Jan 2010 11:29 pm

Aloo Mooli, or What I Did with my Daikon

“What is that thing?” The members of Paisley Farm’s winter CSA were lingering at DBA bar in Williamsburg Brooklyn, where they’d each just picked up a box of potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, squash –  the first CSA pickup of the winter season. Sitting on the table in front of us, among pints of Six Point ale and mugs of bourbon-laced hot cider, was a long, pale, and… well… phallic-looking root. None of the guesses we threw at it seemed right. It wasn’t a parsnip. It wasn’t a potato. Some kind of turnip maybe? Finally we gave up, finished our drinks, donned our hats and gloves and hoisted our boxes of vegetables into the January cold.

Once at home though, a quick Google search on “root vegetables” solved the mystery: a daikon radish. Karol, who coordinates the Williamsburg CSA pickup for Paisley, was relieved to have this thing identified, but knew she needed to share this information quickly with the rest of the CSA members. “Your challenge now,” she said to me, “is to find some use for this daikon, and post about it on Dave’s Kitchen.” I accepted the challenge. Honestly though I had no idea what to do with this thing.

Daikon is actually not so unfamiliar to anyone who has eaten sushi or banh mi. It often comes as a garnish of fine threads with the former, and pickled, with carrots in the latter. My first thought for Karol’s Daikon Challenge was to create some kind of banh mi-inspired dish – a salad of watercress topped with pickled daikon matchsticks, perhaps, with a side of cilantro-spiced pork meatballs. Using the daikon merely as a garnish, though, or even as a salad-topper, wasn’t likely to use up very much of it, and I had a vision of a hundred half-used daikon radishes moldering in the crisper drawers of a hundred CSA members. No, I’d have to look deeper to find a dish that puts this odd root onto center stage.

With some further investigation I found that daikon sometimes goes by another name: mooli. Mooli, it seems, is a Hindi word for ‘radish’ (sometimes appearing as ‘muli’ or ‘moolangi’), and it’s found surprisingly often in the indices of Indian cookbooks or on Indian recipe websites. Mooli Paratha is a skillet bread stuffed with cooked radish. In a  Madhur Jaffrey cookbook I found “Phool gobi aur mooli ka achaar”: cauliflower and white radish pickle.  On the Indian cooking blog Mahananda there’s a short discussion of the health benefits of mullangi, and a $2 download of a recipe for daikon dal (proceeds go to support a school in India). But maybe most appealing – and certainly easiest – was this recipe I found for aloo muli – potatoes cooked with radish.

The recipe is quite simple: cook a chopped green chili (I used a jalapeno) in a small amount of hot oil, then add equal amounts of diced daikon and potato, with ground coriander and tumeric. Stir to combine, lower the flame, cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. I was not using a non-stick skillet, so I added just a tablespoon or so of water to keep the mixture from sticking. Unfortunately I didn’t have the radish greens the recipe called for, so I simply did without (though when I make this again I might add chopped spinach or kale to make up for them)

The textures and flavors of the radish and potato were nicely complementary, and the subtle spiciness of the radish stood up nicely to the bolder jalapeno and turmeric. I served the aloo mooli with Mark Bittman’s red-lental dal, along with a very simple and delicious salad of grated carrot tossed with toasted mustard seeds (also taken from Madhur Jaffrey), and some crispy mini papadums.

Aloo mooli is a dish I’d make again, and not just out of obligation to use up a CSA daikon. For this dish I’d actually seek out a mooli of my own. Karol, I consider the daikon challenge well met.

Seasonal Cooking 04 Jan 2010 09:23 pm

Now that’s a Steak Sandwich

Recently, I threw a holiday dinner party and served what I thought to be a traditional holiday menu: roast beef with jus, mini Yorkshire puddings, dauphin gratinee (a.k.a. scalloped potatoes), mushrooms cooked with chestnuts and roasted brussels sprouts. I splurged on a good cut of beef – a New York strip roast. When the dishes and empty wine bottles were cleared I found that, happily, there was a good-sized chunk of it left.  As planned.

Leftover roast beef, like leftover turkey, makes great sandwiches. But there are sandwiches and there are, you know, sandwiches.  My chunk of leftover beef was not  some random supermarket roast. The steer it once walked around in had been raised on a small nearby farm. Its meat had been butchered with love at Marlow and Daughters, standard-bearers of the Brooklyn artisanal food scene. It was tender and deeply flavorful, cooked just right. A sandwich made from beef this good would need something more than a slather of mayo and a slice Kale & Onionsof rye bread.

What kind of sandwich could honor such noble beef? To start with, how about adding some veggies. They’ll add contrast to the flavor and texture, stretch the leftover beef, and maybe contribute some measure of healthfulness. It would need to be something hearty to stand up to the flavor and bite of the beef: kale. I wanted mushrooms too, because they pair so perfectly with beef.  The final plan, then: braise the kale with the Roast Beefmushrooms and some onion in the leftover roast beef jus. Stir in thin slices of the beef just long enough to warm them – being careful not to allow them to cook any further. Pile this juicy mixture onto some thick slices of grilled bread. Top with cheese and give it a quick run under the broiler. Serve open-faced. Delicious.

That’s a sandwich for a special occasion though. I don’t expect to have leftovers from a tGrilled Breadop-quality cut of roast beef lying around very often? Nor  homemade roast beef jus for braising liquid? There should be a every-day version of this sandwich too. It’d need to use less extraordinary ingredients: sliced roast beef from the supermarket deli, say, and plain ol’ beef stock. The flavor wouldn’t match the Holiday Dinner Party Leftovers version, but then I wouldn’t have to wait until my next diner party to enjoy it.

Here’s a Steak Sandwich Recipe