Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bai Hao Oolong Tea

Bai Hao Oolong is produced in Hsinchu (aka Xinghu) Taiwan. Sometimes referred to Oriental Beauty, White Tip Oolong, or Champagne Oolong, in Taiwan it is often called Pingfang tea. As with everything, authenticity is based on the source of where the tea came from.

While most high quality Taiwanese teas are picked in the spring or winter, Bai Hao is harvested in the months of June & July, sometimes extending out into October. In reading about how it is made, I came across some contradictory stories. One source wrote that it is called bai hao because of the tender white downy buds that are picked along with the top two leaves, resulting in the white 'tips' evident in the dry leaves. Another source wrote that this particular tea relies on insects (like 'Miele de Sapin' fir tree honey) to achieve the white 'tips'. In their explanation, the tea bushes are home to a parasitic leaf hopper that feeds on the leaves and discolors the edges. Their chomping begins an enzymatic process that is essential to flavor and character development in the tea. Farmers wait until they have left their mark on the tea leaves before harvesting, and after picking and drying, the edges turn white causing contrasting strands of white among the black leaves. It could be a little bit of both, but without going to Taiwan and learning firsthand, I can be sure exactly.

Historically this tea is heavily fermented (according to Rishi) and roasted but in recent years they've been producing it with a light fermentation, resulting in a light fruity, honeyed taste. It's smooth with just a hint of tannin or acidity in the finish- my tongue can't quite tell the difference this morning.

This is a tea intended to be brewed and sipped in a gaiwan, a tea brewing method very popular in the east but not often seen here in the states. They're perfectly ideal for oolong teas, and although the setup is a bit different, it's a much more enjoyable way of drinking a cup at a time and brewing as needed. Here's a link to a basic video of how to use one at home. If you want to see the classical ceremonial way of brewing, watch this video.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Local 123

I'm in Berekely for the week, visiting a friend. This morning I strategically took my run in the direction of a coffee shop called Local 123, at 2049 San Pablo. The love/hate reviews on Yelp! were so enticing that I had to check it out.

For those that love good coffee, the coffee purists, this is your place. However, if you're looking for a shot of hazelnut in your half-caf iced mocha, go to Starbucks- the ladies at 123 won't hook you up, and will tell you stone faced exactly why: icing your espresso ruins the flavor. And they don't carry syrups. While I realize that a business should provide what the customer wants, I salute them for providing the best coffee possible and not giving into requests that deter from their mission.

Their beans are roasted by Flying Goat in Healdsburg, CA. I had a pour-over of the Sumatran and the Don Mayo from Costa Rica via drip, and granola with house-made cherry preserves. And also a croissant. I couldn't resist- they were quite dark and I was so curious!

The Sumatran was interesting- it's usually one of my favorite origins, but this one was unusual compared to what I'm accustomed to. The full body was there, with a nice cedary sweetness, but I was surprised by all the high notes and lack of a strong base. I'd drink it again for sure, but I missed that lingering thick earthiness on my palate.

I consulted with the barista and she said the Costa Ricans were her favorite, directing me to the Don Mayo, which they could only do via drip this morning. Upon first sip it tasted like food- full, like a bacon breakfast. As it cooled it became more elegant and balanced, with a creamy mouthfeel, chocolate notes and a brown sugar sweetness. I'm forever pleased with the way the flavors evolve as the coffee cools- it makes me feel like Veruca Salt experiencing her multi course meal (before she blows up into a giant blueberry).

While I'm still learning to articulately distinguish the subtleties of beans from different origins, I find it easy to identify different roasters' flavor profiles. The Flying Goat coffees were not too heavily roasted and both of the ones I tasted seemed to sing with their high notes- lots of citrus notes. I still love to languish in the complexities of Intelligensia's roasts- they seem to be able to hit all ends of the spectrum without being over-bearing and I've yet to have a bad cup from their coffees. Zingerman's coffees are fully charged, strong, bold and up front. There are many roads to Mecca, and many different roasters to match a mood.

Which leads me to the question that plagues me: at what point, and why, did I switch from seeking out teas to coffees? It's an unfortunate reality that tea is not where coffee is in terms of access to quality, fresh product that is properly made. If I could, I would wave a wand and POOF! all teabags the world over would suddenly disappear. The thirsty masses would be required to use loose tea and brew it at water temperatures that don't damage the flavor of the leaves. They would take their time and treat it not like a quickie espresso but a different class of beverage altogether. They would seek out different harvests, different vintages, different countries of origin. They would fall in love with the orchid-floral aromas of a high mountain Taiwanese oolong, the winey depths of a second flush Darjeeling, the way a Ceylonese tea brightens up with a little bit of lemon juice. Shops like Zen Cha in Columbus Ohio would spring up in cities and towns all across America- a synthesis of good service and tea made and served the way it tastes best. Goodbye to improperly rinsed teapots that make everything taste like peppermint! Goodbye to white tea brewed (and subsequently destroyed) with boiling water! Hello to a thirsty and informed public that forces shops to know what they're selling, how to store and brew it, and demands more than the low-grade 'dust' in bags that we've been being duped with for so long. We'll finally move beyond the stigma that has stuck ever since the Bostonians tossed tea off boats and denounced the British tradition of 'tea time.'

Wouldn't that be nice?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cauliflower with mustard-lemon butter

Many years ago, when I was just starting out cooking in Chicago, my friend & co-worker Jerome and I found ourselves alone one Thanksgiving. We had to work part of the day doing prep in the kitchen, and everyone else was with family, so we planned our own feast. I rode my bike over to his apartment, where we usually met up to ride down the lakefront together to work, and he surprised me with breakfast- a version of Eggs Benedict with cauliflower instead of ham. It was the beginning of a love affair- I'll never forget the smell of braising cauliflower when I walked in, the richness of the sauce converging with a poached egg yolk, and the way it filled my belly and kept me warm the entire 7 mile ride along the lake that chilly morning. Before we left, we ate a candied chestnut as dessert- perfect.

Later that day we cooked fondue and I was instructed in the social etiquette of making sure the pot was always being stirred. We took turns dipping potatoes and bread into the thick gruyere and emmenthaler cheese concoction spiked with kirsch, listened to Chopin, and watched the grey lakefront from his Aunt's picture window. The whole day seemed otherworldly.

But, back to cauliflower: the below recipe is very tasty. I cooked it at home last night, using Pommery mustard. The mustard and lemon gave a pleasant bite to the comforting flavor of cauliflower. I do not have (and for sentimental reasons, don't often attempt) the recipe for Jerome's Eggs Benedict, but this one is similarly delicious, as evidenced by the fact that my friend and I ate the entire head of cauliflower in one sitting.

Cauliflower with mustard-lemon butter

1 head of cauliflower
1 t coarse salt
6 T butter
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T whole grain Dijon mustard
1 ½ t zested lemon

1 T chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400F.
Butter a rimmed baking sheet.
Cut the cauliflower in half, then cut crosswise into ¼” thick slices.
Arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt.
Roast until cauliflower is slightly softened, about 15 minutes

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the lemon juice, mustard and zest.

Spoon the mustard-lemon butter evenly over the cauliflower and roast until crisp-tender, about 10 minutes longer. Before serving, sprinkle the parsley over top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tarragon Chicken

I've been carrying this recipe around in my bag for a couple of months. Originally photocopied from an old issue of Saveur magazine, I finally decided that the sudden cold snap outside warranted steaming up the windows in the house and warming the air with the smell of browning chicken. It's been an entire season of fresh fruit and minimal cooking between now the last time I deglazed anything and made a reduced sauce with rich stock, so I was filled with glee when I heard the sizzle of the wine hitting the hot skillet.

It doesn't get more french than tarragon and a sauce with butter. Be sure to let your chicken skin brown- I left it entirely alone for the first 5 minutes- and don't skimp on the tarragon, which can be too subtle in small doses.

Tarragon Chicken
(from the Ritz-Escoffier cooking school in Paris, via Saveur magazine)

1 T olive oil
3 T butter
1 3 ½ lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 stems fresh tarragon
¼ cup white wine
1 cup rich veal, beef or chicken stock

Heat the oil and 2 T of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down, until well browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken and add 4 stems of the tarragon. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until juices run clear when pierced with a knife, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch 2 stems of the tarragon in a pot of boiling water over high heat for 5 seconds; drain and set aside. Chop the leaves (discarding the stalks) from the remaining 2 stems of the tarragon and set aside.

Transfer the chicken to a platter, discarding tarragon, and keep warm in an oven set on lowest temperature. Pour off the fat, then return skillet to medium-high heat. Add the wine and cook, scraping browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet, for 1 minute. Add the stock and reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Strain the sauce into a small bowl, then return the sauce to the skillet over medium heat. Stir in the remaining 1 T butter and reserved chopped tarragon.

Add the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet and baste with sauce. Serve garnished with blanched tarragon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Plums and cardamom, anyone?

This morning I came across a blog that had the most inspiring photo of an upside down plum cardamom cake that I had to try it.

I broke open green cardamom pods for the seeds and it was one of the highlights of my day- freshly ground cardamom is in an altogether different category than the pale grayish lavender powder that's god knows how old you'll find in the grocery store. The armoa is striking- it always makes my mouth water. I also used a Ceylonese cinnamon, which is a little more nuanced than Vietnamese or Chinese cinnamon. It has a delicate aroma and long flavor that will compliment but not overpower the cardamom.

In case 'Alice's' link doesn't work, I'm rewriting the recipe below. I highly recommend visiting her site, though- the step-by-step photos are great and make the plausibility of attempting the recipe seem that much more reasonable. My photo isn't quite as sexy as her food styling, but you should have been there to taste it :)

Plum Cardamom Cake
Yield: one 9 or 10" cake

3 T melted butter
15-20 small-medium plums, quartered
1/4 c brown sugar
1 t cinnamon (Ceylon recommended, though any varietal will do)
2 t ground cardamom

1/2 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c flour
1 t ground cardamom
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 c orange juice

  • Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  • Grease & line with parchment a 9" or 10" round tall cake pan.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the sauce ingredients. Using a pastry brush, cover the base of the cake pan with the sauce.
  • Starting from the outside perimeter and working your way towards the center, line the cake pan with the quartered plums in concentric circles.
  • To make the cake batter, cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy- a stand mixer is helpful here, or beaters, or a whisk (and Popeye arms).
  • Add the eggs on at a time, mixing until incorporated and scraping the sides of the bowl down after each one. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Add about a third of this mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix just enough to combine them.
  • Pour in half of the orange juice, stir just to combine.
  • Follow with another third of the dry mixture, stir, then the rest of the orange juice, stir, and finish with the last of the dry mixture. Ideally you want to minimize the amount of stirring you do once you start adding the flour- doing it in sections will allow the liquids, dry ingredients and fat to come together quickly. I suppose if you're looking for quick & dirty, add the dry ingredients first, followed by the orange juice to finish it off.
  • Spoon the cake mixture on top of the arranged plums and spread the batter evenly. Bake it for about 50 minutes, or until the top is a deep golden brown and just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.
  • Once removed from the oven, allow it to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Loosen the sides of the pan with a knife and flip it onto a plate. Remove the parchment paper, and serve it warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Buckwheat Pancakes, Blueberry Compote

Buckwheat can go both ways: from adding a sublime depth of flavor to being overly heavy hippie food that's more focused on whole grains than good taste. I've had buckwheat pancakes that fall into both categories, but I think I've found a recipe that's worth sharing.

From the Anson Mills website, their buckwheat buttermilk pancakes with lemon butter and blueberry compote is worth the effort. The three parts of the recipe- lemon compound butter, blueberry compote and pancakes- too me a total of 45 minutes to prepare, and I'll be (happily) eating leftovers of the first two parts for the next couple of days.

Compound butters are a simple way of adding a little extra flavor in an unexpected way. Here, you add lemon zest, juice and a small amount of powdered sugar to soft butter and refrigerate it. The variations can be endless. At Eve restaurant, for example, they serve three compound butters with their bread at each table- an herb, a salmon, and a sweet one that I think is honey and cinnamon, though my memory could be mistaken.

I particularly liked this recipe for blueberry compote because the end result has blueberries of different textures- some cooked into a sauce and some that are added right before the end and allowed only to warm up, thus remaining their plump integrity. It calls for cinnamon, but star anise or cardamom would also be welcome substitutions.

The buckwheat buttermilk pancakes call for a slightly different preparation than what I'm used to seeing. The butter is melted, and some of the ghee is reserved for the cast iron skillet- nothing new there- but adding the buttermilk to the warm butter and warming them together slightly was a different approach. It could have the potential to separate if it got too hot, but a little whisking brought it back together, and it never got so hot that it would have scrambled the egg you whisk it into. With both baking soda and baking powder in the mix, the cakes puffed up beautifully.

Overall it was a fantastic Sunday morning breakfast, with a pot of nilgiri tea with cream and sugar nearby, some orange juice and Dr. Arwulf Arwulf providing the soundtrack on 89.1.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I've been immersed in all things pie lately.

The third annual 'Pie Lover's Unite' event was this past Saturday- it was a success, the pies were beautiful and plentiful- and I keep coming across articles about pies in magazines and other blogs. Sheryl Julian, writing for, wrote a great introduction about crusts, and there are links abound. I decided to tackle the oil based crust first, since it's new to me and reported to be so deliciously, deceptively easy.

I'm directly quoting here:

The crust is as follows-

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Set the oven at 425 degrees. Have on hand a deep 9-inch pie pan.

2. In a 1-cup measure, pour the oil just over the 1/2 cup line. Add the milk to make a good 3/4 cup of liquid.

3. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add the oil mixture (do not stir while pouring). When it is all added, use a rubber spatula to stir the oil in gently. The mixture looks very wet; it’s OK.

4. With a wet paper towel, wet the counter. Spread waxed paper on it. Add 2/3 of the dough. Set another piece of waxed paper on top.

5. Roll the dough into a round about 1/8-inch thick. Gently remove the top waxed paper, working from the edges to the center. Set the pie pan near you. In one steady motion, pick up the paper under the dough and quickly flip it over into the pie pan. Gently remove the remaining waxed paper sheet, working from the edges to the center.

The recipe for blueberry filling associated with this crust was good, and I made it as stated, but I think I'd play around with Alice Water's recipe a bit. She uses a little more sugar (1/4 cup), a dash of salt, lemon zest, and substitutes the flour with 4 T quick-cooking tapioca, pulverized in a mortar. I am encouraged by the tapioca because of it's slight sweetness, and despite the smaller quantity than flour, it would thicken it up just the same without the flour taste.

My pie looks very similar to the one in the link, which makes me wonder if either they were making it look really homey or there is little room for personal flourishes with this type of crust. I'll play around with it some more. The texture was nice and flaky, and (thanks to baking it with a collar around the edges for the first 25 minutes) it browned evenly on top and underneath.

Blueberry-Orange pancakes

It's blueberry season in Michigan. A friend is about to deliver 10#'s picked across the state in Holland, which has prompted a revival of memories relating to all things blueberry.

One of my favorite recipes is for blueberry-orange pancakes, which I used to make often many years ago in my little college apartment on Park St. I can't think about them without recalling Ella Fitzgerald, mornings fueled with NPR, Simon, and my cat, Bugonia.

The primary liquid is orange juice, which is enhanced by fresh zest, though I've found that store-bought orange juice works best (ie Tropicana) rather than freshly squeezed. Maybe it's just my palate, but I found the freshly squeezed juice to be a little too acidic. I also found it to be too difficult not to drink all of the freshly squeezed juice before using it in the batter.

Blueberry-orange pancakes

1 c flour
2T sugar
1 ¼ t baking powder
¼ t baking soda
¼ t salt
½ t orange zest
1 c orange juice
2 T milk
2 T oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c blueberries, fresh or frozen

-combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
-in another bowl, combine the orange zest, juice, milk, oil and egg.
-add the liquids into the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.
-heat a skillet and add either a touch of butter or spray it with oil (no need to do either if it’s non-stick)
-spoon about ¼ cup of the batter onto the hot skillet, and sprinkle some blueberries on top.
-when the edges of the pancake seem dry and small bubbles have formed on the surface, filp it. It should be done when you see a slight bit of steam coming from the skillet.

Missing You-

Since I was recently stripped from the delicious dulce de leche in my fridge (I don't forgive easily), I've been forced to improvise. It was my pleasure to discover that I could achieve a similar affect (creamy, caramely goodness) by combining maple syrup and cream. It's not nearly as thick, and feels like cheating since so much work goes into dulce de leche, but on top of ranier cherries, plums and strawberries, it tastes divine.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Worth getting up for in the morning-

I have only one thing to report: Michigan strawberries and raspberries with vanilla sugar is heavenly.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


An abbreviated version of my write up on visiting with Ortiz is now up on the ZMO blog.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pamplona, day 1

Flying north of Madrid you could see the grid-like patterns of olive groves dotting the countryside. Flying into Pamplona, it suddenly became hilly- the outermost hills partially excavated for gravel (I'm presuming) in beautiful steeped rows.

This town is very old. It's also very typically Spanish- narrow cobblestone streets with high colorful buildings on either sides. I forgot how beautiful the glass enclosed porches are on the second floors, with their plants and character.

As nervous as i was about not knowing anyone, i've already met some very interesting, friendly people from not only Spain but from the US, Cuba and Canada (and Dubai). It's mostly wine reps, though a couple of them are looking to branch out into 'gourmet' foods because they're hurting for business. Being here solely for food, i've been fielding a lot of questions about salt, olive oil, peppers, ham- whathave you. In exchange, they've been telling me what to drink. Not a bad trade off.

The Navarra Gourmet group has put together quite the itenary for this trip, intended to show off the best of what Pamplona and Navarra has to offer. Tonight was a group dinner at the restaurant of chef Alex Mugica (or Mujica, depending on what text you're reading) in the La Perla Hotel. There are about 60 people in our group from all over the world, so the restaurant was closed and fitted to hold us for the evening. Tables were arranged by language spoken.

We were served two local wines- the red was a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot called Inurrieta 400 Crianza. It was fruity, a little sweet. The white was a chardonnay from Juan de Albert. Lots of apple and vanilla in the nose, and a buttery oak flavor.

First course was 'ensalada de esparragos naturales con sal maldon, aceite virgen y mayonesa de bonito'. White asparagus over mixed greens, with a syringe (disposable, individual serving) of olive oil, and a tuna foam on the side. It was delectable- i could have eaten two but it was the perfect amount to satiate me for a first course and whet my palate for what was coming.

In martini glasses they served a couple baked rolls of a mix of chorixo (txistorra in the local basque dialect) and queso. The wrap was made of bread, which was frozen, sliced thin on a meat slicer, wrapped around a spoonfull of the filling and then baked. A Cuban gentleman at my table couldn't get enough of them- his enjoyment was visible in all of the hand gestures for 'the best' and he managed to get the recipe from the chef (no doubt- i'll be on his menu at home soon).

Then, in my opinion, the best part of the meal: huevo estrellado, patatas y perrechicos. Poached eggs with the most brilliant deep orange yolk i've seen since I was last in Italy, on top of thinly sliced potatoes and 'perrechios,' the local mushrooms that are just coming up. They're small, white and very flavorful.

The main course was a choice of two options- lomito de merluza al horno con terrina de borrajas y jamon (hake with garlic, borrage and ham) or chuleta de ternera con patata nueva- veal with new potatoes and a roasted red pepper sauce. I opted for the veal. Again the serving size was satiatingly appropriate- just enough to savor the flavor but not too much to overwhelm you. The roasted red pepper sauce was creamy, not too spicy but full of that roasted-over-coals flavor that I love about good Spanish piquillos.

The desserts- i'm sorry, i didn't take copious notes here. Overall they were very sweet, and whereas the portions for everything else seemed right on, these were so rich that the abundance of three different ones on a plate was a bit overwhelming. It was a lactic romp of leche frita (fried milk cube, dusted with cinnamon), cremoso de queso (cheese creem), sopita de citricos y galleta rota de nuez, cerezas de Milagro (the cherries from Milagro were delicious) salteadas con helado de azafran y crujiente de remolacha. You'll have to translate all of that. The beets (remolacha) were shaved thin and oven dried, used as garnish.

More anon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Grapefruit Curd

Lemon curd gets all of the spotlight. Yes, it's delicious- richly tart, sweet and buttery all at the same time- but it's not the only citrus fruit that makes a good curd. We've got great lime curd and passion fruit curd at the Deli, but you rarely see anything about grapefruit curd. Maybe it's because it's bitterness is tricky to balance, or it's not as approachable a fruit in some peoples eyes, but I can't get enough of them.

It took me a while to find a recipe for it, and the last time I tried to make it without direction, it didn't set properly. Thankfully, Regan Daley's 'in the sweet kitchen' provided (I love that book!). It's not for the faint of heart- 12 egg yolks! I went an extra step further and reduced the grapefruit juice by about 1/4 to deepen its flavor, which seemed to work out well. I also threw in a dried out vanilla bean. The resulting curd is spoonable but soft, brilliantly yellow, and a good balance between sweet and bitter. I ate it on malted pancakes this morning (or was it afternoon? aahhh, a good day off), but it would be just as nice on scones, angelfood cake, or a buttery croissant.

Grapefruit Curd with Vanilla Beans
(Regan Daily, with a few enhancements)

12 yolks
1 dried out vanilla bean, cut into 3 or 4 chunks
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grapefruit zest (any more and it'll be too bitter)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed juice (either straight or slightly reduced)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

-have a double boiler ready, with a medium bowl that fits in the pot but sits above the water level (questions? just email me).
-have a large bowl nearby with a fine mesh strainer resting on top.
-in the medium bowl that fits over the pot, whisk the egg yolks and the vanilla bean pieces until frothy.
-whisk in the sugar and the citrus juices, as well as the zest.
-set the bowl over the lightly boiling water and adjust the heat to barely simmering. Cook, stirring constantly, the curd until it thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. It takes about 10 minutes or so, depending on the temperature of the yolks that you started with.
-remove the bowl from the pot, dry off the bottom, and pour it through the strainer into the large bowl.
-stirring constantly, add the chunks of butter a few at a time until they melt completely.
-place a layer of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming, and allow it to cool for at least 2 hours before using.
-this curd is best the day that it is made, but it can be stored (well covered) in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Loh Shi Fun

The challenge: shiitake mushrooms.
The answer: Loh Shi Fun

I wouldn't claim to know anything about loh shi fun other than that I typed in 'shiitake pork shaoxing wine recipe' into google and found this recipe. It seemed to fit what I was craving, and gave me an excuse to try new things from the Asian grocery store that I had never cooked with. I was skeptical until it was about 75% complete, but by the time I plopped a poached egg on top of fresh pea shoots on top of a steaming bowl of pork (two types!) and noodles, I was very excited.

From what I've read, it's Chinese in origin but has been made famous by a street stall in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. It's sometimes called 'rat tail noodles' because of the shape of the noodles, though I ended up only finding frozen Korean rice cakes (which worked fine, however unusual).

The original recipe, from Food & Wine Magazine, is here.

I added sriracha (rooster chili sauce), and had to find a substitute for the kecap manis, which the lovely propritor of the local market recomended (it tasted like a mixture of molasses and soy sauce- I'm still excited to find the real deal that is infused with star anise). Not having worked with Chinese sausage before, I may have bought the wrong one- what I purchased was uncooked, and I think the recipe calls pre-cooked. After a bit of poaching it worked out just fine, though- quite fatty and sweet but very flavorful.

The pea shoots, which we opted to not to add while cooking but use as a blanket between the hot stew and the poached egg, gave a pleasant lightness to the dish. Overall it was a fun experiment- one I look forward to replicating and exploring more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm thoroughly enjoying the surprising, light tingling sensation going on in my mouth right now- the result of Tasmanian pepper berries.

These small, shriveled, dried black berries are also referred to as Mountain Pepper. They grow in Tasmania on a native shrub that can reach five meters in height. It's leaves are dark green with distinctive crimson stems, and it thrives in cool, wet habitats from sea level to the high altitude regions throughout the island. Hand harvested during their fall season, March through May, they're used locally to flavor everything from meat to breads, pastas, mustards and cheeses. I was surprised by the purplish color that they produced when I ground them in my mortar, and that the center part of the berry contained a small hard seed that would not break down. They start sweet, then gradually increase in intensity. The heat doesn't last very long, but the slight tingling sensation- similar to szechwan peppercorns- pleasantly remains and lingers in your mouth.

I ground them with toasted coriander, cumin, cardamom, mustard seeds and salt- a version of garam masala, I suppose. It's fitting that spices were the first product to become truely globalized; fitting that my particular blend combined spices from 4 different continents. When all said and done, it tasted pretty good on my local carrots, celery, potato and cherry tomatoes when roasted in a hot oven. The piece de resistance was an egg cracked in the center of the hot pan and cooked until over easy- as always, a fresh yolk is the only sauce required.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Salty island breezes, bone warming broth and my favorite of foods.

I haven’t been posting much because I haven’t been cooking much. I’ve been plagued by a hovering black cloud the past two months that seems to rain on everything I’ve cooked, depriving any joy in the process or consumption. I’ve been consisting on grapefruit, yoghurt with preserves and cereal in the mornings. Rice and salads in the evenings. Lot’s of meals eaten elsewhere. Breakups and challenging times do that to me. I’ll eventually snap out of it and regain my grace in the kitchen, but it’s no excuse to not write about what I’ve been learning. So here goes:

In Mauritius it’s a common treat to pick a pineapple from a tree and dip it in sea water, sometimes sprinkling a little spicy chili pepper on top. The first person to tell me about this was from the island. He was reminiscing about acquiring said pineapple and riding his bike down to the coast with a group of friends to pair it with the salty sea water. It was what they did on a lazy afternoon, with the sun shining and the ocean breeze blowing. It sounded like heaven to me, and I’m excited that he’s started a company that produces preserves and other spices and honeys from his native land. We should be getting them into the Deli in a few months, and my first bite of the pineapple preserves with chilies and salt will be taken with my eyes closed, imagining the smell of the ocean air and warm sun.

I was in my old haunting grounds of Chicago this past week, and my trip wouldn’t have been complete without a steaming bowl of Vietnamese Phở. Dora (ever passionate and knowledgeable about ethnic cuisines) and I piled the freshly torn Thai basil, ngò gai and jalapenos, sweetened it slightly with the hoisin sauce and spiced it with the Sriracha. It has a similar effect on me to how I feel when I’m immersed in a hot tub- it warms my entire body, all my yards of skin and organs from head to toe. It also makes me very sleepy, which was a welcome feeling since sleeping has been eluding me of late. I can never finish an entire bowl, though, and learned a great way of extending the joy from Dora: strain the noodles from the leftovers and warm it for breakfast the following morning. It’s my own version of ‘hair of the dog.’

I have a timeless friend named Brad who has a gracious place at the bar of a lot of the great unsung restaurants throughout the windy city. I always envision him doing a waltz between chatting with the waitress who’s inevitably a good friend, completing the latest crossword in the paper and watching baseball if there is a tele around. Saturday morning he introduced me to 'The Bristol' in Bucktown (2000 block of N. Damen). I ended up having brunch there two days in a row, and would have gone back if I could have. Straightforward and delicious, the small brunch menu features a lot of dishes involving eggs, all perfectly poached with gloriously runny yolks. The eggs benedict with stone ground mustard hollandaise sauce was great, as were the chilaquiles with New Mexican green chilies and lime, and the bourbon manhattans and bloody marys. There was duck on the brunch menu as well, which sounded equally promising. Next time.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Rich Welcome for a New Year

It's officially 2009, another year is behind us, and it's been a wonderfully relaxing day here in my rickety little flat. Last night we had a delicious dinner at Amadeus, a Polish restaurant here in Ann Arbor, and then brought in the New Year with old friends. There was a lot of singing and shenanigans, and most of the day today was spent in recovery mode.

Since it's cold outside we decided to cook something to not only warm our bellies but the apartment too. I remembered a recipe that I first made several years ago- I don't even recall where I was living at the time or how I came across it. Beef Bourguingnon from Ina Garten. It's damn good- rich and filling, and I never have a hard time making my way through all of the leftovers. We ate it with mashed potatoes, which were extra good because I'm out of cream and used only butter to bind them together.

For posterity, I wanted to post a link for Brewers Blondies. I've made them twice in the past two weeks and even though I don't have a huge sweet tooth, they seem to have an addictive effect on everyone they come in contact with. No one can seem to eat just one. The best part (and the reason behind the name) is the addition of malt- in the form of powder and chopped up Whoppers candies. It adds a delicious deapth to the brown sugar, chocolate and walnut combo, although if you didn't know it was in there, you wouldn't be able to tell. There is no grandstanding with malt- it's like the person who is behind the scenes making sure everything is organized and running smoothly, but stays out of the limelight. If you can't find it at the grocery store, look for Ovaltine malted drink mix- it works just fine.