September 29, 2004
Raclette & Pierrade

raclette pierrade.jpg
This week my brother and his wife are visiting us here in Paris and since their visit coincides with the beginning of the cool weather I was able to get out one of my favourite toys to prepare them a "real" French dinner. In fact, this toy is such a versatile one that it actually allows you to prepare TWO authentic French specialities at the same time: raclette and pierrade.

Now in fact, these two dishes are never served at the same time in a French home. They are often packaged together in the same apparatus simply because they rely on the same kind of heating element, one cooking food above the heat and the other below it, but they are two distinct "dinners". We can never decide which we like best and see no need to deprive ourselves of either delight and so...being pigs, we generally use both at the same time.

Raclette

As any good English/French dictionary and many a food reference book will tell you, the word "raclette" derives from the French verb racler, to scrape. This is related to the traditional way of eating raclette cheese: a heating element of some kind is applied to the block of cheese and you scrape off the cheese as it melts and eat it over boiled potatoes, ham or toasted dark bread. Perhaps in the dark cave-man ages of France the heating element was simply a hot log pulled from a fire. In a Savoyard or Swiss restaurant, you will generally find that the large round cheese is cut in half and placed in a special holder with a heating bar that can be lowered to a few inches above the cheese cut. (As a picture is worth a thousand words, I would suggest you follow the link to this photo to see what I mean.) If you are hoping to make the cheese at home, you will most likely invest in a machine like mine. It has six trays that fit underneath the heating element; you fill them with slices of cheese, slide them under the heater and pull them out when the cheese is liquid and bubbly. The scraping reference in the name is still honoured in that each tray comes with its own little wooden paddle for scraping the cheese out of the tray and onto your slice of ham or boiled potato or piece of bread. It's a delight. Raclette cheese is much more flavourful than most other hard French cheeses and it melts into a satisfying gooey mess. I have made it many times for first-timers and it is always a hit. The comparison with fondue savoyarde is of course inevitable, but the main difference for the cook is in the preparation; every cook has his or her favourite recipe for fondue, but the only way to prepare a truly wonderful raclette is to find a very good cheesemonger. If you aren't lucky enough to live in France, your best bet when visiting is to check the menu on any fondue restaurant you find: they often serve both raclette and fondue.

If you are planning on eating out or in, it is well to remember that raclette cheese (like all good French cheeses) has a season: you cannot find it in the hot summer months. You wouldn't want to heat up the table with the cheese-melting apparatus in the middle of a heatwave, but even if you did nature doesn't supply you with the ingredients at that time of the year.

Swiss or Savoyard? Actually, like cheese fondue both the Swiss and the French claim to have invented raclette. The French region of Savoie being a next-door neighbor to Switzerland, all you can really say is that it comes from that general region!

On a personal note, to accompany our raclette I boiled a kilo of potatoes, cut some bread and served ham from the Savoie. Because my Critic doesn't like his savoie ham raw, this brings me nicely to the second part of the dinner...

Pierrade

Pierrade refers to the stone which rests above the heating element on my machine. Pierre means stone, so a pierrade is a stone-like thing. This is definitely NOT a French monopoly in the food world: cooking your food on a hot stone slab. Still, it's a lot of fun and as you are heating up the machine for cheese-melting it would be a waste not to slap some meat on the top of the element, right? Cooking the meat is the responsibility of the guests: just lay the meat on the hot slab and remember to turn it over and remove it when done. Generally, one person is designated to keep an eye on each of the meats, making sure that more is put on the element as space becomes available.

In using the pierrade, a cook has a bit more scope for creativity. First, you can prepare a variety of meats and marinate them in sauces if you like. Secondly, you can come up with tasty sauces to accompany your meats.

This time I kept to a fairly simple meat selection: the Savoie ham, slices of beef and pieces of chicken with a touch of olive oil to keep them from sticking to the stone. The store had a good selection of the new fall mushrooms, so I bought trompettes de la mort, oyster mushrooms, some that looked a bit like shiitake (but weren't) and a new one to me: pieds bleus. I sauteed them in a bit of butter, garlic and thyme and added a spoonful of creme fraiche just before serving. (Not only was this delicious with the beef, but I ate the remainder tonight with some leftover raclette on toast and it went extremely well with the cheese too!) For the chicken, I sauteed a chopped shallot in butter, and added a little tarragon, mustard and creme fraiche. Other favourites in the sauce department are: peppercorn sauce, bearnaise, tomato and hot pepper...basically anything you can think of to go with meat will please your guests! As for the meat, I also often use slices of duck or pork. The duck can get a bit messy as it gives up more fat than the other meats, but it is truly delicious.

Serve all of the above, cheese and meats, with a nice thick red wine to help fight all the cholesterol you are taking on. It's well worth it!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:27 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack
September 28, 2004
Broccoli Calzone with Three Cheeses

If you like green vegetables or cheese or pizza you're going to like this one.

I used the pizza crust from our previously posted deep dish pizza, but stirred 2 tablespoons of herbs (I used dried tarragon and rosemary) into the crust then filled it with broccoli from the farmer's market, a bit of onion and three delicious cheeses.

The calzones were crispy, fresh, light, and despite the lack of tomato sauce, juicy with a nice savory blend of cheeses and sweet onions complementing the broccoli. This is a good one for a slightly chilled Fall night.

Except for the crust this is an improvised recipe.

Broccoli Calzone with Three Cheeses

Crust
Use recipe from Rebecca's Eggplant, Artichoke Heart, Mushroom and Tomato Deep Dish Pizza
but add:
2 tablespoons dried herbs (tarragon and rosemary work well)

Follow the recipe for the deep dish crust, but add the herbs to the flour/salt mix before adding the oil and yeast mix to the bowl.

Filling:
5 cups chopped broccoli (about two big fist sized broccoli "blooms"), chopped medium to fine, florets and stems.
1/3 lb. chopped smoked gouda
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced
4 tablespoons Parmesan, shredded or ground
1/2 white onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
olive oil for spraying or brushing

Grease a big cookie sheet or two smaller sheets with olive oil.

Prepare the crust as noted above. While the dough is resting and before dividing and rolling out, prepare the filling.

Steam the broccoli for 5-7 minutes until bright green and beginning to soften. remove from heat, drain, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Roll out/ stretch half the dough recipe into a large pizza crust about 11" diameter. Put about half the raw onion and half the broccoli mix in the lower center of the dough circle.

Add half of each cheese over the broccoli and onion.

Take the bottom of the crust and fold over the filling from bottom to top to form a semi-circle.

Crimp the edge of the dough by folding from the underside of the calzone over the top. You'll have to fold the corners in to make sure nothing escapes. If you're having a very hard time, you have too much filling. Take some out for now with a spoon. Next time stretch the dough out larger.

Place on the pre-oiled baking sheet. Repeat rolling out, filling, folding, and crimping for second crust and remainder of filling. Place the second calzone on the baking sheet.

Cut three-five shallow vents at an angle along the top of each calzone. You don't have to actually make it all the way into the filling, and it's probably better if you don't.

Spray or brush the two calzones with olive oil. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (a pinch or so) over each calzone.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20-23 minutes until golden brown and delicious.

Cool on wire racks for five minutes before serving. Watch out, the cheese is very hot.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 27, 2004
Seafood by the sea: Le Grand Bleu

Le Grand Bleu
Can you smell the fresh salty air? The week before last we were invited by our kind friends Carol and David to join them in the Poitou-Charentes region of France for a few days holiday. David and Carol had rented a huge country estate for the week and we were more than happy to fill one of the bedrooms for them.

Many years ago, I had friends living just north of Poitou-Charentes in the Vendée, so I had some idea of what delights awaited us in the culinary domain: great shellfish, including oysters and mussels especially, a lovely apéritif called Pineau, and - this being a former marshland - eels. I'll be writing more about the Pineau, but for the moment would like to share with you a review of the restaurant that David and Carol introduced us to at lunch on our first day in the area: Le Grand Bleu.

Carol and David had found the address of the Grand Bleu in their trusty Routard guide and tried it earlier in the week with some of their other guests. (The country estate had six bedrooms and could sleep up to 20 in a pinch!) If you have sufficient French to decipher a simple guidebook description, I would highly recommend the Routard series for hotels and restaurants in France and around the world. They are a bit like the Time out or Rough guides, with a casual, frank description of each of the locations. They are a treasure trove if you are looking for cheap, good food off the beaten track.

So we were happy to fall in with the lunch suggestion, bolstered as it was by a Routard recommendation and our friends' appreciation. The restaurant did not let us down.

First, take a look at the photo above. Doesn't this restaurant just look like the epitomy of cheap-cheerful-authentic food? And it was. Looking out over the bay towards the Isle d'Oléron, smelling the fresh sea air, you could tell this was going to be a good experience.

For a starter, my dear Critic began with a fish soup, complete with all its usual accompaniments: croutons, garlic and grated cheese. He was at a bit of a loss what to do with the garlic until I suggested he rub it on the croutons before adding them to the soup with the cheese. The soup was already delicious, tasting of fresh fish and shellfish with a spicy edget to it, but the garlic croutons made it even better.

Myself, I started with oysters. Since I am temporarily unable to eat my beloved raw oysters on the half shell (poor me!) I was obliged to show an adventuresome spirit and try them baked. They were delightful. (It goes to show what you miss when you are culinarily conservative!) Each plump oyster nestled in a cream sauce of sautéed leeks with a touch of curry and was blanketed by a crisp golden layer of cheese, hot from the oven. I was not taken with the presentation of the shells on blue salt, but when the food tastes this good we can forgive a little aesthetic faux-pas like that, n'est-ce pas?

The main dishes were a little less imaginative, but equally fresh and tasty. The Critic chose a tuna dish (which I sadly forgot to photograph for your pleasure): the steak was just barely cooked through, tender and juicy and covered with a tomato, onion and olive sauce. For myself, I ordered the fried cétaux, which turned out to be flat tender fish about 6-8 inches long (25cm), extremely fresh and crisply fried. Cétaux are in the sole family, and have the same tender, nutty flesh as their bigger cousins.

By the time dessert arrived, the camera was forgotten and the wine was flowing. The creme brulee was a little thin, but nevertheless nice. The Critic enjoyed a much nicer rich chocolate cake swimming in a creamy custard. A lovely end to the meal, though not quite as nice as the preceding dishes. Maybe the chef was tired by then or maybe he just didn't find sweets as inspiring as savoury dishes.

In all, the meal cost about thirty euros per person, including apéritifs, wine, starters, main dishes, dessert and coffee, not a bad deal especially when your view is over the bay.

Le Grand Bleu
7 rue Fort Louvois 17560 BOURCEFRANC LE CHAPUS 05 46 85 68 69

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
September 26, 2004
my new favorite salad vin

Another spell of mid-nineteenth century cookery had me under its charms last week. Lunch for 16 was due from the hearth at noon and the heirloom cabbage in the garden of this 1840s farmhouse museum was ripe for the picking.

To balance the hearty plates of boiled potatoes with mushroom ketchup and thyme, steamed cabbage with pickled corn relish, and pan-fried sausage, I scoured the delightfully unscientific early American cookbooks for a salad dressing recipe. I hoped fresh greens with a tangy vin would hit the spot.

What I found has become my latest favorite dressing. The recipe below is quite loose, and I've firmed it up considerably from the original. Feel free to make adjustments and enjoy!

1. Hard boil TWO EGGS. Peel and separate the whites from the yokes.
2. Blend the yokes with a little bit of water until smooth (use can use a fork, but the perks of modern day life include a mini-food processor that makes quick work of it).
3. Add ONE PART TARAGON VINEGAR and THREE TO FOUR PARTS OLIVE OIL (start with 2 tbsp as one "part" and tailor from there for your tastes).
4. Add a dollop of good mustard (I've had pleasant results with stone ground, a little less than a tbsp full).
5. Add a small pinch of SUGAR.
6. Season with SALT and PEPPER.
7. Blend all together very well and dress greens.
8. Roughly chop the hard boiled egg whites and sprinkle on top of the dressed salad.
9. Eat well and don't forget to tip your hearth cooks.

Posted by Corrie in Indy at 6:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 25, 2004
Crustaceanless Shellfish Packets

I was taken with the recipes Jill Dupleix wrote up for the Sydney Morning Herald this week when I wrote the Food Section Digestion. I highlighted the Zucchini Carbonara, but I was also intrigued by the Oven Roasted Shellfish in a bag.

The problem is I'm allergic to crustaceans. I once was able to eat shrimp, crab, and lobster, but around age 23 or 24, I developed a severe allergic reaction to them. The recipe Ms. Dupleix wrote contained Balmain bugs (a type of clawless lobster) and prawns. Unless anaphylaxis was on the menu, those had to go.

What's left is a version of the original that I found very nice. I didn't have cherry tomatoes, but I had plenty of little Roma tomatoes from the farmer's market so I have substituted those. My wife doesn't go for olives, so those were removed as well. I've added wine to mellow the flavor.

I might add some whitefish fillets next time to add some variety and maybe some fresh fennel for flavor, but the packet technique is what's important. You can adapt this to just about any seafood to make a dinner with a minimum of fuss, even on a busy workweek night.

Crustaceanless Shellfish Packets after a recipe by Jill Dupleix

2 lbs. mussels in shell
12 littleneck clams in shell
1/2 lb. bay scallops out of shell, cleaned
3 plum tomatoes, cut into 12ths (quarter, stack, cut in thirds)
1 anaheim pepper, deseeded, sliced into half-rings of 1/4" each
2 cloves smashed garlic
1 cut clove of garlic
4 slices French or Italian bread
1/2 cup white wine
4 tablespoons olive oil
black pepper and sea salt to taste
1 lemon, cut in quarters

Soak the clams and mussels in cold water for an hour. Go to the gym while they soak - it's as good an opportunity as any.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Have a baking sheet standing by.

Debeard (by savagely ripping the little beards off) and scrub the mussels. Discard any mussels with a cracked shell. Drain the clams and mussels and place in a large bowl.

Add the scallops, wine, pepper, olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes to the bowl and toss. Add in a bit of black pepper and a bit of sea salt.

Form a foil packet by taking a large (2 1/2 foot) sheet of wide aluminum foil and laying a correspondingly long sheet of parchment paper on top of it. Fold the sheet in half and crimp the sides of the sheet together deeply enough to form a lined aluminum foil packet with only one opening (at the top). Make two of these.

Put half of the bowl's contents in each bag and seal the top well by crimping tightly. Place on a baking sheet and put it into the oven in the center rack for 17 minutes. The packet should inflate as the steam cooks the seafood.

Meanwhile, toast your French/Italian bread and rub the slices with the cut clove of garlic. Place one slice in the bottom of the bowls you will eat from.

Cut open the packet carefully and let the juices and shellfish drain into the first serving bowl. Repeat with the second packet and the second bowl.

Drizzle additional olive oil on top, and serve with lemon wedge. Make sure you and your companion have napkins and a big bowl for shells. It's messy.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posts of the Week

Each week, we pick three posts we particularly enjoyed over the last week from the vast community of excellent food bloggers. Maybe these posts were funny, maybe they were great recipes or a particularly well-written review of a restaurant. Maybe they just were the right post for us at the right time. If you haven't read them, this should give you a chance to go back and catch them before they disappear into the archives.

A. A Spoonful of Sugar uses considerably more than a spoonful of sugar to make this decadent Scottish butter tablet. Angela uses a recipe from Stewart Russell to put together this sweet not-quite fudge, not-quite-toffee confection that I'd never heard of before.

1. View From a Kitchen offers sage advice on How NOT to Ice a Cake. tinyfork had a similarly bad cake-related experience the same day.

I. The final spot this week goes to Edible Tales, but I'll admit some favoritism here. The proprietress has set me straight on the right way to use a French butter crock. We bought one of these two-part devices in Portland and ended up with rancid butter. I wasn't adding anywhere near enough water to the mix. Learn about these crocks and where to get them on her site.

Special bonus selection - be sure to check out this Homer Simpson-esque sandwich from a student in Warwick, England from back in May. He proclaimed he'd eat the whole 8591 calorie thing, and he did eventually. Oh sandwich, how could I ever stay mad at you?

See you all next week.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 24, 2004
Hot Ham Pie

ham pie.jpg This is a pretty simple dish I made earlier this week, using leftover baked ham and the extra puff pastry dough I bought Sunday for the steak and ale pies. Actually, it's pretty close to the Chicken Pot Pie I have written about elsewhere on this site. It has a few departures, though, and is a really nice dish for a cool fall evening. We are now getting into my favourite time of the year (food-wise) when all the best produce is in season and it is no longer too hot to turn on the oven!

So here is another recipe to add to the growing list of Meat Pies. (Goodness, you'd think I was married to an Englishman or something...)

Hot Ham Pie

For this pie, I picked out of my vegetable bin everything I could find that would go well with ham. Some potatoes would have been nice, too, but I didn't have any. If you don't have leftover baked ham to hand, you could use lunch meat instead!

Serves 2

2 carrots
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
5 mushrooms
1 small zucchini (courgette)
2 Tbs capers
2 Tbs grain mustard
2 Tbs crème fraîche or cream
2 Tbs dry sherry
1 tsp dry thyme (fresh would have been better)
1/2 tsp dry sage
butter (a couple of Tbs)
1 chunk of ham nearly the size of my fist (75-100 grams?)
a handful of freshly grated Parmesan

Chop the onion and garlic and set them to soften over a medium flame with the butter. (Use a frying pan with high sides.) Add the dried spices and stir until the onions are soft and yellow. Peel and cut the carrots in pennies and add to the pan. Clean and slice the mushrooms and add them. Chop the ham in small chunks and add it too. Rinse the capers and add them. Lastly, chop the zucchini in small chunks and add to the mix.

Stir together the mustard, crème fraîche and sherry and add them to the pan. Stir well and cook for ten minutes or so, to start the carrots softening and reduce the sauce a bit. (In the meantime, you can remove the puff pastry from the fridge and preheat the oven to 200C/375F.) Unroll the pastry and use a knife to cut straight through the middle of it. Pile some of the ham and vegetables on half of one of the halves. Be generous, these can take a fair amount of filling! Pull the other half of the pie over the filling and gently squeeze together the edges of the pie. Repeat this process with the second half. Place in the hot oven.

When the pies are starting to brown and look about five minutes from being done, sprinkle the Parmesan on top of each. In all, it will take about 35 minutes to bake the pies to perfection - crispy brown and cheesy on the outside and bubbling on the inside.

Be careful eating these darlings as they retain heat extremely well!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 23, 2004
Food Section Digestion, September 23, 2004

paragon of journalistic excellenceThe United Nations was in session in New York this week, and The New York Times discovers the best international cooks in the city may not be at Babbo or Nobu or Jean-Georges; They may be dishing up ethnic specialties from street corner carts and car trunks. Dana Bowen's article captures one of the most positive aspects of New York City's street life. Meanwhile, Michael Luo tracks the Chinese restaurant's development in America as shown in an exhibition at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas. Julia Moskin tracks the scandal at the James Beard Foundation, and Alan Feuer tracks the arrival of the IHOP in Harlem.

It's not Chinese food, but a Chinese Box - "La Caja China" - that the Salt Lake Tribune of Salt Lake City, Utah calls on Michael Yount and Dan Nailen to write about. How else are you going to cook a whole pig for a tailgate? The paper claims to have more family friendly recipes, but at least one features a chicken breast. Put that on a CBS cooking show and it'll cost you $550,000.

Frank Mentesana of the Washington Post encourages us to eschew time-consuming sandwich shops and make our own pantry sandwiches. Karen Lincoln Michel is interested in preserving Native American food. I think there's a successful restaurant idea there for the enterprising. The featured book follows the Native American theme. Michael Franz argues Spanish wine has joined the top of the wine producing world and Ribera del Duero is among the best of Spain's wine regions.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune features food in Sarah Brown's latest from the deep deep south - as in Honduras. Marcell Bienvenu took her husband the other direction, up to the coast of Maine and brings back some recipes. Send letters of gratitude to Judy Walker for defending the necessity of anchovies in Caesar salads. Yeah, yeah they may not have been in the original Caesar salad, but we didn't walk upright long ago, either. Heck, I still slouch.

Peter Berley believes vegetarian cooking needn't take forever, he tells the Chicago Tribune's Carol Mighton Haddix. Great recipes are included. Bill Daley observes a wine tasting and discusses how tastings expose people to wines they might not otherwise try. Daley follows up with tips to help you maximize your tasting experience.

The Houston Chronicle's Dai Hunyh hopes to help you minimize your caloric intake when dining out.

The Boston Globe's Sheryl Julian and Julie Rivera know beans and how to prepare them. Joe Yonan focuses on a different set of beans and compares espresso makers. Boston. Beans. Makes sense.

Russ Parsons at the Los Angeles Times finds a gem of a restaurant close to the farmers in Fresno. Laurie Winer provokes the following rant by me when she tries to write about food blogs, but seems to miss most of the best ones. She points to one excellent page on when condiments go bad, but.. IT'S NOT FROM A BLOG, it's from a personal website which is quite different. She also found an amusing story about a man with a goose egg and a hair dryer but it's from a GENERAL blog, not a FOOD blog, which is what the story is supposedly about. Somehow, she did find The Food Section and Chocolate and Zucchini, but why she didn't just follow the links on these sites to discover the larger food blogging community, I don't know.

Ms. Winer believes bloggers hate mainstream journalists ("Here, bloggers bring the simmering antipathy between print journalists and themselves to full boil."). I don't see it. I like most of the people I cover in this news summary every week, which is why I try to make sure I attach the writers' names to their articles. I think professional food journalists provide a valuable service and often do quite excellent work - even that magnificent bastard R.W. Apple, Jr.

I do, however, object to writers who dip a toenail in the blog community for ten minutes and assume they understand it or that they've found the best or most representative samples of the blog world's work and then misrepresent bloggers to hundreds of thousands of readers. Best piece of advice for journalists trying to write about food blogs - http://foodpornwatch.arrr.net/. Read every site updated during the week at least once. Enough said.

Well maybe not enough said. If Laurie Winer wants to see how its done, she should take a look at Natalie MacLean's latest in the San Francisco Chronicle where she looks at wine on the web. A few blogs are included along with some more commercial sites. At the end of the article is a good hyperlinked list of the URL's to some great web wine resources. Also in the Chronicle - San Francisco is known for having amazing Italian food, but Oakland is recreating Calabria according to Janet Fletcher.

Summer makes a graceful tasteful exit in the garden of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Ann Lovejoy. John Owen is retreating to the comfort of a mini-Thanksgiving dinner. Rebekah Denn profiles one widow's path to pie-baking glory. It's a great story.

The South African Independent Online breaks the story of massive fraud at this year's Oktoberfest in Munich. Over 30,000 fake tokens were involved. That's a lot of bier.

In the Prague Tribune, Libor Ševčík is focusing on wine from the sole of Italy, you know - Oakland.

The conventional supermarket may be on the way out - caught in the middle of a squeeze between small specialty stores with fresher goods and big mega-store discounters like WalMart, according to Aideen Sheehan of the multi-paper Irish Unison.ie. You might like their brief tips on roasting game birds. Look at the grouse, look at the grouse!

In the Sydney Morning Herald Keith Austin gives a look at the highs and lows of five years of stuffing his face for a living. Clotide will probably like the next recipe for zucchini carbonara. I'd thought the zucchini would substitute for the noodles, but no, it's in to take the place of bacon.

New Zealand's multi-paper stuff.co.nz has Stephanie Alexander poke at a sorrell spot. Bakeries in Hong Kong are busy producing mooncakes for the late September Mid-Autumn festival. New Zealand's Greenshell mussels are rated the most ocean-friendly seafood in the world.

That's it this week. With luck, we'll have more Oktoberfest-related stories next week. I'll make my usual plea for leads to online English-language newspaper food sections from outside the U.S. If you know of any please contact me at barrett@toomanychefs.com, and I'll include them the next week in the digestion.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Interactive Blogging!

mystery fruitSometimes when wandering through a new neighborhood or a market you come across something new and there is just no one to ask about it. Normally you just forget about it because sadly you can't just enter a photo in Google and ask it to find information for you. (Note to Google: have you thought of developing this??)

However, I have all of our readers out there and as you are an intelligent and lively lot I'm sure you'll be happy to help me out. So what is in this photo? We noticed these fruits while staying with friends in the village St. Just in the Poitou-Charentes last week. At first sight, they looked like apricots - the size was right and the colours covered exactly the same range of yellow, to deep yellow to apricot-orange. But on closer inspection we couldn't help but notice that they were not fuzzy. Are they edible? Is it just a decorative plant? As you can see in this photo, the plant has lovely flowers. So maybe we are not meant to eat it. If any of you recognise the fruit or the flower I'd be very grateful for your input!! Just click on the comments link below...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 22, 2004
Onion, Guinness, and Cheddar soup


This is a dark, bitter soup, hearty and filling and most definitely not health food. I liked it a lot, but my wife doesn't like the way the cheddar sticks to the spoon as you're eating it. Maybe it's a manly thing (I'll get whapped for that, I'm sure).

I left out mustard when I made it for us since she dislike mustard, but I'm adding it back into this recipe for you to use. I think it'll add a nice balance to the bitter stout taste.

This would be great as a side with a Polska kielbasa or other sausage on a toasted french roll. Football food, anyone?

Onion, Guinness, and Cheddar Soup

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
3 sweet white onions, sliced thin, as with a mandoline
3/4 pound of sharp yellow cheddar, shredded
1 pint 4 oz. Guinness (they sell a 1 pint 6 oz. bottle now in the States. You'll have to drink 2 oz. Plus the other pint you'll buy for the chef to sample, of course.)
1 quart vegetable stock
3 tablespoons flour
salt, pepper
1 teaspoon dried herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon grainy mustard.

Melt the butter and add the oil to a stock pot over medium heat. Heat until butter starts foaming.

Add the onions and stir to separate rings and to coat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions begin to take on color.

Add flour. Stir to incorporate. Simmer for 5 more minutes .

Add stock and Guinness; bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to simmer. Sprinkle in Tabasco; add herbs, salt, and pepper to taste. Stir in mustard.

One handful at a time, incorporate cheese into the soup, stirring until it dissolves. Continue until all cheese has been incorporated.

Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Check after 5 or 10 minutes as a great head of foam may have formed. Stir head into the soup, re-cover and continue simmering.

Put a slice of french bread cut on the bias into the bottom of each serving bowl. Using a ladle, scoop way down to the bottom of the pot get lots of the onions and spoon on top of the bread, add two or three ladles of liquid from the top of the pot to the bowl and serve.

As you eat it, the cheddar will precipitate out onto your spoon, but I think that's part of the fun. MMMM cheddar good.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Victims of Atkins

Looks like the low-carb craze has claimed a big-name victim this time. Reuters is reporting that Interstate Bakeries, the company responsible for Wonder Bread, Ding Dongs, Ho-Hos and Twinkies is filing for bankruptcy.

The firm has struggled with $1.3 billion in debt and the low-carb craze. They've also struggled with the fact that their products are nearly indestructable and taste like glue...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 21, 2004
I got Skeelz!

So every once in a while when I flop the omelet instead of folding it, or when I cut my thumb in the same place doing the same thing for the second time in a week, I remember that I'm really still a beginner at this cooking stuff.

My Parisian partner in crime, Meg, has been cooking since she was knee high to a grasshopper. She's developed not just skills, but what I call "skeelz", like what Michael Jordan had on the basketball court.

I have a remarkably spotty range of talents in the kitchen. I can do some things as well as a pro, I think, and some things I do as well as a clumsy drunken golden retriever with mittens on. Some of that is my natural klutziness, but some of it is because I just don't know what I should be doing - what the correct technique dictates.

Luckily, I can still be taught. I've recently discovered a series of videos and diagrams that have helped me out considerably. Food TV put together a bunch of teaching videos and tear sheets you can use to learn everything from crepe flipping to turkey carving to mincing to sushi roll making.

When I have a few minutes, I'll flip to the webpage and watch a video, or when I have a specific task I want to learn, I'll print the tear sheet out and bring it with me to the kitchen.

The videos aren't perfect, but they're great for beginning cooks or those of us who've been cooking for a while, but haven't tried some of the tasks illustrated by the site. Give it a look and maybe it'll help you fill in some gaps so you can develop true "skeelz".

Pics are from the Food-TV site. My arms are much hairier than those

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
September 19, 2004
Old Kentucky Bourbon Truffles

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home, 'Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn top's ripe and the meadow's in the bloom, while the birds make music all the day;

Kentucky's not my native home, but I married into the state. My wife and in-laws all hail from the land of bourbon and throughbreds so, in preparation for Is My Blog Burning, #8 - Lift Your Spirits High, hosted by There's a Chef in My Kitchen, I turned to a most authentically American spirit - bourbon.

Bourbon is a a whiskey that must be made to exacting standards. A whiskey is not a bourbon unless 51 percent or more of the grain used to make it is corn. The rest is usually barley and rye. Bourbon must be aged in white oak barrels that have been charred and which can not be used for a second batch. Also, to be true Kentucky bourbon, it must hail from certain areas of the state of Kentucky and have been aged for at least two years. People take these requirements seriously. In Kentucky, bourbon isn't just a drink - it's culture and heritage.

My first inclination was to make bourbon balls, a Kentucky tradition and a delicious treat, but as I looked at the various recipes, I found ingredients like paraffin and margarine and I just am not to the point where I can work with those things on short notice and come up with something edible or credible.

Besides, I have it on good authority that my aunt-in-law make the best bourbon balls anywhere and I decided any recipe I'd put together could only suffer by comparison. I had the idea of making bourbon ball like objects with a liquid center, but I discovered my freezer just isn't cold enough to freeze alcohol-based simple syrup, even when adulterated with cream, powdered sugar, corn starch, etc.. If you can't freeze the centers, it's difficult to put them in the ball. If I could get down to 40 below I might make bourbon centers for these, but until a good cold snap in January, we're going to enjoy Old Kentucky Bourbon Truffles.

Old Kentucky Bourbon Truffles

1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons corn syrup (I know, I know)
24 oz. dark chocolate, divided into 18 oz. dark chocolate, highest quality (Valrhona, etc...) plus 6 oz dark chocolate
2 cups whole pecan halves
2 cup Kentucky bourbon, or enough to cover pecans

Makes 24-30 pieces

The better the bourbon, the better the truffles (within reason). I used Knob Creek, aged 9 years which is a lovely bourbon. It's a very good drinking bourbon, but it's not the tippy top of the line so you can feel indulgent but not compelely wasteful combining it with chocolate.

Preparation - soak the pecans overnight in the bourbon in a covered bowl. If you don't cover the bowl you will lose a lot of the bourbon.

Drain the pecans the next day, reserving the bourbon. Much of it will have been absorbed by the nuts, making them softer and alcoholic.

Next step, get a hammer and bash up 18 oz. of your dark chocolate into smallish pieces. It doesn't need to be dust, but if you can down towards chocolate chip size you'll be pleased with the results. Heck, while you're at it, smash the last 5 oz. of chocolate as well and set aside.

Please note, this is just for illustrative purposes. I smash my chocolate by wrapping it in parchment then in paper towels and THEN whacking the heck out of it. DO NOT take a hammer to your best bowls. Please.

Next, in a medium saucepan, combine the cream, butter and corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Shut the heat off and dump the chocolate into the mix. DO NOT STIR. You can swirl the pan a little to ensure the chocolate is covered. Cover the mix and let sit for 5 minutes.

Add 8 tablespoons of the reserved bourbon from the pecans and stir the mix with a small whisk until the chocolate, liquor and cream mix are well combined.

Put the saucepan in the refrigerator. After 15 minutes in the refrigerator, stir the mix to recombine any ingredients that have separated. Return to the fridge.

Repeat two more times. After 45 minutes, check and stir every 7 minutes ntil the mix firms up. This will happen very quickly. If it seems like the mix is on the edge of firming up, check and stir every 3 minutes until it is firm enough to form into balls. At some point you'll probably have to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. You should be done somewhere around an hour depending on your ingredients and how cold your refrigerator is.

Now, have a big wide shallow bowl of very cold water standing by. You're going to get messy, but the water is not for cleanup.

Take a look at the size of your pecan halves. You are going to make balls large enough that a pecan will fit on top of the ball, covering it, but not hanging over the sides much, if at all.

Cover a baking sheet (or two) with a piece of was paper or parchment paper.

Wash your hands really really well. Now take a regular small teaspoon and scoop out the appropriate amount of chocolate goo. Roll it into a ball of the right size and place it on the parchment on the cookie sheet.

Repeat until you've used up all the goo (it's a ganache, to be technical, but goo sounds better). The heat of your hands will melt the chocolate, making it easier to form the balls and COVERING your hands with goo. If it seems like too much goo is going on your hands and not enough is going into the chocolate balls, dip your hands in the cold water. You aren't washing your hands, you're just cooling them down to make it easier to work with the chocolate.

When you've used up all the goo, count the number of balls you've made. Count out that many bourbon-soaked pecans halves to top the treats and set them aside. Chop the rest finely with a knife, food processor or "whapper-chopper".

Refrigerate the tray(s) of chocolates for at least one hour.

Put the chopped pecans in a shallow bowl. Take out the tray of refrigerated centers and place it at the left side of an assembly line we're going to put together. Place a parchment paper covered tray on the far right end of the line. This will be your landing zone. Put the pecan halves above the line, and leave a space between the first tray and the chopped pecans for a bowl of melted chocolate.

Next melt 6 oz. chocolate in a small metal bowl over a saucepan filled with water. Put the heat on medium and stir until the chocolate melt. Move the bowl to the assembly line.

drop a center in the chocolate, coat it with chocolate with a teaspoon, move to the chopped pecan bowl and roll the center until coated with a second teaspoon. Place on landing zone tray. Place a pecan half on top of the ball, press down. Repeat until all centers are done.

You may have to occasionally replace the chocolate on the saucepan to melt it down again. Leave the stove on for this purpose.

When complete you should have a lovely tray of choc-ies that looks like this -

Cool in the refrigerator for an hour and serve. Humming Stephen Foster tunes is optional.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:53 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
The Tipsy Englishman's Luncheon

steak and ale.jpgLift your spirits high! In choosing my dish(es) for this edition of Is My Blog Burning?, I decided to turn to one of the great drinking nations for inspiration: England. I am not claiming that the English are necessarily the biggest drinkers in the world (the Czechs beat them in beer consumption per capita) but they are an experienced and enthusiastic lot. To tell the truth, I nearly forgot about this edition of the Is My Blog Burning and so did not have anything prepared before leaving on a long weekend in the Poitou-Charentes Wednesday evening. This, too, influenced the menu: we invited four English friends to Sunday lunch.

And what do you serve five thirsty Brits on a Sunday afternoon? Well, I tried for an elegant pub lunch: a salad of pears poached in port wine with Stilton cheese, followed by a steak and ale pie and apple pancakes flambé to finish.

Although I prepared lunch for six people, I think the quantities would have been better for serving four. No one went away hungry, but this was in part because I included a cheese course between the pies and the dessert.

Rocket salad with pears poached in port wine and Stilton

This is the first time I have tried poaching pears in wine and it certainly will not be the last. They took on a lovely spiced flavour that complimented the Stilton extremely well. If you can't find Stilton, try a mild blue cheese.

1 cup ruby port
2 juniper berries
1 cardamon pod
1 piece of star anise
1 very small cinnamon stick
4 pears, fairly ripe but not yet falling apart
1 bag of rocket lettuce
3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp raspberry balsamic vinegar
100 grams (or more) Stilton or mild blue cheese, crumbled
handful of walnuts (optional)

Core, peel and slice the pears in thickish wedges (about 1/2cm thick). Place them in a saucepan or deep frying pan with the port, juniper berries, cardamon, anise and cinnamon over a low heat. Cook for ten or fifteen minutes, until the pears are softened somewhat but still hold their form well. Set them aside in the marinade to cool. Arrange washed rocket on salad plates and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. (My vinegar came in a pump-action bottle, which is quite handly for spreading evenly on salad.) Arrange the cooled pear slices on the salad and sprinkle cheese and nuts over them. I forgot the nuts at the store, but still think they would have been nice on the salad. Save the reserved marinade as it is too delicious to throw away.

Steak & Ale Pie

This is the dish that caused me the most concern. I'm American, not British and here I was trying to make a traditional British dish for a group of British friends. Okay, it's not rocket-science but still it made me a bit nervous. As always in times of need, I turned to the English standard of traditional cooking: Mrs. Beeton's cookbook. And, as usual, it gave me a few good tips and left me thinking "I'm not going to spend THAT much time on it..." (For those of you unfamiliar with her, Mrs. Beeton was a much-admired Victorian lady who set down the rules on All Things Domestic in her Book of Household Management, from cooking to cleaning to how to deal with your servants. These days, they usually only include the cooking bit in the reprint of her famous book.) Mrs. Beeton's recipe called for stewing the meat for two and a half hours before putting the pies in the oven for two hours. Given the fact that I got home from the store at around twelve and guests were due at one-thirty, this was not practicable.

So this is my own recipe, culled from Mrs. Beeton's tips and a few recipes on the Internet. It got rave reviews, even from our friend Craig-from-Newcastle who should know a good pie when he sees one.

800 grams of beef (just under two pounds)
4 cloves of garlic
1 onion
1 Tbs butter
3-4 Tbs olive oil
several dashes of Lawry's salt
1/4 cup flour
2 carrots
250 grams (2 cups) mushrooms
12 baby onions (roughly)
1 can of Boddington's (around a pint)
1 tsp Better than Boullion Beef extract
2 puff pastry pie crusts
salt and pepper to taste
several dashes of Worcestershire sauce to taste
2 small bay leaves
1 Tbs dried thyme

Roughly chop the garlic and start it softening in the butter and one tablespoon of the olive oil. Chop the onion and add it to the garlic. When they are all soft, remove to a large saucepan with a slotted spoon. Slice the beef in bite-sized strips and toss it with the flour and Lawry's salt. Working in batches, quickly brown the meat in the frying pan from the onion and garlic mix, adding more olive oil as necessary. You'll need to turn the heat fairly high to brown the meat properly. As each batch of meat is cooked (you don't need to worry overmuch about how cooked as it will be stewed for a good long while), add it to the large saucepan with the onions and garlic. When all the meat has been added to the saucepan, remove the frying pan from the stove - you will not need it again for this dish. Peel and slice the carrots in disks and add to the meat and onion mixture. Clean and thickly slice the mushrooms and add them to the pot. Clean and trim the baby onions and add them to the pot, cutting in half any that seem too big for a biteful. Pour about half the beer into the pot and put it on a medium flame. Once the liquid has come to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer. Add the teaspoon of beef extract, the bay leaves and thyme and stir well. Taste the sauce for salt and pepper. Simmer for an hour, adding more beer as necessary. Taste from time to time for salt and pepper and add some Worcestershire sauce towards the end, to taste.

When the meat is tender and the sauce delicious, remove from the flame, preheat the oven to 200C (375F) and roll out the puff pastry dough. (This is where I should explain how to make a puff pastry dough, but my method has always involved buying it pre-rolled from the store.) Place one of your oven-proof deep bowls upside down on the dough and trace a disk about 3/4 an inch (1 cm) from the edge all the way around the bowl. Make four of these disks. Slice four long thin strips from the edge of the dough, each long enough to make the circumference of the bowl. Click here to see the pies in progress!

Fill each of the bowls with the beef filling. Wet your finger and trace it along the edge of the first bowl. Take a long strip of dough and lay it all the way around the edge of the bowl. Wet your finger and draw it along the ring of dough. Cover the bowl with one of the disks of dough. With a knife, make two small slits in the center of the pie in a v-shape and push the dough through to make a small hole for the steam to escape. Repeat with each of the bowls. If you don't have enough fancy bowls (or any) you can make do with a small rectangular casserole dish, but the presentation will not be as nice. Place the bowls in the oven on the top rack and bake for 45 minutes to one hour. If the tops start to get too brown, cover them with brown paper from a grocery sack or some wax paper. Keep a bit of an eye on them though - mine got a little overdone. Serve the bowls to your guest as soon as you take them out of the oven - they will look impressive despite being extremely easy to make! Click here to see how the pie looks when you make it in a rectangular casserole dish. (I ran out of classy oven-safe bowls!)

And lastly...

Apple and fig pancakes flambéed with Calvados

This recipe did not turn out as well as I had hoped, but I think the fault was with the cook (who was by now tired) and not the recipe. So the recipe below is slightly altered from what my guests were offered - I would use more of the port sauce next time, and cook the apples a little more. They were still nice, but (as the Critic pointed out) not as nice as the rest of the meal. He does know how to give a compliment.

For the filling:
3 apples (I chose Boskoop, a lovely apple eaten raw, not too sweet, but also able to hold together when cooked)
2 Tbs butter
3/4 cup port wine marinade (see above)
3 fresh figs

For the pancakes:
1 cup flour
1 tsp sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk (plus a bit more to thin to desired consistency)

1/2 cup Calvados (apple brandy/applejack)
matches
vanilla ice cream (optional)


Beat the flour, sugar, egg and milk and set aside for at least 20 minutes.

Core and slice the apples and fry them in the butter until tender. You may need to do them in a few batches, depending on the size of your pan. When they are all tender, but not falling apart, put them in the pan with the port wine and raise the heat. Reduce to a thick, sweet glaze on the apples. Slice the figs and reserve them.

Put a tiny, tiny amount of butter in a nonstick pan and heat until frothy. Pour 1/4 or less of the pancake batter in the pan and quickly tilt the pan to spread evenly in a large disk. Don't worry if the first one doesn't turn out great - mine never does. When it is cooked enough, flip to cook the other side. Remove to a warm plate and continue making pancakes. This recipe was sufficient for seven pancakes on my pan - six plus the initial one that never works very well.

Fill each of the pancakes with stewed apples and fresh fig slices and arrange them on a large platter. Heat the Calvados in a small saucepan. Once it is hot, pour it into a large metal ladle. Apply a flame (from the match) to the ladle to set the Calvados on fire and carefully pour over the pancakes. Obviously this looks more impressive on an evening with the lights out, but it still tastes pretty good in broad daylight. Serve each pancake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

And so there you have it: a tipsy lunch. Actually, as two of us are pregnant I had to ensure that most of the alcohol burned away leaving flavour but no substance. Still, it was an inspiring subject for this month's Is My Blog Burning? event and the others were able to wash it all down with the proper beer and wine!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:34 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
September 18, 2004
Posts of the Week

Each week, we pick three posts we particularly enjoyed over the last week from the vast community of excellent food bloggers. Maybe these posts were funny, maybe they were great recipes or a particularly well-written review of a restaurant. Maybe they just were the right post for us at the right time. If you haven't read them, this should give you a chance to go back and catch them before they disappear into the archives.

1. Let's start this week with breakfast. But let's not start with a wimpy continental breakfast of lightweight pastries and juice. Let's start with noodle pie's comparison of proper English breakfasts in Scotland, what one waitress with a Midlands accent in Gibraltar once told us was "a proper fry". Beans and tomatoes, black sausage, white sausage, a bit of ham-like bacon, maybe a bit of haggis, and a fried egg should hold you over until, oh say, Thursday?

A. I've been watching Culinary Epiphanies' progress at making real yeast bread from suggestions from a kids site called the exploratorium. She's really close to being able to bake a loaf of what promises to be some delicious Berkley sourdough. Check out her progress and watch to see what happens over the next week!

I. Finally, the popular F*** Corporate Groceries site is celebrating its third year. Jessica Davis swore off Jewel and Dominick's and now even Whole Foods, Treasure Island and Trader Joe's to live only on groceries and foods from small local grocers and farmers markets. Three years later she and the site are going strong. Wish her a happy blog birthday.

And I'd like to wish my wife and her maid of honor Nataline good luck tomorrow as they run 13 miles in my wife's first half-marathon. I'll be checking out the bookstores of Hyde Park and sipping on a coffee at the Medici while they run so they'll have some moral support. I tell you, I give and I give...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 17, 2004
The September Food Quiz

How exciting ! A quiz!!Back by popular demand, we have another puzzling food quiz for your pleasure! This time around we have some timely questions because I didn't need to set the questions weeks in advance. (That said, the timing of my August question on Julia Childs was eerily appropriate, falling as it did in the week she died...) So bear this in mind for the future, quizzers: it is in your interest to keep a vague eye on the food news if you want to prepare for the quiz. Also, I try to get a question or two from fellow food bloggers whenever possible, so frequent all the sites on our sidebar, visit our friends!

So read on for this week's selection of head-scratchers.

1. What are Calabasses Pourpres?

2. Definition: the science of growing plants in a liquid nutrient solution rather than in soil…this means that perfect tomatoes can be grown in the desert or in the middle of the winter. What is the term?

3. What is chenna?

4. Definition: A baked Greek stew made with meat, tomatoes, pearl onions, white wine, garlic, cinnamon and oregano. What’s the dish?

5. In the news: which celebrity chef’s restaurant was recently panned by Harden's London Restaurant Guide, receiving low marks in all categories?

6. In Imperial measurements, two cups equals how many pints?

7. Which has fewer calories: still wine or champagne?

8. The current world record for cherry pit spitting stands at what distance? a) 51 feet, 4 inches b) 72 feet, 7 inches or c) 95 feet, 9 inches

9. Identify the food in this photo!

10. According to the NY Daily News (courtesy of Foodgoat) who said “They gave us a couple of baloney sandwiches, but we're all vegan”?

Send your answers to toomanychefs@gmail.com. Good luck!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
September 16, 2004
Food Section Digestion - September 16, 2004

Fall is in the air, my friends, and if you're along the Gulf Coast of the United States so are patio chairs, speedboats, and the occasional cow. Hurricane season is in full force, so it's no surprise that this week, we won't be seeing a lot from the New Orleans Times-Picayune where they are very glad Ivan knows what it means to miss New Orleans. There's not much in the Houston Chronicle either this week which I have to attribute to laziness since they didn't get much of the storm at all. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution site was completely inaccessible as I wrote this report, and I don't think that can be blamed on the storm. Atlanta is about 150 miles inland from the ocean - a long march from the sea for a weakening storm.

So let's start up in Chicago, where it's sunny and in the high 70's. The Chicago Tribune resisted the spate of Rosh Hashana stories last week so they could print Virginia Gerst's piece on sweet exotic fruits appropriate for celebration of the Jewish New Year. Janet Helm tells us whole grains are winning the carb wars. I bought some groats myself the other day. For the sake of the pun, I'll note that there's nothing by Bill Daley in this week's Trib online (bzzzt! wrong! See note below). Won't you come home, Bill Daley? Won't you come home?

If you have a garden in your home, the Hartford Courant's Dana Carpender finds ways to use up all that zucchini you're harvesting right now including zucchini gingerbread. The recipe exchange features a winter squash pickle and a batch of magnificent raspberry recipes.

I've called the New York Times's R.W. Apple a "magnificent bastard" in this feature before (a phrase I stole from George C. Scott as Patton describing Rommel). I have to emphasize how much I hate and admire the guy at the same time. Look at the pictures in the piece on Dubrovnik, Croatia and the Croatian table. Sigh. I suppose he earned it. William Grimes has earned a good meal in 30 minutes or less. An excerpt from the article:

It is worth stating at the outset that there is good fast food and bad fast food... Canned onion rings over canned green beans, a casserole dish I recall from childhood, may be the bad fast dish par excellence. At the opposite end of the scale I might place veal chops in sage-butter sauce spiked with a little vermouth, a simple Italian entree I have made many times. Both dishes take about 10 minutes to prepare. One is satisfying and delicious. The other is a crime against nature.

Damp D.C. Bonnie Benwick of the Washington Post searches for a scarce strawberry preserve. Walter Nicholls examines the Asian Pear orchard Virginia Gold.

The Salt Lake City Tribune is gaga over gadgets and granola. Kathy Stephenson picks out the most practical kitchen gadgets - things I'd call essentials. Jill Wendholt Silva tells us granola isn't just for hippies anymore. Hippies? Who calls anyone a hippie anymore?

Ann Lovejoy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer isn't a hippie but she is a beetnik. That's right, she's a fan of beets and has three recipes to prove it. John Owen is looking for cheap eats for his Intermediate Eater column. Entries must be able to sustain life for at least 2 1/2 hours in a single-stomached vertebrate.

S. Irene Virbila is right on when she writes about the pleasures of the mortar and pestle in the Los Angeles Times. Charles Perry compares major mortar styles to help you pick the right one(s) for you. Valli Herman looks at a few cookbooks and picks recipes for Rosh Hashana. Honey, anyone?

The San Francisco Chronicle's Carol Ness is sweet on Splenda, or she would like to be. She gathered chefs together to try recipes with artificial sweetners instead of sugar. The results are... in the article. Click the link, why don't you?

The Montreal Gazette's Renee Breummer examines how food has shaped Montreal. Jeff Heinrich examines how our food is changing. I just discovered this food section, and I'm very impressed. Check it out for yourself.

In Ireland the multi-newspaper Unison.ie site tells us about that traditional Irish dish moussaka. The problem with a product like whiskey that takes 20 years to age is that you just don't know what you're going to get when you open the cask. It might be bright pink, as the distillers at Bruichladdich discovered with their latest single malt.

New Zealand's multi-newspaper stuff.co.nz brings us the news that anthropologists at Otago University will be studying New Zealand cookbooks to show how kiwi domestic life has evolved.

The Sydney Herald's Judy Adamson studies heirloom cookbooks herself and pulls a few choice recipes. Brigette Hafner follows the curds way for her recipes featuring soft cream cheese, quark, yogurt, and creme fraiche. Jeni Port (great name for a wine writer) tries to figure out why Australian Merlots don't sell.

William Campbell of the Japan Times might attribute it to the headaches red wine can induce.

So there you go, this week is all about headaches and hurricanes.

I'd like to make an appeal to the community - please let me know if you have or know of a newspaper with a decent food section that we're not reviewing each week. I'm especially interested in English-language papers outside the United States.

If you're in the hurricane zone, stay safe and dry and see you next week.

Note - When I checked the Tribune's website I looked at the bylines on ALMOST every article (sloppy research assistants, clearly). The one I missed way down near the bottom was, of course, Bill Daley's column on Viognier-based wines. Kudos to Daley for reviewing a bunch of wines under $10, along with the odd $20-30 bottle, and my apologies for missing the article. However, I stand by my puns, though Mr. Daley assures me he's heard that song ALL HIS LIFE, much as I've heard "Magic Buss". We go for the funny here, not necessarily the original...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 14, 2004
Zucchini and Roasted Tomato Strata

zuc strata2.jpgI have to be honest, this recipe did not turn out the way I expected. Earlier this week I realized that I had been overenthusiastic in the zucchini-buying department and needed to do something with the half dozen small ones that were left, fast. I remembered my childhood in the Chicago suburbs and how my grandmother and my mother always ended up growing five times as many zucchini as a town of 13,500 could eat. And so I thought I would use one of the many zucchini-based recipes they turned to in times of need.

I pulled my grandmother's cookbook from the shelf and leafed to the letter z in the index. (My mother and my cousin Laura gathered together Grandma Kehoe's recipes and made bound cookbooks for every member of the family a few years ago: I highly recommend this great idea and wish I had thought to do the same with my Austrian grandmother's recipes before it was too late.) Anyway, back to the letter z: two recipes. Zucchini lasagne and zucchini bread. Being more in the mood for something savory, I turned to the zucchini lasagne page.

Like many enthusiastic chefs, one of my greatest failings is that I can't leave a good recipe alone. Even though my grandmother was a very good cook and knew how to make a very good zucchini lasagne, I, of course, must know better.

So instead of boiling the zucchini before using it (as the recipe indicated) I decided to grill it. Instead of a boring old tomato sauce, I decided to use the remains of the roasted tomato sauce I made earlier in the week. And once I looked at these two components, I decided that meat would be superfluous as I had plenty of flavor here. You see where this is going, don't you? Soon we will have not a single ingredient in common with the original recipe. And yes, there was one more to change but it wasn't entirely my fault: cottage cheese is not easily found here in Paris and so I substituted ricotta.

In the end, the dish I made was almost-but-not-entirely-unlike zucchini lasagne and so I had to find a new name. Strata means layer in Italian (or so my Italian cookbook tells me) and so that is the description I decided to use for this lovely vegetarian side dish.

Zucchini and Roasted Tomato Strata

6 small zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup roasted tomato sauce
1/2 a small onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 small buffala mozzarella
1/3 cup ricotta
1 egg
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Slice the zucchini lengthwise in strips about 3/4 cm (1/2") thick and brush them with some of the olive oil. Put them on a hot grill and cook on each side until tender. Spread some of the remaining olive oil in the bottom of a small roasting pan. Prepare the cheeses: grate or thinly slice the mozzarella and mix the ricotta with the egg. Mix the spices into the tomato sauce and taste for salt, pepper and spices.

Put on layer of zucchini in the bottom of the roasting dish and dribble tomato sauce over the strips. Scatter some of the onion, a bit of mozzarella and then dribble some of the ricotta and egg mixture. Continue layering zucchini with the other elements until you have used up all the ingredients (hopefully evenly).

Put in the oven at 200C/380F and bake until brown and crispy on top and bubbly at the edges. (I can hear Barrett in the background saying something about a blond on the beach with a glass of champagne...)

Let the dish cool for ten minutes or so before serving so that it can rest.

So there you have it. Technically it's not a strata because it's missing the bread and the egg is not prominent. But then it's not really a lasagne either. It does have lovely layers, though, and the leftovers will make a healthy, tasty lunch for me tomorrow.

And next time I promise to let you in on the secret of my grandmother's zucchini lasagne, which does - miraculously - taste of lasange. You don't think I would have eaten it as a kid if it didn't did you??

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 13, 2004
Roasted Tomato Sauce

This is a recipe not just for a sauce made with roasted tomatoes, but for a tomato-based sauce that is entirely roasted. The sauce takes about an hour and a half to make but only 15 minutes of that time will you be active. Great for a hectic weeknight dinner.

This recipe originated with an idea from Deborah Madison's great Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which I made lazier and easier. I changed the flavors, ingredients and technique so I feel comfortable calling this my own recipe, inspired by DM's great work.

So here's my recipe for a sweet delicious Roasted Tomato Sauce:

Roasted Tomato Sauce

2 1/2 pounds roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 medium-sized sweet white onions, diced
1/3 cup olive oil
salt, pepper
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence (or Italian herbs, or other herbs if you prefer. If you use thyme or rosemary or some othe "woody" herb, remove any stalks or stems before the blending step.)

Put the halved tomatoes cut side up in a sheet cake pan or other pan with high sides (at least 2"). If possible, make it just one layer.

Spread chopped onion on top of the tomatoes.

Drizzle olive oil all over contents of the pan. Use the pretty-good stuff. You don't need the best olive oil for this application.

Salt and pepper liberally, sprinkle herbs on top.

Put in a 400 F oven for 45 minutes. You can go longer if you want sweeter onions and more intense tomato taste.

Scoop and pour contents of the pan (there will be a lot of liquid in the bottom) into a big bowl where you can use my favorite kitchen gadget - the immersion blender.

Blend the sauce a lot or a little according to your tastes. If you have a food mill you can pass the sauce through it to remove the tomato skins. They don't bother me, but some people dislike their texture quite a bit.

If you don't have a food mill and hate the tomato skin texture, you can start the recipe differently by scoring the tomatoes while they're whole with an X at either end, and briefly blanching them until the skin begins to come away. Peel the tomatoes, halve them and continue the recipe.

This is way too much work for a casual sauce for me, so I just deal with the peels that, as I said, don't bother me.

Simmer the sauce in a large skillet and reduce over medium heat until you reach the desired thickness. Taste, and adjust seasonings. If the tomatoes you had were too tart, you can add a little sugar (but just a little, please) to balance the sauce. More herbs are also welcome at this step.

If serving on pasta, stir the cooked pasta into the sauce immediately after boiling the noodles so they can soak up the flavors.

The resulting sauce has a concentrated tomato flavor, sweetness from the onions and tomatoes, and just a touch of pungency from the garlic. Once you've got the basic recipe down, you can add red pepper flakes if you'd like it hotter, olives, parmesan, basil, roasted red peppers, just about anything.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:37 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
September 12, 2004
Posts of the Week

Each week, we pick three posts we particularly enjoyed over the last week from the vast community of excellent food bloggers. Maybe these posts were funny, maybe they were great recipes or a particularly well-written review of a restaurant. Maybe they just were the right post for us at the right time. If you haven't read them, this should give you a chance to go back and catch them before they disappear into the archives.

Sorry this edition is late by a day. My wife and I were busy sampling art and Cake this weekend. The art was at the Around the Coyote festival in Wicker Park, Chicago, and the Cake was a concert given by the band Cake at the Guinness Oyster Festival (where, for health reasons, no oysters were served). This morning, my wife dragged me out of bed to watch her run the Bucktown 5K, her first race, which she finished in under 29 minutes! (UPDATE: 27:48, to be exact).

But enough excuses. Here are the posts of the week in no particular order.

I. thepassionatecook is always a good read. Jo Wagner, a multi-lingual Austrian (think sacher torte, not shrimp on the barbie) living in London is passionate not only about her cooking but about her writing and photography as well. Last Sunday's Curried Mussels is a good example of her work. One tip - click on the photo to get a larger, more lucious version.

1. If you're not the passionatecook, you can still enjoy an Obsession With Food. Such an Obsession with Food can lead you to put together an all-chocolate dinner. Six course. All with chocolate. Not all desserts or moles. Read how Derrick did it at Obsession with Food.

A. Finally, I like the looks of the Salmon Tartare with Red Onion Crème Fraîche on Focaccia on A La Cuisine! The recipe is adapted from two sources, Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook and Cook's Illustrated magazine. The photography is appealingly minimalist. The fish is raw, and should be delicious.

That's it for this week. Next week, my wife Rebecca runs 13 miles, and I run over to the store to get a paper and a Diet Coke. See you then.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Dinner with Abe (Lincoln, that is)

Yesterday I went back in time.

The museum near Richmond, Indiana, hosts a Civil War Encampment each fall. About 100 re-enactors gather for a weekend of planned skirmishes, public interpretation, and lots of sweating in wool.

My bonnet and layers of dress were mercifully wool-free, but there was plenty heat from the glowing hearth in the 1841 farmhouse. A red face and some crispy knuckles hairs...small price to pay when you're cooking dinner for Lincoln and 20 of his closest friends, 1860s style.

Ingredients that came with the hearth included plenty of good hardwood, a collection of cast iron Dutch ovens and copper kettles, and a small garden blooming with heirloom tomatoes and herbs like thyme, basil, rosemary, and lovage. The fire was going by 9:30AM and Abe was expected at 5PM. We cooked (and sweated) the hole day.

The menu was summer friendly and chosen by one of the museum's veteran hearth cooks from early and mid-nineteenth century cookbooks. We left the microwave behind in modern times, but did bring along our literacy - the farmhouse wife who originally cooked on this hearth couldn't read or write but kept a family of 12 (and then some) well fed on experience and trial and error.

I won't relay the exact recipes here since nothing turns out exactly the same way twice when you're cooking over hot coals and since the "science" of historic cooking includes instructions like "beat well in bright sunlight." But here's what Lincoln took off his stove pipe hat for...

Boiled turkey - let a turkey or two sit in strong brine overnight, throw it (them) into a large pot and cover with clean water, add salt, celery, carrots, onions, and a bouquet garni of whichever herbs are in the garden, cook slowly not allowing the water to come to a strong boil, take out the done turkey and use the remaining stock to flavor the following dishes...

Mashed potatoes - you know the drill, in the spirit of mid-nineteenth century Americans don't be afraid of whole cream and lots of butter

Green beans with salt pork and onions - cook the topped green beans in plenty of hot, salted water with a bouquet garni until done to your likeness (what we'd consider way past al dente seemed to be the preference at tables 160 years ago), in another pan, fry the salt park and then remove, fry sliced onions in the remaining fat, mix in the salt pork and then mix together with the cooked green beans, salt and pepper to taste

Salad - use what's in season and simply dress with oil, red wine vin, salt, pepper, and a little sugar

Scalloped tomatoes - quickly blanch tomatoes to remove the skins, slice and thinly coat in breadcrumbs seasoned with salt, mace, and cayenne pepper, butter some bread slices and tear them up, alternate layers of each in a deep baking dish until full (or until you think you'll be full), make the top layer of broken buttered bread, bake until the tomato juices are bubbling

Yeast rolls with fresh butter - milk the cow, find the churn, and get to work...or shake whipping cream in a tightly sealed canning jar until solid butter forms, separate the buttermilk and butter (drink the buttermilk, use it in the mashed potatoes, or for baking), wash the butter in water (put the butter in a bowl, pour a little water over and use the back of a spoon to paddle the butter, drain the cloudy water, and repeat until the water stays clear even after paddling), add some salt and lather your favorite yeast rolls (try to leave some for the actual dinner, I know...it's hard)

Parsley gravy - fry parsley in lots of butter, add some flour, salt, and pepper, and stir constantly over heat, when the rue thickens up, add some broth from the cooked turkey

Celery sauce - yesterday's first try over the hearth turned to make more of a stuffing than a sauce...so try this...very thinly chop a head of celery and fry until very tender in plenty of butter with salt and pepper, add equil parts water and heavy cream (about 3/4 - 1 cup each), season with mace and fresh nutmeg, serve over the turkey

For dessert, we offered a sweet almond cake (reportedly Mr. Lincoln's favorite) with glassy icing and blackberry cobbler.

Remember, singed dress hems and pot-black stained fingernails are the signs of a dedicated mid-nineteenth century cook...washing hands is optional before dinner.

Posted by Corrie in Indy at 12:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
September 10, 2004
Are you tired of the grill yet?

Who's cooking now?If you visit our pages frequently, you'll begin to get the impression that we are (or at least I am) obsessed with grilling. Well, speaking for myself, you have to allow for some ten years of being unable to use a grill being overcompensated for when we finally get one. In Chicago living in an apartment did not ever prevent me from being able to fire up a grill - at worst we would use a little hibachi grill on the balcony and at best we had my mother's second-hand Weber in the front yard of our coach house. However in Paris grilling in close proximity to your neighbor's living room is a faux pas of the greatest magnitude. The French are very fastidious about their cooking smells and much more inclined to put a door on the kitchen to keep them where they belong. (In fact, an open plan kitchen is known as a cuisine américaine in real estate agent lingo!) But for the last year we have been living in a high-rise multicultural hip corner of Paris and our neighbors are not the complaining type. And we dare to grill.

So lately the weather is truly beautiful and the grill is just sitting there on the terrace every night begging me to light it. And rather than bore you with another dozen individual postings on Things We Have Recently Grilled, I thought it would be better to give you a summary of some of the better dishes to come off the grill lately:


1) Corn on the cob. Now I'm from the Midwest and have pretty high standards for corn on the cob; one of my few gripes (though oft-repeated) about Paris is the lack of decent sweet corn. This year has been an exception, however: twice in the last week I have found decent ears of corn, reasonably fresh and - shock - even bearing a sticker declaring them to be non-genetically modified. I'm even thinking of picking up some more this weekend and freezing it to enjoy in the winter!

In the US, where corn is sold in the husk, I would normally soak the ears in a bucket of water and put them on the grill unhusked, so that they pick up the smoky flavour of the burned husk and steam nicely. I can't do that here because the ears are always sold half-husked. This week I discovered that if you boil the ears for ten minutes or so and then put them on the grill (fully husked) they turn out delicious - a few of the grains blackend by the flames of the grill only add to the taste. A delight. Even if you can grill your corn in the husk, I'd recommend trying it this way for a change!

2) Fish and bacon kebabs. I have tried this twice recently with different fish and both times it turned out lovely. I got the idea from the fact that fish filets are frequently sold in supermarkets here cut in long slivers about the length and width of bacon. Place one fish sliver on a piece of bacon and thread it on a wooden skewer. On the fish side of the kebab brush a little olive oil and sprinkle with dried sage. Cook the kebabs bacon-side down and only briefly on the fish side. I served these with a quick sauce made up of 1 Tbs mustard, 3 Tbs crème fraîche a dash of salt and a sprinkle of sage, heated in a small saucepan until thickened. The consensus of our guests: very tasty, even without the sauce!

3) Indian chicken. We usually have a jar or two of curry paste in the fridge - Tandoori or Balti or Rogan Josh. I like to mix it with a bit of low-fat yogurt and use it as a marinade. Because a skin-less chicken breast can lose all moisture very quickly on a grill, it's best to cut it in long, thin strips so that it will cook very quickly. Marinate the strips of chicken breast in the sauce, thread them on a skewer and grill. Serve with a spicy mango chutney or hot lime pickle. If any of your guests are English you will get rave reviews...

4) Grilled eggplant and zucchini slices. Slice the vegetables in disks about 3/4 cm (half an inch) thick and brush them with olive oil. I cut the zucchini on a diagonal as the ones sold here are usually quite skinny and this makes them a little larger. They still occasionally fall between the bars of the grill (sigh) but the ones that don't come out tasting delicious. Toss them still warm on a salad with Newman's Caesar Salad Dressing and a bit of freshly grated parmesan - heavenly!

5) A good steak. I recently rediscovered one of the joys of my childhood: a grilled steak, generously powdered with Lawry's salt and served with A1 Steak Sauce (check out the link for the hype on how it dates back to England's King George IV's chef). For those of you who have not been deprived of these two condiments for the last ten years this probably sounds pretty boring, but if you've been away from them long enough they suddenly seem like manna from heaven. I don't know what it was that led me to think of adding them to my shopping cart on a trip to the states a couple of years ago but now I am completely addicted again. My brother is bringing out a new shaker of Lawry's with him in two weeks, which is just as well as I'm nearly out! Serve with a backed potato cooked on the grill (cover with tin foil and put in a quiet corner of the grill for an hour) and a Caesar's salad. For years, this was my favourite Birthday Dinner, prepared to perfection by an ex-boyfriend's indulgent parents for me every year. (His mother's birthday was the day after mine so we invariably celebrated them together.)

So there you have a few of my favourite things. It's not a dozen, but I limited myself to the highlights. After all, you probably already had your fill of grilling in the July Is My Blog Burning? event!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
September 9, 2004
Food Section Digestion - September 9, 2004

The New York Times is all over the place this week. Is it 5765 already? Joan Nathan prepares us for a Rosh Hashana featuring tamarind. I'll still be writing 5764 on my checks for weeks, I'm sure. Frank Bruni examines the variety of cuisine available at the U.S. Open. Dennis Ray Wheaton travels to Oaxaca and samples the complex food of the "land of seven moles" where they don't shy away from chowing down on grasshoppers and maguey worms. Tobey Cecchini has a composed salad revelation in France. "Composed Salad Revelation"? I think that was the working title for Kerouac's Satori in Paris.

The Washington Post is also looking forward to the Jewish new year and Candy Sagon speaks with kosher caterer David Dahan about make-ahead dishes for the holiday. Renee Schettler briefly examines my second favorite kitchen gadget, the mandoline. The Post kicks off an international cooking course with a video from Kim O'Donnel.

In the Chicago Tribune, Robin Mather Jenkins tries to get her (?) head around the new batch of oils becoming popular. Bill Daley swills plonk. I'm not going to explain that sentence, you'll just have to read the article. I don't usually comment on Wolfgang Puck's articles in the Trib, but this week he relates the story of receiving a request for a ham and cheese sandwich for Labor Day telethonner Jerry Lewis. Isn't Jerry Jewish? I hope it was kosher ham.*

The L.A. Times Russ Parsons examines late summer melons, and teaches us the difference between Indorous, Reticulatus, and Cantalupensis melon families. Beth Fortune says that no matter what your ethnic background, there's a meatball in there somewhere.

New Orleans' Times-Picayune Mildred Covert takes action and serves up some down-home southern style... kosher Rosh Hashana food? Yep. Shalom, y'all. Marcelle Bienvenu turns to her friend Ju-Ju to help her make pate à choux in anticipation of a visit from her great niece.

In the Houston Chronicle, Dai Huynh is finding home-style desserts like banana pudding, cookies and milk, doughnuts, and apple pies you'd think were more suited for Luby's at the most haute (haute-iest?) restaurants in town.

Olvia Wu at the San Francisco Chronicle rents a Jewish grandmother to help Janice Sellars make Rosh Hashana appropriate foods. The "rent a grandmother" series is a great idea and I hope the Chronicle keeps it going. Any Norwegian grandmas out there for rent?

If there were, I'm sure she'd make apple dishes like the seven Joe Bonwich at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's site offers (upper right column of link).

Ann Lovejoy in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would like you to know that you don't HAVE to follow recipes if you don't like, can't get, or can't eat the ingredients. You can substitute.

In Honolulu, the Starbulletin is reporting five-pound mangos. Best of all the flesh is not fibrous, so you won't get that urge to floss right after you have one.

Scotland on Sunday's Jeremy Watson is reporting that leading Scottish chef Nick Nairn is encouraging people to abandon the local megamart in favor (sorry, favour) of better-tasting fare sold by specialty shops. Gina Davidson gives it a go and ends up paying 10% more for much better produce, fish, meat, etc...

Mostly stories of local interest in the Sydney Mornign Herald, but they do have two videos from the last week that are worth a peek. First, watch as chef Brigette Hafner goes shopping at the Victoria Market. Steve Manfredi helps you select the perfect fennel bulb for a fennel and orange salad.

New Zealand's multi-paper site stuff.co.nz picks up a Reuters story on the Braziliian spirit cachaca. They also publish another Reuters story about a used cookbook store in New York that I will be visiting next time I'm there.

The rest of the English-speaking papers of the world seem to still be taking the month off. How is there not a paper in London with a decent WEEKLY food section? Or is there? Are there any German English-language papers that cook?

* This is of course, a joke. Everyone knows a ham is only kosher if a rabbi kills the pig the right way. No?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Two Tasty Tapas

tapascrop.jpgThe last time I was in Spain I thought that tapas were vastly overrated, but now I'm beginning to wonder if I wasn't culinarily less adventuresome in those days. Or perhaps I just wasn't as good at picking out interesting combinations? Whatever the reason, I mainly remember eating a lot of portions of Spanish tortilla, partly because I kept forgetting that in Spain it means an omelette, not a Mexican tortilla - oops!

In this regard, on our recent trip to Spain, Catalonia was, again, a happy surprise. We had our first plate in a bar near one of the biggest tourist attractions in Barcelona: the church-in-progress Sagrada Familia. And they were delicious. I had been a little worried about finding tapas that I could safely eat (I'm supposed to avoid ham and sausages that don't come supermarket-pre-packaged) but in fact I found I had too many choices. And they were all wonderful! Also, I loved the fact that we could serve ourselves from the selection on the bar: they were stored under a plastic cover, a bit like the sort you see in a sushi bar except that there were little doors to open on the patron's side as well as the bar side.

I looked around for a cookbook on tapas, but didn't find one in English. According to my guidebooks, Catalonia is not really a region famed for its tapas, so perhaps this is why. In fact, it is only in recent years that they have become common, especially in the trendy bars of Barcelona. Whatever. Having taken to this typical Spanish tradition, the Catalonians did a great job of adapting them to local tastes! And so, below, I have attempted to recreate the two that seemed most typical of the ones we tasted - and coincidentally my favourites!

Escalivado Tapas

Escalivado is a very typical Catalonian vegetable dish. I ordered it whenever I saw it on the menu, without fail. The recipe for cooking the vegetables was in my book of Catalonian cuisine; the only difference between the recipe in the book and the one below is the toasted bread!

1 medium eggplant
1 red pepper (capsicum)
1-2 onions
1 tomato (optional)
olive oil
vinegar
anchovies (optional)

Wrap each of the vegetables in tin foil. If you have more than one of any of them - this is a loose recipe - you can group them together. Put them in a hot oven (200C/375F) for an hour, or until all are soft and cooked through. The eggplants will take the longest, so you may want to remove the others as they finish cooking. Cool and unwrap the tin foil packages. Tear or cut the vegetables in bite-sized pieces and toss them with a bit of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. If you are using tomatoes, seed and peel them. I also peeled the pepper of all the skin that came off easily. Toast rounds of bread. If you are using a baguette, cut on a diagonal to get slightly larger pieces; if you are using loaf bread, you may want to cut the slices in half. Artistically arrange a piece or two of eggplant, one of onion, one of pepper and one of tomato on each slice of bread and top with an anchovy. They really are delightful and extremely good for you to boot - yummy vitamins!

Note: the reason I inserted the word "optional" after the tomatoes is that I never saw them included in escalivado when we were in Spain. However, the cookbook called for including them, so...they are "optional"!

Tuna and Crabmeat Tapas

I did not have a recipe for this one, but it seemed easy enough to guess what went into it:

1 can of tuna, drained (packed in water, not oil!)
6-8 crab sticks (impossible to find 100% crab ones in Paris, so I settled for 10% crab and 90% crab-flavoured fish)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 small purple (sweet) onion
anchovies or fish eggs as a garnish

Break up the tuna with a fork; cut the crab sticks in half lengthwise and then in on cm lengths. Chop the onion finely. Mix the onion, crab meat and tuna with the mayonnaise. The crab will separate into smaller strands, which is all to the good. Spread on top of slices of bread and top with an anchovy or some oeufs de lompe (fish eggs). Basically, it's just a slightly more elegant open face tuna salad. In fact, I used the leftovers from this batch to make myself an upscale tuna sandwich for lunch the next day!

So there you have it: not very complicated recipes but still authentically close to the good things we ate in Catalonia. It would seem that the essence of good tapas lies in the simplicity of the recipe, the freshness of the ingredients and the creativity of the chef. I am now off to research Amazon for cookbooks on tapas, so that I don't have to rely solely on my own creativity!

One last note: before making these tapas you would do well to ascertain whether your guests have an aversion to anchovies. As you will notice on the photo above, I opted for anchovy toppings for both kinds when I made them...but unfortunately our guests did not like anchovies. More anchovies for me, but not so nice for them! (Sorry, Angela and Jonathan!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 8, 2004
WWWBW II

Lenndevours originated the Worldwide Wine Blogging Wednesday just this month and we're already getting ready for the second edition.

Vinography hosts the next one on October 6th. The theme is Spanish Reds. I think Orwell fought with the Spanish Reds during the 30's, didn't he?

Find yourself a Spanish red wine, try it out, and write about it. What did it taste like? What color was the wine? How much did it set you back? Was the wine insolent with a touch of antidisestablishmentarian zeal? Or was it more like grape Kool-aid?

Spain actually has more acres of vines planted than just about any other country, but the yields are low so Spanish wine is just that much more precious. No price limit this time so if you find a $300 bottle of the good stuff, drink up. Just make sure you tell us all about it.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Risotto Torte

There is an actual recipe attached to this picture, but what I really want to highlight is the technique used to change a gooey bowl of rice and stuff into a fluffy cake.

The recipe this is based on is Christine Ingram's from the book vegetarian and vegetable cooking, a picture-filled recipe book that only set me back $5 at Barnes and Noble from the overstock/remainder shelf. Sometimes you can find some real gems on the "buy me cheap!" counter.

I've fixed an omission in the original (when to drop the broccoli in), and changed the ingredients to suit my tastes. You can use the basic technique with any risotto you make. I encourage you to try it yourself.

Broccoli Risotto Torte

8 oz. broccoli chopped small but not fine
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (or a mix of the two)
salt and pepper to taste

If using fresh broccoli, blanch it for 3 minutes, drain and reserve. If using frozen, microwave or otherwise thaw the broccoli. Drain and reserve.

In a large saucepan, heat the butter and oil untl the butter starts to foam. Sautee the onions, garlic, and bell pepper in the oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Season to taste, remembering Parmesan is pretty salty.

Add the dry rice to the pot. Stir to mix and to let the rice absorb any remaining liquid or fat. Cook for a minute to slightly fry the dry rice. Add the wine/vermouth and cook until all the liquid is absorbed.

Add a 1/2 cup of stock. Stir over medium heat until all liquid is absorbed. Repeat until all liquid is used, about 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese and broccoli. Stir well to mix cheese, distribute the broccoli, and to release heat from the risotto. Season to taste.

Up to this point, you can make any risotto you want. The following steps are what turns it into a fluffy torte.

Grease a deep 10" cake pan or springform pan. The original instructions called for a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, but I found this more a hindrance than a help. If you don't use the parchment, make sure you grease the bottom of the pan well, even if using a non-stick pan. I use an olive oil pump aerosol sprayer.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

After letting the risotto rest 5 minutes, stir the egg yolks into the risotto swiftly to make sure they mix before being cooked by the residual heat of the rice.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold into the rice as if making a chocolate mousse or chiffon cake. This is weird, but the results are great.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 F. Let cool in the pan at least ten minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the risotto cake and release from the pan. If using a cake pan, you may want to let the cake cool more.

The original recipe was lighter on the cheese and garlic. That's clearly just wrong. I'm looking forward to trying this with a mushroom risotto or a mixed vegetable risotto with eggplant and tomatoes that my wife makes.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:43 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
September 7, 2004
Do you Know Me?

Who are these people? Well according to Crain's Chicago Business, these are some of the most influential or important people in food in Chicago today.

In order, those pictured above are Rick Bayless, of Frontera and PBS's Mexico One Plate at a Time fame; Larry Levy of Levy Restaurants, which owns Bistro 110, Dos Hermanos, Spiaggia, Cerise, and Eadie's; Rich Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the owner's of Ambria, Vong's, Mon Ami Gabi, Papagus, and countless others; Jack Greenberg, the (former, see comments) CEO of a little $17 billion bistro called McDonald's; Mel Gordon, the chairman of Tootsie Roll Industries; Charlie Trotter, the man behind his eponymous restaurant and a man with a PBS show of his own (The Kitchen Sessions); Arthur Velasquez, the CEO of Mexican food giant Azteca Foods (who for some reason feel the need to play music on their site); William Wrigley, Jr. the chairman of Wrigley Gum, founded in 1911 by another William Wrigley, Jr.; and Betsey Holden, President of global marketing and category development for Kraft Foods and with her $31 billion in receipts last year, probably the only one of the bunch who can look at McDonald's $17 billion and yawn, "Is that all?".

There are more on the list. Check Crain's Chicago Business for more details.

If you're looking for a bad guy/gal on the list, may I nominate Sue Ling Gin? She may look innocuous, but she runs Flying Food Group, LLC. That's right, she's responsible for airplane food.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Playing with your food

playing.jpg We all agree that cooking is a creative process, right? This is partly why we all enjoy cooking, reading about cooking, dreaming about cooking and buying gadgets. Every once in a while a gadget comes into our kitchen that reminds us that not only is cooking about being creative and making things that taste good: it's about FUN. Playing with the pasta machine the Critic gave me a couple of years ago for Christmas is a great reminder of how much cooking can resemble the fun you had as a child. It's like a big shiny Play-Doh machine. And the cookbooks that recommend home-made pasta are right: it does taste better than store-bought (even so-called fresh) pasta and it is easy to make. So it was a natural when I was looking for something fun to make for dinner with my stepdaughter when she came to visit over the summer holidays!

If you read these pages regularly, you'll already be familiar with my stepdaughter Marianne, from the Kosher Easter Eggs Event. Some might say that at the age of 11 she is too old to be playing with Play-Doh, but you see the beauty of the pasta machine is that she isn't. She is engaged in the serious matter of pasta making!

The recipe I use for making pasta comes from the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. My sister gave me this book a few years ago and it has been a treasure of good recipes for me so far. The pasta recipe is charming in the simplicity of its ingredients: for four servings, you need two eggs and four cups of flour (plus extra for kneading). Period.

Of course it is a little more complicated than that (though not much). Ms. Hazan recommends starting with a floured surface and piling your flour on the counter, making a well in the middle for the eggs. You then start beating the eggs without disturbing the well, and gradually start incorporating the flour by making wider circles with the fork. This is fine, but after one attempt you will undoubtedly come to the same conclusion I did: if you make your flour well in a large bowl you'll not find yourself with a foot wide egg-slick when you accidentally break the wall of the well with enthusiastic whisking. I start out my dough in a large bowl every time now, and the mess stays under control. (Here you can see Marianne mixing eggs and flour with a whisk; we decided that a fork was actually much more efficient in the long run. We also agreed that this was the boring bit of making pasta, and traded the work back and forth until it was done.)

Once you have worked all the flour into the egg, you will have a sticky dough. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it for a few minutes: you'll probably need to add some more flour to keep it from sticking to the counter, your hands and anything else it can find. Once the dough is elastic and no longer sticky, start dividing it into balls about the size of a small chicken egg.

Put your pasta machine on the thickest setting and run the first ball of pasta through it. You may find that the dough was stickier than you thought at this point; if it is sticking to the machine, dust it with a bit more flour. Fold over one of the long ends about a third of the way and then the other end the same amount, to make a little package that is probably more or less square. Run this through the machine again at the same setting, but in the opposite direction to the first time. (That is to say, if you hadn't folded the dough it would be going through horizontally.) Do this same trick of folding the thirds into the center and changing the direction twice more. Put the now somewhat elongated piece of pasta dough on a lightly floured clean dishrag. (This is where you discover how useful it is to have counter space in your kitchen...) When you have done this with all your pasta balls one by one, they will look something like this.

Now you can move your pasta machine to the next setting and run each of the pieces of pasta through it once. (No more tricks this time, put the pasta through lengthwise so that it gets longer and longer as you go! See this photo of Marianne in action if it's unclear.) Dust your pasta pieces with flour as necessary and keep moving the settings down when you finish going through the lot of pieces, until you get to a thickness you like. I tend to make my pasta a little thicker for ravioli because it always looks much more fragile than it actually is.

Once your pasta is the thickness you want, let the strips dry a little while so that the cut strands will not stick together. Half an hour should do the trick unless it's raining hard and the windows are open or you foolishly start your pasta water boiling right next to the drying pasta. (Yes, that's what I did the firs time and it took ages to dry the pasta...d'oh!) You want it dry enough that you feel you could fold it over without it sticking to itself, but not so dry that it would crack or break when you do.

(While the pasta is drying is a perfect time to start your pasta sauce, providing you haven't opted for one that takes hours. We made a simple sauce of sautéed onions and garlic in butter, crème fraiche and chopped ham, which did not take long to make at all. Marcella Hazan recommends dried pasta for tomato sauces, and I figured the cream and ham would still be kid-friendly. It passed the test, I think!)

Change your pasta machine to the setting you want for your pasta width. We tested the angel hair pasta setting but decided in the end it was going to be too much work feeding the strips and settled for fettucini. If you have a hard time getting the machine to grip the strip of pasta (this can happen because the ends dry more quickly than the middle of the strip) just tear off a little dough from the end and try again.

While you are cutting the pasta, start your water boiling. Once it boils and your sauce is hot and bubbly and ready, toss the pasta in the boiling water and cover until the water comes back to the boil. You'll only need to cook the pasta for a few minutes - fish out a piece after two or three minutes to see if it's done if you like it al dente (or if you just like using classy Italian phrases when you describe it to your guests). Drain the pasta, toss it with lots of butter or olive oil, add the sauce and some freshly grated Parmesan and serve. Marcella counsels against serving your pasta plain with the sauce drizzled over the top as you need to toss the sauce and pasta together to get the maximum amount of flavour on each and every strand. I agree. The restaurant way looks better, but the Hazan way tastes better.

One last piece of advice: you should make at least twice as much sauce as you think you'll need. Fresh pasta soaks up sauce like a dipsomaniac in a vat of wine. There is no such thing as too much sauce.

If you want to see another photo of the lovely Marianne, click here. She's wearing a very flattering dress that she got for her 11th birthday - where does the time go??

Five Things I Love About My Pasta Machine

1) It has a hand crank.

2) It is shiny.

3) To clean it, you only need to dust it down.

4) It reminds me of Play-Doh.

5) It makes great pasta out of flour and eggs!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:00 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
September 6, 2004
A Little Bit of Purple Heaven

figs and berries.jpg
According to the California Fig Advisory Board, "While the original figs came from the sunny spots around the Mediterranean, today’s best figs come from California’s sunny spot -- the great San Joaquin Valley." Well, I would beg to differ. The best figs in the world grow (if you are lucky enough) in your own backyard. I was in my twenties when I first tasted an authentic fresh-from-the-tree-melting-sweet-fig and it was the first time I ever saw the point of eating one. Warm, sweet, not at all muzzy and bland, it was heavenly. Prior to that I had experienced the dried fig (nyeh) and once or twice sampled mediocre store-bought ones (under-ripe or so ripe that they seemed to rot on the way home from the store). Once you have tasted the Real Thing (no, not Coke), however, you make more of an effort to find good produce in the store. Last week I found some really good figs in the store.

However good your store-bought figs are, though, they can always use a little help to reach their heavenly potential. When contemplating my new figs, I remembered a recipe from Real Good Food (by my friend and mentor though he knows it not, Nigel Slater): Baked figs in honey. Coincidentally, Mr. Slater wrote about baked figs in this week's Observer. However, I think I went one better on the Real Food Recipe and the Baked Figs in Wine that he suggested on Sunday....I used his recipes as a starting point and used my own proportions and an extra ingredient!

Baked Figs and Blueberries with Greek Yogurt

6-8 figs cut in half
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
3-4 small sprigs of fresh thyme
a large handful of fresh blueberries

Now Nigel didn't mention whether you were supposed to cut the figs in any of his recipes. I decided they would look prettier and give up more juice when cut, and sliced them in half. Mix the honey and lemon juice in a small bowl and then drizzle over the cut figs. Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the figs and bake in a hot oven (200C/375F) for 15-20 minutes. Five minutes before you are ready to serve, throw the handful of blueberries in the roasting pan with the figs. Serve with cold creamy Greek yogurt drizzled over the fruit and be sure to use a spatula to get every last drop of purple syrup out of the roasting tin!

Not only is this dessert a delicious end-of-the-summer treat (think warm fruit like a summer day, mixing with cold yogurt like an autumn evening) but it's pretty healthy too. Blueberries are in the news a lot lately for their amazing health-promoting 'antioxidant' nutrients and according to Dr. John Briffa of the Observer they will even improve your eyesight! Figs, of course, are a good source of fiber and have no cholesterol, salt or fat. And plain yogurt, while it may have some fat, is pretty good for your digestion and a source of calcium. Lastly, it's a very quick, elegant dessert: five minutes preparation and 20 minutes in the oven while you finish your dinner (or clear the table). So enjoy your figs and blueberries while you can...their season is short!

For more fascinating information on the history of Figs, see http://www.meccagold.com/history.htm. For more self-interested fig promotion, see the Fig advisory board (mentioned above).

And if you are like the Critic and STILL don't see the point of figs even after your loving wife prepares you this heavenly dessert, see GodHatesFigs.com. Well, fig leaves were used for the world's first set of underwear after all....

The Cat and the Cream

When writing this yesterday, I forget to include the photo of our other family member who was extremely happy with this dessert as it meant a Greek yogurt container for her to lick clean!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:40 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
September 4, 2004
Posts of the Week

Each week, we pick three posts we particularly enjoyed over the last week from the vast community of excellent food bloggers. Maybe these posts were funny, maybe they were great recipes or a particularly well-written review of a restaurant. Maybe they just were the right post for us at the right time. If you haven't read them, this should give you a chance to go back and catch them before they disappear into the archives.

First off, I'm very angry with all you bloggers this week. Many of you took it easy and enjoyed the last week of summer by not blogging much, but those of you that did write turned out some great stuff. Do you know how hard it was to pick only three entries for the Posts of the Week? Do you? I don't think you do.

It was very hard, but here are three I particularly liked this week.

1. We can't let this week pass without acknowledging Lenndevours Worldwide Wine Blogging Wednesday. In the spirit of Is My Blog Burning? Lenn asked us all to pick a New World Merlot under $15 and write our impressions of it. 17 1/2 (!?) entrants participated. It was a great idea for a shared event and I'm looking forward to the second edition in October.

A. The end of summer is on the mind of chika in Hawaii, also known as "she who eats" (not to be confused with Rumpole of the Bailey's "She who must be obeyed"). Among the delectables about to disappear are fresh peaches. She who eats takes advantage of the last few to make a Peach, Honey and Cardamom Wine Cordial. I have to tell you it was hard to pick this one over her previous post on Pina Colada chiffon cake. The deciding factor was that Meg in Paris of our fair blog nominated the Cordial. But it was close.

I. I knew when I read the title of Zucchini and Chocolate's Zucchini and Polenta Tart that I was in trouble. I love savory tarts; I love polenta; and Clotide always does good things with zucchini recipes. Take a good look at that picture. It makes me want to put one of these tarts together right now.

Just missing it this week is Eat Chicago, which has been turning out some great posts lately. If you get a chance, check out some fascinating photos of an enormous tuna loin from a Japanese market outside Chicago that look more like they came from a market in Chiba.

Also just missing were the two posts from Seattle Bon Vivant on homemade cardamom accented Palmiers, a heart-shaped, flaky pastry treat that looks delicious.

If everyone keeps making posts like these, it's going to get harder and harder to pick just three each week (Shut up, I did so pick three. Sure there are seven links on the page, but that's just a technicality. Nitpicker.)

Enjoy the barbecues this weekend, and see you next week!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 3, 2004
TMC Friday Food Quiz: the RESULTS

How exciting ! A quiz!!Firstly, I would like to thank all of those who participated in the August Friday quizzes. The answers were without exception a pleasure to read and made for some good giggles. I will share excerpts from some of the answer sheets at the end of this entry for your enjoyment, along with the answers to the last quiz!

We will be continuing the quizzes on a monthly basis starting the 17th of September; now that you will have seen how easy and amusing it is to participate I hope you will all be joining us! And then there are the COOL prizes to be won. Luckily for these contestants, I was in Spain recently and had the scope to find cheap non-cheesy prizes. Read on to find out what they were!

And the winners are....drum roll, please....

Winner of Quiz 1: Elsa in Maine (yayyyyy! Wild screaming!)
Elsa will be the proud recipient of a salsa verda pot, complete with a copy of Nigel Slater's salsa verda recipe, which may not be Spanish but is delish! Special mention also goes out to Charlotte in Berkeley who tied in this contest but lost out in the random draw - sorry Charlotte!!

Winner of Quiz 2: Sharon of Luzerne, Switzerland (YAYYY!!! Whistles and stomps!)
As the only winner who resides in Europe, Sharon will receive a jar of Spanish romesco sauce, delicious with grilled fish or meat. I hope it is as good as the sauce we tasted in Catalonia! Again, the contest was fierce in this quiz, with two contestants tying for the winning spot. Our apologies to Will in Chicago for losing out on the random draw. If you want to make it up to him (or just want an interesting read) check out his blog on Melton Mowbray pork pies, which is marginally connected to the question on what AOC means.

Winner of Quiz 3: RisaG of I-don't-know-where (Confused cheering and whistles!)
Risa is our first clear winner, and will receive a pot of Sal Bolet. What is this? It's a mixture of sea salt and dried mushroom. These mixed spice and mixed dried mushroom salts are very trendy at the moment and I am sure Risa will put it to good use in sauces and soups and maybe let us know how it tastes on a grilled steak. Actually, I bought a jar for myself too, so maybe I'll let you know personally!

And lastly, the Winner of Quiz 4: Santos (Wild screaming and a pair of underwear appears on the stage, whistles and stomping...)
Santos deserves our greates accolade because s/he was the only one to get all ten questions right on any of the quizzes - a fitting end to the August round! Santos will receive this nifty little olive dish, complete with a section for discarding olive pits. Congratulations, Santos!!

And on to the answers to the last quiz:

Too Many Questions: the TMC Friday Food Quiz #4 (THE ANSWERS)

1) Battle Creek, MI is famous for being the birthplace of what food product? Breakfast cereal

2) What kind of cheese is pictured here? (Hint: it's the only one that uses this special cheese cutter.) Tete de Moine, from the Jura Mountains.

3) What does the Chinese five-spice powder generally consist of? star anise, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and Szechuan (Szechwan) peppercorns

4) Ruote de carro pasta is shaped like what object? cartwheels/wheels

5) Semolina is made from what grain? Wheat

6) What famous chef started the charity Cheeky Chops for underprivileged youths who want a start in the food industry? Jamie Oliver (for more info, see this site)

7) Ruth Wakefield developed what famous recipe and later traded it for a lifetime supply of chocolate? Tollhouse Cookies (a.k.a. the classic Chocolate Chip Cookies) See the whole story here.

8) The film Babette's Feast was based on a short story by what writer? Isak Dineson (i.e. Karen Blixen)

9) The definition: Steak that has been marinated in oil, lime juice, red pepper and garlic for 24 hours before being grilled. The cooked meat is cut into thin strips that are then usually wrapped in warm tortillas, accompanied by a choice of garnishes including grilled onions and sweet peppers, guacamole, refried beans, etc. The term? Fajitas (Epicurious)

10) What common pastry was invented in Austria in 1686? (Hint: they were at war with Turkey at the time!) The croissant!

And, as the credits roll across your TV screen, take the time to enjoy these little gems from the quiz answer sheets:

From Sweth in DC:
Q: What is Kerry's favourite food? A: In theory, chocolate chip cookies; in practice, waffles.
Q: What is George W. Bush's favourite ice cream? A: In terms of economic or military planning, he appears fond of Rocky Road.

From Elsa in Maine:
Q: Italian Pecorino cheese is made from what kind of milk? A: Sheep's milk! Years ago, I saw a film with Roberto Bernini in a cameo as a sheep-lusting cabdriver, crying out his adoration for the little pecorini (or some such permutation), and suddenly I understood the origin of the cheese's name. Rarely do I buy Pecorino without picturing Bernini caressing (or worse) a sheep's hindquarters. Shudder. As you may well imagine, I have largely switched to cow's-milk cheeses.

From Julian in France:
Q: What is uglifruit? A: A Jamaican fruit which is a cross between a mandarin and grapefruit although, personally, I think it's disgusting to think of a high-ranking Chinese offical stooping to something so low just to invent a new fruit. It's ugli.

Also from Elsa in Maine (she really deserved to win, no?):
Q: The definition is: A dry seasoning blend that
originated on [a] Caribbean island...what is the term? A: Jerk. That is not a slanderous comment on your nature, which is no doubt delightful. Allow me to rephrase: Is the term "jerk"?


Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:53 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
September 2, 2004
Food Section Digestion - September 2, 2004

It was the third of September, a day I'll always remember. Cause that was the day...after the first "Fall" Food Section Digestion.

Can you believe how fast the summer has gone? Here in Chicago, this has been "the summer that never was" as temperatures got into the 90's only three days this year. And now we're at Labor Day.

Labor Day is seen as the functional end of summer in the U.S. as kids get sent off to school with a lunch they'll enjoy. The Chicago Tribune suggests that you celebrate the end of summer by packing a picnic featuring delicious ethnic sandwiches. Those sandwiches will make for a nice lunch for a field trip to Michigan to make your own wine on the wine bus Heather Shouse writes about. If your wine turns out well, read Bill Daley's column on how to match wine with cheese.

With wine, the question is usually "red or white?" With shrimp in New Orleans, Pableaux* Johnson in the Times-Pacayune reports the question is "brown or white?" Both Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker's readers have put together Labor Day menus for one last big summer bash.

The Hartford Courant prints Phyllis Glazer's AP piece on a summer treat - watermelon. She recommends trying it Israeli style, with feta and basil. A slanderous article about hamburgers by Josh Ozersky from Newsday is picked up by the Courant, probably because of the assertion that a place called Louis' Lunch in New Haven invented the burger in 1900, which was later popularized by the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Poppycock. Even if you discount the burgers sold at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, you still have to contend with the claims of Frank and Charles Menches at the Erie County Fair in, Ahem, Hamburg, New York in 1885. Personally, I believe it was around in some form a lot earlier than that, possibly in Europe. How hard is it to think up patting down and frying that exta meat you ground for another purpose?

In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch is silent on burgers this week. Cleora Hughes tries to help make your children's school lunch stand out from the rest. Roberta L. Duyff points out pomegranites are in season and are trendy. I don't think I'd put one in a child's lunch bag, though.

The Houston Chronicle has a nifty tutorial on lobster mangling for crustacean novices. Dai Hunyh dislikes it when a bad bartender mangles his drinks with the wrong ice.

The Denver Post goes transcendental on us this week. Kyle Wagner takes us to the Shoshoni Yoga retreat which is part yoga center, part spa, and part cooking school. Wagner explains the theory of Ayurveda practiced at the lodge and how it affects what you should eat in a companion piece.

Regina Schrambling continues the summer send-off in the Los Angeles Times with barbecued brisket, coleslaw and potato salad. Barbara Hansen reviews "Encarnación's Kitchen", a translation of the first cookbook written by a Latino in the United States (it's from 1898). Also of interest (especially to those with friends living abroad) is an article on the capricious enforcement of U.S. customs laws regarding food brought back by travellers.

In the Washington Post, Emily Kaiser extolls the virtues of mise en place. Tony Rosenfeld has ideas about how you can get more out of your humble vegetable peeler, and Ben Giliberti proclaims Argentina the South American wine champion over Chile.

The San Francisco Chronicle's site has Karola Saekel's take on perfect potato salads.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Penelope Corcoran shares her pet peeves about dining out.

In the New York Times this week, David Gage asserts the greegage plum is the best fruit in the world. Christopher Pala and Florence Fabricant deliver the alarming news that caviar imports and exports are about to come to a halt. Whatever will I substitute on my peanut-butter, jelly, and beluga sandwiches? Mark Bittman, the Minimalist, makes a standing rib roast.

South Africa's Star Tonight newspaper has an article about a tasting of South African wines and which came out as best value for money. (link down as of 5:26pm 9/2/04)

Our own Todd in New Orleans opined on elephant meat yesterday, but that's child's play compared to a whale omelet. Melanie Burton hit the streets of Tokyo for the Japan Times to find out who'd sampled cetacean. Chris Bamforth this week takes on a tour of Tokyo's Big Little Italy.

In Sydney at the Morning Herald, John Newton writes about the next best thing to a barbecue - a woodfired oven, perfect for the coming winter. But it's summer coming up in the Southern hemisphere, isn't it? Brigette Hafner tells us the best way to cook fish is simply with oil, salt, lemon, and dukkah. Dukkah? She explains.

Greg Tourelle in the NZPA of New Zealand's stuff.co.nz site declares victory in the Australia/New Zealand war over who invented the Pavlova, a meringue dessert loved by Kiwis and Aussies alike. Jessica Brien is 11 and is also an official ice cream reviewer according to the Timaru Herald at the same site.

I wish we had more international content this week, but it seems all the food reviewers have taken off early to enjoy the last week of the summer. I wish I'd thought of that.

See you next week.

* This is why I'm eager to visit New Orleans. Were else would Pablo get spelled with an -eaux?.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 1, 2004
Eating an Elephant

After watching television this week, I had the odd desire to cook an elephant. The Joy of Cooking, normally a dependable source for all manners of recipes, had nothing to say on the topic. At first, Google only gave me false leads.

I found a recipe for a Pink Elephant, a cocktail composed of gin and grenadine. Another site told me how to bake Elephant Ears, a cinnamon and sugar cookie. The first recipe, though, sounded like an abuse of good gin. The second seemed better suited to, as some would say, "girlie men."

Finally, at a place called the Congo Cookbook, I discovered a wealth of information on eating elephants, whose meat a 19th-century cookbook described as "fat and juicy." The author of that book warns, though, that the meat "should be taken from the body without delay; as, if left for a few hours, it partakes of the peculiar smell of the elephant, which no amount of boiling will overcome."

My local butcher, unfortunately, doesn't carry elephant meat. Rumor has it, though, that a herd of elephants has gathered somewhere in the Northeast of the United States.

Also posted at A Frolic of My Own.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 8:19 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Worldwide Wine-Blogging Wednesday I

Waaaaaay back on July 27th, Lenndevours proposed that, as with the now famous Is My Blog Burning? event, we get together and all do something the same day. Lenndevours's idea was not to cook a dish with a common theme, but to try a wine and write about it.

There have to be rules for these things, and the first WWWBW prescribed that the wine be a cheap inexpensive one - under US$15, and that it be a Merlot from the New World, BUT not from the United States.

I am not a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination though I have sampled a good bottle or three thanks to oenophile friends (ahem, Meg). I took this opportunity to stretch my descriptinve capabilities and my wine drinking experience by sampling a Chilean wine.

But not just any Chilean wine would do, my friends. This $8.99 wine I chose would come from World Market's House O' Wicker the Devil's Cassette Tape Player!

At least that's how I translate Casillero del Diablo by Concha y Toro. Of course, I once translated a dish on a Spanish menu as "owl with thistle", so I wouldn't trust my Spanish if I were you. I'm sure a true Spanish-speaker (ahem, Paul) will correct me.

The wine, which as I stated before, is Casillero del Diablo by Concha y Toro ("the conch shell and the lawnmower"), which comes from the Rapel Valley of Chile, near the Pacific Coast. Of course, pretty much all of Chile is near the Pacific Coast. I might as well say it's near Argentina.

Did I mention the Rapel Valley is near Argentina, as well? It's all clear if you look at this map from a Dutch site that locates wine producing regions throughout the world.

The bottle sampled was a 2003, very young. My first impression when I sniffed the wine (sorry, "sampled its bouquet") was that there was a lot of alcohol in this sucker. I think that is the mark of an immature wine, and this one qualifies. The other notes were scents of cherry, apple, and even raspberry.

The color was a very rich ruby red, that shifted towards garnet when held to the light.

The flavor was very tart with lots of tannic apple and cherry, and for lack of a better name, "purple" flavor, like Concord grape juice. As you might expect for a young Chilean red under $9, it was rather wild, slightly harsh and immature, like a Beaujolais in Miami beach on a spree with her daddy's credit cards.

I'd pair this with spicy foods with substance, like a peppercorned steak or fajitas. It might go well with salty foods with a serious bass note to them (as in rich and low, not as in fishy) like a mushroom gravy or dark meat turkey or liver.

I found tasting notes for the wine and I have to wonder if they drank the same thing I did. One site claims Atttractive scents of black plums and a delicately herbal aroma make this a most attractive wine. The fruity flavour is mout filling and smooth with hints of chocolate and spice. Great with bistro food and risotto.

Yeah. First, what's a "mout"? I tried this wine, and there ain't no plum in there and this CERTAINLY isn't a wine I'd pair with a delicate risotto. Maybe a hearty salty rice dish, but that's not what I think of when I think of a nice risotto. Maybe with all-beef hot dogs (David Berg, of course).

The Wine Spectator (scroll down) gives it an 86 and says "Nice red and dark berry fruit with toast and bramble hints, and a smooth, chocolaty finish. Open-knit, forward and tasty. Drink now. 120,000 cases made. (JM)"

Maybe this is why I'm not a wine critic. I just didn't taste the chocolate finish that both these notes mention. And what the heck does a bramble taste like? Does that help anyone imagine the taste of this bottle? I'm seriously curious.

I would have thought putting this away for a year would help it mellow out, but the Spectator critic says gulp it down now. Hmph. I don't think I'll go back to this wine again, though now I'm very curious about the chocolate I didn't taste. It is only $9...

You can learn all about the Cassillero del Diablo line (ahh, it means "Cellar of the Devil") at their sound-filled Flash-laden website from Hell (no pun intended)!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:17 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
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