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.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Cold Weather Stew and Chili

    I just got off the phone with my friend Daniel, who was in the middle of frying bacon to make beef stew.  His recipe called for rendering the fat off the bacon and then frying the beef in it.  I asked for the recipe, which he has promised to send once he decides if he likes the way it turned out.  The obvious follow-up discussion was, of course, how much better everything tastes when it's fried in bacon fat.  As much as I try to make healthy foods for my family, there are times when nothing but cured pork will do.  I usually have a stash of country ham trimmings leftover from the Christmas ham in my freezer.  When that's gone, I move on to bacon.

    I can't resist the lure of bacon, especially when it comes to using it as a flavor base for stew and chili.  Daniel said the best chili he's ever made came from an LA Times recipe entitled "Bowl of Red Chili".  The recipe serves 20 to 24, which seems like a lot, but when I mentioned that I bet it froze well, he said, "It did!" It's raining here and a perfect day to make chili.  But I don't want to leave the house.  When it stops raining, I will make a trip to the store and cook up a batch for another rainy day.
    A rainy day at our house.  November 20, 2010.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    EATLACMA Goes Out in Style

    Last week I went to the closing event for EATLACMA, the amazing food-related art exhibition at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  The exhibition was curated by LACMA curator Michele Urton and the group Fallen Fruit.  I originally wrote about this show in September when I first saw it, but I had no idea that the closing event would be such an extravaganza.

    Doughnut wall at EATLACMA, November 2010.
    It is always great to see LACMA embracing newer, fresher ideas about what art can be.  Gone are the days of spending a quiet hour in the empty halls of the Ahmanson Building gazing longingly at the micromosaic collection (although I must admit that I deeply miss that collection of beautiful tiny objects.)  Last Sunday, the atrium of the Ahmanson Building was jam-packed with crowds watching numerous events, including a scantily-clad Michelle Carr doing a recreation of Josephine Baker's Banana Dance.  My daughter and I stumbled upon this performance on our way out of the bathroom.  I was surprised to find myself launching into an impromptu discussion of Josephine Baker's work based on the question, "Mommy, why is that woman wearing a banana skirt?"  I was similarly surprised to encounter a wall full of half-eaten doughnuts and a watermelon eating contest presided over by Miss Barbie-Q.  And the surprises just kept coming.
    Digging up potatoes as part of The Way Potatoes Go.

    Washing our potatoes at LACMA.
    With over fifty artists and artist collectives participating, it was impossible to see everything.  In the end we focused on two events-- The Way Potatoes Go-- From Dirty to Mouth by Åsa Sonjasdotter and Bari Ziperstein's 1,095: One Year's Worth of Other People's Plates.  We stumbled upon the great potato project because the girls saw dirt and needed to get their hands in it.  Brilliant.  It was really fun to dig around in the potato plot which sprouted out of the courtyard's concrete slab.  The garden plot was divided by a row of plaques which described the history and characteristics of the potatoes that grew in each section.  Viewers could dig up the potato of their choice, wash it off, and take it to be cooked and eaten on site.  Our group didn't have the patience to wait for potatoes to cook, but we did pocket a few to steam at home.  We also contributed a small donation for a brochure that listed all the information contained on the plaques.  Since the show, I've been contemplating growing potatoes in our garden and plan to use this brochure  to help select potato varieties.  With any luck, our garden will be producing "Lumpers" and "Pink Fir Apple" potatoes by next summer.

    Bari Ziperstein (center) builds plate mandala.
    After prying garden trowels out of my girls' dirty fingers, we finally made our way to our ultimate destination-- Bari Ziperstein's 1,095: One Year's Worth of Other People's Plates.  I'd read about it the first time we saw the show and was intrigued by the idea of an artist collecting 1,095 plates, the number of plates a person would need to eat three meals a day for one year.  (Assuming, of course, that the person ate off a new plate for each meal.)

    I loved being able to contribute plates to the project, but I didn't expect to have my photo taken with the plates when the girls and I dropped them off at Bari's studio.  Each plate was carefully numbered and documented as they were contributed to the project.  On the day of the closing event, this collection of plates was assembled into a mandala.  At 3:30 pm, participants were allowed to choose new plates in exchange for the number of plates they had previously contributed.  Like most public art events, there was a certain amount of confusion regarding plate selection etiquette. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I was partially responsible for what I believe was the day's only plate-crashing incident.  I was in line behind a very nice photographer who was slowly perusing the collection.  When he lifted a large, ugly plate to reveal a stack of small plates shaped like ears of corn, I couldn't help letting out a squeal of delight.  They were just what I was looking for-- kitschy, classic, and fun all at once.  The photographer heard my excitement and tried to help me by picking up the plate for me.  Unfortunately, his long camera lens smacked into a pile of plates in front of him and knocked a glass sphere off the top of the stack.  It went crashing to the floor and broke into a thousand tiny pieces.  The crowd gasped in unison and then broke into applause.  It was fantastic.  I got my corn plate, along with three other charming keepsakes.

    All in all, it was a great day for art, and my only regret is that we didn't see more of it.  I look forward to inviting Bari over to our house next summer to eat home-grown heirloom potatoes off our new/old plates.
    The plate selection frenzy begins.  

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Mystery Solved: Sliva Crumble

    Sliva tree in Daniel's yard, November 2010.
    Last week I published a report on my friend Daniel's Mystery Fruit Crumble and said I hoped he'd call me before he made it again.  And he did.

    Daniel first showed me the tree that this mystery fruit came from.  It's a funny little tree, squeezed in his side yard.  Not much to look at, truth be told, but it sure bears a lot of fruit.  The funny thing is that it doesn't seem like fruit you'd want to eat.  Daniel has decided that this fruit is called sliva, which is Bulgarian for "plum".  The sliva, as we will now refer to them, are green and hard as rocks when they come off the tree.  Daniel says they never ripen in the normal sense, meaning they never change color or get soft.  But the squirrels love them.  Eventually Daniel decided to take a cue from the squirrels and give them a try.

    Daniel sections off the silva.
    He showed me how he gets the fruit peeled away from the pit, which was easier than I expected.  He doesn't bother to peel the skin off, but he does cut the fruit of the sliva off into six sections and then pulls the flesh off in chunks.  The skin is a little hairy like a peach, but it's thin enough to be unobjectionable when baked in a crumble.

    Unless you're a squirrel, you wouldn't want to eat a sliva raw.  We tried it and it wasn't good.  Tart and crunchy, but not very tasty.  Not disgusting, but not good either.  After trying a raw sliva, I wasn't so sure if the sliva crumble would be any good, but I'd come with the express purpose of trying the Mystery Crumble and I wasn't going to back out now.  I was sure it wouldn't be inedible, but I wasn't holding out much hope for a fabulous taste sensation.

    Disastrous crumble topping on sliva crumble.
    Daniel also warned me that the topping on this second crumble was "an unmitigated disaster". I must admit that this was true.  Daniel is a great baker and he told me exactly where he went wrong the second time around.  "I shouldn't have added the milk without also adding baking powder".  I agree.  You can find his original recipe (minus the milk mistake) in the original post.  But the baked sliva fruit itself was a pleasant surprise.

    Once baked, sliva is completely transformed.  The color of the fruit is like a green gage plum, but it holds up much better to cooking than a plum.  The texture is like that of a peach and just as delicious.  It's not as sweet as a peach and since Daniel doesn't tend to make supers-sweet baked goods, the taste of the sliva itself really came through.  It didn't hurt that he topped it with sour cream.  I have to admit that I wouldn't fight the squirrels for them (too much trouble to cut them up), but the next time Daniel makes a sliva crumble, I'll be the first person in line with an empty bowl.
    Delicious sliva crumble, topped with sour cream, November 2010.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    The Return of Sunday Dinner: The World's Best Pork Roast

    I haven't written about our Sunday dinners much recently because Sunday dinner has taken a back-seat to grading midterms, cleaning the house, and trying to squeeze in some much-needed fun family time.  In the past two months we've taken great trips to the LA County Fair, a local farm, and the great food show at LACMA.  Unfortunately, our dinners have been pretty much pulled together from whatever we had roaming around in the refrigerator.  I think there's definitely a time for letting Sunday dinner take a backseat to other concerns, but I am thrilled to report that thanks to my husband, Sunday dinner is back at our house.
    The best pork roast I have ever eaten, Sunday, November 14, 2010.

    A few months ago the stress of daily life started taking it's toll and I couldn't see my way through the piles of laundry and dirty dishes.  I couldn't begin to think about making an elegant meal for Sunday dinner.  I make pretty much all our meals from scratch and we have dinner together every night of the week, so we still had lots of family meals, just no Sunday dinner.  For a while, I thought, "We eat together ALL THE TIME.  I cook homemade meals for my family EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK.  Who cares about Sunday dinner?"

    Turns out, I do.  It wasn't until we'd been skipping Sunday dinner for a while that I realized how much I missed it.   Sunday dinner IS special.  Or at least it can be.  Sunday dinner is a meal in which everyone can eat the same thing at the same time.  I don't have to worry about planning two meals a night because the little ones can't hold out long enough for the adults to get home from school and work.  On Sundays we can eat earlier and since we aren't all starving and cranky, we have time to really enjoy the food that we're eating and take time to talk to each other as we eat.  But I still wasn't ready to launch back into it again.  That's when my husband stepped in and said, "I want to cook Sunday dinner.  And if we can't make time on Sunday, I'll cook a meal on Saturday instead.  I will shop for this meal and prepare enough food that we'll have leftovers for at least one additional meal.  You are not to ask about it or volunteer to help in any way.  I haven't cooked much since I married you, but you know there was a time when I fed myself and other people in my family and we ate pretty well.  I am in charge.  Go grade some papers.  The girls and I are going to the store."  And then he left.

    I didn't know what to make of this.  I was confused and I must admit, a little suspicious.  I didn't think this delightful idea would last long and frankly, I didn't want to get my hopes up.  Now, this is not to say that my husband isn't an exceedingly kind and helpful person.  He is.  But this was too good to be true.  He's been making Sunday dinner for a few weeks now, but it wasn't until this past Sunday that I realized that he was serious about his Sunday dinner project.  Low and behold, my husband had made pork roast with blackberry sauce for dinner.  He sheepishly admitted that this was the first pork roast he'd ever made and as we started eating he asked for suggestions to make it even better next time.  My only suggestion was "Keep cooking!"

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Sunday Dinner Questionnaire: David Cecelski

    David Cecelski and his daughter Vera.

    I recently discovered the food blog of David Cecelski, which chronicles David’s culinary adventures in the state of North Carolina.  I sent David a fan letter of sorts because of his focus on the connection between the food that people eat and the places in which they live.  David is uniquely qualified to write about this topic because he was raised on the North Carolina coast and he’s also an accomplished historian.

    In addition to having an amazing blog, David is the author of several award-winning books, including The Waterman’s Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina.  He’s currently finishing up his most recent book, The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway’s Civil War, a biography of a slave who became a notorious Union spy.

    Since David's blog is full of fabulous recipes, I asked if he was willing to share one for this questionnaire.  He suggested a recipe for Beatrice Mason’s Pickled Green Tomatoes and said he thought of this one “because it’s seasonal today.  People here make them when they’re expecting the first frost to kill their tomatoes imminently.  And because I'm making them today.”  You'll find the recipe after the questionnaire.

    Thanks, David, for your recipe and your questionnaire responses.  I hope our readers will check out your blog NC Food for further information on North Carolina foodways.  I know I will!

    The Official Sunday Dinner Questionnaire

    1.  What is your favorite food to eat?  Why?
    That's a terribly hard question to answer. I'd probably have a different answer for every month of the year. Right now, though, the oyster season just opened here on the North Carolina coast and I think I'd have to say "roast oysters." We get them out of the bays a few miles from here, clean the shells, and roast them outdoors over over hot coals, covered with a burlap bag that we sprinkle with water to make a little steam. Around here old men carry oyster knives in their pockets all autumn and winter, just in case they happen up somebody having an oyster roast. Not being quite an old man yet, I just keep my oyster knife in the car.

    2.  What is your favorite food to cook?  How often and under what circumstances do you make it?
    There's nothing I love more than making muscadine grape-hull preserves. I enjoy every part of it--picking the grapes in late August or early September, removing the hulls and separating them from the seeds, which is kind of a Zen thing, and the intoxicating smell of the hulls and the grape insides as they're cooking on the stovetop--just divine.

    3.  Who or what is your greatest culinary influence?  Why is he/she/it an inspiration to you?
    Probably my grandmother, Vera Bell. Her Sunday dinners were unforgettable--fried chicken, oyster fritters, collards with corn dumplings, homemade vegetable soup, fig preserves, lacy cornbread, and more. I think that I'd relish those dishes anyway, but because I also connect them to her I've always wanted to cook like she did.

    4.  What is your favorite kitchen utensil and why do you love it?
    Has to be my oyster knife. I am a (very) amateur blacksmith and I made it myself, and I modeled it after a late 19th-century one that my great-uncle used to have--he was an oysterman by trade.

    5.  What did you eat for dinner this past weekend?
    My big meal was Saturday night at my 88-year-old cousin's house and he made fresh pigs feet, served in apple vinegar with a little salt. Very tender, and quite a delicacy among the older crowd here. Not my favorite, but any meal that I get to share with my cousin is a good meal. 

    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 do you eat?
    Yes, as I mentioned above, we had dinner every Sunday after church at my grandmother's home, an old, antebellum farmhouse on the North Carolina coast (which is mine now). Because we lived on the coast, we tended to eat a lot of seafood--oyster fritters, soft shell crabs, clam chowder with corn dumplings, etc. Fried chicken every week. And lots of vegetables--fried corn, collard greens (also with corn dumplings and white potatoes), butterbeans, etc. It was always my grandmother, my family of six, and a couple of great-aunts, but sometimes others, too.

    7.  Do you have a garden?  If so, what do you grow in it?
    Yes. This year I grew pole beans, a couple kinds of butterbeans, sweet corn, cantaloupes, watermelon, okra, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, broccoli, and some herbs. Also, a few eggplants that succumbed to flea beetles.

    8.  What is your ultimate food fantasy?
    You're kidding, right? Some things are best left off the printed page....

    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?
    Hmmm. Really hard question. Well, it's not exactly a meal, but.... My grandfather had an African-American half-brother with whom he was very close (a rare thing in the Jim Crow South--the being close part and out in the open, not the half-brother thing). That was back in the 1920s and '30s. I never really got to know him--he died when I was a small child-- but he was famous in this area for making top-of-the-shelf corn liquor during Prohibition and beyond. He was also a master carpenter and farmer, I should probably say, and very successful at everything to which he put his hand. Anyway, if I could dream up a meal, I'd love to have that gentleman make me a tumbler full of his 'shine and maybe roast some oysters and jumping mullet. I don't really like any homemade moonshine that I've ever had, but I'd still like to try his and I'd like to sit and share a meal and listen to his stories about his life and his life with my grandfather.

    10.  Fill in the blank:  "The most important element of a good meal is________." 
    Sounds cheesy, I know, but of course it's who you're sharing the meal with, and how much you love them. Having a few ears of sweet corn right out of the garden as a side dish doesn't hurt, either, though.

    And as promised, here is David's recipe for pickled green tomatoes, which he got from Beatrice Mason, a family friend and neighbor who grew up in Core Creek, North Carolina.  For the full story behind the recipe, check out his blog NC Food.  Once you read the story, the pickles you make with this recipe will taste even better!  Our tomato plants have stopped producing for the season and I've already pulled out most of the plants, but I look forward to trying this recipe next year.

    Combine and cover with 2 quarts cold salt water:
    ·      2 quarts green tomatoes, sliced
    ·      2 cups, green pepper, sliced
    ·      1 cup onion, sliced
    ·      4 medium hot peppers
    ·      1 tbsp. turmeric

    Let stand 3-4 hours. Drain. Cover again with cold water. Let stand 1 hour. Drain.
    Tie in cheesecloth and set in pot:
    ½ cup black pepper
    2 tbsp. mustard seed
    2 tsp. whole cloves
    2 tsp. allspice
    Add to pot:
    2 sticks cinnamon
    1 and ½ cups brown sugar
    1 quart apple cider vinegar
    Simmer until very hot. Bring to boil. Remove cheesecloth. Seal in sterilized jars.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Heirloom Foods: Jarring Calabrian Olives

    I was thrilled to see Lisa and Louis' latest olive-making movie hit my in-box this evening.  Tomorrow I will embark on the process of jarring the olives I've made over the past week.  I must admit that I was feeling a little nervous about it, but this video has me convinced that it's not as hard as I thought it would be.  (Turns out, it's much easier than "real" canning, which requires heat baths and pinging lids.)  Of course, since these olives aren't really "canned", they have to be kept in the refrigerator.  But something tells me this won't be much of an issue.  They won't last long enough to create a storage problem.  

    Thanks again, Lisa and Louis, for sending this final installment in our first video tutorial.  Next, I'll be posting photos and full directions for the Calabrian olive-making process, just in case you missed a step or two along the way.


    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Heirloom Foods: Getting the Water Out of the Olives

    Lisa and Louis are STILL making Calabrian olives.  They're on their third or fourth batch by now, but I'm still on my first.  And now it's time for me to press the water out of the olives.  Luckily, they've sent another video to teach me how to do it.

    If you have as many olives to cure as Lisa and Louis (and you've already broken your potato ricer through over-use like they did), you'll be best off buying a real food press. But if you're like me and you only have six quarts of olives in the making, you'll use your potato ricer.  I finished mine this morning and it worked just fine.  In fact, it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.  Much easier than pitting the olives!