Monday, November 29, 2010

Where the deer and the antelope play

I was a bit disappointed by Susan Orlean's contribution to the Tournament of Cookbooks. She's usually a sparkler, but seems to have phoned this in. It looks like it's going to come down to Plenty vs. Good to the Grain. I predict Good to the Grain will carry the day. Those chocolate chip cookies are reason enough.

I'm in snowy, moribund Jackson, Wyoming in a hotel room with log walls, lighting crafted from antlers, and an overactive heater. The two guys at the car rental agency were puzzled by my choice to come here in the off-season to report my story. I agreed that the timing was unfortunate then said I was sure I'd find plenty to do and see and write about anyway. I concluded cheerfully: "In any case, I'll gin something up!" 

They both burst into loud, nervous laughter, like I was the most hilarious gal they'd met in eons. I wonder if they thought I was saying I was going to drink a lot of gin. That would be fun! But it's not what I meant.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving wrap-up and beyond

Father. Turkey.
The big news from Thanksgiving:  I will never brine a turkey again and neither should you. The method outlined here yielded a succulent and perfectly salted bird. I'm not sure I've ever roasted a better turkey.

Isabel's pies were, of course, stellar.

Clockwise from right: chess, sour cream pumpkin, buttermilk, pecan, chocolate caramel with sea salt.
And the kids -- 1 to 98, as mentioned by my husband -- were wonderful company and perfectly well-behaved.

I know my mission right now is to cook through Thai Street Food, but I'm going to be traveling for most of the next ten days, reporting a fun story that will take me to a handful of small towns in cold places around the West. Owen and I are currently in Groveland, California (just outside Yosemite) where it is raining and we are staying in a haunted hotel.

Owen is the messiest person I've ever met. He's disorganized and overemotional and forgets to put the lid on the goat food. He doesn't take pains with his homework and can never find his shoes or his backpack and he routinely leaves his jacket at school. He worries his parents.

But he's curious about everything, excitable and enthusiastic, and he has this wellspring of joy that sometimes seems like the most precious and mysterious of gifts. You can't imagine the ecstasies over everything we've seen so far on our very modest trip -- roadside petting zoos, haunted hotels, dioramas in small museums, snow. He may never master long division, but he's a peerless traveling companion.

P.S. Brilliant piece comparing two very different cookbooks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A prettier Thanksgiving post

Thanksgiving 1998
My mother was a great one for holidays. She did not just tolerate holiday parties -- she loved holiday parties. She always dressed up and made toasts and called me the next day at 8 a.m. to rehash every single detail and comment on every single thing we ate. Tonight isn't going to be the same without her, and neither is tomorrow morning. I wish I could tell her how much I miss her.

See my pretty turkey platter?

Three years ago my mother and I wandered into a shop and I said, "I want that platter for Christmas." And she said, "You will have that platter for Christmas."

Isabel has had mixed success with the pies.
Cookies hide crust shrinkage.
She wanted to throw this particular pie away, but I forbade that. She also made a chocolate caramel tart and a pumpkin sour cream pie. I made a chess pie and a buttermilk-maple pie. Too many pies is our tradition.

Time to put on makeup and a festive dress. My mother would want that.

Thanksgiving miscellany

Why I'm not brining. *
1. We're hosting Thanksgiving. I decided not to brine and instead to pre-season the bird as recommended in this recipe. Much neater and easier. We'll see if tastes as good.

2. Isabel wants to bake all the pies -- pumpkin, pecan, chess, and chocolate. I feel both happy about this, and displaced. Mostly happy, though. And proud.

3. Owen left the lid off the garbage can of goat food (again) and it got rained on. When I went out yesterday morning it was like forty pounds of gruel. Soon it will be forty pounds of moldy gruel. He loudly denies that he left the lid off, insisting that someone else did it. The likelihood of this is practically zero, but I can't prove it and therefore can't make him pay for the replacement goat food, which is what I wanted to do.

4. Speaking of goats, we all love our short, dumpy goat Peppermint more than our tall, beautiful goat Natalie, though we try not to show it. Do we love Peppermint more because she has a better personality, or does she have a better personality because we love her more? I worried that because she lived in our house for a month as a baby, cosseted by adoring humans, Peppermint would end up spoiled and high maintenance, like the cat in Babe. Quite the opposite. Peppermint is mellow, quiet, and droll. It's like she never doubts we'll take good care of her, whereas Natalie, who has always lived outdoors like a proper goat, seems less confident that we'll come through for her. She's clamorous and demanding, perennially anxious, really obnoxious. There's a lesson in here somewhere.

5. I saw 127 Hours. It's not for everyone, but I liked it a lot. If nothing else, it will make you feel thankful.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

*photo credit goes to this site.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lamingtons and some soup

That's a Lamington cupcake made last night by Isabel. It looks like a cuddly mammal and tastes like a Sno Ball if Sno Balls were actually delicious.

Lamingtons are an Australian treat, typically square in shape and sometimes, I have read, sandwiched with jam. This American recipe comes from The Craft of Baking and involves dipping a spongy white cupcake in liquid chocolate icing and rolling it in coconut. The result is a tripartite confection: fluffy and white/sticky and chocolatey/coconutty and crunchy. All day I have been thinking of the Lamington cupcake I am going to eat, very, very slowly, tonight after dinner. Martha Stewart has an appealing recipe here, if you're interested in baking some. I would be!

I've started cooking from Thai Street Food by David Thompson. It seems futile and silly to try to replicate Southeast Asian street food in a temperate zone First World kitchen, especially in late fall, but I love this kind of food and will persevere through ten recipes. I said this was my plan, so my plan it is.

Last night, we had Thompson's roasted duck and noodle soup.

To make this, you pick the meat off half a Chinese roast duck (bought at a Chinese deli) then put the bones in a pot with some chicken stock, star anise, oyster sauce, sliced daikon and rock sugar and let it simmer for a few hours. Meanwhile, you slice the duck meat, deep fry some garlic, blanch some choy sum, boil noodles, and chop a tablespoon of Chinese preserved vegetable. You put all of these goodies in soup bowls then pour over the broth. Not exactly hard, but labor-intensive, requiring a special trip to the Asian market, lots of little steps and pinches of exotic this and even more exotic that and while the results were tasty, this was not a soup that I would go to the trouble of making again.

Lamington cupcakes are another story.

On another subject, I took the goats in for blood tests last week and am awaiting the results. Provided they're in perfect health, I'm sending them to spend some time with a buck in a week or two. This one, I think.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pioneer Woman meets Ethan Stowell

 Start with two delicata squash.

Now, cut the squashes into halves and scoop out the seeds.

Slice them up into half-moon discs and saute them in olive oil until really brown.

Oops. I don't know how THAT got in there. One of my little cowpokes doing his chores. Sorry. Another story for another day. Where was I?

Oh right, squash. Put it in a roasting pan, dot with butter and drizzle generously with honey. Plenty of butter. Plenty of honey. Don't hate. Appreciate.

Roast until molten. Mmmmmmmmmm.


Homage/affectionate parody over. For the last 24 hours I've been unable to get PW's sweet potato cobbler recipe out of my head. I want to make it for Thanksgiving, but don't see where it fits -- seems too sweet for a side dish, at least in our house, and dessert is always pie. Thoughts? Should I just go for it as a side?

The squash above is not a PW recipe, though. It's Ethan Stowell's roasted delicata with chestnut honey. This was very tasty, albeit more caramelized than I like. I bought chestnut honey just to see why Stowell specifies it in several recipes and the flavor is indeed distinctive, with almost a metallic edge to it. Don't love it. Now I know.

Even better than the squash, though unphotographed, was the brussels sprouts salad I served with it, made using this brilliant Food52 recipe. Raw brussels sprouts taste nothing like cooked, so even haters should try this. It's fantastic.

Two thoughts about the sprout salad:

1. You could reduce the cheese and still have a delicious salad. I think you could get away with 1/4 cup, if you're at all concerned about calories.

2. She says to serve the salad right away, before it wilts. Actually, it doesn't wilt. I ate leftover salad the next day for lunch and it was crunchy and delicious. The beauty of brassica salads, as I've recently discovered, is that, unlike lettuce salads, they keep. My sister and I have in the last month both become hooked on this Martha Stewart kale salad and I seem to always have a bowl of it in the fridge. Between brussels sprouts and kale, I may never buy lettuce again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Just another Tuesday night

This is the kind of foreboding my cooking inspires in a 10-year-old boy:

I picked Owen up from school yesterday and he asked, in broad daylight, while still in the car, "What are we having for dinner tonight?"

I replied, "Chickpea soup with mussels."

He said, very quietly, "I guess I won't be having dessert again."

Then he pointed out that he was expressing himself the way I had asked him to the night before -- calmly and politely, at low volume.

I thanked him for that.

His low expectations of Ethan Stowell's chickpea and mussels soup turned out to be in order. He didn't touch it, and the rest of us ate it without gusto. Mussels are cheaper than clams, but I just don't know if they're worth doing at home and I definitely don't like them with chickpeas. Chickpeas are grainy and nubbly and mussels are visceral and chewy and they didn't harmonize in a soup. That was Ethan Stowell recipe #10.

Despite mediocre soup, everyone was happy and we were having such a pleasant evening that Owen got to have dessert anyway. It was a good dessert and to deny him would have been cruel.

First, there was Stowell's toasted walnut ice cream (recipe #11). To make this, you toast whole walnuts then let them steep in hot cream. You strain them out after an hour or so, by which time they have imparted their flavor and color to the cream. This ice cream was superrich and pale brown, and I could not stop eating it.

To go with it, I baked Stowell's cardamom sables (translation: shortbread) which were agreeably easy and tasty and reminded me of a giant Parsi cardamom cookie I made a long time ago. Recipe #12.

I have now exceeded my quota of recipes from Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen, but may give it one more night. I can't go to San Francisco today to buy the ingredients to start Thai Street Food. That is going to require both serious planning and momentum and I don't think I can pull it off until Monday.

On another subject, if you haven't been following Food52's Tournament of Cookbooks, check it out. Today's writeup and decision, by Salon writer Francis Lam, was especially generous and thoughtful. And then I read this. Now I want that Dorie Greenspan book, which I need like another mollusk dinner.

Or another scoop of walnut ice cream. I actually untagged some photos of myself on Facebook today because I looked so plump. I was almost as ashamed of the untagging as I was of the chubbiness. But not quite.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I forgot how to blog

A draft of the book is done-ish and I am back to normal life and back to my cookbooks. I didn't just neglect the blog over the last few months. I throw open my french doors in the morning to gaze out at the garden and . . . want to close them.

I did stumble across this carrot growing there. I planted the seeds last spring and then forgot about them. Beautiful, no? Sadly, I waited too long to harvest. Not delicious at all. It tasted rooty.

I think where I left off blogging was in the middle of making Duck Egg Ravioli with Ricotta and Swiss Chard out of Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen. This would have been recipe #7 from the book. One night about a month ago, I stood there dotting a strip of pasta dough with fresh ricotta and into the middle of each ricotta blob I put a duck egg yolk. It took forever and it didn't work out right -- the dough was too sticky -- but the idea behind the recipe was so fascinating that I did it again the next night with a better dough recipe. Again it took forever, though this time it worked beautifully. The eggs barely poached inside the thin ravioli and so when you cut into the pasta, the yolks broke and formed a sauce.

I thought, I can't cook like this and blog about it and at the same time finish writing a book.

Anyway, this recipe is on page 104 of Stowell's book and if you make it with Marcella Hazan pasta dough, it is great. I would make this again, except we gave away the ducks.

This cookbook reviewer really loathes Ethan Stowell. He makes her want to poke hot needles into her eyes. I agree with many of her points, that this book is overly precious and "cheffy," but I think her reaction is a bit extreme. I'm also puzzled by the fact that she didn't seem to cook a single recipe. I'm always interested in a conceptual critique, but also think you need to try the recipes before weighing in on a cookbook. This particular book becomes far less irritating when you actually use it -- there are some fantastic recipes in here, not all of them cheffy and ridiculous.

Last night I made Ethan Stowell recipe #8: Clam Risotto. We haven't had a real barn burner family fight at the dinner table in a while, but the clam risotto go us going. Felt like old times. Owen screaming, me yelling back, Isabel rolling her eyes, etc. Classy. Just the words "clam risotto" may go down in family lore. I liked the clam risotto fine and it was simple to throw together, but the associations are now very bad. Also, it was gray. And clams cost more than I think they're worth. Not so into clams.

But we had the best salad to go with it: Endive Salad with Creamy Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. Owen was outraged that there wasn't enough for him to have seconds. That was part of the fight. It was that good. I am putting the recipe here with a few changes. You have to boil the lemon rind three times, which caused me to roll my eyes, but it is so easy, just do it. Also, it calls for a raw egg yolk which would probably weird me out if I bought supermarket eggs after the events of late summer. So probably you should invest in farmers' market eggs if you make this salad, or get some chickens. I tell you, it is a gem, this recipe.

Ethan Stowell's Creamy Endive Salad

8 heads endive (he calls for four, but I think you should double)
3 lemons, preferably Meyer
2 tablespoons water
1 fresh egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup pistachios, toasted
1/2 bunch Italian parsley leaves picked
5 radishes, thinly sliced

1. Remove the outer leaves from the endive and trim the stems, leaving enough intact so that the endives hold together. Quarter the endives lengthwise. Soak them in salted water for 10 minutes.

2. Peel strips of zest from one lemon. Wide is fine. Put in a small saucepan with water to cover, bring to a boil, then drain. Repeat three times.

3. Juice the lemons. Put the juice, the boiled lemon rind, the water, egg yolk, mustard and salt in a a blender. Pulse. Add both the oils in a slow steady stream. You'll end up with a mayonnaise-like dressing, very soft and pale yellow. Taste for salt.

4. Place endives, nuts, parsley in a bowl and toss with dressing to lightly coat. (You may have dressing left over -- don't overdress.) Top with the radishes. Beautiful! Should serve six.