Saturday, December 31, 2011

Agnolotti of Leeks, Kale and Magic Nuts

I have a modest kitchen. Since it's just Heather and me eating, I don't need to cook large quantities of anything, so I don't need a large pantry for staples, I get by with a normal civilian range and oven, and I don't like gadgets so I don't need storage for a crap like a duck press, egg slicer and cherry stoning machine. In a normal week's cooking I'll literally only need one knife, one skillet, one pasta pot and one rice pan. Occasionally I'll break out the dutch oven if I need to braise something or bake bread, but that's about it. I sometimes use a food processor, but they seem a little bit too fiddly for most chores and they're annoying to clean. We don't have a dish washer, and Heather, bless her heart, has never washed a dish in her life, so the less I have to clean, the better. I own a KitchenAid mixer but I haven't used it in years, and I don't have any attachments for it. I'm solidly against attachments, because they require attaching, detaching, cleaning and other things that aren't cooking. I'm pretty sure the KitchenAid is in the cupboard under the toaster but I'm not sure. I suppose I'll find out when we move.

About the only gadget I don't mind is the pasta machine. If you're going to make pasta, you either need a giant work surface and long pin for rolling it out by hand, which I don't have, or a pasta machine and a nine-inch square spot on the counter. That's my jam right there, the nine-inch one.*

I make cut pasta sometimes, but that requires an attachment**, so I'm more likely to cut sheets of pasta with a knife, or just use dry pasta from the store. Usually if I'm making fresh pasta it's for ravioli of some kind. I don't have any ravioli molds, so usually I just fold the pasta over the middles into little agnolotti or sometimes use a glass to cut circles for mezzalune.

Tonight's pasta was a way to use up the remaining kale from a massive kale indulgence brought on by some particularly nice bunches at the fruit stand. I had some endive, kale and a leek, and made a plan to stuff ravioli with the mixed greens and serve with some browned butter. I cut some bacon into 1/2-inch cubes and started them rendering in the skillet with a little olive oil, then added the leek to get it wilted. I like almonds with greens, so as an experiment I added a bunch of chopped cashews and almonds to the skillet. More about them later, they did magic. While all that was underway I stripped the green kale leaf web off the stems and chopped it into ribbons.

When the leek was tender I added the kale and salted everything. The kale goes in before the other leaves because it takes more time to cook. If I were using collards I'd put them in first, same with beet, turnip or mustard greens. Softer greens like escarole, frisee, spinach, celery leaf, herbs -- basically anything you might eat uncooked -- take much less time to cook, and can disintegrate if cooked too long. I'm always charmed by how much the volume of fresh greens cooks down. You start with an afro and end up with a burr. I chopped up the curly endive, and once the kale had wilted I added the endive and a handful of both celery and mint leaves, which have the effect of brightening any cooked greens..

Sometimes greens can have a slightly dank, musty undertaste, so when everything was tender, I took it off the fire and added a splash of rice vinegar to keep the muddiness at bay. I didn't want to make a puree out of it while it was still hot, because the bowl of the processor is plastic and I seldom feel comfortable about putting hot things in plastic, not just because I might distort the plastic, but because maybe some mutagen chemical could cook out of it and I'd get face cancer or grow a dick out of each armpit. I tasted a bit of the greens and liked them, but doubted the wisdom of adding nuts because they didn't seem to be doing anything. How little I knew then.

I turned my attention to the pasta, which was the same simple recipe I've used forever. I put enough flour on the counter (I guess it's about a cup and a half), then crack an egg into the middle of it, making a little well, add an additional egg yolk, some salt and a spoonful of olive oil, then start stirring the egg with a fork, gradually incorporating more flour into it until it becomes a mass of dough, then grab the whole pile and knead it with the remaining flour until it comes together as pasta. I used semolina this time, but the same basic technique works with almost any kind of flour. It seems like the flour will bind with the eggs until satisfied, then no more flour joins the party, so you basically can't fuck it up. I'm all for things I can't fuck up.

I kneaded the pasta for a while to develop the gluten and make it elastic enough to stretch around the middle of the agnolotti, which I expected to be lumpy from the nuts,*** then put it aside to rest for a few minutes. If you let fresh pasta rest before you roll it, it doesn't retract after rolling as much and rolls down to thickness easier.

Then the magic happened. I put the greens in the basket of the food processor and pulsed them. When I stopped to check the consistency, I grabbed a pinch and tasted it, and was surprised to find that the nuts had given up some of their fat **** and emulsified the greens into a creamy mousse. It was both richer and nicer to eat than the greens straight out of the skillet. I suddenly felt like a goddamn genius and like I invented something and started hollering for the patent attorneys again. I couldn't wait to get the pasta ready.

I rolled the pasta out in a scorched panic, laid it out on the table in yard-long strips and filled it with the greens like I was trying to win a medal in it. Only then did I realize I had no water boiling yet. I sorted that out, and while the water was coming up I ran out into the alley and grabbed a couple of big fuzzy leaves off Old Man Sage. It's incredible, Old Man Sage is still happy out there in his bucket in the dead of winter, laughing, pimping, dancing on the graves of all the other herbs. When I got back indoors, the water had come up to boil, so I salted it and tossed in the agnolotti, and while they boiled I browned the sage in the skillet with some butter and garlic.

 The sage butter was ready precisely when the agnolotti were, so I strained them into the skillet and tossed them until the butter and the residual pasta water emulsified into a light sauce. I plated the agnolotti, dusted them by grating the last of the homemade cheese and decorated them with finely sliced scallions and black pepper.

The nut transformation was evident even inside the pasta, making the greens rich and smooth, and the toasted flavor of the nuts made the agnolotti more complex, which married nicely with the butter sauce. Made it worth breaking out two gadgets for one meal.

* Said the Bishop to the Actress
** Said the salesman in the sex shop
*** Said the Bishop to nobody in particular. Maybe an actress.
**** Bishop again.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Food Friday: Sauerkraut and Oysters

"I like your cooking , I just don't like it when you cook stuff from 1870."
      --My youngest son to me after being asked why he didn't like Pink Stuff.

Contrary to popular belief I do not make my children eat foods from the 1870s, for the most part. For the Holidays I decided to go ahead and make Pink Stuff, a jello dish I described in a previous post. While the adults loved it, the children were less then thrilled. They complained that the mixture of ingredients sounded awful (dry jello, cool whip, pineapple and cottage cheese) and that they didn't like the texture of cottage cheese.

Honestly, that suited all of us adults fine because that meant there was more for us.

For this Food Friday, I am posting a recipe for a dish where the ingredients don't sound like they would be good together but like Pink Stuff, this dish might be great. Sauer Kraut and Oysters is not a combination most people eat today. However, I love sauerkraut and like to imagine dishes aside from hot dogs were its use is embraced. 

This recipe is from the "Cloud City" Cook Book by Mrs. Wm H. Nash (Ladies Congregational Church). Leadville:Co. Herald Democrat Steam Book and Job Printing House. 1889. Available from Internet Archive at . The recipe was submitted by Mrs. Werner and can be found on page 44.

The history of Oysters in the United States is an interesting one. Our ancestors loved oysters and they were plentiful . I would highly recommend the book by Mark Kurlansky. The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Food Friday: Oh The Things We Eat During The Holidays

I love that the Holiday season is like a time of free reign over eating pretty much everything and anything. Foods you would not eat during the rest of the year become fair game during the winter months.

So what types of things do you eat during the Holidays? I came across a series on unique holiday foods on NPR called Chompsgiving to Chew Year's: Holiday Dishes. This is a great series that shares family recipes and I highly recommend it.

From Flickr Commons
One of the reminiscence in this series is about ambrosia salad. Entitled, When Ambrosia Salad Spells Dread it tells the story of one man's repulsion to a jello dessert that in my family was officially called "Pink Stuff."

Now I must admit that I was considering making it for our Christmas luncheon. I like the stuff and I wonder what's not to like; it has dry jello folded into Cool-Whip with cottage cheese and fruit. It's not like some jello salads that I have seen recipes for that include ingredients like fish and cheese.

But to each his own. The one lesson in this is, write down those holiday recipes that are unique to your family so they can be passed down the generations.

Here is our family's recipe for the Pink Stuff though this is just one variation of the salad. I've also heard of people adding different canned fruits and even nuts.

Pink Stuff
This is a Jello dessert salad that my mom would make to serve at different holiday dinners.

1 package Strawberry Jello (You are using it in powdered form, do not prepare it)
1 tub of Cool Whip
1 contained of Cottage Cheese (small curd)
1-2 cans of mandarin oranges

Mix all the above ingredients together, mix well or the Jello crystals won’t dissolve. Once mixed, put in the refrigerator for a few hours to “set.”

You can choose to use different flavors of Jello and different fruit combinations.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Food Friday: Sandwich Spread

Is it just me or do sandwiches always taste better when someone else makes them? I can use the same ingredients as a friend but when she makes the sandwich it tastes so much better. Maybe that explains the popularity of sandwich places where you pick what you want but someone else makes the sandwich right before your eyes. You could make your own gigantic sandwich at home but one a stranger makes tastes different, even with the same ingredients.

Today's Food Friday comes from the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Illinois Rural Letter Carriers Associaiton (1935).

From the Collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega

What could make a sandwich even better is if you used a sandwich spread.  The following recipes may provide you some ideas for a homemade sandwich spread. These recipes also provide ideas for any green tomatoes that you might have.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

War Time Food: Remembering Pearl Harbor

World War II in the United States was a time that affected all Americans. If we just focus on food, civilians were encouraged to eat less meat, use up all they had and grow as much as they could. Publications and propaganda posters of the time suggested ways to can and preserve foods, grow victory gardens, and how to substitute certain foods. Ration coupons helped insure supplies of both food and goods.

As you think about preserving your family's food heritage, consider finding out more about what your family ate during World War II. Look around your home and the home of relatives for cookbooks, recipes from newspapers, recipe booklets, and ration stamp books. Ask your family questions.

Bringing up the subject of food during World War II might stir up memories in family members you are interviewing. Some types of questions to consider might revolve around how what they ate was different during the war years (consider things like alternative meats that were consumed, food substitutes and rationing). Did the family grow and preserve their own foods to supplement what they purchased? What recipes do they remember from this time period?

Food history is a part of your family history. Now is the time to record this more recent food history so it's not lost to future generations.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Have You Documented the Holiday Foods You Ate?

In my Thanksgiving blog posting, Thanks for the Memories: Thanksgiving I provided some ideas for questions to answer about your memories of Thanksgiving. The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, a month long series of blogging prompts, encourages bloggers to write up their Holiday food memories for December 2nd.

Check out the blog for links to blogger's posts about food memories. Remember, you don't have to be a blogger to record your food memories. That information can be included in a journal, family history book or a family cookbook.

Food Friday: Cheese Loaf

Cookbook appears courtesy of Gary Clark,
Now my true confession for this Food Friday is that I love cheese. Cheese is my food downfall and probably will result in a future heart attack. However, the following recipe for Cheese Loaf makes me wonder what the end result would taste like. The combination of cottage cheese and peanut butter is... interesting. This recipe is from the Bentley (Kansas) Community Cookbook 1942.

 It's hard for me to imagine how you would use this. Would you slice it for a sandwich? Would you use it as a side dish? If you have partaken of the Cheese Loaf, please feel free to leave a comment for this posting and let me know.

The onions and peanut butter in this  recipe also reminds me of a jr. high school history teacher I once had who enjoyed peanut butter and onion sandwiches. (But that recipe will be left for a future Food Friday).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Resource: St. Cloud Times Community Cookbooks

The St. Cloud Times has a feature in their Life section where they take a community cookbook and provide a recipe from it. A search in their online archives shows over 100 postings of community cookbook recipes. Today's  post was from the Avon Lakers' Ladies Cookbook (1980).

This is a nice feature and might be helpful to those who had/have family in this area. While it does not provide the names of everyone that contributed a recipe it does, through the title, let you know what is available.

The unfortunate part is that older articles require you to pay a fee to see the entire article. An abstract is free. Consider setting a Google alert for "community cookbooks" to keep up with the articles they post today and in the future.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Look Ma Stuffed Tomatoes

On the phone with mom the other day I felt like a triple dirtbag. 1) I got super busy and didn't call her on her birthday. 2) I remembered as I was falling asleep that I needed to call her in the morning to make up for it, but then I overslept and was late and it slipped my mind. 3) Now I'm on the phone with my mom two days late and apologizing for not calling her on her birthday or the day after. Triple dirtbag. Then she lays this on me, "I've been reading your food blog. You're getting a little too precious with it."

A too-precious triple dirtbag. I hang my head.

So this one's for my ma, who taught me by example that you can make dinner out of whatever is in the pantry plus whatever anybody happened to bring home dead, to not waste anything, and now how not to be precious. Mom always bought in bulk and stored things in the freezer because you never know when you're going to need something, and that's a habit I've picked up as well.

I was responsible for a side dish for the buffet at the Mydyette-Hunter Thanksgiving feast, and not knowing precisely what people would want to eat, I got it in my head to make some stuffed baked tomatoes. Seemed like nobody could really object to a tomato. For the stuffing I imagined a savory pilaf, nothing too heavy. I started the rice by sweating some onion and garlic in a sauce pan with olive oil, then added the rice, some saffron, water and Vegeta. I didn't have any stock. Shame on me for not having stock. For normal fluffy rice I use 2 parts liquid to one part rice, but this was going to be cooked twice, so I cut the liquid back by about a third. I wanted the rice to be al dente when I stuffed the tomatoes with it so it would absorb the cooking juices from the tomato to complete its hydration.

In preparation I had got a bunch of hothouse tomatoes, so I cut the tops off them to make little hats and saved the tops on a wet paper towel in the fridge. I cut around the perimeter of each one to a depth of about an inch and a half, then hollowed out the insides with a spoon. I saved the insides in a big bowl and salted them to get the liquid to render. I'd need the liquid later.

When the rice was done to the point I could use it, I dumped it into a big mixing bowl to cool off, and added a bunch of chopped cashews. I tasted the mixture and it was good, but could use a little more complexity, so I went to the freezer, where I keep the pine nuts I buy in bulk (thank you mom), put a handful of pine nuts on the fire with some butter and browned them, then added them to the rice. They were toasty delicious. When the rice mixture was cool enough to handle, I chopped a couple of scallions, some cilantro and a bunch of mint leaves and stirred them in along with some olive oil and crushed Mexican oregano. The rice was a little too firm for easy packing into the tomatoes, so I ladled some tomato liquor from the bowl of middles into the rice to loosen it. I also tried a sip of the tomato liquor and it was delicious. Maybe Devin can devise another cocktail with it and open franchises in New Orleans. Sell them in big tomato-shaped goblets all shaved ice and rimmed with Old Bay. Call it a Tomatogarita or a Hurri-Tomatocane or a Mai-Tomato-Tai. Hang them off the necks of revelers with a lanyard and a long bendy straw. Have a mascot like the Kool-Aid man except a big tomato guy. People need work, why not. Franchise people in New Orleans call me.

I stuffed the tomatoes with the rice and arranged them in a shallow baking dish. I put the dish in the fridge to wait for morning, but reserved four of them for Heather's dinner. Those four went into a small tin and got baked in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes covered in foil. When they were soft and giving, I doused them with another little shot of the tomato liquor to refresh the rice, then shredded some parmigiano on top, drizzled them with olive oil and  browned them under the broiler for a few minutes. To balance them on the plate, I cut some croutons from some leftover skillet soda bread I made after watching Jacques Pepin do it on TV.

The tomatoes were delicious. The hot, astringent juice made a perfect compliment to the sturdy, rich interior, and the par-cooked rice didn't degenerate into mush. The tomatoes I cooked for Thanksgiving got a little mound of bread crumb mix made of panko, parmigiano, olive oil and black pepper instead of the cheese, and it browned to a nicer effect, adding a crisply toasted element. I had intended to put the little tomato hats back on for presentation but forgot all about them. If anybody has a suggestion for what to do with the little tomato hats, please let me know.* When we ate the tomatoes at Thanksgiving, I heard from the other guests about a supposed pine nut shortage that had recently crippled kitchens all over, and felt an unusual pride in having learned to buy in bulk.

Thank you mom, and happy birthday.

Mom in Hawaii for our wedding. We bought in bulk.

*You get a little tomato hat with your Tomatogarita.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leftovers, Leftovers: The Thanksgiving Aftermath

So all the food is put away. The guests are gone. Your house needs another cleaning. Now what to do with all that food?

Several editions of The Metropolitan Cook Book was published  by Metropolitan Life Insurance in the 20th century. The 1925 edition provides homemakers with tips for healthy eating  including advice well suited for today. A variety of foods is stressed in one tip,   "there should be a liberal amount of fruits and green vegetables..." One of  their "useful suggestions" state that "it pays to buy clean food from a clean store " (Amen to that).

The goal of the cook book is "to help the housewife in her everlasting question, "what shall I have for dinner to-night?" One of the sections  tries to answer the question of what to do with leftovers. The introduction to those recipes state:

Almost any left-over meat may be combined with other foods, well seasoned, and be made up into very palatable dishes. Beef, veal, mutton, lamb, chicken and ham are all desirable and may be combined. Fish may be substituted for meat in many recipes. Trim off carefully all non-edible parts. Cut or chop mean in fine pieces of uniform size. Do not mash.

My guess is that for those who grew up in financially difficult times or during war time these recipes are easily recognized.

The recipes for leftovers include:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanks for the Memories: Thanksgiving

Woman Cooking from the US National Archives.
As genealogists our concentration is rightly focused on the lives of our ancestors. While that should be the majority of our focus at some point it's a good idea to consider what our descendants will remember about us or even know about us. As we approach Thanksgiving I have been asking people that I know how is Thanksgiving different now from when you were a child?

Obviously, the people you gather to eat with now might be different. Where you eat the food might be different. One of the things I have been interested in is how is the food different?

One of the dishes we had when I was younger was mincemeat pie. This was one of the many pies that my great-grandmother made. I previously wrote about some of my thoughts about mincemeat in a blog post here. Suffice it to say pumpkin pie was my favorite and so I was not interested in there being any other pies. Eventually as people in my family weren't as interested in mincemeat pie and as my great-grandmother was unable to help with the cooking, that pie eventually disappeared from our Thanksgiving table. I will say now as an adult, I'm sorry I never tried a piece of my great-grandmother's mincemeat pie.

So as you start reflecting on Thanksgiving, think about recording some of your Thanksgiving memories that can be shared with family. These questions/answers can be included in a family cookbook, in a Christmas letter, in your genealogical database or even on your blog. These questions are going to be different depending on what years you are reflecting on. For me, Thanksgiving is different if I'm thinking of it from when I was in elementary school, later as  a high school student  and then as I have a family of my own.

Some questions to consider include:

  • Where did you spend Thanksgiving each year?
  • Who prepared Thanksgiving?
  • Who attended Thanksgiving? (names of family and friends)
  • Did you have any traditions that went along with Thanksgiving? (playing football, putting up Christmas lights, watching TV, saying a special prayer, etc).
  • What was your favorite Thanksgiving food?
  • What was the Thanksgiving menu? (include recipes of dishes)
  • Did you ever have a Thanksgiving disaster? (kitchen caught on fire, plumbing backed up, dog ate meal).
  • How was Thanksgiving different when you were a child (different food, different traditions).
  • What decorations were used for Thanksgiving?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Food Friday: Fried Squirrel ala World War II

Recently, I was in Solvang (California) checking out the used cookbooks at the local bookstore, The Book Loft. (On a side note, these great independent bookstores are a dying breed and deserve our support). They had a great selection of community cookbooks compiled by all kinds of different fundraising groups. I ended up picking up a few that looked unique and then headed off to a play we were seeing that night.

On the long drive home, I started perusing the cookbooks and started wondering about the story behind one of the ones I had purchased. I couldn't quite figure out who the group was that compiled it. It was different than the church, school, hospital, alumni group, local community  groups I was accustomed to. It was obvious the book had to do with World War II and after analyzing some of the stories I knew that the atomic bomb  dropped at the end of World War II played some integral part in why these women knew each other.

This cookbook, a combination of recipes and memories, was complied by the Oak Ridge '43 Club. Members of this club were those living in Oak Ridge (Tennessee) in 1943. One of the nicknames of this city is the Atomic City. Those who lived in Oak Ridge lived under a veil of secrecy not only from the rest of the world but also to a degree, amongst themselves. They were working, unbeknownst to them, on materials for the Manhattan Project.

What I love about this cookbook is that it's not just a compilation of recipes of the time. It is a history, told in the words of the women who lived it. The book includes biographies, sketches of what the housing looked like at Oak Ridge and rich descriptions of their lives. This is truly a cookbook/history book. We definitely need more of them. 

Today's Food Friday is a Fried Squirrel recipe. I think it's important to remember the foods people had to eat during hard times and to listen to their stories. To learn more about Oak Ridge see the Oak Ridge website. This cookbook is available here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pan Roasted Pineapple in Prosciutto with Li Hing and Umeboshi

My li hing mui obsession continues to find opportunities to express itself. Here's the next shot.

The celeriac skordalia was a big hit with H-Bomb. I call Heather H-Bomb sometimes. She hates it*. The last time I made celeriac I ended up with a little left over, so I needed something to serve on it as a main course. One of my favorite Hawaiian li hing items is fresh pineapple with li hing sprinkled on it. It's totally delicious, spicy and weird. At one of the PRF barbecues I was treated to some grilled pineapple rings wrapped in bacon, served with a spicy barbecue sauce. They were savory, hot and sweet and I thought I could make a version of them spiced up with li hing that would go well with the celeriac.

I'm a fan of bacon as an ingredient in its own right, but not so much of using it to dress up other things. It's such a strong flavor it tends to become the focal point of whatever it's used on, and that aspect has become quite a gimmick problem solver in professional kitchens. Dull menu item? Slap bacon on it, especially if it's incongruous, and tell the wait staff to crow about it and pull a face when they say the word "bacon."  Baconizing the mundane is now a first option, and has already worn out its welcome on me. I've seen bacon-slapped doughnuts, chocolate bars, brownies and baked items, bacon fat-infused coffee, ice cream and jelly. The baconification of restaurant food has even made me tired of the more traditional -- now ubiquitous -- bacon-topped sea food and poultry. My bacon nerves are pretty well shot at the moment, but at the point I was served the bacon-wrapped pineapple mentioned above I was still vulnerable to its charms, and I wanted to do justice to that younger, less jaded response.

Wherever bacon would be rude, I've had some joy substituting prosciutto, which seems to deliver a satisfying savory richness without being an obstacle to what lies beneath it. Lardo does just as well, but tends to read as butter rather than meat, and the celeriac needs a substantial entree to compete with its savory personality, not buttered fruit.

I cut a pineapple ring approximately 1.5" thick, then into six segments, making roughly pyramidal chunks, then dusted them all over with li hing powder, which instantly stained them a brilliant crimson. The color of li hing is probably largely synthetic, since the powder is made from a pickled plum, similar to the light pink umeboshi common to Japanese rice balls. I was intrigued by this difference, so I took out a jar of umeboshi to compare the two. As soon as I opened the jar, it occurred to me to include a piece of umeboshi in the parcel to provide a sour counterpoint to the sweet pineapple. I wrapped a pitted umeboshi plum with each piece of pineapple in the prosciutto, overlapping to bind it to itself closed. Since the pieces would cook quickly, I collected them on a plate to cook simultaneously. I presumed the prosciutto and li hing would be salty enough that I wouldn't need to season the hunks separately.

I pan-roasted the pineapple chunks in a skillet just barely wiped with olive oil. I didn't want to risk trapping any frying oils in the folds of the prosciutto or the crevices of the pineapple underneath. The prosciutto both rendered and crisped nicely, the fat becoming instantly transparent and the meat becoming red and supple before browning and shrinking to enrobe the pineapple. The little things looked cool as hell, and I couldn't resist eating one piping hot. It was delicious and reasonably balanced, though mild, so I made a quick vinaigrette to spice up the plate out of an egg yolk, some Sriracha, mustard, lime juice, soy sauce and garlic. I plated the celeriac skordalia first, then plunked the pineapple chunks on top, doused the plate with the vinaigrette and garnished with some alley mint leaves.

Heather was less taken with the pineapple than I was. "I'm not so into fruit for dinner," she said. I wish I could say I was unhappy she had eaten all the celeriac and left most of the pineapple chunks, but whatever emotional pain I felt was soothed by wolfing the things down like a snuffling pig.

Really, she hates it.

Asparagus in Perilla with Pork Rillettes and Leek Chives

I mentioned previously that I got some "sesame" leaves at Jong Boo market. These are perilla, a Korean relative of the Japanese herb shiso. They taste somewhat of wintergreen or licorice and are about the size of small grape leaves. As soon as I had the Perilla leaves in my hand, I imagined wrapping something in them, and was pleased to discover while googling them that they are used that way in Korea. Since I also just acquired some nice white asparagus, I decided to make some asparagus rolls. I love asparagus for eating and am charmed by the magical way it transforms the smell of my urine. It's amazing how quickly it gets through your system. I've eaten asparagus as an appetizer and visited the toilet between courses a few minutes later and been greeted with the familiar (yet magical) transformation. Charming and intriguing. Nothing else does this to pee that I know of, though I've heard from a few experienced women that a diet heavy in celery improves the taste of semen.* So far I've been unable to confirm this due to scheduling conflicts, and my sole reference book on the subject doesn't mention it.

I like regular asparagus, but for some reason the white stalks are better represented in the produce sections of supermarkets around here. Lately whenever there are both white and green, the green is usually older, with open, drying florets and woody stems, while the white stalks are nearly pristine and closed tight. I have no idea why this is, but if I have a choice I'll take whichever looks better and lately that's been white. The modern Japanese restaurant Macku has an excellent white asparagus custard on its dessert menu, and whenever I see white asparagus in the store I make quiet plans to attempt something like that some day. Today was not the day.

With green asparagus I generally peel the bottom third of the stalks, more if the skin looks sturdy, and nip off the very end of the stalk, which can be scarred or fibrous. The "trick" often seen on TV cooking shows of snapping the bottom quarter of the asparagus stalk off is wasteful and crude. Just peel it like any vegetable and trim the bad part. White asparagus has a thinner skin, but I peeled and trimmed these out of habit.

We had eaten a bunch of braised pork shoulder recently, and there was still some left, so I imagined frying it into a sort of shredded carnitas to accompany the asparagus in the rolls. I still had some of the Korean leek chives (or are they chive leeks?) left, and while they proved underwhelming generally, I thought they could compliment the mild flavor of the asparagus and pulled them out of the fridge.

I got a pot of water boiling, salted it and threw the asparagus in. I figured it would take a couple of minutes, but while that was underway I could make use of the boiling water. Using a skimming ladle, I blanched the perilla leaves in the salted water, then shocked them in cold water to set their color. I did the same to a bunch of the leek chives, after tying them together to keep them in a tidy bundle for easier handling.

While the asparagus was boiling, I sliced an onion into thin rings and started them caramelizing in a skillet with some olive oil. I shredded a bunch of the slow cooked pork into the skillet to cook along with the onions. My plan was not just to reheat the pork but caramelize it with the onions, give it a crisp texture and intensify the flavor of the braising liquid that had clung to the pork. There was enough fat clinging to the pork that it wouldn't be lying to call it rillettes, but I would only do that if I was trying to impress somebody.** 

The pork would take a couple of minutes, so I removed the asparagus from the water and shocked it, then cut it into lengths that would fit inside the perilla leaves. I didn't intend to roll the ends of the leaves over like a burrito or dolma, but I didn't want the asparagus poking out the ends. I also made a quick dressing, a kind of loose aoli with some garlic, mustard, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, honey and Sriracha.

Since the water was already boiling, I got a third use out of it. I threw in some extra salt and a few colorful new potatoes to serve along with the asparagus rolls. The new supermarket had a special on colorful little potatoes, so I bought a bag of mixed hues, golden, blue and pink. They seemed like a good candidate for a side dish and they were small enough that they could boil in the time it took to make the rolls.

When the pork was ready, I made the rolls by laying a couple lengths of asparagus on a perilla leaf, dressed them with the aoli, laid in some of the crispy browned pork and a few of the blanched chives, then rolled them up. For presentation I cut a few of the rolls in half to show off the insides and made a nice pile of them on the plate. By then the potatoes were done, so I drained them and dressed them with the remaining aoli, black pepper and some of the chives, chopped fine, then set them on the plate and garnished with a couple of bright red olives. I was happy with the jolly look of all the different colors rumbling around on the plate. Reminded me of childrens' building blocks or Legos or something. Do they still have Legos? They must.

About the rolls, Heather ate them but said they were "a little thing, not a meal." She's right, I should have served them with something else, like a soup or a cutlet or some other more substantial item but I didn't think of it until she mentioned it.

It's honestly amazing about the pee.

* I don't even need to say it really.
** I am trying to impress you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Food Friday: Bacon and Cottage Cheese Sandwich

They say that bacon can go with just about everything. I'm not totally convinced that bacon is a good match for all things but am open to different combinations even those that include desserts with bacon like bacon doughnuts and chocolate covered bacon.

Today's Food Friday come from the cookbook highlighted last week, Recipe from Our Redeemer's (sic). Bacon and Cottage Cheese Sandwich is fairly easy to make, all you need is bacon, cottage cheese, onion salt, chives and bread. I would probably try this recipe and am curious if any of my readers have had it. I found a group on Facebook, On the 8th Day God Created Bacon and one of the members did post that her grandmother frequently made this sandwich.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Food Friday: Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I'm very lucky because my parents are constantly on the lookout for community cookbooks for me. At a recent library book sale they purchased a stack for me and one of them has quickly become my favorite.

Recipes from Our Redeemer's (sic). Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church Cook Book. Benson, Minnesota (1964) is a collection of 246 pages of recipes. All types of recipes are represented here, lots of desserts (I mean LOTS of desserts) and even a smorgasbord section (I'm a huge fan of smorgasbord). One of the reasons I like this cookbook is that a woman bought it for her friend and then she annotated the recipes so that her friend would know which ones were the good and very good ones. She also marked which recipes were from her family, which she notes are all very good. What a great idea, to give the cookbook as a gift and then annotate it for your friend. 

So this Food Friday is a recipe I would gladly try. In honor of Thanksgiving next month today's recipe is for Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. 

I have to also say I like the little tip below this recipe that remarks that if your pie crust doesn't turn out or the filling isn't right just top it with whipped cream or ice cream. Wise words indeed.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Three Minute Gazpacho

Made a trip to Andy's and got some beautiful little cucumbers I've never seen before. They had a bumpy, leathery skin and firm flesh, almost like a zucchini, but small, inoffensive seeds. About half the size of a salad cucumber, they tasted great and were much less watery than the waxy green dildos normally available. I sat down to watch a baseball game and ponder what to do with them. When Heather summoned me and claimed to be near death from hunger, it gave me a perfect opportunity to try my hand at a gazpacho, provided I could complete the task in three minutes*, the length of a commercial break.**

I peeled two stout little fellows, cut them into segments and put them in the carafe of the blender. Their tiny, feeble little pips saved me the trouble of de-seeding them, a task that may have taken several seconds. To the cucumbers I added a smashed clove of garlic, a small purple heirloom tomato, half a small sweet onion, a cigar-butt-sized hunk of ginger and the flesh of both a fresh jalapeno and a little red cherry pepper, all cut into pieces. The peppers came from the alley. Way to go alley. I pulsed the vegetables for a bit to break them up, then added salt, pepper, Sriracha, olive and sesame oil, the juice of a lime and a glug of spicy V8.

Before juicing the lime I grated the zest and reserved it for later. Grating the zest off a lime has the same effect as massaging the pulp, which makes the lime give up more of its juice. If you're not using zest for anything you can just roll the lime on the countertop and crush it a little. Also, get one of those little lime squeezer things from the Mexican supermercado. They cost a buck or two and are super efficient at getting lime juice out of limes. Liquefying raw vegetables works best if there are smallish pieces in a wet medium rather than trying to turn big hunks directly into liquid. That usually just results in the blade whirring past the bigger pieces while punishing the puree, resulting in unpalatable chunks surrounded by overworked paste, so it's worth it to do the puree in two stages, first to coarsely chop the pieces, then with a little added liquid to make it smooth.

Another trick for pulsing larger batches, especially in a food processor rather than a blender, is to add some crushed ice with the vegetables at the beginning of the process. The ice pieces act as auxiliary blades to help break up the vegetables while preventing the soup from getting hot from the friction of the blade and motor. Keeping the vegetables cool is critical in a gazpacho, otherwise the cells break down and the soup separates into ugly layers of water and fibrous matter. Gazpacho needs to retain some hint of its constituent ingredients in the body of the soup, otherwise it's just salty Jamba Juice. I didn't bother with ice this time because it was a small batch and I was determined not to spend too long on it.

I finished processing the soup and poured it into a bowl on top of some finely-sliced scallions and the reserved lime zest. There was very little foam, but I skimmed off what there was and tasted the soup. It was bright and complex and satisfying, and the oil made the flavors linger a little on the palate while providing body. I was happy with it as it was, but in future iterations I may try adding a little fish sauce to see if that makes the flavors hang around even more. Tasting the gazpacho gave me the idea that this would be really good as a savory sorbet, so I need to get some into Tim Mydhuiette's hands before everything goes out of season.

The alley bounty provided me with an assortment of peppers to dice for garnish, so I made a tiny brunoise of green jalapeno, orange serrano and red cherry pepper and sprinkled them on the gazpacho along with some chopped tarragon from the alley. I finished the garnish with a little dollop of Greek Yogurt and a sprig of mint.

And I made it back in time to see the Yankees dump one.

(vg) (v) without yogurt

** Overheard re: Bishop and actress.
** We have TiVo but I like a challenge.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Food Friday: Tomato Milk

One of my historical food interests is the foods served during World War II. This is an interesting time food wise because people had to not only make due with what they had but they had to do it while  using ration coupons, food substitutes and enduring shortages.

One recipe I have seen in more than one cookbook from this time is for Tomato Milk also named Milk with Tomato Juice. I'm not sure why this ever seemed like a good idea except that it probably allowed one to stretch what little they had.

The recipe is always pretty much the same. It's basically tomato juice, milk and a pinch of salt or sugar (depending on your preference). The following is the recipe from Metropolitan Cook Book issued by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Notice that there is also a recipe for Milk with Fruit Juice. Another cookbook I saw with this Tomato Milk recipe framed it in the idea that it was the perfect snack for children. (My opinion is it is not a good snack for kids unless you want your children running around yelling about how gross it is-for more on this, see below).

I had mentioned this recipe to my mom who voluntered to give a try since she had all the ingrediants handy. Well we just happened to be at my parent's house one day and she said "let's all try it." Well, what was I going to do? I couldn't just say, "hey mom you try it because I'm pretty sure it's really gross." So my mom, my youngest son (he loves to try weird foods) and I bellied up to the kitchen counter where she mixed the recipe using a pinch of salt. (The rest of the men in our family went outside to look at the garden, yeah right).

Now, I like all of the ingredients involved in this recipe. I love tomato juice. I like milk in my cereal and I love a good dose of sugar. This combination of ingredients reminds me of a drink some of the local Vietnamese restaurants have that is basically an avocado smoothie. I like avocados and I like smoothies, just not certain that avocado smoothie is the best idea for me. The same is true for tomato milk.

So why did I try it? Well I honestly wanted to figure out what was so appealing about that combination. I wanted to see if I could imagine serving it to kids as a "wholesome" snack. I wanted to take a drink of a World War II recipe.

So we tried it. The final result? Two of us felt sick to our stomachs the whole night and the third person ran around yelling about how gross it was. I'll let you figure out who was who.

Basically, it did have this creamy/acidic taste that I found pretty heavy. The taste is probably one you could imagine.

When I asked my Facebook friends if anyone had ever drank this, I didn't have anybody admitting to it but they did name off recipes that were similar ingredients-wise  including a tomato gravy that includes milk.

The moral of this tale is that you should always be cautious when trying the foods of your ancestors. At least don't make plans for later in the day if your going to try something unusual. But it should also give you an appreciation of what they might have ate out of duty.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Food Friday: Eskimo Ice Cream

Recently, I've had the opportunity to do some traveling and as part of that traveling I have sought out regional foods. Isn't that the great thing about traveling?

So in Springfield, Illinois I had the Horseshoe Sandwich.

The basic horseshoe is an open faced sandwich with meat, french fries and a cheese sauce. There are variations of the horseshoe including an Italian horseshoe that was also enjoyed on this trip.

In St. Louis, Missouri we had  a few opportunities to eat BBQ.

At one of the BBQ restaurants we ate we tried boiled peanuts. A true regional food, I liked the boiled peanuts and actually preferred them to "regular" peanuts.

Community cookbooks reflect foods of their region. So they provide a wonderful glimpse into the types of foods available to our ancestor's community. Regional recipes sometimes seem a little strange to those not living in that community. I remember once looking at a recipe for picked eggs and wieners (not in separate jars but the same jar) and thinking that was strange. But it was a great glimpse of the foodways of this particular community.

Regional foods come about for so many different reasons, transportation, ethnic and religious influences, local chef inspirations. Sometimes, especially for our ancestors, the food might be reflect what is available locally.

Consider this recipe for Eskimo Ice Cream found in a cookbook from Nome, Alaska, Nome's Own Cook Book complied by the Ladies Aid Society of Federated Church (1946). My guess is that most of my readers  won't be trying this recipe anytime soon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weird Little Mushrooms in Soup

After living a mile from it for a decade, I finally made a shopping trip to Jong Boo Korean Market, which I drive by often but had never set foot in. The occasion was a successful day of marketing that included the new fancy supermarket that just opened across from the Jewel, Paulina for meat and a fly-by of Andy's for some weird little cucumbers and such. Jong Boo was pretty cool, and I got some stuff I was curious to try cooking with, including red miso, a big hunk of fresh pork belly, Korean shiso leaves (colloquially called "sesame leaves" in Korean), Koeran leek chives, fresh Chinese noodles and a carton of weird little white mushrooms cultivated in a mass. As soon as we got home I decided now was as good a time as any to try making a soup with some of this stuff.

I started the soup by sweating some onions and garlic in some sesame oil reinforced with olive oil. When they were soft and smelled good, I added some finely diced ginger, carrots and peppers. The alley patch has been incredibly productive this year, prodigiously producing Hungarian wax peppers, jalapenos, tiny Thai chiles, little golfball-sized cherry red peppers and some red things that look like serrano peppers but aren't as hot. For this soup, I made a brunoise of a fat jalapeno, one of the red mock serranos and a couple of the little Thai firecrackers. Those things are pretty hot, but aren't disruptive unless you bite directly into a whole chile.

I salted all the vegetables, and once they made their introductions, I covered them with water and stirred-in a healthy blob of the red miso. When the miso had dispersed and formed a broth, I added a splash of fish sauce and let the whole thing come up to a boil. Meanwhile I boiled water for the noodles. Typical Asian soups have noodles boiled separately and added to the bowl, and that seemed like a good protocol to follow. Boiling the noodles separately keeps the starch in the noodles from leaching into the soup and clouding and thickening it. The noodles are less flavorful than egg noodles, so it's critical to salt the water they boil in or they'll be a flavorless paste. 

While the noodles were boiling, I prepared some herbs. I tried one of the leek chives, and it was underwhelming. Not a lot of flavor and a strong chlorophyll taste. I plunged one into the soup stock and let it blanch a little, then tasted it again and was surprised that the raw greenness had left, leaving a nice mild onion/chive/leek flavor. I chopped a small handfull and dropped them in the soup. I tried the shiso/sesame leaf raw and it was pretty rude, with a medicinal/poisonous licorice flavor that reminded me of sassafras and wintergreen. I was intrigued by the flavor and didn't dislike it, but I suspected Heather would be put off by it. I tried blanching a leaf and the medicinal quality was reduced considerably, leaving just the suggestion of anise and wintergreen. I rolled a couple of the leaves into a bundle, cut them into ribbons of chiffonade and added them to the soup. The final flavor of the soup was hearty and complex, with considerable spiciness and a rich mouth feel. Given the complex flavor of the shiso, I thought fresh mint and tarragon would compliment it, so I ran out to the alley and grabbed some, then chopped them fine to use as a garnish.

When the noodles were done, I made a little mound of them in the soup bowls, then ladled the soup over the top. The stock had turned a lovely amber color, but was a little plain, so I floated a couple slices of spicy capicola on it. The heat from the soup instantly made the fat transparent and the meat turned a bright rosy pink. I pulled a few of the weird little mushrooms off the cluster and plunked them in the soup, then scattered some of the chopped herbs over the soup, and the final look of the soup was nice.

The pork belly will be in play shortly.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Food Friday: Depression Dinner

Probably everyone has an idea about how to make a low cost meal that your family will enjoy. I've seen articles addressing this topic in food magazines as well as websites and even YouTube. During difficult times like recessions, depressions and war this topic can be one of utter necessity.

If you Google the phrase "Depression Dinner" you will find various recipes, most include ground beef, for a meal with this title. The Depression Dinner recipe I found in the Our Favorite Recipes cookbook written by the Order of the Eastern Star, Towson Chapter (n.d., page 81) includes some canned foods. This would  be a pretty inexpensive meal, probably costing under $5.00 to make if you were to do so today.

Have you come across any recipes called "Depression Dinner?" Have you made any of these recipes?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Popcorn Came to Matter

Heather loves popcorn. We go through phases where she needs popcorn every evening, so I make a lot of popcorn. When I was a kid, my mom made popcorn with olive oil and butter as the frying medium. Timing was critical, because if the fire was too hot or the popcorn didn't come off the fire precisely when it was done popping, the butter solids burned and it came out horrible, but when it everything worked, it was delicious. I have tried making popcorn this way, but in the interest of a higher success ratio I have modified the mom technique.

I use canola oil for the cooking medium. It has no flavor, but can handle high temperatures easily, and a high temperature means fewer un-popped "old maid" kernels are left. For on top* I mostly use melted butter, and once in a while we get this ridiculous Irish butter that costs like ten bucks a pound just for the popcorn. While Heather was rocking the JP, and occasionally to accommodate movie night with vegan friends, I make a topping that is as delicious as butter but isn't butter.

I'm going to call it a dressing. I hate that word "topping." It's a food industry word for something fake and gross to use instead of something normal like butter. Worse, it's an all-purpose word, used equivalently for synthetic versions of mayonnaise, whipped cream, bacon crumbles or ice cream sprinkles. Fuck "topping" and "spread" and "chocolaty" and "creamer" and the rest of the industrial food replacement dictionary.

The non-butter dressing I've settled on is a clove of garlic emulsified with some liquid smoke, siracha, sesame oil and olive oil. There's more olive oil than anything else, but the other elements make the dressing complex enough to do battle with the Irish butter. I have tried adding various other savory sauces, Worcestershire (and its Sheffield counterpart  Henderson's Relish), Tabasco and balsamic vinegar, but none of them improved matters and some of them occasionally made kernels damp in spots. 

Regardless of the dressing, popcorn isn't really fit for eating without salt, and given the geometry and physics of popcorn and oil, popcorn salt needs to be ground very fine to do any business with popcorn. A civilized popcorn experience requires fine popcorn salt, and trying to make do with granulated table salt is what pruno is to wine. Like that prisoner's tipple, brewed in toilet tanks from packets of mystery fruit jelly (topping? sure) and moldy bread, it sucks, it's degrading and it's for people who have been shit on by life. At the million-plex theater where Heather and I go see movies sometimes, they don't butter the popcorn at the concession, they hand it to you and make you walk over to the oil pumps to butter it yourself. With topping, we can call it topping. Adding fuck you you're a sucker and we hate you to insult, there is no popcorn salt, only little paper packets of granulated salt like you'd get in a pre-pack of plastic cutlery. In prison. The next step down the ladder is a cavity search.**

To salt our popcorn, I tart-up regular sea salt with some dried Mexican oregano, black pepper and paprika, and grind it super fine in a mortar. It comes out like talcum powder and it disperses well into the popcorn's texture. If I'm in a rush I'll grind some Vegeta with the salt instead of individual herbs and spices. If we're using the olive oil dressing instead of butter, I'm more likely to just use plain salt and pepper for seasoning. Having just returned from Hawaii (thank you Hawaii) and still being in the throes of a Li Hing Mui obsession, I'll be trying that out on some popcorn real soon, and I suspect it will be wonderful.
Li Hing Mui
Stop Press! Just made some li hing popcorn and it was delicious. Made popcorn and dressed it with butter, reserving some for the li hing experiment and seasoning the rest for Heather with ground salt, pepper and oregano. For the experimental bowl I ground li hing powder with salt and dusted the popcorn with it. It turned my fingers a rather gaudy scarlet, but man that stuff is great. Sour, salty and pungent with fruit and licorice.

Li Hing, I will see you soon. I have plans for you. (v) or (vg)

* Bishop.
** Then blanket party.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Burdock What the Hell is Burdock

Like most people, the only time I ever come across burdock root is watching episodes of the original Japanese Iron Chef. They seem to throw burdock in everything they boil, and having eaten my share of Japanese food, I'm pretty sure I've eaten it, but I couldn't tell you what it tastes like and couldn't identify its flavor blindfolded. While at Mitsuwa buying a bunch of Asian stuff, I came across a pile of burdock roots, each about a yard long, in the produce section. Burdock certainly doesn't look like food, it looks like a dirty stick. Now's as good a time as any to find out what burdock is all about, I assured myself, and six bucks later I owned a solid yard of dirty stick.*

I did some googling but got bored with it and decided to just boil some and see what was up. Turns out it tastes pretty dull and isn't much fun in the mouth**. Kinda like dirt crossed with a turnip plus rope. The smell of it while boiling was pretty interesting though, like a wet dog and a rotting tree stump. If you've ever taken a dog for a walk in the woods after it rains you'll know what I'm talking about. I decided on the spot to make some vegetable stock with the burdock and use that to make a risotto as a vehicle for the funk.***

I don't know if you're supposed to peel burdock, but the outside is the part that doesn't look like food, so I peeled it and cut it into one-inch lengths. The burdock being pretty long, there were a lot of one-inch lengths to deal with.**** I started the stock by slightly caramelizing an onion, some celery and an apple, chopped coarsely, and a mess of little carrots from a bag. When they were browned a little, I seasoned the vegetables with a handful of salt and added four or five smashed garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves and the burdock, then covered everything with water and let it come to a boil. Once boiling, I turned it down to a simmer. I skimmed the stock a couple of times out of habit over the course of about an hour, but the stock was pretty clean.

Using cold liquid to make risotto takes a long ass time so I like to have the stock on a light fire right next to the rice pan so adding stock doesn't bring down the temperature of the risotto. While decanting the stock into the warming pot I noticed that the burdock pieces had retained their structure through more than an hour of cooking, while all the other vegetables were reduced to putty. Curious, I threw one in my mouth and it wasn't half bad. Still underwhelming but the texture had improved, and I could see pores in the center of the root had opened up, which might allow for a dressing to penetrate and make it tastier. I reserved a dozen or so of the burdock chunks to dress for later and pitched everything else.

I tried a shot of the stock and it was pretty good. Had the sort of dirty undercarriage musk I associate with mushroom stock, but without the lingering sensation of rot and slime. If I needed mushroom stock for something I wouldn't hesitate to use burdock broth instead.

Anyhow, made the risotto, starting with a sofrito of diced apple (or was it pear? I can't remember for sure, but I want to say it was pear) onion and celery, and while that was underway I built the dressing for the burdock hunks by making a puree of a garlic clove with a microplane and emulsifying it with an egg yolk, mustard, some sesame oil, siracha, rice vinegar, salt and a little honey. I covered the burdock with it and let it soak in. The risotto was coming together nicely but as the dirty color of the burdock broth intensified in it, the color was starting to look  drab and a little shitty, so I made a plan to enliven the plate with a roasted red pepper puree. It's a pretty good quick sauce for anything starchy, just throw a roasted red pepper in the blender with a little olive oil, salt and vinegar and you've got a nice bright red sauce that tastes delicious. I built the plates with the risotto surrounded by the pepper sauce, then loaded the burdock chunks on top, scattered some alley herbs and shaved some parmigiano over everything.

The risotto was excellent, with the murky taste of the burdock***** broth brightened by the tangy dressing and red pepper sauce, and while the burdock wasn't an exciting vegetable to eat, it was a decent vehicle for a nice dressing and was the catalyst for this whole thing. Sort of like an asshole buddy who introduces you to the love of your life, he gets a pass lifetime for that. (vg) (v without egg yolk or parmigiano)

* Do I have to spell it out for you?
**Overheard at the PRF BBQ
***"Vehicle" by the Ides of March is pretty funky
****Overheard at Quenchers pre-PRF BBQ
*****While I was typing that last bit, I mis-typed burdock as "buttdock," which was too good to just erase

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Food Friday: The Congressional Club Cook Book 1961

Antique stores hold family history. Yes, much of what you will find is not the record of an individual family's life but more of a documentation of what our collective families used over time, in different time periods. But in some cases antique stores sell items that do name names and document an individual's life. These are items like postcards, photographs and correspondence.

So what does that have to do with community cookbooks? Well the other day as I was perusing some local antique stores I took a moment to go through some shelves of cookbooks. On one of the shelves I found The Congressional Club Cook Book from 1961.  The Congressional Club members include the wives and daughters of members of Congress, of the Cabinet, and the Supreme Court. 1927 marked the first Congressional Club Cook Book and updated editions of the cookbook have been published ever since. In fact, you can purchase the latest Cookbook, the 14th edition, from the Congressional Club's website.

The 6th edition of the cookbook includes recipes from the wife of the President of the United States, the wife of the Vice-President of the United States, the Wives of Past Presidents of the United States, the Wives of the Justices of the Supreme Court, the Wives of Foreign Ambassadors, Wives of the Cabinet, Wives of Governors, Wives of the Senators of the Untied States, Wives of Representatives of the United States, Other Active, Associate and Non-Resident Members of the Club, the White House Kitchen, The Congressional Club Kitchen, and the Husbands (who cook) of the above categories.

Each recipe includes the signature, name and relationship to someone associated with the above groups. There are a few women included who are not associated with a man but are a Representative or hold a similar government position. What's also interesting is that though many of the women signed their names as Mrs. so and so, there are those that didn't, including Jacqueline Kennedy.

As is probably obvious by now, my research specialty is researching women via their material artifacts, the items they participated in and left behind including signature quilts, journal and diaries and community cookbooks. As I thumbed through this edition of the cookbook I found a recipe that was penned by the wife of a Representative from North Carolina, Mrs. Thurmond Chatham. Thurmond Chatham is my  2nd cousin three times removed. Finding that recipe provides an interesting piece of information to add to the Chatham Family History Book.

The recipe submitted by Patricia Firestone Coyner Chatham is shown below

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Homemade Cheese to Garnish Sausage and Peppers

Making cheese is way more daunting than bread. Bad bread, whatever, it's still bread. Bad cheese could end up a weird moldy science experiment that stinks like rotting garbage and cures syphilis. Nevertheless, despite not really knowing how, I thought I'd give it a shot. When I was a kid, my mom made a kind of farmers' cheese by curdling milk with lemon juice and straining the curd, and I thought I could handle that. I had about a half-gallon of whole milk in the fridge, which seemed like it ought to be enough to test the principle. Milk needs to be hot for the protein to react with the acid in the lemon juice, so I put the milk in a pot on a low heat with a little salt. I saw a cheesemaker on YouTube put salt in his milk, so what the hell me too. As a kind of hedge against the cheese coming out awful, while it was coming up to temperature, I steeped a handful of mint and Thai basil leaves from the alley in it. I didn't get that off YouTube, I came up with that on my own. If the cheese had an awful consistency it would at least taste like something.

When the milk was just barely up to a simmer, I strained out the mint and returned the milk to the pot, then added the juice of a lemon and let the milk come back to a light simmer. I was concerned that lemon juice might not work as well as rennet, but it jelled fairly quickly, so I took it off the heat and let it rest. When it had cooled to room temperature, I stirred it to break the curd, then poured the curd and whey into a colander lined with cheese cloth. I was startled by how much whey there was, and how little cheese, and started to feel like an idiot. I wondered if there was enough whey to make it worth trying to make a ricotta, but decided against it, preferring to win one battle rather than lose two.

The cheese was profoundly wet, so I balled up the cheesecloth like a purse, tied it off and let it drain, sitting in a strainer resting in a bowl in the fridge. It was still about a cup's worth, so the maybe the effort wasn't wasted. I let the cheese set for almost a week before I tried to use it. Fort the occasion I made a little plate of salami and apple slices, and tried to incorporate my new cheese. It had the crumbly consistency of ricotta salata or feta, but was much milder in taste. The mint and basil imparted a cool herbal essence (1970 called, she wants her shampoo back), but overall the cheese was unremarkable. I wrapped it back up in its cheesecloth and stuck it in the fridge.

Much time passed. Heather and I went to Hawaii to celebrate our anniversary (really we just like to go to Hawaii once in a while), and while there we ate like royalty. On our first night back, I needed to make dinner, but we had very little in the kitchen, having depleted resources prior to leaving town. I made a quick run to Jewel and grabbed a couple of apples, some smoked bacon and a sweet Italian sausage. I was pretty sure I could grab enough stuff from the alley to make a decent ragu to serve over some rice, and that would be our dinner. In a quick ransacking of the alley, I grabbed two bright red jalapeƱo peppers, four little Hungarian Peppers and a big pile of both mint and basil leaves.

In the kitchen I started the rice cooking, then cut some bacon into chunks and put it in the pan along with a little olive oil to get things going. When the chunks were nicely rendered, I took the skin off one of the Italian sausages and pulled it into bits, which I added to the bacon. Giving the sausage a moment to compose itself, I diced half an onion, a small apple and a couple cloves of garlic, and added them along with some salt. When they were sweated down nicely I added the peppers, all cut into small pieces. When everything was brown and sticky*, I added a couple glugs of vinegar and let everything simmer to deglaze the pan and bind the components into a ragu.

By then the rice was ready, so I chopped the basil and mint into a heap and stirred it into the rice. The visual effect of the brilliant white rice and deep green herbs was nice, and when I spooned the ragu on top it made for a pretty plate. I tried a little of the ragu on its own and it was a little lean tasting. I don't mean it lacked fat, but the acidity of the vinegar and the natural tartness of the apples made it feel harsh, almost metallic in my mouth, and it cried out for something to enrichen it. It certainly didn't need any fat, so a drizzle of oil wouldn't help. I tossed a couple of pine nuts on as garnish, but that wasn't enough.

The obvious solution would be to grate some parmigiano on it, but we didn't have any. While poking around in the fridge, I came across my old buddy the homemade cheese, now hardened to almost exactly the same consistency as parmigiano. In one of my better what-the-fuck moments, I tried grating some onto the ragu. It still had a mild minty flavor, but through the drying process the milk solids now had an intensely rich mouth sensation, almost like a condensed milk caramel. It was neither as biting nor as salty as parmigiano, but it had a similar umame effect and was the perfect counterpart to the ragu.

So there's another personal milestone. Made some unremarkable cheese, then forgot about it long enough for it to become useful.

*Jesus I hope that's not what she said.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Food Friday: Ritz Cracker Sandwiches

Today's Food Friday is from the Bentley Community Cook Book contributed by the Ladies of Bentley and Their Friends. Compiled by Esther Circle of the Bentley Methodist Church (Kansas, 1942).

One recipe that caught my eye was the Ritz Cracker Sandwiches.

I love this recipe, it's simple and perfect for mom's that are multitasking.  Almost like the 1942 version of a Lunchable. Just goes to show that not all the recipes grandma made were complex and not suitable for our hectic lifestyles.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Slow Cooked Pork Spring Rolls

Got a beautiful pork shoulder from Paulina Market and decided to cook it for a real long time and eat it. I'm old and have traveled a lot, and the one thing I've learned is that very few things are universal. Not every culture is monogamous, not every culture has money or property, not every culture even has numbers to express quantities bigger than three. But everybody on earth not forbidden by religion cooks pigs slowly and eats them. Some do it by burying the pig in a hole full of hot rocks, some wrap the pig in leaves and build a fire over it, some rotate the pig on a spit over the fire, and some put it in a pot and braise it. The only  common feature is that a pig is getting cooked for a long-ass time and people are going to eat it and tell each other how fucking delicious it is. Pork is magical, in that as long as you season it and cook it for a real long time, you basically can't make it anything but delicious. We've all had bad barbecue or mediocre ribs. Delicious, wasn't it? Totally finished the whole thing.

I seasoned the shoulder with salt and pepper, after first scoring the beautiful fat cap into a diamond pattern, and started it off in the dutch oven. With pork I usually like to bring the meat up to temperature slowly, so it doesn't seize up and get tough. If I want to caramelize a pork chop or roast, Ill do it at the last minute under the broiler, once the meat texture has been finalized by slower cooking. For a big butt like this though, I brown it all over to develop a nice flavor and fond first, then let it braise long enough to break down and become unctuous. I started the browning on the fat cap, so the rendering fat would provide most of the cooking medium and I don't need to add much extra oil, just enough to get the fat started.

Once the meat was browned all over, I moved it to a platter to make room and loaded the pot with an onion and apple, both cut into substantial chunks, a handful of little carrots from a bag and six cloves of garlic, smashed but not chopped. I let all that brown in the rendered fat, then seasoned it all with salt, pepper and a couple glugs of vinegar. I threw a cinnamon stick and some dried hot chiles in the pot, nestled the pork back among the vegetables and added a  pint each of chicken stock and apple juice. Once it came up to a boil, I stuck it in the oven at 225 degrees with a lid on it and let it cook for christ knows how long. Hours. Five hours, maybe eight.

How was it? Dude, we've been over this. It was slow cooked pork, it was fucking awesome. Delicious, succulent, unctuous and tender. That's what you get when you do this. You strike a match, you get fire. You cook pork a long time, you get something delicious. When it's a big ass pork shoulder, you also get a lot of it, way more than can be eaten all at once, and that's where the spring rolls come in. We had so much left over that I could make enough spring rolls to feed both Heather and the poker crowd.

Somewhere in there Legs* sent me an email asking if raw apples would be good with cooked pork. I replied of course they would but then realized I hadn't eaten raw apples with cooked pork before. A regular late-night snack for Heather and me is a plate of apple slices with prosciutto or salami, and I cook pork with apples all the time, but raw apples with cooked pork, nope. Time to give that a shot. I began grating an apple in preparation for making rolls with it, but the grated apple began discoloring immediately. I tried acidifying it with a little rice vinegar but that didn't stop the discoloration. I decided that since the apples were going inside the roll the discoloration wouldn't offend, and stopped worrying about it. I made the spring rolls with the apples and shredded delicious braised pork on a bed of rice cooked in stock and saffron, and some parsley, basil and mint from the alley. I served them with a quick Siracha aoli made by emulsifying some Siracha with an egg yolk, a little honey, mustard, pureed garlic, salt, sesame oil and olive oil. It's a favorite quick sauce and all-purpose dressing. It goes well with anything containing strong flavors.**

Single men, for a good time in the LA area, call Legs. Can't find a photo of her at the moment, but picture the girl of your dreams, only sexier. That's Legs. She has a car and a Prince tape she plays in the car. She will sing along to Prince in the car. Guys, really it's better than I'm making it sound.

** Absolutely no dick jokes this time. Didn't even slip one in accidentally.***
*** Footnotes don't count.