When Grapes Met Cotton Candy – A Goofy Story

0

Back in the day.

Back in the carefree, racist, Hazmat-filled days of 1964, Pillsbury decided to take on a soft-drink behemoth that has since acquired a second, political, meaning (Kool-Aid®) with a series of imitation drink mixes of their own: “Funny Face.”

There were initially six iterations of Funny Face, two of which (Injun Orange and Chinese Cherry) were promptly withdrawn because they were have adjudged to have exceeded even the racist norms of their time, and it was a time when many people actually got embarrassed about creating racist memes. Further scorn was heaped on the product when it was discovered to have been sweetened with cyclamates, which were declared a carcinogen and banned in America in 1970. But Goofy Grape was my fave Funny Face drink, cancer be damned.

At that time, Thompson Seedless green grapes were pretty much the only seedless variety to have penetrated the market, but since then, several horticultural entities have stepped up to attempt to unseat the Thompson. For instance, the University of Alabama (!) has developed several varieties, many of which (Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, etc.) are named after planets. [Not particularly surprised they didn’t name a grape after Uranus.]

On the private side, a producer known as Grapery® was, and is, bringing a little magic to the market in totally unexpected ways. Owners Jack Pandol and Jim Beagle of Grapery® both grew up in commercial ag; in fact, Pandol’s grandfather Stjepe emigrated from his native Croatia at the early 1900’s and farmed his first vineyard in California’s San Joaquin Valley not far from where Grapery®’s vineyards now stand.

The grapes, many of which look surprisingly, um, unusual are all non-GMO. And the shapes and flavours! Oh my.

Best of both worlds.

My favourite is a variety the bride brought home today and is only available for about 6-8 weeks each year. Cotton Candy® grapes look pretty much like your standard Thompson Seedless, but they embody that ephemeral sweetness for which cotton candy is famed. I also found some Moon Drops® at the local super; they seem — to me anyway — to have a more distinctive shape than taste, but they’ll definitely liven up a salad visually.

Moon Drops®.

Like any crop, it has a limited harvest, so git while the gittin’ is good. There’s just no substitute, and they’re worth getting goofy over.

Smoking Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Roasted Tomatoes in an Electric Smoker

1

Sun-dried on the left; roasted and packed in oil on the right.

Over the course of playing with my new electric pellet smoker, I’ve discovered lots of recipes for smoking fresh tomatoes, but none for smoking sun-dried tomatoes. You can certainly buy smoked sun-dried tomatoes, but they’re not cheap. I happened to have both a bag of sun-dried tomato strips and a bottle of roasted tomatoes packed in oil lying around, so I thought I’d give then each a go.

This time, the sun-dried tomatoes are on the right.

I put them in the smoker at 175°F / 80°C for 15 minutes and checked them; no apparent smoky taste. So I turned the smoker to the “Lo Smoke” setting, which (somewhat counterintuitively) produces more smoke. [According to the mfr., Lo Smoke temp runs about 175°F / 80°C, Hi Smoke about 210°F / 100°C, and that on both settings the auger timing is slightly slowed, allowing pellets to smolder more than burn. In case you’re wondering, I used the Traeger Grills Signature Blend pellets, made from hickory, maple, and cherry woods.]

After 15 more minutes, I was sensing a bit of smokiness, but the tomatoes’ concentrated flavour still wasn’t permitting much to come through. By 45 minutes in, the smoke seemed more noticeable, but still not quite where I intended it to be. My concern at this point was not to allow the tomatoes to turn acrid, which over-smoking will do to just about anything if you aren’t careful. So I set the timer for one more 15-minute jaunt.

Roasted on the left, sun-dried on the right, looking pretty much as they did when they started, but tasting noticeably different.

Huzzah! Just the edge I was looking for. I put the roasted tomatoes and their oil back into their original jar, and I popped the sun-dried strips into a Snapware Glasslock storage container with a little Olea Farm rosemary olive oil.

Two takeaways:
1) Next time I will spritz the sun-dried tomatoes with a little olive oil, or even water, because the moisture helps them take the smoke better.
2) If your pellet grill doesn’t have a “Lo Smoke” setting, I’d smoke these at 210°-230°F / 100°-110°C for about 30-45 minutes, tasting at the half-hour mark.

Electric Smoker Meats Its Match With Leg Of Lamb Two Ways

0

Sell by? It will have been long gone by.

Headline pun intended.

The Internets have no shortage of opinions when it comes to smoking meats, and one is on a fool’s errand to attempt to secure a definitive answer. PRO TIP: This is NOT a definitive answer.

I’ve been grilling leg of lamb for about half my life now (which is to say over 30 years), and I was excited to try our new pellet smoker to find out how it stacked up against the various other methods (Big Green Egg, gas grill, trad charcoal grill) I’ve employed before.

The short version: Very Well.

You don’t need to follow me down the rabbit hole unless you’re slightly — like me — monomaniacal about research prior to grillage. If you are, I suggest these YouTube vids, one from Malcom Reed’s HowToBBQRight, the other from Darnell McGavock Sr.’s D Grill. Both of them used electric pellet smokers, so they were the most relevant to my immediate project, but I also watched a bunch of others. The reason I frequently turn to YouTube first is to see the actual cooks and their process(es) in motion, as well as to hear comments they might not bother to include in a printed recipe. [I also visited Steven Raichlen’s very informative online home, which I recommend highly.]

Originally, my intention was to make pulled lamb, which in theory comes off the smoke at a higher temp than your standard smoked leg. From what I’ve read (at least in terms of pork), there are two sweet spots for removing meat from the grill/smoker: one is about 145-150°F/63-65.5°C, the other is about 195-203°F/90-95°C. Apparently, the in-between is the “tough zone.” I’ve encountered this phenomenon before when cooking octopus, squid, and shrimp (not always on the grill), so it doesn’t surprise me. Perhaps a quick revisit to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen will yield an answer as to why, but that’s for another post. I opted not to pursue the higher finished temperature, because I read that the leg was not sufficiently possessed of marbling fat to make it tender at that temp; that recipe recommended bone-in lamb shoulder instead.

Lose some, but not all, the fat.

PREP
No matter how thoroughly your butcher trims the fat off your lamb leg, it’s not enough. You don’t want to take all the fat away, but an excess will give it that “gamy” taste that causes people to think they don’t like lamb. You can see in the lower right of the photo above how much fat I excised. I cut the leg about 60/40%, because I was feeling a bit experimentative, both in terms of marinating and cooking.

Pan-Asian Marinade Ingredients.

Marinade #1 (Asian Style) (for the 60% piece)
INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp. / 30 ml sesame oil
2 tbsp. / 5-6 cloves minced garlic
3 tsp. / 16 g ginger paste
6 star anise pods, ground
3 tsp. / 5 g five-spice powder
1 tsp. / 2.5 g white pepper

It’s Turkish-ish, kinda.

Marinade #2 (Turkish-ish) (for the 40% piece)
INGREDIENTS
¼ cup / 60 ml olive oil (I used Olea Farm, which I love)
¼ cup / 60 ml pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp. / 55 g Darrell & Nil’s Turkish Blend Spice*
5 large slices preserved lemon
2 tbsp. salt (preferably kosher or flaked; I used Læsø Salt from Denmark, because I had some and it’s a good story)

*Yeah, you’re gonna have a tough time finding that. It’s made from paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, allspice, cassia, sumac, oregano, Maras chile, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg. Maybe I can get them to cough up the actual recipe, but if not, make sure you include the sumac and Maras chile, which really push the blend toward Istanbul.

Rub rub rub it in; get your fingers into it; don’t be shy.

MARINATION DIRECTIONS

Rub it in to all the cracks and crevasses, and allow the lamb to chill overnight in the fridge. Due to a scheduling conflict, I left it in for two nights. Not a problem.

A WORD ON PELLET SMOKING

Ask 15 pitmasters what the best type of wood for smoking lamb might be, and you’ll get 67¾ answers. After way too much agita, I succumbed to crowdsourcing and went with Amazon’s Choice, Traeger’s Signature Blend (their hickory pellets were the #1 Best Seller). I am sure that at some point in the future, I will have a hankering to try a specific type of wood with a specific recipe, but this wasn’t it. Think Ford, not Ferrari.

A little over an hour in the smoker. Some colour, but no “bark.”

ON THE SMOKER

I checked the pellet level and fired up the smoker, letting the machine come up to temp (250°F/121°C) while I took the lamb out of the chill chest and tied it up with butcher’s twine to help ensure an even roast. 20 minutes later, I placed the pieces fat side up on the grill and left them alone, apart from one quick peek about halfway through to see if they needed to be swaddled in aluminum foil to keep from drying out (they didn’t). After 3.5 hours on the electric pellet smoker at 250°F/121°C, the one on the left came off at an internal temp of 148°F/64.4°C, the one on the right came off at an internal temp of 166°F/74.4°C (which is regarded as the high end of acceptable for lamb). Obviously, the marinades made some difference in the appearance of the two pieces, and I can say that the 166°F/74.4°C piece was not quite as tender as the other one, though both were highly acceptable, texture-wise, and both were absolutely delicious.

After the meat rested, I popped it back in the fridge for a few hours, but it re-emerged at dinnertime for “lambwiches” (lamb sandwich with rocket and mayo on a Kaiser roll). Still moist and tender, full of flavour. And hands down, the most effortless process for leg of lamb I’ve found yet. Just like I would be happy with my Instant Pot even if I used it for nothing other than beans, I’m thrilled with the Camp Chef SmokePro DLX even if it only ever gets used for lamb… which it surely won’t.

Turned On by Turon

0

Miss World 2013 Megan Young pops by Chaaste Family Market. She looks better in a leather skirt than I do.

In many ways, Angelenos are quintessentially American by being quintessentially provincial. To be sure, Los Angeles is segregated by politics and wealth distribution and ethnicity, but it is also segregated by zones where people Just Won’t Go. Part of this is a logical response to the most mercurial traffic density in the Continental 48: a journey of five miles can range from anywhere between eight and eighty minutes to complete. So people settle into their zone. Some won’t venture east of the 405, some won’t travel south of the 10, or cross the “Orange Curtain” that divides California’s first and third most populous counties. Santa Clarita? Long Beach? You may as well be on Deimos or Phobos, my friends.

It’s only about 19 miles (or 30 kilometers) as the crow flies between the Westwood campus of UCLA and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (where their team plays its home games in men’s football). And — it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much — that’s about the only time (except for New Year’s, obvs) you’ll find a dedicated mass of people from Westwood struggling across town to visit said city.

But thanks to a friend’s medical appointment, I found myself in Pasadena, which is gorgeous even when it’s not hauling rose-festooned floats down its streets. It was also, until 10 days ago, the home of the late Jonathan Gold, the only food critic in American history to have won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. We never met, much to my dismay, even though he was friends with a number of our friends, and I’m sure we could have arranged an intro. And there was the time at the now-shuttered Corazón y Miel — a restaurant his column introduced to us — when the bride and I saw him sit down to a solitary Sunday meal and decided to let him dine in peace. That was also the day that I learned (thanks to his recommendation) deep-fried avocado is spectacular.

But I digress.

With a couple of unscheduled hours before me as I awaited my pal Valerie’s eyes to dilate like a Disney Princess‘ and then return to something like normal, I headed out for some east side exotica. And I wound up at Chaaste Family Market.

Still life with Honda. Those are spare recyclable grocery bags in the back seat, not the World’s Saddest Balloons.

Initially, I was just poking around for ingredients. It’s a hobby of mine to find the most unusual/exotic/counterintuitive ingredient I can, take it home, then read about it and figure out how to use it. That’s how I once wound up with a bag full of this, for instance:

Actually perhaps the least effective marketing campaign on behalf of mushrooms this millennium.

The bride said, “You’re not going to bring home a bunch of stuff that you’re gonna leave on the counter for months, are you?” I swore I wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t have placed a two-bit bet on whether I was lying or not. I very nearly returned with a box of “Puto,” which as near as I can tell makes a bao-like dough for steaming and stuffing. Those of you from SoCal or for whom Spanglish is a second language already know that puto has a second, and very different, meaning.

This might be the only photo of puto in a box that my website provider would allow me to host.

But judging from the signage, it seemed that la délicatesse du jour was something called turon. [You can find examples of people making them here, here, and here.] Apparently, the day’s turon output was due to start rolling out to the public at 13:30, about half an hour away. I considered making my exit — “Be back at 1:30!” — with about a 10% chance of actually being back at 1:30. But things were slow, and the very friendly proprietor (whom I would later find out is the owner’s son Chris, pictured at the right of the photo at top), said, “It could be a little earlier than that. Why not hang out for a few minutes, if you’ve got time?”

Funky and functional.

Time I had. And attached to their market is a little restaurant, with room for 20 in a pinch. Maybe. If they were friends. It’s decorated in the way that lots of the best eateries in the world are, which is to say minimally. A mural depicts the founders riding in their horse-drawn wedding coach across a bridge from the Philippines to America. It also features the second generation, in various guises. And Manny Pacquiao, because, well, the Philippines. [I’m not being snotty or superior about this in any way, because the Maritimes from which I come has restaurants that boast of Anne Murray and/or Sidney Crosby; gotta support the locals.]

Not 100% sure of tall he iconography here, but it’a a cool mural.

What little knowledge I had of Pinoy food was mostly hastily acquired when I was recruited by a chef pal to participate in a relief effort for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan; I was part of the crew he organized to throw a benefit fund-raising dinner. My contribution was calamansi chewies. So, ignorant but open, I placed myself in the hands of my host, something I often do; after all, who better to know what’s good?

Rice is nice.

We moved onto some steam table items, and settled on bistek, beef giniling guisado (which Chris told me his Latino friends refer to as “hamburger helper”), pancit bihon (a dish very like a vegetable-laden vermicelli mix, though it can also feature a variety of proteins), and, of course, the rice.

From left, clockwise: bistek, giniling guisado, pancit bihon, rice. Yum.

It was a right tasty meal, especially the bistek, whose broth had the depth of a Borges short story collection. Came to a grand total of $8.10, which has to be one of the best under-$10 meals I’ve had in America. Is it worth hacking one’s way through the ugly maw that is Los Angeles traffic to partake of it on a daily basis? Probably not. Will it be at the top of my list the next time I find myself in the neighbourhood? You bet.

The best of both worlds: Christian halfway between the market and the restaurant.

Ah, but then.

Part of me wants to believe that the omitted apostrophe is entirely intentional, and a nod to the French; after all, Mama’s turon is so good it just flies out the door, so it’s no surprise she would find herself without any. Mama Sans Turon, indeed. It’s like an egg roll and a banana and a churro and some jackfruit went up to heaven and asked if they could borrow some manna and have a baby together.

Magic and happiness, fried in tandem.

Like clockwork, at 13:30, the shop began to fill with turon fans. The first few were warned not to try them right away, as the turons were just slightly cooler than a meteorite hitting the lower atmosphere. And after I watched several happy clusters of customers drift off, I joined them, turon package in tow, in sweet (and fried) bliss. So by all means do make your way over some day, plan it around lunch, and surprise your couch- (or house-) bound friends with a little manna that found its path from heaven via Manila and Pasadena.

Summer Vegan Bean Salad I

0

Bless you, Steve Sando.

Summertime, and the livin’ is… damn sticky, for the nonce, in Southern California. And there’s another heat wave coming. The last thing I want to do is to, say, sit over a pot of saffron risotto for an hour. I’d like something cool, and refreshing, and clean, and if I were able to subsist on gin and tonic or Croma Vera Albariño, well, I’d probably do that. My doctor might suggest some other course; I bet she’d be just fine with this one.

The first trick to any bean salad is — duh — great beans. I’ve long extolled the virtues of Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans, and that’s where I started. The bride and I are particularly fond of their Royal Corona beans, which are kin to the Gigandes plaki, often spelled as yigandes, used in the great Greek meze served under an expansive canopy of tomato sauce and often accompanied by Feta cheese and bread. Rancho Gordo founder Sando is something of a bean whisperer, and cultivates heirloom beans all over the world, working with local farmers at fair prices. He is a hero, full stop.

The second trick to a good bean salad is a balance of flavours and textures. No one wants a limp bean any more than they want a wet noodle — and I mean that literally and figuratively. When I knew I would be building off a base of Royal Corona beans, I compiled a culinary dance card of prospective partners, seen below. Since this is a really adaptable bean, I knew I could go off in several directions, but not all at once. So: I decided to make it Vegan. I knew sun-dried tomatoes and marinated red bell peppers would be part of it for colour and taste and texture. Then it was a matter of filling in gaps. Celery for crunch. Capers for salt and tang. Slivered almonds for more crunch. Macerated red onion for a little assertiveness, but not too much, hence the maceration. Scallions and parsley for herbaceousness and colour. Fresh thyme for extra aromatics. There were some herbs and oil in the sun-dried tomatoes, and I decided to use them rather than rinse them off, and finish off the salad dressing as needed.

NOT “5 Livered Almonds.” The pen was malfunctioning.

This is truly a salad that can be assembled by an elementary schooler, as soon as she can be trusted with a knife (and has the upper body strength to open vacuum-packed bottles, or can inveigle someone to do it for her).

Macerating the onion in this case consists of dicing it and dropping it in a bowl with enough water to cover it, dumping in a glug — that’s a technical term — of some sort of vinegar, and about .5 cup / 170 g of sugar, then stirring it up and setting it into the fridge for an hour or so, to blunt the onion’s sharpness. It’s not quite a quick pickle, but it does temper its aggressiveness.

As for the beans, I made them in my Instant Pot®. Rinsed them, covered them with water, and set the pressure on high for 25 minutes with a natural release. You can soak them overnight if you wish, and cook them in a trad soup pot (I do this in winter, just for the atmosphere), but I was shooting for fast results. I drained the cooked beans and rinsed them with cold tap water, then dumped them in with the already macerating onion to cool them down some more. Kilotonnes of options here, feel free to follow your path.

Give it a bit to mingle flavours, and you may or may not want to top it with a vinaigrette. As it turned out for me, just a few drops of great old Balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of black sea salt flakes (the flakes were black due to charcoal; they weren’t from the Black Sea) finished it off nicely, even on the second day.

Summer Vegan Bean Salad I
Serves 6-8 as a main course, with extras

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. / 454 g dried Rancho Gordo Royal Corona Beans, hydrated and cooked
24 oz. / 680 g (2 bottles, 12 oz./340 g each) marinated red peppers, drained
25-30 capers
3 large stalks celery, diced
1 red onion, diced and macerated (see note above)
1 bunch scallions (10-12), sliced
1 cup / 60 g chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp / 2.4 g fresh thyme, finely minced
16 oz. / 454 g julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil (using the oil)
.75 cup / 85 g slivered almonds

Next go, we may find room for some of those other ingredients on the dance card, plus cucumber, jicama, nopalito, or something else!

Incidentally, if you’re not wedded to the Vegan thing, bacon & bleu cheese, prosciutto & Parmesan, or even chicken & chevre could be welcome additions.

One final and sad note: As I was writing this, I learned that the Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold died. He was as much a part of this city’s cultural life as Jim Murray or Jack Smith; he was the culinary literary equivalent for this city of the likes of Mike Royko or Studs Terkel or Herb Caen. He is simply irreplaceable, and his passing at 57 is too soon by decades. I cannot begin to imagine how much our lives will be impoverished by his absence.

http://www.latimes.com/food/jonathan-gold/

At $9 A Liter, Aneto Chicken Broth Is A Steal.

5

Worth its weight in chicken.

I know, I know. For that amount of money you could buy THREE liters of chicken broth. You’d probably be better off mixing this with two liters of water, actually, if price is your sole criterion.

Full disclosure: Due to an upcoming medical procedure during which they insert a video camera up into the shadiest area of my body (i.e., “where the sun don’t shine”), I am currently on a liquid diet. Chicken broth is permitted. I decided to use this opportunity to test drive a suggestion I came across while writing the article on fideuà inauténtico. My research for that piece led me to an excellent food blog called The Daring Gourmet, which features not only recipes, but also product reviews, travel and health tips, restaurant reviews, and more. [You should visit it after you’re done reading this.]

They wrote an article about their visit to the Aneto factory in Artes, Spain, that I found completely captivating. Enough so that I was willing to plunk down $27 to pick up three liters of the broth as part of my hydration regime, knowing I would be renting it for not much longer than it will take you to finish watching the final episode of The Americans this evening.

I had considered myself a fairly savvy shopper, and the chicken broth in the pantry was Kroeger’s Simple Truth Organic Free Range Chicken Broth Fat Free, which I bought at the local Ralphs for about $1.99 or so. But compare the ingredient list between Aneto (at left) and Kroeger (at right).

The boxes are the same size, but that’s where the similarities end.

As Kimberly of The Daring Gourmet pointed out in her article,

    To be called “broth” the USDA only requires a Moisture-Protein Ratio (MPR) of 1:135. That’s 1 part chicken to 135 parts water. That translates as 1 ounce of chicken per gallon of water. As unbelievable as that sounds, we’re understandably left asking, “So where’s the chicken in the chicken broth?”

Indeed.

On the left, the Aneto broth. On the right, the Kroeger. Which one do you suppose has more chicken (and, for that matter, flavour)?

I don’t want to come across as picking on Kroeger; it’s one of the best of the conventional chicken broths. The problem is that we in the United States just don’t set the bar very high (another issue addressed at The Daring Gourmet). And most of us aren’t drinking our chicken broth straight. But I gotta say, from the bottom of my taste buds, that Aneto is to conventional chicken broth what a Maybach or a McLaren is to a Vauxhall Viva.

Of course, you could make your own stock. That gives you the option to tweak the taste, and it’s possible to make a stock that’s even better than what Aneto sells. But it takes time to buy and prepare the ingredients, and if you want to get some economy of scale, it also requires a significant amount of freezer space, so those costs deserve to be considered. I come from a family where it was considered to be something of a crime to let potential soup bones go to waste, so I do make my own stock from time to time, but it’s usually with veggies that are a mere few days away from becoming a science project, plus a fresh onion (I always have those). I rarely — read “never” — set out to make a big batch of stock from scratch with purpose-bought vegetables. Plus, Aneto makes really good stock, and it’s always handy to have some room-temp broth in the pantry even if your freezer is (ahem) well-stocked.

Appended to their 2016 article, The Daring Gourmet thoughtfully provided a list of stores across the USA where Aneto is sold (the company also make a ton of broths that are not sold in the US, such as their Caldo Natural de Jamón). I got mine at the local Sur La Table; I could have saved a couple bucks a unit had I bought a six-pack through Amazon, but I failed to plan ahead that far. Idiot me. Over the next few hours, I’m sure I will have ample time to sit and contemplate the error of my ways.

Meanwhile, go read the Aneto story!

The Power of Food / LA Times Food Bowl Event

0

Food — not parking — included.

To close out May Day 2018, the bride and I attended an LA Times Food Bowl function at The Wiltern that commingled elements of Iron Chef, a cable news roundtable, and a spiritual revival. The topic was “The Power of Food,” and featured guests including internationally recognized chef and humanitarian José Andrés, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold, actress and food activist Zooey Deschanel, guerilla urban gardening advocate Ron Finley, restaurateur and author Susan Feniger, Scratch Food Truck chef/owner Tim Kilcoyne, restaurateur and Top Chef contestant Nyesha Arrington, and L.A. Kitchen founder & CEO Robert Egger.

Zooey Deschanel and Ron Finley.

In the words of co-host Andrés, “Food is powerful because it has a history that no other profession has behind it. The Boston Tea Party was a great revolution ignited by food. The salt march led by Gandhi created the freedom of an entire nation. Food can and does change the world, and that’s what gives it such unbelievable power.

And now more than ever, it is critical to recognize that food — how we grow it, sell it, cook it, and eat it — is as important as any other issue we are facing, one that is vitally connected to our lives. From culture and energy, to art, science, the economy, national security, the environment, and health, everything is connected through food, and we need to start giving it the attention it deserves.”

L-R: L.A. Kitchen’s Robert Egger, World Central Kitchen’s José Andrés.

Chef Andrés went beyond the mere sustainability and distribution of of agricultural products to address one very large and unruly elephant in the room: immigration. If you ate this evening in America, whether you cooked your own meal or had someone prepare it for you, it’s a virtual certainty that an undocumented immigrant worker was instrumental in some portion of the chain that stretched from the farm to your table. This is a moral issue, a political issue, a social issue, an economic issue, and a human rights issue that will take contributions from all sides of the debate and all points along the political spectrum to resolve, because our present system is, in a word, untenable.

But the spirit in the room was enthusiastic, upbeat, and hopeful. As the great philosopher John Lennon once observed, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” All you need is love. Well, maybe not all you need, but it’s a good place to start.

More than Bacon, Egg, & Cheese : Coconut Curry Soba Noodle Egg Bites [Instant Pot® recipe]

2

Doesn’t take much to send me down the rabbit hole.

I’ve been goofing around with the Starbucks®-style egg bites for a bit now (as you can see here and here), and I’ve had some fun exploring sort of vaguely North American/Mediterranean variations on the theme commercially available at everyone’s favourite coffee charrers.

But why not move away from the tried-and-true cheese-and-egg model? How about something vaguely Caribbean? Or Eastern European? Or South Asian? The worst that could happen is the wasteful expenditure of some time, a few eggs, and my interest in “improving” on the already terrific.

Hard to get much more authentic than a coconut curry sauce marked “Product of Canada.”

I’d like to say I made my own coconut curry sauce for this recipe, but I’d be lying. It was totally an impulse thing, given that the local mercado had several bottles on markdown to $1.49 USD. [The total outlay for this recipe came to less than $14.00 USD, since both the sauce and the mushrooms were on special. I paid extra — like 25 cents per egg extra — for humanely-farmed eggs, but I think it’s worth it. For the first seven bites, it costs out at $4.00 per two-egg-bite serving, a fairly modest savings from the commercial version, especially when one adds in one’s time. But I still have sauce, mushrooms, eggs, herbs, and noodles left over for another batch and change, so the cost per serving going forward plummets way further, to $2.00; if I get some more coconut curry sauce, it goes even lower. Not too shabby.]

Soba, awaiting the warm embrace of sauce, eggs, herbs, and fungus.

I’m pretty sure you don’t just happen to have 5 ounces (or 150 g) of cooked soba noodles lying about, so allow me to offer you an option for the rest of the soba noodles you’re likely to cook in order to make this recipe. [This No Spoon Necessary blog’s recipe was the inspiration for last night’s dinner, but since the bride and I are ovo-lacto vegetarians until Lent’s end, I had to mess with it a bit. That’s another post for another day.] Also, this version is dairy-free, unlike most other egg bite recipes.


INGREDIENTS

4 eggs
5 oz. / 150 g cooked soba noodles (I flavoured the noodle cooking water with fresh ginger, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and tamari sauce)
10 tbsp. / 150 ml coconut curry sauce
4-5 small mushrooms, chopped
3 tbsp. / 18 g chopped green onions (2 or 3 shallots, just to make it easy)
3 tbsp. / 9 g chopped cilantro
2 scant pinches salt
olive oil or, even better, coconut oil to coat the molds
2 cups / ½ liter tap water for Instant Pot®
aluminum foil

Fungus and greens sweating it out.

DIRECTIONS
If your leftover soba noodles are in the fridge, put the ones you’re using for the recipe in a bowl with 4 tbsp. / 60 ml of the coconut curry sauce and let them sit overnight, or at least for a couple of hours; they’ll soak up the flavour. If you’re making the noodles expressly for this recipe, take the still-warm drained noodles and pop them in the bowl with the curry sauce and let them sit for as long as you can; overnight is best. In fact, I made both the soba noodles and the mushroom/cilantro/scallion combo the night before, because the timing worked out for me.

Oil egg bite tray, distribute soba noodles evenly into each cup and set aside. Chop mushrooms, green onion, and cilantro, place in a small frying pan with 1 tsp. / 5 ml oil (coconut, olive, or neutral), 2 tbsp. / 30 ml of the coconut curry sauce and the first pinch of salt; cook until soft and mushrooms have given up their liquor. Set aside to cool. [You can do this the night before if you want, and allow them to soak up the curry sauce flavour in the fridge.] In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, the remaining 4 tbsp. / 60 ml curry sauce, and second pinch of salt together until smooth. Fold in the cilantro, green onions, and mushrooms. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Add the water to the Instant Pot® container. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, place it on the Instant Pot® steaming trivet, and lower it into the Instant Pot®. Set to “Steam” for 8 minutes at high pressure, making sure that the vent is set to “Sealing” rather than “Venting.” When timer goes off, wait four or five minutes (or more, if you desire), and flip vent from “Sealing” to “Venting.” Remove egg bites and allow them to cool for a few minutes before serving, or store in refrigerator up to five days. Reheat one or two at a time in the microwave for 30-40 seconds on “High” and serve.

Ribbons of soba in egg bites that bear a disturbing similarity to what are euphemistically known as “bull fries.”

Los cojones del toro. There’s a little something you can’t unsee.

The Return of Be a Star and Save the Bucks — Breakfast Egg Bites [No Instant Pot® Needed Version]

1

The so-called Balneo Mariæ, as seen in “The Newe Jewell of Health,” 1576. The one we’re going to use is a little simpler to operate.

In the wake of my recent post about trying to duplicate the Starbucks® sous vide egg bites in an Instant Pot®, a couple of things happened that occasioned this revisit. 1) The bride said I’d gotten the origin story all wrong (she recalls it as having happened this past summer when we were headed out of the Denver metro area on the way to South Dakota in a rented monster truck, and she’s right, as per usual); and 2) my pal Sharon asked via Facebook (and hence via the bride, as I’m still on my 60-day Facebook vacation) whether the recipe could be replicated without benefit of sous vide machine or Instant Pot®.

On the latter point, I had some experience with a technique that I was confident would point me in the right direction.

The low-tech version I’m about to describe has a lot in common with making oeufs en cocotte or, as they’re known in English-speaking countries, shirred eggs. In both of those recipes, though, the yolks are still quite liquid, which means they’re probably not the best option for food destined for on-highway consumption. Also, I wanted to mimic the approximate size of the Starbucks® bites, and all the cocottes (or ramekins) in our pantry are too large for a single-egg bite, unless you’re willing for it to be more puck-shaped than ovoid.

Now that I have you intrigued, frightened, or both, it’s time to introduce you to the delights of the hot water bath known as the bain-marie.

Ever wonder for whom the bain-marie was named? Take a guess: Marie Antoinette? Marie Curie? Marie Osmond? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Maria the Jewess, chemist and process engineer.

Maria the Jewess (a/k/a Maria Prophetissima, Maria Hebræa, Miriam the Prophetess, and Maria of Alexandria, among others) is credited with creating the water bath process that bears her name. Although none of her manuscripts survive, she was cited by the Gnostic mystic Zosimos of Panopolis in the 4th century and the noted physician Arnaldus de Villa Nova in the 13th century for her accomplishments, which also are said to have included the invention of the alembic (an early still). And while Italian cookbook author Giuliano Bugialli is quoted as saying the device is actually named after a 16th century Florentine named Maria de’Cleofa, that seems to be a somewhat dubious claim, given the way earlier Villa Nova citation.

Yeah, great, but what does all this have to do with my eggs?

At sea level, the water in a bain-marie can’t exceed 212°F / 100°C, because it turns into steam. Duh. So the technique is often employed in the creation of cheesecakes, custards, and warm emulsions (such as Hollandaise sauce) that need to be cooked gently. One serious egg-cooking challenge is that the proteins in their whites and yolks coagulate (technically denature) at slightly different temperatures. Cook an egg too long (or hot), it gets rubbery like a Super Ball. Not long enough, and it comes out like a big yellow sneeze. The way these silicone pans are constructed, the bain-marie water can flow around almost all of the egg’s exterior, which makes them an efficient option (as opposed to ramekins or cocottes, whose thicker ceramic sides inhibit the transfer of heat).

Upside-down silicone egg tray.

My silicone tray holds seven servings of 75 ml / 5 tbsp. each, although you won’t want to fill each cup up to the tippy-top, since the egg mixture expands. [If you don’t have (or are not willing to purchase) a silicone egg tray, but you have ramekins/cocottes, by all means give this recipe from the FatLossFoodies blog a shot. I haven’t tried it personally, but it looks legit; read the comments on it as well for some interesting insights.]

All the ingredients in this recipe came directly from the fridge, although over the course of being mixed together and awaiting the water to come to a boil (maybe 10-15 minutes total), I’m sure they warmed considerably. When I put them in the oven, I draped the top of the tray loosely with aluminum foil to prevent the egg bites’ tops from being exposed directly to the oven’s hotter ambient air, which could toughen their texture.

Chillaxin’ in the bain-marie.

I also changed up the recipe a bit from the one in the other post.

INGREDIENTS
4 eggs
2 tbsp. / 30 g sour cream (or crema Mexicana, Salvadoreña, Hondureña, or Centroamericana)
½ cup / 100 g tomato artichoke bruschetta mix
1 cup / 125 g grated cheese (I used queso de bufala from Spain, but any melty cheese works)
2 tbsp. / 11 g fresh basil, chopped
pinch pepper
olive oil or canola oil spray to coat the molds
6 cups / 1½ liters boiling tap water for bain-marie
aluminum foil

DIRECTIONS
Set water on to boil. Preheat oven to 300°F / 150°C. [Alternatively, you can put your bain-marie tray and the water — even warm tap water — in the oven as it heats, and let it all come to temp together. It will save you a pot, if not any huge amount of time.] Oil egg bite tray and set aside. Chop basil, grate cheese, and set aside. In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream, and tomato artichoke bruschetta mix together until smooth. Fold in the basil and grated cheese. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Sprinkle pepper evenly over egg cups. Add the boiling water to the bain-marie, if you haven’t already done so. Lower the egg tray (or ramekins/cocottes) into the bain-marie. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, and cook for 50 minutes. Remove bain-marie from oven, remove egg tray from bain-marie (the easy, non-finger-burning method is to slide a spatula under the tray and lift it while balancing it against the potholder in your other hand), and then allow egg bites to cool for 10 minutes before unmolding. Eat immediately, or refrigerate in sealed container for up to five days. Reheat for 30 seconds on “high” in microwave.

Silky and seductive.

Soupe de la Semaine: Vegan “Sofrito” Soup [Instant Pot® recipe]

1

Leaves you “sofrito” experiment.

This is not going to be so much a recipe for a soup (although there will be one) as a roadmap to soup. Please keep all your appendages inside the vehicle while it’s moving.

Like many people, I occasionally find that I have a few vegetables in the fridge that really call for imminent use, lest they turn into science experiments. Today, that happened to be a two-pound package of carrots, some celery, a yellow bell pepper, and the better part of a bunch of cilantro, plus an onion that was in the unrefrigerated veggie basket. Because February is traditionally a vegetarian month for the bride and me, I decided to fold the ingredients into a soup, rather than use them as a sofrito/soffritto, mirepoix, refogado, or Suppengrün for a meat or poultry dish. [The terms in italics are all variants on the same concept, which is that a group of chopped vegetables can serve as a flavour base for stews, gravies, sauces, and the like. Ingredients and proportions vary from country to country (and from kitchen to kitchen), but not so widely that they aren’t all kissin’ culinary cousins.]

Here’s where it gets interesting: with the possible exception of the cilantro, all the vegetables can easily be enhanced to make soups that will fit in a variety of culinary traditions. For example, if I’d added lemongrass, ginger, and soy sauce to the soup (even keeping the cilantro), it would have taken a turn for Southeast Asia. Some garlic, basil, oregano, rosemary, and marjoram would have pushed it toward Italy. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, and cumin would lend it an Indian or Sri Lankan vibe. I decided I wanted something else, a kind of mutt — er, hybrid — cuisine with elements of both Spanish and Tex-Mex.

And while this can definitely be made on the stovetop, it would take way longer than it does in a pressure cooker (Instant Pot® to the rescue again!). Basically, you’d follow all the main steps, but I would chop the vegetables into much smaller pieces to soften them more quickly. I’m guessing that 45 minutes to an hour in the stock at a high simmer (just below boiling) would do it. Then purée the vegetables and adjust spices as in the directions below.

WARNING: I like, and am accustomed to, spicy food. I would advise anyone trying out this recipe to cut the pimentón de la Vera and chipotle powder IN HALF to start. You can always make it spicier later in the process, if you wish. [If you cut the spices, you will also need only about half of the carob molasses as a consequence.]

Vegan “Sofrito” Soup
Makes about 10 cups (about 2¼ liters)

Carrots of many colours.

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs. / 1kg carrots, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery (need I say roughly chopped?)
1½ cups / 30g chopped fresh cilantro
5 cups / 1.25 liters vegetable stock (I used Better Than Bouillon and water)
1-2 teaspoons / 2-4g hot pimentón de la Vera (or smoked paprika)*
½-1 teaspoon / 1.5-3g chipotle powder (or other chili powder)*
1½-3 tbsp. / 33-66g carob (or regular) molasses*
½ teaspoon / 1g cumin
½ teaspoon / 3g salt
½ tbsp. / 8g apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar, or lemon juice)

Chopped up, mixed up.

DIRECTIONS [Instant Pot®]

Chop vegetables and cilantro and add them all to inner cooking pot. Add vegetable stock, pimentón de la Vera*, and chipotle powder*.

Lock lid (making sure the vent is set to “Sealing”), select “Soup,” set pressure to “High,” and time to 20 minutes. When finished, you may allow pressure to release naturally before unlocking lid, or you can do a “quick release” by turning the vent to “Venting.”

[At this juncture, the soup will look like you left your vegetables in dishwater overnight. Don’t be discouraged!]

Process soup with immersion blender or in batches in a blender/food processor. [If you’re using either of the latter, drape a towel over the input tube or lid to allow the steam to vent.] Add cumin, carob molasses, salt, and cider vinegar. Stir and allow soup to sit for a couple of minutes before tasting and adjusting spices. It’s at this juncture that you would add the remaining half of the pimentón de la Vera, chipotle powder, and carob molasses, should you choose.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a little extra chopped cilantro. I forgot to reserve some and wound up using bread crumbs and chopped parsley for the photo. If you’re not concerned about being vegan, a dollop of sour cream and/or a sprinkle of cotija cheese would go nicely. Cashew cream is a fine vegan alternative.

*Please read the warning in red in the fifth paragraph; it’s there for your own good.

***********************************************************************

P.S. I’m perfectly happy if you want to replicate this recipe step by step, but it would bring me (and you!) greater joy if you use it as a “serving suggestion” instead, playing around with spices and quantities so that you can truly make it your own. Plus, you can clean out your fridge a bit in the process.

A Knead to know basis

0

IMG_2727

A man, a ham, a plan... Panama! Er, no.

A man, a ham, a plan… Panama! Er, no. (photo courtesy Carol Prescott)

Getting an invite for a Friends and Family dinner from Chef Bruce Kalman is kind of like receiving an summons for a party on Omaha Beach from your friends in the federal government circa 1944. First, if you support the cause in even the slightest way, you’re kinda obliged to go. Second, there’s a fair bet that hijinks may ensue. With the 27 January after-hours debut of Knead & Co. pasta bar + market in downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market, both were true.

Two important differences between the legendary French beach bash and the soon-to-be-storied downtown LA soirée: 1) Nobody died (though I expect a few, especially BOH, collapsed after its conclusion); and 2) The food was delicious.

Kalman, for those of you who might not be familiar with him (which I must declare myself to be, in terms of full disclosure), is the culinary driving wheel behind the much-lauded Union restaurant in Pasadena. A Jersey boy by birth, he was the executive chef of The Churchill in West Hollywood before starting his specialty company, Bruce’s Prime Pickle Co., a line of “vine to jar” hand packed pickles, which he sells by the case, rather than the peck, though individual bottles are available for purchase.

His partner in the downtown enterprise is famed restaurateur (and partner-in-crime at Union) Marie Petulla.

Absentee ownership? Nope; she's sharing the joys... and the pains.

Absentee ownership? Nope; she’s sharing the joys… and the pains.

To say that pasta is Kalman’s passion is not merely being alliterative, it’s also true. His squid ink garganelli (pictured below) at Union is the stuff of which black and al dente dreams are made. His Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, replete with its white Alba truffle and near-ubiquitous 63˚ egg, is a meal — to borrow a line from Raymond Chandler — “to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” He can do things with pig parts that British Prime Ministers couldn’t even dream of, and we mean that in a good way.

photo courtesy of Union

photo courtesy of Union

So it’s not surprising that the opening of this market-stall-cum-restaurant generated a level of buzz not dissimilar to that of a hornet’s nest falling from the Grand Central Market’s two-storey ceiling.

IMG_2739

Like any shakedown cruise, things got shaken down a bit. It was heroic to offer the entire menu at the launch, but it was also heroic for Icarus to try to fly to the sun. I’m a wee bit surprised that I got any pictures of the kitchen staff at all, so deeply in the weeds were they by the time of my arrival. To their credit — and my admiration — they soldiered on, pumping out dishes the way Adele pumps out hits. Far from being a “soft” opening, this was a crucible of fire, and those who survived will “(sic) strip their sleeves and show their scars / And say “These wounds I had on Knead & Co.’s Friends and Family Day.” / Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot / But they’ll remember, with advantages / What feats they did that day.”

It's been

It’s been


a hard

a hard


day's night...

day’s night…

Okay, maybe Shakespeare (not to mention The Beatles) might be overdoing it a bit. But it certainly was a band of brothers — and sisters — forging themselves into a formidable unit in the narrow confines of the kitchen.

Mmmmmmeat ball.

Mmmmmmeat ball.

Oh, and the food. We had some of that. Our first dish was a pair of near baseball-sized meatballs with a meaty red sauce (Nonna, for whom they are named, must not have been a woman to trifle with); they had apparently been abandoned by their ordering patron, much to our delight. The sauce complemented the meatball the way a pat of butter complements a slice of homemade bread, adding the ideal touch of moisture and flavour without calling attention to itself.

Duck and (additional) cover.

Duck and (additional) cover.

The bride broke into a mini-frowny-face when she saw the comparatively conservative portions of the Smoked Duck Agnolotti, but that flipped upside-down the moment she had a bite in her mouth. “Wow. That is so good, but it’s rich. Glad they didn’t give us more than that.” The Porcini Lasagnette was redolent of butter, fresh herbs, and the most delectable legal fungus product available. Even in cardboard with a plastic fork, it was elegant.

To be clear, the reviews will thunder in from all directions, so I can’t promise that you’ll be able to avoid a line when you visit Knead & Co. pasta bar + market. What I can promise you is that it will have been worth the wait.

Dried and fresh pastas are also available for purchase, as are sauces. They may be the closest you — or I — will ever get to Being Like Bruce.

Knead & Co. pasta bar + market
Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Torta or Tarta de Santiago (or maybe not)

3
On the road to Santiago... specifically, Triacastela.

On the road to Santiago… specifically, Triacastela.

In May of 2015, my bride and I took a journey along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Catholic pilgrim route (more specifically, we traveled along a portion of the so-called Camino Francés, which is one of a number of Camino routes that all end up in Santiago de Compostela, Spain). It’s an excellent thing to do, as evidenced by the motion picture The Way, and by the still-incomplete blog chronicling our trip, Two Roads to Santiago.

Complexo Xacobeo. Food, lodging, taxi, you name it, you got it.

Complexo Xacobeo. Food, lodging, taxi, you name it, you got it.

Triacastela is a small (pop. 721) town in the province of Lugo, in the Galician region of Spain; it’s about 135 km east of Santiago de Compostela. It got its name from three castles that once stood there (though none of them do now). We stayed there the evening of 24 May, Bob Dylan’s birthday, apropos of nothing. After disgorging our luggage, we wandered into the center of town for dinner, and had an excellent meal at the Complexo Xacobeo.

We didn't have just wine and water, but it was a good start.

We didn’t have just wine and water, but it was a good start.

At dinner’s close, the bride and I had a minor disagreement that would change my life — our lives — for the better. I wanted a cool, refreshing ice cream for dessert, and she preferred to try a local delicacy called tarta de Santiago (in Spanish, anyway; in the local Gallego, it was torta de Santiago). It’s an almond cake whose recipe will follow later in this post.

I like almonds and I like sugar, but most almond confections have generally left me unimpressed; marzipan actually engages my gag reflex. But the bride had walked 20-odd kilometres that day over steep terrain, so she won. Wow, am I glad she did. It was so delicious that I dedicated the balance of our time in Spain to sampling as many versions of it as I could reasonably consume, and no fewer than eight bakers’ interpretations of the ancient recipe passed my lips.

1835? 1838? Galicia? Elsewhere? You decide.

1835? 1838? Galicia? Elsewhere? You decide.

How ancient is the recipe? It certainly goes back as far as the Cuaderno de confitería, which was compiled by Luis Bartolomé de Leyba circa 1838. It’s actually based upon this publication that the tarta/torta obtained its Indicación Geográfica Protegida, which protects its status and authenticity the same way that Champagne does for certain French sparkling wines and Parmigiano Reggiano does for certain Italian regional cheeses. That’s all good as far as it goes, but Spanish culinary historian Jorge Guitián discovered that the Cuaderno de confiteria was largely a rehash of recipes that had previously been published elsewhere, including one cookbook, Art Cozinha, that was published in Lisbon in 1752, not to mention Juan de la Mata’s Arte de Repostería, published in 1747. One source sets its first publication date at 1577, as “torta real,” claiming it was brought to Spain by the Moors. And on top of that, some culinary historians have suggested that the recipe came originally from Sephardic Jews settled in the area, and its original use was as a Passover cake, as it’s unleavened.

Because of their generous and welcoming nature, I’m inclined to give the Gallegos a mulligan on this one. Whether or not the tarta de Santiago actually originated in Galicia, it flourished there, and they have embraced it as part of their cultural and culinary heritage. One thing is for certain: the habit of dusting the top of the cake with powdered sugar, save for a stencil of a cruz Xacobeo (Saint James’ cross) dates to 1924, when José Mora Soto, a baker in Santiago de Compostela, decorated his cakes with the mark to distinguish his from competitors’. In the intervening 90+ years, the tradition has been almost universally embraced.

The ancestral home of the modern tarta.

The ancestral home of the modern tarta.

His bakery, rechristened Pastelería Mercedes Mora (for his granddaughter, pictured below), still makes the cakes today.

The real deal.

The real deal.

Good as they may be, it’s inconvenient to travel to Santiago de Compostela every time you care to have one of these cakes. So here’s a step-by-step version of the shockingly simple — and, if it makes a difference to you or your dining companions, gluten-free — recipe.

The finished item.

The finished item.

TARTA DE SANTIAGO

Ingredients

• 250 grams / 2.5 cups of almond flour (I use ½ blanched and ½ unblanched)
• 250 grams / 1.25 cups of sugar, preferably superfine/baker’s sugar
• 6 eggs
• Zest of two citrus fruits (lemon is traditional)
• Powdered sugar to sprinkle on the top
• 1 chunk of unsalted butter to spread on the springform pan
• You can use a variety of essences, extracts, or other scent enhancers to give the cake a nice aroma, such as brandy, cinnamon, etc. Use sparingly, though, so as not to overpower the simple and delicate flavours of the almond flour and citrus zest.
• 1 round detachable mold/springform pan / 22 to 25 cm or 9 to 10 in. diameter
• Lemon juice or other liquid for moistening top of cake
• a paper (or plastic) St. James cross for stencil

Two different almond flours are optional.

Two different almond flours are optional.

Batter will be fairly loose when you pour it into the pan; don't worry.

Batter will be fairly loose when you pour it into the pan; don’t worry.

Out of the oven and ready for stenciling.  I use a spray bottle to apply the liquid, but a dish and pastry brush works fine too.

Out of the oven and ready for stenciling. I use a spray bottle to apply the liquid, but a dish and pastry brush works fine too.

Preparation

• Preheat the oven to 175º C (350º F)
• In a large bowl, combine the sugar, almond flour, and lemon zest or other essence. Mix ingredients well with a fork.
• In separate bowl, mix eggs with fork until blended.
• Add the eggs and mix well with a spoon or rubber spatula, but do not whisk, only make sure all the ingredients are moistened.
• Spread the butter on the mold (or spray with PAM) and pour the mix in it.
• Bake at 175º C (350º F) for 40-45 minutes until the surface is toasted and golden; when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s done.
• When the cake is done, remove from the oven and let it cool before unmolding. You may want to run a knife or spatula around the edge to make sure the tarta hasn’t stuck to the pan, but do be careful not to scratch the pan when you do it.
• When the cake has cooled, place the paper/plastic cross on top of the surface, moisten the entire top of the cake (including the stencil) with citrus juice or other liquid (brandy, etc.), then sprinkle powdered sugar evenly over the entire surface, using a mesh strainer.
• Remove the stencil carefully, as to avoid dropping sugar from the stencil onto the cake.

Maybe not quite Mora, but pretty darn close and a whole lot easier.

Maybe not quite Mora, but pretty darn close and a whole lot easier.

A Close — And Sweet — Shave

0
A sweet ride.

A sweet ride.

[Full disclosure: I have been acquainted with the owner’s family for something approaching a decade, so make of that what you will. As a for-example, I adore my mom, but she made some of the Worst. Tacos. Ever. Taste and truth trump ties. And if I’m willing to dis my own mother (who also, incidentally, was capable of crafting a world-class roast of beef), you can bet I’m not going to be shy about pulling punches here. Apart from mentioning that the CEO is a 17 year old entrepreneur named Jack Kaplan, I’m going to leave the history of the enterprise for him to tell as it unfolds.]

Kakigori, for those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, is the Japanese version of shave ice (in the “shaved” vs. “shave” ice argument, I come down on the latter for no particular reason except that’s how I learned it). But before you turn your thoughts to sno-cones filled with something that looks like anti-freeze and tastes vaguely of an alleged “blueberry” lollipop, please jettison every childhood image of sno-cones, Icees, Slurpees, or other frozen concoctions. Kakigori is to sno-cones as an éclair is to a Twinkie. Conceptually similar, but light years apart in terms of taste.

Its origins date back to Japan’s Heian period (AD 794 to 1185), where it is mentioned in The Pillow Book (枕草子 Makura no Sōshi), a collection of observations and musings written by Sei Shōnagon, a lady in the court of Empress Consort Teishi. [The book was completed in 1002.] At the time, the delicacy was confined strictly to the upper classes, due in part to the scarcity of ice, especially in the summertime. During the Meiji period, in the late 1800s, so-called “Boston ice” arrived by ship from America, and kakigori was made available to the masses. Yay.

Generally speaking, kakigori is not merely a flavouring poured over ice, though it can be. Often times, the ice itself is infused with some sort of flavouring agent (as you will see below). In addition, many recipes may include elements such as sweetened condensed milk, ice cream, fresh fruit, syrups featuring caramel or chocolate, and other sundry goodies, such as sweetened mochi, a confection made from rice paste that takes on a chewy/sticky texture not altogether unlike a soft gummi bear.

It’s not available widely in America at present, but that may be about to change with the debut of Kakigori Kreamery’s mobile unit (seen pictured at top) in Venice, CA, on 25 July 2015. That’s an auspicious launch day, as the Japan Kakigori Association designates that date as the “day of kakigori” because its pronunciation sounds like “summer ice” in Japanese.

Green Kara-Tea

Green Kara-Tea.

At press time, there are nine flavours:
Strawberry Samurai
Green Kara-Tea
Kookie Kabuki
Mt. Fuji
Ginja Ninja
Blueberry Banzai
Mokamania
Konichiwa Kitty
WATA-WATAmelon

Okay, the names are a little goofy, though not to the level of IHOP’s popular “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity®” pancake entrées, which I would absolutely refuse to order by name just because. But underlying the frivolous nomenclature lies some serious taste delight. If I might direct your attention to the photo above, do note that the ice is shaved, rather than cracked or crushed, which gives it a texture far more delicate than the traditional sno-cone (and even much of the “Hawaiian-style” shave ice, which frequently is no more shaved than Duck Dynasty‘s cast members). This is the Green Kara-Tea kakigori, which is made from green tea ice, rainbow mochi, and matcha-infused condensed milk. [Matcha, of course, is green tea powder, with its stems and veins removed before processing.] It’s sweet enough for kids to enjoy (and they’ll adore the rainbow mochi), but not an adult-repelling sugar bomb.

I should have taken a shot of the Ginja Ninja, because it was may fave of the bunch (I tried five of the nine flavours, and I’m going back next weekend to complete the date card). With its ginger ice, snappy gingersnap crumble, Maldon salt, and caramel sauce, it’s a bracing and energizing blast of spray from a rousing sail on the Ginger Sea.

WATA-WATAmelon!

WATA-WATAmelon!

Tastewise, the WATA-WATAmelon totally nails it; mint, lime, and basil meld with watermelon the way Kardashians meld with camera lenses. They were made for one another. Its one slight drawback is that the delicate watermelon ice shavings, like Blanche DuBois, tend to wilt in the heat. You have to plow through your portion at speed, or risk the possibility of having a cup of refreshing watermelon drink, rather than an icy delight. That said, it’s something of a small quibble, because it’s pretty great in either state (mine wound up half and half).

But Kakigori Kreamery’s secret weapon in its quest for world domination may well be their Kookie Kabuki: cookies ‘n’ cream ice, crushed Oreos, and condensed milk. This. Is. Irresistible. While the Ginja Ninja is still my favourite, it (much like me) is a little idiosyncratic. The Kookie Kabuki, on the other hand, has its sights locked on a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-you-name-it target that wants a summertime comfort sweet that hits every familiar note. With a little luck, this might just supplant Häagen-Dazs’ Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream as the heavyweight champ in the chocolate-meets-vanilla arena. But this is the case only if, of course, you happen to be in southern California. Otherwise… well, Japan is nice this time of year, but a SoCal sojourn might well be both less expensive and less complicated.

You can follow the exploits of Kakigori Kreamery here and here.

If you want to be around for their official debut, come check them out at the grand opening:
7/25 from 8:30am – 2:05pm
Venice Arts & Collectibles Market
13000 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

And should you care to try a home version of kakigori, you can pick up a Japanese-style ice shaver here, and a recipe for Peach Yogurt Kakigori with Mint Syrup here.

Celebrating Celeriac with a Superb Soup [Vegan]

4
Celeriac, before and after a trim.

Celeriac, before and after a trim.

If there is an uglier vegetable on the planet Earth than celeriac (Apium graveolens variety rapaceum), I have yet to find it. Fortunately, much as beauty is only skin deep, in the case of this magnificent and underappreciated vegetable, so is ugly.

While celeriac itself doesn’t grow very deep — maybe six inches or so beneath the surface of your average garden plot — its roots in food history are deep indeed. In Book V of Homer’s Odyssey, it’s described as a component of Calypso’s garden, albeit in the Greek it is referred to as selinon. In one passage, Hermes admires the environs of Calypso’s cave, festooned with grapes, violets, and wild celery before stepping inside to beseech her to let Odysseus go and finish his journey back to Ithaca. But that’s another, much longer, story.

In ancient times, and for much of their early history, both celery and celeriac were regarded more as medicines than as foodstuffs. Pliny the Elder claimed that the so-called helioselinon was “possessed of peculiar virtues against the bites of spiders.” He also suggested that it could be used to revive sick fish. But by the 17th century, it was being cultivated in France, and by the 18th, it was being used in England for soups and broths.

Fast forward to today: soups and broths! For your consideration, here’s a soup that contains not just one, but two of the planet’s least photogenic vegetables (the latter being parsnips), along with a little ginger (no beauty contest winner itself), some onion, tarragon, and lemon thyme.

CELERIAC AND PARSNIP VELOUTÉ WITH GINGER AND LEMON THYME

Ingredients
48 oz./1.42 litres vegetable broth
2 large celeriac roots, peeled and roughly cubed
3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon (or more, to taste) fresh ginger root, finely chopped
2 tsp./1.2g dried tarragon (it’s what I had at the time; fresh is good too, but use less)
4 sprigs fresh lemon thyme
1 carrot, cut into “coins” (optional)

Before you get all huffy, this is not technically a velouté, inasmuch as it is not thickened with a roux and cream, but it resembles one in texture. If you just want to call it soup, you have my blessing.

Cleaning the celeriac is best done with a very sharp knife, and it may be treated the same way you would strip off the rough outer skin of a pineapple; ideally, you’ll get off all the brown bits underneath the skin, but don’t make yourself crazy (or whittle the vegetable down to half its original size) getting there. Chopping the peeled celeriac is a bit of a chore, and may require rocking your knife back and forth a bit to get through the dense root. Alternatively, you can use a cleaver, if you have one. The parsnips should be scraped with a vegetable peeler, much like carrots, then chopped. As for the ginger, I started with a segment that was about the size of my thumb and scraped off the peel with a spoon before mincing it as finely as my admittedly mediocre knife skills would permit.

Once the prep is completed, making the soup is a snap; basically, you just dump all the ingredients into a big pot, bring it to a boil, and back it off to a simmer for about an hour to soften up the veggies and give the flavours a chance to blend. Then remove the thyme sprigs (which will have shed their leaves), and transfer the soup, in batches, to a food processor, blender, or Vita-Mix. [IMPORTANT NOTE: Do NOT clamp down the lid on your food processor/blender in such a way that steam cannot easily escape, or you will run the risk of both scalding yourself and decorating your walls with hot soup. I leave the top plug out of my Vita-Mix’s “Action Dome” and drape a tea towel over the opening to allow steam, but not solids, to egress.] Alternatively, the soup can be processed in situ with an immersion blender. Process until smooth.

Perhaps not the root of all soups, but it is a soup of all -- well, almost all -- roots.

Perhaps not the root of all soups, but it is a soup of all — well, almost all — roots.

You might note that salt is not a component of the ingredients list, and that’s because the vegetable broth I used (I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t have any vegetable stock of my own lying around) contained 570mg of sodium, presumably in the form of sodium chloride, which was plenty salty for my taste. Your taste (and your broth) may vary.

To finish the soup off, I sliced a small carrot on a hand-held mandoline, arranged the carrot “coins” into a small “flower,” and sprinkled a few leftover thyme leaves on top. I might drizzle a few drops of olive oil on it as well next time, but it’s by no means necessary. Serves 6-8 (easily!) as an opening course.

A Sweet Spot Between Laura Calder and Martha Stewart

0
A beautiful book, in every way.

A beautiful book, in every way.

If you’ve been on this blog before, you’ll know that I’m all over exploring the unknown, from exotic ingredients like lutenitza and sriracha salt, to crazy science stuff, from sous vide to avoiding botulism. But today, let’s take some advice from The Far Side creator Gary Larson’s cow: “Don’t forget to stop and eat the roses.”

First time cookbook author Gwen Rogers is neither a trained chef (like Laura Calder) nor a multi-gazillion-dollar-crafts-and-style marketing juggernaut (like Martha Stewart), but in her new book Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill, she deftly threads the needle between the two, creating simple dishes that are simply gorgeous.

Take, as a for instance, her Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel recipe.

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

This is so simple, an eighth-grader could make it. But it looks, and tastes, delightfully sophisticated (in its rustic way).

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel (adapted from Gwen Rogers’ journal)

FOR THE ALMOND STREUSEL:
¾ cup/150 g granulated sugar, unleveled
12 tbsp/170 g unsalted butter (for the vegan variant, substitute Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)
2 cups/256 g all-purpose flour, scant
¾ cup/115 g finely ground almond meal flour, heaping

FOR THE FILLING:
4 cups/400 g fresh blueberries, washed and dried
½ cup/100 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp/15 ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp/5 ml lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.

FOR THE STREUSEL: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, all-purpose flour, and almond flour and mix thoroughly. Cut in butter until mixture becomes a coarse crumb. Set aside.

FOR THE FILLING: In a medium bowl, use a spatula to gently toss together the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Let mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Place blueberry mixture into a 1.5-quart baking dish (9″ x 9″ x 5″ or 11″ x 11″ x 4″) and cover completely with Almond Streusel. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until top is browned and berry filling is bubbling.

NOTE: This streusel makes enough for 2 (9-inch) pies or 2 blueberry crisps. If you only plan to make one, freeze the remainder for later use on your morning yogurt or evening ice cream. Serves 8.

Simple, elegant, tasty; the host's (or hostess') trifecta. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Simple, elegant, tasty; the host’s (or hostess’) trifecta. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Her Watermelon, Feta, & Mint Kabobs (pictured above) can be assembled in just slightly more time than it took to type this sentence, and yet they are a welcome and refreshing change from more traditional hors d’oeuvres, especially in the summer.

What Rogers brings to the table — quite literally — is a sense of casual elegance that’s all about making life easy on the chef/host/hostess and making life comfortable and welcoming for the guest. Her recipes will remind you that you don’t have to be a CIA grad to put together a menu that will leave your guests feeling happy and impressed, and you don’t need to deploy a squadron of minions to put together a table that looks thought through and stylish.

Ho do you like them yapples (apples stuffed with sweet potato)? (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

How do you like them yapples (Granny Smith apples stuffed with sweet potato)? (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

And when it comes to the book itself, the photography is a visual feast comparable to the actual foodstuffs being described. The printing is voluptuous, replete with pictures of the author and her family that would give Giada De Laurentiis and clan a run for their money. It’s beautiful, inspiring, and empowering, and worth every centime of its $35(USD) price tag.

Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill can be purchased at Gratus, should you find yourself in Beverly Hills, or through the author’s website, http://honeysucklehillbook.com.

All Hail the Green Goddess! (plus a godlike potato salad recipe)

1

How in the world did we ever get from this…

The late, great George Arliss. (photo courtesy Arliss Archives)

The late, great George Arliss. (photo courtesy Arliss Archives)

to this?

Savory & Vibrant. It even says so.

Savory & Vibrant. It even says so.

Funny story, that. It involves a Scots drama critic’s first play, a British star of stage and screen, and a classically-trained hotel chef. [If you just want to skip ahead to the recipe for Green Goddess Potato Salad, not to worry. Just jump down a page or three.]

In 1920, drama critic William Archer took his own advice (from his 1912 non-fiction book Play-Making: A Manual of Craftsmanship) and wrote his first play, something of a pot-boiler called The Green Goddess. It opened, to some acclaim, on 27 Deceember 1920, at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and starred a gentleman named George Arliss. So popular was it that it opened on Broadway (at the Booth Theatre) less than a month later, and toured America for the better part of three years before opening a highly successful (and lengthy) engagement in London.

Along the way — and by the best triangulation available to me, sometime around March of 1923 — it played in San Francisco. While in The City, Arliss stayed at the Palace Hotel (which is still around, incidentally), and dined at the hotel’s restaurant, which at the time was overseen by Executive Chef Philip Roemer. Depending on which story you want to believe, either the chef decided on his own to honour Arliss with a salad dressing inspired by the play, or Arliss himself put the chef up to it as a publicity stunt. Personally, I would like to think the former.

And, before you could say, “Wow, I wonder if this salad topping will still be around and popular nearly a century later,” Roemer had created the Green Goddess dressing. [Before we get into the actual recipe stuff, a couple of notes. Not only was the play successful, but it was made into a movie twice (both times starring Arliss), once as a silent in 1923, and once as a “talkie” in 1930. It’s worth noting that the goddess was more grey than green, as both films were shot in black and white. Arliss was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for the 1930 version (he had won the previous year for Disraeli), but ultimately lost to Lionel Barrymore, who won his only Oscar for A Free Soul. In fact, Arliss himself presented the Oscar to Barrymore.]

Much like the salad dressing’s creation myth (even the hotel’s own website has gotten it wrong, predating the play’s creation by half a decade), the “official” recipes for Green Goddess dressing vary widely. And while I mean no disrespect to any of the bottled versions’ manufacturers, do have a go at making it yourself. It’s dead simple, and it tastes so much better. As for the potato salad, which calls in the original recipe for green beans, I think asparagus (if available fresh) is better suited to it. Both provide a bit of toothiness, but roasted asparagus and roasted potatoes mesh like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

"Fred, I can't believe he compared us to vegetables! He can't even DANCE!"

“Fred, I can’t believe he compared us to vegetables! He can’t even DANCE!”

GREEN GODDESS POTATO SALAD WITH ASPARAGUS
Ingredients
:
3/4 pound/1/3 kg roasted or grilled asparagus
3 pounds/1.5 kg roasted fingerling or “baby” potatoes, halved or quartered according to size
1/4 cup/60 ml olive oil
sea salt
cracked black pepper
Green Goddess Dressing (recipe below)

For the potatoes:

Teeny taters.

Teeny taters.

Preheat oven to 450°F/230°C Halve or quarter potatoes and place in plastic bag with olive oil; shake until coated and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper over. Roast for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. (About 20 minutes in, turn over with spatula for even roasting.) Remove when done, allow to cool, and place in large mixing bowl.

For the asparagus:

Chopped spears that have nothing to do with Britney.

Chopped spears that have nothing to do with Britney.

Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C Wash and trim and place in plastic bag with olive oil (you can use the bag from the potatoes if you wish, although you may need to add a little olive oil); shake until coated and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper over. Roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until slightly browned, but still with a little snap. Remove when done, allow to cool, chop into 1 inch/2.5 cm pieces, and place in large mixing bowl with potatoes. Mix with Green Goddess dressing and chill for 1-2 hours in refrigerator. Devour unreservedly.

GREEN GODDESS DRESSING (adapted from Gourmet magazine)
Ingredients:
3/4 cup/180 ml mayonnaise
3/4 cup/180 ml sour cream
3 tablespoons/45 ml tarragon vinegar or white-wine vinegar
3 scallions, chopped
3-4 flat anchovy fillets, chopped, or 2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1/4 cup/10 g chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons/2 g chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon/5-6 g sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon/2.5-3 g black pepper

Pulse mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, scallions, anchovies, parsley, tarragon, salt, and pepper in a food processor until dressing is pale green and herbs are finely chopped. Refrigerate until use. Editor’s note: You don’t have to be either green or a goddess to make this salad spectacular. Although either would certainly enhance the presentation.

The finished salad, with wooden fish.

The finished salad, with wooden fish.

Note on metric conversions:
Since American measurements are generally based on volume rather than weight, I’ve had to be a little loose with the metric conversions. For liquids, of course, they are pretty precise, but for dry ingredients, they’re a little more fungible (after all, a tablespoon of salt weighs a lot more than a tablespoon of dried parsley flakes). That said, the Interwebs have some conversion guides that have allowed me to get close, and fortunately, this recipe is pretty forgiving. I suppose in future that I would be wise to use my fabulous OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display to give an accurate measurement. But wisdom was never my long suit.

Iron Chef Canada On The Eve Of Y2K

2
The evening's menu.

The evening’s menu.

This is going to be a little odd in comparison to my normal posts, but I hope all y’all can roll with it.

While cleaning out the garage, I came across a menu from a memorable meal from the last millennium. Back in 1999, I was obsessed with Iron Chef. I had started watching it on a local channel, KSCI (Channel 18 in Los Angeles) when it was broadcast in Japanese without subtitles. [Apart from maybe a dozen or two words, I don’t speak or understand Japanese.] And as it turned out, friends of mine (the Carltons, whose residence is mentioned in the photo) were going to be in Barcelona for the New Year, and I was temporarily house- (and cat-) sitting. Well hey, what’s the point of taking care of a house nicer than one’s own if you can’t throw a party there?

When you get past the foliage, it's actually quite a nice place.

When you get past the foliage, it’s actually quite a nice place.

So I decided that I would invite a few select friends to ring in the New Year. As all the intellegentsia know, the new millennium actually was set to begin on 1 January 2001, but I was ready (in Prince parlance) to party like it was 1999, which indeed it was. And while I was unwilling to restrict myself to a single hour’s cooking time, owing to my lack of sous chefs, I wanted to sorta kinda replicate an Iron Chef meal. I chose as my theme “Pear Battle,” given that pears were in abundant supply, and they could be deployed across a variety of courses.

Sometime during the afternoon immediately prior to the meal, I asked The Bride to scavenge for a couple of ingredients that I had neglected to bring, but which were key to the menu’s success. While she was out and about, I began to assemble the shortcakes for the dessert.

The Bride, with our late, much beloved cat Murray, who wasn't keen on photos.

The Bride, with our late, much beloved cat Murray, who wasn’t keen on photos.

In the process of making the shortcake(s), I underwent a moment’s hesitation about how exactly to ensure they were up to spec. I had vaguely remembered something about minimal processing, but I wasn’t really clear as to why, as I hadn’t made shortcakes for something like a decade. It was then that my deceased Canadian paternal grandmother, Nanny Al, decided to drop by to give me some advice. Appearing life-size (and quite surprisingly corporeal) in Bob and Susan’s kitchen, she told me, “Don’t overmix the batter or it will get gluey.”

Fair play. Bizarre, especially since I hadn’t been drinking, but fair play. The shortcake was spectacular. The meal was a success (due, at least in part, to the remarkable beverage options). And Nanny Al beamed up the way she had beamed in, entirely unbidden, a wraith whose apparent sole purpose in (after-) life it was to rescue her grandson from goofing up some baked goods for a party he was (co-)throwing. Well done, Alice. I miss you all the time, and I’m grateful that you jumped in when I needed your expertise as a baker, part of the rich (and possibly, at least to some degree, genetic) inheritance you bequeathed me.

And you’re more than welcome to visit anytime to give me a little advice… even when it’s not at the dawn of a new millennium.

Back to School — And You Can Too! It’s free. Book before October 1.

0
Chemistry and me.

Chemistry and me.

Back before the days of the Internets (and before the love of radio and journalism overtook my love of the lab), I was a chemistry major. [In fact, I studied under the late Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland, who shared the Nobel Prize for co-discovering chlorofluorocarbons as the primary cause of the hole in the polar ozone layer. But I digress.]

The intersection of chemistry and cooking/baking/making food has always fascinated me (as proof, also see He Blinded Me — And Darn Near Crushed Me, Too — With Science). And years ago, my high school chem teacher, the aptly-named Dr. Wiseman, made the direct connection between lab and kitchen for me when he said, “If you’re good in the lab, you’ll do well in the kitchen, because they both involve similar skills: being able to follow a set of instructions in order to bring about reproducible results.” In fact, the process for making a chemical compound is often informally known as a recipe, so I probably should have figured it out sooner, but I was at a lab table toward the back of the class, cracking wise with my lab partner Rick Jacobs, who is now the President of the Union for Reform Judaism. [I have an almost uncanny knack for brushing up against the talented and celebrated while remaining relatively obscure and undistinguished in my own right. Just call me Zelig.]

Over the years, I’ve collected not only Nathan Myhrvold and co.’s Modernist Cuisine, but also works on food and science by Hervé This, Francois Chartier, Robert L. Wolke, and the dean of American food science writers, Harold McGee.

So I was more than delighted to be notified, via UCLA’s Science and Food blog, that a course was being offered — for free, should you just audit it — From Canada’s McGill University via edX. For those of you unfamiliar with edX, it’s a loosely-knit consortium of institutions of higher education that provides courses to the public for free (or a minimal charge, should you wish a certificate of completion from those courses that offer one). And we’re not talking just any old random universities and colleges, either. Among their number are MIT, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, UC Berkeley, Berklee College of Music, The University of Queensland, Harvard, Peking University, Dartmouth, Technische Universität München, The University of Chicago, The University of Hong Kong, Notre Dame, Karolinska Institutet, and Wellesley, just to name a few.

(image courtesy edX)

(image courtesy edX)

For 11 weeks starting October 1, McGill is offering Chem 181x, a “course that offers a scientific framework for understanding food and its impact on health and society from past to present,” through edX. Count me in. The course description claims to require approximately 5 hours per week of effort, and offers students both non-certificated (free) and certificated (pay, but as little as $100 US) versions (which not all edX courses do).

For more info on the course, check out their informative YouTube video, the course overview, and edx. Registering for an edX account is simple and free. They deliver lifelong learning opportunities on subjects ranging from Explaining European Paintings, 1400 to 1800 to Principles of Economics with Calculus to Autonomous Mobile Robots and beyond, so it’s worth investigating even if this particular course is not to your, ahem, taste. [They also maintain an extensive video library of past courses, so if you miss this one, chances are you will be able to view its content, even if you can’t be certificated or participate in any online discussions or experiments.]

There’s never a bad time to make yourself a little smarter. In a future post, I’ll report back on how it was (or is, if I discover something that deserves a more-or-less immediate share).

It Can Drive You Plum Loco

0
A Rough Guide to Apricot/Plum Hybrids.

A Rough Guide to Apricot/Plum Hybrids.

Oh, if it were only that simple.

Stonefruit season is upon us (well, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and that generally means a dazzling — if short-lived — array of tasty choices in stores and at farmers’ markets. One of the most puzzling aspects of this seasonal bounty, for many people, is the variety of options found along the apricot-plum continuum. Pluots, plumcots, apriums, apriplums… aren’t they all just different names for the same thing, a cross between an apricot and a plum? Well, yes and no. Yes, they are all the genetically-crossed offspring of the two main fruits, but no, they are NOT all the same.

Ladies and gentlemen, the plumcot.

Ladies and gentlemen, the plumcot.

To find out where all this confusion started, let’s jump into the Wayback Machine, and set the date for, oh, somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. Horticulturist Luther Burbank pulled off a trick that most folks thought was impossible: he managed to cross an apricot with a plum. As noted in the 1909 publication The Scientific Aspects of Luther Burbank’s Work, “[t]he plum-cot, however, has not yet become a fixed variety and may never be, as it tends to revert to the plum and the apricot about equally, although with a tendency to remain fixed, which tendency may be made permanent.” Unfortunately, this slipperiness between reversion and fixation, along with a bad rep among farmers for difficulty in harvesting and shipping, relegated Burbank’s science experiment to the fringes of the commercial spectrum.

The Pluot® (pronounced PLEW-ott, not ploo-OH).

The Pluot® (pronounced PLEW-ott, not ploo-OH).

Fast-forward to the 1970’s, and another gifted horticulturalist, Floyd Zaiger, built upon the foundation of Burbank’s original work to begin to develop the next-generation plumcot. [Actually, it was multiple generations, but that’s a little beside the point.] By varying the mix from Burbank’s 50-50 to approximately 75% plum and 25% apricot, he developed a hardier and tastier fruit. Subsequently, he and his family fine-tuned their efforts, so that the modern version is closer to a 65-35 mix… more or less. To distinguish his cross from Burbank’s less successful effort, his company, Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics, registered the name Pluot® (pronounced PLEW-ott, not ploo-OH) in 1990. [Technically, the name needs to be capitalized and appear with the marca registrada after it.]

The Pluot®'s mirror image, the Aprium®.

The Pluot®’s mirror image, the Aprium®.

Subsequently, Zaiger’s firm flipped the Pluot® formula on its head and produced the Aprium®. While other horticulturists have done work in the same field, their fruits are not legally permitted to be called Aprium® or Pluot®, hence the somewhat inelegant moniker apriplum (more apricot than plum by varying degrees) and the commercial rebirth of the plumcot (more plum than apricot). Zaiger is still alive, incidentally, and is credited with having developed more than 47 varieties of stonefruit that are under cultivation in Calfornia alone. Not content to rest on their laurels, the Zaigers are breeding even more new kinds of hybrids such as NectaPlum® (nectarine/plum), Peacotum® (peach/apricot/plum), Pluerry™ (plum/cherry), white apricots, flat peaches and nectarines, albino selections, and fuzzy plums.

I’m not sure who exactly ever registered the complaint that plums just weren’t fuzzy enough, but if they’re out there, they haven’t long until their dreams come to, er, fruition.

Oh, and just to add to the confusion, certain plums these days are being marketed as “fresh prunes,” a far cry from the recent past, when prunes were thought of as being used primarily for constipation relief — hence the appearance of “dried plums” in the marketplace. It can drive a person plum loco. Or crazy. Or insane. Which are not all exactly the same thing, but — like our stonefruit analogue — they all come from the same basic idea.

Unbeatable Beets

0
Best. Beets. Ever. Sans the hard-cooked eggs, which Tanis said were optional.

Best. Beets. Ever. Sans the hard-cooked eggs, which Tanis said were optional.

“As Bokonon [actually the late author Kurt Vonnegut] says: ‘Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.'” And I’m sure, were Bokonon here, he’d be happy to include “peculiar dining suggestions.” A couple of weeks ago, my pal Dan Fredman sent me an email about a wine dinner happening at Lucques in Beverly Hills, celebrating both the loose confederation of wine producers known as In Pursuit of Balance and the release of chef David Tanis‘ latest cookbook, One Good Dish. It was on a Thursday night, which interfered with The Bride’s workout schedule, and it was to start at 7 PM, which is always a challenge in Los Angeles traffic. I knew of Tanis tangentially, but I was not deeply acquainted with his history, so my natural tendency was to give it a miss. But Bokonon spoke to me, as he often has before, so I made the reservation, albeit with some reservations. But not many: dinner at Lucques has always been delightful, and at the worst, I’d have a chance to hang with Dan, which is always edifying. Also, as part of the deal, I’d get a copy of the cookbook, which kinda made the whole thing a bit of a no-brainer.

When we arrived, Dan greeted us and bade us to sit at his table, where Tanis himself was ensconced, along with a couple of other of our acquaintances whose conviviality is highly evident. The author was, by design, supposed to circulate. In practice, though, he hung out mostly at our table, often serving the dishes that he himself created.

He cooks, he scores. He even serves.

He cooks, he scores. He even serves.

The entire menu was — and this is a technical term — really tasty. All of it came from One Good Dish, with page numbers thoughtfully included. No doubt I could wax poetic about the crostini, or the espresso-hazelnut bark, and perhaps I will after I have made them. But this time, I’m going to lavish my praise upon the beets.

A perfect meal.

A perfect meal.

I’ve never been a big fan of beets. I’ve tried roasting them, cooking them in soup, glazing them, whatever. It’s not like I haven’t tried to like them, but I never had a beet-eating experience that made me want more. Until April 3, 2014, when The Bride, with whom I have been paired for more than three decades now, heard these words pass my lips for the first time ever: “May I have some more of the beets, please?”

Tanis’ Red Beet Salad, at its heart, is grated raw beets served in a fancy vinaigrette. And the Bugatti Veyron, at its heart, is a motorcar. The ingredients aren’t hard to locate or particularly sophisticated, but it’s absolutely worth using the very best available to you, especially super-fresh beets, and really good Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. I used some red wine vinegar that I had picked up at Turley Wine Cellars, and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil from Oliana.

A minor digression: The difference between $15 olive oil and $3 olive oil is often hugely significant. I highly recommend splurging whatever your budget can afford on a great bottle of olive oil for finishing soups and salads, serving on bread, etc. Oliana in West Hollywood and Beyond the Olive in Pasadena and Stonehouse California Olive Oil in the San Francisco Ferry Building all have tasting rooms, where you can select from a variety of olive oils with a wide spectrum of characteristics. Most major cities in America have some gourmet store that offers a similar experience. [2017 update: Of late, we’ve been subscribing to a thrice-yearly variety package from Olea Farm in Templeton, CA.] Do give it a go; if you haven’t done it before, you will be shocked — pleasantly, but shocked nonetheless — at just how different olive oils can be.

All you need to make this excellent salad.

All you need to make this excellent salad.

Basically, you need to peel and grate the beets (I used both red and golden beets for my version), being very careful not to give yourself a case of what I like to call “box grater rash.” Alternatively, you can julienne the beets with a sharp knife. You might be well advised not to be wearing your bestest white shirt while doing this. Fresh beets are juicy, n’est–ce pas?

A bunch of beets.

A bunch of beets.

After the beets have been cut or grated, season them with a little salt and pepper and set them aside while you prepare the dressing. [I put them in the refrigerator to give them a slight chill-down.]

Great grated beets!

Great grated beets!

From the shallot to the cornichons on the ingredients list, everything is diced and/or measured and/or whatever as appropriate and gets mixed in a bowl. [Please consider buying the book; while this recipe isn’t complicated, it will do your karma good to support writers and chefs such as Tanis. And it’s a really terrific book.] The finished dressing will look something like the picture below, except that I took the shot before adding the parsley. Idiot me. So imagine some chopped flat-leaf parsley. Pour the dressing over the salad, mix, and let it marinate for at least 10 minutes. [Again, I put it in the fridge for this step.]

Yummy dressing for yummy salad.

Yummy dressing for yummy salad.

Serve, eat, and eat some more.

The second-best part about this salad is that it still tastes terrific the day after.

Mmmmm. Still good the next day.

Mmmmm. Still good the next day.

The recipe claims to serve four to six people, but don’t be surprised if your guests (or yourself!) are keen on seconds.

Shepherdless Pie — or — Don’t Kvetch About Guvech

0

Gyuvech: It's not only the container... it's what's inside.

Gyuvech: It’s not only the container… it’s what’s inside.


One-paragraph history and etymology lesson rolled into one: In Bulgaria (and throughout the Balkans), meat and vegetable casseroles are often made in beautifully decorated earthenware pots known by a staggering variety of names, including guvech, gyuvech, đuveč, ѓувеч, гювеч, ђувеч, and others. The word has become not only synonymous, but indeed coterminous, with the meal prepared within it. [In that sense, it’s kind of the opposite of the word restaurant, which, back in the mid-18th century, was the name of a bouillon, later morphing into its modern definition of where that bouillon is served (when bouillon is served there at all, rarely the case these days).] By the time the word reached Turkey, it had become güveç, which more or less transliterates into guvech or guvetch, which is how we know it in North America.

Just like my great-grandma didn't used to make. But someone else's did.

Just like my great-grandma didn’t used to make. But someone else’s did.

As with any casserole/stew/hotchpotch, there are something approaching an infinite number of recipes for guvetch, but I’m quite fond of this meatless commercial variety, produced in Bulgaria by Konex Foods and marketed In America by Indo-European Foods under the label ZerGüt. It may be my favourite guvetch because it’s the only kind I’ve ever had (which is true), but it’s quite delicious on its own terms. According to a spokesperson for Konex, the commercial recipe is derived from one handed down by one of the company founder’s ancestors. The vegetarian guvetch they market (pictured above) is a simple mélange of aubergines, peppers, potatoes, carrots, water, sunflower oil, green beans, tomato paste, peas, salt, okra, onion, sugar, and parsley, with no preservatives, artificial flavours, or colours. At 250 calories per 19 oz. bottle, it’s easy on the diet, too.

A potful of potatoes.

A potful of potatoes.

Flash forward to earlier this evening. I’d had a hankering for shepherd’s pie, but there wasn’t any ground lamb to hand, and I decided to take a whack at a vegan version.

SHEPHERDLESS PIE

Ingredients
2 large Russet potatoes
4 smallish yams (about a pound or so)
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tsp salt
1 jar ZerGüt guvetch

Directions
Set a pot of salted water on to boil. Peel potatoes and yams; cook in boiling water for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Drain. Return to pot and mash with almond milk and salt; set aside to cool slightly.

Mashed potatoes, yeah.

Mashed potatoes, yeah.

Divide guvetch evenly into six ramekins. Microwave on high for about 2 minutes to warm.

Microwave me, baby!

Microwave me, baby!

Here’s where I got silly. The simple thing to do would have been to spoon the mashed yam-and-potato mixture on top, fluffing it with a fork to create those peaks that would brown underneath the broiler (about 8 minutes, and rotate the tray at 4 minutes). Instead, I pulled out a pastry bag and a star tip, and piped the potatoes in over the guvetch. Totally unnecessary, totally fun.

Sack o' spuds.

Sack o’ spuds.

If you decide to do it that way, work in a circular motion from the edge toward the center, finishing with a little peak on top.

Piped, but not yet piping hot.

Piped, but not yet piping hot.

Place the ramekins on a foil-lined baking sheet. Eight minutes under the broiler (or you can use a kitchen torch, if you wanna get fancy about it). Rotate the pan at four minutes, and have a care, because some broilers are more efficient than the one in my sixty-year-old O’Keefe & Merritt.

Good to go, after they've cooled a tad.

Good to go, after they’ve cooled a tad.

Allow the ramekins to cool sufficiently that you can handle them — albeit gingerly — with your bare hands. Serve while warm. Makes six.

[NOTE: Bottled guvetch is available at markets that cater to an Eastern European clientele, but it can also be purchased online. The big issue here is the shipping cost, which makes it kinda prohibitive to buy a single jar. If you are willing to purchase a six-pack, you can bring your cost down to about $6.50-$8 per jar (depending on where you live), which is about twice what you’ll pay for it in an ethnic market. It can be ordered online from Salonika Imports in Pittsburgh, so the closer you are to them, the less you’ll pay to have it shipped. Alternatively, you could chop and heat your own vegetable mélange; Google “guvech recipe” for ideas, or just go for it as the vegetable bin provides and the spirit moves.]

At Home with Sous Vide: A New Cookbook You Can Help Make Happen

0

30839_560_366

An Aussie sous vide pioneer is crowdsourcing a new cookbook. At the time of this post, he only needed a couple of hundred dollars to meet his goal. It’s definitely worth checking out, and if you feel so moved, helping him hit his target.

The aforementioned pioneer, Dale Prentice, has written the text for the book, with lots of insight in to sous vide cooking and tricks for best results. The recipes are by Dale and contributions from chefs and bloggers from around the world. They have some amazing contributors and a truly diverse set of recipes for sous vide cooks of every level.

Photo by author Dale Prentice.

Photo by author Dale Prentice.

Contributing chefs: Bruno Goussalt, Nathan Myhrvold, Wylie Dufresne, Shannon Bennett, Phillipe Mouchel, Stefan Cosser, Brad Farmerie, Spencer Patrick, Jarrod Hudson, Martin Boetz, Shane Delia, Anthony Fullerton, Mark Ebbels, James Blight, Patrick Dang, George Diamond, Dallas Cuddy, Kirby Craig, Adam Draper, Pablo Tordesilla, Ryan Clift, Michael Ryan, Jason Logsdon, J.Kenji Lopez-Alt, Harold and Christine Fleming, Raymond Capaldi, Christine Manfield, Florent Gerardin, Joe Strybel, Wayne Smith, Garen Maskal, Roberto Cortez, Andrew Dargue, Tom Randalph, Darren Purchase, Madalene Bonvini-Hamel and David Roberts.

Support Cooking – At Home with Sous Vide.

UPDATE: 30 September — The project hit its initial funding goal yesterday, but you still have a few days to contribute if you’d like one of the available donor perks.

I’ve got a date with Blondie!

1
Blondies on the stem. Or is it stalk?

Blondies on the stem. Or is it stalk?

I’ve never been a huge fan of dates (either the social or the foodstuff variety), but for a couple or three weeks every year, I go date crazy. Forget everything you think you know about dates. These little darlings have the crunch of an apple, the astringency of quince (at least at first), and the sweetness of honey at the back of the palate. For about one more week this season, depending on where you live, you may have access to these lovely little gems, and I most heartily recommend picking a few up, if only for the experience of tasting something you likely have never tasted before. According to a couple of the local growers (and this thesis was supported by a manager at Hadley’s, a date mecca on the road to Palm Springs), these not-quite-fully-ripe dates are known as “blondies,” and most of them are shipped off to Japan, where they fetch top dollar… or top yen. If you leave them to hang around, their sugar content increases, their skin softens, and they turn into the dates you know and love (or don’t depending on your taste).

Blondies in a bottle

Blondies in a bottle

I pickled a bunch of them a couple of weeks ago, and I’m curious as to how they will taste when they are ready. Stay tuned. In the interim, go and find your own blondie.

Shameless repurposing, part three: Wolf at the Door, or The Puck Stops Here

0
Wolfgang and Oscar, together again

Wolfgang and Oscar, together again

Yeah, I know I’m going to hell for the puns. I think it was the endless hours of watching Rocky & Bullwinkle as a kid, in which upcoming episodes would be teased with titles such as “The Midnight Chew-Chew, or Stick To Your Gums” and “Fuels Rush In, or Star Spangled Boner.” In 2012, I had the opportunity to interview Wolfgang Puck, who was as charming on the telephone as he is on the television (and, presumably, in person). I realize that one doesn’t climb to the Elysian heights that Puck has ascended without a healthy double dollop of ego, but I found him to be surprisingly modest. Much like Emeril Lagasse, Puck has built a loyal cadre around him, many of whom have been in his employ for upwards of 20 years, which is no mean feat in the remarkably transient business of hospitality.

And, like virtually everyone who has achieved justifiable fame in the cooking profession (I’m pointedly leaving out many — though by no means all — of TV’s instant celebu-chefs, who maintain a virtual chokehold on the Cooking Channel and the Food Network “reality” shows these days), he laboured for years before ever penetrating the public consciousness, leaving home at 14 to work as an apprentice at a bakery. His first major gig in America was in Indianapolis, of all places.

Fine Dining at the now-shuttered La Tour, Indianapolis, circa Wolfgang's era

Fine Dining at the now-shuttered La Tour, Indianapolis, circa Wolfgang’s era

It was all glamour and glitz from there, Oscar parties and multi-million dollar deals, but his passion for food still comes through in conversation. In fact, here’s a recipe he gave me for Savory Squash Soup that can be served warm or cold, making it an excellent year-round dish.

Savory Squash Soup in situ

Savory Squash Soup in situ

Savory Squash Soup (serves 6)

Ingredients
4 butternut squash (about 3 3/4 pounds)
2 acorn squash (about 1 3/4 pounds)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 white onions (about 4 ounces), peeled, trimmed, and finely diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
8 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock, heated
2 cups heavy cream
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Garnish
Cranberry Relish*
Cardamom Cream**
Spiced Caramelized Pecans***
8 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil

Preheat the oven to 350° F/ 175° C.

Cut each squash in half and discard the seeds. Brush cut sides with 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Arrange the squash cut side down in a roasting pan and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Cool, scoop out the insides of the squash, and purée the flesh in a food processor. Reserve. (You should have about 6 cups of puréed squash.)

In a medium stockpot, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Over low heat, sauté the onion. Do not allow it to brown. Add the puréed squash and cook over very low heat until heated through, stirring occasionally. Do not allow it to bubble up. Season with the salt, pepper, ginger, and cardamom.

Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, still over low heat, stirring often. Cook about 20 minutes.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream with the rosemary sprig. Remove the rosemary and pour the cream into the soup. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process, in batches, for 2 or 3 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

To serve, ladle the soup into heated bowls. Place a tablespoon of Cranberry Relish in the center, top with a dollop of Cardamom Cream, then sprinkle with chopped pecans. Drizzle pumpkin seed oil over soup.

Note: If desired, bake small squash until tender, scoop out, and use as individual serving bowls.
Note #2: You don’t need to make the full recipe for the Cranberry Relish if you’re using it only for the soup.

***************

Cranberry Relish - photo courtesy wolfgangpuck.com

Cranberry Relish – photo courtesy wolfgangpuck.com

*Instructions for Cranberry Relish (serves 6)

3 cups cranberries, fresh
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup verjus or 4 tablespoons lemon juice

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Continue to cook until the mixture is thick and the berries are glazed. Allow to cool. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until needed.

**Instructions for Cardamom Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon black cardamom seeds

In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of heavy cream and the cardamom seeds to a boil. Reduce until only 1/4 cup remains. Strain through a wire sieve and allow to cool.
Add flavored cream to the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and whip until stiff peaks form. Chill until ready to serve.

Spiced Caramelized Pecans

Spiced Caramelized Pecans

***Instructions for Spiced Caramelized Pecans

1 1/2 cups peanut oil
1 cup pecan halves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Add pecans to a pot of boiling water in two batches, boiling for two minutes. Drain and shake off all excess water.
Sprinkle salt and cayenne over nuts. Coat with sugar, allowing the sugar to melt into the pecans.
Toss the nuts in the strainer, slowly adding all sugar. [NOTE: Do not use utensil to toss.]
Carefully add nuts to hot oil. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove with slotted spoon and allow to cool on cookie sheet.

Bite-Sized Bit — Chickens in Literature

0
Image: © Stephanie Metz, Chicken Legs, 2004. Felted wool, wood 17”H x 12”W x 15”D

Image: © Stephanie Metz, Chicken Legs, 2004. Felted wool, wood 17”H x 12”W x 15”D

My pal Lisa Jane Persky, in addition to being a fine actress, writer, and artist, numbers among her quirks a semi-obsessive desire to document the role of the humble Gallus gallus domesticus in the world of literature. From Proust to Palahniuk, she captures the cluck in word and image, honouring our fine feathered friends with an expert curatorial eye.

While I usually tend to find my chickens in the fridge, roasting pan, or fryer, I have to admit I’m partial to her recipe for a little brain food.

On the other hand, if you would prefer to put your brain in park for a moment, you might want to check out comedian Bruce Mahler’s ingenious use of a store-bought fryer as a prop for a skit on the ABC series Fridays.

And if you would like to find out more about Stephanie Metz, the artist who created the overbred fowl featured at the top of the post, her art can be found here.