Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sunday Dinner Questionnaire: Christine Jagolino

Christine Jagolino is ready to eat, Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 2010.
I know Christine Jagolino as a fellow tv producer, so when I received her message from Hong Kong I wondered what she was shooting there.  It turns out that Christine (or "Jag" as she was known in the world of television) has reinvented herself since I last saw her and her new life is an enviable one.  I normally take great pleasure in writing biographies of the people I profile on this site, but because I haven't seen Christine in a while I asked her to fill me in on the details of her life in the past four years.  
I moved to Hong Kong three years ago during the writer's strike, and made a career switch from tv to fashion.  While on my perpetual quest to eat my way through Hong Kong, I've been lucky enough to taste Bangkok, Thailand; Saigon, Vietnam; Manila, Philippines; Chengdu, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Macau; and for balance Rome & Florence, Italy.  There is no greater way to learn about a culture than through food.  There is no greater way to make a friend than by sharing a meal.  To even out all this indulgent eating, I spend my free time playing dodgeball, rock climbing, hiking, racing, watching as much tv as possible, and playing the harmonica.
I've attached a picture of me dining in Jakarta, Indonesia - Sept 2010.  I was taken to this restaurant by a vendor, and just as we were seated food was being stacked in front of us three plates high!  This is obviously too much food for 3 people, and later we found out we only paid for the items we ate.  I'm not sure what happened to the dishes we didn't eat, and I prefer not to think about that.  Perhaps it was an Indonesian version of a buffet, except all the dishes are brought to you.
When I last talked to her, Christine was on her way to a private Sichuan dinner and she promised to report back on it.  This led to a discussion of the incredible diversity of Hong Kong cuisine and before I knew it, ESD has it's first international correspondent.  I am, at heart a researcher, and I'm excited to expand the blog into the world of international cuisine.  

In her new role as ESD's Hong Kong Correspondent, Christine will file regular reports on Sunday dinners in Hong Kong, and any other places she happens to visit.  She is also available to answer questions related to Hong Kong cuisine and the international rules of dodgeball.

The Official Sunday Dinner Questionnaire

1.  What is your favorite food to eat?  Why?
This question is like Sophie’s Choice.

The easy answer is avocado.  If there is avocado somewhere on the menu, there is a 99% chance I’ll order it.  I guess I really am a California girl!  My mom also makes avocado shakes, and that tastes like my childhood.  

I like a lot of variety.  Different cuisines.  I spend a lot of time thinking about food.

2.  What is your favorite food to cook?  How often and under what circumstances do you make it?
Other than a plate of veggies, I don’t cook that often because 1) my kitchen here is the size of my coat closet in LA (no joke) 2) “western” groceries are expensive 3) eating “locally” is cheap.

I guess my favorite food to cook (always for others) is comfort food.  It makes people happy.  Especially here where we don’t have homemade meals that often, and we Americans are away from home.  I’ve made sweet mac and cheese many times, but it’s one of those dishes that you can only have once in a while.  I probably make it about once a year, and I’ll serve it when hosting a party.  I used to make it for my annual Sunset Junction pre-party.  And I made it in Hong Kong once when I had access to an apartment with an oven.  I’m planning on making it for Christmas.

3.  Who or what is your greatest culinary influence?  Why is he/she/it an inspiration to you?
My parents!  My mom knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.  My dad has no idea what he’s doing in the kitchen and comes up with something brilliant.  Both of them work full time and then some, but they always managed to put something on the table for me and my sis.  

When my mom worked nights, my dad would style really simple dinners for us.  Bologna with rice scooped from an ice cream scooper and a fancy cut orange.  We got a big kick out of this.  

My parents love to eat and take much pleasure out of food.  Anything goes with them.  I once called them during dinner and found they were eating mom-made tacos and matzo ball soup.  That’s a pretty accurate reflection of their house.

4.  What is your favorite kitchen utensil and why do you love it?
Not a utensil, but I have to say ovens.  Hong Kong apartments are not equipped with them.  Sometimes not even a stove top, although just that would be sufficient for a Hongkonger’s needs anyway.  Dining out is much more common than eating in, and I don’t blame them, especially if your family of four lives in 600 sq feet.  

After 7 months of living here, I moved from a serviced apartment to a grand apartment of 400 sq feet.  It’s a great place, great location, but can be challenging with the closet and kitchen situation.  It was weird, immediately after moving in I freaked out because I had no oven.  I quickly purchased a turbo countertop convection oven and now can sleep at night. 

5.  What did you eat for dinner this past weekend?
I was traveling last weekend and my Sunday dinner consisted of cupcakes.  They were really delish.  I would have had a proper meal after that but didn’t need it.  Just some wine to follow.

6.  When you were growing up, did you eat Sunday dinner or another meal that brought your friends and family together on a regular basis?  If so, what you you eat?
Growing up we had dinner together every night.  No tv.  Just conversation.  This was very important to my parents and that’s just another reason why they are my greatest culinary influence.  There was never any extended family close by so it was just us four, but for special occasions, birthdays, and holidays we’d get together with family friends.

On an average night, we’d have meat, vegetables, and rice.  Always rice.  My parents get a little nutty if they don’t have rice every day.  Pork chops, chicken adobo, meatloaf…

My mom’s special occasion menu has evolved.  I don’t really remember what was involved in the earlier years but I’m sure there was lumpia, chicken salad, and spinach dip.  The chicken salad has evolved too.  Hers has apples in it, and now it has grapes and nuts.  It’s really good.  Now the menu would have Chilean sea bass and/or carne asada.

7.  Do you have a garden?  If so, what do you grow in it?
I wish I had room for one.  But I have inherited some plants.

Growing up we had an apricot tree, and we’d end up with more fruit than we could ever eat.  So we made jam and gave it as presents.

8.  What is your ultimate food fantasy?
A career in travel & food writing/photography/tv!  

9.  If you could choose to have any person living or dead prepare a meal for you, who would it be?  What would you want to eat?
I want to come up with a smart and fun answer, but best I can do is Prince William.  He likes to cook for his lady but manages to catch the kitchen on fire.  I think it would be a fun time.  And perhaps my only chance to intercept him before the wedding.  The menu would be gentleman’s choice.

10.  Fill in the blank:  "The most important element of a good meal is_________." 
I stand by the obvious answer.  Good company and good wine.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Who Wants to See Moldy Cakes?

Birthday cake past it's prime at the LA County Fair, September 2010.
I do!  But I still wonder why there isn't a time limit on keeping baked goods in the display cases at the LA County Fair.  I've been mulling this issue over since I visited the fair in September and I've developed a few thoughts on the subject.
Display case full of award-winning cakes and quick breads at the LA County Fair, September 2010.

Cracked bread in display case, Sept. 2010.
From a distance, the baked goods all look so beautiful, but when I get up close, all I can see is the ooze, the slime, the cracking, and the mold.  It's so unappealing.... and so fabulous.  And yet there's something wonderful about seeing these award-winning (and losing) baked good fester away in display cases, attracting flies and deterring visitors.  Except for me.

I love visiting the moldy baked goods.  It's the highlight of my annual visit to the fair.  I always plan to go to the fair on the final weekend so the baked goods are in their prime, at least as far as I'm concerned.  Seeing cute baby animals is nice, but it's the moldy cakes and quick breads that steal my heart.
Ooze from a cake attacks a sugar mouse, September 2010.
I'm sure part of the attraction is my morbid fascination with decay.  But there's more to it than that.  There's something very funny about seeing rotting food labeled with a blue ribbon.  This may say something very dark about my personality, but I choose to think of it as finding surrealist magic in the unassuming display cases of the Grandstand building.

The oozing and cracked baked goods also say something very dark about Los Angeles and the limitations of creating and maintaining a large community.  This is an indirect way of saying that it's nearly impossible to create a vital, healthy community if that "community" is over a certain size.  Once the community becomes so large that the people in it no long know each other-- and everyone can't get to the fair in a single week-- then, on some level, it ceases to be a real community.   Personally, I don't care who wins or loses the baked good competitions because I don't know any of them.  I don't think I would enjoy viewing the festering remains if I knew the contestants.  It would be too sad to think how hard my friend or neighbor worked on her cake only to watch it rot under hot lights.

Don't get me wrong-- I love the LA County Fair and I think there are many opportunities for real engagement with the people who grow our food here in Los Angeles.  My family had a great experience watching the goat milking, although trying to participate in the process was a bit of a bust.  (When you're less than two feet tall a goat udder can be pretty scary.)

But if something's not working, why shine bright lights on it?  Why not take the rotting cakes OUT of the display cases?  Add another round of competition halfway through the run of the fair.  Host a jam-boiling on the final weekend and display the prize-winning jars.  Do anything else with the space.  Leave it empty if you must.
Viewers' Choice Winner of Tablescape Competition.
I'd rather see the vacuum as an opportunity to do something new.

Maybe like adding a diorama version of the tablescape competition.  If you've never heard of the tablescape competition, you are seriously missing out.  It's easily my second-favorite part of the fair.  Mostly because it's so crazy and serves no useful purpose.  Just like some of my favorite art.

Tablescaping is exactly what it sounds like.  Participants set a standard-size table following a theme of their choice.  It can be anything from "The Wizard of Oz" to "Sunday Dinner at Grandma's House".

In my dream for the new diorama tablescape competition, each tablescape must fit in a shoe box that is no taller or wider than a shelf in the baked goods display case.  Participants may built their dioramas using any material that does not ooze, mold, crack or otherwise decay.  I wonder if the LA County Fair officials are taking suggestions for new competitions?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Secret History of Country Ham, Part Two

Tim Evans-- writer, tv producer, jackleg historian, and my husband-- wraps up his two-part series on The Secret History of Ham today.  And just in case you missed the original report, be sure to check out Part One as well.

The Secret History of Country Ham, Part Two
By Tim Evans

Some food writers claim that the Roman version of ham – the ham so prized by Roman emperors -- is identical to the Spanish Seranno and Iberico hams of today… the most expensive and highly prized in the world.  (Of course, those food writers tend to be Spanish.)

If this is so, then the same breed of Roman Empire Pig made its way to the New World in 1540 with Hernando DeSoto, the Spanish Conquistador.  DeSoto brought with him 13 Spanish pigs to feed his troops… and the pig herd grew rapidly as DeSoto’s explorers traveled from Florida to Georgia to the Appalachians and Tennessee.  Along the way, DeSoto’s swineherds left behind colonies of pigs to run wild… and feed future expeditions.  Many historians and archaeo-zoologists trace the Southern Razorback Hogs directly to DeSotos’s Conquistadors.  There are no existing accounts of DeSoto’s swineherds.  Sadly.

It’s intriguing that De Soto left pigs behind in EXACTLY the same region that became famous for Country Ham… but that may be coincidence.  Most food historians think the source of American domestic pigs came from Jamestown

European pigs arrived in the first English-speaking colony with Captain John Smith in 1607 – six decades after DeSoto’s piglets were left to run wild.  The Jamestown Pigs soon became so plentiful that the colonists took most of them to an island in the middle of the James River and just left them.  They bred so quickly and so plentifully that “Hog Island” became a communal larder – and colonists and Native Americans alike could just paddle over and grab themselves a fresh pig whenever they wanted.

The Jamestown pigs not only gave the colonists fresh pork… but the salty, dense, incredible substance called Country Ham.  The English colonists had a long history of curing and preserving meat.  One pig and a whole lot of salt could preserve good protein through many colonial “starving times.”

And that brings us back to “Country Ham.”  The food that today is called “Country Ham” was just “Ham” until the invention of refrigeration in the early 20th Century.
A cured country ham ready to be boiled, April 2010.

In fact, there is no written reference to “Country Ham” until 1944.  Country ham wasn’t new in 1944 – the other versions of ham were.  So you had to come up with a name for the thing everyone used to call “just ham.”

By the early 20th Century, technology allowed Americans to inject fresh pork with salt, instead of covering it with salt and letting it hang in the basement.  You could put pork in cans, you could freeze it, you could do all sorts of interesting and tasty things with it… and none of them involved two years immersed in salt.  So the substance I always THOUGHT was ham was “wet-cured” pork shoulder… injected or immersed in brine AFTER they’ve been cooked.  Most of the things called “ham” in the supermarket are fully-cooked and salty versions of pork… bland squares of sliced protein that would never last over a Jamestown winter… or sit in a basement in the Shenandoah Valley for a year or two  before it was deemed ready to eat.
Country Ham is ham the way it should be.  The way our Neolithic forebears liked it… the way the Jamestown colonists tasted it when their very survival was at stake.  In each crusty bite of the dense, salt-laden, molar-cracking swineflesh lies the history of western civilization.

So if, like me, you are familiar only with the damp, honey-flavored, paper-thin globs of pinkness passing as ham at your supermarket, you need to taste the real thing.  If you can’t marry into a ham-curing family (and so few are that lucky, nowadays), find yourself a real southern-style grocery store or contact folks with an international reputation like Turner Hams of Fulks Run, VA and get yourself some of the real stuff.  You owe it to your taste buds.  And to your Neolithic ancestors.

Especially the ones who were swineherds.

Ed. Note:  The folks at Turner Hams are cousins of mine (of a sort).  If you're in the neighborhood, be sure to pick up a ham roll from their refrigerated section.  It's the best fast-food in the world!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Secret History of Country Ham- A Guest Column

The next two posts are guest blogs from frequent reader Tim Evans-- writer, tv producer, and jackleg historian-- who also happens to be my husband.

The Secret History of Country Ham
A Guest Column by Tim Evans

As a guy growing up in Southern California, I knew nothing about ham.

Except, of course, that in its natural state, ham was a bland, square, sliced meat product that came wrapped in various forms of plastic.  Later, I discovered that there was a damp, soggy, sweet-flavored version of ham that could be found in cans.  So I knew ham existed.  But I had never heard of any distinctions beyond brand names.

Then I married the host of this blog, and discovered the sublime and mysterious substance called “Country Ham.”

Country Hams are not just hams.  They’re not Western Hams.  They’re not canned, spiral-cut, boned, rolled, or “ready-to-eat” hams.  They are a specific and unique American food tradition that became endangered in the mid-20th Century… and some of its last specimens can be found in small farms, local grocery stores and Virginia basements.

Like the basement of my father-in-law.
Country hams cure in the basement of Winston Lutz, 2000.

Winston Lutz was born on the family farm in the Shenandoah Valley, and though he’s been “off” the farm since he left for college and med school, he likes to preserve some country hams in the basement, using the secret recipe of his Uncle Elwood.

Winston’s country hams are nothing like the meat product I knew growing up.  Salty, hard, dry, chewy… and so well-preserved that some people soak them in water for days before consuming them.  Country Ham is an acquired taste, but once acquired – nothing else will satisfy your pork cravings.

Winston Lutz’s hams are the last of a long line of disappearing traditional American pork products.  Rather than talk about the taste, quality and preparation of country ham, though, I’ll delve into a brief, little-known history – a secret history – of country ham.

Country ham is at least 4,000 years old. Not the ones in Winston’s basement, of course – though they may look like it.  But the concept of country ham has been part of Western Civilization for more than four millennia.  Pigs were first domesticated in the Middle East over 7,000 years ago.  But recently, geneticists applied DNA studies to the concept of country ham.  It turns out that those Sumerian/Babylonian pigs migrated westward over a few millennium to wind up in Europe… but the Europeans began to interbreed them with the fierce, monstrous wild boars that plagued the forests of Germany and France.  From this breeding project (the mind reels trying to imagine the first time some hungry Goth tried to bring the two sub-species together) came the first European pigs, around 2000 BC.

Pigs are the perfect farm animal.  At least to this city-bred guy… and I suspect to Neolithic farmers as well.  You don’t need to do anything with them… you don’t even need to FEED them!  You just toss a couple of baby pigs into the forest, leave ‘em for 5 months, then go get ‘em and eat ‘em.  Pigs fend for themselves. Even in mid-20th-Century Appalachia, mountain farmers would mark the ears of the piglets and let ‘em run off into the woods, then round them up in the Fall, with absolutely no money spent on care, feeding, tending.  That’s my kind of farm work.

You may need to throw a swineherd into the mix – just to keep the locals or the wolves from eating the piglets.  Neolithic farmers apparently discovered that youngest sons are perfect for this since, like the pigs, they’re cheap and somewhat disposable.  Hence, four millennia of folktales involving swineherds and youngest sons – from The Odyssey to the Welsh Mabinogi to the Disney version The Black Cauldron.

The first WRITTEN accounts of ham were circa 200 BC, when the expanding Roman Republic discovered that those smelly barbarians to the north and west were taking pig flesh, salting it, and letting it sit around for a year or two.  The Romans became enthusiastic fans, not only eating it and writing about it, but commemorating the delightfully salty flavor in ham-shaped COINS.  How come America doesn’t do that?  Why isn’t there a giant, freshly-sliced Smithfield ham on the back of the Virginia Quarter?  Just asking…

Coming up in the next post... how The Emperor's Pigs Came to America... and how they wound up in the basement.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The "Mother" is Dead...

The Bloated "Mother" on Day 8.
And I killed her.  She was so demanding, so needy.  I just couldn't deal with feeding her every five days and making bread every ten days, even on a busy work day.  Any reasonable jury would have called it justifiable homicide, especially if a member of the jury had ever been saddled with a starter for Amish Friendship Bread.  In fact, I don't know anyone who's made Amish Friendship Bread who hasn't eventually done the same thing.

I tried to find another use for it when I knew I couldn't keep going.  I should have made waffles or pancakes out of it.  After all, thanks to The Amish Friendship Bread Pancake Challenge, I have some great recipes.  But I forgot to feed the "Mother" a couple of times and by the time I remembered I was afraid she'd gone bad.  It didn't seem worth poisoning my family out of guilt about throwing away 27 cents worth of ingredients.

I remember this "Mother" fondly.  Thanks to her, I made some bread my family loved and I had a great time hosting the challenge event.  It was a wonderfully kooky version of Sunday dinner which did exactly what Sunday dinner is supposed to do.  It brought family and friends together to enjoy each other's company and eat good food.  And the "Mother" provided a great topic of conversation.  While she lasted, the "Mother" made life fun for everyone, except me.  The Mother.  As mothers often do, this "Mother" worked hard for the benefit of her family and we ate her alive.  My mistake was that we didn't eat ALL of her when we had the chance.  It would have been so easy to mix up an extra batch of waffles.  I could have stashed them in the freezer for some easy kids' breakfasts in the future.  (Yea, we DO eat frozen waffles.  And they're always homemade.  Wanna make something out of it?)
Waffles made with the "Mother" from Amish Friendship Bread.

As you can tell, I feel a little defensive about the "Mother".  Producing guilt can be a mother's greatest triumph.  Or her downfall.  We can all learn a little something from the "Mother".  I know I did.

Palaczinta made with Amish Friendship Bread "Mother".
If you've ever killed the "Mother" for Amish Friendship Bread, I'd love to hear about it.  And I want details...  How long did you have it?  How many batches of bread did you make?  How many "Mothers" did you manage  to give away to unsuspecting bakers?  And how long did you let the "Mother" fester before you finally gave up and threw her away?

If you've got a "Mother" bloating up in a corner of your kitchen right now, don't feel bad about putting her out of her misery.  But if you have the time, make pancakes... or waffles, or palaczinta.  You don't really need the "Mother" to make these recipes, but using up the "Mother" in such a delicious way will help you remember her with love.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Heirloom Foods: Our First Taste of Homemade Calabrian Olives

Bland, But Grand:  Our First Taste of Homemade Calabrian Olives, December 1, 2010.
My husband warned me not to title this blog post "Bland But Grand" because nobody would read it.  I have to say I already regret listening to him because it's a perfect description of my homemade olives.

I started making Calabrian-style olives a month ago and we've been waiting to try the finished product ever since.  I got the recipe (and the raw olives) from my friends Lisa and Louis, and they sent amazing instructions on how to do it, including video tutorials!  I figured I couldn't go wrong.  But my initial results were disappointing.  We tried them the day I jarred them, but they were so tasteless that we declared them "unfinished" and decided to let them fester in their juices for a while.

Ever since I published the complete recipe, people have been writing to me to ask how my olives turned out.  I've been embarrassed to admit that my husband said they "tasted like cellulose".  When I finally told Lisa that I thought I'd done something wrong, she said that when made correctly, Calabrian olives are "bland, but grand" and have a subtle flavor.  So we decided to try them again.  

My version of Calabrian olives have been soaking in a mixture of garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, garlic, and olive oil for a little over three weeks.  I figured that with this aromatic combination, they certainly must have absorbed some kind of flavor.  They did!  My Calabrian olives are indeed "Bland, But Grand".  Louis suggested that I spice my olives conservatively, which seemed like a reasonable idea, but now that I've tried the finished olives, I think I'll experiment by adding different amounts of each ingredient to each of my six jars of olives.  I may even give a few of these "experiments" as holiday presents.  It will be like a Russian Roulette of olive-curing.  Who knows which batch will be great and which will be fit for the dogs.  (Sorry dog-lovers.)  I don't think I have the nerve to give them to Lisa and Louis.  But they wouldn't want them anyway.  They already have over 70 pounds of their own Calabrian olives stashed in their refrigerator.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Third Try's A Charm- Jared's Pale Ale is All That and More...

The first time I watched my friend Jared make beer he was brewing up a batch of Pale Ale.  I didn't realize that the beer had to ferment for several weeks before it would be ready to drink and I was sorely disappointed on that first visit.   I've been obsessed with trying Jared's Pale Ale ever since, especially because Jared made a second batch and it was so popular that I missed it again.  By the third batch I was committed to getting a taste.  I told Jared's wife Amy that I wanted to be alerted as soon as this batch was ready.  Jared had made a  double-batch (ten gallons), so I was pretty sure there's be a decent window of opportunity, but with Jared's beer you never know.

But today was my lucky day.  We went over to visit Jared and Amy, bringing an offering of ripe home-grown avocados in exchange for a taste of his new batch of Pale Ale.  All I can say is that it didn't disappoint.
My third attempt to try Jared's Pale Ale ends in triumph, Nov. 29, 2010.

This batch of beer was made with Jared's home-grown hops, which made it even more spectacular.  I'm not good at describing the nuances of beer, so I feel my vocabulary and my taste-buds will never be able to do it justice.  But it's great.  Really great.  If anybody out there has tried Jared's Pale Ale and feels they can describe it in an adequate manner (including you, Jared), please write and help me out!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday Dinner Questionnaire: Carol Penn-Romine

Carol is impressed with her Swedish Solöga.
I knew about Carol Penn-Romine long before I actually met her.  We both belong to the Culinary Historians of Southern California and I'd seen Carol from a distance many times, but I'd always been afraid to talk to her.  After all, she was a well-respected food writer, chef, and culinary tour guide who knew everyone in the club.   I was a television producer who hung around the edges of the food world on occasion.  We officially met for the first time in the food line following a lecture about a year ago.  I remember that Carol was very kind and funny and I was excited to have made a blip on her radar.  Once we got talking she revealed that she was in the middle of a project called 52 Cuisines in which she was sampling food from 52 different cultures in 52 weeks.  I read more about it on her blog Hungry Passport and I was hooked.

This photo of the Swedish Solögaon (at left) is from the 52 Cuisines project, for which Carol and the man she refers to as "Himself" made a mini-smorgasbord.  I asked for details about the Swedish Solöga, which I knew meant "Sun's Eye", but that was the extent of my knowledge.  Her blog report provided a lot of great information, as well as a recipe.  Carol wrote back saying, "It's so striking to look at and so tasty that it would be good to have occasionally just for the heck of it. You don't have to be doing any international dining adventure to enjoy that one."  You gotta love that kind of enthusiasm, and although I probably won't make a Swedish Solöga anytime soon, I do smile every time I see the photograph.  Of course, that's exactly why Carol sent it.

Carol has an amazing sense of humor about food, which is a treat.  She also wins the prize for making me laugh more than anyone else in questionnaire history by saying that her ultimate food fantasy was to have "an ever-bearing bacon tree", along with a few other genius ideas.  But enough from me... I hope you'll enjoy the questionnaire and the delicious-sounding recipe for "Roasted Garbanzos and Swiss Chard" at the end of this blog report.  Thanks, Carol!
What's for Sunday dinner after Thanksgiving: roasted garbanzos with Swiss chard.
Photo courtesy Andy"Himself" Romine.
The Official Sunday Dinner Questionnaire

1. What is your favorite food to eat? Why?
Hickory-smoked bacon. It’s just the right balance of pork, smoke and salt. I know bacon is trendy these days—or at least the business of putting it into all sorts of sweets and desserts is. But as a farm girl, I ate bacon every day of my life from the time I grew teeth until I left home for college. And since then, too. It has to be good bacon, though, not that mass-produced stuff lining the cold section of the grocery. That’s why I bring back packages of smoked pork in my luggage whenever I return from a visit back home in Tennessee. The local producers there do an amazing job. I stop by Tripp Country Hams in Brownsville, which is about halfway between Memphis and our family farm, and stock up on ham, bacon, cracklins and hog jowl.

2. What is your favorite food to cook? Why?
My mother’s beef roast. I love both the results and the procedure itself—the repetition of those steps gives me a feeling of connection. I’ve never had any beef as satisfying prepared any other way. I don’t make it often anymore, mainly because it’s difficult these days to find the required slabs of beef fat to wrap around the roast. It used to be that I could go to the meat counter and ask for several pieces of fat to be held for me when I bought the roast. But most meat you find in the grocery today has already had every scrap of fat cut away before it ever reaches your neighborhood market. Seriously, how many people go to the store and ask for hunks of fat? Anyway, the procedure involves searing the roast on all sides, then salting and peppering it, wrapping it in slabs of beef fat and slow cooking it overnight in a crock pot set to low—with no liquid. The next day it will loosen and fall into a hundred succulent bites as you lift it out of the crock pot. You don’t have to eat all that fat, of course, but this method of cooking breaks down any resistance the roast might have had if you’d just cooked it in water or some other non-fat liquid. I love beef fixed this way because it makes enough for several meals, and the more times you heat it, the better it gets.

3. Who or what is your greatest culinary influence? Why is he/she/it an inspiration? 
Every unnamed and anonymous person who ever fed me the simplest food, like a serving of green beans cooked in bacon drippings in a well-seasoned iron skillet until they’re as black as the skillet. They have no nutritional value left in them at that point, but they’re good and they’re humbly and honestly prepared. Home cooks who manage to crank out the good stuff three times a day, every day are my heroes. I took them for granted until I grew up and discovered what was involved in performing that feat.

4. What is your favorite kitchen utensil? Why?
My chef’s knife is pretty important, because of how vital it was to most everything I did in culinary school and its daily use since then. I even treasure the callus at the base of my right index finger worn there by its constant rubbing against the top of the blade. But if I’m completely honest, I’d have to say my favorite kitchen utensil is the Homer Simpson bottle opener.

5. What did you eat for dinner this past Sunday?
After the Thanksgiving gorge fest we were weary of the leftovers and needed something that wasn’t quite so rich. My favorite penitential dish that doesn’t taste penitential is roasted garbanzos with Swiss chard, and that’s what we had for Sunday dinner. I’ve never liked garbanzos all that much, except made into hummus, but when you roast them, they develop the most wonderfully creamy texture. This is healthy stuff that seems really decadent with all those great textures and flavors, and it’s one of our new favorite meals.

6. When you were growing up, did you eat Sunday dinner or another meal that brought friends and family together on a regular basis? If so, what do you eat?
In the South, dinner is the meal you eat in the middle of the day, so dinner was what we rushed home to after church. My grandparents ate with us, and sometimes we went to their house, just down the road, and ate with them. The centerpiece of Sunday dinner was quite often that beef roast I’ve already mentioned, along with green beans, black-eyed peas, homemade relish, cornbread and iced tea…a good assortment of standard Southern fare. Sunday supper, which was the evening meal, was typically whatever was leftover from dinner. Or maybe breakfast-for-supper, which I still love. When I don’t know what I want to eat, it’s usually breakfast that I want.

7. Do you have a garden? If so, what do you grow in it?
I have the most pathetic of gardens, an embarrassment to my rural Tennessee upbringing. In the South plants beg to grow, and they require no irrigation and prodding. I still can’t figure out how to grow anything in the Southern California desert climate and soil. However, the herbs in my garden actually do quite well, and I take extraordinary pleasure in being able to dash out the back door and pick fresh ones to toss into the pot. I love brushing my hands through them and coming away smelling heavenly. I’ve even seen our cat, Prima, fall facedown into the rosemary and sleep deeply. I guess we both groove on that aromatherapy thing.

8. What is your ultimate food fantasy?
To have an ever-bearing fig tree and next to it, an ever-bearing bacon tree. And between them a magic well from which I could draw unlimited bucketsful of great cheeses, olives, chocolates and wine. That’s really not so outlandish, is it?

9. If you could choose to have any person living or dead prepare a meal for you, who would it be? What would you want to eat?
Either Carême or Escoffier, because I’m curious to find out firsthand just what it was that made them so very important to fine cuisine as we know it. And I’d eat whatever they chose to prepare for me. I know it would be exquisite.

10. Fill in the blank: "The most important element of a good meal is ______." 
A cloth napkin. I say this because I think it really brings home for me that dining should not be a hasty gobble-and-go proposition. Sitting down, unfolding a cloth napkin and placing it in my lap tells me this is an experience to slow down and enjoy, a meal to savor and a time to share. A cloth napkin elevates even the simplest meal in a way that a paper napkin or paper towel—or a sleeve!—just doesn’t.
Roasted Garbanzos and Swiss Chard.  Photo courtesy Carol Penn-Romine.

Roasted Garbanzos with Swiss Chard
Makes four servings as a main course or about six as a side. This is an easy dish to modify for vegans—just sub vegetable broth for chicken and omit the cheese garnish.

2 15.5-ounce cans garbanzos, drained
5 fat garlic cloves, peeled & quartered long ways (remove core if it’s green)
2 shallots, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ cup olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp. olive oil
5 more fat garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 shallots, sliced
2 bay leaves
2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed & leaves chopped coarsely
1 cup chicken broth
Red pepper flakes, to taste
 Salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour garbanzos into square baking pan or dish, top with garlic, shallots, fennel seeds and bay leaves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and cover with foil. Roast until garlic is tender (not caramelized), 35 to 40 minutes. While garbanzos are in the oven, prep ingredients to make the chard. (If garbanzos finish before you’re ready to cook the chard, just leave the foil on and set aside.)

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer add garlic, shallots and bay leaves. Cover and cook until shallots are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove, cover, add half of the chard and toss until leaves wilt, about 2 minutes. Add remaining chard and repeat. Then add broth and red pepper flakes, cover and cook until chard is tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes (you might need to remove lid to allow most of the broth to evaporate). Season with salt and pepper.

Remove bay leaves from garbanzos and chard. Pour garbanzos and their oil over the chard and toss over medium heat until warmed through. Adjust seasonings to taste, garnish with a grating of parmigiano-reggiano and serve.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Day-After Thanksgiving Ritual: Turkey and Sliva Crumble (Take 2)

The uneaten half of Daniel's turkey, the day after Thanksgiving, 2010.
I look forward to the day after Thanksgiving almost as much I as look forward to Thanksgiving Day itself. Because the day AFTER Thanksgiving I always enjoy a turkey sandwich with my friend Daniel.  There was a time when we celebrated a holiday we invented called "Y-Giving", in which we got together with several friends in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It was really an excuse to eat an extra turkey.

Daniel makes a mean bird, one that's so good that even confirmed vegetarians make an exception for it.  His cornbread sausage stuffing is also out of this world.  The best part is that Daniel allows me to bring an empty "to-go" container for leftovers.  Over the years, I have discovered that the larger the container I bring, the more leftovers I get to take home.  This year he caught on to me.  When he saw my rather large tupperware container sticking out of my bag he said, "If that's your to-go container, I hope you aren't expecting it to go home full!"  Lying in what I hoped was a convincing manner, I told him, "Of course not.  That's just the only clean container I could find."  Luckily for me, Daniel has a competitive nature and I knew he wouldn't be able to resist filing my empty container to the brim.  I ended up going home with his last four Brussels sprouts, two large scoops of unbelievable gravy, and some really yummy cranberry sauce courtesy of our friend Lisa.

My full "to-go" container, November 27, 2010.
Lisa's cranberry sauce.
We chatted while eating our delicious turkey sandwiches that were served, as always, on fresh slices of bread from a loaf I'd picked up at Eagle Rock Italian Deli, Daniel's favorite bakery.  We added fresh lettuce from Daniel's garden and some of Lisa's cranberry sauce.  You just can't beat it.  I even got a side serving of my beloved cornbread sausage stuffing with gravy.

We topped the meal off with a taste of Sliva Crumble.  Those of you who follow this blog know that "sliva" is Bulgarian for "plum" and that Daniel has been working on his recipe for Sliva Crumble for quite a while now.  The last time I tried it, the sliva filling was good, but the topping left something to be desired.  This time, the sliva crumble was great.  Daniel only gave me what he called "A Taste".  Ever the considerate host, he said he didn't want me to have to pretend to like it if I thought it was terrible.  I secretly believe that he wanted to keep more of it for himself.  And I don't blame him.  It was fantastic.

Daniel's third-try at Sliva Crumble.  November 27, 2010.

We finished off our visit, as we often do, with a tour of Daniel's garden.  We checked out the lettuce crop,  the empty chicken coop, and his new hobby... making Chico Ikebana arrangements.  I don't quite understand the theory behind Chiko Ikebana, except to say that it involves the use of at least on extra "accessory" object.  In the case of the arrangement below, it was the tuna can and fabric-covered fish bowl.  Thanksgiving at Daniel's house.  Always an inspiration.
Daniel's first attempt at Chico Ikebana.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Heirloom Foods: The Complete Guide to Making Calabrian Olives

My home-cured Calabrian-style olives on the day I jarred them, Nov. 2010.
Here it is at long last, The Complete Guide to Making Calabrian Olives... at least as far as I understand it.  This recipe came to me in parts via Louis Marchesano and Lisa Anne Auerbach.  I hope I've done it justice.  And I hope they'll let me know if I haven't.  Along the way, they made me a series of great videos, which is ESD's first video tutorial.  Thanks again, Lisa and Louis, for all the instruction.  I hope the Calabrian olive-making process will live on through our readers!

Step 1:  Smash the olives to loosen the pit.

Step 2:  Put the smashed olives in a bowl and cover them with water for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.  Soaking in water will loosen the pit from the olive and you will be able to remove it much more easily. 

Lisa's stained hands after taking the pits out of a lot of olives.
Step 3:  Take out the pit.  Pretty self-explanatory, although it does take a while.  I learned that it's best to do this standing up with the containers at a comfortable height.  Otherwise your back will be killing you by the time you finish.  And of course, your hands will be stained no matter what you do!  Watch the video for proper technique.

Step 4:  After taking out the pit, put the olives in a large container and cover with water.  Change the water twice a day for about a week.  The olives will start to turn brown and so will the water you pour off of them.  According to Lisa you need to check to see if they're ready.  She says, "Taste them, the bitterness should be largely gone, but if there is a bit of bitterness it's ok. They should not get mushy though so don't leave them in the water for too long... it is a delicate balance."  (I think I screwed this part up.  At first I wasn't changing the water twice a day.  And then I think I might have left them in the water a little too long.  They weren't mushy and they weren't bitter, but they weren't very flavorful either.  Live and learn.)

Step 5:  Press the water out of the olives.  Lisa and Louis broke down and bought a food press (really an apple cider press) to deal with their enormous quantity of olives.  I did it the old-fashioned way... with a ricer.  It's important to get as much water out of the olives as you can.  I was afraid of crushing the olives at first, but after a while I realized that I could use every bit of strength I had, and the olives still kept their shape.

My jarring process.
Step 6:  Put the olives in jars.  Put all the olives you can squeeze into a clean, dry jar.  Add a clove of garlic, cut into 2 or 3 pieces.  Add  dried oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.  Dried crushed chili flakes or Calabrian peppers are also a nice addition if you like your olives spicy.  When I jarred my olives, I mixed the olives, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl with a bit of olive oil and poured it into a jar.  I packed the mixture down into the jar several times as I went along.  Lisa suggested that I overpack the jars, which I did.  Finally, add several inches of additional olive oil to the jar.  

Step 7:  Let the jars it out for 24 hours to absorb the flavors.  Put the jars into the refrigerator for storage.  When you want to eat your olives, take them out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for an hour before serving.  The olive oil from the bottom of the jar is especially good eaten on a chunk of torn (not cut!) bread.  Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Surprise- "The Cransquash"

Luca's photo of The Cransquash, November 2010.
A few days ago, my friend Luca Loffredo wished me a Happy Thanksgiving with a most welcome holiday gift-- a recipe for "The Cransquash."  Luca is not only a great photographer (he took the photo of me you see on this page) but a fantastic chef with an illustrious career in some of the finest restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  I was so excited to receive a new recipe from Luca that I decided to publish it... as I head off to buy dried cranberries to try it myself.  If you make "The Cransquash", let me know how you like it.

The Cransquash
By Luca Loffredo

  • 1.5 Pound Butternut squash peeled and cut into cubes
  • 2 Small onions, sliced julienne
  • 2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 Cup packed parsley leaves
  • 1/2 Cup or more dried cranberries
  • 1 Cup of vegetable broth (or chicken, but it must be a very light broth)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • A drizzle of Balsamic syrup (optional)
  • After you hassled to peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds and cut into one-inch cubes.
  • Slice the onions julienne style (thin sliver lengthwise, just follow the natural lines of the onions).
  • Set a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and onions over high heat. Sauté until soft and lightly translucent.
  • Add half of the butternut squash.  Stir and add the white wine, being careful to watch for the alcohol to flame up.
  • Deglaze until the wine is reduced to two thirds of it’s volume.
  • Add the remaining squash and the parsley leaves along with 1 cup broth.
  • Cover the pan and cook at medium heat until the butternut squash starts to soften. Stir frequently and check to make sure the mixture stays wet.  If you run out of broth, add hot water.
  • Once the squash is tender but not falling apart, increase the heat and remove the lid from the pan.
  • Add the cranberries, season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine ingredients.
  • Remove pan from heat and served garnished with more fresh parsley and a drizzle of balsamic syrup.
If you have leftover Cransquash, you can use it for a delicious homey pasta dish.  Just sauté a few slices of garlic with a bit of chili flakes.  Add the squash mixture and enough broth or water to cover the mixture. Bring to boil and add Fusilli pasta or broken spaghetti. Cook it until al “dente”, if necessary add more hot water. Serve with grated Parmigiano cheese.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    The Night Before Thanksgiving...

    I spent much of today cooking for Thanksgiving, so I needed to think of something simple and comforting to make for dinner.  I have a cold I can't seem to kick and I feel chilled to the bone, as my mother would say.  (No complaints from people who live in REAL cold weather.  I'm sick.  Cut me some slack.)  Not feeling very ambitious, I opened the freezer to see what might be lurking there.  Lo and behold, I discovered a frosty container of white beans and country ham.  My mother, who made this batch when she visited in September, calls it "Senate Bean Soup".  I don't understand why it's called "soup".  I know there is such a thing, but this recipe makes what I'd call a "mess of beans" laced with large chunks of my dad's home-cured country ham.  And it's just what I needed tonight.  I even managed to dig up a photo from my mother's visit so you can see what the beans looked like as they cooked.
    A pot of white beans and ham, Sept. 22, 2010.

    I'll be the first to admit that the beans just aren't the same after they're frozen, but even in their degraded condition, they're still pretty good.  To go with the beans, I made salmon cakes, which always remind me of my Grandma Willie, especially when I fry them in her cast iron skillet.  Here's my recipe, modified from the verbal instructions given to me by my Grandma Willie.
    The last remaining salmon cake in my cast iron skillet on Thanksgiving Eve, 2010.

    Grandma Willie's Salmon Cakes

    In a small bowl, mix:

    • 1 large (14.75 oz.) can salmon, picked to remove skin and large bones
    • 1 beaten egg
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
    • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (if you have it)
    • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
    • 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs or 3 saltine crackers, crumbled into small bits
    Mix well and form into 5 salmon cakes (patties).  

    Put approximately 3/4 cup of panko breadcrumbs onto a plate.  Coat both sides of each salmon cake with panko breadcrumbs.  (At this point you can put salmon cakes into the refrigerator until you're ready to cook them.)

    Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a cast iron skillet at medium heat for a few minutes.  When skillet is hot, add salmon cakes and cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes on each side.  You may need to add another tablespoon of oil when you flip them.  Salmon cakes should be heated through and crusty brown on each side.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Sunday Dinner Questionnaire: Tracy Candido

    For over two years, I received e-mails from Sweet Tooth of the Tiger inviting me to various gallery exhibitions and art events.  The invitations always said that homemade baked goods would be offered in exchange for a small donation.  If you've ever attended an art opening, you know that the food, if there is any, is rarely good.  It seemed smart to butter people up with butter.  And sugar.  But I also imagined some people being confused or freaked out by this simple act.  Tracy Candido, the force behind this project, had found a way to talk about the complex relationship between food, art, commerce, and community.  It was part performance art, part old-school social networking, and I thought it was brilliant.  Each time I received an invitation to one of these events I wanted to hop a plane to New York.  I never did. 
    Tracy Candido at Community Cooking Club #5 at Etsy in Brooklyn.

    Luckily, Tracy has embarked on a series of new projects that sound just as fantastic, so my fantasy about making a spur of the moment trip to New York lives on.  She organizes projects such as the Community Cooking Club, which she describes as "a monthly socially-engaged program that provides opportunities to prepare, cook and eat food".  That's my kind of fun.  I also wish I could participate in her upcoming "Meet and Eat", a multi-sensory tour of contemporary art.  (I can't wait to hear more about that project and I'm hoping to convince Tracy to send photos that I can post on the blog.)  You can also check out her monthly recipe column for 127 Prince, a national online journal discussing the topic of socially-engaged art, for which she is on the editorial board.  

    I once sent her a short story for a food zine that hasn't come to fruition... yet.  Oddly enough, it was this story about my "secret recipe" for my grandmother's coconut cake that got me thinking about sharing family recipes in a more public way.  I'm pleased to say that Tracy has contributed her Grandmother's recipe for Ruggulah, which you will find at the end of her questionnaire.  I can't wait to try it out.  Thanks, Tracy!

    The Official Sunday Dinner Questionnaire
    What is your favorite food to eat?  Why?
    I have so many favorite foods for different reasons, but when narrowing it down to just one, I'd choose my dad's spaghetti sauce and meatballs with Savino's handmade fuscilli.  The recipe for the sauce is about 80 years old and is passed down from my Sicilian grandmother, who still makes the sauce occassionally.  The secret ingredient is a ton of basil, added at the end and simmered with the sauce.  Recently, I visited my dad and he taught me how to make the sauce and the meatballs.  He has all of these neat chef tricks that help create the most tender, fragrant and tasty meatballs ever.  I used the sauce that I made with him for a public spaghetti dinner at a pub around the corner from my house in Greenpoint (Brooklyn) and experimented with local pasta from Savino's.  I ordered 7 pounds of fuscilli at the tiny family run pork store and had to come back later in the afternoon because they had to make it- that's how fresh their pasta is.  It's so light and tender yet chewy and has a wonderful taste.

    What is your favorite food to cook?  How often and under what circumstances do you make it?
    I really like to bake more than I like to cook.  Cooking is easy; once you learn what flavors taste good together, eventually you can just make something out of nothing.  Baking is more of a challenge for me because of the precise nature of it.  My favorite thing I like to bake would probably be my grandmother's cinnamon-sugar-walnut ruggulah.  It should be clear at this point that I'm highly sentimental!  Everytime I use the recipes that family members have passed down to me, memories of eating and sharing food with them come to mind.  My grandmother (on my mom's side) taught me how to make ruggulah when I was about 7 years old.  The dough is formed with your hands, so she let me squish and wiggle my fingers in the dough.  When I make the cookies now, they're still as sweet and flaky as they were when she made them.  I usually make them around the holidays and give them as gifts to friends.

    Who or what is your greatest culinary influence?  Why is he/she/it an inspiration to you?
    I really love Jennifer Rubell's work.  She's a trained chef but she's also an artist who uses food as a medium.  She does these wonderful interactive dinners that she's showcased at the Brooklyn Museum and at the Performa Biennial in New York, among other places.  I love the way she interprets the visual into the sensual and really plays with the food.  She's also a great chef- everything tastes delicious!  I've used a few of her recipes for the
    Community Cooking Club and they're always so tasty and easy.

    What is your favorite kitchen utensil and why do you love it?
    My favorite kitchen utensil is probably the whisk.  It's more like a science tool than anything else!  With a couple of strong flicks of the wrist, cream becomes butter.  And what's better than homemade butter?  My roommate is vegan, and when I moved in I couldn't believe that she didn't have a whisk.  And then I realized that besides scrambling eggs and whipping cream, whisks don't really have much of a purpose, do they?

    What did you eat for dinner this past weekend?
    This weekend I didn't really eat very well!  So I'll mention last weekend: On Saturday I had dinner at The General Greene restaurant in Fort Greene (Brooklyn) and had their incredibly delicious sweet potato soup and their ham and gruyere bread pudding, with a pork slap ale.  On Sunday I made a big bowl of leftover Savino's fuscilli (from my freezer) with Presidente butter (from Normandy- so sweet and creamy and just the right amount of saltiness), Locatelli grated Peccorino-Romano cheese, and freshly ground black pepper.

    When you were growing up, did you eat Sunday dinner or another meal that brought your friends and family together on a regular basis?  If so, what you you eat?
    Yes!  I'm half Italian, growing up with my grandparents and my dad being very rooted in Italian food and tradition.  Almost every Sunday was spent at my grandparent's Brooklyn apartment, waiting for dinner to be served.  It seemed like a thousand aunts, uncles, and cousins magically fit inside this tiny apartment.  Certain things made the dinners special: my grandfather coming to meet us at the outside door to smother us with kisses and bring us inside, the smell of garlic wafting through the hallway, the loud and chaotic yet loving atmosphere in the kitchen.  And there were the rituals: my grandmother setting the last bowl of "macaroni" on the table, my grandfather raising his glass to say "salud" before anyone was allowed to eat, and the most delicious Italian pastries (plus some fruit my grandfather would peel into this beautiful spiral and then force us to eat) displayed and gobbled up at the end of the meal.  When we weren't in Brooklyn for Sunday dinner, we were out in the country in Pennsylvania, visiting my other grandmother (the one who taught me how to make ruggulah) over much quieter suppers of stuffed cabbage, kielbasi and horseraddish, potato pancakes, and apple pie.  After eating we would take a walk up the dirt road to say hello to the dairy cows on the farm at the top of the hill.  A lot of the work that I currently do engages with food memories and with the magical aspects of eating together in groups, and I do believe both of these experiences I had while growing up are heavy influences.

    Do you have a garden?  If so, what do you grow in it?
    Sadly, I do not have a garden.  I don't even have any house plants!  I really love to garden though, and used to help my mom when I was younger.  She's still very active in the spring and summer and tells me about all of the different kinds of tomatoes she grows.  Having a garden is something I'm looking forward to doing when I don't live in a tiny Brooklyn apartment and have some more outdoor space.

    What is your ultimate food fantasy?
    What a great question!  My ultimate food fantasy might be to hold a Community Cooking Club
    , which is a monthly socially-engaged program that provides opportunities for friends to prepare, cook and eat food, at the White House.  At the Community Cooking Club events, there is no chef, just recipes, ingredients, and kitchen tools, and the participants teach each other.   We would make Barack's and Michelle's favorite family recipes, together with the whole White House staff, using ingredients from their "organic" garden.

    If you could choose to have any person living or dead prepare a meal for you, who would it be?  What would you want to eat?
    I would probably want to eat one of those sugar sculptures that were created for kings and queens in the high courts in England in the 16th century.  Apparently they were these beautiful and ornate sculptures but they were meant to be eaten, and apparently they were very tasty.

    Fill in the blank:  "The most important element of a good meal is________________."
    The most important element of a good meal is "people to share it with."  And "salt."

    by Tracy Candido

    1.  Cookie Dough
    • 2 cups sifted flour
    • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
    • 8 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
    Mix the above ingredients with hands in a bowl and shape into a ball.  Divide the ball into 4 small balls.  Wrap each ball in wax paper and refrigerate for 2 hours.

    2.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease cookie sheets.

    3.  Filling
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    • 1/4 to 1/2 cup raisins
    Combine above ingredients in a bowl.

    4.  Remove one dough ball from refrigerator (work one ball at a time).  Let stand for 15 minutes.  Flour a board and rolling pin and a pastry cloth.  Roll ball into a circle 1/4 inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut into 8 triangular slices.  Sprinkle filling over circle, remembering that that filling has to last for 4 balls.  Roll up like crescent rolls starting from outside and working toward the center of the circle.  Place on cookie sheet and bake for 15 - 20 minutes depending on your oven temperature.  When they start to brown take them out.  Let cool for 1 minute, then roll each cookie in plan sugar and cool completely. Repeat step 4 for the other 3 balls.