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Saturday, January 29, 2005

It's All About The MEAT

Well, Dr. Biggles of MeatHenge has gone above and beyond in his Dedication To The Meat.

In addition to his Meaty Cooking Adventures and his tireless promotion of the wonderful goods from The Fatted Calf, he is now running a contest for meaty wonderful. (As Deb says, it's because he is a crazy meat-lovin' phool.)

I saw the entry on Thursday just as I was leaving for my acupuncture appointment and got a clear message on What To Do when I was on the table relaxing. Or supposed to be relaxing, at any rate. Well, the prospect was relaxing, but it made me hungry.

The plans do not involve purchasing more of the utterly delicious Fatted Calf bacon that was so lovingly pictured in the entry.

Berkeley Farmer's Market note: The Bennett Valley Bakery was selling fresh-made donuts. Right across the aisle from Fatted Calf. Of course they sell breads but it amuses me to have both meat and donuts available at the market.

It wasn't quite as mellow this am, as I was there slightly later and the warmish weather brought out a lot of people with bikes and kids in strollers. Made it a bit more crowded.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

When Life Gives You Lemons ...

figure out some things to make with them.

I harvested about three dozen lemons from my friend Elaine's tree when I was minding her cats over New Year's. Due to the cold conditions in my kitchen, a number of them have survived, and been supplemented by lemons from my own tree.

I first made Lemon Chutney from Laurie Colwin's recipe in More Home Cooking about six months ago. It tasted great, although it was very, very solid. I asked Marsha over at Hot Water Bath for some advice and she said it should be more liquid. So I resolved to try again.

I don't know what I used last time to zest the lemons, but this time I used my serrated-edge peeler, made by Messermeister, that I got at Sur La Table and it was The Right Tool For The Job. With minimal effort, I got large strips of zest with minimal pith off the lemon quickly. I had also just had my chef's knife sharpened at the Berkeley Farmer's Market, and it chopped and peeled like a breeze.

I varied the spicing by using allspice (ground in my second Krups grinder, which is designated for spices) instead of cardamom, and some powdered and crystallized ginger instead of the fresh. But here is the recipe as Colwin gave it, with the proviso that experimentation often works and you should document it.

It was very liquid this time. I got five jars instead of four. [Edited to add: A preserving book I have recommends putting the lemon seeds in a cheesecloth bag, as they are high pectin and then can be easily removed from the finished product. Definitely something for next time, as I seperated out all the seeds.]

Lemon Chutney

Rmeove the zest from 8 lemons with a vegetable peeler, being careful to not include the pith (white part). Cut away the pith and discard. Chop the zest and the flesh fine with a good sharp knife. Transfer into a glass or earthenware bowl, mix with 2 tablespoons salt, and let sit overnight.

Transfer the lemon to your preserving pan. Add:

4 big garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup currants or 1 cup raisins
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 TBS grated fresh ginger
1 tea ground cardamom
1 tea ground coriander
1/2 tea cayenne
1/2 tea dried red pepper flakes
1 lb package brown sugar

Stir and cook gently over medium heat till it becomes thick (up to 45 minutes).

While this is happening, boil 4-5 8 oz jars and lids in a large pot of water. Take the jars out with tongs when the chutney is ready and fill (wide mouth funnels are great). Put the lids on and put the jars back in the boiling water (Colwin says the water should cover by 2", however, any cover should work) and boil them up for 10 minutes.

Now the hard part - this should not be eaten right away. Let it ripen for at least a month.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Winter Wonderful

Well, the Sacramento Bee, which I have always regarded as a fine paper, has clued into the foodblogging phenomenon. Elise of Elise's Simply Recipes was their featured interviewee, as she and her folks live in Carmichael.

I got the press tip through Clotilde, who was also interviewed (local-ish angle: Clotilde used to work in Silly Valley), and hopped on over there. (The Carmichael Mafia lives.) While I was there, I saw a recipe for Roast Cauliflower and decided to put my "Waste less food in 2005" resolution to practical use by roasting the head of cauliflower I had purchased to make a dip for New Year's. I also needed to complete my latest installment in "Practice cutting up chicken".

So when I got home I heated up the oven (my heater works now; I don't have to have the oven on all the time) and got busy. The recipe is simplicity itself; you can refer to Elise's page for how she did it, but this is the way I did:

1. Chop one head of cauliflower into florets
2. Arrange on a baking sheet with sides (I used my quarter-sheet pan)
3. Juice one lemon, wash hands, pour lemon over cauliflower and toss
4. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over cauliflower and toss
5. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over and toss
6. Arrange florets flat on the sheet.

If the oven is not 400 F yet, wait till it is. Then put the cauliflower in and cook for 15-25 minutes, till tender and starting to brown.

I punched up the heat because after the cauliflower was in, I cut up a chicken for roasting, and I wanted them both in the oven. (I roast chicken at 450 F.)

While it was cooking, I grated some Parmesan cheese on my Microplane.

This. was. so. tasty. And I don't even particularly like cauliflower. I nibbled a couple of pieces and it was obvious that they wouldn't last till the chicken was finished. I got the inspiration to cook the bunch of broccoli rabe in my fridge (my standard way; steam in the microwave, then saute briefly in some olive oil with a clove of garlic chopped up). Then I mixed the parmesan in. Winter heaven in a bowl. I ate it all, promptly.

Elise says roast some garlic cloves with this, but it doesn't need it in my opinion.

Next time, maybe kalamata olives or red peppers mixed in?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

IMBB#11: Asparagus with Black Bean Sauce

Beany Goodness

When I heard that Cathy of My Little Kitchen was hosting the eleventh Is My Blog Burning? event with the theme of Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit, I knew I was going to participate, but I had a temporary crisis in "how".

Because I love beans. I didn't eat them much when I was a kid. In fact, I didn't eat them much till recently (including during several periods when I was a vegetarian). I've made up for lost time. I once lost twenty pounds without pain by eating bean soup for lunch (alternating among curried lentil soup, minestrone, and a Tuscan white bean soup recipe I got from Cook's Illustrated. I got a hummus recipe from a Saudi-American foodie pal that is The. Best. Ever. and lived on it last spring. And I've recently discovered pinquito beans in the can, to complement Central Coast barbeque, or just to have around for tacos. That's both dinner and breakfast tacos, because I love Mexican (and Cal-Mex) food and beans play a big part.

I thought about making huevos rancheros, or some other Mexican breakfast dish with beans. (Because good beans can be part of a mighty fine breakfast.) But I settled on a dish that I first had at my Favorite Ever vegetarian restaurant, Vegi Food, a formica-tabled hole-in-the-wall around the corner from Chez Panisse in Berkeley: Asparagus with Black Bean Sauce. It's tasty, it's kinda different, and there are burgeoning signs of early spring here in our Northern California late January, including a good price on asparagus at The Berkeley Bowl. SNAP!

Vegi Food is a wonderful place and well worth checking out if you're in Berkeley and don't have resies for that that famous restaurant nearby. The Vegi Food cooks adhere strictly to a set of Buddhist principles that forbid meat, dairy, onions, and garlic. Normally I would think that No Meat, No Dairy, No Onions, and No Garlic would be No Fun, but everything there is wonderful.

This uses Chinese-style fermented black beans, which are available in Asian groceries, usually in a bag like so:

salt-preserved beans

These beans need to be well rinsed, as they are preserved in salt, and are the basis for "black bean sauce", Chinese-style.

My version of the sauce is slightly adapted from from a recipe originally published in Cooking Light, Jan/Feb 2001. It has onions and garlic, but you could easily add more ginger instead. It's a very versatile sauce and I always make multiples of the recipe. As with many Chinese recipes, prep is key. The quantities are a bit flexible; I generally add more beans.

Once you have the sauce and your rice made, prepare asparagus by snapping off the tough ends, and then cut into even lengths. Cook by stir-frying for a brief period (sesame oil is nice here) or by roasting (my favorite way to cook asparagus). Toss with the sauce, and serve over rice.

Black Bean Sauce

1 1/2 cups broth (low sodium preferred) or mixture of broth and water
N.B. If you are making multiples, use less
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine or sake
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS cornstarch
1 TBS vegetable oil (although sesame is nice)
3 TBS fermented black beans, RINSED, drained, and chopped
3 TBS minced green onions
2 TBS minced peeled fresh ginger
2 TBS minced garlic (~8 cloves)
1 tea. crushed red pepper, chile paste, or chili powder

* In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in some of the liquid. Combine broth, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar in the bowl and mix well. If you are using powdered pepper/chile, add that too.

* Heat oil in a wok or large non stick skillet over medium high heat. Add beans, onions, ginger, and garlic and stir fry for about 30 seconds.

* Add broth mixture and bring to a boil. Cook until it is as thick as you want it. (Recipe says 1 minute will thicken it, but my experience says it's longer. They must have big, powerful stoves at their test kitchens.) Don't be tempted to add a lot more cornstarch to hurry the process, the sauce will set up as it cools.

If you want to use this sauce with meat or fish, try marinating the meat or fish in a ziploc baggie with some sake/rice wine and a few slices of ginger. You'll be happy you did. The original Cooking Light recipe was for salmon and it's good.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

To Market, To Market

Today was a very pleasant day at the Berkeley Farmer's Market.

I was up and out early - went to the Cheese Board and to get some toys for Maggie-cat at Animal Farm. I had enough time to come home, put my milk in the fridge, and get a jacket on - I had foolishly thought the cashmere sweater was sufficient. (The sunshine was not as warm as it looked.)

I was hoping to get some of the Bacon Experiment from Fatted Calf and meet Dr. Biggles of MeatHenge. And both happened. It was very pleasant to meet Biggles (and Tiny E). He also courteously introduced me to Jan and Christine (thanks Biggles) at Blue Bottle Coffee, where I bought a cuppa very good drip to warm myself up with.

I had to hang around the market for a few minutes, because I was getting my chef's knife sharpened. So no commando raid. But I had coffee and conversation. I also got some rapini, organic apples, and blood oranges. So my fridge is officially Stuffed. It was pleasant to be hanging around the low-key winter market, without crowds and crowds of people - mellow scene on a sunny and increasingly warmer day.

And I was seeing some signs of spring in the produce ... baby artichokes!!

Monday, January 17, 2005

East Bay Beach

The neighborhood has been further enhanced by another San Francisco institution opening up shop here. (Good Vibrations was the pioneer here in Funkytown.)

For months and months the empty storefront on one of the corners had signs all over the plate glass saying "Caffe Trieste coming soon". Then it opened up, and every time I drove by (even at 9/10 pm, or early Sunday mornings) the place had a lot of people in it. Big contrast with the outpost branch of the Evil Coffee Empire at Hollis and 65th, which rarely has a customer and seems to close down early.

I have the day off, but needed to absent myself from the house and do some trade reading to let the housecleaners do their thing. What better excuse to go nose the place out?

Well, I can figure why it's always jammed. Besides the coffee drinks and pastries, they have a wine and beer license and serve a limited but varied menu of non-breakfast food (pizza, panini, salads, soup) for reasonable prices. Like the mothership, there is a funky local vibe and regular live music. The "Happy Hour" with $3 pints and "Slice, Salad, Pint" for $6.50 must bring 'em in.

As a very recent (like, yesterday) article in the Comical says, it's got everything but the tourists.

Given the artistic funky bent of a lot of its neighbor shops, the tourists might not be too far behind. There's even an attempt to name the area: "Left Bank". Although it's "East [Bay] Beach" or "Telegraph West" to me.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

In Praise of Baking Soda

I cannot hope to duplicate the paean that Fr. Robert Farrar Capon wrote to baking soda (aka bicarbonate) in The Supper of the Lamb, but I am quite grateful for it at the moment, as it has saved me the trouble and expense of replacing my Le Creuset French oven (close to $200 retail).

I was making some Soybean Stuff and the tomatoes were juicy and I wanted to reduce the liquid some. I went into my room for a moment, got a phone call, and by the time I got off the phone (it wasn't a long call, but it was a few minutes), the bottom was entirely carbonized.

Three boilings with water and baking soda, two baking soda paste scrubs with a soft brush and elbow grease, and one overnight soak later, all the burnt stuff is off my pot. Yeehaw!

Baking soda: No kitchen should be without it.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Meaty Goods

When checking out the selection at The Fatted Calf's stall at the Saturday farmer's market, I saw the calendar that Dr. Biggles from MeatHenge did for Taylor. Out-stand-ing.

Dr. B., if you're reading this, you are truly twisted, in the best possible way. If we ever run into each other at the market, I'll buy you a coffee or sumpin'.

Reviewing Meathenge, a blog I have sadly failed to keep up with, revealed a review of the place across the street from El Cerrito Plaza that replaced Shem's Palace (a once excellent Chinese place which went way downhill). It's Hawaiian plate lunch, so I might be over there to see if they have Kalua pork.

There is also a most excellent mushroom gravy to go with burgers and mashed potatoes that I must try out at some point. (Although, while the pot roast sounds good, I love mine.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

"Eat More Pie"

My paternal grandmother Alice has been dead for nine years now and her household was dissolved long before that. Imagine my surprise when my mother told me and my SIL that she had some deep dish Pyrex pie plates that were Alice's, and wanted to give them to us.

Mmm, pie

These are actually hard to find these days. I got three and already had one back from when they were commonly sold, so a pie-baking pal of mine will be giving one a good home.

My grandmother was quite a pie baker, and I still regard her Thanksgiving pumpkin pies as the gold standard, against which other pies should be judged. Given the passage of time, and indeed the timing (I got the dishes on the ninth anniversary of her death), I have to take this as a Message from Beyond:


I only hope that Alice provides the Method with the Message.

I still had the apples I had been intending to make into applesauce to eat with latkes, so decided to try my hand at apple pie, using a pastry recipe that I had moderate success with in the past (after Russ Parson's from How to Read a French Fry - 1 1/4 cup flour, 4 oz butter flavor Crisco, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 tea baking soda plus ice water to mix per crust) and trying the food processor.

Unfortunately I left the pastry in the fridge for two days and it overdried. I did manage to get the top crust on by wetting it down before rolling but, while it was most excellently flaky, the pie looked like the dog's breakfast due to all the patching.

It has tasted all right, though. I put ginger in with the sugar (too much, and had to fish some out, but it baked up Just Right), which my grandmother probably would not have done. I obviously need more practice, and just as obviously need to get a lot more physically active Real Soon Now.

Flaky Goodness

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's Lentil Soup

Eating lentils on New Year's for good luck is a custom that goes back to the ancient Romans. I adopted it one particularly poor year (if I recall correctly, that was the New Year's after I considered moving into my car) and haven't looked back.

For years I ate Progresso's lentil soup, doctored with a little parmesan and a great garlic condiment, "Gran'mere's Garlic Recipe", that is increasingly hard to find. (The web site says that Andronico's and the Bowl have it, but if it's there, it's hiding.)

But a couple of years ago, I got a copy of Williams-Sonoma Soup (a great soup cookbook btw) and started working through it. The curried lentil soup has become an Old Reliable in my kitchen. Not only do I eat it on New Year's, I eat it much of the winter, alternating with minestrone.

If you don't have a whole bag of lentils, just adjust the broth and vegetables.

Curried Lentil Soup
after Diane Rossen Worthington in Williams-Sonoma Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion (finely chopped) or 1-2 leeks, cleaned, sliced, and roughly chopped
1-3 carrots, scrubbed and sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
Generous tablespoon curry powder
1-2 bay leaves
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 bag (16 oz) dried lentils, rinsed, picked over, and drained
6 cups broth
1 lemon, sliced
1 cup chopped fresh spinach, or 1 1-lb frozen pack
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil, then add onion/leeks, carrot, and celery. Saute until softened (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and saute for one minute more. Add curry powder and cook till fragrant (about 1 minute).

Add tomatoes, juice, bay leaf, lentils, stock to cover, and the lemon slices. Bring to a simmer over medium hight heat. Cover, reduce heat, and cook till lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Add remainder of stock and heat up. Discard bay leaf and lemon slices.

If using fresh spinach, add just before serving. If using frozen, add at the end and cook for about 2-3 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste.