Archive for January, 2011

SHANKS!

Ok.  Here it is.  I’ve been promising this one for a long time, and have finally gotten around to it.

Braising is a great thing to know how to do, and once you get a feel for the general technique you can apply it to all sorts of meats and even veg.  There are lots of different attitudes about braising.  Michael Psilakis has a recipe for braising goat that involves LOTS of liquid.  To me, braising is a pretty dry affair though.  Quite distinct from stewing, which is another way to slowly slowly make tougher meats fall apart and be delicious!

That is the crux of the thing.  Braising allows you to render otherwise tough meats completely tender.  Lamb shanks are the perfect first thing to try, because there’s really very little else you can do with them!!  They are simply some of the nicest meat on the lamb, and yet are super cheap here in the U.S., because no one seems to know how to cook them!  We WIN!

So here’s how it goes.  Don’t blink, it’s pretty simple.

Liberally salt and pepper the lamb.  In a nice heavy pan, brown the meat in some oil.  Pull it out and reserve.  Immediately, toss garlic and mirepoix (that’s french for celery, carrots, and onion) into the oil.  Saute the veg until it gets a little tender.  You’ll notice that JUST the liquid from the veg goes a long way to deglazing much of the meaty bits that are browned onto the pan.  Deglaze the pan properly by adding some red wine.  Arrange the meat in the pan.  Salt and pepper.  Add herbs (in this case I used thyme and rosemary).  Cover it up and put it in a nice slow oven.  275 or so.  300 maybe.  I don’t know, my oven dial isn’t accurate.

That’s it.  You’re done.  Now you just wait.  I suggest napping with your dog..  or perhaps taking a nice bath with a glass of bourbon.  Doesn’t matter.  You’ll find something good to do.  One of the great things about braising is that it really does the work on its own.  You can get it going, and then have plenty of time to clean up the kitchen, and do prep work for whatever else you’re eating, without having to worry too much about the last minute timing of the meat.

How long it takes will depend on the size of the piece of meat, and the actual temperature that you landed on!  But count on three hours or so.  Nice and slow.

Once you’ve got a handle on this technique, you can start inventing..  Sometimes for a nice mexican braised pork, I’ll brown a shoulder rubbed with cumin, and braise it over celery and onions, using Lime and Tequila as the liquid.  Same technique, totally different outcome.

Short ribs love to be braised.  Brisket! DUCK LEGS!!!

So, the fundamentals are..  browned meat, some sort of veg content (usually some variation on mirepoix), and a little liquid (it helps if the liquid has some acid content), heavy dutch oven type pot with a tight fitting lid.  Low low temperature, for a long time.  That’s it.

I won’t go into the potatoes and chard here.  Pretty self explanatory.  But I will just mention the mint pesto.  Last night was the first time I did it this way, and it was really pretty wonderful.  Mint, fresh lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, some sherry vinegar, and *gasp* a little sugar.  Zizz it up in a food processor and eat.  Do this right before you serve so that the pesto doesn’t go all dark and unappealing.

OK.  Enjoy.

Let me know if I left anything out.

OH, as a side note:  Sam Amidon stopped by while I was editing this, to talk about some music videos that I’m going to make for him.  We decided to throw “Way go Lily” on the top to see how it felt.  He loved it..  thought it had the vibe of a Kanye remix.  Sam is a tremendous artist, and you can listen to that track and others on his website.  (Once you’re there, if you follow the videos link, you’ll find a video that I made for him YEARS ago).

UPDATE! Holly asked if there was anything worthwhile to do with the leftover mirepoix/brazing liquid. There is, for SURE. If you skim off some of the fat (no all), and then toss the whole mess into a food processor, you can zizz it into a really tasty sauce. Return it to the pan after processing, pour in a bit of cream, put a little heat under it, and let it reduce just a little. Refresh it with a little fresh thyme. It’s not the prettiest stuff in the world.. Sort of an orange brown gook. But SUPER tasty.

sorry to say

That my eyebrows are letting go. You may not be able to tell from this picture, but that’s just because I started with so bloody much. I assure you, they are starting to go away. Hillary informs me that she has been noticing my lower eyelashes disappearing as well.. oh well. It’ll all come back.

I haven’t been posting, or taking, quite as many self portraits lately.  The erbitux does such a number on my skin, that most of the time my vanity gets in the way a little.  But, I guess, still important to document.  It’s easy to forget unpleasant things, and sometimes having a record of them can be meaningful later on.

Thank you all so much for your support on these food videos. Means the world to me. I’m having loads of fun making them.. It does take a certain amount of mental energy and multitasking to cook and film at the same time, but it’s totally worth it.

Tonight I will make braised lamb shanks. I will film it. And I will put up directions tomorrow (with a little luck). I’ve been promising a post on braising for ages, and the time has come. You’ve been warned.

Now I think I’ll go take a nap with my dog.

snow

The snow has been relentless here in NYC.

ALL of my treatment and appointments happen on the upper east side. It’s sort of a you-can’t-get-there-from-here part of the city. I live up in harlem on the west side.. I’ve been taking the train down to 72nd street and walking across central park. So, every day that I have an appointment I end up walking through strawberry fields, which is usually thronged with Italian tourists (?). Yesterday it was pretty quiet, but someone from the parks dept. HAD come out to clear off the imagine mosaic.

The park was magical.  I think they reported 15 inches of snow.  Schools were closed, so the kids were all in the park sledding.  I grew up in Vermont where this sort of dumping of snow was pretty common place.  We lived in the woods..  couldn’t see a neighbor’s house from ours.  So we were just surrounded by big beautiful snow covered trees and etc.  Yet somehow, to be in the middle of a MASSIVE city, and be able to wander into a winter wonderland is another thing all together.

My walk across the park yesterday was to head out to east river medical imaging (the MRI store).  When I reported the joint pain to my doc during my monday appointment, he decided he wanted me to have an MRI of the spine.  Given the consistent pattern of the timing of the joint pain, I’m pretty convinced that it’s just another ghastly chemo side effect..  Another thing that you just have to go through to get to the treatment finish line.  But my doc is clearly taking no chances.  When I complain of pain now, he takes it pretty seriously.  I suppose I’ll find out today if there’s anything nefarious causing it.

Aztec Soup

Ok so. I waffled a little about posting this video, because I wasn’t entirely happy with it, but decided in the end that it was perfectly suitable as an instructional and that it needn’t be much more than that!*** The soup, at any rate, is delicious.

Of all the things that I’ve made repeatedly over the years, this may go the farthest back and is the one that the most people have asked me to show them how to make. I’ve been making this soup since I was in high school, 20 years ago. It has changed little over the years. It may have as little to do with the Aztecs as I do, but that’s what I’ve always called it anyway.

There’s a quick way and a protracted way to go about it. I’ll describe the longer version first.

  • A whole chicken
  • Onions
  • Poblano peppers
  • Ancho chiles
  • Cumin
  • Garlic
  • Limes
  • Fresh tortillas
  • Cilantro
  • Mix of Cheddar and Jack cheese

Make chicken stock. I’ve discussed this in another post, so I won’t go on about it here (except maybe to remind you again to put a bowl under the colander when you strain it so you don’t pour what you’re trying to keep down the drain!!). For this particular soup, you can rehydrate some ancho chiles in the stock as it simmers. This allows you to capture all that nice chile tea!  Anchos are great, and with the lime are really the core flavor of this soup.  “Ancho” means wide, and is the name they give the dried version of poblano chiles.  AHA!  Usually in the supermarket poblanos are dark green, but as they mature, they turn red (like bell peppers) and get sweeter.  The dried version is not a particularly spicy chile, but is super fruity and flavorful.  It sort of tastes like apricots.

Roast poblano peppers over open flame, turning them now and then.  The goal is to char/blister the skin.  Do this HOT.  The cooler you do it, the more you cook the chile pepper before blistering the skin, and I happen to like my roasted chiles to still have a little resistance to them, especially if they’re going into a soup.  Once they’re charred, place them in a plastic bag and let them rest.  They’ll sweat in there like a little chile sauna, and by the time they’ve cooled, the skins will come off easily.  Peel them, core them, remove the seeds, cut them into ribbons and reserve.

Juice some limes.  Lots!

Make some tortilla chips.  Hot oil.  A wok works well to give you a little depth without having to use TOO much oil.  Work in batches, and if you have a weak stove, allow the oil to get back up to temp between those batches.  Making your own is SO much better than buying the bagged kind.  Homemade ones are thicker and have a completely different texture.  They hold up MUCH better in soup, too.  When you pull them out of the oil, let them drain on some brown paper, and immediately salt them!!

Slice onions.  Slice the hydrated ancho chiles.  Dice some garlic.

Put a nice big heavy soup pot on the stove, and warm it up over medium heat.  Coat the bottom with oil.  Drop in the garlic and the chiles.  Let these simmer and infuse the oil for a moment, then add a good amount of ground cumin.  The cumin is super absorbent, and may gum up the works if you haven’t got enough oil in the pot..  no problem!  Add a little more.  Eventually add the onions, and saute the whole mix.  Once the onions are starting to go a little translucent and have taken on the red of the chiles, add the chicken, and stir to coat.  Add chicken stock to cover.  Allow this to sit over very low heat for half an hour or so.  Just let it steep.  When you’re ready to eat, add the roasted poblanos and lime juice.

Serve it however you like!  I like to fill a bowl with torilla chips and cheese, and just ladle the soup over the top.  A little cilantro and, TA DA!

  • If they’re in season, it is delicious to add slices of avocado at the last moment.  Use one on the slightly firm side of ripe and it’ll hold up in there beautifully.
  • As described here, this isn’t a super spicy soup!  Anchos and poblanos are both very mild.  Feel free to spice it up with the addition of some hotter chiles, fresh or dried.
  • The quick version mentioned above is to skip the process of making stock.  If you use decent store bought stock, and the meat from a rotisserie chicken, you can make this soup in about 20 minutes flat, and it’s still awfully good!

***Those of you still reading are total champs.  I’m experimenting with this whole directions for cooking thing.  Soon I will be writing a proper diatribe against the “recipe.”  I hate the word, and I’ll try to convince you to hate it too.  In the mean time, I’m liking this idea of a visual aid..  Not a proper instructional video with spoken directions and etc, but instead something that captures the spirit of the thing a little.  I feel that a supa fast video (could also be a bunch of stills, but they’d take up too much room!), along with some written instructions could be a working combination.  Please let me know if it works for you..  or, at the very least is entertaining!

I’ll admit

This week has been pretty rough.

I went into the round with a bit of a cold, which I haven’t managed to shake (imagine..). That hasn’t really helped. But the real issue is a set of joint/body aches that have begun to set in like clock work on the thursday of a treatment week.

It’s such a confusing thing to have wednesday as I get unplugged feel so good and so freeing, and then wake up on thursday feeling as though I’ve been beaten with bats. The pain is centered around my upper spine, but radiates down my arms and can feel concentrated around the elbows, wrists. It is agonizing (please believe that I am not being dramatic). Last treatment round it was isolated to thursday, but this round has been MUCH more severe and I’m still feeling it saturday morning. Have had to take meds to sleep. My doc says it sounds like the flu. I agree! It DOES sound like the flu. A flu that I’ve caught every thursday after a round of chemo!!

(I should pause here. I give my doctor a hard time on this blog because some of the things that come out of his mouth are absurd. You should also know that we’ve known each other since I was 4. He loves me as a son, and, in fact, sometimes introduces me as his son. We swear at each other and give each other a pretty hard time. I say something flippant and he says, “you’re an asshole..”  I raise my eyebrows at him..  “oh.. yeah.. poor taste.. well, you’re a dickhead!”  His favorite game is to pretend that the things happening to me are in my head and not actually side effects of the poison he’s pushing into my system. “People don’t loose their hair on folfox, Ezra” “I beg your pardon!! I HAVE. TWICE!!!” He confided in me the other day, that oncologists who feel pity for their patients and back off when side effects crop up, loose patients. They die. He is a cancer survivor himself, and has been through pretty brutal treatment. It’s not that he doesn’t know..)

I am hoping that this week’s days of pain have been exacerbated by my cold, and that this isn’t a worsening trend.

I did still manage to cook dinner the last two nights.. thursday for a crowd of around 10 at my parents’ place, and last night for my good friends Liza and Darius and their awesome kids. Not all is lost. I will blunder through! I also managed to play 6 hours of pool yesterday with my good friend Jeremiah. I’ve found that the pain doesn’t change much whether I’m resting or active.. sooo, might as well do some stuff!

sardine pasta

Here’s my take on a Sicilian classic. Made it last night.
Using fresh sardines is a serious bonus, but not strictly necessary. Canned sardines are GREAT, and a really easy thing to have around.

You’ll need:
Sardines
Onion
Garlic
Red pepper flakes
Pine nuts*
Golden raisins*
parsley
bread crumbs
grape tomatoes*

*really all quite optional! This CAN be a very simple pasta, made from things that are easy to keep in the pantry, and still taste great.

Get a big pot of pasta water going. Lots of salt.

If using fresh sardines, liberally salt them and coat with olive oil. In a grill pan or cast iron or whatever you’ve got around, grill them up! A grill pan with a panini press works beautifully. Pretty high heat.. first side for a couple of minutes.. second side a little less. You’ll be able to tell.
Once they’ve cooled a little, flake the meat of the bones and reserve.. Don’t worry too much about the really fine bones.. you won’t choke on them. If you’re using canned sardines, just pull them out of the can and chop them coarsely.

Dice onions. Dice garlic. Pan roast grape tomatoes. Soak golden raisins in warm water. Toast pine nuts.

You’re ready to go!

Start the pasta. Everything remaining will take about the same amount of time as the past will to cook.

Saute the garlic, red pepper flakes, and onions in a nice flashy pan.
Once the onions are looking translucent, add the pine nuts and raisins and sardines.
Keep the mixture moving, but delicately. Sardines are pretty delicate little fishies, and it’s easy to make them totally disintegrate at this stage (which some people like in this pasta.. I prefer a chunkier more rustic feeling version).

Once the past is finished and drained, add the parsley to the pan, followed by the pasta.. Make sure that there’s plenty of olive oil in the pan to keep the pasta from sticking. Toss delicately but well. Add the tomatoes and incorporate.

Divide onto plates, and top with pan toasted bread crumbs and good Parmesan. (now before you purists jump down my throat about mixing cheese and fish, I’m happy to say that while I know it’s sacrilege, I happen to like it in this case! um. so there.)

Enjoy.

One of the really nice things about this little pasta dish is that sardines are one of the fishies we’re really supposed to be eating. They reproduce fast, reach maturity fast, are at the bottom of the food chain, so they don’t accumulate tons of heavy metals, and they are NOT over fished. They are also chock full of all those amazingly good for you fish oils. And on top of it all, they’re CHEAP! The six you saw in the video cost us just over $5 (a NICE can of them can cost as much and only yield about a third the meat. Mind you, fresh ones aren’t easy to find. We’re lucky to have two supermarkets nearby that have them a couple of days a week).

This week has been ok. Night 1 was brutal. Aches and pains, nausea, etc. Didn’t eat much dinner.
Morning of day two I was still feeling pretty crappy, but put on full rain gear and strolled across the park in the sleet/rain. It was simply beautiful. Hardly a soul in the park. beautiful white and grey day. I felt better leaving chemo than I had felt when I walked in. The oxaliplatin from the day before seemed to have worked it’s way out of my system. I came home, napped, and cooked some dinner.

Feeling fine today. I’ll head in at around 11 to get this bloody pump unplugged and then go down town to play a little pool with Jeremiah. It’s a rough life!

EDIT: obviously this post didn’t go up quite when I expected it to. Video still needed a little work. It’s evening now. Feeling a little beat up from this round, but DID manage to play pool all afternoon with my good friend J. Came home. Finished up the video. For those of you who actually try some of these directions for cooking, let me know if the video helps.. It seems to me that with my stubborn unwillingness to give amounts, or even terribly clear directions, that seeing it unfold, even at warp speed, might elucidate things a little. If so, I will endeavor to keep them coming.

Big love.

more food movies

This was dinner last night.

Bracing myself today to head back in for more juice.
Sunday is always a little mixed. It’s about as good as I can feel, but with a twinge of anxiety about monday morning. Oh well. Another round will be over before I know it.

Hill is back!

What an amazing relief.  Emily did an excellent job while she was gone of helping with the dog, and doing grocery runs, and being a generally awesome roommate.  Still, it is awfully nice to have my wife back.  And it creates many more snuggle opportunities at night for putney.  Twice as many and twice as LONG legs to get tangled up in.

I made her some pretty nice welcome home food.  Braised/grilled octopus on top of some nice mache and chickpea confit.  Cornmealed cod and nova scotia pan roasted potatoes with greek inspired olive caper sauce that was outrageous.  That really sounds like “with a” food..  which I’m generally against.  I guess if I were serving this in a restaurant it would just be called, octopus salad, and cod with potatoes.

I shot the mise en place for this one..

Missing is the cara cara orange reduction vinaigrette for the mache.  ooooh…  faaancy.  Oh well.

As a brief side note I would just like to say, that while I am not able to work these days, I AM able to put food on the table 13 nights out of 14.  It is only on the first day of a round of the heavy stuff that I am layed so low that I can’t cook.  A shred of usefulness that keeps me from feeling that I am purely a drain these days.

I have a cold.  GAH!!  It is somehow..  miraculously.. the first cold that I’ve had since my original diagnosis.  Seriously.  Last winter even, when I was “cured” (remember? ha!), I didn’t succumb to the winter flu.  Something that I have done at least once a year the whole time I’ve lived in NYC.  I thought perhaps that this was one of the strange upsides to having cancer.. and cancer treatment: no more colds!  Like maybe all that toxic shit just made my body too unwelcome a place for viruses.  Nope.  Bloody cold.  I’m hoping it passes through quickly on this off week before I start up the real stuff again.

I went in for the erbitux yesterday.  Pretty uneventful.  A nice walk across the park and back.  The stuff is ravaging my face and head at the moment.  I’m not looking particularly cute (so you get pictures of food).  The doc said I could do a quick round of tetracycline, which usually clears it up a bit.  Just so I don’t look quite so mangy.  I told him about the cold, though my voice was probably a give away.  More gleeful hand rubbing.

“You know, that’s actually GOOD?”

“Yeah yeah.. I’ve heard all about the fact the cold symptoms are really just a healthy immune system’s response to invading viruses..   bla bla..”

“Yes! but also it will encourage the growth of lymphocytes which are helpful in the….”

“you’re making this shit up.”  (though I looked it up just now, and in fact, one of the types of lymphocytes, NK cells (Natural Killer cells.. Not Kidding), DO actually defend the host from growing tumors!)

Had I known this earlier, I would have spent more time touching door knobs in public places and rubbing faces with snot nosed kids in the neighborhood..  (“HEY!  what are you doing with my kid!!??”  “Curing cancer, ma’am..  nothing to worry about”)

A note to those who requested that the snowy phone photo go up on etsy.  It is there.  Thanks for the encouragement.

from the ether

The following message appeared on my flickr stream last night, and I felt I should republish it here:

Dear Cancer, sorry for my bed english, bud I wanted to write you this letter for long time. You are not right here, because, not any of Ezras frient or any meber of the family including dog, needs you to come and test, if our love is strong enough. Ezra is working well, you fuck, and we need his photos and bikes. If you don’t like to ride bikes, it doesen’t meen, that others don’t like it, you know. If you don’t like dogs, it doesen’t meen that others don’t love them you fucking egoist. Ezra is here with us, and you, FUCK OF HERE!!!. Your sincerely Janis. Hold on Ezra.

Janis, your bed english is perfect.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I’m guzzling down a cup of coffee and then heading off to see the doc about this bloody fistula.  News as the day progresses.

UPDATE!

Already back from the doc.  There is nothing wrong.  He took a look at the pocket and probed a little, found that it was very shallow, and not in fact a tunnel into my insides.

His explanation about where all the blood had come from was pretty vague, but he was clearly not concerned..  So neither am I.

I walked home through central park.  It’s snowing.  Fresh beautiful falling snow in the park.  Walking around the reservoir, a whole flock of seagulls sitting on a piece of ice out in the middle.  What a beautiful world!  Hardly another soul around.

Now I think I’ll go play a little pool.

UPDATE 2

Thank you all for the encouragement.  For better or worse, this photo is now available on Etsy.  You said to print it.  I was skeptical.  I tweaked and prodded a little, and ended up with a print that I think is quite beautiful.  Who would have thought!!?  (well, I guess a few of you did..)

break’s over

I went back on the juice yesterday.  It’s not the worse round I’ve had, but I did wake up feeling like I’d been beaten with bats.  Hill took off for North Carolina this morning, to visit family.  My reprieve last week screwed up the schedule a little, and she was a little anxious about leaving while I was in the middle of a treatment..  so far so good, though.  She’s been gone for about 20 minutes.

Something strange happened last friday.  I got out of bed and scratched my ass on the way to the bathroom to take a pee..  My hand came up bloody.  “Hey baby, look at this!”  I showed her my hand.  “What on earth is that!?”  “Not sure,” I said, and tried the other hand.  Same thing.  Covered with blood.  Then I started noticing it running down the backs of my legs.  WTF!!  I jumped in the shower leaving a trail of blood on the floor, and stayed in there until it stopped.  There’s a spot towards the top of my perineal incision that isn’t entirely closed..  I’m trying to think of some simple sewing analogy to help explain it, but can’t really.  Anyway.  There’s a bit of a hole back there..  about half way up to the top of my ass crack.  And on friday it gushed blood.  Weird.  Then yesterday again as I was getting out of bed, though not as bad.  I showed it to the doc.  “Hmm… Looks like a fistula..”  (he heee!!!   A Fistula in my Asstula!!  How do you keep a straight face for that!).  Apparently we have to find out how deep it goes, perhaps by injecting some sort of contrast into it and taking xrays..  or another cat scan..  something.  Then it has to be cleaned out and closed.  More surgery possibly.

I’m feeling like such hell from the chemo, that I can’t imagine heading in to see the surgeon for a few days yet, but it may be out of my hands.  We’ll see what happens when I go in today.

I’m through the worst of this round.  I get the oxaliplatin on the first day, and that’s the one that really seems to knock me sideways.  Nausea, and numbness in the hands, and occasionally serious aches and pains.  Generally, though, by day two I’m able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ll go in today for Erbitux and more leukovorin..  Then home with the pump over night (I have pierogies and kielbasa waiting for me for dinner.  The only advantage to Hill being gone is that I get to cook stuff she’s not normally too excited about!).  Unplugged tomorrow, and with any luck straight to the pool hall for some meditation!  (that bloody fistula *te heeee!!!* might derail my plans a little, though).