Food for Thought: No Place Like Kitchen

I was tumbling down a rabbit hole in search of a recipe for morkovcha, which is a Korean-style Uzbek carrot salad, when I landed on the wonderful No Place Like Kitchen website. Not only does Olga provide some of the most accessible Russian home-cook recipes I’ve found, but she writes like Boris and Natasha talked on the old Bullwinkle cartoon show.

Here, for example, is her description of the mysterious “Olivie” which according to my friend Leo always makes an appearance at Russian ex-pat picnics: Salad Olivier was named for a French chef Lucien Olivier [aha!], but this is not his original recipe (it was lost). Soviet cooks simplified the similar recipe and now this is the most popular salad for a exUSSR holiday tables. Variation with chicken meat is called Stolichniy Salad (Capital Salad). Some add onion, fresh cucumber and sour apples, some put on top shrimps or crab leg. Even carrot is latest edition for this plain winter salad. Here are some rules: number of potatoes equal number of eaters, never mix hot and cold foods.

Now you’re in love with Olga, right? And you will like her even more when you see her photo on the About page, where she is inexplicably balancing two small pumpkins above her head like Mickey Mouse ears. And I haven’t even tried the recipes yet. Check it out.

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Food for Thought: Dr. Ludwig’s “Always Hungry?” diet

Shepherds Pie

Always Hungry? Shepherd’s Pie

I needed to lose a few pounds before a surgery and my wife recommended I read Always Hungry? by Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard nutritional researcher. In a nutshell, the eating method (which Ludwig does not call a diet, and which he does not promise will make you lose weight) in this book resets the body’s insulin function so you are less likely to crave foods that are unhealthy for various reasons, including packing on the pounds. The more moderate version of the diet has you limiting (not eliminating) simple carbohydrates such as white sugar, white potatoes, white flour, white rice and alas, alcohol. But there was also a extreme, fast-start version with a two-week meal plan and that’s what I opted for. I wanted to see how these foods tasted as well as how they affected me.

The best thing on the diet (and according to Dr. Ludwig this is a pretty unanimous vote) is the Shepherd’s Pie shown above. Its base is a funky Eastern European melange of chopped onion, fennel and cabbage mixed with ground beef and on top of that, substituting for the potatoes, a poultice of ground cauliflower and cannellini beans. It’s delicious and filling and I would happily eat it on its own merits. Dr. Ludwig’s Frittata is another excellent dish, as the original recipe for the shrimp curry I modded here. In fact, virtually everything I’ve covered on the blog for the past month (since my fruitcake post) would fit into the regimen.

Does it work? I’m now back to regular eating with very few concessions to the plan (I’ll substitute sweet potatoes for white potatoes when I can, for example, a change that’s hardly punishment) and hovering at a good 10 pounds below my starting weight. A key is that the good doctor includes a good amount of treats (dark chocolate! whipped cream!) which keep you from feeling deprived so you’ll stick with it. You can still eat brisket (as long as it’s not sauced, but we would never do that) and Snow’s beans and cole slaw* so there’s reason not to investigate at least. Check it out.

*One minor tweak: you can’t use Hellman’s/Best Foods mayo for the cole slaw because it contains sugar, so you’ll have to find a sugar-free brand or make your own, possibly using Ludwig’s not-bad eggless recipe.

 

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Recipe: Giardinara (Mixed Pickled Vegetables)

Giardinara

Giardinara

Here is a simple Giardinara recipe that uses no oil or sugar so the fresh flavor of the vegetables comes through. Feel free to vary based on what’s on sale/looks good/is on hand. Makes 3 quarts.

Ingredients:
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
2-3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
4 stalks celery, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1 inch pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into 1 inch pieces
1 bulb fennel (optional), peeled and cut on the bias into ½ inch pieces (so you can tell it apart from the celery)
½ c salt
3 c white vinegar
2 c water
2 T dried oregano
2 t salt
1 t crushed red pepper (adjust to taste; this amount will give a nice kick)
1 t celery seed
3 or 4 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic

Method: prep the vegetables and transfer to a large stainless or glass bowl. Add ½ c salt and mix with your hands so all surfaces are well exposed to the salt. Add water to cover and let sit on the counter overnight. Drain and pack into jars (sterilized if you’re going to can it, just clean if you will keep it in the refrigerator).

Bring the water and vinegar to the boil with 2 t salt and spices in a saucepan. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for a few minutes. When it is warm but no longer hot, strain through a fine mesh strainer and pour over the vegetables in the jars. Add more vinegar and water as needed in the same ratio of 3 parts vinegar/2 parts water to completely fill jars. Seal jars and refrigerate, or can using your usual method. Allow giardinara to cure to least 3 days before serving as a condiment or sandwich ingredient.

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Can I turn leftover Buffalo wings into Korean Fried Chicken?

KFC from Buffalo Wings

Best Way Buffalo Wings, respawned as Korean chicken

“I’m sick of wings now that the Super Bowl is over,” writes no one in particular. “Is there any way I can turn leftover Buffalo wings into Korean Fried Chicken wings?”

Yes, though there’s a small caveat. Unless your wings were breaded or battered to begin with, they won’t soak up as much sauce as from-scratch KFC. But they’re still mighty good, and a nice change of pace that will rekindle your enthusiasm for these fatty extremities.

Method: make the sauce according to our recipe for Korean Fried Chicken or Easy Korean Chicken, adjusting the proportions for the amount of wings you have. Heat the wings in the microwave or on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven until they are sizzling. Transfer to a metal or glass bowl with tongs so the Buffalo sauce drips off and stays behind. Toss with the Korean chicken sauce and allow to rest at room temperature for at least two hours, then serve.

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Recipe: Adventure Bread with Steel-Cut Oats

Josey Baker's Adventure Bread

Adventure Bread toasted with melted butter… so good.

Josey Baker’s Adventure Bread is wonderfully hearty stuff… dense and flavorful with the nutrition and energy you need for a long hike, or maybe a march for a worthy cause. I’ve modified the original recipe to use steel cut oats with the option of swapping out hemp hearts for flaxseed (which I personally dislike). Makes one loaf that you’ll cut into two 8 inch by 2 inch bricks. (Note that you’ll need to buy an 8 inch by 4 inch non-stick bread pan if you don’t already have one.)

Ingredients:
2 1/4 c steel cut oats
2 1/2 c water
1 c sunflower seeds, hulled
1/2 c pumpkin seeds, hulled
3/4 c almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 c flaxseeds OR help hearts
1/3-1/2 c psyllium seed husks* (1/3 c if using flaxseeds, 1/2 c if using hemp hearts)
3 T chia seeds
2 t Kosher salt
2 T maple syrup (Grade B preferred)
1/4 c olive oil

Method: bring water to boil and pour over oats in a heatproof bowl; soak overnight. Toast the pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes (don’t let them burn). Add seeds and all other dry ingredients to oats and mix thoroughly. Add maple syrup and olive oil and mix again; taste for salt and add a bit more if needed. Transfer to an 8 inch by 4 inch bread pan which has been rubbed with oil or butter. Bake 1 hour or longer in a 400 degree oven or until bread pulls away from sides of pan. (Longer baking, up to 1 1/2 hours, doesn’t seem to hurt.) Turn out on a rack and cool at least two hours before slicing, then cut lengthwise into two loaves with a sharp serrated knife. Enjoy as-is or toasted with butter, nut butter or cheese.

*Psyllium, pronounced “silly-um”, sounds like something out of an Uncle Scrooge comic but it’s essential to bind the ingredients since there is no gluten. To add to the merriment, psyllium is usually marketed as a colon health product though you may be able to find it in the bulk baking goods section.

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Recipe: Sweet Potato Salad

Sweet Potato Salad

Sweet Potato Salad

Why not? Sweet potato salad is a nice change of pace from “regular” potato salad, better looking, and better for you. Serves four, though the recipe is very extensible.

Ingredients:
1 large yam, about 1 lb
¼ c diced dill pickle or pickle relish, drained
¼ c finely chopped onion
¼ c roast pepper cut julienne, OR ½ red or green bell pepper, diced
¼ c mayonnaise
½ t salt
Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)

Method: peel the yam and cut into 1 ½ inch chunks. Boil in salted water until just tender, about 15 minutes. (Sweet potatoes cook faster than white potatoes, it turns out.) Drain and mix with other ingredients, mashing slightly as you go. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to blend flavors. Serve with optional pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.

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Results of our Buffalo Wing Taste Test

As promised, I’m sharing the results of yesterday’s taste test of Oven-Baked Buffalo Wings. All were cooked in a 400 degree oven for 50 minutes and sauced with Frank’s recipe for a butter/hot sauce combo, so the variation is in what happened before the wings hit the heat. Here are the judges’ preferences, from worst to best.

  1. Alton Brown style steamed wings. The steaming takes out a lot of the fat, which is maybe why some people appreciated this method. But we like fat, so this was a big dud.
  2. Brined. I thought the brine might seal in the juices and make for a moister wing, and it did. But one of our three tasters scored this a zero (for the texture? Or extra salt from the brine? She wouldn’t say, just that it was trashcan material) thus knocking it out of the running.
  3. Hooters-style with the wings dredged in flour, then dipped. The extra layer added complexity, which I appreciated. But other tasters wanted to get right to the meat.
  4. Just plain wings, straight out of the package. Everybody loved these, maybe because there was nothing not to like.
    And, the winner….
  5. Plain wings, dipped in sauce just before cooking. The sauce caramelized and created some nice pockets of flavor here and there, putting these over the top. But the difference vs. just plain wings was subtle. Both scored far higher than the other three contenders.

Are you surprised? I was. On the other hand all the preps except steamed tasted pretty good to me, which is what I’ve found in two previous Buffalo wing judgings. It’s just hard to mess up wings, unless you over or under cook or go cheap on the sauce or, god forbid, use meat that is past its prime. Maybe I would appreciate the subtle variations more if I was a native New Yorker; I can imagine a Northerner saying that all brisket tastes the same, absurd though that statement is.

Anyway, isn’t it nice that the best prep is also one of the easiest? The recipe, if you need it, is here. Enjoy the game… Go Cowboys! What? You say they’re not playing? Okay, then forget it.

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Recipe: Best Way Buffalo Wings

Best Way Buffalo Wings

Best Way Buffalo Wings

Best Way Buffalo Wings because they’re the winner in our five-way test. The prep has been slightly tweaked to bring it to easy perfection. Allow 8-12 wing pieces per person, so this base recipe will serve about 4.

Ingredients:
1/2 c Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (regular style)
1/3 c butter (2/3 of a stick)
4 lbs chicken wings
Salt and pepper

Method: preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine Frank’s and butter in a saucepan and heat till the butter melts. Dissect the wings, separating the flats and drumettes and saving the tips for chicken stock. Place wings in a bowl and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over about half the butter/sauce mixture and toss to coat thoroughly.

Spread the wings on sheet pans which are lined with parchment paper or silicone sheets. (Recipe will require two half sheet pans, because you want the wings nicely spread out so they’ll cook evenly.) Roast in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then turn and roast 30 minutes more or until reddish brown and crispy. Toss in remaining sauce (don’t use the same bowl as for the raw chicken unless you wash it) and serve immediately, with carrot and celery sticks and Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing for dipping.

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Taste Test: Oven-Roasted Buffalo Wings

Best Oven-Roasted Buffalo Wings

The wining recipe for oven-roasted Buffalo wings. Unfortunately, the sticky identifying the prep got covered up…

Planning a wingfest for Super Bowl Sunday and wondering what’s the best way to prepare Oven-Roasted Buffalo Wings? We’ve got your playbook right here. We tested several different preps and came up with a somewhat definitive winner that’s also easy to make and as good as anything you’re going to get in a bar.

First things first. Are oven-roasted Buffalo wings really going to be as good as those fried in oil? Yes, because the wings contain so much fat they essentially fry themselves. (I’ve never worked in a wing restaurant, but I suspect they might have to have a dedicated fryer because of all the chicken fat that leaches into the oil.) And second, don’t worry about elaborate preps for your hot sauce. The very simple recipe on the Frank’s Red Hot website—a ratio of ½ c Frank’s sauce to 1/3 c melted butter—is exactly what you’re looking for.

Raw Buffalo Wings

Wings ready to go into the oven. Left to right, top to bottom: pre sauced plan wings; just plain wings; Hooters style with flour and sauce; brined; steamed

We started with cheap supermarket wings, clipped the tips for stock and cut the wings into drumettes and flats. These were then divided into the following preps:

  • Straight out of the package, salt and pepper seasoning, dipped in sauce before roasting.
  • Straight out of the package and onto the sheet pan, with no seasoning other than salt and pepper.
  • Hooters style in which the wings were rolled in flour seasoned with garlic powder, salt and pepper and cayenne, then dipped in sauce before roasting.
  • Brined for 24 hours in the Chez Panisse formula of 2 T Kosher salt/1 T sugar/1 pint water, towel-dried, and cooked without pre-saucing.
  • Steamed for 10 minutes according to the Alton Brown method, towel-dried, and cooked without pre-saucing.

Roasting was done on silicone sheets (you could also use parchment paper) in half-sheet pans at 400 degrees. 20 minutes on one side, flipped and cooked for 30 minutes on the other side for a crispy result. As mentioned above, these guys throw off a lot of fat; by the end your pan will be swimming in it. It would be worth experimenting with cooking on a wire rack or draining off the fat for the last 10 minutes of cooking to get a crispier result.

At the end, the wings were uniformly dipped in the Frank’s/melted butter sauce (we had a little left over from the pre-cook dipping, and we boiled it thoroughly along with fresh sauce to remove any contamination) and served piping hot. Of course, generous quantities of carrot and celery sticks were made available along with a tub of our Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing for dipping.

The winner? Well, you’ll have to come back tomorrow to see what that is. But don’t worry, it’s so easy you’ll have plenty of time to get ready for the big game.

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Tips for enjoying Saratoga Chowderfest 2017

Chowder Crowds

Long lines at a previous Saratoga Chowderfest in mild weather (2014)

Saratoga Chowderfest 2017 is this Saturday, February 4, from 11 to 4, and with mild weather the downtown should be packed. Here are a few strategies for making the most of this event, in which you can sample endless 3-oz chowder servings for $1 each and vote on your favorites:

  1. Don’t even think of driving downtown, if you don’t already live in Saratoga. There will be no parking (and a guaranteed parking ticket if you follow the crowd and ignore the posted signs) and Route 9 will be seriously backed up. Instead, park near Dick’s Sporting Goods at Wilton Mall (Exit 15) or the Saratoga Casino (take Exit 13 north, then right on Crescent) and take the shuttle in to town.

  2. Start your tasting at the City Center. Here you can pick up a ballot (ballots are also available, but intermittently, at individual serving stands) and sample several establishments gathered in one place.

  3. Study the writeup at Discover Saratoga (excellent interactive map and listing of participants but, confusingly, some info from last year’s event is still posted so be sure you are looking at 2017 details not 2016) and make a game plan. My strategy is to pick a few destination spots, then sample opportunistically at other places that catch my eye nearby. Be prepared to adjust your plan if you encounter very long lines (though sometimes these move rapidly, as at Druthers) or very short lines (this place doesn’t seem very popular, but it’s only a dollar so what do you have to lose?)

Druthers Chowder

A previous year’s Druthers Chowder featuring a crab claw

Here are a few chowders I have my eye on:

  • Sperry’s: these guys will have just opened after the fire and want to attract new business, so expect something special
  • Diamond Grill: another new guy in the Embassy Suites at Congress Plaza; rumor has it they will have 4 chowders and a live band
  • Parting Glass: usually something outrageous with an Irish theme (one year there were croutons soaked in Irish whiskey)
  • Druthers: another spot that generally puts on the dog (one year there was a big hunk of crab claw in every serving)
  • Dango’s: Buffalo chicken chowder with a wing as the “spoon”
  • Seven Horse Pub: just damn good chowder
  • Peabody’s: “Smoked crab with sweet corn topped with Irish whiskey crackers” sounds mighty good to me though I’ve had a disappointing experience with this restaurant
  • Parkside Eatery: these guys make great soup, which I like to sample while waiting for a sandwich, so you can expect their chowder to be solid
  • Longfellows: “Pork belly sea scallop chowder” sounds wonderful though it’s not downtown but at their restaurant off Exit 14; maybe worth getting off here then driving back roads to Wilton Mall to park (check the map)
  1. Mark your ballot and turn it in when you’re done at the City Center or Visitor’s Center—that’s part of the fun. Plus you can buy a garish long-sleeve t-shirt to remember the day for a more than reasonable $10.

According to the Saratogian, 40,000 people visited Chowderfest last year and 130,000 samples were served. That’s less than three samples per person, which is a crime. You and I can certainly do better. I’ve averaged 5 tastes on a casual year (when I also went home and had lunch) and at times far more. Let’s chowder down!

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