Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Cheese Rolling - England's Extreme Sport
England has a lot of terrific little quirks. An obsession with baked beans, an aversion to iced beverages and an absolute affinity towards cheese. And cheese rolling. An event that has been going on for hundreds of years and some say it has roots in pre-Roman times.
For no real known reason, (fertility rites and harvest rituals are suspected) every May in the town of Gloucestershire, (pronounced Gluster-shur) on top of Cooper's Hill (which is ONE DEGREE off from being classified as a CLIFF) they hold the annual Cheese Rolling, and I was lucky enough to attend this insane event (along with many other Americans and not a short supply of Kiwis and Aussies) yesterday.
Cheese Rolling? Basically, a man hurls a 7 pound wheel of Double Gloucester Cheese down a hill and 10-15 competitors (per race) run after it, while a few thousand spectators balance on the edge of the track to catch a glimpse. Both participants and spectators have been seriously injured in the past, with broken bones being the least of their worries, as the cheese can land in the crowd knocking them over like so many bowling pins.
So it was knowing all of this was coming that a group of 8 of us set out in The Major (a retired Army Rover, equipped with night vision goggles and a top speed of about 45 mph) so my BF could toss himself down a hill and we could cheer him on, and pick him up from the hospital later, should need be.
We arrived early and paid the £5 fee to park in a spacious, hilly field (which The Major made short order of, wasting Fiats in its wake) and proceeded to troop off into the beautiful woods towards the hill. At a fork in the path, the BF headed up, as the rest of us edged closer and closer to insure a clear view. I should mention again that this is an outrageously, seriously, frighteningly steep hill, and spectators were crashing down everywhere. We heard cries of “Save the beer!” rise up from the crowd as onlookers tumbled South taking out everything in their paths as they toppled. The pictures just cannot do the severity of the angle justice.
At the top of the hill, runners (chasers?) vied for a spot among the hundreds trying. Since it was first come, first served, and there had been people there all morning, the crowd was restless and drunk. I mean, if you were about to essentially jump down a cliff, wouldn’t you want to loosen up a little with a frosty Fosters? Sadly, the BF arrived too late, and was turned back, though offered a spot in the uphill race, which he declined. I am sad he didn’t get to give it a go, but am happy the day ended with him in one piece.
The downhill runs (there are uphill races for children) are presided over by a Master of Ceremonies who wears a traditional white trench coat, a top hat and a large fake flower in a buttonhole. He is a sight to see. (Picture below) At exactly noon the crowd began to cheer, “Roll the Cheese!” and the guest 'roller' flung the cheese with the tried and true call of: "One to be ready, two to be steady, three to prepare - and FOUR to be off". At that point, the mad men (and in one race, mad women) flung themselves downward at amazing velocities to catch the cheese (and some air.) Bodies flew through space, legs were snapped, paramedics waited at the bottom of the run, and in the end (of the second race) young Jason Crowther from Wales came out the victorious and proud owner of a large wheel of cheese he doesn’t intend to ever eat. (Despite sweet pleadings from the ladies for “Just a little nibble”) For their valiant efforts, the second place winner was awarded a whopping £5 and the third runner up, £2.
After the last race, (which they delayed starting because there were no ambulances left and they had to wait for one to return) we settled into the field for a classic British picnic (classic because of the Brits good hearted but stubborn refusal to leave, as temperatures dropped and rain began to fall) of cheese and Branston pickle sandwiches, (looking like PB&J in that photo up there) and outrageously sweet local strawberries. We then held our own Cheese Roll (Cheese as prize, a Baby Bell) which (though he cheated) the BF did win, much to his own satisfaction. We also ran into the actual race winner of the cheese on the drive home, and they compared prizes.
If you are in the area, and want to spend a day enjoying this, England's own extreme sport, I applaud and encourage you. Just get there early, and have a blast!
The 2001 Cheese Roll event was cancelled as a result of the foot and mouth crisis
During rationing in the Second World War the cheese was replaced by a wooden replica - still with a piece of cheese inside
Heavier people tend to sit, while lean ones are more restless and spent two more hours a day on their feet - standing, pacing around and fidgeting. The difference translated into 350 calories a day, enough for the heavy people to take off 30 to 40 pounds a year, if they would get moving. Researchers believe the tendency to sit still or move around is biological and inborn, governed by genetically determined levels of brain chemicals. And that tendency influences weight - not the other way around. - NY Times
Labels: Something Else
Friday, May 27, 2005
OH JOY. OH RAPTURE. The weather in this far off land has finally hit 77 and I am positively sparkling with happiness. Yes, I am missing Memorial Day (in the USA) but I will still be having a three-day weekend and a picnic (BLISS!) and nothing can dampen my spirits. (If I could just commit to a menu) More on that next week…
Now, it’s on to the food…
As I have mentioned time and time again, I am the worlds leading advocate of the 7 o’clock cocktail-hour (formerly known as the after school snack), and have been toying around lately with little noshes that fit the bill. Things that are small and simple to make, light, and just the right balance of chic and tasty. Something to take the edge off while the grill is heating up, or in our case, before going to the gym. (Because nothing says workout like a little fried food. Am I right?)
A few nights ago, in the interest of exposing my charmingly British BF to new foods, and because I was craving some, I made polenta (Which, my mother once adorably pointed out “Why, that’s nothing new! It’s just corn meal mush like Mama used to serve!”) to go with a sausage, fennel and pepper ragout. Of course, there were leftovers galore, which led me right into the arms of my new favorite treat, corn fritters.
A fritter, by definition, is food that is mixed with batter and then dropped into hot fat. It also means to lounge about.* So you can see why I have concluded it is the perfect cocktail hour food!
This took all of five minutes to whip up, and was a smash hit. I served it with some non-fat plain yogurt mixed with chopped fresh dill and a dash of white pepper. If you want to make it part of the main meal, it would be a sensational accompaniment to grilled fish, a nice boiled lobster or broiled chicken. There are also a zillion different herb, spice and vegetable combinations you could mix and match with this to make it your own. Try it, and enjoy!
3 tablespoons flour
A large pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cold (cooked) polenta, mushed up
2 teaspoons milk
¼ cup corn and peas mixed
Oil, to fry
In a deep pan, heat about ¾ inch of oil until hot.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the polenta, milk, corn and peas and mix until it is a batter.
Using a large spoon, gently drop (really don’t drop, more like, place. This is hot oil after all.) some of the batter into the oil. They will expand a little, so space them apart and do not overcrowd the pan. You should get two batches of 4 fritters. Flip once and remove when golden brown. Drain on a paper towel, salt and serve.
Makes about eight fritters
Pasta Pomodoro, a chain of restaurants in California and Arizona is owned in part by Wendy's International Inc.
The English eat nearly 9000 peas on average, per year
The first peas were frozen by Clarence Birdseye who invented the 'plate froster' to preserve foods in the 1920's. Then in 1969 the Birds Eye frozen pea commercial was the first TV ad to be broadcast in color
I put in the link to the song Ya Got Trouble, because one line is "Yes your young men will be frittering," & I thought it was funny
There has been a 100 percent increase since 1990 in the annual number of large-scale outbreaks of U.S. school-cafeteria food poisoning
Thursday, May 26, 2005
The Mexico of my mind is the Mexico of Hemingway and John Houston, of Cuco Sanchez and Katy Jurado. Hot and vibrant, sizzling and alive, yet at the same time, relaxed, tranquil and just a little bit sleepy. I love the romantic idea I have swirling in my mind, no matter how outdated (in some places) it may be. Sure, I know the Mexico of today is hardly that of the 1930’s but I’m certain there are places where that time can still be felt and one way to bring me to that mythical place is the scent of pure, unadulterated Mexican vanilla beans. Something so blissful and lovely it makes the past seem like the present and the future like a golden dream.
The vanilla orchid (the only of thousands of orchids that produces anything edible) plant is actually native to Mexico (yet another of the incredible new world additions to the culinary scene) was originally cultivated by the ancient Totonaca people but in the last hundred or so years has taken quite a fall in production, as the lands where they grow have been cleared for oil drilling. While Tahiti and Bourbon-Madagascar have dominated the market for the worlds most popular flavoring, Mexico has languished. Which is an absolute crime, since the authentic thing, thick, dark, pliable Mexican Vanilla Bean Pods, are the best there are, with the richest, roundest flavor that will cause your head to swim.
The second reason for the downfall of Mexican vanilla is the unfortunate practice of some (ok, most) manufacturers (and here I will start talking about vanilla extract, versus beans) of adding coumarin, which is banned by the US for being toxic (it causes liver damage) to cut costs. Coumarin is a natural extract from the tonka bean and smells and tastes very similar to real vanilla. Because the vanilla flower only opens one day, and has to either be pollinated by hand or by hummingbirds and a type of bee that only exisit in the Americas, the labor involved in the growing of this precious commodity is extremely intense. Which is why, if you can find the pods, get those, otherwise, it is just not worth the risk, and the inferior taste.
Having tried this type of vanilla, I can definitely detect a difference in taste, it being a touch acidic and remarkably less tasty and balanced. You can also tell the fake stuff just looking at it and seeing how thick and murky it was in comparison to the bright amber liquid of pure extract.
To be able to use real Mexican vanilla pods is an absolute revelation to the senses. It is so fragrant and lovely, it will permeate your dreams. You really must try it and see for yourself. It will far surpass the taste of that of the $16 bottle you bought at Williams Sonoma. I promise.
To make your own Vanilla Extract:
Place 1 split (cut lengthwise) Mexican Vanilla beans in a cup of best quality vodka (don’t cheap here.) and let stand, (in a cool, dark place) for up to six months. Will last six months when made.
To make Vanilla Sugar:
In a food processor, mix together 1 coarsly chopped vanilla pod and 4 cups of white sugar, until the black flecks of the chopped pod are evenly distributed.
Pure vanilla extract must contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon during extraction and 35 percent alcohol
The word vanilla derived from the Spanish name of the spice, vainilla, is is a diminutive of vaina “sheath, vagina, pod." Nice info, eh?
“Vanilla is the world's most labor-intensive agricultural crop. It will take up to three years after the vines are planted before the first flowers appear. The fruits, which resemble big green beans, must remain on the vine for nine months in order to completely develop their signature aroma. However, when the beans are harvested, they have neither flavor nor fragrance. They develop these distinctive properties during the curing process.” – VanillaQueen.com
Bourbon vanilla is named for the islands now known as Reunion and the Comoros, but in the early 19th century were called the Bourbon Islands. The Bourbon vanilla plant stock originally came from Mexico
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Coming to us from China, (via England, of course) the kumquat is a scrumptious little treat, similar to (but botanically NOT) citrus fruit. The whole thing is eaten, since they are so small and not really juicy. The skin is what is sweet, while the interior (what there is of it) is quite tart.
Lately, in some of your more chic and edgy bars, the kumquat has become a cocktail garnish, which is something I am all for. They are so citrusy and tart they are a good foil for any hard alcohol, but taste especially tantalizing with tequila or sparkling wine. Amazingly satisfying.
Another delicious use for them, and one that is a touch more culinary, is to make kumquat chutney, which is so tangy and delicious I tend to eat it straight, over rice, or like last night, over simply grilled chicken breasts.
This takes a few minutes to make, and can be kept in the fridge for about six weeks, if it lasts that long.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 medium onion, sliced thin
2 chiles sliced into rings
1 pint kumquats, rinsed and sliced thin
1 star whole star anise
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ cup orange juice
Saute the garlic, onions, ginger and chiles in the vegetable oil over medium heat, until softened, about 4 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients, stir and bring to a simmer. Let cook until kumquats are softened, about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in a clean, glass jar. Remove star anise before eating.
Makes about 1 ½ cups. Can be doubled.
The well-known ad campaigns for farm products — including "Beef. It's What's for Dinner" and "Got Milk?" — won a reprieve Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that farmers and ranchers could be forced to pay for these government-sponsored promotions.In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court rejected a free-speech challenge brought by dissident ranchers who objected to paying for the ads.
The programs began in the 1930s during the Depression, when the government sought to help farmers by increasing demand for their products. In recent decades, lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento have created new marketing programs to advertise and promote farm products. The federal effort includes campaigns for cotton, potatoes, peanuts and eggs. The producers of the goods pay for the ads. Cattle ranchers, for example, are assessed $1 per head of cattle sold, and the money funds the ads promoting beef.
Until Monday, the programs were under steady legal attack by cattlemen and farmers who said they should not be forced by the government to pay for messages they opposed. Some ranchers said their animals were organically fed or ranged freely, and they resented the implicit message of the ads that all beef was the same.
Their lawyers relied on Thomas Jefferson's comment that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."But the Supreme Court ruled Monday that because the programs were run by the government, they could collect money from those who benefited from them.
The beef promotional program was created by Congress in 1985. The secretary of Agriculture appoints the members of the Beef Board, who in turn create the ads.
The message of the promotional campaigns is effectively controlled by the federal government itself," said Scalia, even though the ads say "Funded by America's Beef Producers." -LA TIMES
Monday, May 23, 2005
Is it Monday already? Where DID the weekend go? I spent the last few days in a serene food daze, checking out the markets in my local area (some of which I will report on later) and am pleased as punch to announce (because this is extra useful information, I’m sure) that Sainsburys and Waitrose have both earned my seal of approval as well stocked markets. I may miss my Trader Joes and the ever-fab Whole Foods, but for all my staples needs, I trust those two to keep my spirits up.
There is also a store called Tesco that seems to be a little more downmarket (ok, its just icky) and just my luck, is where, at EXACTLY 11:00 pm, the registers stop being able to ring up alcohol. So if, say, the man in line in front of you was a bit chatty, and had to count his change three times, so when you get your booze up the belt at 11:01 its no-can-do for you sweet cheeks, and you shall remain sober, and your coq au vin dreams for the next day will be dashed. I have already formed some opinions on alcohol laws and consumption here in Merry Old, (which I will bite my tongue over, for now) but that 11 o’clock cut off really made me pout.
Moving right along…after a full weekend, it was suddenly time for dinner on Sunday and my brain wasn’t having it so I brought this together, my version of Pasta Carbonara, a fantastic, classic Italian dish. I love it because it is luscious and creamy, decadent, yet delicate and a breeze to make. Try it, and enjoy.
1 pound dried pasta (I used medium shells, spaghetti is more traditional)
6 thick slices pancetta
1 medium onion, large dice
½ cup peas (I love frozen peas, they are the only frozen veg I usually tolerate)
3 egg yolks – room temperature ( This is vital. If they are chilled they won't cook by the residual heat of the pasta)
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream (oh come on, live a little)
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated (and more for serving)
1 tablespoon butter
tiny pinch of nutmeg
Combine the yolks, wine, cream, cheese and butter in a bowl. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a roiling boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente.
On another burner, in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat, cook the pancetta until browned, draining often . Remove and wipe out the pan, reduce the heat to medium.
Add the onions and cook until translucent (about 6 minutes), try not to let them brown. Remove the pan from the heat
When the pasta is cooked, drain well and add to the pan with the onions and cream mixture. Stir well until the cheese it totally melted. The heat of the pasta is enough to cook the yolks, but if you have concerns about salmonella return the pan to the heat and let cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly. Add the pancetta and serve.
Among cablers, Food Network Food Network won two (Daytime Emmy’s) when a pair of its celebrity chefs, Bobby Flay and Michael Chiarello, tied for the Emmy for service show hosts. - Variety.com
Pancetta is a large slice of pork fat back, cured with salt, spices, and herbs
May 23rd is National Taffy Day
Sunday, May 22, 2005
For The Love Of A Good Knife
There really isn’t much that can compare to a truly, outrageously sharp knife. When the blade is so honed you can cut through just about anything it makes cooking a joy. I love it. Just LOVE it.
What breaks my little heart is when people misuse their knives, or are practically sawing through something as soft as a stick of butter with a quality blade that hasn’t been sharpened in years, if ever. So today I thought I would write a few thoughts on knife maintenance.
To start, buy the best quality knife you can afford. I know this sounds obvious, but I would say 9 out of 10 kitchens I go to have a full set of Target’s finest. Even in the swankiest pads you can imagine, those knives loom large. This is not a snobbery thing at all by the way. (And lord knows I have my snobbish moments) this is a safety issue, and a basic pleasure issue. A good knife will last you a lifetime and will make cutting/slicing/dicing so much easier. If you disagree, try cutting a zucchini into rounds with a good knife and then with an inexpensive one. The cheap blade will be flexible, causing uneven slices and make you really work to get those cuts. Now use a good, heavy, well-balanced, sharp knife. The difference will amaze you. I should write some time about what makes a good knife, but for now, I will just focus on how to treat the ones you have.
Your knives should be kept razor sharp. They start out sharp, but if they are dull, bring them to be professionally sharpened. As I have mentioned before, Bristol Farms does this for free, as do most butchers. This does re-grind the blade (i.e. make it smaller) so you don’t want to get over zealous with this, you should most likely do this every two years, unless you have a lot (and by that I mean, you are catering) of use. I personally do not think most of the home sharpeners are good for your knives, so save your pennies and don’t bother with those, just use your steel.
Now for the technical stuff. For it to truly be in optimum shape, the blade's "feather" must be aligned. Huh? What? The feather is the thin edge of the blade. Every time a knife is used the feather develops waves, as if you were brushing velvet the wrong direction. This decreases the sharpness over time and the ability of the blade to cut effectively. This is why it is crucial to your knives that you use a steel every single time you use your knife(before or after, whatever works for you). Your steel is a magnet that’s purpose is to straighten the feather and knock off any burrs. And because it is a magnet, should be stored away from your knives when not in use. It does not regrind your knife, so can and should be used every time you cut something. Which reminds me, there are three things you should never with your chefs knife; bread, cheese and tomatoes. They dull the blade too quickly, so for them use a serrated knife. (And that knife can be cheap as you like)
Watching chefs use a steel can seem pretty daunting. For the beginner, I say to try this: Holding the steel in one hand, put the point onto the countertop (in the grooves between tiles works great) then in your other hand hold the knife flush to the steel, then angle it out to (ideally) 20 degrees. How far is that? About the width of two coins stacked together. (See picture below) Starting with the heel (the part of the knife closest to the handle) draw the knife towards you and down the shaft of the steel, (my, my) in a single motion, ending at the tip (the part furthest from the handle). There is no need to get all ginsu doing this, four or five times, alternating sides, does the trick.
The facts are that the sharper your blade the easier it cuts. The easier it cuts, the less work you have to do. The easier it cuts, the fewer mistakes get made (due to slipping or sawing or hacking.) and the less dangerous it becomes. If you do get cut by a knife, a sharper one is going to hurt less and do less damage.
The last key to keeping your blades sharp is storage. I recommend a magnetic strip mounted to the wall, since it cannot interfere with the blade. Of course, if you live in an earthquake prone area, this may not be a viable solution. Second best is a knife block, either the counter top variety, or one in a drawer. Just put the knives in blade side UP, so they don’t get dull from repeated dragging against the wood. Speaking of which, you should also refrain from using your knife to scrape food off of the cutting board. Wood + Scraping = Dull Knife.
Other things you should not do: do not every throw your knives into a drawer, you could seriously injure yourself reaching in and not knowing its there. Same with soapy dishwater. Wash one at a time, dry, and put away. It freaks me out to think people can just leave them soaking in a sink. Shudder. Just don't do that, ok? Thanks. Saving that glass of wine until after the knives have been put away is my last safety tip. Do what you will with that info.
What matters most is that you treat your knives with respect and they will give you a lifetime of use.
You can go to the market to buy lamb, chicken or fish, right? They are all identified as what they are. So come you buy beef instead of cow?
Cost of testing each slaughtered U.S. cow for mad cow disease per pound of beef produced : 5 cents - Harpers Magazine
Ratio of the number of cows France tests each week to the number the United States has tested in the last decade : 7:6 - Harpers Magazine
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Life Is A Party
You’re young, you’re hip and you are fabulous. So why when you have people over for even the most basic affair, are you still running to Trader Joe’s and stocking up on the same old thing every other host is serving? It’s time to step up to the plate lovey and create some signature dishes of your own. It’s not only more nutritious and less expensive, but sharing the recipes gives you a great conversation topic when things hit a lull (as if that could happen at your party! Ha!) and gives you a certain cache. So as they ooh and ahh and you confidently reply that it took you 5 minutes to whip up (even if it took you an hour.) you will have reached the pinnacle of fab. Because that, my dear friends, is what chic and fab really is. Effortlessness. (Or at least, the appearance of effortlessness...)
So what can you serve that is good for the casual drop in or the most sophisticated soiree? Let’s start simple. For now, we will cover the basics just to get you on the right path. Nothing that requires any frying, or last minute composing. Nothing that is even served hot. Just easy things that you can serve for maximum (delicious) effect. And don't forget, presentation is everything, so invest in a few pretty little bowls and platters and make your food look as superb as it tastes.
I will revisit this theme again in the future, with some more ideas, but for now, here are some recipes from my arsenal you can conjure up in no time flat and still take a decadent bubble bath before anyone comes knocking.
Preheat your oven to 350. Line a sheet pan with foil and add 1 cup of hulled pumpkin seeds (you know, the green ones) and a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Toss lightly and spread out into a single layer on the foil, then add a big pinch of coarse salt and some cayenne pepper or if you have it, some Japanese Five Pepper mix. Bake until they are lightly browned and start to make a popping noise (about 6-8 minutes.) Remove and let cool.
Crème Fraiche Potatoes:
Add about 20 small potatoes and a huge tablespoon of salt to a pan full of cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are just cooked through (about 8 – 10 minutes) Drain water and allow to cool completely. Cut each potato in half and slice a tiny bit (so it can stand up) off of the other end. Using a small spoon or a melon baller, scoop out a tiny bit of the potato and fill with crème fraiche. Top with dill, caviar, crumbled bacon, capers or whatever else sounds tasty. Serve cold.
Cheese For Crackers:
Gather up all the odd bits of (non blue) cheese you have, which hopefully includes some goat cheese and adds up to about ¾ of a cup. Grate or mince and combine in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of softened butter, salt and some minced fresh herbs. Now add either finely grated lemon zest and pepper, or minced sun-dried tomatoes and minced kalamata olives. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir to combine and serve.
Pita Chips: (for Hummus or Dip)
Preheat your oven to 350. Line a sheet pan with some foil. Split the pita and slice into smallish triangles. Place on the sheet pan and brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt, pepper and garlic powder or paprika or whatever tickles your fancy. Toast in oven until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool before serving.
Now sit back, and enjoy that party, tiger!
Also known as “pocket bread,” pitas are traditional Middle Eastern flat breads that split horizontally, creating a pocket that can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients to make a sandwich. – MotherNature.com
It takes 20 pounds of fresh tomatoes to make 1 pound of sun-dried tomatoes.
"Refrigerated cultured dairy products are poised for unprecedented growth as a result of a variety of marketplace factors. These include dairy’s healthful halo and the explosive growth in the Hispanic population, an ethnic segment that views cultured dairy products as staples in their daily diet and in meal preparation. With 2004 retail sales in the neighborhood of $8 billion, cultured dairy categories such as drinkable yogurt, probiotic shots, dips, and cream cheese-style spreads are driving growth." – Packaged Facts
Today is National Strawberries And Cream Day!
Friday, May 20, 2005
Mocha Chocolate Cake
I’m not much of a baker girl. Oh sure, I make a mean bread pudding, and my crème brulee is to die for, but for the most part, baking is not where my heart (or skill set) is. I always say cooking is an art, while baking is a science (decorating on the other hand, is its own art) and I’m no scientist, so I leave the baking to the nice girls who like things all pretty and sweet.
Yesterday though, in a fit of domesticity I decided to bake the boy a cake, which didn’t seem like that hard-core an idea when I came up with it, but turned out to be quite the task. You see, his kitchen is not exactly bakers haven, and I had to do everything by hand. And kids, I don’t mean from scratch, I mean by hand. No cookbook, no kitchenaid, no hand mixer, no microwave, (to melt the chocolate) not even a (non food encrusted) decent cake pan. And frankly, even my ingredients were a little sketchy. (Why do I suspect the Sainsbury brand chocolate bar I found in the cupboard isn’t exactly Scharffen Berger?) All that and the oven dials are CELCIUS. (Can someone please explain to my why temperature gauging is not universal? Hmm? Why?) All I can say is thank goodness for the internet.
Joyously, while I thought the outcome was going to be dry and awful, thanks to a heavy hand with the booze and a stout heart, I did manage to bake a pretty darned tasty mocha-chocolate layer cake. The birthday was saved (or was that because of Agent Provocateur? I forget.) and I have the pictures to prove it. (AhHEM, I mean I have pictures of the CAKE...)
So this was the recipe I concocted. The cake tasted really good, just the way I like it, not overwhelmingly chocolate (but the ganache helps) and dense not cakey. I’m guessing had I not had to cream the butter by hand, and whip the cream by hand, it would have taken about 15 minutes to pull together (minus baking time.) Try it, and enjoy!
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
2 cups All purpose flour, sifted with
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups whole milk mixed with
2 tablespoons instant coffee (Hey, it works perfectly for baking. No shame there) and
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 ½ cups white sugar
¾ cup butter, at room temp.
2 eggs, room temp
Amaretto to taste
Heavy cream (for whipping)
¼ cup white sugar
Splash of Amaretto
4 oz chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 teaspoon instant coffee (again)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 9-inch cake pans, buttered and lined with parchment circles.
Preheat your oven to 325 F.
In a mixer, cream the butter and the sugar together until smooth (you really want there to be no noticeable graininess from the sugar) about 3 minutes. When creamed add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined.
Add the chocolate and mix to combine.
Add the dry ingredients and the milk mixture in three parts, ending with the flour. Mix just to combine. Pour into prepared cake pans and bake for 35 minutes or until a knife (or cake tester) inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. (Meaning, with no batter on it.)
While the cake is baking, in a cold bowl with cold mixers, whip together the cream, sugar and a splash of Amaretto until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until use.
Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely on a cake rack.
Liberally sprinkle one layer of the cake with Amaretto keeping ¼ of an inch from the edge.
In a small saucepan, melt the remaining chocolate, instant coffee, butter and cream together over a very low flame. Stir until smooth, then remove from the heat.
When the cake is completely cool, leave on the cake rack, and evenly spread the whipped cream over the soaked layer of cake to about ½ inch thickness. Carefully place the second layer of cake on top and pour the ganache over, allowing to spill over the sides.
Chill 10 minutes, slice and serve.
Percentage of Americans who believe they have never eaten genetically modified food: 70
Estimated percentage of British food-poisoning infections caused by bottled water : 12 - Harpers Magazine
Definition of Mocha: Mocha is the "Gran Cru" coffee of Yemen; and the world's oldest cultivated coffee. It gets its name from the Red Sea port of Al-Mukha, the original 17th Century point of origin for coffee of commerce. While bearing the name of the old port, the coffee itself comes from small farms producing exquisite tasting beans on the fertile spring fed terraces dug into mountainsides in the interior. Yemen Mocha is, by its nature, organically cultivated, even though it does not have official stature as "Organic". - Gillies Coffee.com
Mocha Chocolate Cake Photo
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Ham and Escarole Canapes
Sometimes, uncomplicated foods are the best. Just using the highest quality ingredients that are fresh and flavorful, and serving them beautifully and with love is what makes meals or even simple snacks special. I love making things look marvelous because I somehow believe that makes them taste that much better. What can I say, I'm just all about the glamour, even if it's my canapés.
The following barely counts as a recipe, but it is a wonderful treat for when you have unexpected company or just want to sit and watch the sun set from your back porch. Serve with a tall glass of bourbon rocks, or with some lemonade, and savor the day.
1 demi-baguette, sliced thin (4 pieces per person)
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 teaspoon German style mustard
2 oz. thinnest sliced prosciutto or Parma ham
a few small leaves of escarole, torn
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
In a small bowl combine the butter and mustard. Spread lightly on the bread, top with the ham and escarole. Season with pepper and serve. Delicious, elegant, simple and really tasty.
LUXEMBOURG, May 20 (AFP) - The European Union's top court delivered a strike in defence of traditional foods Tuesday by ruling against a British supermarket chain that markets its own brand of Italian parma ham.
The ruling by the European Court of Justice, which also covers Grana Padano cheese, comes after the European Commission last year said that feta cheese had to come from Greece to be deserving of the name.
The case had been brought by Italian associations against the Asda supermarket chain, which sells its own brand of Parma ham imported from Italy, and the French company Ravil, which markets "Grana Padano freshly grated". In both cases, the ECJ decided that the entire production of the foodstuffs must be done in the relevant part of Italy including the final slicing and packaging. – EU Business
Ham and Escarole Canapes
Reaching For The Light
There is a dining experience I revisit a few times a year that I would like to share today because it it not exactly a meal that everyone gets to try, and on terra firma, most people wouldn't bother. While the setting is constantly evolving and free flowing, overall it is an extraordinarily civilised and elegant and reminds me in a very tangible way just how fortunate and blessed I really am. First Class Meal Service on American Airlines.
Over the years, the experience itself, and the menu have changed, but at the same time, much has stayed the same. The recent changes, seats that recline to beds, and for the first time in ages, lobster tail on the menu, are all for the best. Other changes, including the removal of all metal cutlery and no individual salt and pepper shakers, are melancholy reminders of the sad times we live in.
We all know the jokes about airline food, and of course, despite their better efforts it is still dreck, (and now they have the gall to charge you for it! The outrage!) but for me, on long transatlantic flights, sitting there in that big loungy chair, (now with even more lumbar support) it transcends bad food and dry air and is a perfect metaphor for my entire life and I am able to briefly recapture the childhood I was so lucky to have. Times when my family would go on strange and exotic trips together, when everything was taken care of and my only worry was if I could get my brother to share the deck of cards.
I also remember flying to Florida as a little girl and the nice woman sitting in the next seat offering me her dessert, and later some dried papaya. I had never had papaya and was smitten, but it is that a perfect stranger offered me food from their plate that really stayed with me. Where else but on a plane do people feel guilty enough about wasting food, or the hunger of others, that this happens?
This past flight, after situating myself in the exceedingly decadent seat 3-A, the Flight Attendant came by (Flight Attendant, people. Flight Attendant. Not Stewardess. Never Stewardess. These are working professionals who are there primarily for your safety, please treat them with respect.) and offered me a pre-flight glass of Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Champagne. Blitzed though I was from my hour long stay in the Admirals Club, and my extraordinary send off at Encounters restaurant, I could not resist. I took a sip, and settled back for my 11 hour stay.
An hour later I was present with a warm towel to wipe my hands, and mixed warm nuts and vegetables in a creamy pesto ranch dip. The warm nuts included the new addition of roasted soybeans that were a great compliment to the lightly salted cashews, almonds and pecans. The raw carrots and celery in ranch dip are presented in a slim glass with the dip at the bottom. The carrots, as they always seem to be, had that greyish hue they take on when they have dehydrated a bit. I ate them anyway and ordered a Sapphire and Tonic, which was poured generously, and served with a slice of lime. Ahhhh.
The menu itself is a little work of art, with a beautiful painting entitled Reach For The Light on the cover. I am not sure that is exactly the phrase I want to be focused on so high up in the air, but with another G&T my nerves settle. After a little struggle with my table, the cart comes around with our appetizers, composed to order. A delightful smoked salmon plate is offered with my choice of capers, red onion, sour cream and lemon wedges with toast points. I opt for extra capers and leave the onions. It is beautifully presented and since there is some sort of fact that we can’t taste as well at altitude, the saltiness is not overpowering. Mmm.
The plates are cleared and wine and warm rolls are offered. I have always taken the sour dough rolls, but this time opted for multi-grain, which was a touch tough, but tasted hearty and was a good foil for the obscene amount of butter I slathered on it. From the white wine choices, I had a small glass of Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru. It was served perfectly chilled and tasted rich with fig and honeysuckle.
Next course, the salad. They offer a light and airy focaccia bread and start with fresh, seasonal greens (seemingly so, in the dim light it isn’t entirely clear) and then you are offered your choice of tomato wedges (too green for my taste), olives (green or nicoise black, all pitted), onions, yellow bell peppers (which were ripe and crisp and sweet and delicious) and lobster tail with lemon wedges. Dressing choices were creamy basil or olive oil and balsamic. Since the lobster came with lemon, I just stuck with that, some salt and fresh ground pepper. The serving size was perfect and the lobster was delicate, yet meaty.
For the entrees there was a choice of: Lamb Medallions, Manchego Chicken, our old friend the Cannelloni or Filet Mignon. Since they also offer Dine Upon Request (meaning, you can have any of that food any time later in the flight) I thought I would start with the Filet. Sort of a surf and turf theme for my decadent little meal. The exceedingly tender stead was served with a slightly underseasoned red pepper and basil sauce (though the basil was fresh), a manchego cheese and tomato, potato torta which was, keeping with tradition, dry as a bone and flavorless, and then there were the lightly buttered, perfectly cooked (they were microwaved after all, weren’t they?) hariots verts. Being at altitude also affects ones ability to drink (more) so I had just a teensy taste of the Chateau Batailley 1999 Bordeaux. A dense, dry wine that had a sensuous berry flavor.
And now on to a girl’s favorite part. The dessert cart. This is where change has not reared it's ugly head in 15 years, and the choices are a cheese plate (Saga Blue and Jarlsberg.), Mango Sorbet, Grand Marnier Fruit Salad, OR the world famous, fantastic, yummy and delicious custom made, Ice Cream sundae served in the worlds cutest round glass. Vanilla Ice Cream with my choice of butterscotch, hot fudge, berries, whipped cream or pecans. Because my father always has it this way, I order it like him. Vanilla ice cream with a hearty splash of Kauluah and a small dollop of whipped cream. Heaven in a bowl.
What with all that eating and drinking, I laid back to sleep for a few hours, watched a few movies and then decided I just had a to try the Manchego Chicken. It was nice. Really juicy, but a touch oily. It was a breast of chicken wrapped in cheese (which seemed more to be broiled on) on overcooked basmati rice, with really divine artichoke hearts, wilted spinach and a rich and heady red-pepper demi glaze that made me want to lick the plate. Washed down with some sparkling water, this was a perfect midnight snack. I do sort of wish I had had room for the lamb, but even on an 11 hour flight a girl can only eat so many times, and we hadn’t even gotten to breakfast!
For some reason, the American Style breakfast (all that is really offered) just never cuts it. I ordered some orange juice and the extra rubbery Asiago Omelette, with roasted red pepper turkey sausage and a fantastically dry scallion and sour cream potato timbale. Since that was just not edible, I changed to having an English muffin, some of the salmon from dinner and a large bloody mary to wash it down. Leaving me full, satisfied, and just tipsy enough to find customs amusing.
I love American Airlines. I have the utmost respect and admiration for everyone who works there, and am beyond grateful for the incredible service I have always received. And if you ever get a chance to dine first class style, I really do recommend it. It is the ultimate bourgeoisie experience. Though I do wonder what they were served in coach…
In flight catering is a $5 billion/year industry.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic, which commissioned a study, says taste and smell is affected because pressurised air in the cabin dries out the nose's olfactory bulb. The ability to taste salt and sweetness is reduced by at least 30%.
American Airlines’ Chef’s Conclave includes such luminaries as: Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Dean Fearing and Stephan Pyles
“American, Delta and United are among carriers that recently started replacing some or all of their domestic meal service with bagged or boxed snacks such as tortilla chips, cookies and dried fruits.Airlines say the switch saves them money and may even give fliers more edibles for their buck, including some more healthful options such as granola bars and green tea. "It comes down to food wastage," said United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski. "We're not wasting food because the stuff is nonperishable. "Since implementing buy-on-board programs in the last couple of years, airlines have had trouble predicting how many customers would buy sandwiches and salads on flights. That left fliers hungry if the airline ran out of meals or the carrier with perishable leftovers if there were not enough takers. After snack boxes "sold out on almost every flight" when tested on its low-cost carrier Ted late last year, Urbanski said, United decided to replace its buy-on-board meal program with snacks on some flights starting last month.” LA TIMES, May 1st, 2005
Spiceblog Cookbook Meme
Sometimes a girl needs an escape to clear her foggy little mind. I realized a few months ago that the time has come to get myself focused and organized and on the ball and all those things that grown-ups do. While checking into rehab would imply I have actual issues other than being a light hearted party girl, and I can’t exactly afford a full month at The Golden Door, I had to opt for something less dramatic, but equally tranquil, to pull me out of my cushy little LA bubble and get my mind steered towards the future. The options were limited, since I don’t know anyone with their own tropical island villa and a summer with my Auntie in East Hampton is just an extension of LA with different accents. Luckily, I happen to have a fab boyfriend who has an adorable house in the dead center of nowhere England…so without a second thought, I decided to spend the summer there with his sweet self, to see what the provincal life is like, and at the same time expand my universe.
With that, I will traipsing around the UK and Europe (Well, so far the plans include a weekend in Holland, a birthday party in Paris and a few days in Spain to see my new niece) and blogging about how dreadful and/or fab the food is, (sense the optimism) what it is like cooking on a hob and generally figuring out what the heck is up with Fish and Chips.
Because I have a sickening backlog of LA-centric posts, this space will NOT become all UK all the time, I promise, but starting soon, it WILL be coming to you from somewhere in the heart of the Midlands…
SO ANYWAY -
The always Spice-A-Licious Anthony at Spiceblog started a meme last week, asking a few questions about cookbooks…I thought that (and my heartbreakingly sad picture. Pout.) would be a good way to sign off from here…for now…
Now, on to the meme. Picture below...
1. Rationale behind what we're seeing?
I had to pack everything and put it into storage for my big move. Of the boxes I packed, more than 30 were solely cookbooks. I think at last count I have more than 250. They were divided by region and subject. I made a super odd mistake and packed ALL of them, leaving out only The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, which will travel with me simply because there are no open boxes left. (Well, I do like the Chicken Chermoula recipe in there too.)
2. Most recommended?
How about Sheila Lukins All Around The World Cookbook. I love books that cover a wide variety of cuisines, and she does a great job of that. I could recommend cook books all day though. I do love them.
3. Cookbook that made you what you are?
The New York Times Cookbook (for home cooking, because that was what my family cooked from) and Wayne Gisslens Professional Cooking. ( for professional cooking. Imagine that.) It's a big, bad book of lowest common denominator recipes that also has a lot of great information in it if you ever want to butcher an entire side of beef or feed 400 people at once. They both added to my culinary development, for good or bad.
4. Porniest cookbook?
Aquavit and the New Scandanavian Cuisine has been my coffee table book for some time now because its just so damn beautiful. The other porniest winner is Charlie Trotter's Seafood. Cooking from a Charlie Trotter book is like re-building a stone wall. You can leave a lot of pieces out and still hand up with something solid yet beautiful, but its tricky to figure out which ones can go. Needless to say, the pictures are art.
5. Sophie's Choice cookbook?
Jewish Cooking in America. (Well you said Sophie’s Choice, didn’t you? Cheeky me.)
6. If you were a cookbook, which cookbook would you be?
The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Smart, saavy, beloved, complete, and knowledgeable without pretention.
7. If your cookbook were extremely valuable, so valuable you might hide it with other valuables, where would that place be?
A top-secert storage unit somewhere in West Hollywood…
I pass this meme stick to anyone who would like it...ENJOY!
“Tests have shown that frozen broccoli, green beans, spinach and raspberries all contained more vitamin C than their fresh equivalents” – British Food Federation
There are more free-range hens in the UK than anywhere else in Europe
British Farmers produce 68 million pints of fresh milk every day
9 million loaves of bread are baked in Britain every day
The barley produced by British Farmers helps make the 218 pints of beer and lager that the average person drinks in a year
British growers produce over 100 different crops of fruits, vegetables, salads, and herbs -C/O British Farming
Spiceblog Cookbook Meme
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Kohl, Schinken und Käse Torte
Is Puff Pastry with Peanut Ice Cream, Chocolate Leaves, Praline Ganache and Condensed Milk Cappuccino any more delicious than a hot bowl of white corn grits with a tiny sprinkle of coarse ground salt and a large pat of creamery butter on a chilly morning, just because it takes a prettier picture? (Well, ok, maybe it is, but that was an unfair comparison…) Perhaps, but my point is that sometimes the most delectable foods aren't the most aesthetic...
Case in point, my recipe for…well, its, um, gee, I haven't got a name for it. Hang on. Let's see. It's cabbage and ham and cheese. It is Germanic. (At least, the cabbage idea is) Ah-ha! I shall call it Kohl, Schinken und Käse Torte, and despite the fact it is gloriously delicious, it doesn’t take a particularly appetizing picture. (See below)
So now that we have a name, and have established it isn't food-porn-esque, the concept should be explained. I had a cabbage and nothing specific to do with it, so by separating the leaves, steaming and reassembling with layers of ham and cheese, it turned out to be one of the best things I have made in ages. It is loosely based on something I saw in a restaurant a zillion years ago and have wanted to concoct ever since. The combination of flavors melded perfectly, with salty ham, nutty cheese, mild cabbage and a herbal-infused cream sauce, it was a perfect meal. I admit it is a touch advanced to make, but I suspect you are up to the challenge. Try, and enjoy!
1 large head of green cabbage
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, plus some to butter the dish
1 teaspoon dried sage or thyme
salt and pepper
14 large slices of white cheddar cheese (about a half pound)
4 heaping tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
14 thick slices of Parma ham (about 10 oz. total)
1 medium onion, sliced thin
You will need a medium sized metal mixing bowl for this recipe that is oven-proof. Or, a 10-inch round cake pan will work too. I prefer the bowl.
Slice the root end of the cabbage off. Turn root side up and starting from the stem end (root end, whatever) carefully pry the leaves off, one by one, keeping in tact as best you can.
In a large saucepot with a lid, steam the separated cabbage leaves until tender (about 10 minutes). When they are done, set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over very low heat, combine the cream, butter, dried herbs and salt and pepper to taste. You want the flavors of the herbs to infuse the cream, so let it heat for about 5 minutes. When done, set aside to cool.
Using a sharp knife, remove the ribs from the cooled cabbage leaves by cutting a V shape. You want to preserve the shape of the leaf, but make it more flexible.
Butter a medium sized metal bowl and begin to line with overlapping cabbage leaves, leaving a large overhang on the edge. Reserve two large leaves for the bottom of the torte.
Now begin layering, cheese, cabbage, onion, cabbage, ham, cabbage. After each layer of cabbage, ladle a few tablespoons of the sauce over. Continue until you are out of ingredients. The bottom layer should be the large reserved cabbage leaves with the overhanging leaves of the top layer tucked under. Find a heavy plate that is just smaller than the bowl and place on top to settle the torte. Refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
Preheat your oven to 325 F.
Remove the plate from the bowl and cover the bowl with foil. Bake for 40 minutes on the middle rack. It is a good idea to have a cookie sheet or some foil on the bottom rack to catch anything that drips. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Invert the torte onto a large plate. (Be aware there will be a lot of sauce, so make sure the plate has a curved lip) Slice and serve.
About 2000 people in France are injured each year opening oysters
Today is National Cherry Cobbler Day!
According to the German butter ordinance, only table salt, lactic acid and the natural coloring agent betacarotene (a provitamin of vitamin A) may be added to butter during its production
Monday, May 16, 2005
INTER-STATE WINE SHIPPING LEGALIZED
Happy, happy, happy!
"The Supreme Court decided yesterday to allow US vineyards to sell wine over the internet to other states. Previous laws restricted sales to within the state.
The decision overturned laws in Michigan and New York which stopped internet wine purchases except within the state. Industry observers hope the change will benefit smaller producers.
The court ruled that restricting sales was unconstitutional because it favored producers within the state. The case centered on the 21st Amendment which ended Prohibition in 1933."
More info at USA Today
French fries rock. They are to me, the single greatest foodstuff. How can they NOT be? They perfectly compliment everything from fois gras or a bowl of steaming mussels, to a thick, juicy burger or a grilled cheese sandwich. French Fries are salty. French Fries are golden fried perfection. French Fries are the ultimate culinary transcendence. French Fries are heaven. French Fries are yummy.
My personal preference is for the long, thin, crispy on the outside, creamy/fluffy on the inside golden fry made from a total emersion in scalding hot oil. (Twice if you can.) If the oil is not hot enough, the fry is limp and soggy. That is something that may appeal strongly to the Brits and Australians (who call them chips anyway) but doesn’t cut the mustard with me. No limp fries please.
I don’t normally patronize fast food places, but in a former lifetime (career-wise) I had a hand in developing a major fast food chain’s new fry. (Yup, it was “developed”) and I still think that one is pretty damn fine. I also know that most people will say In N' Out makes LA’s greatest fries, but they aren’t to my taste. I find they are mealy and normally undercooked.
Besides, I am a lucky Fry-lovin' girl to have so very many outstanding places to choose from here in fantastic LA. So here is my not-nearly-exhaustive list of 10 of Los Angeles’ greatest fries.
Encounters Restaurant (Inglewood) Yes. That space age place at the airport. They do it right. Long, thin fries with just a touch of skin and a fantastic lemon-pepper shake at the end.
Hotel Bel Air (Bel Air) Why do you think I go there so often? Enormous Bowls of Truffled French Fries. Utter decadence. Just what a girl needs.
Hungry Cat (Hollywood) A little different from what I normally expect, since they seem so – pale, but the taste is divine. Very potato-y with a fluffy interior.
Fathers Office (Santa Monica) The fries are crisp on the outside, supremely tender inside, and properly salted. There isn’t a fry connoisseur in LA who doesn’t think these come close to the top of the list.
The Apple Pan (West LA) Delicious in their humbleness. Really just good old American French Fries to go with the unbeatable hickory burgers.
Falafel King (Westwood) The area has a lot of French fries, but these are the greasy best. Piping hot, crispy and well salted. Pretty much anything they fry here is going to be good. No ambiance, no service and no parking, and yet I return.
Surfdogs/Surf Liquor (Santa Monica, Main Street) These are the kind of fries that somehow ended up in batter before being fried, and are served from the back of a liquor store by a Korean couple. All that adds up to some seriously awesome fries.
Blue at The Avalon Hotel (Beverly Hills) The place itself is taking on a bit of wear and tear, but not the fries. Served hot and perfectly salted they make you crave just one more…
The Standard (Sunset Strip or Downtown) This uber-hipster coffee shop offers fries that make my heart sing.
Fred 62 (Los Feliz) Fries with a touch of skin still on, served in funky brown paper bag. Try them with their outstanding and spicy house made barbeque sauce. You have to specify crispy here, but they will do it perfectly when asked.
The largest producer of French fries in the world is McCain Foods Limited. They produce 1,000,000 pounds and hour in 30 potato-processing plants around the world.
"To french", means "to cut in thin lengthwise strips before cooking"
French Fries with mayonnaise is the national dish of Belgium
Saturday, May 14, 2005
There are some things in life that are just plain unpleasant, but still have to be contended with whether you like it or not. For instance, going to the dentist, or a trip to Ikea, home of high concept, low quality home furnishings from Sweden.
Instead of just getting a new medicine cabinet and maybe one of those shower shelves, next thing you know, poof, two new shoe racks, those those ridiculous and ultimately pointless novelty ice cube trays (I tried to stop him! I TRIED!) that you can’t ever get the ice out of and a pack of 300 tea lights are piled into the cart.
Like the free samples at Costco that a certain faction of the world claim are not only edible, but delicious, there IS a guilty pleasure foodie perk in this Swedish wonderland – and the main reason I agreed to go along with this tacky mass-consumer post-collegiate shopping spree in the first place -- the tiny food hall inconveniently located by the exit just after the check out. (Convenient only if you are just coming for that though, I suppose) This market is the key to making the whole trip worthwhile. If you can get your shopping partner (because lets face it, who goes to this maze alone?) to stand in line, you can spend a leisurely 20 minutes stocking up on Sweden’s finest exports. Everything from Absolut Vodka, Swedish Meatballs and Aquavit to Rye Crisps and Pickled Herring can be had. The Ikea food hall is a fun place to go for all your Nordic needs.
Spying a break in the line, I took my $0.25 cup of lingonberry juice (a gorgeous shade of crimson, a perfect balance of sweet and refreshingly tart) and dashed in to see what was to be had. I had to act fast since I was also with a candy-aholic small-fry - who asked the check out girl if she wouldn’t mind if he opened and tasted all the candy first to decide which I should buy him. Cheeky baby.
The Swedish flavor palate, steeped in a rich history, typically includes dill, nutmeg (what makes a meatball Swedish) cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and lingonberries. (Not to mention salmon and herring) So while I completely missed my favorite item, Anna's Ginger Thins (sigh) I did make good with an assortment of delights that included all the other classic flavors. Dill Chips, which are fat, crinkle cut potatoes that barely seem fried (no residual grease on the fingers) and are (shock) lightly dusted with dried dill. I love that purety of the flavor and the thickness of the chip. They are perfect for dipping or eating with a large glass of chilled vodka. I did just find out they are distributed in Sweden by Kraft, so a little of the exotic cache is gone though. (I am not their biggest fan)
The mini cinnamon buns were flavorful, if not a little dry and tough. They aboslutly perked up with a few minutes in the oven though, which I sense was intended. They were spicy and buttery and a perfect snack. I fell absolutely ga-ga head over heals in love with the cardamom crisps, halves of buns (like little hot dog buns really) turned to melba with a touch of sugar and spice, they are a perfect foil for pickled herring, a nutty cheese or just on their own. I also bought a small jar of crinkle cut pickles that were nicely crisp and redolent with the fresh taste of dill. As a departure from the norm (at least, the norm in the US) there was no garlic listed in the ingredients so there was a lack of bite that I was expecting and instead a heady and fresh pickle experience.
While I was off browsing, the candy-aholic small-fry had made short order of the free samples of assorted jams and jellys. Had I had a firmer grip on the situation, I would have directed him away from there, (being a germ phobe and all) but it was too late, and to my delight and surprise he ran over and declared the lingonberry-chipotle salsa “quite nice,” and offered to swap one of the bars of chocolate he was optimistically clutching for a jar. Since the chocolate would have gone right into him and the sauce is now here with me, it seemed like a fair trade. He may think Coco-Puffs are the greatest foodstuff ever, but he also seems to know his sauces. This stuff is divine. Smokey heat from the chiles, tartness from the berries and an underlying sweetness make this a perfect item. Highly, highly recommended.
The last item that made it to the check stand was a small bag of Swedish Fish, my favorite candy as a child (but only the red ones), which I tore into with gusto. As the precursor to the gummy bear, they have a similar texture, but a bit more give. The flavor instantly took me back but now there is an unpleasant, almost acidic aftertaste that lingers for much too long. I guess my tastes have changed, since the candy-aholic small-fry ate the whole bag while my back was turned.
Overall, if for some strange reason you are near an Ikea and just want to check out the shop, I really do recommend it. There are lots of super delicious things to try and the prices are reasonable. The lines are long, but the fun of trying a batch of new foods is well worth it. You may even be inspired to make a Swedish meal!
Herrgardost is the most popular cheese in Sweden and has been produced since the 18th century, when it was created by a Swedish cheese master.
In Sweden, 68 per cent of the population eat a home-cooked meal for lunch every day.
Swedish exports consist primarily of surplus grain, beverages, butter and pork. Close to 60% of the export value goes to other EU countries.
Friday, May 13, 2005
The sun setting later in the evening makes life a little bit sweeter, don’t you think? Those of you who work out of the home can do more after work (at least, more things in daylight) and I can, well, continue as I am, blissfully cooking the days away. But with the longer days and the additional time to do things, dinner comes later and later, despite the fact we sometimes still want to eat earlier. It was with that in mind that I had my happy flash, that the perfect solution to a late dinner is the cocktail snack! (Formerly known as after-school snacks) Isnt life wonderful?
I wanted something small, and tasty, that would go well with or without a drink (without?), would not "spoil my dinner" and would not require any additional shopping. So using what I had on hand, I decided to make the classic Sicilian treat, arancini, which are small, fried rice and cheese balls. They normally should actually have a small piece of ooey-gooey cheese melting in the center, but I skipped that part and opted to make them into logs rather than balls just for variety. I was surprised at how easy they were to pull off and how much I enjoyed doing it. They came out so pretty (the pictures really don’t do them justice.) , went outrageously well with a glass of red wine and were a snap to make. Try, and enjoy!
1 cup cold rice
½ cup assorted, grated cheese
1 egg (white and yolk separated)
1 tablespoon assorted dried herbs
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
¼ cup breadcrumbs (I just toasted one slice of whole wheat bread and grated it)
1 roasted red bell pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon olive oil
Combine the rice, cheese, egg white (reserve the yolk), herbs, and salt and pepper together in a bowl. Using your hands, divide the mixture into six portions. With a damp hand, form the portions into small logs, by gripping the mixture in the palm of your hand. Put the formed arancini on a plate and put into the freezer for about 10 minutes and up to 30.
While the rice is chilling, puree the red pepper, pepper flakes and olive oil together in a blender (or with a blender) adjust seasoning to taste and set aside as a simple dipping sauce.
In a small bowl, stir the yolk to break up. Have ready a small plate with the flour and another with the breadcrumbs. Remove the rice from the freezer. Dip each of the pieces first in the flour (dust most off, you are creating a barrier, not a batter), then the egg (again, let most of it drip off) and lastly the bread crumbs, making sure the entire piece is coated.
In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the arancini and cook until browned on all sides. Serve immediately.
Arancini are from Sicily, the name literally translates to “little oranges.”
Risotto is an Italian cooking technique used for cooking medium grain rice.
The Po River Valley in Lombardy is the richest Italian agricultural region and the biggest rice producer in Europe.
1,000 Ding Dongs are manufactured per minute at the Interstate Brands factory in St. Louis
Thursday, May 12, 2005
My Little Herb Garden
Love is an herb garden. That could be a starry-eyed metaphor, but what I actually mean is that I am brimming with pride over the little green shoots on my window sill.
A few weeks ago, on the way to a kegger in Santa Monica (oh how I wish I were kidding about that) we stopped at the perennially fantastic Fireside Market (oh, I'm sorry, its been Wild Oats for years now hasn't it? Well, call me old school, but it will always be Fireside to me.) on Montana Ave. to pick up some vodka, when I saw them calling out to me. Darling little packages of Botanical Interest brand organic seeds, adorned with really beautiful artwork, right there by the check out. I could not resist, sucker for packaging that I am. Luckily, there is much more to these beautiful little packets than just what was on the outside.
In my not-so-lucid state, I seem to have made quite the odd selection considering my limited window-sill space, yet, I am pleased as punch (giddy, really) that they have taken off so well. Because of my propensity towards fresh herbs in my cooking, and my typical gall at the prices Whole Foods and the like charge for such little bundles (and as much as I love farmers markets, they are pricey too), it is a relief to know that this summer (and hopefully beyond) I will have my own little patch of Thai Basil, Thyme, Greek Oregano, NuMex Chiles, Habenero Chiles, Black Krim Pole Tomatoes, Green Zebra Tomatoes, Chinese Garlic Chives, Thai Bird Chiles, Early Wonder Beets, PattyPan Squash, French Breakfast Radishes and Sugar Sweetie Cherry Tomatoes. (And just beacuase they are my favorite bits of sunshine I planted California Orange Poppies)
Having checked out the Botanical Interest website and all of their culinarily delightful choices, I encourage you to seek some out too. What I loved so much is that they provide tons of really in-depth, helpful information, superior quality seeds AND recipes in each of the packets. (Hmm, I wonder if they need anyone for their test kitchen?) That and they are all organic and family owned. I do hope if you want to exercise that green thumb you will check them out! Obviously, I haven’t harvested anything quite yet, but so far, everything I planted has burst through and are greedily inching up towards the sunshine.
I will keep you posted on the progress of my own little kitchen garden, and as I am able to cook with my bounty, I will share the recipes.
More information on organic seed companies from Mother Earth News
The Burpee company was founded in Philadelphia in 1876. They are the largest seed company in America and developed Iceberg Lettuce.
Redwood City Seeds, founded in 1971, specializes in endangered cultivated plants
Or, the always fantastic nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), the leading North American organization working to save heirloom garden seed, from extinction.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Wine Blog Wednesday
This is my first ever foray into the world of Wine Blog Wednesday. I am beyond thrilled to actually have accomplished this after having so enthusiastically followed it for so long now. I absolutely love the idea of having so many food blogging people give reviews of realistic (read: not out of my price range) bottles in plain language.
The theme for this month, Think Pink was put forth by darling Sam at Becks n' Posh.
With the hideous associations most people (myself included) have to pink wines it is no surprise that most of what is available these days is made in small batches and called blush or rose to help boost the image. But if you call it Blush, Rose, Pink Zinfandel, (created, by the way, at Sutter Home Winery in the early 70’s) or White Merlot, it's still the same thing, and it's burdened with a terrible reputation as an overly sweet and totally frivolous wine made by adding back the skins of the red grapes or removing the skins late in the process. Admitting you like it is akin to saying you think Welches makes the best jelly.
I personally haven’t seen much in the way of advertising trying to convince me it is actually making a comeback, or that it is better than I think , but I am sure its out there. Hopefully this event will give a little boost to the people out there making serious wines, like the Sterling family of Sonoma. (Not that they focus on Rose wines, they just happen to make some and be my favorite of the California Sparkling Wine producers)
It was with that lingering in my mind that I chose a bottle of the Sterling Family's 1998 Iron Horse Vineyards Brut Rose.
Before I launch into my (exceptionally short, considering the length of the build up) review, I will tell you the upshot. I love this sparkling wine and order it whenever I am offered a bottle, but I do not like, order or drink regular pink wines. I think they are, for lack of a better word, retched, and I have tried a wide variety. There are good ones out there for sure, but they are not to my taste.
This particular sparkling wine was enjoyed with a fantastic meal at the Hotel Bel Air that I wrote about for Bar Fly. (Two birds, one stone. What a clever girl I am!) It's flirty, and unlike most pinks, very dry and goes with almost everything I serve or order, particularly Asian and Mediterranean foods. A bottle costs about $30 retail (or, if you order it in a restaurant, about $70) and they carry it at Wine Expo on Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica.
The first thing to admire after pouring this fantastically chic and stylish wine is the vibrant shade of pink, as the small tight bubbles quickly swim upward in the flute. What actually makes it pink is a mix of Pinot Noir (73%) added for the second fermentation to the usual, well balanced Chardonnay grapes.
Upon tasting, it is a fully developed, bone dry wine, with an outstandingly pronounced yeastiness, full, rich and almost creamy mouth feel and a hint of sweet berries. It could not have been a better compliment to the ahi tuna tartare we were eating, being refreshing and crisp at the same time, cutting the richness of the fish and balancing the heat of the radish sprouts. I could not have asked for a better match.
So while it may not exactly be a Pink Wine, it is stupendous, delicious and extra girly to drink, which makes it a winner in my book and earns it five air kisses out of five.
"Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the Gods to man." - Plato
"Moderate alcohol consumption itself reduces CHD mortality. Several mechanisms for this are now recognised, of which the best known is alcohol's ability to alter blood lipid levels by lowering total cholesterol and raising high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels." - Wineserver.UCDavis.edu
Wine consumption has grown every year since 1994, surpassing the 1982 case level in 1996, when 176 million cases of table wine were consumed. The 200 million case level was surpassed in 2000, and growth has continued through 2003, with an all-time record 232 million cases of table wine consumed in the U.S. Very recent gains in table wine consumption are also attributable to the adoption of wine in early adulthood by the leading edge of Millennial generation young adults. - US Department of Agriculture
Labels: Drink of the Week
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Vegetarian Thai Curry
I have a strong aversion to wasting food, but at the same time, (and this creates QUITE the conflict) I have a compulsive food buying habit. That dear bunch of radishes and that pint of berries yearn to come home with me no matter how full the crisper is.
In order to make sure everything gets used well before it goes to mush (or worse. Shudder.) I have a few recipes that fall in the “throw everything in but the kitchen sink,” and yet are simple and delicious that make it possible to clean out and get a good meal.
For instance, last night, it was rainy and chilly and there was a head of cauliflower lurking in the depths of my fridge in desperate need of some attention. I decided to whip together my current favorite, Thai style vegetarian curry. Because the idea was to empty the crisper, this was the perfect solution (and leaves me free to go crazy at the Santa Monica farmers market tomorrow. Yipeee!) as it can accomidate pretty much any veg you have on hand. Try it and enjoy!
1 inch piece ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch piece lemongrass, outer layers removed, rough chop
2 Thai bird chiles, stems removed (or more, or less, depending on your taste)
zest of one small lime
1 green onion, rough chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups best quality vegetable stock (or chicken)
three cups assorted washed and chopped vegetables (I used cauliflower, celery, red bell pepper, small potatoes cut in half, mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots, spinach and onion)
½ cup cubed tofu
2 kaffir lime leaves (if you have them), slightly crushed
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
Fresh cilantro for garnish, if you like
Either use your food processor or a sharp knife and mince the first six ingredients to make a rough paste.
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the paste and cook until lightly browned about 2 minutes. Add the vegetables and stir to coat. (Leave out any vegetables that take a really short time to cook, and add those at the end. Like spinach or mushrooms.)
Add the stock, tumeric, cayenne, fish sauce and salt and adjust the seasonings to taste. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the vegetables are cooked through, about 15 – 20 minutes.
Turn the heat down, and add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Heat through, remove the lime leaves, garnish with cilantro and serve with jasmine rice.
Makes four servings.
Originating in India and Sri Lanka, lemongrass is also known as oil grass, fever grass, and sereh. It is a favored herb in Southest Asia and remains the source of the lemony overtones of Asian cooking, from "citral," its oily lemon essence.
In Thailand they do not use chop sticks, they use their spoon and sometimes fork. Knives are not typically offered, since most of the food is cut up prior to serving.