Friday, July 29, 2011

Candied Orange Peel- Why Can't It Taste Like Fouchon?

Blobs of chocolate-covered orange peel (without the rack)-- big mistake, July 2011.
Perhaps it's unreasonable to expect my first attempt at making chocolate-covered candied orange peel to come out like the unbelievably delicious version I ate at Fouchon Paris during my honeymoon, but I always think it's good to high standards.  Sadly, it didn't work out all that well this time.

I love candied orange peel and I'll eat it anyway I can get it.  Good, bad, mediocre... I love it all.  I even like the jellied kind from Trader Joe's.  So when I got tired of making marmalade and couldn't figure out what else I could do with all the sour oranges on our tree, I figured I couldn't go wrong with candied orange peel.

I scoured the internet and many of my cookbooks, including my great-grandmother's Inglenook Cookbook for recipes.  Eventually I invented a recipe that seemed to have the most common elements from the handful of recipes I found.  This was my first mistake.

I should have just tried the best of the recipes as written.   I make this mistaken fairly often and it frequently leads to disaster... or at least a mediocre result.  I don't know why I still  continue down this path.  I guess it's because I usually find one part of a recipe that doesn't look quite right and I think, "If I only add this part from the first recipe and that part from the second, I'm sure it will work out."  Live and learn.

Here's the recipe I tried.  It yielded a not-too sugary orange peel with a non-glossy chocolate surface.   (The best part was the chocolate covered marshmallows I made for the girls with the leftover chocolate.)  It was a somewhat disappointing enterprise, but I think I'll look through some old confectionary books and try again.
A trio of confections drying, July 2011.

Chocolate-Covered Candied Orange Peel


Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sized oranges
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 18 cups water (16 for blanching peels, 2 for making simple syrup)
  • 10 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate

Instructions:

  • Slice the ends off four oranges.
  • Using a paring knife, slice the skin off the orange with some of the pith.  (I wasn't too particular about this since my oranges were fairly thin-skinned and the various recipes I looked at seemed to have different opinions about keeping the pith on or taking it off.) 
  • Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in s medium sauce pan.  Add orange peel and blanche for 3 minutes.
  • Strain off the water repeat the blanching process using fresh water.
  • In the meantime, create a simple syrup by bringing 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water to a boil in a second sauce pan.
  • Add the blanched orange peels to the simple syrup and simmer for approximately 45 minutes.  Be careful to watch the pot so that the water does not boil off.
  • Remove orange peel from the simple syrup and drain on a cooling rack until orange peel is completely dry.  This took two days at my house, but I suppose it depends on the temperature and humidity.  (Several recipes suggested that the peel would be dry in less than 24 hours.)
  • Melt 10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate over a double boiler.
  • Dip the candied orange peel into the chocolate and fish it out of the chocolate bath with a fork.
  • Place chocolate-covered candied orange peel on a cooling rack until dry.  (Some recipes suggested drying the chocolate-covered orange peel on parchment paper, but this yielded a very lumpy-looking candy as you can see from the photo above.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beer, Beer... Beer?

My empty first glass at Jared and Amy's house, July 2011.
It's been a while since I last reported on my friend Jared's beer-making enterprise, but when my parents were visiting, we embarked on a "beer for ham" exchange with Jared and his wife Amy.

My dad had never tried Jared's beer and home-brewed beer made by a man who grows his own hops is just the sort of thing that entertains my father-- a man who cures his own hams in his basement using his Great-Uncle Elwood's recipe.

So off we went to Jared and Amy's house with a package of freshly sliced country ham.  To be more specific, we took Jared and Amy part of a ham that had been hanging in my dad's basement for a year and a half.  So it was old ham (at it's peak, if you ask me), but freshly cooked and sliced.

I don't drink much these days, so it was surprised when the first glass of beer Jared served me was suddenly gone.  My notes from that evening say it was Jared's last bottle of Imperial Stout, but that looks suspiciously like the beer in the photo below, which I've had before.  As Jared has promised, it had aged well and was even better than I remembered it.
Jared's Imperial Stout, July 2011.  Photographed before it disappeared.

The final beer in our tasting was an old favorite of mine-- Hoppy Deliciousness.  It's a pale ale that Jared has made with great success in the past and this time he made it "extra hoppy".  I'm just starting to understand what that means, and I actually could tell the difference.  Whether I got it right in this report (or in the photos) will have to be confirmed by Jared.  
Hoppy Deliciousness, July 2011.  Beer by Jared.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Procrastination Sauce Update (with Photos)

Procrastination Sauce served with spaghetti, July 2011.
Well, I am a true procrastinator so it's taken me a full 24 hours to download the photos of Procrastination Sauce and upload them to this blog.  Because these photos were made to accompany the recipe, I've decided to reprint the final, updated version of the recipe for Procrastination Sauce here.

I will definitely be making this sauce again.  It was one of the rare meals that everyone in my family enjoyed (and everyone asked for seconds!)  I hope your family enjoys it too.


Procrastination Sauce
It may seem sacreligious to use canned tomatoes at the height of the tomato season.  I agree.  Sadly, our tomatoes aren't doing much this year.  (We've been getting just enough for salads every few days.)  If you have a supply of homegrown tomatoes, by all means use them!

This is a hearty meat sauce, perfect to serve with spaghetti or penne.

Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • one large onion, chopped into fine dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, run through a garlic press
  • 2 six ounce cans of tomato paste
  • 1 lb. ground beef (I used Myer's Organic)
  • 1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes (I used organic)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into two large chunks
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • pinch of sugar (in honor of Grandma Willie)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped into fine ribbons (chiffonade)
Procrastination Sauce after simmering for 1 1/2 hrs, July 2011.
Instructions:
  • Heat olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat.
  • Add diced onion and cook until onions are translucent.
  • Add garlic and stir for approximately one minute.  Be careful not to burn the garlic.
  • Add tomato paste, ground beef, and sausage.  Stir for approximately two minutes.  Meat should break down into small pieces and tomato paste should turn slightly darker in color.
  • Add diced tomatoes, chicken stock, carrot, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper.  
  • Turn heat down to a simmer and cook for several hours.  Stir every 20 minutes or so.  
  • Just before serving, add 1/4 cup finely chopped basil and stir.
  • Serve with spaghetti and top with parmesan cheese and additional basil leaves.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Procrastination Sauce

I've been trying to use the summer to buckle down and write more about Sunday dinner and writing about food has a way of making me want to cook.  Some people (including my husband) would say that this is just resistance to the writing process, but nobody who smelled the tomato sauce simmering in my kitchen could possibly agree.

As I've been working on the Sunday dinner book, I've realized that I'm not really much of a cook.  I like to throw things together and my messes are often pretty tasty.  What I'm not good at is writing down what I've done and I have a hard time replicating my family's favorite dishes or even remembering what I made.  So today, I decided to write down this "recipe" as I go along.  It smells promising, but I'll have to let you know at the end of this post.

Procrastination Sauce
It may seem sacreligious to be using canned tomatoes during the height of the tomato season.  I agree.  Sadly, our tomatoes aren't doing much this year.  (We've been getting just enough for salads every few days.)  If you have a supply of homegrown tomatoes, by all means use them!

Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • one large onion, chopped into fine dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, run through a garlic press
  • 2 six ounce cans of tomato paste
  • 1 lb. ground beef (I used Myer's Organic)
  • 1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes (I used organic)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into two large chunks
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • pinch of sugar (in honor of Grandma Willie)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped into fine ribbons (chiffonade)


Instructions:

  • Heat olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat
  • Add diced onion and cook until onions are translucent
  • Add garlic and stir for approximately one minute.  Be careful not to burn the garlic
  • Add tomato paste, ground beef, and sausage.  Stir for approximately two minutes.  Meat should break down into small pieces and tomato paste should turn slightly darker in color.
  • Add diced tomatoes, chicken stock, carrot, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper.  
  • Turn heat down to a simmer and cook for several hours.  Stir every 20 minutes or so.  
UPDATES:

10:30 AM- One and a half hours into the cooking process the sauce tastes pretty darn good.  I added a pinch of sugar and am reserving a nice handful of fresh basil from my garden to add just before I serve the sauce.  I'm going to keep the sauce on a low simmer for another half hour and see what happens.

11:40 AM- Sauce has reduced and mellowed.  But it needs some brightness.  I'm still anticipating adding the basil later, but added a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme from the garden.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bacon and Waffles- Second Attempt in the Oven

Bacon and waffles warming in the oven, July 2011.
After my first attempt at keeping bacon and waffles warm in the oven, I promised I would report back on future experiments.  This time instead of putting a pile of bacon and waffles on a cookie sheet, I put everything on a cooling rack sitting on top of a pizza stone.  As you can see in the photo, I put the entire pile of bacon on a single paper towel.  I separated the waffles with layers of paper towels.  Here's what I've learned.

  1. Bacon stays pretty happy in a 200 degree oven.  It doesn't matter if you put the bacon directly on a baking sheet or on a paper towel on top of a cooling rack.  As long as you cook the bacon properly over a medium-low flame in a cast iron skillet, it's stays crispy without burning.  (Have I mentioned my obsession with CRISPY bacon?)
  2. Give up on the idea of keeping waffles crispy in the oven.  It can be done, but it dries them out.  (This batch of waffles was crispy on one side and steamy on the other.)  In my opinion, it's better to have a slightly steamy, soft waffle than a rock-hard waffle.
  3. Estimate the number of waffles you think your family can eat and only keep that many waffles in the oven.  
  4. Let any extra waffles cook on a plate on your kitchen counter, separated by paper towels.  Waffles reheat much better in the toaster oven if they haven't been dried out in the oven.
  5. Next time, I think I might slightly underbake any waffles I plan to reheat.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fourth of July Ham

I suspect that in most families, ham is not the main course at a Fourth of July celebration.  In my family, ham reigns supreme whenever it is served, especially when it's a ham cured by my father using his Uncle Elwood's secret recipe.  Ham is so important to my family that less than a week later, I could no longer remember if we ate ham on Sunday, July 3rd before going to see the fireworks or if we ate ham on the actual Fourth of July.  (The situation is muddled even further because my parents were visiting so we had large family meals on both days.)
Fourth of July Sunday Dinner ham, served on July 3, 2011.

I guess the important thing to note is that when I sorted through the photos a week later, I realized that it was the ham that I photographed, not the sausages.  I labeled the photograph of my plate full of ham "4th of july dinner".  In the end, I had to check the date on the photograph (one benefit of digital photography) to know for sure.  And indeed, we had ham for Sunday dinner on the third of July and that's the dinner I remember as our Fourth of July dinner.
Our Fourth of July meal (on Sunday, July 3rd), 2011.

I think we ate pretty much the same thing the next day, except with sausages instead of ham.  And I turned the leftover corn on the cob into an alternate version of my Mustardy Summer Salad-- this time with cucumber instead of green beans and basil replacing parsley.

Mustardy Summer Salad-  Take Two (Cucumber and Basil Version)

Serves 2 to 3 (although can easily be doubled or tripled)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cucumber- peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/4 inch moon shaped pieces
  • 1 large tomato (or a cup's worth of cherry tomatoes) chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 ear corn, cooked and sliced off the cob (keeping pieces as large as possible)
  • 2 T fresh basil, chopped
  • 3 T feta- crumbled
  • 1 t Dijon mustard 
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 6 T olive oil
  • 1/4 t sea salt
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • Place cucumber pieces, tomato, and corn in a small bowl.
  • Make dressing in a small bowl or leftover mustard jar by mixing Dijon mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and mix (or shake) to combine.
  • Just before serving, top vegetable mixture with dressing, chopped basil, and feta and gently toss in a medium bowl.
  • Enjoy immediately.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rediscovering Dorothea Lange

I usually save my rantings about photography for my advanced photo students, but this link to a 1965 documentary about Dorothea Lange is too good to keep to myself.  (It is summer break, after all.)  It's an old-school doc told mostly in Lange's own words as she helped to prepare for a show at MOMA that, sadly, would open to the public after her death from esophageal cancer.

"Dorothea Lange Part I: Under the Trees" by Philip Greene and Richard Moore highlights Lange's desperate need to connect with her audience through her own very personal vision of the subject matter of her photographs.  It is this yearning to make connections that draws viewers in, even viewers who know nothing about the history behind the images.  I always show students in my History of Photography class Lange's famous migrant worker photographs and students never fail to connect with them.  Lange's vision is obviously very clear in the photographs themselves, but it's interesting to hear her speak of her vision with such clarity and precision.

In the first part of the documentary, Lange discusses her upcoming show at MOMA with her son Dan Dixon.  He tells her she's got to start making decisions about which photographs will appear in the show and that her current working methods "are not likely to get the job done".  She tells him she knows, and that she'll start making decisions, but that her inability to select a group of images is not modesty.  She says she is afraid.
One's photographs... really... I mean in a case like mine when you've been a photographer all your life... there is no ducking.  And that's where the content is.  The time for me is past.  To do what is called "the documentary thing".  And I have done that.  But out of those materials I want to extract the things that are... the items that are, in a sense... I don't know... sublimations is the word that comes to my mind.  Give me another...  An essence of a situation.  The universality of the situation.  Not the circumstance.   
I have a million things to do.  A million.  I never have had so many things to do and I've been busy all my life.  Really busy.  But busy and working is different.  Often we keep ourselves darn busy so we don't have to work.  But now it's guess work on my part.  Guess work plus fear is a bad combination.  I can't cut out the fear, but I can cut out the guess work.
Wow.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Daniel's Recipe for Barley Sauerkraut Soup

It's only 8:30 in the morning and it's already been a good news/bad news kind of day.  I awoke very early (4:45 am), got the kids off to school and checked my e-mail.  The Good News:  I discovered a recipe  from Daniel Marlos waiting for me in my inbox.  The Bad News:  As I sat down to post the recipe I discovered that blogger has a radically new format.  I'm old enough to be grumpy about change, especially before noon, but if this new format helps eliminate the strange photo caption issues I've been having, I'm all for it.  Either way, I suppose I might as well get on with it, so without further ado, Daniel's recipe for Barley Sauerkraut Soup.  Thank you, Daniel, for the "Good News" portion of my morning.
Parsley Root being pulled out of the soup pot, July 8, 2011.  Photo courtesy Daniel Marlos.

Barley Sauerkraut Soup
By Daniel Marlos

When you are digging things out of the garden, make sure you don’t let a good thing go to waste, like a parsley root.  Parsley is related to the carrot, and the root of the Parsley plant emparts a flavor to soup that cannot be duplicated with any substitute.  Not having a Parsley root should not stop you from cooking this soup.

I made up this recipe today because of what I had in the garden and kitchen.  In addition to the parsley, there were carrots and tomatoes ready to use.  The sauerkraut was homemade this winter and it is in a small covered bowl in the refrigerator.  Don’t forget to skim the top off the sauerkraut water before removing the sauerkraut from its crock.

Ingredients:

  • 4 quarts water (2 quarts to soak the barley and 2 quarts to skin the tomatoes)
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 ribs of celery chopped coarsely
  • 8 small carrots cut into slices
  • ½ large onion chopped
  • a parsley root
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups sauerkraut
  • 2 handfuls of ripe tomatoes 

Instructions:

  • Soak the barley in 2 quarts of water for at least 20 minutes.
  • Add celery, carrots, onion, a parsley root and black pepper and cook about a half an hour.
  • Chop the undrained sauerkraut.
  • Add sauerkraut to soup and continue to cook over medium-low heat.
  • While the soup cooks, bring 2 cups of water to boil in the medium sauce pan (enough to cover the tomatoes).
  • Gently place tomatoes in water for as long as it takes for the skin to split (the time will depend on the variety of tomato, it's size, and ripeness).
  • Remove tomatoes from pan.  Peel them and puree in a blender or food processor and add pureed tomatoes to the soup.
  • Continue to cook until the barley is tender. 
  • Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper if necessary.
A bowl of Barley Sauerkraut Soup.  Photo courtesy Daniel Marlos, 2011.



Monday, July 4, 2011

Peas: From Garden to Freezer

Every year my parents plant 9 rows of peas in their garden.  They grow three varieties-- Frosties, Laxton Progress, and Wandos-- mostly because you never know what the weather will be like each growing season and peas are picky about the weather.  Peas require rich well-draining soil, plenty of water, and cool temperatures.  Peas are one of the earliest crops, both to plant and to pick.  If it stays too cool for too long just after my father plants the peas, he replants any variety that doesn't sprout.  Another reason to plant three varieties is that they mature at slightly different times, which spreads out the hard labor of picking the peas.
Three varieties of peas in  my parents garden, June 2011.


This year, my parents planted peas in March and picked them in June.  Once the peas are picked, they need to be shelled.  My mother says, "If you're lucky your husband will see the bags of peas waiting to be shelled and offer to help."  Shelling peas isn't hard, but it always seems to take forever.  You start out with giant bags of pea pods and end up with a small bowl full of peas.  My parents picked peas several days in a row and got two plastic grocery bags full of peas each day.  According to my mother, this was a great year for peas, and after they were picked and shelled, she ended up with about 30 pints of peas.  They ate 6 pints and froze 24 pints.

Peas blanching in boiling water, 2011.

Process for Freezing Peas:
  • Wash shelled peas in cool water.
  • Drop approximately 2 pints of peas in boiling water and blanche them for 2 minutes.
  • Remove blancher basket with peas to the sink and run cold water over them to cool.
  • Pour cooling peas into an ice bath and leave until blanched peas are completely cool.
  • Drain well in a colander.
  • Dry thoroughly by letting peas sit in a microfiber or other absorbent towel for several minutes.
  • Once you think the peas are pretty dry, roll peas back and forth in towel several times to make sure they are REALLY dry.  (It is important to get the peas dry or ice crystals will form on the peas after you put them in the freezer.)  
Blanched peas drying in microfiber towel, June 2011.  Photo courtesy Linda Lutz.






    Processing Peas, cont.
    • Pack in one-pint freezer containers.
    • Repeat process until all the peas are packed in freezer containers.
    • Freeze immediately.
    Ten pints of peas ready for the freezer, June 2011.  Photo courtesy Linda Lutz, 2011.

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    ESD's Hong Kong Correspondent: Mooncakes and Other Goodies

    ESD's Hong Kong Correspondent at Versailles, 2011.
    Before I blew out my shoulder last month, I had the good fortune to attend a dinner in honor of ESD's Hong Kong Correspondent Christine Jagolino.  CJ, as she is frequently known in the documentary television circles, was back in LA to attend a wedding and took a side trip to Versailles to visit with her old work colleagues, myself included.  


    I hadn't been to Versailles in quite a while, but I knew what I was going to order before I got there--  Lechon Asado (Cuban style Roasted Pork).  Whenever I go to Versailles, I think about branching out and trying something new.  They're famous for their garlic chicken, which is amazing, but I can never resist the roasted pork.  That evening I got to catch up with CJ over a plate of succulent pork (which CJ also ordered).  What could be better?


    As it turned out, it did get better.  CJ brought me a delightful gift-- two boxes of ornately wrapped cakes flown in from Hong Kong.  
    Pineapple Cake in it's many layered wrappings, 2011.
    Tasty as these little cakes were (the pineapple version was my favorite), it was their weirdness that impressed me the most.  I've never seen food with so many layers of packaging.  I suppose this is to be expected since these cakes are made for tourists to take to their friends and family back home, where ever "back home" may be.  I was also amused by a note that accompanied the moon cakes.
    White spots on the cake-side may sometimes be observed, which are only bloomed flour and not harmful to be served.  
     Bloomed flour?  That means mold, right?  Not that I mind mold.  I've certainly been known to scrape a bit of mold off my breakfast toast and I'll eat my cheese as stinky as I can get it.  But having a reminder in the package label telling me it was ok to eat the mold on the cake seemed hilarious to me.  Is "bloomed flour" a euphemism or simply an odd translation?  Either way, it's pretty great.  I figure that if you see mold on your food you either automatically throw it away or eat it.  I suspect that few people would be swayed by a piece of paper in the face of a fuzzy mold ball growing on their cake.  Am I wrong?
    Unwrapped and mold-free mooncake sitting on part of it's packaging, 2011.