Monday, October 01, 2007
Huh? Me? The woman who still hasn't quite figured out how to switch her cellphone to vibrate? It isn't just emerging technology I have trouble with - hell, I just bought my first car in May. I'm still working out issues with technology that's a century old.
But, nonetheless, there I was. Di-Ann Eisnor, of Platial, the online interactive mapping site she calls the People's Atlas, asked me to come with her for a panel presentation on new media. I was her representative Platial user. Platial has allowed me to make maps for NewEnglandGrown, like this one of New England sources for exotic meat and game. Platial is a fun toy to play with - people make their vacations, their favorite coffee shops and so on - and it has potential to be a great community-building tool. I highly recommend you check it out, maybe build your own map. Great sources for cheese, the best places to pick apples, where to find wild mushrooms: the food-related possibilities are endless. You can add pictures and video, too.
And if you have an idea for a good map for NewEnglandGrown, let me know!
*If you read the piece at this link, I want to add that I did include a caveat that MOST farmers are even more low tech than I am, with some notable exceptions. Don't want to offend Walter Jeffries.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Personally, I would say my hopeless sucker foods/ingredients are as follows: duck, scallops, bacon, sausage, blackberries, pecans, oranges, dates, figs, ginger, cornmeal, buttermilk, brussel sprouts, beets, molasses, and cardamom.* When I look back over the recipes I've included on this blog, I can't believe how many of them include one of the those ingredients. Not necessarily in the same way twice, mind you. Figs might show up in a fig and onion spread or a fig cake. But, still: figs. Lots of figs.
When you start cooking for someone, the big preferences become clear early on - heavy foods or light, traditional or contemporary, Asian flavors or European, hot or mild. But these small-but-strong preferences take a while to learn. I can only think of a couple people whose palates I know well enough to compile a list for - Mom, for example, loves pecans and walnuts, strawberries, cream, beef and lamb, shrimp, mushrooms. She likes traditional food, not too spicy, lightly salted, a little on the rich side. It can be such a pleasure to know someone's palate and plan a meal accordingly - the favorite food, spiced in just the right way. It doesn't seem like most people get to cook enough today to develop that kind of culinary intimacy. It's too bad.
*No wonder I like winter.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
So, zuchinni bread. A use-it-up staple. A stalwart of the church bake sale. A less-guilt-provoking form of cake. Always pretty good. Always a little boring.
I did not want five loaves of boring in my freezer. So this is what I did. I pulled out the Silver Palate Cookbook for my baseline recipe (Silver Palate being the best go-to cookbook for 1980s favorites). I laid out three bowls and started measuring the dry ingredients into each one, replacing 1/2 cup of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour and adding 1/4 cup of toasted wheat germ into each one.
So each bowl got:
1 1/2 cup white flour
1/2 wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
Bowl one then got 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon (heaping) of cloves, and a teaspoon of ginger. Bowl two got a teaspoon of fresh lemon zest. Bowl three got 1/2 teaspoon of dried orange peel and 1/2 cup of cornmeal.
Now for the wet mix. I reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup for all three versions. Otherwise stayed pretty much with the original.
1 1/4 cup sugar (Batch one got dark brown, batch two got 1/2 c light brown, 3/4 cup white, batch three got all white)
1 1/4 cup oil
3 eggs (omega-3 type, for increased nutrition)
1 tsp vanilla (skipped for batch three)
Beat the heck out of each of these, then blended in the zucchini. The recipe called for two cups - I increased that to three for batches one and two, and kept it at two, but added an additional cup of shredded carrots, to batch three.
Now, the zucchini part turned out to be a bit tricky. I usually shred by hand, because I have a tiny, irritating food processor with no shredder attachment. Or at least, no shredder attachment I can find any more. Maybe it came with one. I don't know. But I wasn't going to shred all that squash by hand. So I used the blade, and it kind of hacked the zuchinni into little bits. Which was fine for Batch One, because I started on the stem end and it was kind of narrow, so there was less moisture and the bits stayed relatively dry. But by Batch Two, the bits had turned into soup. I sort of strained them, but I pretty much ruined (in an aesthetic way, though thankfully not a can't-eat-it way) Batch Two. Those loaves came out really spongy, the result of WAY too much water. Having been observant enough to notice that the batter for Batch Two was as thin as my G&T, I squeezed the excess moisture from the zucchini for Batch Three. This batch was the winner, so I'm doing that from now on.
Back to the variations...
Okay, at the end, you get to fold in the fun stuff. Batch One (spices, dark brown sugar) got dates and toasted walnuts. Batch Two (lemon zest, light brown sugar) got dried cranberries and candied lemon peel (which fell to the bottom because the batter was wet, wet, wet and thin, thin, thin). Batch Three (cornmeal, orange peel, carrot) got candied ginger.
Batch one made a spicy, dark, good but relatively traditional zucchini bread. Batch Two suffered from issues unrelated to its flavors, which were fine. But Batch Three was a major winner. That 1/2 cup of cornmeal, which I feared would disappear, proclaimed itself, and played well off the classic carrot-orange-ginger combination. The color was lovely (sorry again for the lack of pics). And the whole thing was so unexpectedly non-zucchini-bread-ish. I will definitely make this again. And, as far as cake goes (because who are we kidding here, this stuff is cake), this version has at least some nutritional virtues - some zucchini, some carrot, a bit of whole grain, omega-three eggs. I could almost convince myself that it's good for me. It's good for my soul, at any rate, to have a freezer full of zucchini bread. Made stock this weekend, too, so my freezer at the moment, full as it is of baked good, stock, homemade pesto cubes and local pork and beef, has some serious happy energy. Good thing, too, because I'm going to have no time to cook for the next month.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
An enterprising New Yorker tells the hilarious, fascinating story of creating a tiny farm in his 800-square-foot Brooklyn back yard. To put to the test the arguments of the "locavore" movement—that people should eat only what's grown within a few miles of their home—he planned to live exclusively off the farm for one month.
Okay, I'm going to make this really simple so that everyone can understand: Locavores don't think people should eat only what's grown within a few miles of their home. Rather, locavores think that people should try, whenever possible, to choose food grown closer to home rather than food grown further away. That might mean making a number of adjustments to the usual American way of eating, such as 1) growing your own, 2) buying directly from local farmers rather than from supermarkets, 3) choosing local ingredients like honey or mussels instead of exotics like sugar or Chilean sea bass. What it doesn't mean is never eating a chocolate bar again, or drawing a five-mile-wide circle around your house and trying to live on what's produced within. Sure, people have done that sort of thing (although "a few miles" is usually 100 or 200 or 500), but as an exercise, a test, an exploration. That's why they call it the Eat Local Challenge. I fear that the Challenge has suffered from its own success and come to represent the locavore movement overall to a degree that is inappropraite. To say the locavore movement is about the Eat Local Challenge is like saying that being healthy is about running marathons. Not even marathoners think everyone should run a marathon. Most people who do the Eat Local Challenge don't really think other people should necessarily do the same. But marathoners probably do think people should get some exercise, and locavores do think that there are some pretty big advantages to eating food with a local flavor. Let's go through them again, just for the heck of it: transparency of agricultural practices for the consumer, connectedness to the farm community and resulting increased awareness of farm-related issues, decreased fuel dependency, the increased national food security that comes with having many farms over a wide geographical area, rather than just a few concentrated in a couple small areas, cultural preservation of both rural communities around the country and local traditional foods, preservation of at-risk open farmland and vital wildlife corridors, and, of course, really good, really fresh produce.
Are we all clear?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
I read so many food blogs, I've forgotten from whom I stole the idea of combining fresh corn, pancetta and sage, but whoever it was was onto something. The original version was based around butter, and lots of it, but, though I love butter with a true, deep and abiding love, I'm trying to drop a few pounds, so I went with olive oil. Of course, such dietary concerns did not prevent me from using pancetta, but one slice only, chopped tiny, browned and drained. Then four ears-worth of local corn, some minced sage, and heat. Put it to the side, then brown some scallops, and serve them on the corn. I liked this very much.
Made this summer's freezer pesto over the weekend, and threw the extra over tortellini last night. Was reminded yet again that I really prefer pesto in a secondary, not leading, role. Pesto and goat cheese as the stuffing for a chicken breast is great. But pasta with pesto-pesto-pesto is just too much pesto for me. Ah, well - it was quick.
Read Bananas last week, which I recommend. It's a quick read and pretty damned entertaining. The cultural history part is a bit weak - at points the author just lists songs with "banana" in the title and so on, but the history of the importation and selling of the fruit - the physical challenges, the political issues and the marketing aspects - was interesting and well-told. Just in case anyone doesn't know, bananas are by far the most popular fruit in the U.S. But not the most prized - people rarely cite bananas as their favorite fruit; they're just ubiquitous. People do love their banana bread, though. By far the search item that brings the most people here is "best banana bread recipe." Odd, don't you think, given how very many places on the internet likely claim the best banana bread recipe? Anyway, I finished the book with a powerful craving for banana muffins, banana cream pie, and the banana split at the East Coast Grill (roasted bananas with mango ice cream and raspberry sauce). I had to go read Fatland to prevent an outbreak of gluttony.
It worked: I ate a raw banana, then lay in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking of all the sugar I've consumed in my lifetime and waiting for the diabetes to kick in.
Friday, August 24, 2007
But I do have YouTube. And the cooking goodies there are not to be beat - in the best internet style, you can find home videos of people in their kitchens, snippets from the big cooking shows (probably illegally posted), old educational films about food, and random weirdness.
First, great actor, and amazing dancer, and cook? Why every girl loves Christopher Walken (despite finding him, you know, scary.)
Cooking terms - a 1950s educational film. Corny, but surprisingly practical and informative for a novice cook. My favorite line: "At some time during your career as a cook, you will decide to serve scalloped cauliflower." You will, indeed.
And finally, foods on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair:
Sunday, August 19, 2007
I like making upside down cakes. I like eating them, too, but making them is just as pleasurable. I feel the same way about pies - rolling the dough, laying the top on the filling, all so soothing. Which is why the film Waitress was about pie, and not, say, Danish pastries, which is far more enjoyable to eat than to make. But upside down cakes are fun. You cook the sugar and the butter a bit, then lay out the fruit very nicely, then make a basic cake batter and pour it over, simple, then bake. Finally, the great moment, when you turn the completed cake out of the pan and the top is revealed, all sugary and glistening, the fruit displayed in all its glory.
The Cooks Illustrated recipe is great, and that's the one I use when I want a basic butter cake, though sometimes I just use their proportions and technique for the topping, then switch a gingerbread cake in for tha base. The fruits they expect people to use are pineapple, pear, peach, apple or, interestingly enough, mango. I've made the pear version many times (that's the one that always gets gingerbread), and the peach once, though I can't say that would be a favorite use for a good summer peach. Make cobbler. It's better. Anyway, Cooks's list represents the most popular choices for upside down cake.
The results of an entirely unscientific study of upside down cake, via Google:
Peach upside down cake - approx. 289,000
Pineapple upside down cake - approx. 207,000
Apple upside down cake - approx. 12,400
Mango upside down cake - approx. 2,320
Pear upside down cake - 753
Fig upside down cake - 179 (about to be 180! Take that!)
Besides the surprising fact that there must be places in world where peaches are used more often for upside down cake than pineapple is, what these results tell me is that 1) not enough people are making or eating upside down cake and 2) people who are making it are stuck in a rut. Try something new, people. It's easy. It's good for you.
I decided to use figs* because I'm so fond of them caramelized - just sprinkled with sugar and touched with a torch. I figured upside down cake is a more elaborate way to get that flavor of caramelized sugar together with fig. I also added 3/4 teaspoon of cardamom to the cake batter, because my only issue with plain butter upside down cake is that the cake part alone can be a little dull (I'm not a cake person, really.) Cardamom marries well with figs, so in it went. And I think it worked out well - certainly the people who were eating it liked it enough to go back for seconds. My friend's little girl gave her special finger-to-the-cheek signal for yumminess, the highest of accolades.
*Figs may not be in season in New England itself, where only a few stubborn Portugese and Italian immigrants nurse their potted trees through the cold winter, but they are in season. They only appear on the shelves here for a few weeks out of the year. Get them while you can. If you're in Boston, this is the time of year to go to the Haymarket, where you can get little plastic containers of seven or eight figs for a dollar, far cheaper than the 99 cent per fig price at the grocery stores.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Not surprisingly, it didn't work quite so well as the British ladies implied, but it did work. The grease softened to the point of becoming removable, given a little soap and elbow grease. The pan actually looks almost new.
Never let it be said that television isn't educational.
*I don't do this any more - meat loaf comes out better baked free-form. But I didn't always know this.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Mad Martha's article on pasta salad this month begs the question: what is a salad anyway? If all the vegetables are cooked, and even the sauce would taste fine warm, aren't you just eating cold pasta? I can't say that I'm enticed by the idea of cold wilted greens on pasta, but generally I'm a big fan of pasta salad. The secrets to a good one, in my opinion: lots of vegetables, preferably including a few unexpected ones (raw corn is good); lemon juice not vinegar; plenty of salt in the pasta cooking water; good oil.
The locavore purists hurt the cause. Fussing over whether spices count and so on looks like insanity to outsiders. Then you end up with people convinced that we're going to ruin the economy by not allowing for imports and exports - according to at least one person commenting on an article about the Vermont locavores, Floridians won't be able to buy maple syrup and Vermonters will end up with scurvy if these crazy liberals have their way. So, let's reiterate: it's all about proportions. Vermont should export maple syrup, and it's fine for them to import some orange juice. But why should they import apples? Why should Britain import and export almost equal quantities of lamb? A sane approach would be maximizing regional food security by maximizing local production and diversification of production for local consumption, while still depending on some imports (the quantity of imports needed will depend on the region's own resources). This seems pretty obvious, but clearly when people for whom local eating is a new idea hear about it, they assume the point is extremism. Don't feed their fears.
Plums are better than peaches, at least in New England. I can't stop eating the local plums.
I could give up everything else sweet as long as I could eat ice cream every day.
Tammy at Food on the Food gets funnier all the time.
The weather is starting to turn a little cooler - at least at night. That makes me happy. I'm starting to get the cooking itch...
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Of course, deep down I knew. The single-moth-theory has the same credibility as the single-mouse-theory. Bad things come in groups. There's never just one ant or cockroach or mouse or moth or neo-con. Once you have one, you can count on an infestation.
In my apartment-renting experience, I have been mercifully spared cockroaches, ants and termites. But I have suffered from mice, the moths that eat your sweaters, the moths that eat your oatmeal, tiny gnats that swarm up from the sink drain in August, fruit flies, and even once, god help me, rats. Or rat. Actually, I believe that may have been the one case of a lone pest. I had just moved into an old house across the road from a stream, and when the landlord was finally convinced that I really, truly had seen a rat - no, not a mouse, a rat, damnit! - he set out poison, the rat was found dead in the basement, and I was bothered no more. But that's beside the point. What I'm saying is that I am no stranger to pestilence. And, while the ick factor and the I'm-going-to-stand-on-this-chair-and-scream-like-Lucille-Ball-until-someone-kills-that-thing factor are far lower with pantry moths than with rodents or even swarms of fruit flies, the fact is that pantry moths have it on everyone for tenaciousness. Getting rid of the things is hell.
First off, you have to throw out food. A lot of food.
(Why did I have three containers of oatmeal? I have no idea.) I find the tastes of pantry moths strange to say the least. I understand their fondness for oatmeal and popcorn. But Penzey's Northwoods Fire Seasoning? Isn't that a little hot for mothy palates? Several bags of good pasta and a couple boxes of cheap pasta were ignored, despite being open and available. But one particular bag of wide noodles was full of the little buggers. They didn't get into the wild rice, but they did get into the chocolate. They apparently love lapsang souchong tea, but not green tea or red zinger. I don't understand.
After you throw everything out, you have to wipe down every surface with a bleach solution and hope to kill off some of the eggs. Of course, you won't get them all. Some will be lurking somewhere, ready to come back and make Pantry Moth: Resurrection.
Since I had to clean out the pantry anyway, I decided it was time to do some other maintenance as well. Summer is a time of pantry-neglect - while vegetables and fruits are ripe and fresh, who thinks to restock canned goods? But then you end up not having the tomato paste that would liven up the dressing for the pasta salad or the capers you need for the tartar sauce for those crab cakes. So I wanted to do an inventory. Also, I had some stuff that was, um, old. Really old. There was a bottle of fish sauce three years past its sell-by date - which is bad enough, but it was also one of TWO bottles of fish sauce, which I use so rarely each one had only an ounce or so missing. Okay, away with the moth-infested and the ancient. Wipe down all the jars and cans. Vacuum inside. Lay some contact paper over the thirty-year-old unfinished plywood shelving. Then restock. Voila!
(Not the whole of my dry good back-stock, of course, but the main center of the operation. Baking is a satellite cabinet.)
In case you're wondering what I consider pantry essentials (and I would love to know what other people consider pantry essentials), I'll tell you:
Canned tomatoes, whole and diced
Canned and tubes of tomato paste
Chicken broth (for when I run out of frozen homemade)
Marinated artichoke hearts
Jars of roasted peppers
Cans of coconut milk
Cans of tuna (for sandwiches)
Jars of good tuna in oil (for salads and pasta)
Cans of smoked sardines
Cans of salmon (for desperation dinners)
Chickpeas, white beans, black beans
Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce
A good array of vinegars
A few premade sauces/marinades (I always have a couple around, like the Carribean hot sauce sold at crafts fairs by a local woman and the local maple syrup and fig sauce I picked up somewhere - good when you lack imagination or time)
Rice, wild rice, steel-cut and rolled oats, kasha
Pasta and lots of it
Vegetable oil, olive oil, toasted sesame oil, and those fantastic Boyajian citrus oils
Soy sauce, fish sauce
Honey, maple syrup
And of course, all the baking stuff - sugars, flours, baking soda, etc. Spices, extracts. Cocoa, condensed milk, tapioca, cornstarch. Molasses.
Them's the basics. I also have a lot of odds and ends in my pantry, as I discovered while cleaning it out: a can of haggis (a gift from someone, and not meant as a joke, believe it or not), a bottle of birch syrup (so intriguing, but what do I do with it?), two cans of escargot, a tiny container of plum paste, a huge jar of Russian plum butter (I do love plums), a jar of chestnuts, a bottle of key lime juice.
I figure someday there's going to be a disaster of some kind - the avian flu pandemic or just a really big Nor'easter - and I will be sitting pretty. Admittedly, I'll have to figure out how to make a dish out of chestnuts, escargot and coconut milk, but I'm sure I'm up to the task.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Monday, August 06, 2007
So of course, I figured it was time to paint the kitchen. I wasn't using it, after all.
The smart person might point out that painting a kitchen is a far, far sweatier job that making gazpacho in it. This is true. But my kitchen-resentment had reached a boil, so to speak. For my kitchen was not only hot. It was ugly.
"Ugly, you say?"
Yes. Truly, deeply ugly. Behold.
Now the heart of the hideousness is clearly the walls. Whatever possessed a whole generation of landlords to cover endless walls in plastic, brown, faux-wood-panelling? I can live with the always-dirty-looking-even-after-I-just-washed-it linoleum. I can live with the Office-Space-drop-ceiling-of-despair. I can even live with the rust-crusted stove that tips forward so much sauce pools in the front of pans (NOT SHOWN for the protection of your innocent eyes). But the panelling was making me crazy - a sort of Grossman's Discount Buildling Supplies version of the Yellow Wallpaper.
So I painted, heat and all. Generally, I'm not a big fan of the "slather everything in white paint and be done with it" approach to decorating, but given the limitations of my rental, this was the best option. I painted those brown walls white. I also used white paint on two bookcases and a cd rack that I had left neglected because the whole faux-wood-panelling thing left me too despairing to bother with trying to make anything else in the room nice. I painted the distressed blue cabinet (which had worked in an earlier apartment, but not here), the girliest of pinks. Why? Because I'm a girl who lives alone and I can, damnit! I threw out most of the stuff under the "sideboard" (really a desk I scavenged from the sidewalk and topped with a great piece of granite my old roommate got for me from some friend who worked at a quarry) and took off the tablecloth that had been hiding the mess. I took down some of the excess from the walls. I hung white shelves to match the white walls. I hit Target, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and AJ Wrights (nothing but the best 'round here) in a desperate search for affordable, decent looking curtains. I gave up and bought some calico for $3/yard and made the world's simplest cafe curtains. And here it is, my new kitchen, the $120 remodel, a fine example of nana-chic:
The current fad for kitchens is some weird boardroom/factory/Tuscan villa cross. Lots of expensive masters-of-the-universe materials like granite and cherry, combined with brushed steel appliances of a size and quality intended for 24-hour-a-day production lines, and everything "softened" by the application of a bit of yellow wash on the walls and a few cans of olive oil. The design magazines are full of these places, and they bore me to tears. The message they send is one of power and money - I can afford the same equipment I see in the restaurant kitchens featured on the Food Network, I can afford to put tropical woods in places that will daily get splattered with tomato sauce. Blah, blah, blah. In contrast, the message of the white-painted kitchens of our grandmothers was both more modest and more impressive: I can keep this shit CLEAN.
Ever since I painted the table white, I've been wiping paw prints. I had no idea the cats spent so much time on the kitchen table in my absence. Now I have the dirty, dirty evidence. I'm worried about anyone coming into the apartment without notice: Hiu, nice to see you, come right in, just give me a moment to wipe down the kitchen table, because you. Have. No. Idea.
It could send a girl running to a table made of wood from destroyed rain forests.
But overall, I really, really like my white kitchen. It's pleasant and bright and cheery. It says: want a cuppa? It says: there are cookies if you want one. It says: dig in. And I like that.
Unfortunately, I wasn't done. There was another problem with the kitchen, something besides aesthetics that was driving me back to the pizza shop. And that was the pantry and, ahem, its resident moths.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
I spent the weekend visiting my friend Anna in Waterville, Maine. While driving along Route Three, we saw a sign for Morse's Sauerkraut. Strangely enough, both of us had recently heard about this place - me from Eating New England, Anna from a friend in her native state of Tennessee who had lamented his failure to tell her to bring him some sauerkraut on her trip home. Clearly, this is sauerkraut that inspires passion.
The deli itself is amazing, full of European specialities that can be hard to find even in big cities, let alone on a back road off a two-lane highway in Maine. They have sausages and candies and cheeses and stroopwaffles. But most importantly, they have their own homemade sauerkraut. This is not the pasteurized, lifeless stuff you get at the supermarket. Sauerkraut is made through a process of fermentation, and the supermarket variety has had the process ended through the application of heat. But Morse's sauerkraut is still alive. That means that you can store it for some time, but you have to "burp" the container, because the gases that are the byproduct of fermentation will build up. So why would you want the bother of living sauerkraut? Well, it tastes better, for one thing. And living sauerkraut contains active enzymes that aid digestion, making nutrients more available to the body. There's a reason that every culture has a traditional fermented product that is consumed with meals, whether that be sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, pickles, or kefir. Of course, modern processing has ruined most traditional foods, eliminating the beneficial active enzymes in exchange for shelf-stability and uniformity. You can make your own sauerkraut at home, and it's not difficult, but it's nice to know that some commercial makers still care about providing a geniune food. If you can't get to Maine, Real Pickles in Montague, MA also makes its pickles and sauerkraut in the traditional way. Both Morse's and Real Pickles source their base ingredients locally, too. And the people at Morse's were awfully nice - they kept the shop open for us even though we arrived just as they were closing.
Monday, June 25, 2007
And so it was. The cake was Cook's Illustrated's white cake, brushed with syrup, layered with raspberry jam, whipped white chocolate ganache and raspberries, and finished with classic vanilla buttercream. The flowers are made of marzipan touched in the center with royal icing. The butterflies are marzipan as well, held aloft from the cake on pieces of spaghetti. I had intended to make dragonflies and other things as well, but Amazon 's two day service is a big, fat lie. Apparently, that means "two days after we ship it, but we can ship it whenever we damn well please." So my insect-shaped cutters didn't make it on time. Fortunately, I did have one butterfly cutter I didn't even know I had - it had been in a bag of cutters I picked up for a dollar at a thrift store. So instead of a bride and groom, we had two fluttering butterflies. To me, that seemed just right.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
I've been on a bit of a meat pie kick lately, 'cause nothing says spring like a heavy mix of meat and spices wrapped in dough. (I don't understand myself either.) To my defense, I will say that it was pretty cold a few weeks ago when I made these. As usual, I made too much of everything, so my single 9-inch pork pie became one big pork pie, and about a dozen individual-sized pies (they froze nicely, thank god). Since I can't seem to find mini pie plates anywhere, I used little heart-shaped pans my sister gave me for Christmas one year. For the vents, I used a pig cookie-cutter, so the final product was something of a Valentine to pork.
The filling was mostly roughly ground local pork (a Tamworth-Large Black cross). I browned the pork, removed it from the pan, added onions and diced potatoes, got those nice and brown, then added some diced apple and clove, allspice, and loads of white and black pepper, a splash of Calvados for flavor and moisture and a little bread crumb. I liked the filling. The pastry was less successful, mostly because I was out of lard and substituted beef fat - I had had such success with duck fat, but the beef fat wasn't firm enough. The pastry was flavorful, but a bit tough.
I don't have a picture of the second meat pie I made, which was a great big lamb pie with spices, mint and raisins (Epicurious recipe) for a potluck of food bloggers. I used filo for that, which gives a very different feel. But in general I am a big lover of the meat pie, and I don't quite understand why the only one you ever see in the States is the chicken pot pie. Odd.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
That said, I liked the interview with Marco Pierre White today in Salon:
What do you think of the American food scene right now?
I think America is very exciting. I've never seen anyone who obsesses about produce more than the Americans. Their love for produce is extraordinary. And that's where it all begins. Mother Nature is the true artist. Even when I was in Seattle, walking the markets there, just the pride with which people present their food, just the way they stack it and present it and show it off, it's fantastic. I think America, the future of America, is fantastic.
It's interesting, what you're saying about the produce. Because it seems like when I go to France, even in the lowliest shop or restaurant, everything is good, but here you have to seek it out.Well, [the French] take it for granted because it's all around them. It doesn't ignite their imagination. In America, the produce ignites the imagination. I'm sure when you go to France, it fucking blows your brains.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
The Eight Types of Food Snob
1) The Four-Star Snob (Or Classical Form)
No meal which costs less than $50 is worthwhile. They like to drop the names of fabulous places they've eaten. They have no idea where to get decent pizza. And don't get started with the wine.
2) The Exotic Food Snob
More commonly male than female, the exotic food snob will mention frequently how good the street food is in Thailand or Malaysian, but will snub mac and cheese, classical French cuisine or a good roast. The fewer Americans who have tasted a particular cuisine, the more status it holds. Scorns home-cooked food. Closely related to, and overlapping with the
3) Spicy Food Snob
Exotic is better, but chili and barbecue are okay, too, as long as the food is HOT!HOT!HOT! Heat is directly related to "authenticity," so the spicier the food, the more authentic (even if the dish is traditionally not that spicy), and people who have a problem with heat are to be mocked.
And speaking of authenticity...
4) The Authentic Food Snob
No substitutions accepted! The authentic food snob doesn't care what s/he eats, as long as it represents in the purest form a dish once eaten by a peasant somewhere. Is certain that there is ONE authentic version of every dish. If the authentic food snob cooks as well as eats, will worship Paula Wolfert.
5) The Reverse Food Snob
Believes that anyone who prefers "fancy" food is just putting on airs and needs to be put in place. Gets pissed off by unfamiliar foods. Insists that everyone really likes like Hellman's and Jif better than homemade mayo or natural peanut butter, but won't admit it.
6) The Fresh And Local Snob (Guilty!)
"I only eat food grown within 100 miles of home, except for spices and olive oil." "Oh, I do only 50 miles and I've given up olive oil - I only cook in local lard now." "I only eat food grown within one mile of my front yard. I've lost eighty-five pounds."
7) The Healthy Food Snob
"No meat, and you know what? I don't even miss it. No rich sauces for me - I really like things light. Only fruit for dessert. Maybe a single square of dark chocolate once a week or so, but generally, I don't have much taste for sugar any more. No, not fat either. You know, once you break your addiction to unhealthy food, you just don't want that stuff any more. You should try it."
8) The Trendy Food Snob
Genuinely thinks that someone's knowledge or interest in food can be gauged by their level of devotion to the NYTimes food section. Often cooks as well as eats; if so, owns very expensive kitchenware. Thinks that has something to do with one's abilities as a cook. I'm sorry, "chef." Thinks that formerly trendy foods like sundried tomatoes are kind of, well, funny.
I exaggerate, but only a little. There were probably twenty people there older than I am, and SEVERAL of these were attendees, rather than presenters. And I saw one other person in a skirt (no hose, though). (I carry the remnants of my Catholic upbringing with me even when I think I've rooted them out. After ten years of having to wear a skirt to school every day, and of course a dress to church on Sundays, I still am convinced on a deep level that jeans are suitable only for hanging around the house and doing grocery shopping - anything that involves meeting people calls for a proper outfit. Yeah, somehow I managed to attend high school in both the 1980s and the 1950s simultaneously. ) Anyway, to co-opt Elvis Costello - I used to be embarassed, now I try to be amused. And the sight of all those earnest college students, in their fleece and denim, devoted to the ideals of sustainable agriculture and food justice, eager to change the world in really positive, concrete ways - well, it warms the cockles of your heart, you know?
The day opened with Sandor Katz and Mark Smith (campaign director from Farm Aid). Now, here's the disappointing story about Sandor Katz - I was supposed to get to hang out with him, and I was pretty excited. I know - that's pushing the geek-o-meter to eleven. But I love his books. Wild Fermentation got me started making my own sauerkraut, and I read The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved through practically in one sitting. He's obviously a complete kook, and I mean that in the best of ways. So when I find out a co-worker knew him and would be attending his talk with plans to hang out afterwards, I was eager to tag along. Alas, my co-worker was a no-show, so I just got to hear the talk.
Which was very good, if a bit short (the same complaint I had about Mark Smith's presentation - the organizers really should have planned more time for both of these guys, who had a lot to say). Here was Katz's big message (stolen from someone else, though I've forgotten whom, because I never remember to take notes): Sustainability is participation.
I'm still mulling it over, because I think there's a lot there. His general point is that the role of consumer is a limited one. If we're going to stop the tide of destructive materialism, we need to be creators and nurturers and growers, each of us, and not just consumers. Not exactly a new concept, but still an important message, one that needs to be repeated over and over to be heard for even a moment in the din of the overall culture and its constant insistence that we buy!buy!buy!
I think that my grandfather was a relatively happy man. In no way did he live off-the-grid. His life was not exceptional for his time. He and my grandmother had a chicken farm for a while, and he worked in a lumber yard. After he had advanced in the company, they sold the farm and move to the "streetcar suburbs" of Boston (Roslindale). Then they retired to a truly suburban home in Wakefield, MA.
Sounds like a not-uncommon American life and hardly some sort of model for sustainability. After all, he sold the farm - it's probably a condo complex now. And he moved to the suburbs, where he became very attached to, of all things, Days of Our Lives.
But that suburban house had an apple tree in the yard and some blackberry bushes. My grandparents planted two big gardens and grew lettuce, spinach, zuchinni, summer squash, carrots, rhubarb, peas, green beans, yellow beans, radishes, tomatoes, and probably some other things I don't remember. My grandmother made jam from the blackberries and froze beans, peas, rhubarb and carrots for the winter. Of course, she made their meals, simple good food, nothing fancy, but all from scratch. In the basement, my grandfather had a workshop where he fixed things and built things from wood: shelves and small things for the house, dollhouse furniture for his granddaughter. I don't ever remember my grandparents playing a record, but my grandfather pulled out his guitar or his harmonica on most visits. My grandmother made quilts. And every morning they walked around the lake that sits in the middle of the town, visiting the neighbors along the way, stopping to pick up a newspaper, their mail at the post office.
In other words, their lives were defined more by what they made or what they did than what they bought. They made important contributions to their household through the work of their own hands. They had a community with whom they interacted on a regular basis. And I think their lives were so much more in balance than most people's lives are today, when spend-watch-listen has largely replaced make-play-do.
Cooking is the primary way that I participate, though I also make woodcuts and paintings. I wish I could grow things. I used to, I had a garden in my last apartment. But I made a strategic error. In my desperation to find an apartment in Cambridge that was affordable and not terribly depressing, I gave up on access to a yard. I knew that I had loved my garden, but I didn't think it was essential. I also thought that this apartment was a short-term, temporary thing, for a year or so, until I was able to find a job outside the city. Well, I was wrong. It's been three years, and I'm still here. And the loss of the garden has been very difficult. Rather than moving forward, into a life of greater participation, I have moved back, into a greater reliance on being a consumer.
It's okay. I won't make that mistake again. And I've used this time to learn some other skills - I've learned how to knit (at least a little), I've improved my jam-making and canning, I've learned how to make fermented pickles (thanks, Sandor), I've assisted in beer-making, I make my own vinegar. Since I still don't know when I'm going to leave this place, I've decided this summer I'm going to focus on pickling, drying, and freezing local produce. And I'm going to learn the harmonica, because, as Maude said, "Everyone should know how to make a little music."
Hmm, I seem to have wandered from the Farming the City conference. What else to say about that? A lot of great projects are going on. I was particularly impressed by the projects described in the morning session that were aimed at getting farm produce to food-insecure communities. The problems seem insurmountable, but these projects seemed to have great success by starting very, very small and growing slowly until they are helping a lot of people. Which is its own lesson - small steps matter.
Okay, Sunday morning sermon is over. The Mass is over, go in peace to participate as fully as you can in your own life.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
I used Maury Rubin's tart crust recipe, because, as I believe Jeffrey Steingarten pointed out, it's perfect and there's no need for any other recipe for tart shells. I didn't use his recipe for passionfruit filling, though. It looked a little lacking in eggy goodness. So I found a recipe online for passionfruit curd, then looked at Helen Witty's lemon curd recipe, which is my standard go-to recipe for lemon curd. I determined that the Witty recipe would work, as long as I decreased the sugar (tart though passionfruit is, it's sweeter than lemon juice). I also wanted to use Rubin's idea of including vanilla bean to add another layer of flavor. So this is what I came up with:
3 egg yolks, plus one whole egg
1 cup sugar (or 3/4 cup - I'll explain in just a minute)
1/2 cup passionfruit pulp/juice (I didn't use fresh, though that would have been great. Goya*, god bless 'em, sells frozen pure pulp. It's excellent in cocktails, smoothies and this recipe.)
1 stick plus two T butter, cut into pieces (whoo-hoo! eggs and butter! bring it on!)
2-inch piece vanilla bean
Beat the eggs and sugar together thoroughly. Add the juice, butter and vanilla bean (scrape the seeds into the mix, then throw the pod in while you're at it), and put your bowl over some simmering water. Cook and whisk seemingly endlessly, but really only for about 10-15 minutes (I recommend you put on NPR before you start) until it's nice and thick, then put through a strainer into a bowl and refrigerate.
Blind bake your tart shell, let it cool, then brush it thinly with a bit of melted white chocolate. This will seal the shell from the moisture of the filling and keep it from getting soggy. Fill the tart - you should have exactly enough for a standard tart shell.
Now, here's the question: meringue or whipped cream? For eating purposes, I prefer whipped cream, but for the baker, meringue has two advantages. One, it uses up those perfectly good egg whites. Two, you get to use the blowtorch. For me, the joy of playing with fire trumps the pleasure of butterfat (just barely), so I went with meringue. And therein lies the error I made with the recipe. It was just a little too sweet. With lightly sweetened whipped cream, the curd would have been perfect, but it wasn't quite tart enough to stand up to meringue. Therefore, I would suggest that if you want to serve the curd plain, or with raspberries (which would look and taste great) or with cream, you use 1 cup of sugar, but if you want to to cover the curd with meringue, drop the sugar down to 3/4 cup.
The sauce was my way of dealing with the overly-sweet tart. Passionfruit pulp, a little sugar, heated together, a little cornstarch to thicken (my arrowroot had something blue in it - I have NO idea), then a glug of rum. Fine, nothing exciting, but brought the sweetness back into balance. Unnecessary if you follow the sugar guidelines above, I think.
I will definitely make this tart again; it's pretty easy, the components could be made ahead, and it's a little unexpected. Plus, I think it will be fun to play around with fruit pairings. Raspberries are obvious, because raspberries and passionfruit have a special synergy, but kiwi might be nice as well, or strawberries or even possibly peaches. We shall see.
*If there's one big brand I love with a pure and untarnished love, it is Goya, maker of the only canned beans that are neither chalky nor mushy, purveyor of otherwise unattainable ingredients, my one true Goya.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
And then there's buttermilk sherbet.
I make buttermilk sherbet more than any other dessert. I often have buttermilk left over in the fridge, and the sherbet comes together in minutes. I just add enough sugar (sometimes honey) to make the buttermilk sweet-tart, then add a little something, and in the ice cream maker it goes. Ten minutes later I have a nice little dessert, low in fat, not too high in sugar, with a little protein and calcium to keep it from being totally nutritionally reprehensible. This is one of the only desserts I ever make just for myself; usually, dessert is a company phenomenon.
Now, that "little something" I add is fruit-based, but it changes with what I have in the house, from a tiny dash of lemon juice to a mess of pureed fruit. I have successfully made blackberry-buttermilk sherbet, lemon-buttermilk sherbet, lime-buttermilk sherbet, raspberry-buttermilk sherbet, peach-buttermilk sherbet and blueberry-buttermilk sherbet. Last night I made pink grapefruit-buttermilk sherbet, and I just want to share this advice with you: don't. Grapefruit-buttermilk sherbet is bad and weird. Just. Don't.
This has been a public service announcement.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"It was pretty good. The basic idea was that nutrition is really complex and we don't know as much as we can, so you shouldeat based on humanity's accumulated knowledge about food you find in traditional cuisines, instead of just eating whatever nutritionists say you should this week. So, eat real food, like what your grandparents ate. You know, don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, like Powerbars or Oreos or yogurt."
Yogurt. Cracked me up.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Well, I do. At least, I do when I'm reading other peoples' blogs. I love to hear what people really eat, day to day. What did you have for lunch, for dinner? I want to know. I want to know where you get your groceries, what you splurge on, and where you pinch pennies, what your fall-back meals are and what's in your pantry and what big-brand foods do you still eat all the time even though you're not really a big-brand-eatin' kind of person (Grape-Nuts). But I never feel like I have enough to say unless I can offer up something different. Isn't it always that way? We want greatness from ourselves, but love other people if they just smile at us.
So, here's what I had for lunch: lentil salad. This is a good salad, simple and tasty enough to eat three days in a row. I used to make it all the time, but then I stopped because the boyfriend doesn't like feta, and feta is key to this salad. Then I realized that feta is only key for me - he likes really plain food. So I made a batch and removed his portion before I added the feta.
I don't measure for this. I don't even know how many cupes of lentils I used, because I made the lentils for a side dish on Saturday night, just boiled firm-tender with some mushrooms over. The next day I mixed the leftover lentils with chopped red pepper, parsley and feta cheese, and dressed it all with a combination of lemon juice, olive oil, pepper, salt and a spoonful of tomato paste. Of course, you can skip the red pepper, or use green, or add red onion or chopped sundried tomatoes,or cucumbers or regular tomatoes or scallions. The basic requirements are lentils (not overcooked), parsley (the salad will taste dull without it), feta, and enough salt and pepper in the dressing to really give it some flavor. Though you could substitute vinegar for the lemon juice, I wouldn't recommend it - the bright citrus serves as a good counterpoint to the earthy lentils. But you can skip the tomato paste if you wish, particularly if you do add some tomatoes, dried or not, to the salad.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
1) Throw away ceramic pie plates, no matter how cute they may be or how many you might receive as gifts. They are useless.
2) Oven-roasted potatoes take at least twice as long as it seems like they should. Short of actual burning, it's almost impossible to overcook a roasted potato.
3) You will never, ever use frozen spicy chicken broth. If there's a chicken carcass with lots of spice on it, just pick it bare and toss it out.
4) Always buy two bottles of glass cleaner, two cans of scrubbing cleanser, two rolls of paper towels. Keep one each in the kitchen and the bathroom. See how much cleaner your rooms stay.
5) Put all the bits and pieces for stock in ONE freezer bag, dummy.
6) Don't waste your vote on a third party candidate.
7) Refrigerate your apples.
8) Those weird "produce storage" bags with the tiny holes? They work.
9) Buttermilk freezes perfectly.
10) A small food processor is a waste of space. Buy a big one or skip it.
11) You will not grind meat as often as you thought you would.
12) If you like a cookbook writer, buy everything s/he ever wrote. You'll probably use those books twice as often as any other additions to the library - unless you luck on another favorite. At which point, repeat.
13) On a similar note, you will never regret buying another Tom Waits album.
14) A kitchen drawer needs scissors, binder clips, paper clips, rubber bands, and note paper. Having to run to the desk for these items is annoying.
15) Every home needs a cat.
16) White pepper is freakin' delicious.
17) Celery seed helps out a lot of dishes - anything with mayo, anything with beef.
18) Really good dried pasta (bronze-die) is actually worth the money.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Anyway, the January issue of NewEnglandGrown is up. We're focusing this month on game and exotic meat - deer and bison farming, etc. Check it out.
Bison on a farm in Rutland, MA, during the only snowfall we've had this year.