Major Dags: Volume 1 (feat. Cod Cheeks, Pasta Pizza, & Cuttlefish)

I was first introduced to the slang term “dag” when I was at the movies with a few friends (including regular blog character Mooman, known him a long time) at the age of 14.  We bumped into a former classmate that left for a new school a few years earlier and upon seeing us he exclaimed, “DAAAAAG! You guys got BIG!”  The comment was so absurd that it endured as a story we discussed and giggled about occasionally over the years.  15 years later, at a quiet bar in a nice restaurant where a few diners were enjoying their lunch, Marshall looked at the beer list and exclaimed “DAAAAG!!!” upon seeing the price of the beers.  Since there were 3 or 4 friends present to witness this, a catch phrase was born.

According to Urban Dictionary, dag means damn or is a general exclamation of amazement.  That’s about how we/I use it and use it often.  Anyway, this new segment on the blog is to capture the growing pile of meals that I only partially documented in photos, missed the key final shots that make a post work, or were just a complete failure.  You know, major dags.  Enjoy!

Cod Cheeks

One thing this blog has taught me is that all cheeks are delicious.  Beef, grouper, and pork have been documented here, along with collars from salmon and tuna.  So, when I noticed a fish shop on route 1 that advertised cod cheeks, I knew I would have to cook them at some point.  Only problem was that the only times I was 30 minutes north of Boston on Route 1 was when I was on my way out of town.  After a year of seeing the sign, I finally bought some and brought them to New Jersey with me.

After a rinse and pat dry.  This was around the time I realized it would be tough to keep up a conversation with Mommy Ryan while documenting a blog post

After a rinse and pat dry.  This was around the time I realized it would be tough to keep up a conversation with Mommy Ryan while documenting a blog post

The cod cheeks were medallions of meat about the size of a medium scallop and looked about how you would expect them to.  The color was a bit darker than regular cod fillets and had noticeably more fat than the usually lean cod meat.  Each piece seemed like a completely unique combination of shape and size.

I bought about a pound of the cheeks ($5.99!) and I would guess there were the cheeks of about 20 cod in there.  Excellent deal

I bought about a pound of the cheeks ($5.99!) and I would guess there were the cheeks of 20 cod in there.  Excellent deal

I’d never tasted cod cheeks before, but based on my experience with grouper it seemed like I should just treat them the way I would a scallop.

I heated up a couple tablespoons of butter in a pan then sauteed some garlic and a few capers over medium heat for a few minutes.  While that cooked, I dusted the cod cheeks with a little of flour, salt, and pepper and then added them to the pan.

Like scallops, but of all different sizes.  These might be the most innocuous looking cheeks I've cooked

Sorta looks like scallops, right?  Also could be sliced bulls balls based on the recent history of this blog.  Regardless,  these might be the most innocuous looking cheeks I’ve cooked

After a flip, I added a solid pour of white wine and lowered the heat to a simmer.  Since cod has a chewy, mushy, unpleasant texture when rare, I let the cheeks simmer for 8-10 minutes while the cooking liquid reduced and thickened around them.

A future signature of the Major Dag posts: abrupt final pictures that leave you hanging without any idea how this all came together in the end.  I blame Mommy for this one, I'm assuming she asked me a question about her Mac which derailed and beffudled me, making me forget I was documenting a post

A future signature of the Major Dag posts: abrupt final pictures that leave you hanging without any idea how this all came together in the end.  I blame Mommy for this one, I’m assuming she asked me a question about her iPhone which derailed and befuddled me, making me forget I was documenting a post

And that’s all you get.  I served the cod over some pasta with the cooking liquid as a sauce and paired it with asparagus.  The combination of butter, garlic, capers, and white wine rarely goes wrong and works with pretty much any seafood.  The cheeks were delicious, with a totally different texture than cod fillets.  Where cod is usually flaky and light, there was more density to the cheek and a more uniform, scallop-like texture.  Clever, 6 effing references to how they were like scallops, but I really got nothing else for you.  It’s accurate and annoying.

Linguine Pizza

I go through an obsessive pizza phase about once every 10 months.  No real reason for it, I just make pizza one day, it tastes really good, and then I proceed to make different varieties of it twice a week for the following 6 weeks.  The most recent incarnation of this obsession was pizza cooked on the grill, but prior to that wave it was all oven-baked and most of the creativity was in the toppings.  The pizza I made with shredded short rib and the reduced braising liquid acting as the pizza sauce was a personal favorite, but the oddest ones were based on leftovers.  Basically, roll out the dough and dump some leftovers on.

First, the dough.  For years I bought dough from local pizza shops because I assumed they use the same dough starter for years and the dough would have a nice funky bread flavor.  Plus, I never remembered to make it a day in advance.  Then I bought dough from a local place, discovered it was partially frozen and likely from a massive food service operation, and threw a temper tantrum.  The type of temper tantrum a normal babysitter would quit over, thankfully Kristi is my babysitter.

Nowadays I mostly make my dough 24 hours in advance, let it rise a couple times, then punch it down and throw it in the fridge.  Which leads to lots of situations likes this.

I consistently was terrified to remove these bags from the fridge since they both looked like they could explode in take out an eye at any second

I am consistently terrified to remove these over-inflated bags from the fridge since they look like they could explode and take out an eye at any second.  I am convinced that some morning we will wake up with the fridge doors wide open and the contents sprayed everywhere after one of these bags explodes

This has happened maybe five times, every time I’ve made pizza dough in the past year I would guess.  In each case, I punched the dough down and pressed out all air then wrapped them tight in a plastic bag.  Apparently that’s not gonna do it.  One night before hosting a party the following day, I put four doughs into a drawer in the fridge.  When we returned home, the drawer was off its track and looked like a hot air balloon inflated inside a VW Beetle.  The picture above captures the awesome inflating power of the dough.  The remarkable thing is that the dough found tiny holes and made tiny dough bubbles on the outside.

Anyway, during one of these pizza streaks I came back from a weekend in Maine with a lot of lobsters and a little bit of leftovers from a linguine with clam sauce.  The following day I was left to fend for myself for dinner and didn’t have enough pasta to make a whole dinner, sooooooooo….

The most offensive part of the oven-pizza-era was that every pizza ended up a rectangle.  I'd rather have an awful misshapen half moon (like my grilled pizzas) than something so geometric

The most offensive part of the oven-pizza-era was that every pizza ended up a rectangle.  I’d rather have an awful misshapen half moon (like my grilled pizzas) than something so geometric.  Just feels wrong

Stretch the dough out, coat well with olive oil, dump the leftovers into the center, evenly spread, then season the edges of the dough with lots of salt and pepper.  Oh, and “dust” (read: blizzard) pecorino romano plus a drizzle of additional olive oil over the top.

After 12 minutes in a 500 degree oven, I had this:

Yeah, not that different looking, but that's what you should expect from Major Dags: lots of repetitive and incomplete photography

Yeah, not that different looking, but that’s what you should expect from Major Dags: lots of repetitive and incomplete photography

I’ve made pasta pizza a few times since making this one.  Carb-wise, it’s the type of meal that makes construction workers whistle at me while I walk and ask if they can get some fries with that shake.  Flavor and texture-wise, it’s totally my fave thing.  All the flavor of the pasta dish you use, plus the crispy seasoned dough, tons of cheese, and the texture of the crunchy pieces of pasta on top.  The biggest plus is eating a bunch of pasta with only your hands and no need for a fork.  Pasta pizza is an open faced Italian taco, and the spaghetti calzone from Luigi’s in Lewiston, ME is the Italian gordita.  Need to document that one at some point.

Cuttlefish Pasta

This meal continues with the pattern of stuff I cooked when Kristi wasn’t home to make sure I ate right.

As discussed previously on this blog, the diverse inhabitants of JP leads to a lot of odd foods at the grocery store.  And pharmacy.  I found this can of shellfish at my local CVS.

I think i bought a can of octopus on the same visit to CVS.  These cans were in between the crackers and the hair gel.  100% serious

I think I bought a can of octopus on the same visit to CVS.  I used to take Playboys out of the dumpster behind CVS when I was 12, and now I am buying my shellfish there.  You and I have come a long way CVS!  Also, these cans were in between the crackers and the hair gel.  100% serious

I’ve only had a few small bites of fresh cooked cuttlefish during my travels and hope to someday purchase it fresh and cook it for myself.  I love squid and octopus, and cuttlefish seems like a close cousin of those two.  If I can’t get the fresh kind locally, though, I’ll happily give this questionable can of meat a shot.  Especially since they were packed in their own ink (supposedly), which is my fave thing.

Once I opened the can I was a little less excited.

I expected it to look more like the black squid ink I see in restaurants, not like awful sardine oil.  Shows how tough I am to please that seeing this mess just made me shrug and continue with food prep

I expected it to look more like the black squid ink I see in restaurants, not like cheap sardine oil. God that looks awful.  Shows how tough I am to please that seeing this mess just made me shrug and continue with food prep

I didn’t have the courage to eat this on its own, nor did I really want to, so I decided to make a pasta with the cuttlefish.  Started out by heating a little olive oil in a pan and adding onions, garlic, and, because Kristi was out of town and I like funky salty fish, a can of chopped anchovies.

Shoulda thrown the capers in there, another food I love dearly that I have pushed Kristi to the absolute limit on

Shoulda thrown capers in there too.  Another food I love dearly that I have pushed Kristi to the absolute limit on

While that cooked, I brought a pot of water to a boil and dumped in some dried shell pasta to cook about 3/4 of the way through.

Once the pasta was strained and the onions were translucent, I added in the cuttlefish, some salt & pepper, and a little bit of the “sauce” from the can.  After a couple minutes of cooking together I poured in about a half cup of white wine and let it simmer/reduce for 10-15 minutes.

A lot more promising than it looked in the can, but it still smelled a little bit like canned food despite all of the strong aromas.  Canned food is kind of the worst

A lot more promising than it looked in the can, but it still smelled a little bit like cat food despite all of the other strong aromas involved.  Canned food is kind of the worst

Once the sauce had reduced a bit, I stirred in the partially cooked pasta to cook the rest of the way in the sauce, which left me with this.

Shells were a terrible decision.  I think that this meal and the minimal documentation of it is as good of an example of a Major Dag that I have

Shells were a terrible decision.  I think that this meal and the minimal documentation of it is as good of an example of a Major Dag that I have

Overall, this meal was edible and I ate it, but it wasn’t exactly something that I looked forward to replicating for my friends at some point.  The flavor was fishy and muddy and had a faint taste that reminded me of the smell of a handful of change, likely from the canned fish.  The sauce looked creamy but it had a bit of graininess to it.  The cuttlefish was like squid that had boiled for a long time; some texture but disintegrated once you started chewing and not in a good way.  Because I was hungry and it had some enjoyable flavors for me, I ate most of it.  But it really wasn’t good.

I have lots of posts ready to go, just been swamped at work and haven’t had enough time to write.  I’ll try to do better.

Weird Crap I Cook: Anchovy Bread

Ever since Janet showed up, I have had a lot of time to spend around the house.  I’ve found that a good way to spend that time is honing a few recipes for bread and getting comfortable with the rising and kneading process.  To me, it’s amazing how small changes to ratios and cooking time can make big changes to the flavor and texture of the bread.  So far I’ve figured out a solid recipe for sandwich bread and also an Italian-style bread that’s great with a little olive oil for dipping.

This sandwich bread is excellent, especially when toasted slightly. In other news, bread making as a hobby is definitely the polar opposite of "getting in shape"

Based on how the Italian loaf comes together, it has some potential to have other ingredients folded in for flavor.  Sun dried tomatoes and kalamata olives both seemed like solid candidates, but I’ve seen those breads before.  That’s no fun.  So, I figured I would instead incorporate one of my favorite ingredients that has a bit of a bad reputation: anchovies.

Most would argue that marinated or salt packed anchovies are far superior, but I still love the salty, fishy tins of oil packed anchovies that I grew up with

First step was mixing a teaspoon of yeast with a little sugar and a cup of warm water.  The main point of this was to make sure the half full yeast packet I had in my fridge for a week was still alive and well.  While that sat for ten minutes I measured out my flour and prepped the anchovies.

I really jumped in feet first into this whole breadmaking thing; the 1 and 1/3 cup you see is approximately 1/100th of the 25 pound bag of flour I bought at Costco

Anchovies separated and draining. This was a familiar side on pizza night in the Ryan family, which is why we rarely had friends over on pizza night

Once most of the oil was off the anchovies, I restacked and diced them.  I wanted the pieces to be small enough that the flavor would be evenly dispersed throughout the whole loaf and no bite would have a huge chunk of anchovy.

Ended up going with two tins, one tin definitely looked like too little

The flour and the ‘chovies were beaten into the now foaming yeast mixture and allowed to settle under the ever-important clean kitchen towel.

Usually this batter is off-white, but the addition of anchovies made it a bit darker

After 15 minutes, I stirred in an additional cup of flour and then tipped the extremely sticky dough out onto a heavily floured surface.  As with the regular Italian loaf, over the course of the following 10-15 minutes of kneading, approximately an additional half cup of flour is folded in.

Timer shot!!! Getting the hang of proper kneading and allowing adequate time to rise has contributed significantly to the improvement in my breads

Once the dough was smooth and no longer sticky, it went into a lightly greased bowl under a kitchen towel to rise for a couple hours.  The goal is for the dough to double in size, which looks like this:

I liked that you could see tiny chunks of anchovy floating in the dough. Not sure anyone else would like seeing that

At this point, I pulled the dough out of the bowl, deflated it (or punched it down), and kneaded it for another ten minutes.  Then it went back into the bowl to rise for another hour or so.  Once it had doubled again, the kneading process was repeated and I sprinkled a little cornmeal in the bottom of the Le Creuset Dutch oven.  The dough was stretched into a long cylinder and laid in the base of the pot for one final rise.

This isn't just love for my favorite piece of cookware; Dutch ovens can be a huge help in making good bread as I will explain later

After another 45 minutes, the loaf was ready for the oven.

Nice little throwback to the poorly lit Philly apartment with that shadow. Not sure what happened there, the point is that the dough doubled again

The lid went onto the Le Creuset and went into a 450F oven.

While doing some online research early in the bread making craze of 2011, I saw a recommendation by Michael Ruhlman to use a Dutch oven when baking bread.  It immediately made sense to me since I’ve always disliked homemade bread due to the hard thick crusts.  By cooking inside the Dutch oven, the lid can be kept on through half or more of the cooking keeping the bread moist and avoiding the formation of a thick crust.  It makes a huge difference.

After 20 minutes in the oven, I pulled the lid off of the Le Creuset to check on the loaf.

The crust was still soft despite the cracks. Looking at this picture makes me want to start another loaf rising right now. If you hear about a person being killed from a pants explosion in the Poconos in August, you'll know I was stubborn about sizing when purchasing my groomsman pants

At this point it’s usually good to brush something on the crust to avoid it drying out.  On the regular Italian loaves I use a little water, but since I knew this one wouldn’t be dipped in anything I went with olive oil.  Once the surface had been brushed completely, it went back into the oven for 15 more minutes, leaving me with this.

It might look like brioche, but it's, you know, anchovy bread

After it cooled down a bit, I cut a couple slices off the end.  I was pretty surprised to find that the anchovy flavor was very mild and not nearly as strong-flavored as I had hoped.  Over the next couple days, I discovered that the bread’s flavor came out best when sliced and lightly toasted.

The anchovies mostly disappeared during the cooking process leaving only their flavor behind

The texture of the bread was light and bubbly and the anchovy flavor came through best near the crusts.  The oddest thing was that the crusts smelled a little like crisped asiago cheese when the bread was toasted.  Never really figured that one out, but it didn’t take away from enjoying the bread.

That look says "If one crumb from that weird crap touches my new 4th of July dress, I will freakin cut you!"

If I made the loaf again I would likely use anchovy paste instead of the chopped anchovies since I think the flavor would come through a little stronger.  It would probably be best used cut up and crisped as croutons, served with lightly grilled romaine and a lemony Ceasar dressing.  Sounds delicious to me.

Not sure what I will do next week, but I haven’t been to the grocery store in over a week.  Will come up with something.