Monday, December 27, 2010

The Kitchen Reader: Memories Around the Holiday Table

The Kitchen Reader group is taking the month off - instead of reading, we're posting a memorable holiday recipe. 


Christmas to me isn't turkey. We never developed the taste for turkey, so my mother always roasted a goose or a duck for our holiday meal. Both are definitely rich (aka fatty), but both are so much more flavourful in our view. 


Fast forward to 2010, where the husband and I spending our first Christmas at home in Boston with my sister joining us from Toronto. The only goose I found to roast was at Savenor's, but at $130 for the bird, I couldn't bring myself to buy it in the event that we screwed it up. They didn't have a whole duck either, so I bought two of these:



That is a poussin, otherwise known as a young chicken. This baby was a pound, which I thought would be fine for one person. It looked like a small supermarket chicken in the package, but when we pulled it out of the wrapping, we found it had both its head and feet attached. My sister isn't particularly squeamish, so she hacked off the head and feet in short order and continued preparing the birds as per a Thomas Keller recipe from his Ad Hoc cookbook. I now have 2 chicken heads and 4 chicken feet sitting in a ziploc bag in the freezer, ready to be used to make stock. 


Incidentally, the poussins were delicious - it's hard to go wrong when they're coated in butter!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

All tarted up with no place to go

We were supposed to head up to my cousin's place north of Boston for a mini family gathering. They asked us to bring dessert, so I made Joanne Chang's Roasted Pear and Cranberry Crostata from her new cookbook, Flour, of the same name as her bakery. It's somewhat ironic that I bought the Flour book for the husband for Christmas, yet I'm making the first dish out of it. In any case, here's the crostata before it went into the oven:



And here's the after pic:


I should point out that this is was a multi-day, multi-step process to get to both these pics - first I made the dough which was easy (flour, sugar, and lots of butter) that could sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Then I made the frangipane, which is an almond cream filling that consists of ground up almonds, sugar, and more butter. That could also be made ahead of time and hung out in the fridge with the dough for a couple of days. The third step was to peel, core, and halve 9 pears, sprinkle them with sugar and more butter, and roast them for close to an hour. Once they were cool, I could finally assemble the damn thing, which then needed another hour to chill in the fridge - hence the before picture.

Let's just say the after pic definitely doesn't look like the one in the cookbook. It's most likely due to the fact that I can't seem to follow directions - the recipe very clearly states to roll out a 12-inch round with the dough, but leave a 3 inch ring on the outside clear of fruit since that's the crust. Well, I apparently don't know what a 3-inch strip looks like because I certainly didn't have enough dough to encase the sides of the fruit. The dough also shrank back on me and the frangipane oozed out somewhat, but it filled the house with the smell of buttery goodness. 

So we have a dessert, but now we have no place to go - we're under a blizzard warning here in the Northeast, which means we're stuck at home. I guess it's not the worst thing to be snowed in with a buttery tart - anyone within walking distance from our house is welcome to come by and have a piece!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daring Cooks: 1 stick of butter for brunch

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of
Trudy of Veggie num num.
************************

This is my first Daring Kitchen challenge and my eyebrows went up when I saw it involved poaching an egg. I have nothing against poaching an egg, I've just never had the urge to poach eggs before. Since it seems like a handy skill to have in the kitchen, I decided I'd jump in to my first challenge and conquer the poaching of an egg.

Here's a couple of things I learned right off the bat when I set out to make the first recipe in this challenge:
  1. Don't make a hollandaise sauce right after a great workout at the gym. 
  2. Have more than 5 eggs on hand when you start to cook.
Miraculously,  I managed to make the recipe without royally screwing up, but just barely. Here's the first screw-up:

First egg in the pool
Turned into this...
Before I took the plunge, I went searching for egg poaching videos online (yes, I know how sad that sounds) and found a helpful one featuring a chef instructor from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America, not the other CIA). Poaching eggs looks easy - make sure you have salt and vinegar in the water, keep the water temp between 165 and 185F, create the whirlpool, make sure they aren't sticking to the bottom, take them out when they start to float and plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

I decided to go with a test egg and while it looks pretty good, the damn thing never floated so 5+ minutes of poaching created an egg with a pretty firm yolk. Luckily it wasn't fully cooked through, but I kept a very close eye on the next two eggs that I poached. At least I got 3 edible eggs for our lunch.




Since I only had 5 eggs on hand, I could only make 3 eggs benedict since the hollandaise sauce called for eggs too. The recipe specified 3 egg yolks to make 1.5 cups of hollandaise sauce. That sounded like a bit much to me for our lunch, so I cut the recipe back to 2 yolks. That meant instead of using 1 1/2 sticks of butter, I only needed 1 stick! (This is the reason why you don't want to make a hollandaise sauce after working out - I could feel the benefit of my ab exercises flying out the window.)

I was surprised to learn afterwards that Julia Child described hollandaise sauce making as tricky. It's probably a good thing I didn't know that beforehand or else that might have messed myself up. I can make custard so I generally have a good understanding of how eggs behave, but I had the heat on too high for my double boiler and almost whipped myself some scrambled eggs at the start instead of "slowly thickening the egg yolks over a gentle heat while constantly whisking". Luckily, yanking the bowl off the pot of water and adding cold butter cubes (all 8 tablespoons of it, one bit at a time) rescued the sauce from the brink. After whisking in some lemon juice, salt and cayenne, I had myself some very respectable hollandaise sauce.

The assembly was the easy part. Canadian bacon got thrown in a frying pan to crisp up, store-bought spelt english muffins got toasted, then they all came together to look like this:


They were definitely tasty - it's the hollandaise sauce that makes the dish, and how can you go wrong when you're eating a stick of butter? Actually, I was surprised by how little sauce we used - this is what we had leftover that went in the freezer. I would guess that there was maybe 1 tbsp worth of butter on top of each egg, which isn't nearly as bad as we thought. I still don't understand how the full recipe makes 1.5 cups for 4 eggs, but oh well - I'm happy to have leftovers for the next time!

Half-cup of leftover hollandaise sauce


So my moral of the story on poaching? It's not hard, but it does take some technique aka luck. I'd rather follow the Momofuku instructions from David Chang - keep the eggs whole in the shell, put them in a water bath set to 140F, and cook for 40-45 minutes. I've read techniques to keep water on the stove at that constant temperature, but I'm started to wonder if an immersion circulator could be a handy gadget in the kitchen. Too bad neither the husband or I can waltz into one of our labs and help ourselves to a water bath...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday's Food for Thought - The Not So Jolly Part of the Season

Here's the opening paragraph of this article (full link below):

"Consider this fact presented by Women's Health magazine: The average American eats 600 additional calories per day between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Translation: That's an extra six pounds. Yikes!"

Now that's a depressing way to approach the holidays!

It caught my attention though because despite my love of eating, I worry about my weight. And my cholesterol and my overall health, of course, but admittedly, it's first and foremost about the weight.

I have come to terms with the fact my favorite foods will always be higher in fat. I just can't force myself to eat chicken breast or cut bacon out of my life. I've learned to eat less of my favorite fatty things, and to eat as low fat and healthy (ie fruits and veggies) most of the time so that I have room for indulgences. Though it surprised me when I looked at this list and saw the only vice I have is the prime rib. Eggnog can gross me out, I'm allergic to crab cakes, I'm not a fan of gin and tonic or spinach dip and i hate pecan pie. I guess 1 out of 6 isn't so bad?

http://www.thatsfit.com/2010/12/06/the-top-6-worst-holiday-foods/

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Once step closer to churning our own butter

The husband and I laugh over this old Dilbert comic:


Ok, maybe it's not that funny. Still, it cracks us up and it's a line we use as we continue to go down the path of food obsessed.

We didn't go off to churn butter, but we did head over to Formaggio Kitchen's new classroom annex to attend a cheese making class. The adventure started when we went to find the building - it's in a sketchy industrial complex near Alewife in Cambridge, and it turned out their classroom/warehouse is in a giant storage unit. An unheated storage unit, at that. I wasn't dressed for arctic temperatures so after two hours sitting in the frigid cold I was chilled to the bone. I do not recommend attending any of their classes in the winter unless you wear heavy layers, though to be fair I did find this class to be worth the discomfort.

Formaggio Kitchen Annex

The class was taught by Allison Hooper, the co-founder of Vermont Butter and Cheese company. I see VBC's products often in my grocery shopping rounds, and I am a regular purchaser of their creme fraiche, though I really didn't know much about their other products. It was interesting to hear the story of how the company was started essentially on a whim 25 years ago, but it was more fun to do the eating of the cheeses that she brought and made for demonstration. We had 6 VBC commercial products to sample:
  • European cultured butter: seems like this is made from churning creme fraiche, a cultured cream as opposed to fresh cream. I'm a butter fiend to begin with, so I'm not particularly picky over my butter, but I do find butter tastes better in Europe so I was sold. We bought a new cultured butter with sea salt crystals that is heavenly on a still warm baguette - fat and salt are my two favourite flavours.
  • Fromage blanc: I've seen this ingredient in a Barefoot Contessa episode, but had no idea what it was. It's basically the French equivalent to Greek yogurt, a tangy and runny cheese with a mild flavor made from cow's milk. I prefer the denser texture of the Greek yogurt over the flowiness of this cheese.
  • Creme fraiche: Big fan of this product - I prefer it over standard sour cream, and we use it mostly in scrambled eggs and with roasted fingerling potatoes.
  • Bijou: An aged goat cheese that's mild in flavor. This was good on it's own, but the prepared salad that we were served was an excellent meal. VBC's take on the French chevre chaud salad, where each Bijou round is cut in half and placed cut side down/rind up on slices of baguette (the cheese is quite small) before being placed in the oven to toast and warm through. The cheese never fully melts, but it develops a nice crust with a warm gooey center on a toasted slice of baguette. The salad itself was also very tasty, with an unusual element of cooked leeks.
  • Bonne bouche: This is another aged goat cheese but this one is covered in ash. We learned that the ash comes from poplar wood and it's a neutralizing agent to encourage the bacteria to grow. We also sampled this cheese in a recipe that involves roasted fruit, nuts and rosemary with a warmed bonne bouche as an appetizer to be eaten with bread that is simple to make, impressive to look at and tasty to eat.
  • Double-cream Cremont: A mixed milk (cow and goat) cheese that is intended to be more accessible to those who aren't accustomed to goat cheese. It was good, but not particularly memorable.
All in all it was a great learning experience fueled by lots of snacks, beer and wine, even though my stomach was somewhat angry after consuming so much dairy and our fridge now smells like feet thanks to the new goat cheeses we bought. But will we make our own cheese? We're willing to try some of the soft cheeses, but not the hard aged cheeses that require stringent humidity and temperature settings to ensure optimum ripening. We're most psyched to try making our own cheese curds, but the instructions from New England Cheesmaking Supply Company is fairly daunting. We'll order some culture and rennet and report back on our experiments...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Channeling my inner Martha Stewart

Here's some of the output of the weekend:

White Chocolate Cranberry Ginger Cookies
Not the best picture, I admit - I love how the iPhone 4 can take amazing pictures, but it still takes a little luck - and a bit of operator skill. I probably should have turned the flash on, but oh well. You get the point. They were much prettier sitting on our dining room table though.

I make these cookies all the time, but I really wish I could figure out how to make them consistently. I made the first batch on Saturday but these cookies ended up baking super thin, to the point they wouldn't stand up as gifts. I think the butter got too warm and soft, and I suspect that using some oat flour changed the structural integrity of the dough. I also think the cookie scoop I used was too big - 2 tbsp makes far too big a cookie. Oh well - the husband gets to eat those so he's all happy since his cookie supply has been replenished.

The second batch made on Sunday came out much better - I didn't substitute any oat flour, I put the dough in the fridge for several hours to chill before baking, and I used a small scooper. This doesn't really help in my quest to make consistent cookies since I changed too many variables at one time to determine whether there is one culprit behind my floppy cookies. Nonetheless, I had gift-worthy cookies, which I promptly bagged up, tied with ribbon bows after watching YouTube videos on how to tie ribbon bows (yes, I am OCD) and popped them into the freezer.

Tis the Season for overeating!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday's Food For Thought: What the hell do neurologists know about how to eat your gingerbread men?

I've already fallen off the wagon, with last week being Thanksgiving and all - but it's still Friday so I feel like I'm back on track!

Here's the (extremely) short article (link below):

"ONCE THEY actually catch the gingerbread man, most Americans go for his head.

That's according to a biting survey sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts, which asked people how they devour a gingerbread cookie.

Two-thirds say they chomp down on the treat's top, while 20% bite off the legs and 16% go for the arms.

The doughnut chain trotted out a neurologist, Dr. Alan Hirsch, to make sense of the findings.

"If one chooses to bite the head first, it indicates an achievement-oriented individual, a natural leader, who won't take no for an answer," he said.

Those who bite the right hand tend to be "skeptical and pessimistic," while lefties "have a flare for creativity and are more extroverted." The leg-eaters are apparently sensitive types."

(http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/food/2010/12/03/2010-12-03_gingerbread_man_eaters_go_for_head.html)

So here are my questions:

1. Why would Dunkin Donuts commission this survey? What does it tell them?

2. Why the hell would you consult a neurologist? There's nothing about a person's nervous system that would guide their cookie-eating style. Do these idiots not realize they need a psychiatrist or a psychologist? Oh wait, this is Dunkin Donuts we're talking about.

I haven't eaten a gingerbread man in so long, I don't know what appendage I consume first. And what does it mean if I try to eat the whole cookie at once?


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving's in the air

On TV, in the paper, in magazines, in stores - everyone's talking about their Thanksgiving preparations. It's a little odd since I don't like turkey or pumpkin pie, but I'm a little bummed to be missing out on the festivities. We're off to the motherland, which is Canada and where they've already celebrated Thanksgiving back in early October (same date as Columbus Day in the US). The Canadian version is nowhere near as big a deal as it is here. I've come to appreciate the rigamarole around this holiday, though I still don't get the appeal of Black Friday shopping starting at 4am for a number of stores (midnight at the Wrentham outlets south of Boston).

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday's Food for Thought - Unusual meats

The Boston Globe surprisingly printed an article on the growing purchases of goat meat, due primarily to the ethnic minorities where goat meat in other cultures is a norm. I was suprised since eating goat is a pretty exotic topic for such a bland, white bread paper like the Globe.  But that did get me thinking on general aversion to exotic meats or even exotic cuts of meat from mainstream animals.

Growing up in an Asian household meant that I was exposed to wide variety of unusual items that nowadays can usually be seen on gross-out food shows like the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. No, we didn't have snake or bugs growing up, but as a kid we pretty routinely ate offal (tongue, heart, sweetbreads) and fish with its head on was a common sight in my household. As an adult I've eaten ostrich (not bad, pretty lean), emu (delicious!), rabbit, goat, elk, moose and deer. I think I've listed them all. I think the only exotic game at Savenor's that I haven't eaten is kangaroo and I have no desire to try that any time soon (not sure if this is true, but the wild animals have a lot of worms so I've been told to only eat farm-raised).

Nor do I have the desire to cook any of these meats myself. Back in Montreal, rabbit is relatively common in French cooking, so we would see whole rabbits, sans fur but with head still attached and eyes in, wrapped in plastic in the meat case. Not exactly the most appealing, but I'm not turned off by the whole pig heads in the meat cases at the Boqueria in Barcelona. I guess I'm just not sure how to deal with a rabbit carcass or a pig head. I definitely don't want to take butchering lessons...

So what's the most exotic meat that you've ever eaten and what do you think you'd be willing to eat?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Little things make us happy

This is our newest toy:


Yes, that's a kitchen faucet. Our new kitchen faucet.

It may seem pretty ordinary to you, but the Blanco Semi-Professional model (because we're only semi-professionals, you know) is the best kitchen item we've bought all year. It beats out the long silicone-tipped tongs (purchased after I realized deep frying french fries isn't a good idea when you have itsy-bitsy tongs and your hands are dangerously close to the hot oil) and the cute jars I use to make pickles.

It's amazing because we put up with a broken builder's basic Delta faucet for a year. Our old faucet was stuck on a weak spray - we couldn't switch it back to the full stream anymore, so filling a pot of water or a watering can was a slooooow process. This new puppy has so much pressure that I was power-washing lettuce to the point that it needed extra spins in the salad spinner.

It was a good thing we got our new faucet installed because it had no problem tackling this glorious mess:


This was my first attempt ever at making baked beans. I violated the cardinal rule and tried this dish for the very first time the day we had guests coming for dinner. We were serving apple-cider glazed ribs with the Barefoot Contessa's roasted butternut squash salad, and it occurred to me the day before that baked beans would go well with the meal. I'm not particularly fond of baked beans so I think the husband was a bit taken aback when I offered to cook this as a side.

I first trotted off to Formaggio in search of salt pork. Turns out it's probably the only pork product that they don't carry. The closest substitution was either pancetta or guanciale. I went for a pound of guanciale since it was the fattier option of the two (and a few dollars cheaper). I was also hoping to buy Rancho Gordo beans, a supplier of dried heirloom bean varieties that reportedly taste far better than the run of the mill varieties. I'm a big fan of heirloom tomatoes, so I wanted to give the heirloom beans a try, but unfortunately they didn't carry the type of white navy bean that the recipe called for. Instead, I settled for a dried New England bean mix from Whole Foods.

I was intending to make a full recipe, but the husband suggested perhaps halving the quantities would still be a hearty amount, given how much other food we had to serve, so it was only half a pound of beans that soaked in water overnight. The next morning, when I started to assemble the rest of the ingredients for the 5 hours of cooking time, I realized the recipe called for a 1-to-1 ratio of salt pork to beans. I dutifully chopped up a half pound of guanciale to match the half pound of beans, but when it came time to put all of it together in the pot, I just couldn't add that much fat to that amount of beans. I ended up adding half of what the recipe recommended, and I'm very glad I did because it ended up being rich as all hell. I like my food to be fatty (though we'll see how my cholesterol's doing at my next check-up, gulp) but even this was a bit too much for me. I added 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar which helped the heaviness, but I think I'll be looking for a more southern-style baked beans recipe the next time I get the urge - I think I'm a sweet and sour, ketchup type of baked bean eater after all.


Boston-style Baked Beans
From Serious Eats

Ingredients


  • 1 pound dried white pea beans, soaked overnight in cold water
  • 6 cipollini or small onions, peeled
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 pound salt pork
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon dried mustard
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Directions
  • Drain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and place them in a large saucepan. Cover the beans with water and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, skim off any scum that has risen to the surface, and drain the beans, reserving the cooking water. Set the cooking liquid aside and transfer the beans to a heavy casserole or Dutch oven
  • Preheat the oven to 275ºF
  • Skewer 3 of the onions with a clove each and add them, with the remaining onions, to the beans. Cut the salt pork into 2-inch pieces and add to the beans. Mix the brown sugar, molasses, mustard powder, and salt with about 1 cup of the cooking liquid and pour over the beans and pork, stirring to mix. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to cover the beans and set the remaining liquid aside
  • Cover the beans and cook for 4 hours, checking from time to time to make sure that the beans are always covered with liquid, and adding more of the reserved cooking liquid as necessary. After 4 hours the beans should be just tender, but the cooking time will vary depending on the age of your dried beans; older ones will take longer to cook. Uncover the pan and continue to cook them for another hour to thicken the sauce and color the salt pork pieces. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cooking like an Iron Chef

No, our cooking skills aren't that good. We've never taken a professional cooking class and our knife skills are rudimentary at best. In fact, they're so rudimentary that I started to take a piece off my thumb while attempting to cut a baguette last night.

I'm referring to a (reasonably?) new show on the Cooking Channel featuring Iron Chef Michael Symon. I thought it might be hokey at first, but the premise is simple - pick a "secret ingredient" and cook 3 dishes with it. The episode featuring pork got my attention - he made a pork tenderloin dish in minutes using only one pan.

Not only did it take less than 10 mins to cook (with maybe 10 mins prep, at most), it's really, really good. The sweetness of the dates cut the richness of the bacon with the pork, and the lemon zest adds an unexpected brightness to what could be a very heavy dish. This is one we'll be adding to our weeknight repertoire.

Pork Tenderloin with Bacon, Chile Flakes, Toasted Almond and Parsley 

Recipe courtesy Michael Symon

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons blended oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 (1 1/2-pounds) pork tenderloin, cut into 2 1/2 to 3-ounce medallions
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 thick slices bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds to pan, to toast
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup pitted, chopped dates
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • About 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley, leaves picked and chiffonade
  • Kosher salt 

Directions

Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons blended oil. Season the medallions with salt and pepper on both sides. Once the oil is heated, add the seasoned pork to 1 side of the pan and sear on both sides, about 2 minutes each side. To the other side of the pan, add the bacon and allow to start to render.

Once the bacon has started rendering and the pork is flipped, add the almonds and butter to toast. Next add the dates, red chile flakes, garlic, chicken stock, lemon zest, and juice. Allow to simmer briefly then remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Taste and season with a pinch of salt, if needed

Place 2 of the medallions onto a plate and top with the dates, almonds, bacon and drizzle of the sauce.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday's Food For Thought: Brown Bread Ice Cream?

Welcome to my first Friday's Food For Thought. This is my attempt to be more regimented in maintaining this blog, even though I do this for fun with no pretense of garnering a book deal.

I think I've professed my admiration for David Lebovitz on multiple occasions (particularly for sharing his Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream recipe with the world), but I have to admit when I saw this post of his (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/11/brown-bread-ice-cream-recipe/), the title really threw me off. And it's not because no one calls it brown bread in Boston - I'm just not a fan of whole wheat bread to begin with, so the idea of chunks of it in an ice cream did not appeal. I guess I was picturing a weird bread pudding concoction gone terribly wrong.

In reading the directions, I was relieved to see that the brown bread is turned into small bits and caramelized with butter, sugar and cinnamon. That makes it slightly more palatable in my books, but then I read that the ice cream base involves cream cheese or sour cream, and that turned me off again. It reminds me of the parsnip ice cream I ate at Craigie on Main, served as accompaniment to pear and pine nut perdu (french toast). It wasn't unpleasant, but it also wasn't enjoyable - there are some things that just aren't meant to be made into ice cream. I put brown/whole wheat bread in that category, along with parsnips.

So am I the only one against the idea of brown bread ice cream? Would you eat it?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quite possibly the most entertaining restaurant review ever...

I'll admit I don't know much about the Amateur Gourmet, other than his blog is part of my blog roll and I dutily peruse his postings as they appear. There's nothing like the title "Waiter! There's a Nipple in My Soup! (A Review of Robert's Restaurant at Scores Gentleman's Club by Cole Escola)" to make me stop and read the full piece. This is definitely the most entertaining restaurant review I've ever read! See the link to the full article below.

 Amateur Gourmet Article

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich

Vietnamese is our favourite ethnic food. We love it so much, we plan on vacationing in Vietnam so we can eat the real stuff. Unfortunately, the real deal cannot be had in the Boston area, even if you're willing to risk your safety and head into Dorchester where there are 3 pho restaurants on one corner. Northing here can compare to the Vietnamese food we've eaten in NYC, San Fran, Paris, Montreal and even our little hometown of Ottawa.

So when I had a craving for a banh mi, I knew we were going to have to make our own. A banh mi consists of the following components:

  1. Crusty bread in baguette or sandwich roll form
  2. Pâté(s)
  3. Meat - often roast pork, sometimes chicken or meatballs
  4. Pickled veggies - usually carrots and daikon
  5. Cilantro
  6. Mayo
  7. Hot sauce
This may be the most emblematic example of the French influence on the Vietnamese food culture. Who would have thought French pâtés would be good with Asian veggies and condiments? A lot of liberty can be taken with the meat component of the dish - since I knew we didn't have any roast meat lying around for lunch on Sunday, I decided to go with two types of pâté (chicken liver mousse and a pork version). The two items that you absolutely cannot omit are the pickled veggies and copious amounts of fresh cilantro.

We of course did not have any suitable pickles in the fridge as the type of pickle required for a banh mi is not of the standard dill or Kosher pickle. It's also not the kind of thing that I've found in the grocery store, so I got up on Sunday morning and made my own pickles. I used the following recipe from the king of Asian pickling, in my mind: David Chang of NYC's Momofuku restaurants.

Momofuku pickling brine
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
6 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp salt

That's all there is to it. The use of the rice vinegar makes for a milder sourness, and the sugar adds a brightness that I find quite tasty. I stirred up a batch of the brine while the husband was making pancakes and cooking bacon, then went looking for things to pickle. I ended up with carrots, red onion, Thai chilis, and cucumber as victims of pickling. I had 4 little bowls wrapped in plastic, hanging out in the fridge, until the husband went out that afternoon and brought back a couple of these adorable little jars:


I think the carrots would have made for a better picture, but we ate all of those before I got around to snapping a shot. In any case, DC recommends that the sit for a few days in the fridge, but they are edible within a few hours if you're in a pinch. Which is a good thing, since I wasn't planning on waiting a few days before I could make a banh mi.

I essentially followed the banh mi recipe found in the Momofuku cookbook. This version uses the two terrine/pâté method, which was easy enough to do thanks to the excellent pâtés made by the talented people at Formaggio Kitchen. DC's instructions call for Kewpie mayonnaise, which required Googling on my part - it's a Japanese creation that's made with rice vinegar that ordinarily would have appealed to me except that it also contains MSG, of which I am not a fan. I was skeptical of the mayo and almost left it out, but decided to make a smallish starter sandwich with a light swipe of mayo. The red stuff that you see in the photo from yesterday is sriracha, an asian hot sauce that can be nuclear if you apply too liberally. My second round of sandwiches involved a heavier hand when it came to the hot sauce and left our lips numb, but in a good way.

So overall, our verdict on our homemade banh mis? Pretty damn delicious. The bread needs some work - the baguettes we've found locally aren't quite the right consistency (so much chewing!), though taking out some of its bready guts helps. The pâtés were delicious if you like that kind of meat funkiness (it's not for everyone), the mayo was actually tasty (that'll teach me to ever doubt DC again), and the veggies+cilantro provided a refreshing balance. No need to travel when we can do a pretty tasty version ourselves at home.

Monday, November 8, 2010

This blog has been terribly neglected...

It's been a rough 6-8 weeks - first vacation, then travel for work, then being totally swamped with work has left me with virtually no time to keep up this site. While the majority of my focus has been on the pharma aspects of my life, I've managed to do the following food-related things:

  1. Make my own gnocchi, for no apparent reason at all and even though I was exhausted.
  2. Spend the weekend in NYC and surprisingly didn't eat nearly as much as we normally do. We made up our lack of eating by drinking - perhaps not the smartest of moves. The highlight of our trip was a visit to Eataly - more on that in another post.
  3. Attend Harvard's Science & Cooking Public Lecture series: the talk I attended was given by the fabulous Jose Andreas (Washington, DC). The topic - gelation. I have no plans to gel anything in the kitchen, but the talk was fantastic thanks to a funny, charming, and genuinely nice chef. Tonight I'm attending "Meat Glue Mania!" given by NYC's Wylie Dufresne of wd-50 fame. For some reason glueing meat to more meat makes me terribly excited, but again I have no plans to do this myself.
  4. Attended a wine tasting at Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square (Somerville): the theme of the night was South of France wines.We came home with 4 new bottles of wine (like we didn't have enough already) and a yummy mild goat cheese from Maine.
  5. Met a cheesemonger from a local fromagerie while having my monthly pedicure at Wet Paint Nail Spa. How random is that?
  6. Found a new iPad app that changed my life. A bit dramatic, you might say, but the Paprika Recipe Manager deserves the hyperbole, in my opinion. We love to use the iPad in the kitchen while cooking, but it's been a major annoyance trying to keep track of all the recipes from different sources. Not anymore! This app is worth the $9.99 price tag when it can download and save recipes from just about any website. It's a little cranky reading blogs (guess they haven't worked out the algorithms yet), but it has a pretty good cut and paste option that does the trick. And no, the company is not paying me to wax poetic - I really like their product and think it's genius!
  7. Ate at Craigie on Main twice in one week. I haven't been there in months (love the food, but it's often too busy to just "pop in") but managed to eat there on Wednesday night and Friday night last week. Had the mussels both times because they were awesome. Need I say more?
  8. Finally, I knew I'd caught up on my rest this weekend when I started taking an interest in planning meals and cooking new recipes. Not sure what inspired me, but my first thought was to re-create a banh-mi sandwich. This is a pic of yesterday's lunch and what will be tonight's dinner. It was as tasty as it looks, if you like that kind of thing. More details to come...
 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The dangers of raising a foodie child...

Can you tell I'm catching up on my reading? Just when I caught up on the essentials that I missed while on vacation, I did a Miami for 4 days, San Diego for 2 days, home to Boston on the red-eye kind of business trip that would normally knock me flat when I got back into the office, except that I'm slammed with projects right now and don't have a free minute to rest my mind. While a bout of insomnia keeps me up, thanks to my mind's inability to rest, I came across this article from blogger/writer Elizabeth Minchilli and I thought it was appropriate after reading the Hungry Monkey: Perils of raising a foodie.

It's also behavior that I recognize in both myself and the husband - we're firmly in the food-obsessed camp, and I think I'm somewhat glad we don't have children since I would probably find myself in the position of trying to ship guanciale legally...

That's my kind of science class

The NY Times is covering a topic that's been the buzz in Boston for a while now - Harvard's From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science, an undergraduate course that uses the kitchen to convey the basics of physics and chemistry. In reading the description of the class, something like this might have made me more interested in physics if it required an examination of the elasticity of fruit jellies. The celebrity chefs are conducting free lectures that are open to the public - I hope to get into one soon!

NY Times: Harvard Food Science Class

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cooking class in Umbria

The husband made truffled scrambled eggs for a breakfast this weekend. The combination of good quality farm eggs perfumed with black truffles with whole grain toast was delightful and made me nostalgic for the short time we spent in the Umbria region of Italy. It's also thanks to the cooking class that we took in Umbria that we now know how to use truffles properly. 

We stayed at a rustic B&B outside of Perugia and on the outskirts of Assissi called Alla Madonna del Piatto - Agriturismo in Umbria, run by a lovely couple (Letizia and Ruurd) who were academic researchers in their former life (in entomology, of all things!). This is the view from our room:



If this looks rural, it's cuz it is - we drove 3 miles from a major road  up a steep hill on a dirt road to get to the property. Despite the somewhat harrowing drive (not nearly as bad as in the Amalfi), the view and the solitude was worth it when we got there. I wasn't able to get a shot with the flocks of sheep that dotted the countryside, but they were definitely roaming around. We heard the sheep dogs in the middle of the night, ferociously barking to protect their charges from some threat. We were told it was likely wild boars who would try to attack the sheep. It was also the start of the hunting season, so at times we would be gazing at the hills and hear the very distinct echo of a gunshot.

In addition to running the B&B, Letizia also holds cooking classes in her kitchen. I didn't take any photos since I was doing some of the prep and drinking wine in between steps, but one of the participants took amazing shots that you can hopefully see here: Cooking class. It was a fantastic setting for learning a little about Umbrian cooking. In addition to several fig trees on their property that the husband climbed on our last day in order to pick some fruit for a picnic, there were these beauties in the backyard:

Quince tree



Giant rosemary bush
Our comings and goings were supervised by Google, the truffle hunting dog. I can't remember her breed but it is an Italian breed related to the Portuguese water dog. I was disappointed that she didn't bring us any truffles. Apparently she eats figs, and got very upset when the husband went up a tree to pick the figs, probably because she didn't get any. 



As for how to use truffles properly, it's amazingly simple - whether using a butter or preserve, add it at the very end of cooking. If you add it earlier in the cooking process, you will end up cooking off the truffle flavour. Worked perfectly in scrambled eggs, pasta will be the next attempt once we're ready to eat pasta again (that will still be a while).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gelato

You would think after my recent ice cream kick that I'd be visiting every gelateria that we could find. Believe it or not, we only went to two for a grand total of 3 gelato tastings. And I have no pictures of any of the flavours we tried or the places we went to. We just ate them.

We went to the same one in Rome twice, at the top of the list of Elizabeth Minchilli's roundup of gelato in Rome. Damn it was good. She's right when we says it's hard to find - it's tucked away in a maze of alleyways. The first time we actually didn't have any problem tracking the shop down, but the second time (a week later), it took us easily a half hour of walking in circles coming from the Vatican to get our bearings.  Gelateria del Teatro's offerings were worth the crankiness that ensued as we tried to find it again. The tiramisu was tasty, but the pistachio made from Sicilian nuts was divine. After having the epitome of gelato, I think I'm hanging up my ice cream making skills for a while and just live off the memory. That and the Venchi chocolate that we brought back - that'll keep me going for a while.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The pizza debate: Rome vs Naples

As you've probably gathered, travel itineraries for the husband and I revolve around food. We seriously research the cities that we go to, whether in North America or Europe, and make sure we have an extensive list of places to eat. We hit the historical high points like people with ADHD - we have no patience to stand in line to get in to the Coliseum and hear a tour guide drone on about the history, nor are we particularly keen to give our money to the Vatican to see the interior of the museums, as incredible as they are. Our method of touring an area is to kill time, see as many things as we can in as short a period and burn off calories before we eat again. How many history buffs/art appreciators have I horrified with that description? Do not travel with us if you're looking to appreciate the significance of these incredible historical sites.

We prefer to walk the neighborhoods and become immersed in the local culture as best as we can, even though we stick out like sore thumbs and don't really speak any Italian. That's why we would try to find the least touristy coffee shop and neighborhood trattorias to see what everyday life was like. In addition to canvassing friends for suggestions, we've generally relied on food travel shows like Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, but I think this was the first trip we almost exclusively turned to food bloggers for recommendations.

The blogger that we relied on most heavily for this trip was Elizabeth Minchilli, which can be found here. Her site is an excellent resource for a foodie visiting Rome - the list of posts that we consulted are below. We visited 4 restaurants and 1 gelateria based on her recommendations and were pleased with them all. The pics below were taken at Pizzeria alle Carette in the Monti neighbourhood, our first night in Rome.


We ordered a white pizza with buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil - that was it. We thought we'd get one to share, which we did and it was delicious. This pizza was nothing like what we've had in the US, though we will need to go to Brooklyn and Arizona to the famous pizza places to compare - thin, crunchy wood-fire oven charred crust and hot, gooey cheese punctuated with bursts of fresh tomato and basil. We polished off the first pizza, paused for a few minutes, then decided to order another one, exactly the same. While we waited for the next pizza to be baked, we ordered another round of drinks:


My glass of prosecco was only 2.50 euros - how could I not indulge in several rounds? This was round 2. Actually, I think we stopped at round 2 and succumbed to jet lag. I also think I drank for 10 days straight, usually both at lunch and dinner. My liver is recovering, now that I'm home.

Because the Roman pizza was so enjoyable, the husband decided that we would make a stop in Naples after touring the Amalfi coast and before we headed up to Umbria to try the Neapolitan version of pizza. He had read an article by GQ's Alan Richman (yes, the one that Anthony Bourdain called a douchebag in his book) that described how the higher water content of buffalo mozarella combined with tomato sauce and less oven baking made for an inferior pizza - his article is at Alan Richman - Pizza in Naples.

Well that was a bad idea. You can't pop in to Naples to get a slice of pizza. We sat in traffic trying to get to the city center for a good 1/2 hour, and once there we moved at a snail's pace because of the congestion. The city is crowded, run-down, loud and generally chaotic and I didn't like at all. It made Rome look perfectly civilized and spacious in comparison. I don't know what pizza place we ended up at, but Bill Clinton's picture taken with the staff was on the wall so I assumed it was one of the better known places.

Alan Richman was right - the Neapolitan version was a soggy mess. The husband ate a small pie, and since I declined the second one (I was wearing white and didn't need to be decorated with tomato sauce), we gave it to a homeless man and got the hell out of that city. I am never going back to Naples if I can help it. Rome wins for me in both pizza and as a tourist destination - I hope to get back there sometime soon.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Recovering from jet lag without Italian coffee really sucks!

While I'm thrilled to be home, I am not enjoying the first day of Italian coffee withdrawal. We thoroughly embraced the Italian coffee culture while on vacation in Rome, Amalfi coast and Umbria by starting our day with a cappuccino and a pastry, followed by at least one espresso/macchiato later in the day, if not two. It helps when you have a view like this:

View from a coffee bar in Positano, Italy
We followed the Italian custom of consuming coffee and eating breakfast at the bar, instead of lingering at a table. Not only was it incredibly cheap (two cappuccinos and two pastries usually came to less than 5 euros total), we also enjoyed the surprise of some of the staff when we insisted on standing at the bar - judging by their reaction, it seemed like tourists usually opted for seating.

The bar was also a great vantage point to watch the locals up close in action. Man, Italians can pound back their coffee and cram their pastries down their throat in no time flat. Granted, portion sizes for both the coffees and pastries are much smaller than in the States, but 3 gulps and 3 bites was all it seemed to take to consume a cappuccino and a croissant. I'm a notoriously slow coffee sipper, so trying to drink at the Italian pace was a challenge. I'm generally a fast eater, but I was usually covered in powdered sugar by the time I was done with whatever pastry I'd chosen that morning. We weren't there long enough for me to figure out how the Italians could eat/drink at the speed they did at breakfast (lunch and dinner were definitely more leisurely) and still look impecceable, but it was a long enough period for me to get used to their coffee culture and become thoroughly addicted.

We tried to get our coffee fix at home by going to Bloc 11, a coffee shop in Union Square (Somerville) that uses Intelligentsia coffee, which became our go to brand after our visit to Chicago in the spring. We tried to recreate the experience by ordering a cappuccino for me and an espresso for the husband. The espresso was ok, but the cappuccino made me downright ill. I'm inconsistently lactose-intolerant, which means that often I'm fine with dairy products but out of the blue with no predictable pattern, I'll get sick from a milk-based item. In Italy, I drank full-fat milk in cappuccinos every day with no problems, but the one I tried from Bloc 11 made me nauseated and dizzy for a good 5 hours. That's never happened before, so I think it has to do with the amount of milk they used - this one had at least twice the amount of milk than the cappuccinos I'd been drinking in Italy. I used to drink Americanos before, but now that I'm used to the strong stuff, I'll have to order macchiatos if I can bring myself to return to Starbucks. That or else we're going to be purchasing an espresso maker for home, something that we were wondering if we were going to do before we left. I'm hoping we can make do without one but we'll see how long we can hold out...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Kitchen Reader: Hungry Monkey

By the time you read this, I will be at the end of my 10-day trip to Italy, probably returning from the Umbria region back to Rome in order to catch our flight back to the States via Montreal. If you're reading this, then I successfully posted the entry while on the road. I read the book well in advance and wrote the review before I left on vacation since I didn't expect I would have time or the inclination to do it while away.

This month's selection was "Hungry Monkey" by Matthew Amster-Burton, chosen by Meryl of My Bit of Earth.

This was a delightful read, particularly in comparison to the more serious tomes from the past two months. I finished it in a day and found it to be thoroughly amusing. My primary two thoughts were:

  1. Damn you Seattle for being so foodie-friendly as compared to Boston, and
  2. Raising kids is hard.
Not particularly deep thoughts, I realize, but they were the best I could muster on a long weekend lounging in the sun.

More seriously, the book is about a foodie couple (the father Matthew is a professional food writer) raising their daughter and trying to ensure (hoping?) that she'll be an adventurous eater. Not having kids myself, I can't say I have extensive knowledge in this area, but I do have a couple of first-hand experiences. The first is with my now 2 year old nephew, seeing him go from an indiscriminate human vacuum at age 1 to an oddly selective 2 year old who likes things like fried calamari, salmon skin, and noodles so spicy he needed to take sips of milk between each bite. The second and more lasting impression is with the husband's first nephew who came to stay with us for a week a couple of summers ago when he was 9.

The nephew flew clear across the country by himself, and the visit was a first for both him and for us. We'd been warned ahead of time that he was a picky eater, but he seemed more like a typical 9 year old boy - didn't like vegetables, and preferred chips and soda (pop?) to healthier options. He lives in a very small town in interior British Columbia, so we decided we would try to expand his food palate while he stayed with us. We also decided we wouldn't deviate from our normal meals, other than to avoid spicy foods (that would have probably been too much for him), and we asked him up front to try new things that we served him.

Initially that didn't turn out so well - one of the first things we did was take him up to Maine so that he could try a lobster roll. He took a bite with a lot of coaxing and much apprehension, and promptly decided that the shack burger was far better. He got over that quickly because we bribed him with a stop at an ice cream store, which had a make your own sundae bar. At home, he happily ate steak and roast potatoes with a minimal amount of ketchup (we were warned he was a ketchup fiend so we stocked up ahead of time), and did manage to get fresh corn on the cob and beans into him on a few occasions. We took him to a Vietnamese restaurant where he happily ate rice noodles and BBQ pork (and loved boba tea), and he did just fine at a Japanese fast food stall in the Porter Exchange mall (aka Little Tokyo) with the Japanese version of hamburgers and fried chicken with a side of plain rice, though I brought the bottle of ketchup in my purse in preparation for off any meltdowns. By the end of the week, though, we'd gotten a variety of new foods into him so we were satisfied with the outcome.

We're aware that we got off easy - the nephew is a very good-natured, easy going kid who was old enough to reason with. Young kids as in the book (the daughter Iris is 4 at her oldest) aren't in the same category. I will be curious to see how she and other kids of foodies fare as they get older, since this is really the first generation to have hard core foodies as parents. In large numbers, at the least. I know if we were ever to have children, the husband would insist on our child bringing baguettes with brie and ham for lunch. I wonder how they will fare in the face of the food marketers with their incessant lure of packaged foods. A whole chapter on this issue is in Anthony Bourdain's new book Medium Raw, where he and his wife discuss ways to make McDonald's scary and evil for a little three-year old. I did notice that the nephew seemed to have a balanced view on junk food around us - we didn't make the junk food readily available to him at home but if he wanted some, we would give it to him. We noticed he ate what he wanted and then stopped when he had enough. This supported my personal theory that if a food is forbidden (as junk food was in my house growing up), it leads to bingeing behavior, but if it's available without any judgemental connotations attached, then the child will grow up with a healthy attitude towards all foods.

Overall, I commend what the author and his wife are trying to do and hope that his efforts and those of others like him will collectively improve the eating habits of a new generation, leading to an increase in the overall quality of food available to everyone. Hippie wishful thinking? I hope not.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Eating locally

The last two books I've read for the Kitchen Reader has messed me up in a good way, in the sense where I am now hypervigilant in what I buy. The husband started a year or so ago after reading Michael Pollan's In defense of food, where it manifested with him only buying products that had a minimal number of ingredients (preferably under 5). It's manifesting in me trying to buy as many local products as I can.

I first noticed it a few weeks ago when I picked up organic chicken from Whole Foods. We are unabashedly WF fans - it started when we first moved to the US and saw how readily available organic food is, and how wide a variety of goods that are for sale at very reasonable prices in our opinion. In contrast, Canada at the time and Montreal in particular treated organic food as a precious commodity, resulting in difficulties sourcing products, a limited selection, and often exorbitant prices. This was 5 years ago so I don't know how things have changed, but we became loyal WF shoppers here in the States right from the start.

We've been buying the organic chicken from WF for a while now, but they'd just changed their packaging with a vacuum seal so tight I had to put all my limited strength behind it to get the plastic wrap off the container. As I was fighting with the package, I noticed "Bell and Evans" in the corner. I'd never noticed it before, and that made me sigh - Bell and Evans is an industrial chicken producer, which is why they can offer organic chicken relatively cheaply.  A minimal amount of internet research confirmed that while these chickens were fed an organic diet, they lived a miserable existence.

That didn't sit well with me. I like meat far too much to ever give it up, but I do believe that happy animals taste better - or as the commercial says, "Happy cows come from California!" (perhaps I watch far too much TV). So off I went to find a more humane and hopefully healthier alternative to the WF chicken.

I was pleasantly surprised to find it was fairly easy to get free range alternatives. Savenor's makes a point of selling free range chickens (whole and in pieces) from a farm in Vermont, as well as sustainably raised pork from Vermont. But the first free-range options we tried were procured from the Lexington farmer's market. There are two farms (Chestnut Farms and River Rock Farms) that sell their meat at the market. The first we tried was pork spareribs from Chestnut Farms, which was excellent and I hope to be able to buy more of that soon. River Rock Farms sells dry-aged beef - the ribeye steak and the short ribs were delicious. We've also tried lamb from Signal Rock Farm that was probably the best lamb we've had at home (which technically isn't hard to beat since it's not like we cook lamb often). We finally tried the chicken from Chestnut Farms on the weekend and while I had to pluck a few stray feathers off of the skin, the chicken was probably the best tasting of the bunch (though the others follow very closely behind).

As for the price - well, buying high quality meat is expensive, even directly from the farmers. The steaks were easily $20+ each, as were 3 large shortribs and the rack of ribs. Two pounds of chicken legs was the most reasonable at $12, but that's still 50% more than what I paid at WF. While Barbara Kingsolver's book indicated that her family was able to eat incredibly inexpensively by growing all their food themselves ($0.50 a person a meal, I believe), I don't think she factored in the time for labour - and forget about the feasibility of that approach.

It's a good thing the husband is extremely disciplined at portioning - 1lb of steak is enough for one meal for the two of us. We stretched the rack of ribs into two dinners, and the chicken also made for two meals. So $5-$10 of meat a meal is fine for the two of us, as long as there's plenty of vegetables for accompaniment. It's kinda like what a recent issue of Fine Cooking magazine suggested - "Use meat as a condiment". Despite my meat-loving ways, it hasn't been too painful to cut back - particularly if there's ice cream for dessert.

We're off to Italy for 10 days where we're looking forward to seeing how the Italians put the eating local philosophy into everyday practice. Ciao everyone!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

This is not a doughnut

 

If it was, it would be a giant doughnut since that's a full-size dinner plate that it's sitting on.

It's my second attempt at an angel food cake. Since I've made four batches of ice cream with 6 egg yolks in each, I've had a lot of egg whites to contend with. First I tried a Martha Stewart recipe that called for 12 egg whites and not a lot of flour and ended up being "really chewy", according to the husband.  I just thought it was dry and tasteless. I had another 6 egg whites to use up from the aftermath of the salted butter caramel ice cream adventure, and I had fully intended to make coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate, when I watched Ming Tsai this afternoon make a Ginger-Thyme Angel Food Cake.

I was intrigued when he used 2 tablespoons of grated ginger in this cake. I'd been lamenting that my attempt at double ginger ice cream wasn't gingery enough for me, so I was excited to see him use 2 tbsp of grated ginger since that's a lot of ginger and should give it a good punch of flavour. I was feeling better after having battled the start of the cold that never progressed past the feeing crummy stage, and was up to the task of grating the large amount of ginger required. Recipe itself was a breeze to assemble and into the oven it went while hubby prepared dinner.

It was inadvertently an evening of experimenting with new recipes. A couple of weeks ago, I was shopping at the Lexington Farmer's Market and noticed a new vendor selling lamb. I wish I could remember the name of the farm but I'm too full to wander downstairs to check the package, but it's a small farm in the Boston vicinity who only sells lamb - or only had lamb to sell at the market. I decided to buy a very small rack of lamb and a boneless leg of lamb to try at home since we never eat lamb unless we're eating out. Today felt like a good day for lamb so out of the freezer the rack came.

We've never cooked a rack of lamb before, but luckily my book club friends were over last weekend and the topic of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook came up. We hadn't used it in a while - it's a very heavy cookbook, and we're scared of getting it dirty since it really is a beautiful book, so it is relegated to the bookshelf and easily overlooked. Sure enough, he has a recipe for rack of lamb. He had the most interesting ingredients out of the few recipes I perused from other sources, in that his recipe uses mustard, honey, parsley and rosemary, bread crumbs and anchovies. We like anchovies, but we didn't have any in hand and we would have seriously needed only 2 little fishies for the size of the meat we were cooking, so we just left them out. His recipe also called for his own garlic confit, which essentially involves poaching garlic in oil for about 45 mins or so, then using that garlic in the paste. Other than this time-consuming step, roasting the rack of lamb was easy.

The husband carved it up before I could snap a picture, but it wasn't that impressive to look at since it was such a small piece (it was under a pound but that's enough for the two of us). The lamb was damn good - tender, not gamey at all, and the herb crust was delicious. Thomas Keller certainly can cook and the recipes we've tried out of his book including this one have rocked.

We ate the yummy lamb with another French wine, this one a Beaujolais again from our friends at Central Bottle for $14. This one will also be a repeat purchase - so easy to drink that I'm amazed that we only quaffed half the bottle.



As for the cake, it was gingery alright. The husband also commented that it was more cakey than the first angel food cake I made, probably since there was more flour in this recipe. But as was the case with the first one, I found it to be dry and unappealing - probably because there's absolutely no fat in the recipe, and I was using a whole wheat pastry flour that made the texture more grainy. We ate the last of the salted butter ice cream with the cake to give it that badly needed fat, and tomorrow night I'll be making the ginger cream that's part of the Ming Tsai recipe. I know I'm supposed to eat less fat, but no fat just doesn't cut it with me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I'm having a day where I'd rather be drinking at 8am

First off, my allergies continue to drive me crazy - fall is the worst for me in terms of ragweed, and I can't get over how miserable I am. Unlike those stupid ads, I have not become "Claritin clear" and I am now in week 2 of walking around in a fog. It's really not good when a) I have a lot of work to do, and b) we're trying to get ready for our trip to Italy.

So I rush off to work this morning, thinking I'll get in fairly early (for me) and get caught up on a number of things since I was out of the office for training yesterday. It takes me 25 mins to get into work, I trot up to my office with my coffee, and realize I left my laptop at home.

If our IT people were compentent, I would have asked for a spare laptop. Since they're not, I had to turn around and fight traffic to get back home. An hour later, I was back at my desk, unbelievably annoyed even in this unrelenting hazy brain fog I seem to be stuck in. I got on with my day and even forced myself to work out this afternoon which seems to have helped with the haze but now it's pouring rain and I don't have an umbrella with me at work. It's a crappy cap to a crappy day.

I am very much looking forward to drinking as soon as I get home. We opened a bottle of dry riesling last night (Dragonstone is the vineyard, I believe) that went well with spicy tuna burgers - I made these from fresh tuna, and serve them with a vietnamese-style dipping sauce on rice. I was a little enthusiastic with the Thai chilis so the wine helped to quench the fiery taste buds. I find I don't have particularly sophisticated ways of describing wine, other than "This is dry. This one is fuller-bodied. This one is light and fruity". I'm also not sure how wine pairings are supposed to go with food. I like the wine, I like the food. I'm pretty simple that way.

In any case, below is a pic not of the riesling, but a French Sauvignon Blanc that we tried earlier in the week. We're fans of French wines since it seems hard to go wrong with wines from the Loire valley. Especially since this drinkable baby was only $14 from the friendly folks at Central Bottle in Central Square, Cambridge. The camera is so good in my spiffy new iPhone 4 that I am going to try to take more photos for visual interest - it will give you all something else to look at instead of me just droning on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I've found nirvana in an ice cream

And that ice cream is David Lebovitz's Salted Butter Caramel.

Cue the singing angels and let us have a moment to savour just how good this ice cream is.

Why is it so good, you ask? Because it's sweet, salty and buttery - what more could you want? It's by far my favourite that I've made out of the 4 so far, the others being Rocky Road, Double Ginger and Mint Chocolate Chip, but it was also the most challenging since I'd never made caramel before. Caramel likes to seize and seems to take forever to re-melt. A lot more standing over a hot stove than I anticipated. However, the results were worth it. I didn't bother taking any pictures of the process or the eating afterwards, so enjoy the pics on DL's site. Mine would have been much crappier than his.

As much as I've enjoyed my ice cream making experiments thus far, I think I'm going to temporarily stop while I'm on a high note - I need to start preparing for ou trip to Italy and I need to save room for all the gelato I'm going to eat when we're in Rome!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wearing white and eating ice cream after Labour Day

Labour day may have signalled the changing of the seasons, but I still plan to wear white and I definitely plan to keep making ice cream for the time being.

Since the farmer's markets have so much great produce right now, I'm trying to take advantage of what's available, even for an ice cream flavour. So at the Somerville Farmer's Market (Union Square) on Saturday of the Labour Day weekend, I procured two large bunches of mint to make David Lebovitz's mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I noticed an interesting discrepancy in his recipes - for the piece he did for Fine Cooking magazine last year, he used 1 cup of mint leaves, but a recipe on his website called for 2 cups of packed mint leaves. That made me wonder whether the ginger ice cream recipe from Fine Cooking magazine wouldn't have been gingery enough for our palates because I would need to at least double the amount of ginger called for in the recipe. I'll have to give that a try the next time I circle back to ginger. In any case, the recipe on his website suggested 2 packed cups of mint leaves, so that's what I did.

People, 2 packed cups of mint is a LOT of mint. Cramming two cups of mint into two cups of liquid (one cup whole milk, one cup cream) to steep was a little challenging, but boy was it worth it - when we open the container of ice cream, we're bathed in a waft of mint. It's minty alright, but without the flaming green colour of commercial ice creams. So I've learned my lesson - pack as much flavour into the ice cream base to the point where it's almost two much, and then it'll be perfect. That or else our taste buds are dying - which in that case, don't listen to anything I have to say about flavour because it may blow your head off.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Changing of the seasons

I feel like I've been quiet lately, and I have because I've been busy - much busier than I was when I first started this blog and had plenty of free time on my hands. I'm not going to get any less busy any time soon and I like what I do for work (I get to learn about rare and very weird diseases and they pay me well to do this), but a line from the movie "Julie and Julia" (I FINALLY watched it this weekend) struck me as relevant. In the scene, Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) asks Julia (Meryl Streep) "Well, what do you like to do?", to which her response was "I like to eat!", leading to a career as a culinary icon. Now I love to eat, but I have no visions of making a living as a professional eater, so I think I'll continue to use this blog as an outlet for the (many) times when I would rather be eating but can't.

Thankfully "Julie and Julia" didn't trigger any cravings for French food (I'm highly suggestible) and I liked the movie so much better than the book (Julie as the writer was so whiny I was ready to throttle her). What did trigger a craving though was an episode of America's Test Kitchen. The topic was old fashioned burgers and fries, and the episode started with a trip to NYC's mecca of all things burger, Shake Shack. ATK then demonstrated the method for making griddle burgers at home, using flat sirloin steak or flank steak, short ribs, a freezer, and a food processor. If that already wasn't enough to get me intrigued, they demonstrated a novel method for making crispy fries.

This was also a relevant discovery since the husband attempted to make fries in the oven for poutine. They didn't come out well - soggy and uncooked in spots, though it didn't really matter much when drowning in melted cheese curd and gravy. I'm scared of deep frying on our gas stove and I refuse to buy a deep fryer, but ATK has potentially converted me. Why? Because they put the potatoes in cold oil and heat everything up together to a rollicking boil. Using a large dutch oven where I don't have to introduce cold potatoes to a vat of sizzling oil is just fine by me. According to ATK, it takes about 20-25 mins to make a batch of perfectly crispy fries. They adapted the technique from the renown French chef Joel Robuchon and who am I to argue with him? I imagine the man knows a thing or two about frying. We'll attempt this method on the weekend and will report back if we don't burn the house down!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Kitchen Reader: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

August's pick for The Kitchen Reader was "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, chosen by Karen at Shortbread South.

I'll admit I was a little worried when I started this book that it would be overly preachy, following so closely on the heels of Michael Pollan's book. What I liked about Barbara Kingsolver's book is that her family put their money where their mouths are and put the local eating philosophy into practice, though this did take the local movement to quite the extreme. I found the family's perspective on their year-long experiment (only eating food that they could raise themselves or purchase locally) to be entertaining, and for some reason I found the section describing the Amish farmers' interest in the hybrid car technology to be extremely funny.

I was probably the most surprised by the maturity level of the two daughters and their willingness to embrace this lifestyle, since oddly enough, I had a similar experience growing up. My parents decided in the early 80's to eschew processed and industrially farmed foods (vegetables and meat). Because there was barely any interest in environmentally conscious practices at the time (may have to do with the fact that I lived in Canada, the land of the few and far between), this decision forced us to move to the countryside where we proceeded to grow all the vegetables and fruit that was necessary to feed a family of 5 on a 4-acre piece of land in a rural subdivision. Luckily we didn't raise animals - there were farmers within the region who followed free-range practices, so I got used to seeing a full cow and 50 chickens in our freezers.

I did become a speedy sheller of peas, and quite proficient at blanching or canning to preserve the produce for the year, but I certainly didn't embrace those skills as a teenager (my parents made the full switch when I was 10). In fact, every opportunity I had as a teenager was one to eat junk food, and when I left for college it got worse to the point where I was almost solely existing on processed foods if not outright fast food. In retrospect, it's funny how I've come full circle - now I cook all my food from scratch, and while I will never attempt what my family still does and what the Kingsolver family did, I have started to seek out local products as much as possible. I credit my husband for the gradual reversal in my habits and preferences, which is in itself strange since he grew up eating vegetables out of a can.

That's where I'm not sure if I fully believe Camille's parts in the book (the older daughter) since she sure doesn't sound like a typical teenager. However, the most meaningful quote to me from the book was written by her, which was "Most of us agree to put away our sandals and bikinis when the leaves start to turn, even if they're our favorite clothes. We can learn to apply similar practicality to our foods." Figures it took a fashion reference to bring the point home for me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Can't type, eating

I don't know where the time has gone.  Part of it is due to my schedule picking up at work - my brain is now more occupied during most of the day, so I have less brainpower leftover to devote to blogging. It's also peak allergy season for me and I spend most of the day in a fog, despite taking anti-histamines that don't deliver on the promise of mental clarity (Claritin clear! stupid commercial...).

I've also been making more ice cream.

The Kitchen Aid mixer attachment arrived last week, and promptly went into the freezer. The attachment is a very heavy bowl with some sort of ice pack-type liquid inside that needs to be frozen solid before you attempt to use it. In the reviews online, the unanimous suggestion was to freeze the bowl for longer than the recommend 15 hours or so - a number of people indicated they just left their bowl in the freezer in order to be ready to make ice cream at a moment's notice. You'll be prepared in the event you're overcome by a sudden, overwhelming urge to make ice cream.

This time I tried a double ginger recipe as written by David Lebovitz for Fine Cooking magazine. I cut back on the sugar again since we don't like desserts that are overly sweet, and infused the warmed milk with fresh ginger slices for a good two hours. Despite the long infusion time, I didn't find it to be gingery enough - I wanted a sharper, snappier taste. I was hoping to find ginger extract at Whole Foods but no luck. The crystallized ginger chunks helped, but it wasn't quite the flavour I was looking for. The next time I will probably try grating the ginger or extracting the juice, if I feel ambitious, but for now my first attempt with the rocky road recipe wins.

There will probably be another experiment since the mixer attachment works like a dream. The other tip that I read online was to pour your custard into the special mixing bowl using a container with a spout, or else you would have a gloppy mess on your hands (and counter). The measuring cup worked just fine, and within 20 mins we had ice cream the consistency of soft serve. It melts fast, as I found out when I was transferring the soft mixture into a container - the next time I'll freeze it in the special bowl for a while first, to firm it up and to make the transfer easier.

So even though we have a container (mostly) full of double ginger ice cream in the freezer, I'm already thinking about the next batch. Any requests for the next ice cream flavour?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Technically it's frozen custard...

Here's the follow-through on my hair-brained idea - homemade Rocky Road ice cream. Though in reading Wikipedia, it's technically a frozen custard since home-based versions of ice cream have more egg yolks, less air whipped into it, and no commercial binders to get the ice cream consistency we're used to from the store. Hell, whatever you call it, it was good.

I followed David Lebovitz's recipe from one of last year's Fine Cooking magazine issues which involved purchasing the following:

  • Whole milk from Crescent Ridge Dairy at Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square
  • Heavy cream and eggs from Formaggio Kitchen (I forget which farms those came frome)
  • Taza 60% dark chocolate from Taza directly at the Somerville/Union Square Farmer's Market
  • Green & Black's organic cocoa (leftover in our cupboard from some earlier experiment)
  • Mini marshmallows and cashews from Whole Foods
It's been a very long time since I made a custard, so I'm glad I didn't screw that up. The melted chocolate wasn't quite as successful - I added it to the custard in the ice bath, which caused it to initially harden but was eventually broken down into micro-pieces distributed throughout the mix. It gave the ice cream a slightly gritty feel since the bits were far too small to chew individually, but it wasn't a big deal to me since it was appropriately chocolatey. I think next time I'll add the melted chocolate to the custard mix in the pan to avoid the unusual texture. As I sampled through the process, I also decided the next time to cut back on the sugar - we don't like things overly sweet, and I had cut back a little on the recipe but not enough to compensate for the sweetness from the chocolate.

The freezing part was surpisingly easy. I first tried using the hand held stick blender (the kind I associate with soup-making) but that ended up being a bit messy and it was far easier to put a little elbow grease behind it and give my arm a workout. The marshmallows and nuts went in to the mix right before it froze solid overnight. Apparently our freezer is set to deep freeze since the next day it had frozen into a block - we couldn't scoop nice mounds of ice cream so instead we made do with the blobs seen below. It's probably more aptly named "concrete". We are definitely not food stylists and neither one of us had the patience to try and take a pretty picture before diving into the bowl.



Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results, despite the labor-intensiveness of the process. However, when I was describing my ice-cream making adventure to a friend, I realized the KitchenAid mixer paddle is fairly similar to an ice cream maker paddle so I thought I would try the freezing part using the big stand mixer. On a whim, I googled to see if anyone had tried using the KitchenAid mixer for ice cream and lo and behold, this came up:

KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment

Of course I promptly bought it. I don't want a separate machine to make ice cream, but a special bowl and paddle suits me just fine. The next flavours that I want to try are David Lebovitz's double ginger and salted butter caramel ice creams, but I'll wait until the new gadget arrives. I also think we need to invite some people over since this will be far too much ice cream for the two of us to eat...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I'm scaring myself...

And the husband.

I'm actually considering making my own ice cream.

Yup, that was the sound of hell freezing over. Or maybe the husband keeling over. One of the two. Or maybe both.

It all started earlier this week when my friend Jennifer over at Cooking for Comfort made a milk chocolate ganache ice cream for Tuesdays with Dorie. I assumed she used an ice cream maker but she pointed out that she followed David Lebovitz's technique of making ice cream by hand (instructions found here). That planted the idea in my head, but only enough for me to mull over the possibility without actually following through on it.

Then I went to Formaggio. I ignored the case of Jeni's Ice Creams (new flavour: backyard mint!) and instead picked up a pint of Batch Salty Caramel Ice cream.

Batch Ice Creams from JP
It was a relative bargain for $8.75 a pint and it has no crap in it - no fillers, no preservatives, just organic milk and cream from a local dairy made by two women in Jamaica Plain who started up their business in spring of this year.

I love salty desserts, and I've been eyeing this ice cream for a while, so I brought a pint home with high expectations. I was sadly disappointed though - while the ice cream is rich, creamy, and technically delicious, it wasn't salty enough for me. That or else my taste buds really are dying as I age.

So the disappointment over another store bought ice cream and the ease with which ice creams can be made at home has spurred me into trying to make my own. I guess I really shouldn't be surprised, my mother used to make ice cream at home when I was young, but we did have a sturdy sized ice cream maker. She would make macapuno ice cream, which to this day is probably still my favourite flavour. She always told us kids that macapuno is young coconut and it came out of a bottle into the custard mix before freezing. I guess I never actually read the bottle because when I found it in an Asian supermarket as an adult, the description of macapuno is "mutant coconut"! Well, mutant or not, it's still delicious. Hmmm, maybe I should try making macapuno ice cream... potentially a future adventure. I decided I'll start out with a rocky road recipe since I'm a sucker for chocolate, marshmallow and nuts, and I'll move to David Lebovitz's Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream next. I'll report back on how successful or hairbrained this idea is...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Follow-up to The Kitchen Reader - Michael Pollan's in Defense of Food

Two interesting articles that offer practical solutions on how to achieve Michael Pollan's goals set forth in Defense of Food. The first illustrates the use of Sesame Street to reach out to the "food insecure" in a fun and appealing way to encourage healthier eating in children. The second is a healthcare initiative in the Boston area that provides vouchers to low-income families for use in farmer's markets in order to improve nutrition.

My beef with Pollan's book is the access/affordability angle, so it's nice to see there are some innovative ways to tackle the problem. Definitely not the answer, but it's a start.

Sesame Street

NY Times - Boston Farmer's Market Initiative

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