Sunday, July 6, 2008

Baby Soup

In the end, we didn't cook the baby. But we cooked the crap out of those fish heads.

Last night's dinner was a big pot of Tom Yum Gung, a spicy Thai soup. We didn't have every single ingredient so we improvised, starting with the homemade fish stock.

Bring a pot of water to a boil then throw in the fish heads (cleaned, with gills removed), some dry vermouth, a chopped onion and salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer and leave uncovered. Every now and then check to see if any foam has collected on top and skim it off. After about an hour, strain the stock and you're done. Sorry little salmon head.

For the soup, my advice is to throw in as many ingredients as you can find in your local market. We threw in all the following at once: sliced ginger, chopped garlic, dried shitake mushrooms, chopped scallops, fish sauce (not too much, just to taste), red chilies, lemongrass. The trick for cooking with lemongrass is not to try to slice it first but to bludgeon it and then slice it. That softens up an otherwise very hard vegetable. Watch your fingers.

The shrimp, in their shells, went in last. They're done as soon as they turn pink.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls than finish each one with chopped scallions, chopped cilantro and a few heavy squirts of fresh lime juice. If you're lucky, it'll look as good as ours did:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Kebab Workout

We gave our Weber Q-200 a real workout last weekend. I don't work for Weber but I can't say enough good things about the little Q-200. So small on the outside, so spacious on the inside.

We fit about 10 skewers on there, a few with chunks of sirloin and many more with onions, peppers and mushrooms -- everything got a coating of olive oil, salt, pepper and my special ingredient, Goya brand powdered Adobo. My love for Adobo is matched only by my love for the Q-200.

That's a spring onion in the foreground. We discovered them in Mexico City, grilled and served in baskets at every taqueria.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Oysters and Clams

Not much to say about these Wellfleets and Little Necks, except that N did a hell of a shucking job once again. Since we posted this photo, it was picked up by our latest online obsession, Food Gawker--a sort of porn site for food bloggers.

Here's a quick guide to a clean shucking oysters, according to the man himself...
  1. Grab a knife with a rigid, short, sharp blade and hold it in your strong hand. For me, that's my right. Don't use your best paring knife because it will probably get dinged up.
  2. Hold the oyster in a thickly folded kitchen towel placed over your other hand. (The towel protects you if the knife slips.)
  3. Find the soft part of the hinge on the back of the shell. On clams, this area is usually a darker color; on oysters it's lighter.
  4. Jam the point of your knife in there and pry the shell open by twisting the blade like a screwdriver. This part requires a lot of force and tons of patience. It took me dozens and dozens of tries before I got the hang of it. This is also the dangerous part, because when you're trying to push the blade in it can slip out and go into your hand. Careful.
  5. Once you make that screwdriver turn with the knife in the shell, you'll here a little pop as the whole thing instantly opens up. The shell is just open a little bit, but the worst is over.
  6. Run your knife along the top of the inside of the shell, releasing the meat from the shell.
  7. Open the shell all the way, and run your knife under the bottom half, releasing the meat from that part as well.
  8. Throw in a little lemon, a drop of Tabasco, and enjoy :)

Above: Releasing an oyster from the bottom shell. (Note that I'm not using a safety towel. Also note the blood at the base of my left thumb.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Three Burgers for Dinner

I've eaten two burgers in one sitting before, but this was the first time I ever crossed the line to three. The triple threat felt right at the time--not so great the next morning.

We kept it simple: a couple of pounds of chuck mixed by hand with breadcrumbs, raw egg, salt, pepper, ketchup, a dash of worcestshire. The special something was the blue cheese and the grilled english muffin. Also, the condiment buffet:

I focus on the main event, the bacon, but we also had a bowl of sauteed onions, a bowl of sauteed mushrooms, sliced gherkins, a few kinds of mustard, mayo, ketchup and an arugula salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Housewarming Tacos

To my five loyal readers: Thanks for sticking with Panzer Kitchen during this last long absence. We've been settling into the new place in Sunset Park, getting the kitchen organized and scoping out the markets.

I bought the shrimp for these tacos, the first meal cooked in Panzer Kitchen's new kitchen, at No. 1 Fei Long market on 8th Avenue in the heart of Brooklyn chinatown. Not to be confused with First Fei Long market across the street, No. 1 has fishmongers who will scoop out a live fish from one of the aquariums, bash it over the head with a sledgehammer and then clean and gut it for you. The fish don't feel a thing.

I drizzled the shrimp with olive oil then stuck them under the broiler for about five minutes on each side. Meanwhile, I crisped the tortillas stovetop, one at a time, right over an open flame. Do not walk away when you're doing this! It takes only a few seconds for the tortillas to start browning and if you don't flip them (tongs work best) right away, they'll catch fire. I've lit many tortillas on fire in my day, but I wouldn't recommend you do the same. Still, this is a far easier/tastier technique than warming them in the oven.

Here's what went on the taco: peeled shrimp, pico de gallo, mayo. That was all. And you know what the only truly essential ingredient was? Mayo. I could eat hot corn tortillas smeared with mayo any day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Death By Fern

They say fiddlehead ferns can kill you if eaten raw, or just give you a nasty G.I. infection. But they're so fun and green and crunchy, I can't resist them. I once picked some on the side of a road in rural Vermont (where I'm told they're the state vegetable), ate them and lived to tell about it.

The ferns above were blanched in boiling, salted water for a few minutes until they were slightly soft then sauteed with chopped onions in some olive oil.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The End of Chicken

All good things must end, and this is how our last night barbecuing chicken on the Panzer Kitchen patio ended.

Here's how it began:

And here was the secret to its success:

A third sauce, Vernon's Jerk, isn't pictured, but it was the clear winner. Still, I can't complain about the other two, as the photo up top proves.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Friday Night Swine

I started Panzer Kitchen about two months ago with the goal of expanding my range in the kitchen without hewing too closely to other people's recipes. I wanted to learn to cook, really cook, not just follow instructions. I'm beginning to think this was a good idea.

Last night I made something delicious of my own invention: pan-friend pork chops smothered (marinated?) in crushed almonds, fresh lime juice, olive oil, soy sauce, cilantro, garlic and jalapenos. That's right, I made it up, practically out of thin air. I never used to be able to do that.

I served it with a raspberry yogurt dipping sauce to cut the spice of the jalapeno and to add a touch of sweetness--also because I wanted to enter a monthly food blogging competition called The Royal Foodie Joust, hosted by the Leftover Queen, a real blog with actual ADVERTISEMENTS. The deal is you get three ingredients--in this case, raspberry, lime and almond--to turn into a meal.

I don't love this photo, but I need to prove to the judges that I used the raspberry yogurt. I did use it, I swear, and though not totally necessary, it also wasn't half bad.

Wait a second, I just realized anyone can be a judge! Just click on the link above, go to the June event and vote for me. Go on, vote for me. Do it. Do it.

Anyhoozle, if you want to make this yourself, and I encourage you to do so, just mix up the ingredients above in whichever proportions you prefer. I went light on the soy sauce, heavy on the lime juice and jalapeno, and used a hammer to crush a bag of raw, unsalted almonds. I massaged the mix all over the chops and then fried them up in olive oil. I would have grilled them outside if I hadn't discovered at the last minute that the grill was out of gas.

Word to the wise: the almonds will stick to the pan and they will burn. If you find they're getting too burned, remove them from the pan and set them aside. They'll be fine on the plate while you finish cooking the chops. I threw the extra almond mix into the pan because it was so tasty just cooked on its own.

When the meat was done, I deglazed the pan with soy sauce. I learned something from this, which is that when soy sauce is cooked on the stove and allowed to evaporate, it becomes extremely salty. Duh. Seems obvious now, but it didn't occur to me in that split second when my eyes happened on the bottle of Kikkoman and I thought: Deglaze! Still, a little dollop of this on the pork was a nice final touch.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sweet Satsumaimo!

Say that three times fast. Or just say Japanese sweet potato.

Baked for an hour at 400 degrees, slapped with butter and drizzled with maple syrup, it's a meal. Japanese sweet potatoes have a subtler taste and denser texture than your basic yam, with hints of chestnuts, pear and pound cake. I like them a thousand times better. The Internet tells me they're a fall harvest vegetable, which I believe, but my local market has them year round. The Internet also says they're from Japan, but I'm pretty sure this one's from South America.

For something fancier, try these:
Roast them with scallion butter [Epicurious]
Japanese Sweet Potato Cakes [My So-Called Japanese Life]
Japanese Sweet Potato Gratin [NY Mag]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Barbecued Chicken

This post is pretty much self explanatory. Cover chicken in a sauce and throw it on the grill. After that, it's all a matter of opinion. I like to start it out on a very very hot grill and get it nice and charred on both sides, basting every time I turn it. Toward the end, I'll turn the heat down (this doesn't apply if you've got a charcoal grill) to let it finish cooking on the inside. I've heard that eating the burned bits can kill you, but so can being bitten by the rabid squirrel who's still camping out on our patio, or getting hit by a speeding bicycle messenger. I'll take my chances.

Plenty of people make their own marinade, which is often delicious. But sometimes I prefer to go to an overpriced market and pay a premium (about $6 in the case of this jerk sauce) for a fancy marinade that also delivers--without the work.

Put the asparagus directly on the grill, moving around occasionally, and don't worry about it.

Stay tuned for more barbecue from the Panzer Patio before our move next week. Yes, we're moving! Not to a new home page, but to a new actual, 3-dimensional home in a place called Sunset Park. Google it.

We'll miss climbing out the bathroom window to get to our patio. Some guests think it's strange, also inconvenient, and even embarrassing when they actually have to use the toilet. But we think it's charming, in the way many things can be charming in tiny Brooklyn apartments, like book shelves made from old wine crates and breakfast "nooks".