Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On Crispy

I've finally decided. My favorite flavor is crispy. I love browned bits, burnt ends, toasty toast, blistered pizza crust...well, you get the picture. So Saturday night, looking for something to serve with boudin blanc and a lovely little Frenchy salad of mache and endive, I resurrected an old favorite recipe that takes crispy to its most glorious extreme: Kate's crispy potatoes.

Kate Rowe and I worked together at La Varenne cooking school in Burgundy, France, about 5 years ago. It was a long summer, filled with endless meals, long days, elaborate cooking techniques and scarce personal time. One night, when another group of unexpected guests was invited to stay for dinner, Kate and I quickly whipped together a meal. Salad with cheese, probably, maybe a couple roast chickens, some artichokes with big bowls of melted butter--who knows. What I do remember, though, was the debut of Kate's Crispies. Halfway between home fries and frites, these potatoes are rich, deliciously brown, and very simple to prepare. I'll caution you now--2 pounds of russet potatoes is enough for 4 people. While you're eating them, you'll probably wish you had more, but trust me--just TRUST me--you shouldn't eat more than a half-pound.

To make Kate's Crispies:
Peel 2 pounds of russet potatoes and cut them into 1-in. cubes. Put them into a cast-iron skillet (10-12 inch) or a small roasting pan and add 3/4 cup of sunflower oil and 1/4 cup olive oil (or all olive oil, if you prefer). Start the pan on the top of the stove over medium-high heat. You want the oil to heat up quickly, so the potatoes start to gently fry. Once the oil and pan is nice and hot, transfer the pan to a 425 degree oven and bake (I probably should say "fry-bake"), stirring every 10-15 minutes, until they are very brown, and very crispy, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Remove potatoes from oil with a slotted spoon, sprinkle generously with salt and eat! Save the oil that remains in the pan for another frying or roasting project.

Try them tonight--and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

5 Good Things

It's a little late, I know, to recount all of the best food things about 2006, now comfortably 16 days behind us. But I'm sure you'll still be happy to hear about 5 highlights of the table from this year gone by, and hopefully my recounting will lead to your own adventures--I look forward to hearing the news.

Last night, Sarah made us a peach cobbler (she's really perfected the recipe, and I'll post that one soon). I know you're probably thinking, "what would Alice (Waters, natch) say?" about serving peach cobbler in the depths of January? Well, you see, back in the heat of the summer there was this certain adopted tree, you might remember, and that tree yielded 6 cases of peaches. Once we had eaten our fill, I froze and canned the rest, to pull out when we were tired of oranges, chocolate, and gingerbread. So, best food thing 2006 #1? Those fresh peaches from Masumoto's farm. Good then, good now!

My brother is a good and enthusiastic cook, and his girlfriend's family has extraordinarily good taste: they bought him a fry-o-later for their apartment. I've given fry-o-laters as gifts, enjoyed many nights of tempura and wontons in the stinky kitchens of others, but have never broken down and bought one myself. So it's a real treat to go to his house, where the fry-o-later is extension corded out to their porch and perenially in service. Now, french fries are kind of our thing. My brother does the whole double-fry action so the fries are ultra-crisp on the outside and resemble mashed potatoes within, and it's the food we make to mark an occasion. We made them the night before we moved to California, and for our last supper of '06, making them good food thing #2: the homemade fry.

Does everyone already know about Vietnamese crepes? Is this old news? Well, I discovered them in 2006. These crispy little puppies are made with rice flour and coconut milk, fried just enough, then filled with bean sprouts, shrimp, and chicken. I squiggle Sriracha over the top and dig in. Recently, I looked up a recipe for the crepes (previously limited to take-out only) and think that 2007 could be the year I attempt this at home. Vietnamese Crepes? Good thing #3.

Wafuu curry, what my friend Sylvan calls the macaroni and cheese of Japan. Kind of like a stew, only with curry flavor. So savory! So succulent! Even when Sylvan confessed to using a pre-made curry base, as is typical in Japan, it only added to the appeal. Wafuu, I love you, you're #4.

In Belfast, Maine, there's this sweet little shop called Chase's Daily. It's owned by a farming family who have 500 acres out in Freedom, Maine, where they grow all sorts of great vegetables. This is worth a post of its own, but in the meantime I'll just say: walnut scones with apricot jam? Lucky #5. These not so sweet scones are loaded up with ground walnuts and formed into big rounds. Then, just before they are finished baking, they drop a couple of tablespoons of juicy, delicious apricot jam into the center. The end result is a bit like eating a piece of walnut toast with butter and jam. In other words, a great thing.