Friday, November 9, 2012

Shwarma, Charm City Style

This has been a long,  hard work week for me. When Friday lunch rolled around, I wanted something that would put a smile on my face. And what  better food choice than shwarma. Shwarma is a happy word. Just saying it make me smile.

When the Charm City Gourmet food truck pulled up along side my office building again for the second Friday in a row, I was pleased to find this Middle Eastern classic among the new items on the menu. Nestled in a deep, American-style pita pocket coated with tahini, the Charm City beef shwarma is tender and juicy and spicy. Charm City Gourmet also adds what they call Israeli salad, a relish of diced tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, and peppers with a confetti of parsley that is uniformly mixed among the meat throughout the sandwich. A little tzaziki and a little spicy red pepper sauce were the perfect crown. It was just what I needed.

If Charm City Gourmet successfully pulls in the old Silver Platter crowd and becomes a regular fixture on Fridays, I will  definitely be trying the other new offerings.

Shwarma happiness

Monday, November 5, 2012

Forcemeat Quiche, or What to Do with Your Leftover Gizzards

According to Le Gastronomique, forcemeat is "a seasoned mixture of raw and cooked ingredients, chopped or minced (ground)... Forcemeats are the basis for several pates, meat pies, terrines, and ballottines..." etc. etc. Faced with a Sunday all to himself while I was working a software deployment, my counterpart found inspiration in the concept of forcemeat and decided to prepare a quiche.

The cooked part of the forcemeat was a bit of leftover rabbit from Saturday's dinner. For the raw portion, he dipped into a bag of assorted gizzards and other organs we have in the freezer. These little packets of innards found inside the carcass of most poultry and small game are good to save for future uses such as this. They are a little Chef's Treat, and you never know when they will come in handy to accent sauces and stocks, for an impromptu pate, or for a little meat pie like this.

The meats were minced with some leek to the point of a coarse rustic pate. A traditional quiche crust and egg mixture were also prepared. The forcemeat was added to the prebaked crust with thin slices of a strong French cheese and gently covered with the egg and baked until a lovely golden brown.

While I missed the preparation of this delectable dish, I did get to enjoy a slice after my long Sunday in the office. Gareth's quiche crust continued to melt in my mouth and was actually even better for the prebaking. The forcemeat and the cheese worked well together to create a hearty, slightly musky filling that was tempered by the egg just slightly. It was a fragrant piece of sunshine after a rough and tumble day.

Forcemeat quiche

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Rabbit Dinner After Hurricane Sandy, and the Secret to Perfect Squash

We survived Superstorm Sandy, and (even with the power outage) so did all our frozen meat. This is not as surprising as it sounds when you remember that what made Sandy a superstorm was the unlikely combination of a hurricane and a cold front. Which means (at least in my area) once the center of the storm blew through, the temperature dropped. By the time the lights went out, it was in the low 40's - not much warmer than the inside of the fridge. It dropped just below freezing that night and stayed in the 40's the following day. Nothing went bad, and all the frozen food stayed frozen.

The power came back quickly, but the cold that Sandy brought in her wake has lingered. Tonight we decided that we needed a nice hot meal and pulled one of our rabbits out to defrost.

Rabbit, leek, and a very nice Chardonnay with a warm fire in the background

Rabbit is very lean and has almost no fat. Because it is always cooked without the skin (unlike poultry) it readily absorbs the fat you cook it in. So that's where my counterpart started with tonight's rabbit. He lightly seasoned it with salt, pepper, sage, and paprika  He then braised it in a fragrant mixture of butter, lamb fat, and olive oil  until the outside was a golden brown. He covered it with chopped leeks and a very nice Chardonnay and placed it in a 400 degree oven to roast.

Lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, sage, and paprika

Braised in lots of tasty fats

Smothered in leek and wine

While the rabbit roasted he started on the sauce, deciding on something aromatic and slightly bitter. As usual he had a pot of chicken stock simmering on the stovetop. He ladeled off some of the stock into a separate saucepan and added more leek and wine, plus a generous amount of bay leaves and brought it up to a boil. He then made a simple roux of goat butter and flour. Once it had smoothed out, he added the bay leaf and wine spiked stock. He also drained some of the cooking fat out of the rabbit pot and added that to the sauce. And, of course he added lots and lots of cream.

He then sauteed whole small button mushrooms in butter, cooking them just until tender. He then added them to the sauce where their moisture was released, adding an earthy dimension to it.

Aromatic, earthy, creamy goodness

And, while all this was going on, he still managed to get a spaghetti squash in the oven.

Now, I have long been a squash hater. It invariably comes out a sweet, spicy, mushy mess. And, while I do love some spice, it almost never tastes right in a squash dish unless you are talking pumpkin pie. And maybe that is part of the problem. Just because you're cooking squash doesn't mean you should try to make it taste like pumpkin pie. It's not pumpkin pie. It's squash.

So, here is the secret to perfect spaghetti squash, and maybe all squash:

  1. Cut it in half lengthwise.
  2. Place both haves on a cookie sheet with the innards facing up.
  3. Bake in a 350 degree oven.
  4. Remove form oven about 10 minutes sooner than everyone else does.
This is approximately how Gareth cooked the squash tonight, and it was perfect. The threads of the spaghetti squash were tender but still had some of that vegetably snap. And the squash wasn't trying to taste like something is wasn't. He didn't season it. With anything. And it was delicious.

The entire meal was delicious. The rabbit was served atop the mushroom sauce with a crown of spaghetti squash ribbons. The slightly pungent sauce complemented the light, mild rabbit meat and delicate squash. While so many others in the hurricane's path are still struggling to get clean drinking water and a warm, dry place to sleep, I am grateful for tonight's meal and for the care that went into it. 

A hot meal received with much gratitude

Friday, November 2, 2012

Charm City Gourmet Delivers

Food is an essential part of our lives. It is nourishment to fuel us through our day. It is social as we often seek out friends to dine with. We build our lives around it, from grand traditions to daily routines. And some meals are so enjoyable that we shape our week around them, going out of our way for the unique satisfaction of a well-crafted dish. And then something changes, and that much loved meal is out of reach.

Many readers will remember my love of the original Silver Platter menu, and how my regular visits to that food truck opened a door for me to experience the mobile restaurant scene in Baltimore. I became fixated on the sweet chili baby back ribs and struggled to limit myself to one serving a week.

Then everything changed. When The Silver Platter revamped their menu, they also revamped their kitchen staff, and I feared I would never taste those tender, spicy-sweet ribs again. I have dreamed about those ribs during many dull 11:00 meetings, only to recall that they were no longer available, and a dismal despair would set in.

I should have known that those ribs, along with the other original menu items (including Maine Lobster Roll, Lobster Mac and Cheese, and the best  pulled pork and pit beef in town) would find another home. A year later, they have.

The Charm City Gourmet food truck is operated by the original chef of The Silver Platter. And he is selling the original menu that we all came to know and love last summer. When he parked outside my office and I realized what he was selling, there was really only one choice - ribs.

Now, sometimes when we are deprived of a favorite food for long enough, the memory of that food becomes such sweet nostalgia that said food item takes on a mythical quality, becoming not just a once loved meal, but The God of All Foods. And I've had a year to ponder those ribs, disdaining all other ribs out of a certainty that they will be sub par at best. So, when I had an order of those ribs that I remembered so well in front of me, did the reality measure up to the recollection?

Yes, and then some. The ribs were the same tender, falling-off-the-bone pork ribs smothered in the same sweet sauce that cuts right through tooth enamel the same way a good butter cream icing does. With just enough red pepper to give things a little kick, these ribs were exactly as I remembered, which made them all the more enjoyable. Still served on a nest of deep fried onion ribbons that catch the sauce, I am quite pleased that my favorite food truck meal is back.

Mmmmmm Ribs

To complete the trip down memory lane, I topped it off with an IcedGem. I chose the vanilla salted caramel, forgetting about the sugar level on those ribs. The caramel filling was the perfect balance of sweet and salty. Alas, the cupcake was just too much sugar after the ribs. While I could not make it through the cupcake, I thoroughly enjoyed what I was able to eat.

The inevitable cupcake