Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Dance 10, Looks 3.

August 5, 2013

Butter, olive oil, mayonnaise, and anchovy paste. In eggs. These aren’t your average eggs, these are Craig Claiborne’s stuffed eggs. I finally made them tonight after bogging down in my months-long project to cook and rewrite my way through his Kitchen Primer and I’m eating a few of them now as I write this.

They’re not just loaded with fat, mind you, but along with that anchovy paste is Worcestershire sauce, and chives. These things, which are quite tasty, are like little egg white boats filled with umami. Lemon juice and salt – of course – push the umami right over the edge. Really, they’re very good. But with all that anchovy paste, a tablespoon mixed into just six egg yolks, the yolk filling – creamy and salty and flavorful – is a less than appetizing shade of brown. Not even a deep, library-walls-lined-with-leather-brown but more of a left-overs-in -the-back-of-the-fridge-for-the-past-three-months kind of brown. They’re really unattractive.

I know, I know. It’s shallow of me to criticize a dish solely on the basis of its appearance, especially when I know how good they taste (and especially given my recent infatuation with Catalan cooking which is entirely brown, except for those parts of it that are sort of beige colored).

I suspect Claiborne knew this and so, at the end of the recipe, he recommends decorating them with capers or truffles cut into little shapes. I’m not making that up. Star-shaped slices of truffle, while adding to the flavor, aren’t going to help these things look any more appetizing.

So, do I add the recipe to the blog I’m writing about Kitchen Primer? I will, for two reasons. One, they do truly taste very good. Two, the recipe is a good illustration of Claiborne’s tastes. But now I’m on the lookout for some rather more attractive recipes. Or just something that isn’t brown.

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Pickling, freezing, and remembering

June 26, 2013
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Washing cucumbers before brining.

Each summer I promise myself I’ll put up some of the amazing produce that shows up in our farmers’ markets here in San Francisco. And why wouldn’t I? Some of the fruits and vegetables have such short seasons – figs, for example – that it’s worth the effort to keep them around a little longer. In truth, however, I rarely ever get around to it. This year, I promised myself, would be different.

I promised myself the same thing last summer, too, as I recall and then promptly left the country for three months, pretty much missing the entire summer growing season. Given my track record so far, I’m impressed with what I’ve been accomplishing so far this summer. I’ve been making pickles and freezing strawberries. OK, that’s not exactly a pantry full of staples for the year ahead but, hey, it’s a start.

I made my first batch of pickles a couple of weeks ago. Let me clarify this: I made my first batch of pickled cucumbers a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I cook for a living, have written a great deal about cooking over the years, and have put up a fair amount of other pickled vegetables and kimchi over time, as well, but I’ve never gotten around to making a simple pickled cuke.

My experimental batch – two jars – is sitting in the refrigerator as I write this, and I was pretty pleased with them over all. Pleased enough, at any rate, to plunge ahead even farther. Right now, as I write this, a stock pot filled with pickling cukes and brine, weighted down with a heavy saucer, is sitting in the refrigerator, brining away so that its contents can be turned into flavorful pickles for later on.

Somewhere along the line, as I planned that first batch, it occurred to me to flavor them with lemon grass, the long, citrusy herb so favored in Southeast Asian cuisine. I added coriander pods to the mix, as well, and the results are lovely. Fresh and light tasting, I have to admit however that I wanted them to have a bit more punch. With this new batch, a larger batch, I’m going to add ginger, garlic, and chilies to the lemon grass and coriander mix.

Pickles aside, I’m also preparing strawberries for freezing. I have one one-gallon bag of berries already tucked away in the freezer, awaiting their future as ingredients in smoothies and muffins, or whatever else occurs to me, as the strawberry season fades away (In California, it never really fades away, as locally grown strawberries continue to show up in the market pretty much throughout the year, but they lack much flavor and certainly aren’t worth bothering with).

Freezing produce, however, brings a multitude of memories. When I was 11 or 12 years old, my family moved back to Arkansas from California, after buying my grandmother’s tiny farmhouse and land. My parents, eager to escape the crush of life in urban California, had visions of getting back to the land and, with a copy of the book “Self-Suffiency” and a subscription to Mother Earth News, we jumped into small scale farming, replete with livestock and what seemed at the time like an enormous garden.

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Strawberries drying on a rack before being frozen.

Eager to put up much of what was coming out of the garden, my mother spent hours blanching and freezing vegetables. Corn, beans, and probably quite a few other things, as well, made their way into the freezer while my mother sweated it out in the humid Arkansas summer heat. I live in San Francisco now; it’s a little less intense. Still, I seem to remember her choosing to freeze our harvest rather canning it because it seemed easier. On the other hand, freezing is actually better at preserving flavor and nutrients. Whatever her motivation, it was the better choice nutritionally.

I bought three pints of berries at the farmers’ market today and brought them home, where I washed and trimmed them, cutting them in half. They’re drying on a cooling rack right now. When they’re completely dried, I’ll arrange them on baking sheets so that they’re not touching one another, and then pop the whole tray into the freezer. Once the berries are frozen solid, I’ll pour them into another gallon zip-lock bag and stash them back in the freezer for the months ahead. Freezing them individually this way insures they don’t clump together into a large, unmanageable clod. I can pull out a handful of individual berries, to be tossed into whatever dish I want them for.

Cooking in Catalan

November 26, 2012

For someone who’s not terribly fond of mushrooms – I like their flavor, don’t get me wrong; it’s the texture that wigs me out – I was quite happy with the mushroom soup I made for Thanksgiving dinner last week. I was even happier that I made it from a recipe in one of the Catalan-language cookbooks I brought back from Spain in October.

I can’t speak Catalan and my reading skills in that language are comparable to, say, a four-year-old just learning to read at all but, thanks to Google Translate and my Catalan-English dictionary, I managed quite nicely, thank you. And the soup was quite good, too.

Cooking is not unlike sociology and learning one’s way through the cooking of another culture is rather like a sociology intensive. Language and food and taste and the various oddities that surround the cooking style of a culture all offer glimpses into a culture. Bring those elements together and you come away with more than just a nice bowl of soup; you’ve learned a bit more about the world around you.

Take, for example, Thanksgiving’s soup: Sopa de Bolets or, mushroom soup. The Catalan are supposedly quite wild about mushrooms. Certainly, every book I read about the food of Catalonia went into some detail about the vast expeditions undertaken by the average Catalonian to favored, secret mushroom gathering grounds in the deepest, darkest reaches of the country. I spent three months there over the summer – hardly prime mushroom growing season – so I wasn’t able to experience that aspect of Catalan culinary life, but I will say that mushroom recipes abound in Catalan cuisine.

The problem with making recipes from other cultures, too, is that you can never quite get all the ingredients called for. When cooking time arrived, I wasn’t without anything but nothing I used was actually from Catalonia. The recipe, for example, called for rossinyol and dried cama mushrooms, neither of which, to the best of my knowledge, grow here in California. But, for that matter, it’s not as if I used Californian mushrooms, either. The dried mushrooms I used – porcini and morels – I actually purchased last year in Mexico City’s San Juan market (I did use fresh creminis and another type – I forget which). I used Italian olive oil rather than Spanish or Californian, for that matter, although the tomatoes were from California, as was the garlic and the almonds and the bread and the onions.

The soup was lovely and I took particular pleasure in making the sofregit – Catalonia’s answer to the sofrito – but, of course, one wonders how the ingredients might have tasted in a Catalan-made version. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through increased opportunities to travel the past few years, familiar foods do taste different in different countries. Terroir, I suppose, with different soil conditions and weather and any additional factors all coming together to determine whether or not an onion is sweeter or more pungent than its relatives overseas or the valley over the mountain range.

And, yet, reading through the recipe in Catalan, and cooking it up and serving to it my family and friends, did – if only briefly – transport me back to Barcelona. Struggling with Catalan (“What is ametlles again? Oh, right. Almonds.”) and then tasting the rich, earthy results in a holiday meal let me share my Catalan adventure with friends while giving me a chance to review some of the Catalan language I might have otherwise forgotten.

And, if nothing else, it made me think of Barcelona, and Catalonia, and Spain and, maybe, just maybe taste a little of the place again.

The Decline of the American Empire

August 26, 2011

Thanks to Steve Dugger who cooks and plays music on California’s north coast.

A Note from the FSIS

February 3, 2011

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has released updated guidelines for exporting to and importing from several countries, including Egypt. This is really only of interest because of the air of mystery it lends all ready mysterious products:

“Whole frozen poultry (chicken, turkey, and duck). Further processed poultry products that can no longer be physically identified as a poultry part, such as luncheon meat or turkey bacon, are permitted.”