Monday, December 31, 2012

Time to drive home and write some resolutions

Our room had a view. No balcony, though.
Reasons I love Los Angeles: revival movie theaters, first-run movie theaters that open at 9 a.m., Jonathan Gold restaurant reviews, currywurst.

I did everything I set out to do in L.A. except finish writing the Victoria article, which is in progress. I am typing this as fast as I can because forces in the family are pressuring me to get on 1-5 and start driving north a.s.a.p.

Brief and loosely organized recap of trip, in case anyone is interested:

At Baco Mercat we were served huge amounts of ridiculously delicious food and it was remarkably cheap given that four of us ate to the point of pain. The cuisine was Japanese-Southeast Asian-Spanish-Middle Eastern-Italian-American and I know that sounds crazy and unappealing, but somehow it worked. More than worked. This was the best meal of our trip and there was no dissent among our oft dissenting family and I can not recommend this restaurant more strongly. If you don't believe me, believe Jonathan Gold.  The shrub cocktail was not potent and syrupy like a standard cocktail, but perky and refreshing and it did not give me even a slight buzz which was fine. I sometimes enjoy a clear head. The cocktails at The Varnish, on the other hand, made me very boisterous. This is one of those dark speakeasy places that have become trendy. My favorite drink was warm milk punch served in a teacup. It was too dark to read the make of the teacup, but it felt like fancy bone china and had dainty flowers all over it. I had never drunk milk punch and I can feel an obsession coming on. After our drinks we had French dip sandwiches in the adjoining restaurant, Cole's, and I reflected for the 1570th time that it is not alcohol that makes me fat, it is the enthusiastic eating that follows. I should add that The Varnish neighborhood is disgusting. I would have chosen a softer adjective had a homeless woman not tried to kick me as we crossed the street. I'm sure she had her reasons, but I did not appreciate the gesture. Zero Dark Thirty was electrifying. David Edelstein felt dirty for enjoying it. I didn't feel dirty. I would rather watch waterboarding than This is 40.  We saw lots and lots of other movies while we were in L.A. Owen and I squeezed in an early morning screening of The Impossible, which I cried my way through. We also saw Lawrence of Arabia and a double feature of It Happened One Night and Holiday, which everyone should see every 5 years. Those movies never get old and Clark Gable still has it. I had currywurst yesterday from a little place near our hotel; I've noticed a bunch of curry sausages restaurants in our drives around town and I had to try it. Wonderful. Soft sliced bockwurst under a blanket of spicy red curry sauce. If you have a chance, you should try this. We had a fantastic lunch at Forage in lovely Silver Lake and though I didn't get to meet the pastry chef, I did admire what I assume was her work, which included an adorable and delectable miniature gingerbread house that I got all to myself while the rest of my famly fought over the chocolate peanut butter tart.

Oh, there was more, much more. It was a really fun trip. I feel better about everything -- self, family, world -- than when we left home. A week ago I wasn't sure what I was going to resolve for 2013 but after this trip I definitely need to lose a few pounds. Even about that I feel cheerful and optimistic. The lesson in all of this -- which some commenters on the last post noted and which Lawrence of Arabia, It Happened One Night and Holiday and the last few days all confirm -- is that adventure and fun and the people we love are always a better choice than cleaning the house alone. That's as good a thought as any with which to start the new year. Happy New Year!

(Apologies for any typos, but I have to go to the car now.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The trip we made to Hollywood is etched upon my mind

where you'll find us
To be honest, I didn't want to make our annual end-of-year road trip to Los Angeles. I wanted everyone to go without me so I could catch up on work and clean the house. Christmas Eve I felt a little sick and thought maybe I could have a mild flu and send the family off, cancel the housesitter, and a few hours later I'd recover completely and they'd have a great time and I would get to clean the house. Isabel thinks it's ridiculous and pathetic to want to clean the house rather than go on a trip to Los Angeles and keeps needling me about it. She's right, of course, but I give her twenty years and she will understand.

This was the home agenda:

-finish writing the train article
-finish writing the Victoria article
-write the Nanaimo bar story
-throw out all the dead plants on the deck
-sweep up all the dead leaves on the deck
-clean the pantry
-clean the bedroom closet
-buy a new doormat
-buy a lampshade for the standing lamp
-clean out the refrigerator

This is the L.A. agenda:

-drink manhattans with Eric and Kathleen at their new house (DONE!)
-see Julianna
-finish writing the train article
-finish writing the Victoria article
-tour the Gamble house
-eat a shrimp sandwich at Baco Mercat and maybe try a shrub cocktail. One shrub cocktail.
-maybe buy a pair of shoes at Remix. One pair.
-go to The Varnish with husband and have a drink. One drink.
-see Zero Dark Thirty
-have lunch at Forage and meet pastry chef
-take Isabel shopping

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So this was Christmas

I got such great gifts this year, far better than I gave. My husband bought me Faviken, which is reportedly impossible to cook from but full of beautiful, stark pictures of rural Sweden and very interesting to read, with recipes for dishes like wild trout roe in a warm crust of dried pigs' blood. One recipe begins thusly: "The cow's heart should be put on ice immediately after slaughter, then brought out well in advance so that it comes to room temperature. Place the femur on the grill. . . "

He also gave me the rebar modern food cookbook, which I will definitely cook from. I don't know why they don't capitalize rebar, but they don't. As none of you will remember, I ate at rebar when I was in Victoria, B.C. earlier this month and someone recommended the restaurant's cookbook in the comments of this blog. Mark picked up on that. He's one of the most thoughtful gift givers I've ever known.

And then there's my sister who MADE me this

and bought us this painting

which I love. I've driven by the artist's studio for years and wanted to buy one of his paintings. How did she know? I never told her.

Isabel gave me some makeup and Owen gave me an extendable fly swatter. I made out like a bandit this year.

I didn't have to do much holiday cooking either, which was restful. My sister hosted the excellent Christmas meal (seafood pot pies! I need to ask what recipe she used because they were delicious) and I just contributed a coconut tres leches cake from The Homesick Texan. 
Is everyone familiar with tres leches cake? It's cake soaked in a sweet milk syrup. I first tasted it when I was an exchange student in Costa Rica in 1982 and I've never forgotten the delightful shock of soggy cake. Not for everyone, I suspect. Personally, I think coconut changes the whole character of this cake and I prefer it without, but everyone else was very enthusiastic. Or maybe just polite.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Some last minute chit-chat

date bars: my favorite
I wasn't going to do any baking this year, but yesterday I stayed in and baked. I've been in a dark and forbidding mood and I notice something dark and forbidding in my choice of recipes. No crowd pleasers here. Each contains at least one ingredient many people dislike. I don't understand why some people dislike dates, but they do.

date bars 
source: The Homesick Texan
why: I'm really into the The Homesick Texan.
objectionable ingredient: dates
verdict: delicious. I have eaten too many of these. I have to remember to make them next year because they are a perfect Christmas cookie, but you could serve them any time of year. A version of the recipe is here. Highly recommend.

pfeffernusse: very German


source: Joy of Cooking
why: My grandmother loves pfeffernusse. There were always bags of stale pfeffernusse in her house, probably bought on sale the day after Christmas. I wonder if it was pfeffernusse she loved, or a bargain.
objectionable ingredients: candied orange peel, black pepper
verdict: Delicious, soft, brown, spicy, and totally different from the pfeffernusse my grandmother bought, which were pale, round, rock-hard, and glazed.

mincemeat tarts: very British
miniature mincemeat tarts

source: Nigella Lawson's Christmas
why: a jar of mincemeat in the pantry, no idea where it came from.
objectionable ingredient: mincemeat
verdict: tasty and very cute tartlets, although the similarities between chutney and mincemeat are disconcerting. No one has touched these but me.

burnt cookie, perfectly baked cookie
date and sesame drops

source: Dan Lepard's Short & Sweet
why: love his recipes
objectionable ingredients: dates, sesame seeds
verdict: Would have been better if I'd read the recipe and rolled the cookies in sesame seeds as directed rather than mixing them in. Also would have been better if I hadn't burned most of them. None of these made it into the Christmas boxes. Too imperfect.

Last night I made West Texas stacked enchiladas from The Homesick Texan and even thought they they seemed skimpy -- insufficient filling -- I loved them. I look forward to every meal I cook from this book.

Since we're all on vacation now, after dinner, Mark and I tried to make the kids watch Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. They resisted and complained and tried to bargain their way out of it. I told them they only had to watch for 15 minutes and if they weren't hooked they could leave. After 15 minutes, they both left. I still feel like there's lots I don't understand about Ai Weiwei, like practically everything, but at least when I hear his name at a cocktail party I'll know generally what people are talking about. Now someone just has to invite me to a cocktail party.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Don't get me wrong, I love babies

How do you photograph a storm? There is a storm.
It's been raining like the end of the world, about which, fortunately, the Mayans were wrong. Today I am staying in and baking pfeffernusse for my grandmother.

Thursday night, I made salpicon, a giant salad of romaine, shredded brisket, shredded cheese, out-of-season tomatoes, avocado, and spicy dressing. From The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain, of course.  I loved it, but my husband thought the beef was stringy and that the dish was "very unattractive." He couldn't understand why you'd put brisket in a salad: "If you want to serve brisket, serve brisket and have salad on the side."

I suspect half of you will agree with him, half with me. Recipe is here.

Friday night, I made Fain's sopa de fideo, which was, as Isabel put it, like a bowl of spicy SpaghettiOs.  I loved this and will make it again and the recipe is here.

I am now about to write about a non-food topic.

The other day I took Isabel and two of her friends to the mall. They talked, I drove, the rain pelted down. Sometimes while chauffeuring I ask questions or make jokes, but I have to be in the mood to feel like a dork and I wasn't, so I remained silent. At the mall I killed time while they shopped by seeing This is 40. Are you familiar with this film? It's a Judd Apatow comedy about an attractive, frazzled couple played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, limping into middle age.

A short list of things I hated about This is 40:

Pap smear gags. Mammogram gags. Prostate test gags. Fart gags. Checking for hemorrhoid gags. Wife walks in on husband as he sits on the toilet gags (multiple). Viagra jokes. Megan Fox. Looking up Megan Fox's skirt jokes. Saggy breast jokes. Lena Dunham's pigtails. Lifestyle porn.

But what I hated most of all, was the ending.


Ok, the ending. The Promethean punishment dressed up as a happy ending for this struggling, bickering middle-aged couple with two children, including a teenager they can barely handle is . . . an unplanned pregnancy.

Which is to say, a brand new baby.

Look, I'm a sap about babies, but another kid is the last thing the dispirited couple in this movie needs. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann aren't going to get to start an exciting new chapter as their beautiful chicks fly the nest, they're going to just do it all over again, right from the beginning, and we're supposed to feel happy for them. I felt terrible for them. Is it impossible for Hollywood to imagine fresh, non-baby adventures for a fortysomething couple as their kids grow up? I love my children more than life, but I can imagine a thousand things I'd rather be doing 16 years hence than sitting alone in a mall movie theatre on a rainy afternoon waiting for teenagers to shop.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's the pleasant yet very tiring time of the year

soon to be salpicon
I love The Homesick Texan. I want to cook all Lisa Fain's recipes except the fried chicken livers and the chorizo bread. And the frog's legs. Not those either. But everything else.

The other night I made the pork chops with green salsa rice. You sear chops in a skillet, put some uncooked rice atop each chop, pour salsa over everything, and roast for an hour, tightly covered. These were a smash hit, even though the rice never fully cooked. That's a big "even though," but these were so popular I'm letting it go. And it is always possible I made some mistake. You can just cook the rice on the stovetop while baking the chops.

The recipe calls for thick pork chops which Fain says should weight about 1/2 pound each. I appreciated the clarity. Recipes often fail to specify and you're left wondering whether to buy the pork chops from Safeway, each one the size and weight of a slice of bad supermarket sandwich bread, or the chops from Whole Foods, each the size of a small Easter ham. It's like they're totally different foods! Shouldn't they have different names?

The next night, I made the jalapeno mustard roast chicken. You marinate a spatchcocked chicken in yellow mustard, spices and salt, which simultaneously flavors and brines the bird. Delicious and super-easy. Sure was ugly, though.

Do you all know about spatchcocking? It just means to cut the backbone out with a pair of shears so the chicken cooks faster and more evenly and looks creepy.

I have also cooked a brisket (5 hours in the oven, tightly wrapped in foil) to make Fain's salpicon, but I can't comment on that dish yet as we're going to eat it tonight.

On another subject, a few weeks ago I read a sentence in a book that described how noisy old clocks affected our perception of time. I decided I wanted to know a bit more about noisy old clocks, maybe buy one. Whoa. Match to pile of dry leaves. Now I think about old clocks all the time, stalk them on the internet and in charity shops, have crushes on some clock styles and grudges against others. I found an Ingraham clock in a shop and was thinking of buying it, then I walked down the street and saw an antique French grandfather clock that took my breath away and made me forget the Ingraham clock. But I can't afford a grandfather clock. I also want a banjo clock, which I can afford if I strike, so to speak, at the right moment on eBay. I lost a bidding war on for a stunning Sessions banjo clock and another for a New Haven banjo clock that I'm relieved I didn't get, but now I'm in the running for a miniature banjo clock, an adorable starter banjo. Don't you dare outbid me.

I won't bore you about clocks again, don't worry. But the clock fixation is not entirely unrelated to why I started this blog, which was to address the cookbook fixation, which I haven't done. I've described the fixation and had a lot of fun wallowing around in it, but the roots remain obscure.

Why clocks? Why cookbooks? Besides beginning and ending in hard consonants, what do they have in common? Why not birds? Why not opera, Victorian teacups, rowing, or mid-century gravel art? Why do we love what we love? Why am I like this and you're like that and why in the world does anyone collect barbed wire?

Maybe I'll figure it all out in 2013. I'll let you know.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ruby red

Brown Derby cake
I've become badly distracted by photography education and the fruitcake project to the detriment of paid work, Christmas tree purchasing, and this blog. Life is full of surprises; I did not see this coming.

We finished Burma. Friday, I opened The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain because I remembered it contained a recipe for grapefruit sweet rolls and I'm writing a story about grapefruit desserts. As I flipped through the book I thought, yum, all this chili and brisket and poblano macaroni and cheese and ribs looks delicious and I'm going to cook from this book because everyone is going to like it and I won't need to go to the Richmond New Way Mah market for a while, field any complaints, or chop any more shallots.

That night my sister-in-law Laura and her oldest son, Joseph, arrived from Oregon for the weekend. We did some touring and Joseph and Mark watched sports, but mostly we talked and ate Homesick Texan food and grapefruit desserts.
brunettes wearing brown
Friday night: Tex-Mex meatloaf, which threw off a lot of unsightly orange chorizo oil, but was delicious, "tender and smooth," as Fain puts it. I'm picky about meat loaf and have two benchmark recipes: Naomi Judd's mother's meat loaf from Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes, and Honest Fried Chicken (a great book I cooked from extensively in the early 1990s) and Paul Prudhomme's Cajun meat loaf. This meat loaf joins them in the pantheon. It's not quite as perfect as the other two, but gets points for uniqueness. You should make it; the recipe is here.  With the meat loaf we ate Fain's potato salad, which I found too vinegary, and leftover Burmese black eyed peas. Full Burma write-up coming soon.

I took pictures, but there was no natural light so the pictures were ugly and I'm not going to post them.

For dessert there was Brown Derby grapefruit cake, grapefruit cookies, and grapefruit mousse. Everyone was game about tasting and opining even though they would all have preferred Nanaimo bars.
Laura: "I don't like fool stuff."
Saturday night: Homesick Texan's Fancy Pants King Ranch chicken casserole which was AMAZING. Ordinarily, writes Fain, Texans make this with canned cream soup, but her recipe omits this distasteful component. I'm glad because I'm a fancy pants. A few years ago I made a Pioneer Woman recipe with canned cream soup and was very, very sorry. Fain offers both a typical canned soup recipe and a fancy pants version on her blog. It's not quite identical to the recipe that appears in the book, but it is close. The recipe involves a lot of steps, a lot of pans, and a big mess, but it is worth it.

With it I served her radish and cabbage slaw (perfection) and slightly mushy (I am not the only cook who had this issue), very tasty red rice.

I should say here that I have noticed that her dishes need additional salt.

After the chicken casserole we ate the best grapefruit dessert I've made. If I tell you about it now I won't have anything left to say in the actual article, so I will refrain. All will be revealed very soon.
not strawberries, grapefruit!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I warn you, it's a little off the wall

I would hang this picture on my wall.
I started a seasonal tumblr and you can find it here. You could call it a "pop-up" tumblr as it will only last until the end of the year, or until inspiration runs out. It started when I began trying to figure out food photography a few days ago and realized there was one subject I wanted to photograph more than any other. I may have found my muse!

We finished Burma last night. More on that later, maybe even later today. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

She was such an imp

She wasn't born yesterday.
Isabel is 16. The boilerplate next sentence: "It seems like yesterday that she was born!" Except it doesn't seem like yesterday. It seems like forever since she was born. It seems like. . . 16 years. Good years!

Sometimes I'm shocked that I'm not really old yet. It feels like I've been living for such a long time I should be frail and finished and yet here I am still shopping at J. Crew and getting crushes on TV actors.

We threw a surprise party for Isabel on Saturday night at a restaurant and she cried when we made toasts. Owen gave her a giant Gummi Bear and Mark and I gave her a charm bracelet. I asked what her friends gave her a few minutes ago and she wondered why I wanted to know. Yesterday, which was her real birthday, I cooked spaghetti carbonara and a chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese icing, per her request.
obnoxious diva
Carbonara: yum. Not sure what to make of Canal House Cooks Every Day, which was the source of the recipe. Do we need another recipe for spaghetti carbonara?  The book is beautiful, full of luminous, dreamy pictures of apple galettes, sugared berries, beet soup. But what is new here? Not sure. Everyone seems to love it. I want to love it.

Chocolate cake: yuck. Everyone else liked it, naturally, because they're under chocolate's spell. I've written before about my personal grudge against chocolate, who is an overbearing drama queen and never lets vanilla, butter, almond, walnut, lemon, or anyone else get a word in edgewise.  I had a theory that shy people don't like chocolate, but Isabel is shy and she loves chocolate.

I hope everyone is well. I am busy. I am happy. I might build a fire. Owen is asking for canned food for the food drive. Do you think they would accept jackfruit and coconut milk? We still don't have a Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Does she. . . or doesn't she?

carefully photographed, possibly oversaturated
I'm going to finish Burma with a burst of energy and enthusiasm.

That doesn't mean everyone else in the house is going to take part. Last night Owen threw a major fit over the Burmese coconut chicken noodles. Am I allowed to write that a 12-year-old thew a fit? Is this a breach of his privacy? I'll ask.

Me: Owen, come here for a second.

Owen: Coming.

Me: Do you care if I write that you had a fit about the noodles? In the blog?

Owen, shaking his head: I don't care. It's not like anyone's going to get angry at me.

Me: You're not embarrassed?

Owen: Why don't you say, 'I wasn't very fond of them.'

He wasn't very fond of them. And so he threw a fit. A gratuitous fit, in my opinion, because these noodles were the definition of inoffensive. Like: "This tactic used to work when I felt like having a box of Ritz crackers and egg nog for dinner, so let's try it again and see if it still works."

It still works. We were watching Homeland and no one was willing to interrupt the show to fight. Except Owen. I ate the rest of his noodles. Yes, we were eating in front of the TV.

The noodle recipe is here. I served with limes and sliced shallots, but did not make the fish balls, fried noodles, or hard-boiled eggs, though I would recommend doing so. The soup (it is more of a soup than a noodle dish) is mellow, comforting, and delicious, an excellent facsimile of the coconut chicken noodle soup my mother used to order at The Mandalay in San Francisco. If you can't find Chinese egg noodles, you can use spaghetti.

Other Burmese dishes we ate this week

-warming beef stew. Like Naomi Duguid's beef stew with shallots, it had little body and the meat was dry and gray. Indifferent.

-three layer pork casserole with preserved mustard greens. You're supposed to slice pork belly very thin, sear, and cook very quickly with rectangles of tofu, and chopped Chinese preserved mustard.
preserved mustard
I was unable to cut the pork thin enough, so the pieces of meat were big and chewy. The dish tasted good, but wasn't quite right. Freezing the meat would have helped with the slicing.

-Burmese carrot salad. This is the second time I've made Duguid's carrot salad and it is fabulous. Unlike American carrot salads, which tend to be sweet, this is forceful, peanutty, and rib-sticking. Eat with rice and you don't need anything else.

The recipe is a hassle, though, because you need to make three of the salad's components (dried shrimp powder, toasted chickpea flour, fried shallots) before you can make the actual salad. I'm not sure how many people are willing to do this. I'm putting the recipe at the bottom of the post in case you're interested, because this salad is one of my favorite recipes from the book.

-semolina cake. The technique of mixing this was one of the funkiest I've ever come across.

very good likeness
First you toast semolina flour in a skillet (it smells incredible), then pour it into a bowl and mix with brown sugar, coconut milk, water, and eggs. Heat peanut oil in the skillet you used to toast the flour, pour the batter into the skillet, and cook, scraping and stirring, until it turns thick and clumpy. Scoop the dough into a cake pan and pat it flat. Pour melted butter over the top, strew with sliced almonds, and bake.

Duguid describes this as a "version of Indian semolina halvah," something I've never eaten. It isn't at all like Middle Eastern halvah, which is fudgy/chalky. This has the texture of cooled of Cream of Wheat. The flavor is subtle, a little nutty. Is "subtle" another way of saying bland? Maybe. I liked it, though. Mark took a bite, made a face, wouldn't eat any more. Asian desserts aren't for everyone. If you'd rather eat any of these than this. you will probably like Burmese semolina cake. Otherwise, not.

Remember Contac?
-Finally, I used colored tapioca from the Chinese market to make Duguid's tapioca-coconut delight.  Yesterday, I discovered I can boost colors and heighten definition in pictures with iPhoto. Can you tell? Do you think Dolly Parton wears a wig?
Looks like French's mustard. Overdid the saturation.
The bottom layer consists of tapioca cooked with water and sugar. You chill this and then top with a blanket of coconut custard enriched with egg yolks and sweetened with brown sugar. The dish is jelly-like, beady, slippery, chewy, and creamy, all at once. I could eat the whole plate and everyone in the house would be relieved if I did.

Ok, here is the carrot salad recipe.

First, you need shrimp powder. You can make more or less, but I would make enough for additional salads.

1 cup dried shrimp (Chinese markets carry these and you should look for big, dark orange shrimp.)

1. Soak the shrimp in water for 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
2. Put in a food processor and grind until reduce to a fluffy pile of fine filaments. Store in a jar in the refrigerator. Mine is still good after 1 month.
 imo, a cool picture
Then you need toasted chickpea flour. 

1/2 cup chickpea flour

1. Spread the flour in a heavy skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring frequently. Lower the heat if it starts to burn. The flour should be sufficiently toasted in 15 minutes. Cool and store in a jar in the cupboard. Mine is still good after 1 month.

Finally, you need fried shallots.

peanut oil to generously cover the bottom of a wide skillet
as many thinly sliced shallots as you and your eyes can stand to slice, but at least 1 cup, as they shrink

1. Heat the oil until a shallot sizzles when you drop it in. Add the rest of the shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly until they turn golden brown. Turn the heat down if you have to do other work in the kitchen; these burn easily.

2. When the shallots are fried, remove from the oil and place on a paper towel to drain. (Keep the oil to use in other Burmese dishes, or, really, anything that would benefit from a hit of shallot flavor.) My shallots have never gotten very crispy, but they're tasty nonetheless. They keep for a few days in a bowl on the counter if you can resist snacking on them.

Now you can finally make the salad. 

Carrot salad

1/2 pound carrots, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 teaspoon fish sauce, or to taste
2 teaspoons dried shrimp powder
1 teaspoon toasted chickpea flour
1 teaspoon minced serrano pepper (or any hot pepper you have)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons fried shallots
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1. Put the carrots, lime juice, and fish sauce in a mortar. Pound. Don't try to turn the carrots into a paste, just hit them for a minute. You're breaking down the fibers and pummeling the flavors into the vegetable. 

2. Place the carrots in a serving bowl. Add everything else. Toss. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serves 4, with a little left over.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

And now I'm back from outer space

an orange, a lime, butter, sugar, flour, suet
My husband thought that was a photograph of an egg, but it's a photograph of the most delicious Sussex Pond pudding I've ever made and I've made a few Sussex Pond puddings.

It is a horrible picture.  To be fair, Sussex Pond pudding is hard to photograph. See what I mean?  This picture almost does it justice and this captures the shiny, sticky crust of a perfect specimen.

Here is a photograph of a different Sussex Pond pudding I made:

Jane Grigson's recipe
Sad and deflated in the picture. Steaming and grand in reality!

I'm going to fix this, have resolved to learn to take attractive pictures of food or to stop posting them altogether. I don't love photographs that make food look unrealistically glossy and glamorous, but it's worse when pictures make food look uglier than it actually is. When I make something great and write about how great it is the pictures need to support my words.

I wrote a story on Sussex Pond pudding and will link to it when it goes up.

On another subject, I took the goats to be bred the other day. We got rid of all the babies last summer and are back to just the two goats we started with, Natalie and Peppermint. People always think Peppermint is a male and Natalie a female based on how they look. But Peppermint is short and stocky because she's a Nigerian Dwarf, not because she is a boy, while Natalie is leggy and pretty because she's an Oberhasli. They're both girls.
She's all girl.
The other day, Natalie was in heat and Peppermint wasn't, so the bucks went straight for Natalie and Peppermint waddled off to the corner by herself. Peppermint has never conceived even when she was in heat, and I worry she feels like a failure as a doe. She's become very ill-tempered in recent years and Owen and I are convinced she'd be happier if she had her own kids. I know -- I KNOW -- I'm anthropomorphizing, but I felt  sorry for her when she was ignored by the bucks, like the dowdy girl left sitting on the bench at dancing school.

The attempt to breed Natalie: wacky. Nigerian Dwarf bucks have sired all her kids, but she's continued to grow over the years and is now too tall for them. Robert, who owns the bucks, brought out a young Nigerian Dwarf named Plaid to see what he could do with Natalie. Eager though he was, he couldn't "reach." So back to the pen went Plaid and out came Kentucky, a bigger, older Nigerian Dwarf who fathered Natalie's first kid. He couldn't reach either. "Well," said Robert, "We do have a Nubian who will definitely manage. He's a beast."

He was a beast. It was like rolling out a cannon after trying to storm the castle with pop guns. I'll take the goats up for a longer stay with the bucks around Christmas, so if this didn't take, we'll have another shot.

The trip to Vancouver reignited my obsession with Asian food and made dinner from Burma last night. Half of it was noteworthy, half of it was mediocre. But that gets its own post because it involves a long recipe and now I have to go see if I have any yeast so I can make David Lebovitz's kouign-amann.

Friday, November 30, 2012

How does she keep her girlish figure?

Clockwise from top: Cheerio bar, Nanaimo bar, butter tart
I love the way Canada is just slightly different from the United States. At first it all looks the same and then you start to notice the differences, which are many and subtle. I'll limit myself here to the differences in Canadian baked goods. The abundance of bakeries, tea rooms, and cafes in Victoria made it easy to do my research yesterday.


-Shortbread is the chocolate chip cookie of British Columbia. It's everywhere. I did not sample any shortbread as I would be unable to stop eating it and I already know what shortbread tastes like.

-British Columbians do not malign the fruitcake. I saw numerous home-baked fruitcakes for sale and bought a marzipan-topped cake at a popular bakery called Bubby Rose's. I asked the woman at the counter how long it would last and she considered for a minute and said, "June?" I'm going back to the Dutch Bakery (thank you Anonymous) to buy one of their fruitcakes today.

-I noticed lumpish agglomerations of Cheerios and mini marshmallows at several bakeries before I realized this was a trend. I bought a Cheerios bar and discovered that it contained not just the evident Cheerios and marshmallows, but also peanut butter. I liked it, but was able to stop eating without struggle. It's no Rice Krispie treat.

-I was unacquainted with the Canadian butter tart until yesterday afternoon, but now we are dear friends. Generally sold as muffin-size pies, a butter tart consists of a flaky pastry crust that holds a golden and very gooey raisin filling. It's like a bright, sunny pecan pie, but with raisins instead of/in addition to nuts. I'm going to try baking the bar version of this lovely sweet.

-The ubiquitous Nanaimo bar involves a chocolate crumb crust topped with a layer of vanilla custard/buttercream topped with a thin, firm coat of melted chocolate. Because quests make everything more fun, I decided to find the best Nanaimo bar in Victoria. I would be in the hospital now if I'd actually tasted every bar in town, but I did sample quite a few and can say with some assurance that in Victoria you want to buy your Nanaimo bar from Bond's Bond (the best vanilla filling) or the cafe at the Royal British Columbia Museum (the best crust).

There are some vile Nanaimo bars out there. The filling in one seemed to be made with canned frosting, but the worst was a raw, organic pretender made with dates, brazil nuts, and coconut oil. I'm not going to malign the coffee house where I bought it, but can offer a warning: An earthy cafe that employs young hippies to ladle up the lentil soup will, as a rule, serve Nanaimo bars you don't want to eat.

I had dinner at Re-Bar on Wednesday night -- thank you Anonymous! It was great.

I bought breakfast at Devour yesterday morning -- thank you to another Anonymous. Devour is a tiny, bright place and along one wall are shelves of kitchenwares and cookbooks.

I spent a few minutes studying the collection. A lot of familiar titles, but a handful of others I'd never heard of, like a gorgeous book by Neil Perry, an Australian chef who is much adored by commenters on amazon. The collection was just slightly different from what you find back home.
 Vij's cookbook is there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The pause that refreshes?

I fell behind.
In fact, nothing needed refreshing. The pause happened because living/cooking/eating/plotting got so far ahead of posting that catching up started to feel impossible. Weeks went by. The hole got deeper. The only solution is to do the most cursory catch up, forget the rest, and move on like I never missed a beat.

Cursory catch up:

1. I wrote a story on antique pie recipes. I've wondered about those mysterious old pie recipes for decades and now I don't have to anymore -- and neither do you! -- because I baked enough obscure vintage pies to learn that recipes go extinct for a reason. Well, usually. In case you don't want to read the whole story, Jefferson Davis pie is delicious, dark, and raisiny, though you really have to love both highly spiced Christmas puddings and the gooey part of pecan pie to appreciate it. Butterscotch meringue pie is also excellent, though you really have to love both butter and sugar to appreciate it. Since that includes almost everyone, I made the butterscotch pie again for Thanksgiving and my sister and I agreed that it was the best pie of the night.

2. I wrote a story about berries, which I turned in last week when no berry except the cranberry is in season. It was challenging to describe the exquisite appeal of a Hood strawberry or an Idaho huckleberry when I've never seen or tasted either, but I've always suspected I could write fiction. We'll see whether the editor agrees. I became fixated on berries while writing the story and was inspired to bake a red raspberry pie for Thanksgiving. This was my husband's favorite pie and while it was very tasty, it was no butterscotch meringue. I used frozen berries because Janie Hibler said it was ok and she wrote the book on berries
No one was hooked.
3. I also turned in a story about the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook.  I'll spare you the big think on Milk Bar until the story runs. If it runs. I will just say that the Milk Bar crack pie  was the least popular of the Thanksgiving pies and that Milk Bar's Saltine panna cotta is revolting.
4. In addition to the aforementioned pies, Isabel and I baked rhubarb pie, lemon chess, chocolate cream, pecan, and pumpkin. Various wags referred to the rhubarb pie as "celery pie" because the rhubarb, which came from our garden, was green. Do you like the word wags? I hope not because I will probably never use it again.
celery pie 
5. That's about it for Thanksgiving, but I made the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook S'more cake for Owen's birthday party. It consists of graham cracker-flavored layers sandwiched with milk chocolate ganache and iced with meringue. Predictably, the boys were in awe of the cake's billowy bakery shop beauty and that counts for a lot. It was a fine cake, but after the first day, no one ate any. If you cut a cake and no one touches it for five days, this is not a cake you should make again. A great cake is always in play.

Why wasn't this cake great? I can't really put my finger on it, but the pieces just didn't quite work together. It was less than the sum of its parts.
great looking, not great
7. However, every last floret of Smitten's broccoli slaw vanished within 24 hours. The recipe is on her site and you should make it. More than the sum of its parts.

8.  November is a hard time in America to concentrate on the cuisine of Southeast Asia, but I've tried. The tender greens salad from Burma is a wonderful melange of blanched pea shoots, fried garlic fried shallots, roasted peanuts, and lime juice. The recipe is here. The grapefruit salad was less harmonious, but with some tweaking could be great. The sweet tart chicken was very plain, and the beef stew with shallots was tasty. I may take a hiatus from Burma, as the next few weeks just don't feel Burmese.

9.  Tomorrow I am going to British Columbia on magazine business for a few days. If you have any restaurant suggestions in either Victoria or Richmond, please send them my way.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Burma, Burma, Burma and a little Smitten

"This is one of the most unusual and delicious dishes I have ever come across," writes Naomi Duguid in the preface to her recipe for Kachin pounded beef with herbs. 

And this is now one of the most unusual and delicious dishes I have ever come across, as well. I hadn't been madly in love with anything I'd cooked from Burma until Tuesday night, when I served the Kachin pounded beef. You need to make it. The recipe is here.

I'd never cooked meat this way before and you probably haven't either, which is part of the magic. Easy magic, though; don't be intimidated. You cut beef chuck into cubes, braise it, saute it, and then pound it to shreds in a mortar with ginger, garlic, Sichuan pepper, cilantro and salt (I recommend a bit more salt than she calls for.)  If you don't own a big, heavy mortar you could probably use a mallet and a cutting board to get the job done. As you pound you're simultaneously tenderizing the meat and pummeling zesty flavor into every morsel, a technique that makes our crude chunks and rectangles of pot roast and steak seem primitive.

I made Duguid's Mandalay carrot salad that same night, another recipe that entails pounding, but here it's carrot shreds that get the treatment. After you pound them with fish sauce and lime juice, you toss the tart, salty shreds with roasted peanuts, toasted chickpea powder (which makes everything mellow and starchy -- I adore this condiment), dried shrimp powder, and caramelized fried shallots.  Serve with rice. I have not cooked a better dinner in ages.

A few nights later, I made Duguid's silky Shan soup which was equally interesting to make and almost as fun to eat. I would call this "velvety porridge" rather than "silky soup" but whatever it's called, it's tasty. You mix chickpea flour with boiling water and cook until it's thick and shiny then pour this rich porridge over tender white vermicelli noodles and blanched greens. Serve in individual bowls and dress it up, congee style, with chile oil, shallot oil, roasted peanuts, cilantro and any other assertive garnishes that appeal.

I could eat this every day and lately do.
My kind of food.  I ate leftovers for lunch on Friday, for lunch and dinner on Saturday, and for breakfast this morning. I should tell you, though, that the reason there was so much left over was that no one else liked it. We don't have a tradition of savory porridge in this country and my family found it "too weird." I have to agree that the texture of this dish takes a little getting used to. It took me about 4 seconds.

On another subject, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook landed 10 days ago. I admire Deb Perelman tremendously. I'm both jealous and in awe of the way she has kept that blog fueled, week in, week out, never missing a beat. It can't be easy. She is a pro and I had to own her book.

And I'm glad I do. Smitten Kitchen is both a supremely polished production and a labor of love. Really, the best kind of cookbook. While I'm not as charmed by Perelman's stories as some readers are, no one is going to force me to read them all. While I'm not personally drawn to 100% of the recipes, I know that they will all work perfectly. I can't wait to bake the S'more layer cake and the deepest dish apple pie and I have already tried her recipe for buttered popcorn cookies. These were so sweet-salty-buttery-delicious that my nephew Ben ate a dozen or so and then cried when he found out there were none left. I wanted to cry, too!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Vote YES on Measure B

Sometimes we all get compulsive.
I baked 10 old fashioned American pies over the weekend and what a fascinating lesson that was in the dangers of romanticizing the past. Two of the pies were delicious, two were ok, and the rest found their best and highest use as lunch for the chickens. I have to finish the story about the pies today. Whenever a deadline looms, I decide I need to write a blog post, even when I have little to say.

Here's what I want to say: Michael Ruhlman put up a great, thought-provoking  piece yesterday about the propriety of sharing political views on a food blog. Then he shared his political views. If you have an hour or so to spare, you should read the post and then read the 200+ comments, which run the gamut from "Rock on!" to "I believe it is abhorrent to murder unborn babies for the 'convenience' of a woman, and will never visit your blog again, Mr. Ruhlman. Have a nice life."

What do you think about politics in non-political forums? I can't decide what I think. I admire the way Ruhlman just put it out there and let people bark at him. You have to be tough to take that, tougher than I am for sure. I'm glad he did it, but I'm also glad everyone doesn't because the whole internet would burst into flames and explode and we'd all just end up hating each other even more than we already do. Am I the only one ready to get back to Facebook posts about cats?

You're all wondering now, so I'll just spit it out: I really am voting yes on Measure B. But I have to finish this pie story first, so it's time to get cracking. I'll link to the story when it's published and will leave you with a piece of advice: If you're planning to bake the sour cream raisin pie on page 273 of Marjorie Mosser's Good Maine Food (1939), you should reconsider.

sour cream raisin pie.