September 2008 Archives

 

It's October, and that means it's time for pumpkins, apples, and the Eat Local Challenge! For the month of October, I'll be eating almost entirely local, according to the following guidelines:

1. My definition of local: 100 miles OR distributed locally by a CSA.

2. Exemptions: Tea, olive oil, and dried spices, and, on a couple social occasions, wine and restaurant meals. And... flour— I haven't had any luck finding local flour, and for me it is the biggest impediment to eating local. The other exemptions are practically luxuries. Giving up, say, oranges, for a month is doable, but bread, noodles and crackers?! So I'll see how long I can make it before reaching for the flour bucket, but I'll say now that if I need to, I'll use my non-local flour and yeast.

3. My goals for the month: I've been eating mostly local for a while now, and I feel like this month will be akin to a final exam. While I know I'll never be 100% local (even if I could find local flour, I love ethnic restaurants, wine and exotic ingredients toooo much!), I want to see how close I can get with the local resources I've found.

By the way, I have a backlog of entries to post, so if you see some non-local stuff, just know that I'm not cheating, I made it in September!

 

I wanted to share a few scenes from the "What the Fluff?" Festival today in Union Square, Somerville. A huge crowd braved the somewhat unpleasant weather to enjoy all the great activities (like fluff bowling, hula-hooping, and fluff-eating contests), entertainment from local bands, jugglers and acrobats, as well as a wealth of Fluff-based treats. All sorts of restaurants and bars joined in the fun with special drinks and dishes based on marshmallow Fluff.


A banana fluffernutter from Sherman Cafe


A chocolate cupcake fluff parfait from Kickass Cupcakes— far too sweet to finish!


I want this awesome retro poster.


A family of fluff. No disrespect to the edible goodies, but that baby? Probably the yummiest thing at the whole festival!


A Fluffy Irishman (Coffee, frangelico and fluff) and a Fluff Alexander (brandy, creme de cacao, and fluff syrup) from The Independent. They reminded us that it is nearly hot toddy season!


A treat from the Fluff Fear Factor station: Dorito, pickle, hummus, roasted garlic, fluff, and pepperoni. A friend noted as I raised this to my mouth "Wow, there's not even a hint of fear on your face!" It tasted like nachos. Nachos covered with marshmallows.

 


This month's Daring Baker's challenge turned to the vegan and gluten-free community for a recipe. I am about as far from vegan as one could be, but I respect the huge amount of work that goes into modifying recipes for these diets, and it was great to see a little of that work first hand. By "see," I mean "read the recipe," because, not having any gluten-free flour, I lazily opted to make the non-gluten-free version.


Gluten A Go Go and Musings from the Fishbowl were our hosts for this month's challenge, and you can find the recipe for the lavash crackers on their sites. This is the kind of recipe you can easily commit to memory, make in the background of other kitchen projects, easily change up with different toppings, and pull out whenever the slightest need for crackers arises. Considering how much I loved these things, I see myself doing just that. I used a white whole wheat flour that gave the crackers an addictive nutty sweetness, and topped them with sea salt, sesame seeds and rosemary.


The only requirement for the accompanying dip was that it be gluten-free and vegan, and so I went with a very simple roasted eggplant dip. We've been getting some really fantastic eggplant from the CSA and the farmers market, with a variety of breeds with different flavors and textures. For the dip I used a mix of sweet little fairy tale eggplants, long skinny chinese eggplants, and a few mystery varieties— I find that the mixture makes for a rounded, extra-eggplanty flavor. I chopped the eggplant, seasoned it with cumin, garlic and salt, and cooked it in a baking dish covered with foil at 350 degrees until it was tender. I just puréed the cooked eggplant in the food processor and served it. It was great warm and cold, and an excellent compliment to the crisp cracker.


I liked these crackers so much that I made a double batch a few days later. Freed of the vegan restraints of the challenge, I used an egg wash to adhere the cracker toppings and served it with my homemade pâté.

 


I was surprised at the beauty of the chopped meat, glistening under a layer of beaten eggs and flour, browned corners of liver jumbled with marbled pink pork belly. The smell of rich liver and sweet shallots, sautéed hours earlier, lingered in the air as I put the meat mixture through the grinder. It rolled out of the die in long curling strands— I was finally making pâté!


I've been wanting to make pâté for a really long time. I bought Rhulman's Charcuterie, and Grigson's Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, and I leafed through their pâté sections over and over. But somehow, whenever I found the time, I didn't have the ingredients, and when I had the ingredients, I couldn't find the time. Finally, last weekend I decided I was going to just dive in. I was going to have to wing it a little, as I didn't have the exact compliment of ingredients for any one recipe.


Following a combination of pâté de campagne recipes from the two books, I started by marinating my meat with a combination of salt, pepper, bay and thyme. I had about three pounds of mixed chopped veal and pork liver, and, in a separate container, about a pound of meat trimmed from a piece of pork belly. I sliced the fatty part of the pork belly into thin strips and used them to line my loaf pan. After all this had had a few hours in the fridge, I browned the liver until it was crispy around the edges. Then I cooked some shallots in the remaining oil and deglazed the pan with a healthy splash of Jim Beam. I added the liquid back to the liver and chilled it again.


When everything (including the mixing bowl and food grinder) was nice and cold, I mixed together the meats, added some chopped parsley and the egg and flour mixture, and then ran it all through the food grinder. The resulting meat paste was mixed a little, then packed into the fat-lined pan and covered with more fat strips and foil. After a long, slow cooking in a roasting pan of water, the pâté was weighted and cooled overnight. The wait for the first taste was long and impatient.


The pâté, at the anxious moment of unveiling, was firm, with a smooth, strong liver flavor. It was sweet and clean, like a mild liverwurst. Unfortunately, I found that the pork fat slices lining the pan did not melt away quite the way I expected. The cooled pork belly fat was dense, chewy and bland. I am pretty sure this is because I didn't slice the fat quite thinly enough or pound it, but whatever the reason, I just removed the limp, cold strips. The resulting loaf of pâté looked lumpy and uneven, so I coated it in a thick layer of freshly-cracked pepper, which had the advantage of adding a spicy kick to the flavor. Greg and I enjoyed it for lunch with toast, chopped red onions and homemade pickles... we were only missing the champagne!

 


As I said, the missing entries in my Omnivore's Hundred make me inexplicably crazy. So it's no surprise that when I just happened to sight some gjetost as I waltzed past the cheese case (Just happened, that is, not like I was scouring the shelves, moving things around to peek in corners, no, not at all) that I brought it home with me. I understand that this browned goat's milk cheese is more properly called mesost or brunost, but let's be honest: I can't pronounce it either way. What I can do is eat it.


And when I did just that, I was immediately hit with intense déjà gouté. The sweet caramelly flavor I expected, but the grainy, peanut-buttery texture and strong hit of cheesy umami was a surprise, and so evocative of something, something I couldn't place right away. It took me several cheesy, nutty mouthfuls to identify that long-lost taste: sandwich cracker filling! A really highbrow, extra-tasty version of it, sure, but slap this stuff between two Ritz crackers and tell me it doesn't taste like childhood!

 


Well, after much discussion, I finally got off my butt and made some honeycomb candy. It's by far the easiest candy I've ever made, and its crunch and chew are absolutely addictive. I chose this recipe on about.com because it used some actual honey, but I swapped the corn syrup for Lyle's Golden Syrup, which I usually use in place of corn syrup for its richer flavor (and to avoid supporting Big Corn). The candy only took about ten minutes to mix and come up to temperature, a process that would have been even easier if my candy thermometer had, y'know, numbers on it.


The only tricky part of this candy is moving quickly enough in the last moments: speedy and efficient whisking is the key to light, crispy candy. Even with Greg's assistance, I felt like I had lost a lot of height by the time I had fully incorporated the baking soda. I also had trouble judging the size of the pan I would need. In my haste, I spread the foaming caramel between two 13x9 baking pans, but one would have been better.


Next time, I'll try a little more baking soda and see if i can get an even foamier candy. I think it would also be fun to experiment with some spices or flavorings— I don't know if that would potentially interfere with the foaming, but a holiday spice honeycomb would be extraordinary. Of course, chocolate is a traditional pairing as well.

 


This week, another recipe from Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco: Kefta Emshmel. We enjoyed the Kefta Mkaouara so much, we couldn't wait to try another kefta tagine. Especially now that the weather is cooling down, a thick, spicy Moroccan stew is just the thing for a cozy evening at home.


This tagine was fairly similar to the Mkaouara, but rather than tomatoes and egg, the dish relied on saffron and lemon. While the recipe called simply for lemon juice, I took the opportunity to break out some of my preserved lemons. A tablespoon of the soft, salty-sweet lemon melted into the sauce, melding with the saffron and parsley to make a bright, yet rich, sauce.

 

I'm a little late on this meme. I've been hesitating because I knew that I would be absolutely haunted by anything I hadn't yet tried. And I was right - it drives me nuts. Damn me for missing that time Karen brought over a durian, even though it did turn out to be a little rotten!  Maybe I can make bagna cauda tonight! Why didn't I shell out for the kobe beef last time I went out to shabu shabu?! The truth is, the list of things I want to try is much, much longer than 100 items, and I should feel no more guilty about having not yet eaten lobster thermidor than beef wellington just because of this list, but somehow, it doesn't work that way. Don't even get me started on how the 100 Japanese Foods to Try list makes me feel!

Before I share my list, here are my choices for what got left off the list - I limited myself to five:
Ethiopian peanut stew seasoned with berbere and served with injera
A really good croissant
Xiao long bao
Sul lang tang, or another long-cooked bone broth
A real So Cal burrito, from a truck in LA - and it doesn't count if the beans aren't refried with lard!

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (Alligator count?)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects

43. Phaal
44. Goat's milk (although it was before I really appreciated it, I think.  At the time, I was pretty disturbed by its distinct flavor, and the fresh-from-the-goat temperature, but the memory of the flavor has actually become one of my favorites)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (only worth eating within 90 seconds from removal from the conveyor belt)
50. Sea urchin
(Right from the shell)
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal
(Only so you know what you're avoiding the rest of the time.  Fine, the fries are ok.)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (DIRTY?!?! Why don't you just have a cosmo?)
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips (I always felt bad for a girl in my elementary school with food allergies who had carob chip cookies in her lunch every day.  Carob is fine, but it's just not chocolate, and it's cruel to demand that a child pretend it is!)
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (Although I had to look it up - maybe this is why Kaopectate never tastes the way I remember from when I was a kid?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
(Don't forget fried dough, loukoumathes, zeppoli, sopaipillas.....)
68. Haggis (The very very top of my to-try list)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. UPDATE Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky (They're good, but there are so many more interesting things!)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (Wait, does rabbit count? I've had that...)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish (In my top 10 meals ever: pecan-crusted catfish in New Orleans)
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

 

Kefir is a kind of cultured milk, akin to yogurt. It is tart and effervescent, and, in my opinion, best enjoyed with a liberal drizzle of honey. Perhaps the most interesting thing about kefir is that, unlike yogurt, where the live cultures are completely integrated into the end product, the culture that creates kefir forms little grains that are strained off before consumption. Also, since kefir culture includes some yeast in addition to bacterial cultures, the process creates a small amount of alcohol. In order to make kefir, you simply add the grains to some milk and let it sit at room temperature until the flavor is to your taste, usually 24 hours. There are a number of more detailed instructions available online.

In my childhood, we used to buy quarts of sweetened and flavored kefir, a thick, tartly cloying, and faintly bubbly concoction that I absolutely loved. Rice crispies with creamy strawberry kefir was practically puddingy, a sweet breakfast treat. I recently tried to buy commercial fruit kefir at Trader Joes, only to be heartbroken by the limp sugar-yogurt water, nothing like my childhood memory.

So when I heard that a few patrons of my local dairy were sharing kefir grains, I was immediately intrigued. I got ahold of some grains (as you make kefir, more grains are produced, so they encourage generosity) and have now been making kefir at home for a few weeks. I've been experimenting with different fermenting times and temperatures, and in general, the kefir I've produced is thinner than that of my memory, but tart, delicious and fizzy. I'm still playing around with my system to perfect it—Greg is not a fan, and since kefir grains need to be fed pretty regularly, it is hard to find the right balance of grains to milk to produce only enough kefir for one person. Kefir is a bit brass about declaring its fermented origins, which means some people will find kefir a little... funky. If you don't like plain yogurt, you definitely won't like this.


Practical Considerations

  • How much space does it need?
    Just the container you make it in.
  • How much time does it take?
    A few minutes to mix the grains and milk, and then occasional shaking or stirring. Fermentation takes about a day on the counter or a week in the fridge, but will vary based on your taste.
  • Does it smell?
    No.
  • Does it look grody?
    No.
  • Does it need special equipment?
    You do need to find someone in your area who has spare grains to give you, or order them. Check the internet, local dairy buying clubs and the like.
  • Is it worth it to do this by hand?
    Since the stuff in the store is swill, it's a must if you like kefir.
 


Well, my cold has cleared up, but it left something worse in its stead: a hacking cough and acute insomnia. Over the past four days I have tried Tylenol PM, exercising, reading until my eyes burned, three kinds of cold medication, and without a hint of hyperbole here folks, actually counting fucking sheep. So yeah, intricate culinary masterpieces? Not happening this week.

Although I haven't had the energy to go to the store, we still have a full stock of fresh local produce and meats thanks to our convenient CSAs. In particular, there was a beautiful porterhouse in the freezer that I had been speculating about since it arrived there. I finally settled on making a recipe for steak au poivre from the Niman Ranch Cookbook. Quick enough not to send me reeling to the couch in exhaustion, and simple enough to commit to memory, I am sure that this is one I'll turn to when I need something fast but delectable. The pan sauce, made from broth, whiskey and cream, is reduced to a velvety thick consistency that clings to the tender meat and conceals a peppery bite in its comforting meatiness.

 

This:

Used to be this:

Plus some pickles and lemons... and salt, citric acid, garlic and dill. From the left, preserved lemons, tomato paste, pickles and tomatoes.

 

Tired, hot, and still sick, I was hardly in the mood for preparing food today, so Greg and I looked to the good folks at the Somerville Greek Festival for sustenance. And did they ever provide!

I was never aware of church festivals when I was growing up, so when Greg started pointing them out to me and suggesting we go for a meal, I was a little weirded out. You mean, we just go into this church we have nothing to do with and they'll sell us delicious homemade food? Really? At first I assumed they would be more like the VFW pancake breakfast or Boy Scout spaghetti night... I mean, no offense to those events, but they're usually best thought of as carbo-loads for the following 5K. But Greg finally dragged me to a Portuguese church festival, where a cheerful older man was grilling sardines while handing out hunks of skewered raw meat for guests to cook for themselves over an open campfire, and I was sold.

For lunch, we shared a gyro and some moussaka. The gyro meat was tender and lightly seasoned, the pita was soft and slightly smokey from the grill, and the tzatziki was dominated by the tang of plain yogurt. This made for a very satisfying gryo, subtler than most. The moussaka was meltingly smooth, perfectly balanced between spices sweet and savory. I kept having to have just one more bite to identify the components of each layer and determine how they melded together so perfectly!

And then, the dessert table! Years ago, visiting Greece, I was shocked (and delighted) to learn that Greek desserts did not begin and end with baklava. My fingers were sticky with honey at least half the time we spent in Athens. While baklava is great, there are so many similar (and I would say superior) Greek confections: if there's a combination of dough, oil, honey, nuts and cheese that is delicious, trust that it is being made, and devoured, in Greece. Of course there are also cookies, cakes, and all sorts of other sweets, many of which were represented at the festival.

Best of all, they had a little machine for making loukoumathes: it plopped out balls of dough into a tray of hot oil, where they bobbed until they were a glowing golden-brown. Topped with honey, nuts and cinnamon, they are mildly sweet, with a soft spongy bite.

All of the amazing honey-sweetened desserts made me think of my jars of honey back home with a new eye. I've been trying to use honey more for a number of reasons. Mainly because I love the taste and the variations in flavor between different varieties, but also because there are a lot of great local apiaries, and I am sort of hoping it might eventually help with my horrific seasonal allergies. So I might be turning to some Greek desserts, like the diple below, next time I have a sweet tooth!

 

A bonus photo from the birthday picnic: blanched asparagus with preserved lemon.

I've been fighting a cold all week, so exactly zero exciting cooking endeavors have been attempted. In fact, the only cooking I've been doing is toasting. Because when I am sick, I get hungry: hungry for toast. And malt-o-meal1. And pretty much anything that's white and covered in butter, although gatorade and saltines make the grade too. Thank goodness for Greg, without him I wouldn't have eaten any protein or vegetables at all week.

Usually I get especially hungry right after I turn the corner towards recovery. Once, in college, over Christmas break, I had a horrible cold. After my fever broke, I woke up starving, and my mom made me a simple sandwich with soft multigrain bread, cold dark meat chicken, mayo, salt and pepper. It was divine, possibly the best thing I had ever eaten. I finished it and asked for another. And a third. About then, my Mom wondered: maybe I was feeling well enough to make my own sandwiches now, and also did I know we were out of chicken? I still think about that sandwich every time I get sick... What do you crave when you're sick? (Aside from someone else to make it and bring it to you on the couch.)

1. Why don't they sell Malt-o-Meal on the East Coast? It is only THE BEST hot cereal in the universe. I am even willing to pay extra baggage fees to smuggle it back from Cali.

 

Menu


Serve with warm sun and a coastal breeze. New England Vintage Baseball Association All-Star game optional, but highly recommended.

1. Pieces of chicken breast were dipped in beaten egg, flour, kefir, and then panko bread crumbs seasoned with oregano and cayenne. Fried in home-rendered lard, drain, and serve cool.

2. With garbanzos, kidney beans and green beans rather than pintos.

3. Fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice, sweetened with honey and seasoned with lavender.

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