Archive for June 2010

Fireworks In Our Future

June 30, 2010

The 4th of July makes my cooking silly.  There’s no other time when I feel that we should have something red, something blue…and I always have fun in the kitchen scratching my head to come up with a truly American dish to make for the holiday.

We’ve been leading a rough existence lately, and I haven’t had much to say.  Life’s been tough, and not in a poetic or photogenic way.  But now Shel, two weeks post-radiation, is starting to get back into the world a little bit, and thus so am I.

He’s made progress since last week, when Beppo had to guard him to make sure he didn’t fall out of his chair while napping.  Let’s just say that Beppo was on duty about 16/24.

But now, the solstice is past, we’ve seen the sun once or twice, the new washer and dryer will arrive tomorrow and finally we can have clean clothes, after a week of being laundry-less, and I’ll have one of my favorite excuses to get out on the deck and fire up the smoker.

I love my outdoor kitchen, where I play with fire all day, and eagerly sniff the sweet cherry wood smoke, particulate be damned.  If there’s anything better to have in your freezer than a bunch of smoked chicken thighs I swear I don’t know what it is.  The pork butt never makes it to the freezer, we love it so.

So on the 4th I’ll put a bunch of meat in the smoker and a heap of vegetables on the grill and call it a feast.  And then, we’ll pull the telescope out on the deck as night falls and get ready for the fireworks over Seattle.  Watching exploding flowers and fountains through the long lens makes them seem to blossom right in your face; it’s a particular ecstasy that only comes once a year.

Will we think about freedom and independence and what it means to be American today?  Does it sound totally corny to say of course!

News From The Mixing Bowl – We Have a Winner! The winner of the absolutely fair and random name-drawing for Trucs of the Trade is Dana.  I’ll be contacting you for shipping information, and my thanks to the rest of you for entering.

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Trade Secrets

June 25, 2010

Want to cook like a chef? This nifty little book, Trucs of the Trade, will help move you in that direction.  It’s got recipes from the likes of Lidia Bastianich, Rick Bayless, Rose Levy Berenbaum, Daniel Boulud, Jim Dodge, Dean Fearing, Hubert Keller, Emeril Lagasse, Zarela Martinez, Jean-Louis Palladin, Jacques Pépin, Judy Rogers, André Soltner, Jacques Torres, and Paula Wolfert.  But that’s probably not the main reason you want this book.

You want it for it’s tips and trucs.  I don’t know why they chose to use the French word truc, which is kind of a special word.  Yes, it means trick, but also it’s the word you use for a thing whose name you don’t know, as in “what’s the name of that thing?” or “c’est quoi, ce truc ?”  It’s a word like da kine in pidgin Hawaiian, an all-purpose catch-all for the unknown or undefined.  The lazy person’s way to avoid precision, a slangy and amusing approach to conversation.

And in this case, here’s what it will get you: a collection of cute little cheffy kitchen tricks, like how to remove beet stains, how to cut cucumber fans, how to tell the gender of an eggplant (no kidding), how to dice onions without tears, how to protect your hands when you don’t have gloves, how to dry-poach pears in salt, how to open quail eggs, how to salvage burned rice, and lots of other things that are cool to know.

Personal chefs and caterers will want this one, but so will any curious cook.  If you’re ready to play like the big girls and boys, just leave a comment saying so.  If several people would like this book, I’ll put your names in a mixing bowl, give them a good stir, and draw one.  I’ll send it to you and I’ll ask you to pay for the postage, if you can, via PayPal.  For security and anti-spam reasons, please don’t put your email address or snail mail address in the Comments section.  When you comment I see your email address and I’ll contact you soon if I draw your name.  Give this book a good home, learn something clever from it, and I’ll be happy.

Bite Your Tongue

June 18, 2010

Say aaahhh.  Have a good look at your tongue in the mirror.  Although there actually is a human disease called “black hairy tongue” (Google it if you don’t believe me) this amazing tongue belongs to a cow.  Actually, it once belonged to a cow, but now it belongs to me.  It’s not every day that I get such an interesting object to have and to hold.

So when I walked into my new favorite butcher shop, Rain Shadow Meats in Seattle, and saw that they had a tongue, I couldn’t resist bringing it home with me.  Perhaps such a spiky and impressive tongue is indeed capable of meteorologically improbable events, but in this case, the label is butcher’s shorthand for a tongue from the locally famous Thundering Hooves farm, where cow tongues are free to feed themselves on fresh grass, almost right up to the moment they come home to feed us.

I’ve cooked a few tongues in my life, not many.  And I’ve never had a tongue that started out black and spiky.  Tongues, when I’ve bought them before, have been pink and leathery, never black, never spiky.  But this tongue is as rough as a cat’s, as spiky as your barista’s butch cut.  Probably that has nothing to do with Seattle’s reputation as a Goth town, but then, how else to explain it?

In any case, I wanted to do something special with this little treasure, and since Shel is officially Bored With French Food, and we both love Mexican-style lengua, I set out to make a Latino-inflected dish.  A search of online recipes led me (click here) to this recipe for Cuban-style tongue with peppers.

It’s a delicious dish, delicately sweet-tart, with the velvety slices of tongue offset by the brightness of the peppers.  I won’t copy the recipe here, because the Masa Assassin site where I found it deserves your attention for several delicious-looking Mexican recipes.  I only changed the recipe in one way: instead of using a pressure cooker I simmered the tongue for a couple of hours, and instead of just using water, I simmered it in a mixture of beef broth and water, with the addition of onion, garlic, and bay leaves to the simmering water.

I urge you to try it, if you can get your hands on a tongue.  If you can get a thundering tongue, you’re really in luck.  And if you have some Goth friends to serve it to, you’re golden.

Fifteen And Counting

June 10, 2010

Fifteen years ago today we stood together in our garden and cast our collective fate to the four winds.  A garden that I’d fertilized to a faretheewell just to have a riot of flowers surround us as we said yes, we would, in sickness and in health, and in everything else that married couples face.  I didn’t realize it then, but I’d be fertilizing throughout our entire marriage, since love needs to be fed even more than flowers do, if you want it to bloom.

We’ve been through a lot together in those fifteen years.  Moving to France, learning to speak French and understand French culture, and love la vie française, the part of our life that French Letters readers know the best,

and learning more than we ever wanted to know about French hospitals, was just part of our story.  One of the most challenging, most interesting, and yes, best parts, to be sure, but really only a fraction of our lifetime together.

We’ve had tough times, like every couple, times when we thought we might not make it.  But we did.

We’ve spent many a sunny day together, carefree, hot and sweet, when life couldn’t have been easier and we counted our blessings hourly.

But there have been plenty of dark, rainy, and snowy times as well, times we felt like giving up, times when every bit of happiness seemed to elude our grasp.  That’s life with cancer.  You can’t hold happiness too tightly, we learned from all that.  Kiss and run, if you have to, but don’t to forget to kiss.

Having already been in our forties when we met, each with a marriage in our past and each having had a son along the way, we’ve spent quite a few “why didn’t we meet when we were both much younger?” moments, and a bit of time trying to regain our lost youth.  But really, do we want all that back?  Or is the point of marrying late to grow old together, to leave behind all that restless yearning and to finally really settle into someone?

I know that to others we probably do seem restless, endless wanderers. We’ve lived together in California, Washington, Ohio, Washington again, France, and Washington yet again.  And maybe, radiation gods, cancer gods, and all the other forces of nature willing, we’ll live in France again. Sometimes we think that we’re probably old enough to settle down someplace, superannuated for the task even, but then we remember that home is wherever we both are, always has been, and the heart’s where we’re settled, always will be.

We knew that Shel had cancer when we married, fifteen years ago.  And living with cancer like that, every single moment, day in and day out, time out of mind, sure raises a lot of questions.  But if there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that whatever the question is, love is the answer.  So Happy Anniversary, best beloved, and here’s to fifteen more.

Nature’s Gifts

June 9, 2010

Flowers, chocolate, a nice bottle of wine, all are gifts that I receive with pleasure.  But this week, I’ve gotten two really special presents that are out of the ordinary,  a huge sack of morels and porcini straight from the forest,

and a bunch of jewel-like sweet spring onions fresh from the garden.  For a cook, there’s really no gift more exciting than a fun ingredient to work with, and so these onions went directly into a heavenly  frittata with some Comté cheese and a bit of Salumi’s mole salami.

The mushrooms led me to the bookcase, wanting to make the very most of this unusual bounty.  And there I rediscovered a book that I’d been thinking would be a giveaway candidate.  It’s called Sides: Over 150 Enticing Accompaniments That Make The Meal, by Melicia Phillips.  If you’re a personal chef or a caterer you definitely need this book, and if you’re a cook who scratches her head over pairing sides with main dishes, or just likes a wide variety of excellent side dishes, this book is for you.  But you can’t have mine, because now that I’ve had a good look through it again, I realize that I need to get back in the habit of using it often.  But I will share one excellent dish with you, while it’s still mushroom season.

This luxurious medley of mushrooms won’t win any beauty contests, but I swear, made from a mix of morels and porcini, paired with a good steak it was about the best mushroom dish I’ve ever eaten.  If you’re a forager, or know one, grab yourself a big bowl of the forest’s finest and prepare for a treat.

Wild Mushrooms with Armagnac and Cream
(inspired by a recipe in Sides)

Start with about 4 cups of mushrooms. Fill a large bowl with cold water, add 1/4 cup of salt, and swish until the salt is dissolved.  Rinse morels, cut them in half lengthwise, and soak them in the salted water for 2 hours.  This will get any bugs and worms out of your mushrooms, and will not harm the texture of the finished dish one bit.  After 2 hours, drain the morels and slice the porcini.

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
4 cloves minced garlic
2 T Armagnac, or brandy
3/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the drained morels and sliced porcini.  Cover the pan and sweat the mushrooms over gentle heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re tender and swimming in a bit of their liquid.   Remove the lid, and continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced to practically nothing.

Add the olive oil and the garlic and fry the mushrooms until they’re lightly golden, only about 3-4 minutes.  Add the Armagnac or brandy, cream, salt, and pepper, and simmer until the cream is reduced to a very thick sauce that coats the mushrooms, another 3-4 minutes.  Eat rhapsodically.

News From The Mixing Bowl – We Have a Winner! The winner of the absolutely fair and random name-drawing for Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs is Brother Mark.  I’ll be contacting you for shipping information, and my thanks to the rest of you for entering.

Nothing Wants To Die

June 4, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I was out on the deck, cleaning out old dead flower pots, tossing the debris into a plastic garbage bag.  Then I got distracted by the plans for Shel’s radiation treatment, and I never threw away the bag full of garden trash.  Today I noticed that out of the pot shards, root balls, exhausted potting soil, and dried leaves and branches, new life had sprung.  This surprise campanula is either proof that everything wants to live, or proof that it’s been raining non-stop here, enough to bring plants back from the dead.  Take your pick.

I think I’m more in the everything wants to live camp, although I’d never deny that this incessant rain is driving me around the bend.  Yesterday in the radiation oncology waiting room, while I was waiting for Shel to get zapped,  I had a good look around me.  Everyone there wanted to live.

The teenager being led away by a nurse, a girl so young she barely had breasts, trying not to show that she was crying, there with her father, who was trying not to show how worried he must have been.  The young Latino couple with the beautiful and restless six year old, the father on crutches, waiting for the translator to arrive so that they could understand how serious the situation really is.  An ambulance crew, one burly guy and one woman with shiny blonde hair, pushing a gurney with a small boy lost among its sheets, his pregnant mother walking behind.  A tall woman with a lilting African accent, pushing her mother in a wheelchair, there for her last day of treatment.  A boy of maybe 17, pants sagging, hoodie ratty, hair buzzed, grammar poor, holding one yellow rose, pestering the clerk about how much longer his girlfriend would be in there.  An old man who couldn’t hear his name being called, a pre-school teacher with no voice, a toddler in a stroller, looking like he’d never wake up, and us.  All there together. And nobody wanted to die.

“Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs”

June 1, 2010

Don’t these look like graham crackers?  But in fact, this is Brown Sugar Shortbread, and you’ll find the recipe with my comments about it below. I chose this recipe from Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs because it’s probably the simplest in the book, and according to my tasters, it makes a very good shortbread indeed.

I remember when I bought this book, swooning over its beautiful pictures, especially the ones for Dark German Chocolate Cake with Toasted Almond-Coconut Goo, and Not-Your-Usual Lemon Meringue Pie.  Both of these recipes feature restaurant-style deconstructed versions of the familiar classics, an idea that I found immensely appealing. In fact most of the recipes are restaurant desserts, and thus are a bit fussy to prepare at home, but if you are a dessert person who entertains a lot, this might be your book.

The title describes the layout of the book, which I personally find annoying. It’s divided into chapters based on ingredients, and some, like Citrus, Chocolate, or Nuts, make sense from an organizational standpoint. Others, like Butter, Sugar, Flour, or Eggs, seem nonsensical to me, as well as arbitrary.  Why should Millionaire’s Shortbread be classified under Butter, while Brown Sugar Shortbread is found in the Sugar section? Since most desserts contain at least two of these basic ingredients, it’s a design artifice that doesn’t appeal to me, but the recipes still look good.  I say look, because I’ve made very few of them. It’s the kind of book that I’ve looked through many times for inspiration, but seldom baked from.

And so, one of you may have it,  with my blessings.  But all of you may have the recipe for this shortbread, which I’m sure you’ll enjoy.  I’m taking some liberties with the directions here, because as written they seemed unnecessarily difficult.  This is my slight adaptation.

Brown Sugar Shortbread

8 oz unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed (I used dark brown)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 T cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 T granulated sugar

Heat the oven to 350°.  The recipe has you line a 10×14 1/2″ pan (a size that doesn’t exist in my kitchen) with parchment paper.  If you have a Silpat, I think that’s a MUCH easier alternative.

Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until soft and smooth.  Add the brown sugar and mix until blended.  I had to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides multiple times during this step, so have your silicone spatula ready.

In a separate bowl stir together the flour, cinnamon, and cornstarch.  I think this recipe probably warrants a pinch of salt, but since I didn’t taste it, I can’t guarantee that.  Use your own judgement.  With the mixer at low speed, gradually add the dry mixture until it’s all incorporated.

Turn the dough a few times in the bowl with floured hands until it all comes together.  The recipe wants you to flour a work surface and do it there, but I say ixnay to that.

Now, if you like following directions, you’ll use that same floured work surface to roll out the dough to the size of your pan, then transfer it to said pan.  But hey, the dough is fragile, and that’s going to be a really thin sheet of dough to move around.  So I suggest that you do as I did and roll the dough out directly on a very lightly floured Silpat.  If you roll it all the way to the edges, your cookies will be as thin as the ones I show above, which I think is really too thin, so feel free to roll it only to the thickness of cookie you desire.  It’s not going to rise one bit, so get it the way you want it from the start.

Transfer the Silpat (or your dough) to the pan.  Prick the dough all over with a fork to keep it from buckling as it bakes.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Turn the pan, smacking it once against the oven rack to help it stay flat, then bake it another 10-15 minutes until lightly brown.  Actually, in my oven, the additional 10 minutes was a bit too long, 8 would have been better.  I suggest that you start watching it after 5 minutes, unless you’re going for the true graham cracker look, in which case 10 minutes is perfect.  Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle the surface with the granulated sugar.  Let cool, and store in an airtight container.

If you’re ready to bake some cute little desserts, just leave a comment saying so.  If several people would like this book, I’ll put your names in a mixing bowl, give them a good stir, and draw one.  I’ll send it to you and I’ll ask you to pay for the postage, if you can, via PayPal.  For security and anti-spam reasons, please don’t put your email address or snail mail address in the Comments section.  When you comment I see your email address and I’ll contact you soon if I draw your name.  Give this book a good home, make something delicious from it, and I’ll be happy.

News From The Mixing Bowl – We Have a Winner! The winner of the absolutely fair and random name-drawing for The Cooking of Malaysia is heidih.  I’ll be contacting you for shipping information, and my thanks to the rest of you for entering.