October 31, 2005
Grave Goodies

Normally, I'd hold this for Saturday's Posts of the Week, but to be timely, you have to go check out Domestic Goddess's Halloween baking project.

I've heard of ladyfingers, but this is ridiculous. Very well done!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:45 PM | TrackBack
Leek and Potato Cabbage Packets

finished packets.jpgDon't they look pretty? And tasty? And healthy? Well, that is actually a bit of a con, because they have bacon and cheese in them. I'm not so good at healthy, to tell the truth.

Sometimes the recipes I find for this site seem very elaborate because they happen to use leftovers I have in the refrigerator. This is one of those. Last week I made some mashed potatoes with leeks for the Boy. He wasn't overly happy with them and so I had about three cups left over and thought I'd better eat it up myself. It so happened that I was writing Barrett at the time about my recent lack of creativity (did anyone notice the spurt of great posts from old B-in-C last week?). And so I thought of the leftover Savoy cabbage in the vegetable bin and decided to try something different. The end product was delicious, and I'll file this recipe for a later date, perhaps when we have dinner guests on the weekend. It would be easy to make these packets in advance and bake them at the last moment for an elegant side dish.

cabbage packets.jpg

Leek and Potato Cabbage Packets

3-400 grams of potatoes (4 good sized ones)
1 large leek (sliced in thin rings)
200 grams cheddar cheese
100 grams bacon bits (lardons)
4-6 savoy cabbage leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream or crème fraîche

Boil the potatoes with the leek until both are tender. In the meantime, blanche the cabbage leaves in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until just barely cooked. Drain the leaves and allow them to cool. Put the bacon in a pan and fry until crisp. Drain and cool. Grate the cheese. When the potatoes and leek are tender, drain the pan and mash them with the sour cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Now you can assemble the packets: place one or two leaves on a clean surface, overlapping if there are two. Spread 1/4 of the potato and leek mixture in the center and top it with 1/4 of the bacon and 1/4 of the cheese. Carefully roll the leaves until you have a nice little packet. Repeat until you have created four pretty packets. Place them on a cookie sheet. Up to now, you can refrigerate them until you need them.

20 minutes before you want to serve them, preheat the oven to 180c/350F. Bake them until they are hot and bubbling but try to catch them before the leaves brown too much as that can give a bitter flavor. If need be, you can place a piece of brown paper on top of the packets to protect them.

The result is a lovely little packet of flavor. Cabbage and bacon are a natural combination. As the Irish will tell you, cabbage and potatoes also go together rather well. In fact, for all I know this could be a traditional Irish dish and me a big idiot for not realizing it...!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:43 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
October 30, 2005
From the Archives: Barrett's Cabbage and Lentil Salad

Ugly But TastyFor some time I've been nagging Barrett (he's the techie one) to add a "From the Archives" feature to our sidebar. You know the kind: a little box on the side that shows our newer readers what great recipes they may have missed in the past. But Barrett has this thing called "Work" which seems to take an inordinate amount of his attention. And he has remained immune to nagging. Last weekend I wrote him to say that I was about to use up a half head of Savoy cabbage in his Cabbage and Lentil Salad. "Which one is that?" he wrote back.

So obviously it's not just our readers who could stand to be reminded of some of the good recipes in our archives.

The beauty of this salad is not immediately apparent. Yes, that's an ugly photo and it's not just because I was in a hurry and didn't take the time to plate it properly. The beauty is in the mix of flavours and textures. Nubby lentils and chewy cabbage. Sharp raw garlic and sweet softened onions and garlic. Then there is the way the cumin compliments the cabbage and the onions, giving them a spicy bite. The first time I made the salad (back in 2003, how time does fly) I thought it was better hot. But it's also delicious cold as a lunch the day after you make it. Basically it's good no matter how you eat it. So go back and read the archive, give it a try. Beautiful deep green Savoy cabbages are in season and we can all use the vitamins to combat the coming cold season.

Note: Barrett's brilliant compromise on the From the Archives issue is that we should try to create a Sunday feature where we try each other's recipes. Watch this space for more peer reviews!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
October 29, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the Week asks, "You're telling me 40 days and 40 nights on that ark and Noah never ONCE thought about firing up the barbecue?" If you also find that hard to believe, (or if you're busy munching on a unicorn burger), you'll really have trouble believing how good these three posts are:

A. You may have noticed a recent surfeit of squash recipes on our site. Well, heck - 'tis the season and you can't get these lovely hard winter squash just any old time of the year, so when they're here, you have to use them. The Passionate Cook uses some butternut squash and pumpkinseeds to make this Squash bites with pumpkinseed pesto recipe that would be at home in any squash-loving household.

I. Ideas in Food is a collaboration between husband and wife chefs H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa. The ideas they find in food are usually elegant, and occasionally strange but compelling like their Pastrami Reuben Fritters. They're even made with rye flour with mustard and swiss to convey the whole Reuben experience. Serve with a big half-sour pickle, I guess.

1. Sometimes my wife claims I buy strange ingredients with no idea what I'm going to do with them. And sometimes, I see recipes like this Stuffed Brinjal Curry (Gutti Vankaaya Kura) from Indira at Mahanandi and I stast thinking about where I can get the beautiful little Thai eggplants that she stuffs with a spicy, nutty paste. It's a beautiful dish.

One final note - we want to express our appreciation for the work Paul over at the KIPlog Food Blog has been doing for so long. We discover many of the food blogs we feature on the Posts of the Week through his listings. The number of food blogs on the web is increasing at an exponential rate, and Paul somehow keeps up with it all.

Next week, we examine three more posts of quality, none of which will involve winter squash. Really. I promise. OK, I don't really promise, but I'll try.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
October 28, 2005
Scary Eats

Just in time for Halloween, MSNBC has an article with Seven of the Most Repulsive Foods on the planet. I can't say I'd be very excited about any one of them (shudder).

How bad is it? Well, they start with Cambodian tarantulas and it gets worse from there...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
The Best Thing To Do With Prunes

Okay, I'm going to have to jump on the bandwagon here too, despite not having any nifty photos. Because I actually like prunes. And no, I'm not over the age of 60. And I don't have any, shall we say, digestive issues? I like them because I know the best thing to do with them. You want to treat them like a dead British Naval Hero (Nelson?): you want to preserve them in liquor.

So here is my recipe and a guarantee that it is the tastiest thing you can do with prunes. Brew a pot of tea. While it is steeping, take a one kilo bag of Agen prunes (with the stones) and prick each one with a pin (or a fork if your kitchen does not run to sewing tools). Put them in a bowl and pour the tea over them. Let them sit anywhere from four hours to overnight. Drain the prunes. Put them in clean big jars and cover them with Armagnac. You could use brandy, but Armagnac is best. You can add a spoonful or two of sugar if you like to speed up the sweetening process, but I don't bother.

Put them in a dark cupboard for a couple of weeks. And then serve a couple in a pretty glass. You can pour them over a ball of vanilla ice cream. Or you can just eat them in their lovely alcoholic juice. They are heavenly. If you've ever tasted slivovitz, they are similar, but much, much nicer. Smoother and less syrupy. Less prone to give you one of those nine-in-the-morning-and-I-want-to-die hangovers.

And if you give a jar to your uncle (who IS over 60 and loves prunes and alcohol) for Christmas, he will love you forever. He might have done anyway, but this will clinch it.

(Barrett's tart looks pretty good too though, I have to admit...)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:59 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
October 27, 2005
Blue Cheese, Prune, and Onion Tart

It's late in Paris, where David Lebovitz is sleeping. His challenge to blog about prunes today has been answered around the globe, but the clock has not struck midnight in the U.S. yet, and I'm still working on dinner.

I don't cook with prunes usually, though I have no aversion to them. I like them as a finger food or natural snack. Add a bit of orange or lemon or cranberry flavor to them and I'll eat a pound in no time.

But cooking with prunes. Interesting. I might like cooked prunes, but how many other people would? Would our readers abandon us en masse for the next Rachael Ray's website - someplace safe with a mac and cheese recipe?

Look, let's be frank here. We know each other. You won't like this tart. No sir (or madam) - not at all. You should probably just click on one of those links over there to the right and not read about how the onions carmelized in the pan or how the prunes sweetness perfectly offset the salty blue cheese or how the crispy buttery crust crunched beneath our forks.

No, you should probably go on thinking prunes are for old people and that certainly mixing sweet and salty flavors together is some sort of peculiar alchemy performed by the mentally imbalanced. That's what I'd do if I were you. I'd flee this recipe. Isn't Amateur Gourmet going somewhere nice for dinner? Doesn't Mahanandi have some new curry recipe to share? Is Coltilde back from vacation yet?

No, I wouldn't make this tart if I were you. No point to it, really. I suppose if you have to, you could use the recipe below and enjoy the sensation of a...

Blue Cheese, Prune and Onion Tart

1 pre-baked pie crust

1 cup prunes, pits removed
2 large sweet onions, sliced very thin
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 cup balsamic vinegar (use the cheap stuff)
4 ounces medium blue cheese (Maytag was my choice)

Make the crust and pre-bake it using any unsweetened buttery crust recipe to produce a crisp crust. If you need a crust recipe, use the one from this quiche.

Boil enough water to cover the prunes in a bowl. Cover them and let sit for twenty minutes. Chop prunes coarsely.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Sautee the onions over medium heat in a large sauce pan in the oil. Salt lightly. A lot of water will come out of the onions. Either cook it away or drain after ten minutes and add the balsamic. Toss to coat and continue cooking the onions. Cook until liquid is absorbed and onions are meltingly soft.

Mix the mustard powder and prunes into the onions well and heat through. If you are so inclined, you could add a few minced anchovy filets at this point.

Dump the whole mess in the piecrust and crumble the blue cheese all over the top of the tart. Bake for 25 minutes in a 350 F oven or until the cheese takes on a bit of color and the crust is crispy.

Nice and sweet with no added sugars. Everything sweet you taste is from the balsamic and the onions. The blue cheese (and optional anchovy) cuts through the sweetness.

But don't bother making this. You don't like prunes.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:10 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
Zucchini Muffins

zucchini muffins.jpgOn Sunday, the boy and I were hosts to a Book Swap for the English speaking mothers' group I belong to in Paris. About a half dozen women showed up with, on average, 1.5 kids in tow. At least four or five of them were still in the toddling stage and so the boy was delighted. He crawled around with glowing eyes and a permanent smile on his face for the first three hours at least. (After that the smiles were a bit frantic and forced and he had to spend a bit of time in Baby Jail with a nice bottle of milk to calm his nerves.) My concern was the provender: sweet or savoury? Food for children or for adults? In the end I opted for a mix. I had a few ingredients in the fridge for interesting sandwiches. I thought about chocolate oatmeal cookies. But in the end, I decided to experiment with my grandmother's zucchini bread recipe. Sweet and appealing to children, but marginally healthy so that moms can feel a little at ease...

The reason I made these into muffins was a simple logistical one: I don't have any bread loaf pans (hello, Santa? are you reading?) and wasn't sure which size pan to substitute. Also, I rightly assumed they would be easy to serve and popular. The advantage I didn't foresee is that zucchini bread is fairly dense and this meant they fell apart less in the hands of the little ones. Don't get me wrong: the living room floor was a carpet of zucchini muffin crumbs by the time the party was over. Nevertheless I think it would have been worse with a lighter dough.

Zucchini Muffins

3 eggs
2/3 cup soft butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini (unpeeled but well washed)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
3 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Beat the sugar and butter until creamy. Beat in the eggs one by one. Add the grated zucchini and vanilla and mix well. Mix (or sift) together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and quickly stir until yoiu have a smooth batter. Pour into greased muffin tins or - if you are smart - cupcake paper liners in a cupcake/muffin tin. You'll want to fill them three-quarters of the way as these muffins don't rise very much. With my tin it made exactly 24 muffins.

I toyed with the idea of adding chopped apricots or frosting the muffins with a cream cheese frosting. I think both of these things would have made them even tastier. But also, alas, messier. And when you have a half dozen youngsters who are still in the uncivilized (but delightful) stage of Learning To Eat With My Hands, you want to limit the mess as much as possible.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Mark Bittman's "The Best Recipes in the World"

Some cookbooks are pure food porn - beautiful pictures, lush expensive ingredients, exotic settings. Mark Bittman's new book, The Best Recipes in the World, is none of these things.

This is clearly a book meant to be used in the kitchen, rather than browsed on a coffee table and it should be used frequently. Details have been minded - for example, the attached cover of the book is glossy and printed so when you inevitably spill something on the dust jacket and destroy it, you'll still have an easy time picking this book out on your shelf. But the main reason to keep this book in your kitchen is the variety and quality of the recipes.

Bittman is probably best known as the Minimalist in the New York Times. He's also a bestselling cookbook author and his book How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food is a fixture on many American cookbook shelves. That's why I was eagerly anticipating reading The Best Recipes in the World.

In The Best Recipes, Bittman attempts to bring together the signature recipes from many cultures. Rather than focusing solely on Euro-centric cuisine, Bittman interprets recipes from Southeast Asia, Mexico, India, and elsewhere, along with the full range of European recipes from Greek to English to Hungarian and French. I don't know of another mainstream general-purpose American cookbook that includes so much Indian food. For that alone this would be a notable volume.

Broadening the average American cook's repertoire is an ambitious project, and for the most part Bittman succeeds. He asserts that the point of the book is to allow a home chef to create a credible version of classic international dishes. To make that possible, Bittman will combine or omit non-essential ingredients, and adapt recipes to use equipment found in the average kitchen. His directions are easy to follow and the recipes should capture the broad essence of these dishes, even if some ethnic subtleties are lost.

There are a few problems with the book, but these are mostly nitpicky: I noticed that Bittman is inconsistent in naming his dishes. Some dishes are given with the local cultural name followed by a descriptive name in English. Other dishes are not given this courtesy. Ghanese groundnut stew is listed under "Nketia Fla", for instance, but nowhere in the "Rice and Lentils with Carmelized Onions" recipe do you find the word "Mujaderra". There are plenty of other examples.

Bittman and his editors have included some excellent adjunct material to the recipes. The section on how to build a pantry for various cuisines is excellent and should be required reading for any cook who aspires to cook a variety of cuisines. There's also a section on menu-building and a list of recipes with squares indicating which are "make-ahead", "serve at room temperature or cold", and "30 minutes or less".

I didn't like the coding system of red, grey, and pink squares to mark the convenience factor of the dish that is carried from the chart to the recipe listing in the book. The book has a number of essential directive illustrations, why not use a graphical icon for each of the indicators instead of the blobs? If another edition is forthcoming, I'd also like an indicator of which dishes are vegetarian.

But again, the flaws are mostly minor. I would have liked to see more Thai dishes in the book (dishes I consider gobal staples like tom kha kai and pad see euw are missing, but pad thai is represented), and the naming and iconography issues are a nuisance, but overall this is a great book to have permanently in your kitchen, and an excellent introduction to the "star" dishes of dozens of countries.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:30 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
October 26, 2005
Spaghetti Squash Fritters

Are these fritters? Or are they pancakes? Maybe some weird spaghetti squash bhaji?

Whatever they are, they're a good way to use spaghetti squash. What? squash again? Oh hush up, you know you like squash and they're only in season for a few months. Enjoy them while you can.

When you roast a spaghetti squash, the flesh separates into long strands that can be scraped out easily with a fork. Often the squash is used as a pasta substitute because of this. I get this, but I don't really get it. Would you use a tomatillo in place of a green apple because they look alike? But I digress.

I roasted a spaghetti squash, scraped it out, and mixed it with a minimal amount of flour and an ample amount of egg to hold the mix together. I'd hoped for more of a ball shape, but the White Sox were busy winning game 3 of the World Series, which distracted me and made me want to make fewer, larger patties of the mix. You should try making smaller balls of the mix and larger patties and see which you like better.

Nutmeg complements the squash perfectly in this mix. The patties were slightly sweet and the nutmeg brought out all those qualities.

Why do I use only half a spaghetti squash for this recipe? Well, I tried a second batch of fritters with a different mix of spices and egg/flour ratio and they ended up in the trash. You can experiment yourself with different spices, or make a double batch of the Spaghetti Squash Fritters with the other half squash.

Or you could use the second half to make spaghetti squash "pasta", I guess. Meh.

Spaghetti Squash Fritters

1/2 spaghetti squash
2 eggs
1/4 cup AP flour (more or less, depending on the squash's moisture content and size)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (yes, one full teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

olive oil to fry in

Scoop the seeds and strings out of the center of the uncooked squash. Roast the squash, cut side down in a 375 F oven for 45 minutes. Let cool five minutes, then scrape out the strands with a fork. I use a folded over kitchen towel to hold the squash while I scrape as tongs tend to slip or rip the shell of the fully baked squash.

Beat the eggs lightly. Mix the nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and pepper into the eggs. Add the squash to the egg mix. Add the flour to the squash and eggs, and stir together very well.

In a skillet, heat 1/4" oil on medium-high until it shimmers. Drop a large spoonful (or more - I was doing 1/4 cup measures at one point) into the oil. It should sizzle. Fry about one minute or until the bottom is nicely brown. Carefully lift the fritter out of the oil and flip it to fry the other side.

When both sides are golden brown, remove to a plate covered with paper towels and blot. Repeat until done with the entire batch.

If you find the fritters are too wet and not holding together as well as you'd like, add more flour to the mix slowly until you're getting the consistency you want. You don't want raw flour in the fritters, but you don't want them to be sopping, either.

Season as the fritters come out with salt and a dusting of cayenne.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:10 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
October 25, 2005
Scallion Pancakes - Non-Traditional

All right, let's get this out of the way - that's not the best picture of pancakes ever. But the pancakes themselves were pretty tasty.

Scallion pancakes are usually done very differently from the way I made these. Most of the recipes you'll find are based on a combination of boiling hot water and flour. They're good, but I wanted to see if a traditional breakfast pancake recipe would work to make an easy scallion-filled savory pancake.

The original sweet buttermilk recipe comes from Deborah Madison's amazing Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, the cookbook that gets the most wear at our house.

I subbed out the buttermilk for regular milk and a splash of rice wine vinegar, and swapped soy sauce in a larger quantity for the sugar and vanilla. I retained the chemical leaveners and the eggs to create a puffy pancake, very different from the thin scallion pancakes that are more common in Asian restaurants.

Did I mention this was a non-traditional recipe?

The end result is very tasty, particularly when fried in a light sesame oil. Serve with the dipping sauce recipe below. I poured some of the sauce on the pancakes in the picture above, but it's better for dipping. We enjoyed the pancakes with a bowl of homemade lentil soup.

Non-Traditional Scallion Pancakes

1 1/2 c. flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of black pepper

1 1/2 c milk
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thinly on the bias

Sesame oil for frying (optional)

Dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 big clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced scallion

Mix all the ingredients for the dipping sauce together in a bowl. Set aside to let the flavors combine.

Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and pepper together in one big bowl.

In another bowl, mix the milk, eggs, and soy sauce together. Mix until the eggs are well incorporated, then add the rice wine vinegar.

In a non-stick skillet, heat a tablespoon of sesame oil until it starts to shimmer.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry (I know some people do it the other way, but this works well). Mix a little better than if you were making breakfast pancakes until you don't see any raw flour in the bowl anywhere. Add and mix in the chopped scallions.

Use a 1/3 cup measure to drop the batter onto the skillet. Pour directly into the center of the pancake, don't try to swirl it around. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until bubbles are coming up in the center of the pancake and the edges are starting to brown. You can peek underneath with your spatula to ensure the bottom is golden brown.

Flip the pancake and let it cook until set completely. If your pancake is too thick, and you fear the center is not set, push down on it with your spatula. You'll lose some lift, but any raw batter will squeeze out.

Remove the pancake to a plate in a 150 F oven until you've finished all of them.

For the next and subsequent pancakes, you can add more oil or not, as you prefer. Obviously if you have a "stick" skillet (as opposed to "Non-stick"), you'll need the oil.

Serve with the dipping sauce.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:22 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
October 24, 2005

I have never been to Japan. I have experienced Japanese food only through the American filter. Sushi, sashimi, and older dishes like teriyaki or even sukiyaki have been my impression of Japanese cuisine. I've watched shows like Iron Chef and seen more exotic dishes. I've heard stories of paper-thin sashimi, mushroom and miso broths and complex meals focusing on texture and a formal service, but had never experienced it, until Friday night when I dined at Matsumoto at 3800 West Lawrence in Chicago.

Lawrence and Hamlin is an unusual place to put one of the best and most expensive restaurants in Chicago, but if you think of Arun's fifteen blocks away on Kedzie as a mate, you can see an Asian haute cuisine district in the making. The storefronts are relatively cheap, giving the chefs more freedom to experiment with their food.

The experiment at Matsumoto is not in new fusion cuisine or architectural food as at Moto or Alinea, but in bringing the very traditional kaiseki style of Japanese food to Chicago, 800 miles from the nearest ocean.

Kaiseki style dining specifies that the food be served in a specific order, vinegared dishes separate from broiled dishes separate from raw and fried dishes, etc... I won't attempt to explain the style since this is my only experience with it, but the rigidity of the form lends itself to variation within its constraints, and if you have a dining companion who expresses particular pleasure in a dish, it may lead to abandonment of some of the form itself, but I'll get to that.

Matsumoto itself is a very simple space. A bar greets the customer, and beyond it, a few very simple tables. Plum is the dominant color. The sushi bar sits in the back of the main room, and that's where Seijiro Matsumoto works to delight his diners. The atmosphere is polite, but not stuffy or overly formal. We felt at home dressed in what would be considered "business casual" clothing.

When you call for a reservation at Matsumoto, you will be asked whether you would like a "traditional" or "very traditional" Japanes meal and how much you'd like to spend per person. We had opted for the deluxe very traditional menu, and were not surprised to be greeted with a paper scroll covered in Japanese characters with no English in sight. This is not a problem, since the menu is already set based on your previously expressed dietary restrictions and desires. In any case, the hostess is happy to translate and to explain each dish to you.

The meal we had broke down into 11 separate courses. These were:

1. Monkfish liver in yuzu sauce with spiced daikon. The monkfish liver had been formed into a sausage shape and sliced into rounds (I know, I got an end piece). Two thick slices were served in a sour yuzu based sauce garnished with a spiced daikon radish the hostess assured us was quite spicy. We didn't find it too spicy at all, and it combined very well with the rich liver and sharp yuzu. An excellent start to an unusual meal. The vessel this was served in was a beautiful crystal glass with a thickly carved stem.

Courses 2-4 came together . Three small glasses filled with vinegary dishes. The first was sea urchin and what our hostess referred to as tarpon shell (perhaps she meant scales?) with a sprinkle of hijike. The second, served in a tall stemmed glass with a round bowl was a thin seaweed nest in a sweet and sour vinegar with a raw quali egg on top. We broke the yolk and mixed it with the vinegary sauce to dress the excellent fresh seaweed. The final dish was eggplant in a vingary sauce with foam on top, the provenance of which we didn't ascertain. We were too busy making yummy noises and enjoying the unusual dishes to ask.

Courses 5 and 6 were paired together. For course 5, our hostess set down two teapots in front of us with the smallest teacups I've ever seen. Each cup literally held no more than a couple of tablespoons of broth. Inside the pot was a thin broth in which simmered matsutake mushrooms, small bits of whitefish, edamame, and herbs.

Course 6 was a plate of sashimi, primarily paper-thin slices of the freshest fluke I've ever had with a sweet ponzu dipping sauce. Two chunks of tuna dusted with egg powder and gold leaf along with the best and freshest raw salmon I've ever had in my life, and a piece of mirugai came along for the ride. We mixed fresh wasabi (not the horseradish mix you get in most Japanese places, but actual fresh ground wasabi with a soy sauce unlike any I'd ever had before, not nearly as salty or powerful as the Kikkoman I'm used to. We sipped the matsutake soup from the shallow teacups as we ate our sashimi until we could stand it no more and fished the mushrooms and other bits out with our chopsticks.

As we ate the sashimi my wife reacted, shall we say, very positively to the mirugai, which she had never had before. It was exceptional mirugai, and chef Matsumoto noticed her enthusiasm. As a consequence, after hearing what sounded like a spirited discussion from the kitchen, we were asked if we would like to forego the upcoming fried dish in favor of "better" sushi at the end. We quickly agreed as the raw fish had so far been better than any either of us had ever had.

Dish 7 was served very hot in a shallow clay bowl with a stand. A rich miso broth bubbled around kumamoto oysters, what I think were called "shiziki" mushrooms, and thin shavings of a parsnip or carrot-like root vegetable our hostess did not know the English name of. The broth was sweet and earthy, tasting almost like a sweet winter squash soup. My only regret was that we had no spoons to finish off the sauce.

Dish 8 was much more like Japanese food I'd seen, but that was deceiving. A piece of teriyaki grilled salmon was served with a pair of tiny Japanese river fish in a sweet glaze that my wife referred to appropriately as "candied minnows". Served with this was a ginger-like vegetable that was primarily pink, a candied chestnut that was sweet and flavorful, and a small sweet radishy vegetable with many strands that had been soaked in sweet vinegar. The salmon was perfectly grilled, and even the candied minnows were quite tasty, heads and all.

Dish 9 was the one that filled us up, I think. On a small stand inside which burned a flame, a wire basket sat containing a spiky piece of thick metal foil. In that foil, in a boiling orange broth simmered large chunks of fish, cabbage, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and one piece of fish spine with bits of spongy meat clinging to it. We served the boiling hotpot into traditional bowls to let it cool as the flame beneath kept the rest very hot. Also in the hotpot were vibrant pink stars of a spongy wheat gluten called Fu that held its testure very well.

Dish 10 is when we enjoyed the fruits of our fried dish sacrifice. Five pieces of sushi were presented to us. The fish was incomparable and generous. We started with a whitefish we couldn't identify, but that melted in our mouths. Next, I sampled the scallop, which might as well have been still alive, it was so fresh. The seocnd piece of mirugai we'd sampled that night was next, and we both agreed it was outstanding. We'd been asked before if we ate sea urchin, which is challenging to many raw fish neophytes. We tried it now and the urchin was smooth and rich, lingering nicely. A fien piece of mackeral was next and thencame the best piece of fish I've ever had in my life - a long slice of very fatty tuna.

The fatty tuna was like butter. I don't mean that in a Michael Myers Saturday Night Live sense. I mean the tuna's texture and the way in lingered was like a piece of butter, but with much more flavor. I let the flavor linger for a long while before tasting anything else. Um. Wow.

The dessert was excellent, but after that fish, it was merely a coda to the meal, not the big finish. Course 11 was an asian persimmon and japanese pear in japanese pear juice with a sweet chestnut gelee and sweetened black beans. It cleaned the palate nicely and complemented all the preceding flavors.

We discussed the sourcing of ingredients with the hostess. Although certain items like the mirugai are brought in occasionally from Washington state, almost ALL the fish and the more unusual vegetables and fungi are brought in straight from Japan. This is no faux, Midwestern interpretation of Japanese food - this is the real deal.

Now that brings us to the bill. Flying top shelf ingredients in from Japan daily is not an inexpensive proposition. I want you to keep in mind that I've eaten at Charlie Trotter's, Tru, Topolobampo, Arun's, and many many other great four star restuarants. So, here it is - Matsumoto was possibly the most expensive meal I've eaten in my life. And I'm not upset about that.

Now, was it the best meal of my life? That's very hard to say. It was a true life experience meal and I feel like a richer person for having eaten there. What Matsumoto is doing is unique in Chicago, as far as I know. I can say I've never had better fish anywhere. I'm not sure the fish I caught in Lake Michigan and ate two hours later seemed as fresh as the fish at Matsumoto. If it was not the best meal of my life, it was definitely in the top five, and I'm still not sure it's not #1.

I particularly liked the atmosphere. It wasn't stuffy. It didn't feel like hordes of expense account diners had yet discovered the restaurant, and we overheard Japanese being spoken by two diners who were friendly with Matsumoto-san. It was calm, friendly, and polite all night long. I don't know how lon git can stay that way with food this good. If you want to try this style of food, go now before the press gets hold of it in earnest.

I told my wife that I do think I need to go back to Arun's to see which of the two is the Northwest Side Asian Haute Cuisine champion, but I'm not sure she bought it. Once we go to Arun's again, I'll be agitating for another trip to Matsumoto, I'm sure.

3800 W. Lawrence
Chicago, IL 60625
$80-150 per person plus drinks
Reservation recommended.
Call three days ahead for vegetarian meals.
Outstanding service and food and very good atmosphere.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
October 23, 2005
A Bout with a Souffle (Butternut Squash Souffle)

Butternut Squash SouffleGodard's famous film Breathless is titled in French A Bout de Souffle. Well, I don't speak French, so when I saw the title at a college film society many many years ago, I thought "A fight with a Souffle?"

And that's what this Is My Blog Burning - #20, Has My Blog Fallen? has been for me - a fight with a souffle. I've made the beasts before - plain cheese, cheese and spinach, and even a vermicelli pasta souffle one time with Meg in Paris. I'd never tried to make up my own souffle filling and recipe.

The idea behind a souffle is simple. Egg whites, flour, and milk proteins form a baloon that steam from the water and fats in the recipe inflate. Of course if the filling is heavy, more lift is needed to inflate the souffle beyond the bounds of the rim of the casserole dish and into the air.

Unfortunately, this filling is a little heavier than the lifting power of the ingredients. This souffle remains puffy and light, but never solidifies completely or lifts out of the confines of the casserole dish. That doesn't stop it from being delicious.

I mixed sweet and savory flavors together with the squash again in this recipe. Apple cider and brown sugar are absorbed into the squash along with mustard powder, cayenne, garam masala, nutmeg, and black pepper.

I hope you'll try and enjoy this version of a Butternut Squash Souffle.

Butternut Squash Souffle
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed
1 1/2 to 3 cups apple cider
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup walnut or walnut pieces
3 tablespoons butter, plus butter for the casserole dish
3 tablespoons AP flour
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
6 egg whites
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to tase
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup parmesan
1 cup grated or shredded gruyere

In a medium saucepan with a lid, combine the spices (except the salt) with the squash and apple cider. Cook on high heat until the cider boils. Stir well, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the squash is very soft. If the pot goes dry, add 1/4 cup apple cider and cover again.

Mash the squash or blend it. Crush the walnuts (I used a plastic bag and a small hammer), and stir into the mashed squash.

Prepare a 1 1/2 quart casserole by greasing it with butter. Sprinkle the parmesan into the casserole and roll it aorund until the sides and bottom are well coated.

Preheat an over to 400 F.

Heat the 1 1/4 cups milk in a small saucepan. Don't boil it.

In a medium or large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir well. Cook until the roux (that's the butter/flour mix) takes on a little color. Pour the hot milk into the pot all at once and whick until it is combined well with the flour.

Add the cheese and whisk until it is melted. Take two cups of the butternut squash mash and stir it into the mix very well.

One by one, whip the egg yolks into the mix.

Using an electric mixer or grim determination, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they keep stiff peaks. Fold this mix into the squash and milk mix. Fold. Don't beat or whisk or mix.

Pour the whole mess into the prepared casserole dish and put it in the center rack of the oven. Reduce the heat to 375 F and bake for 30-35 minutes until only the center of the souffle wobbles a little when you jiggle it gently.

It will be a little moist, still, but that's OK. There's a lot of liquid in that squash. Serve with garlicky Italian greens.

Tagged with: +

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:44 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
October 22, 2005
Posts Of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Two posts diverged in a wood and I, I picked both and added a third.

A. Are you ready for Christmas? Hey! Hey! Stop throwing Halloween candy and Thanksgiving drumsticks at me. If you're going to do an authentic Christmas fruitcake, you should be getting your dried fruits all good and liquored up like She Who Eats is. You should be thinking about your Christmas puddings, too, you know. And really, if you want truly excellent Fourth of July Barbecue Sauce - Ow!

1. Christmas came early for me when Nic over at Baking Sheet took a suggestion/plea of mine and chronicled the care and feeding of a good yeasty starter. I'd read the La Brea Bakery cookbook and I have to say the description of making starter there sounded like a slightly less imposing commitment than having triplets. Nic shows us it doesn't have to be so bad and instead of sending the starter to college, you can bake it into tasty crumpets!

I. Another Christmas present was discovering Farid ZADI's Algerian Cuisine blog this week. I'm always looking for information about the foods of other cultures, and I have not seen many North African food blogs at all. His post on Loubia b'Dirsa, an Algerian White Bean Stew is typically well done. I may try a version of this recipe that substitutes squash or textured vegetable protein for the ground lamb/beef. The carnivores in the audience can try it as is.

That's the lot. Ho Ho Ho and all that. One more present is necessary and that's a package of World Series Rings for the Good Guys who Wear Black on the South Side. Go, White Sox!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:44 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
October 21, 2005

Via Chicagoist we learn of Fox and Obel's Choctoberfest. Tomorrow at the grand gourmet grocers from 10am to 4pm, you can enjoy free samples of chocolates from Vosges, Joseph Schmidt, Lake Champlain, Saxon, Knipschildt's, Christopher Norman, Marich, Schokinag, Scharffen Berger, Diana's Bananas, Kings Cupboard, Terry's Toffee, and Long Grove Confectionary.

Chocolate beer samplings, chocolate tasting training ("it's insoucient with just a hint of flint"), and cooking demonstrations will also take place.

For full details, read the flyer here.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:33 AM | TrackBack
Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Apples, Sage, and Celery

Acorn squash stuffed with a mix of rices, sauteed apples, and celery, with sage, brown sugar, and butter

Acorn squash are full of flavor, and they pair well with the other flavors of Autumn - wild rice, walnuts, apples, and the last of the sage. This particular variety of winter squash has elements of sweet and savory flavors when baked, and we can exploit that in this dish.

I've been looking for a good use for wild rice. Wild rice (or Mahnoomin) is a North American grain. It's actually a grass, and no relation to regular rice. Unlike many crops, it does very well in the marshes and swamps of the North Central Midwest (both in Canada and Minnesota), and was a staple for the Ojibway and Cree Indians. It's flavor is nutty and it's full of B vitamins. In this dish it works as a savory element alongside the savory elements of the squash flesh and the sage.

The apples, celery, brown sugar, maple syrup, and even the white rice by contrast, combine to bring out the sweet aspects of the squash flesh without being cloying or overwhelming the savory.

You might have seen this kind of combination before. It's very similar to many Thanksgiving stuffings, only with rice instead of breadcrumbs.

One stuffed squash half is probably enough for most people. Remember that the rice will seem to grow in your belly, and those eating two of these halves will waddle away from the table only to lie on the couch groaning quietly about how full they are fifteen minutes later.

A nice rich dark green like a lightly wilted spinach or steamed kale with lemon would complement the dish well, as would a roasted beet and goat cheese salad. For dessert, an apple tart or tarte tatin - especially nice when your wife made the tart and served it with a (very) small scoop of vanilla ice cream...

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Apples, Sage, and Celery

2 acorn squash, halved top to bottom, seeds and strings removed
3 cup cooked white rice, cooked with vegetable/chicken stock instead of water
2 cup cooked wild rice (about 1/3-1/2 cup uncooked) cooked in vegetable/chicken stock
3 apples, peeled, cored, diced to 1-2" pieces
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons dry sage or 15 fresh minced sage leaves
enough olive oil to brush or drizzle on squash lightly
20-30 walnut halves (no shell)
1 egg
4 tablespoon butter, divided
2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt, pepper
4 teaspoons maple syrup

Cook the uncooked white rice as you would normally, using stock instead of water. Use 2 cups stock to 1 cup long grain white rice.

Boil uncooked wild rice in 2 cups simmering stock for about 30 minutes or longer until tender. Drain.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the squash cut side up on a cookie sheet and brush or drizzle with olive oil lightly. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium high heat, melt two tablespoons of butter, and sautee the apples, celery, walnuts and sage. After about five minutes, add the brown sugar and toss to coat. Continue to sautee until the celery and apples begin to soften. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the skillet contents with both rices in a big bowl. Scramble the egg, slice into thin strips and mix with rice. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Pull the acorn squash out of the oven after 10-15 minutes. Fill the squash with rice stuffing and put 1/2 tabelspoon of butter on top of each half and return to oven for 10 minutes or until a knife goes easily into the flesh of the squash along the top.

If any rice mix is left you can bake it in a separate bowl or heat it in a skillet and serve alongside.

Pull the squash out, drizzle just a very little maple syrup on top and serve to what will no doubt be an appreciative audience.

You can make the rice stuffing beforehand or even pre-bake the squash in advance leaving the final 10-15 minute bake before serving.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:55 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
October 20, 2005
Technical Note

We will be upgrading the software we use for the blog this weekend. If things get a little funky, bear with us, please.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:00 PM
The Farmers' Salon

dry cheeses.jpgOne of the many food perks of living in Paris is the number of "salons" or trade fairs that take place here. There was the Salon de Saveurs, there is the Salon du Chocolate, which begins the 22nd, even the Foire de Paris has a great food and wine section.

And then there is the Salon du Fermier. Never heard of it? Neither had I until recently. It sounds like a mysnomer, doesn't it? Elegance and mud-splattered working boots in one handy image. David wrote to ask if I was interested in attending it and once I saw that the theme this year was to be cheese I wrote him to ask if he wanted to go. But I already asked YOU if you want to go, he wrote back. Oops. Well, yes. So last Friday I took a half day off work and met David for a well-deserved lunch and stroll through the Salon des Fermiers.

One thing I have noticed at the smaller fairs - and this one was no exception - is that you are very likely to be given a free pass by someone loitering near the entrance as you arrive. At the Salon des Saveurs, it was a lady who was promoting her table inside. This time it wasn't clear why this woman was giving us free passes but we didn't bother to ask.

Here you can see David carefully examining the dried cheeses in the photo at the start of this post. I don't think I've ever come across cheeses that were quite that dry. Though very pretty when arranged together in a box, they didn't actually look all that appetizing. We declined to taste them.

These cheeses were much more appetizing looking: creamy and soft with pretty little green leaves to hold them together.

And these stayed true to their farming origins, with straw below and above them to keep them fresh and allow them to ripen naturally.

Are you starting to think we did nothing but take photos of cheeses? Well it was the theme of the day.

But I also took a photos of other things. For example, would you like a nice pot of stag? Or a lovely one kilo bunch of braided pink garlic from Lautrec in the south of France? (Oh yeah, I bought one of those babies. Now I need to get to BHV for a hook to screw into my wall or cabinets so I can hang it up. Yes, it's worth it for one bunch of garlic.) And there was also a corner devoted to Tomorrow's Consumers, with a lesson on "What is cheese and where does it come from?"

What I found most charming in this trade fair as compared to the others I've seen was its lack of sophistication. On the surface it looked like any other, but if you started questioning the stall holders you quickly realized they really were farmers. At the stall where David and I bought prunes, there was a sign saying they were mi-cuit (literally half-cooked). As I had only ever seen this used to describe the things like foie gras, I was interested what it meant and asked. Well. He was so glad I asked. He got out his little handwritten chart (in a plastic sleeve no less!) and started to explain. He went back to the post WWII days, when good French housewives would buy their prunes completely dried and then, when they wanted to use them, leave them to soak overnight. He told me (slowly, forgot to mention he also spoke v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y) that in the 1960s some clever prune marketer discovered that they could use high heat and water to get the prunes back to a soft state and then sell them in vacuum packed bags to time-strapped housewives. And finally, he explained that his farm produced organic prunes which were gently reconstituted with a low heat (mi-cuit) and pure spring water. By now I figured I had to buy some prunes. Good thing they were good.

I think we lost David somewhere around the proud housewives of the 1950s...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:07 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
October 19, 2005
Our Gal Rachael

Rachael Ray continues her dominance of all media today with an article in the New York Times.

No, I've never been in Queens. OK, just the once, but it wasn't me.

UPDATE: I started this as a comment, but it got to be longish so here it is in the post:

You know, it's kind of fun to trash the popular girl, but I really don't mind her that much. I dislike some of her recipes; and her unrelenting perkiness, which is fun in small doses, quickly grates on my nerves, but she's out for a certain audience and she understands what makes that audience love her.

Good for her. She's not my cup of tea, but I can understand those who like her a lot.

Wait- controversy is good for blog hits, isn't it? What I meant to say, of course, is that she once cooked a dog. Yep. It was a beagle, too. Named "Snoopy". Didn't even belong to her.

OK, OK, she didn't, really (as far as I know). But she did post this on her website under "Rachael-isms":

EVOO is extra-virgin olive oil. I first coined "EVOO" on my cooking show because saying "extra-virgin olive oil" over and over was wordy, and I'm an impatient girl—that's why I make 30-minute meals!

Then why do you always say "E-V-O-O, Extra Virgin Olive Oil", instead of just saying "E-V-O-O"? You're giving us a longer phrase that take MORE time, not less. Crikey!

But she doesn't bug me that much. Really.


I just noticed that you can Ask Rachael Anything. Keep it clean, bud. I'd suggest eliciting her views on the uses of pre-emptive force and economic pressure on rogue states in a multipolar world. But then, I'm a romantic.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:24 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack
October 18, 2005
Braised endives

Braised endives.jpgI first came across braised endives in an awful job many years ago. I was nominally hired as au pair in a very snobby nouveau riche family in the 16th. Being pretentious gits, they had a cook/housekeeper. Being cheap, they hired an illegal immigrant from Mauritius and treated her very, very badly. And they shouldn't have done, because she was a treasure: cheerful, hard-working, and a fantastic cook. (Of course I would never argue they should treat her badly if she were depressed, lazy and a bad cook, but it was augmenting the crime.) I will always regret that I left that job (in a hurry, I might add) without getting her recipe for samosas. They were wonderful.

And so were the braised endives. I wandered in the kitchen one afternoon, drawn by the savoury smell of chicken and an indefinable vegetable. I saw them bubbling merrily in a milky sauce. And I asked, "What on earth is that?" She looked at me as though I had suddenly dropped down from the Planet of the Terminally Clueless and said "Why, braised endives, of course!"

That night, I stopped at the épicerie on my way home and bought a kilo of them. I remember they were wrapped in a piece of paper that, very helpfully, had recipes for cooking them. It's as though my guardian angel was sitting on my shoulder, directing the fates in my direction: it included one for braised endives.

I can't give credit for the following recipe as I have no idea what Belgian Endive Food Board had the bright idea of putting recipes on the paper that was used to wrap the darlings. But I am grateful. That was some 12 years ago and I'm still making them the same way. I haven't even tried to improve them as I think they are perfect as they are. This is coming from a girl who thinks that cooked celery is an abomination to man. And endives aren't that far from celery in texture.

Braised endives

Look at the photo at the beginning of this post. Don't they look comforting and tasty? They are. This is the only comfort food I know that is relatively low-calorie and really good for you. Okay, there is chicken soup. But still, it's pretty rare.

3-4 Belgian endives (enough to fill your frying pan snugly when sliced in half lengthwise)
3-4 Tbs butter
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tbs (roughly) lemon juice
1 scant tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Put the butter in a nice heavy bottomed frying pan and heat until it is frothing. Slice the endives in half lengthwise and add them to the pan, keeping the heat relatively high so that the butter browns (but does not burn!) and the edges of the endive caramelize. After a few minutes, when you really think you are in danger of burning the butter and/or the endives, turn down the heat to low and pour in the chicken broth. (If you are Barrett, you can use vegetable broth.) Sprinkle the sugar and lemon juice over the endives and cover loosely. Simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. (Obviously it depends on the size/thickness of your endives.) Salt and pepper to taste.

It's that simple. I make this pretty frequently when the Critic is away at an Official Function. I also sometimes make up a batch solely to bring in to work for lunch. It's my secret indulgence. The sauce goes milky and is full of chicken flavour and salt and a touch of sugar. The endives, even when tender, retain a bit of bite and are steeped in the wonderful broth. It's a fantastic combination.

Weight Watchers note: if you braise these in a non-stick pan and limit the butter to two teaspoons per serving (I find two endives are usually a good serving) and keep the sugar at 1/2 a tsp per serving this is only 2.5 points per serving. You can increase the broth to 250ml and serve it in a bowl for a satisfying, filling and low-point lunch!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:47 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack
October 17, 2005
Conquering Quince

quince.jpgWhen is the last time you tried a completely new food? New dishes, yes, I've had some in the last ten years. I've even tried a few new spices. But last week was the first time since 1987 (Year of the Failed Qumquat Experiment and Year I Discovered Lychee) that I tried a new fruit. Quince has been dodging in and out of my radar range for the last few years. I got the impression that quince jam was a particularly British thing and asked the Critic. I got a vague answer indicating that he wasn't sure he'd ever had it either but wasn't going to admit it.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a sign in the supermarket "COING (France)". And for once I remembered, coing (pronounced cwang) = quinces. And so I took the plunge and purchased two of them. They sat in a plastic bag in my kitchen for at least a week. My Fannie Farmer Cookbook had very little useful information. NOTHING about how to prepare them for cooking. NOTHING about the fact that you can't eat them raw. One recipe for baked quince. Hmph.

Luckily for me, David Lebovitz knows quince. And he chose to write about them not long after I bought them. Salvation!

David mentioned the tangy scent of quince in the kitchen and I was initially worried about my fruit as there was no particular smell lingering there. Had my nose gone coarse and unreceptive? But no, the plastic bag was the culprit. As soon as I tore it open, a beautiful scent did float around the kitchen. It's hard to describe something new to your sense. Sweet, fresh, fruity...but not pear or plum. I think the shampoo marketers are missing out on an opportunity, actually. It was lovely.

I was nervous after reading David's caution about slicing quince. It turned out he was right, and I was right to be nervous: they are a real challenge. Tough as a pumpkin, but deceptively pear-looking. The first knife I tried was sturdy enough but not sharp enough. The second was sharp, but a bit flimsy. I sharpened the stout knife and laboured on, carefully. Look back at the photo at the beginning of this post: can you see how lumpy they are?? I'm sure I didn't get as much of the meat out of the quinces as I could have done; I was too afraid of losing a digit in the process.

When I think of quince, I tend to think of fragile old ladies making quince jam. It must be a selection of the fittest situation that allows the most nimble-fingered to live to the age of 75, still making quince jam.

Eventually, I managed to hack the quince into chunks about two inches long, one inch wide and half an inch thick. I poached them in sugar and water with a bit of vanilla, as directed by David. Here's how it looked to start - a pan of pear-like fruit.

And here's how it looked after an amazingly long hour and 15 minutes: pretty in pink, delicate as the first blush of day. (I have a 10 month baby. I know ALL about the first blush of day.)

And they were nice. They have the woodiness of an unripe pear or a turnip, but the sweetness of fruit. They are an appealing pink color. However. They are a lot of work at the end of the day. I might revisit them one day, but not soon.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:19 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
October 16, 2005
Posts of the week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

We're a little late, but then, so were the White Sox who just won the pennant! Go go White Sox!

A. First, let's give it up for the Sox ALCS opponents the Anaheim of California Angels of Los Angeles in the Valley on the Thames. Salute them with Lick the Spoon's Cajeta and Angel Food cake. The sweet caramel complements the Angel food cake which is light, fluffy, and also can't hit a curve.

1. It's been since 1959 that the White Sox won the pennant, and you have to go back to 1917 to find a World Series they won and didn't throw. A Twenty-First Century World Series in Chicago will be sweet. Sweet like the almond kheer recipe I found at The Green Jackfruit this week! Almonds, milk, sugar - what's not to like?

I. Of course, the White Sox getting into the World Series will cause Cubs fans to have some wounds to lick. Why not enhance the experience with bacon bandages like these at the Pragmatic Chef?

Next week, we'll be sure to have some Astros jokes ready since there's no way the Cards come back. NO WAY. Otherwise Cubs fans' heads all around the country will just explode. "Root for the Cards. No, the Sox. No, the Cards. No, the Sox. No, th-(BOOM!)"

Maybe some Pierzynski pierogies would be in order for next week...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
October 14, 2005
Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

Sometimes having a blogging partner can be frustrating for the creative cook/blogger. Just last week, Meg posted a great recipe for Spicy Squash Soup, and roasted some sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, just as I came home with a big bag of winter squash from the farmers' market.

Well, dang. Great minds think alike and all that, but I guess that means I won't be posting that sunflower seed roasting experience I had. What can I do with the squash I have that's a little different from what she's done?

I've still got plenty of squash left, so I'll have some more answers to that question in the coming weeks. Last night, however, I decided to a butternut squash soup that went in a different direction from Meg's excellent spicy squash soup. Instead of spice, I decided to make a non-spicy, savory soup with a velvety texture and a sweet touch.

The soup is savory, with the sage in the actual soup providing just a hint of flavor, and the fried sage leaves on top taking the place of crunchy savory croutons. I served this to my wife and her training partner (and our friend) last night and it was very well received.

The fresh sage came from a plant we grew on our back porch this sumemr that's migrated indoors for the fall and winter. It's doing very well, but I liked this soup enough that I may have to assault it again. If it doesn't make it through the winter, I'm blaming the cats.

Maybe having a blogging partner is a good thing, after all. Without her recipe, I probably wouldn't have been forced to invent a new soup recipe. Thanks, Meg.

One warning, all the measures below are approximate as this was produced as a "jazz soup", improvised around a theme. If you taste the soup and think it needs a little more sage or a little less honey, please adjust to taste. I certainly did.

This recipe makes eight bowls of soup. Make a big batch and save it for lunch

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

1 butternut squash
2 granny smith apples
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 quarts vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups apple cider
1/2 big white onion or one medium white onion

1 teaspoon cumin
1 teapsoon white pepper
1 teaspoon powdered ginger or 2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons brown sugar
salt (optional)

2 cups half and half
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour (optional)
20-40 fresh sage leaves, divided
olive oil for frying sage

Peel, seed, and dice the squash into approximately 1" cubes. I usually cut the neck of the squash from the bowl and peel it separately, before cutting it into 1" rounds and cutting those into cubes. Scoop out the seeds and strings from the bottom bowl of the squash and cut it into 1" pieces. You don't have to be ultra-precise since we'll be blending the soup.

Peel, core and cut the apples into approx. 1" cubes. Put the apple and butternut squash into a big stockpot with the stock. Dice the onion and add it to the pot.

Add the cumin, pepper, brown sugar, and 1/2 the sage. You don't need to mince the sage.

Add the apple cider and stir well over high heat. Once it's boiled, reduce to a simmer and let it cook until the butternut squash is very soft - about 40 minutes.

Blend the soup in a blender or with an immersion stick blender until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Add the half and half and butter and stir. If you feel the soup is not thick enough, take a cup or so of the soup out and whisk it together with the flour until the flour is absorbed. You must use a whisk to prevent lumps from forming. Return the soup/flour mix to the pot and stir well. Simmer a few minutes longer, and the soup will thicken up.

Coat the bottom of your smallest frypan or saucepan with olive oil. Heat until the oil shimmers. A few at a time, drop the remianign sage leaves into the oil and fry for 10-15 seconds. Take them out with a slotted spoon or spatula, and drain them on paper towels. Hit the leaves with a very light sprinkle of salt while the leaves are hot.

Serve the soup with a few fried sage leaves on top.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:30 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
October 13, 2005
Ancient Ramen?

The world's oldest noodles have been discovered, surprisingly not in a college dorm refrigerator.

4,000 years ago, some Chinese diner in northwestern China abandoned their dinner suddenly, and left it to be dug up by archaeologists. The noodles, interestingly enough, were made from millet and not wheat or rice.

They should go well with thousand year old eggs.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
October 12, 2005
Julia, Si! Julie? No.

For 365 days, Julie Powell cooked from Julia Child's seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As she cooked, she blogged about it on a Salon blog. People surfed to the site every day to read about her struggles with Julia Child's recipes and eventually about her drone-like job as a temp, her sometimes rocky marriage, and her sometimes maggot-infested kitchen.

Now, she has a book. Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen has been published and given a hell of a marketing push. I was surprised enough to see the large display of books at Barnes & Noble, but when I saw a half-page ad in the New Yorker for the book, I was floored.

Blogging has clearly been very good to Ms. Powell. She received a reported six-figure advance on the book and has a movie option as well. You'd think she'd be pretty up on the food blogging world, wouldn't you?

I'm a terrible blogger and a terrible citizen of the blogosphere. I'm going to get in a lot of trouble, but the truth is, I actually find most food blogs really boring. I try to look at other people's blogs and they have pretty pictures and they're so proud -- but really, I just don't care. I don't know anything about that person, and I don't know why it's important to them. Food in itself becomes just a mass of prejudices and snobbery and everyone looks like a prat when they write about food.

Source: Salon Premium interview link

And so a "star" forgets "the little people". Ms. Powell, maybe you're unable to appreciate the appeal of food blogs, but there seem to be plenty of people who disagree with you. (And what's up with the word "prat", anyway? You're from Long Island City, not London.)

I have to take a moment to take the Salon interviewer to task as well. The interviewer referred to the food blog community as "insular". I just don't buy that, but I can see why a fan of Ms. Powell's might. The food blog community is supportive. That's why we have group events like Is My Blog Burning? where anyone with or without a blog can participate. That's why we and others post Posts of the Week to help people discover other excellent food blogs. That's why Kip's foodblog and foodpornwatch exist - support and discovery of all the wonderful food blog resources out there. There are no membership cards needed or contracts to sign. Start to post about food and you're in the club.

Go back and read her blog. I followed her off and on. Some of Powell's posts are rather ordinary and some are wonderful. She can be very funny. This post on finding evidence of Julia Child's sex life in her recipes is a good example.

But I find in her Salon interview and her original blog a lack of something essential in her character. I've never felt this was a woman I wanted to spend time with. She's often petty and depressive and, increasingly near the end of the blog, quite self-indulgent and concerned primarily with the mercenary aspects of the project.

She's the kind of friend you might refer to as "bitter Julie" and sometimes just not have the time for. That might make for a good blog or Evelyn Waugh character, but I don't think I want to expose myself to a book length relationship with her.

Personally, I'll await the books from other bloggers who I both like and admire like the long-rumored one from Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, or the electronic books from Tasting Menu. UPDATE: And of course David Lebovitz's Great Book of Chocolate.

Elsewhere on the net, Tigers & Strawberries took apart Julie Powell's New York Times op-ed piece "Don't Get Fresh With Me".

UPDATE: Dr. Biggles in comments reminds me of the excellent Digital Dish!

Digital Dish

To order a copy to be shipped within the US for $19.95 plus $5 shipping and handling for 2-day shipping (sales tax added in CA) click here:

To order a copy to be shipped outside the US for $19.95 plus $11 shipping and handling for airmail shipping click here:

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:08 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack
October 11, 2005
Toad in the Hole

toad.jpgAs one might guess from reading this site, I am the primary cook in our household. The Critic made me an interesting chicken breast, tarragon and grape stew on rice for our first date. And that was pretty much the only meal he cooked for the next three or four years. A few years ago he insisted that he wanted to cook the Christmas turkey so it would be "right", but unfortunately he got the flu on the big day and I ended up taking over. I didn't wake him to tell him I was going to do it, just went and got him when the meal was done. He was also the first one to cook in our new kitchen when we finally had it installed in the new apartment. (He likes to jump in for the historical moments.)

And then there is his pièce de résistance, which he makes about once a year to prove to his daughter that he can cook: Toad in the Hole. Poor little amphibian, I can hear you cry! How can these animal-loving Brits be so cruel? Well, just as Spotted Dick actually has nothing (so far as I know) with what you might think it is, Toad in the Hole does not involve amphibian cruelty. It's basically a Yorkshire pudding with a few sausages plumped in the middle.

It's actually pretty good comfort food: hot and crispy and savoury. With a nice onion sauce, it makes a quick and filling dinner.

I've been trying to reproduce Toad in the Hole correctly for a few years now. For a long time it was always "too dense" or "too greasy" or "just not quite right". But armed with the Critic's own recipe I have finally conquered this classic of English cuisine. The trick - as with good crèpes - lies in allowing the batter to rest for a good 20-30 minutes before you assemble the dish. Okay, I know I said it's a quick dinner, but what I really meant is that the time you actually spend preparing it is very quick. The resting and cooking bring the time up to a little over an hour.

One piece of wisdom I can pass on after many years of making Toad in the Hole (the Critic makes it, on average, once a year, and then only to impress his daughter) is that you don't want to try to make it healthy. Do not, as the Critic initially advised me to do, grill the sausages first so that the fat runs away. As so often in cooking, you'll find that the unhealthy method is the tastiest.

The Critic's Toad in the Hole

100g/4 oz plain flour
pinch salt
1 egg
scant 300 ml/1/2 pint milk

6-8 sausages
2 Tbs oil or bacon grease (I use the latter)

Optional: 1 Tbs mustard

Sift flour and salt together (I never do this, but don't tell him), add egg and enough milk to make a sticky mixture, beat well. Then gradually whisk in the remaining liquid. (Note: Nigel Slater advises stirring in a Tbs of mustard. We tried it once and it was a nice touch but it was also Messing With Tradition, which is frowned upon. We haven't gone back to it.) Set batter aside in a cool place for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 220C. While it is heating, place a small baking pan (just large enough to fit your sausages in one layer) in the oven with the oil or grease in it. When the pan is nice and hot and the batter has rested, remove it from the oven. Carefully swish around the oil/grease to cover the bottom and part of the sides of the baking dish. Plop your uncooked sausages in a single layer and pour over them the batter. Put in the hot oven and cook for 35-40 minutes, until the batter is all poofy and cooked through.

Serve with Onion Sauce:

Sauté one large onion in a little butter. When they are soft and a little caramelaized, add a teaspoon of fresh thyme and a teaspoon of flour. Let it bubble a while and then deglaze with a little white wine. Pour in a glass or so of broth - pork gravy if you have it, or otherwise chicken broth. Let it bubble away and thicken as the toads are baking in their holes.

So there you have it: it's not cordon bleu but it's tasty and even including the sauce-making you only spend about 15 minutes actually prepping the dinner.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:13 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
October 10, 2005

I made those. Me. Yep. And if you can't tell, I'm still a little impressed at myself for actually making credible bagels.

I owe it all to Cooking Light's October 2005 issue which offers tips for bakers. If you want to make good baguettes, pretzels, or bagels go get this issue before it disappears from newsstands. Go. Now!

The ones above are a little misshapen which is due to me cutting my thumb badly when I divided the dough. I abandoned them at a critical moment to stop the bleeding (I didn't save the liver with its natural coagulents), and didn't get a chance to make them into balls and had to poke the holes in the center AFTER they rose on the tray, all of which I think deflated them.

But they tasted great. In my opinion, a great bagel needs a good crumb that holds together, neither too fluffy or too dense; a nice chewy skin, which is imparted to it by boiling the bagel briefly; and a nice clean flavor that pairs well with peanut butter, cream cheese, salmon, hummous or whatever else you like to put on your bagels. This recipe produces bagels with all those qualities.

The classic bagel uses malt syrup in the boiling mix and in the initial yeast mix. This recipe uses beer instead. I added malt syrup to the boiling mix for the second batch of bagels, and it made quite a difference, but I get a little kick from the idea I'm having beer for breakfast with these bagels. It's like I'm back in college, but without the resilient immune system and ability to rally.

For now, here's the Cooking Light recipe with a minor change here and there as I made it.


4 1/4 cups AP flour plus up to 1/4 cup more flour plus dusting flour
1 12 ounce bottle dark or brown beer(I used a Sam Adams Octoberfest the first time and a Negra Modelo the second time)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 egg, separated into white and yolk
1 packet active yeast
vegetable oil in a spritzer and to coat bowl
1/4 cup cornmeal for scattering
(optional - 2 tablespoon malt syrup, aka barley malt syrup if not using, substitute 2 tablespoons brown sugar)

Equpment: large bowl, large cooling rack, cookie sheet, non-reactive dutch oven, sheet of aluminum foil

In a large bowl combine 1 1/2 cups water with 1/2 cup of beer. Bring to 100-110 F. Stir in the yeast and dissolve. Let sit in a warm place for 5 minutes.

Lightly beat the egg white during those 5 minutes. Stir it into the yeast mix.

Mix 4 1/4 cups of flour with the salt.

Little by little, stir in 4 1/4 cups of flour to the yeast mix until it forms a sticky dough. knead the dough on a lightly floured surface. Mix in enough of the extra 1/4 cup four to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. It will still be a little tacky. Knead the dough for 6-10 minutes until it's smooth and elastic.

Form the dough in a big ball. Wash, dry, and oil the big bowl lightly. Turn the dough ball around in the ball so it gets very lightly coated with oil. Cover and place in a warm draft-free place to rise for one hour and fifteen minutes.

The ball should now be twice its original size. If you poke the dough, the mark should remain. Punch the dough down and let it rest five minutes.

Divide the dough into ten approximately equal portions. Roll each into a ball. Push your thumbs through the center of the dough to make a hole and form a torus (aka a doughnut/bagel shape). Make sure the hole is a decent size. You'll see why in a second.

Lay the bagels on a lightly oiled sheet of aluminum foil. Brush or spray them lightly with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise ten minutes. They should not rise much, but this is why you want decent sized holes in the step above. They will close a bit with the rising.

In a dutch oven or other large non reactive cooking vessel, combine the rest of the beer and four cups of water with the barley malt. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Set up a cooling rack and spray it with oil. Two at a time, drop the bagels into the boiling mix and let them boil 30 seconds on the first side, then flip them in the bowl and let them boil 30 seconds on the second side. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on the cooling rack. Repeat until all the bagels have been boiled. You put them on the rack to let them drain a bit and to prevent them soaking the cookie sheet they'll be baked on.

Mix the egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and mix to create an egg wash. Brush the top of each bagel with the egg wash. If you want to make salt or poppyseed or sesame bagels, now is the time to coat the tops with poppyseeds or sesame seeds or kosher salt.

Spread the cornmeal on the cookie sheet. Place the bagels on the sheet and bake in the 400 F oven for 17 minutes or until the tops are lightly golden.

Let cool five minutes before serving. Warm bagels are a thing of beauty and don't even need cream cheese, if you ask me.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:41 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
October 9, 2005
The Big Issue

rr.jpgSome time ago, Barrett posted a short piece about a Rachel Ray "recipe" for a mini-cheeseburger salad. It was a slow day and it seemed an amusing little note in the food world. If any of you read it, I'm sure you have forgotten it by now.

Barrett and I are not so lucky. As administrators of this site, every single day we get a reminder of that stupid Rachael Ray. Because every single day at least one or two comments are posted to the piece and we receive a notification. If you Google "Rachael Ray Sucks" we are number four on the list. And if the current trend continues I'm sure we'll find ourselves at the top some day soon.

If you read the comments on the site you quickly come to realize that the outcome of the last US presidential election was less controversial and less hotly debated than the merits of a b-list celebrity chef. The Rachael-bashers are scathing about Rachael's talents. The Rachael-lovers are scathing about the Rachael-haters. The sling their barbs back and forth. They each claim the other is blind. They have no sense of irony. The dialogue is occasionally interrupted by one plaintive voice calling out (in the tones of the woman on the Simpsons, "But think of the children!") that they are insensitive/arrogant/irresponsible for discussing the merits of the woman when there is a tsunami/hurricane/earthquake/insert your disaster going on in the world. If you have a half hour to kill, I highly recommend reading the comments (all 137 of them) for the comic value alone. I especially like the people who apparently thought that by commenting on our site they were writing Rachael Ray herself.

Sadly, we were forced to moderate (read: delete) some of the more interesting comments in the interests of taste. Seriously, I never knew there were so many obscene cooking metaphors out there. To all the guys out there who dream of a curvaceous Girl Next Door who will Cook Just Like Mom while accepting the most perverse behavior...we would appreciate it if you would frequent one of the millions of porn sites on the web rather than ours. Top marks for creativity though!

After reading through all the comments, I thought it would be interesting to note which side of the debate got the most votes. And there you have it, the votes are counted: Rachael Ray does NOT suck. (Hm, I can see this leading to some more of the forementioned obscene comments. Sigh.)


So leave us alone already.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:28 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

The One. The Only. The Original. (Well, one out of three on that, actually...)

We do the reading and you sit back and enjoy the fruits of our research:

a. First off, I can't help but tip another nod in the direction of a (relative) newcomer to my corner of the world, Michèle of Oswego Tea. She posted nearly simultaneously with me on a similar theme: reproducing her favorite Campbell's soup to combat a nasty cold. Guess that cold really was making the rounds of Paris.

1. Next, there is a fascinating explanation of lobster butter on Butter pig. It looks messy, very messy. I love people who, like me, can't resist using every last tiny scrap of a good product. I'm (almost) tempted to give it a try myself. (Did I mention it looks messy?)

i. Barrett recently added Orangette to our list of blogs and I'm glad he did. Because I am absolutely charmed by the Egg and Beer Friday concept. I like the recipe, too. And I like the description of the little guy with his new words (hey, I'm a new-ish mom myself and easily charmed by tot stories, so sue me). Too bad my dear husband hates eggs...

Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did finding them! Barrett will be back next week with his killer instinct for the strange and beautiful...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Run your bippy off

Just a very quick note to encourage all those participating in the Chicago Marathon today (including my wife, who is starting the day with a homemade salt bagel with almond butter on it) -

Go! Go! Go!

See you in 26.2 miles!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:44 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
October 7, 2005
Spicy Squash Soup

pumpkin soup.jpgOn my recent trip to the organic market I went a little wild on the vegetables. Even when I take the time to go through the market once before going back and making my selection I still find myself with twice as many vegetables as I need, as I suddenly notice new and more interesting ones. You know how it is: you start out with the boring stuff like carrots and courgettes and then suddenly there is a pumpkin in front of you. Well, you have to have that. And sweet corn. And then your good friend Clotilde points out the enticing squash table, with...acorn squash. Ohmygosh. You know about that. And so as I pushed the overladen stroller back home it contained a couple of kilos of squash of one form or another. Oops.

And the Critic doesn't like squash. Double oops.

So this soup was my attempt to find a way to make squash the Critic would eat. That it failed, was not the fault of the recipe, I think. He's just pig-headed.

I'm not usually a fan of pumpkin soup. It can be awfully bland. Also, I really like the texture of squashes like acorn; there is something really satisfying about the way the tender blesh pulls away from the shell when it's roasted. But this is an interesting take on pumpkin soup. I guess I was inspired by the cloves in the tomato soup: I dug through my spice drawer looking for what I consider to be "medieval" spices: ginger and cloves and cinnamon and pepper. Both the nanny and the Critic turned up their noses at it, but I thought it was pretty tasty.

Spicy Squash Soup

600 grams squash/pumpkin (I had a quarter of a roasted acorn squash and about 500 grams of pumpkin)
5 cups vegetable broth (I used Better than Bouillion brand)
1 glass of dry white wine
1 large onion
2 Tbs fresh ginger, roughly chopped
6-8 cloves
1 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
3-4 small dried bird's eye peppers
2 Tbs butter
salt, pepper, to taste
1 generous tablespoon of honey (for preference something nutty, such as sunflower)

I decided to roast the pumpkin for two reasons: firstly, I wanted to give some of the pumpkin to the boy, and secondly I thought it would increase the flavour. Also, the acorn squash I wanted to add was already roasted. You could just as easily peel the pumpkin and stew it in the vegetable broth instead. (I must point out, though, that peeling a raw pumpkin is annoyingly difficult.) So the choice is yours: roast your squash/pumpkin in a hot oven with a little butter and sugar until it's tender and slightly caramelized (yum!) or cut it in peeled chunks. Roughly chop the onion and sauté it in the butter in a large sauce pan. As it is softening, add the dried ginger. Keep cooking until they are soft and slightly caramalized on the edges.

Add the cinnamon and stir well. Pour in the wine and turn up the heat slightly. Deglaze with a wooden spoon, pulling up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Put the fresh ginger, cloves and dried peppers in a small muslin bag or tie them in a bit of cheesecloth and lower them into the broth. Add your pumpkin or squash. (If it's raw you'll simply have to alter the simmering time so that it's tender when you get to the next point.) Simmer for at least half an hour to let the spices permeate. When you feel the soup has absorbed enough spice and the squash/pumpkin are tender, turn off the heat. Fish out the ginger and cloves. Whizz the soup in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth. Add the honey. Taste for salt and pepper.

Garnish with sweetened, dried cranberries and roasted sunflower seeds.

It's a wonderful fall soup, earthy and filling. The spices compliment the sweet pumpkin flavor but are supported by the undertone of sweet honey. It's a great combination.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:20 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
October 6, 2005
The Organic Market

acorn squash.jpgLast Saturday, the boy and I finally solved the Mystery of the Disappearing Organic Market. We were helped by the fact that Clotilde wrote me and suggested we meet at the nearest metro stop, Rome. I can handle finding a metro stop, armed with a good map.

It's fun to explore a new market under any circumstances, but it's especially fun with a good friend to point out the best stands and explain which way the queues run. Clotilde is always charming but I was still getting over the cold and felt that my poor company wasn't much of an exchange for her kindness. I'll have to make it up to her with witty repartee next time around!

There were so many great foods there: breads, honey, the usual fruits and vegetables. But in addition, I made a wonderful discovery: the organic market has even more variety than all the regular markets I've known in Paris. Rolled together.

I bought fairly decent corn on the cob, in the husk. Clotilde bought a "Peruvian cucumber". (She wrote about it today!) We both bought beautiful tiny red espelette peppers. But the best part, for me, was the sight of a card labelled "Acorn Squash". For as long as I've been pressing sweet corn seed packets on friends with gardens, I've also been passing out seeds for acorn squash. I have never once in 13 years in Paris seen acorn squash. All I've ever seen at the markets is the occasional cut up piece of pumpkin and tiny inedible decorative squashes. I'm in heaven. Acorns are my absolute favorite squash. Woo-hoo!

I love everything about them. Cute shape, don't you think? Nice, meaty interior, a little stringy but in a good way. A nutty flavour, less bland than your average pumpkin. Yummy.

And, as I discovered a couple of days ago, the seeds are wonderful. I baked the first one for an hour in a hot oven. My half had butter and brown sugar (indulgence!) and the boy's just butter. We both loved them.

So now that I've had my fix, I'm wondering what to do with the second one. Ideas, anyone??

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:29 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
October 5, 2005
Seeds for Experimentation

sunflowers.jpgMy garden this year was only half successful. The glorious courgette, aubergine and pumpkin plants flourished for weeks, producing dozens of flowers. And then they withered for reasons unknown to me, their leaves covered with a white sheen. Too little water? Too much pollution? I'm afraid I'll probably never know. The tomatoes did well enough, though, and I'm still eating the last of their fruit. Herbs are always fairly successful, though I have to admit that I buy thyme and rosemary plants, rather than growing them from seed. And one of the surprise success stories was the sunflower seeds I planted: five sturdy plants grew out of the seeds I planted. When I left on holiday they were in prime condition, one with a flower open and the rest with promising buds.

The catsitter over-fed the cat and under-watered the plants. Sigh. Still most were still alive when we got back (most importantly the fat furry black one) and I coaxed the sunflowers back to something like life with copious amounts of water. In the end, I found myself with one decent sized flower, one medium and a few tiny ones that weren't worth photographing. Some people grow sunflowers because they think the flowers are pretty. I grow them because I love sunflower seeds.

When I was much younger and even shorter than I am now, my mother grew sunflowers one year. I remember it distinctly. What I don't remember distinctly is what she did with the seeds. So I turned to the trusty Internet and compared all the advice and recipes I could find. One of the sites (which I couldn't find again when it came to actually doing it) suggested soaking the seeds in salted water before toasting them in the oven. I carefully extracted seeds from the flower head until I was so bored I couldn't take it any more. I then decided the remaining seeds were "too small" and would make great bird food. (There's a limit to my enthusiasm for sunflower seeds, it seems.) I put the half cup of seeds in a bowl, covered them with water and stirred in about a tablespoon of salt. (As an aside, I found it mildly disturbing how much the seeds resembled little dead fireflies or box elder bugs...)

Then I turned to seed experiment number two: acorn squash seeds. I've never bothered to toast acorn squash seeds but as I love pumpkin seeds (okay pretty much all seeds) I thought it was worth experimenting to see how they would measure up. I treated them exactly as I would pumpkin seeds: extract them from the stringy flesh, wash them as best I could, let them dry and then tossed them with oil. In the US I always used corn oil, but it's less common here and I've gotten used to substituting sunflower oil. It's healthier anyway, or so I am told.

I drained the sunflower seeds and arranged them prettily on a pizza pan with the squash seeds, in a single layer. I figured that although the sunflower seeds were smaller than the squash seeds the fact that they were wet would bring their roasting time to about the same length. And I was right: after 10 minutes, the squash seeds were nice and brown and the sunflower seeds were crisp and dry.

A small piece of advice: watch those seeds carefully because those suckers can go brown in the blink of an eye. I only just got the squash seeds out of the oven in the nick of time!

And the result? Fantastic. The squash seeds were the definite winners in flavour and texture. In fact, they were exactly like I remember pumpkin seeds tasting when I lived in the US. (For some reason, the pumpkin variety I find here yields very rubbery seeds...I'm experimenting with a slow low roast to see if it will solve the problem...and if that doesn't work we'll try a quick, hot roast...) The sunflower seeds were a bit smaller than the commercial ones you find and for that reason you are pretty much obliged to eat them hulls and all. But they are organic and mine and the fruit of my own garden. So all in all, I thought it was a pretty successful experiment.

I finished the squash seeds about fifteen minutes after taking the photo. Now THAT'S success.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:49 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
October 4, 2005
Classic Cream of Tomato Soup

tomato froth.jpgLast week I suddenly realized I was ill. I woke one morning feeling not too great and got on the metro. Two stops past the station where I usually get off to go to work, I came to my senses, sighed, got back on the metro going in the opposite direction. Arriving at the office, I met the office manager going out for a pastry and explained and apologized. Needless to say, I did not last the day. Around two, I headed home. As a measure of how out of it I was for the next three days, let me say that on Wednesday I went home sick and it wasn't until Friday evening that I discovered I'd had my wallet stolen on the way home Wednesday. I was out of it.

And what do you when you are sick? Soup, soup, soup. Something hot and full of vitamins. Salty, flavorful. When I was a child it was nearly always the same: Campbell's cream of Tomato Soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Now that I'm older and no longer live in the Land Of Easily Purchased Campbell's Soup, I have discovered a perfect (and healthier, incidentally) substitute: the Fannie Farmer Cookbook recipe for cream of tomato soup. The fresh tomatoes are just barely still in season and are full of juice and vitamins. The milk is comforting and indulgent. It's a simple recipe and absolutely perfect for comforting you when all you want to do is crawl into bed. And, incidentally, it's quick and easy to make, important when you are already sick.

Classic Cream of Tomato Soup

Although this recipe is nominally a cream soup, in fact you'll notice there is no cream in the ingredients, just milk. It tastes wonderfully rich nevertheless. The basic recipe is Fannie Farmer's but I've tweaked it here and there to make it my own. The cloves are all hers, though, a stroke of genius. They compliment the tomatoes and the soup perfectly, a slightly exotic and earthy note.

8-10 small ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 cups semi-skimmed milk
1 onion
10-12 cloves
freshly ground pepper
1/2 Tbs baking soda

Pour boiling water (to cover) over the tomates and let them sit in the water for a few minutes. In the meantime, begin heating the milk to scalding point. Peel the onion and cut it in half. Poke the cloves into onion halves and put them in the milk. Simmer the onion halves and cloves in the milk for 15 minutes. While the milk is simmering, drain the tomatoes and slip the skins off them. Roughly chop them, and, if you are so inclined, seed them. I don't bother, but it's true the seeds can mar a perfectly smooth soup.

Fish the onion halves out of the milk. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for another 10-15 minutes. When they are tender, remove from the heat and using a stick blender or food processor process the soup until it's smooth and creamy. Add the baking soda and watch, amazed, as it froths up and threatens to overflow the pot. (That's the photo at the start of the post, incidentally.) Fannie Farmer admits that she doesn't know why the baking soda makes the soup taste better. I don't know if it does: I just like the frothing. Fun. Salt and pepper generously to taste and serve with cheese and crackers. Nice sharp cheddar cheese, if you can get it.

It might not cure your cold, but it will take you on a nostalgia trip and make you feel better at heart. And the steam and vitamins can't hurt.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:46 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack
October 3, 2005
Ruth Reichl's Memoirs

I admit it - I've been living under a rock for the last two decades. When I picked up Ruth Reichl's book I knew her only as they annoying character in the Gourmet magazine TV ads. I had noticed, however, that she edited a new series of culinary books and that she had been the restaurant critic at the New York Times. Her breadth of experience and the reviews from critics I respect inspired me to read these two books.

Reichl's writing in these two autobiograhical books is sparkling. The first book, Tender to the Bone, covers her childhood and the relationship between her and her parents, particularly her mother. Her mother is a horrible cook, manic-depressive, and unfortunately eager to host dinner parties.

Among the culinary crimes documented in the book, Reichl's mother seeks out the leftovers from a New York City automat and mixes them together to create a dish that sounds like something from H.P. Lovecraft. Only the beloved maid and cook of a favorite aunt saves the future restaurant critic from food poisoning and a disdain for gastronomic pelasures.

Fortunately for Reichl, her mother takes little Ruth's casual interest in the French language as a sign to send her to school in Montreal. There for the first time she begins to experience fine food in the home of a close school friend. The book follows her through her time in Montreal and her first few relationships and jobs leading eventually to a communal Victorian in Berkeley, California where she finds love, work, and befriends a local food legend as she decides what to do with her life. Reichl's mother acts as a reference for many of her experience, and the story of their relationship is the story of the first part of Reichl's life.

Tender to the Bone is a great read, but I couldn't help but feel that some part of the story was missing. We get a portrait of the artist as a young girl, but as we reach adulthood, great swaths of the past that made Reichl into the influential person she is today are just not there.

Enter Comfort Me With Apples. In this book, we pick up with Reichl in Berkeley in a too-comfortable marriage and follow her progress both professionally and personally. Tender was much more about the relationship between Reichl and her mother, and the consequences of that relationship to her life. Though her parents appear in Comfort, this book is much more about the relationship of a woman to herself, her men, and her craft, which is writing about food and the people making it.

The writing in Comfort Me With Apples is honest and straightforward, if reporterly. We get a third party's view of Ruth Reichl and hear very little of her internal struggle. Maybe her internal monologue is just that clear and simple, but I doubt it. This may be Reichl's way of dealing with painful material. The book covers affairs, career advances and setbacks, and her experiences with most of the bright lights of the California cuisine movement, including Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters.

The most personally told section of the book involves the adoption of a baby girl. Reichl's emotions pour out onto the page in this one section far more than in the others.

At the end of Comfort, I felt more satisfied than I did at the end of the excellent Tender to the Bone, but I had the same sense that there is more to the story.

Reichl's third book of this type, Garlic and Sapphires, was released in hardback in April. It recounts her time as a restaurant critic at the New York Times. I didn't enjoy these two enough to purchase her book new in hardback, but as soon as it comes out in paper, I'll pick it up.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:58 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack
October 1, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Pick for me these posts of three or ne'er the other side you'll see.

I. Here at Too Many Chefs, we give a fig. Rachael at Fresh Approach Cooking gives multiple figs and at least one cluck in her recipe for Chicken With Figs. ♫♫ With a fig fig here, and a fig fig there...♫♫

A. Maybe instead of giving a fig, you'd rather fritter away the day? Orangette fries up some delicious ricotta fritters. Just try to keep the neighbors away from your door if you make a batch of these.

1. Maybe we're bugging you with these puns? Bugs and germs of all sorts are on the mind of CindyM over at Food Migration. In her excellent post Befriending Bacteria, she discusses the finer points of sanitation in France and in the U.S. I'll admit I was startled when I saw eggs sitting out in the market unrefrigerated while in Paris. Things are just different there.

Wash your hands in any case so the big bad bugs don't get you and we'll meet you back her next week for the next three Posts of the Week.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:29 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
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