Friday, August 13, 2010

New site!

I've switched to a new blog address: keep up with me here!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When in Branson, do as the Bransonites do.

Someone had described Branson Missouri as being 'the Christian Las Vegas.' With that in mind, I had very low expectations. I'm happy to report that it isn't that bad at all, though I have been avoiding the strip of constant traffic and congested junk shops full of crap.

I'm here for our Sly Family Reunion, a tradition started when I was about four and has continued every two years ever since. Our family is large and ever growing. We live all over the country.

Why Branson, you ask? It's (relatively) central to where everyone lives (Phoenix, many parts of Texas, Michigan, Virginia Beach, Wisconsin...I could go on...). My Dad and I flew here, but several of my cousins drove.

Of the traditions that we've held over the years, the 'white elephant gift exchange' has been the highlight every time. Every adult that wants to participate brings a 'gift' purchased for around $5. Gifts need to be brought wrapped and put in the middle of a big table. There were 24 contributions this year, and we each drew a number from a hat to determine what order we choose a gift. When it's your turn, you can either 1)choose a gift from the table and open it up for all to see or 2)opt for a gift someone else has already chosen and take it from them. The second option has the stipulation that gifts can only change hands twice- once a third person claims it, it's no longer available.

Some of my relatives use it as an excuse to empty out their closets. I contributed a coon-skin cap that I found in the "Hillbilly Nut Shop" down the road. I don't even remember who first got that cap, but it was a hot commodity. There were a lot of fart or burp themed gifts this year- someone ended up with a keychain that made the sounds of various sounds of burps. My Uncle got a coin bank in the shape of a butt, and when you put a quarter in it makes a fart sound. We're talking high humor here.

I had drawn the last number, and knowing that the last unwrapped gift was brought by my Dad, I opted to take a book of 'brain teaser puzzles' that my aunt got. She then chose to take some windchimes from her sister, and her sister took the burping keychain from her niece. My poor niece decided to choose the remaining gift, the one that my Dad had provided. The room was silent as she unwrapped it, and then burst into laughter: it was a (very large) pair of mens underwear, sewn closed at the bottom with handles on the top, labeled as a 'hillbilly briefcase.'

If you're interested in acquiring your own hillbilly briefcase, you can get one at the Hillbilly Nut Shop up the street. It's bound to impress!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mid-July in the garden

The mamouth russian sunflowers have gotten to be about 8ft tall, and have halos of buzzing honeybees circling around them- so much so that it seems as thought they hum.

On the left are charentais melons. The 17th century Saint-Amant wrote that "This melon is firm to the centre, with few seeds like grains of gold," and it's inspired poems and webpages dedicated to it's flavor. I've never had one, but am about to have a lot. I read that they sometimes cut them in half and fill the center with a sweet wine such as Barsac, Marsala, Port or Madeira as an hors d'oeuvre.

There are also some summer squash, and a few small eggplants that I'm not holding my breath for- they never really took off, but have recently started to flower, so there is a glimmer of hope.

In the back are the sunflowers. In front of them are the tomatoes and carrots. Then several pepper plants. The big purple plant in the middle is a red cabbage, which has amazing water-resistant leaves that puddle water (my dog loves to drink from them). A rogue sunflower stands to the right, surrounded by brussel sprouts, a few different types of kale, sugar snap peas, onions and lettuce.

My dog is a regular fixture in the garden, and actively fulfills her (self imposed) post of 'watch dog.'

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Sweet Corn Soup

I was looking forward to posting photos taken in my garden yesterday, but I accidentally ran over my iphone charger/usb cord while vacuuming and it is no longer amongst the living. I hope to have it remedied soon, and photos will appear shortly thereafter.

It's been very enjoyable to walk home with a bag full of salad greens, tomatoes, carrots, onions and peas. Meals of late have been fantastic. I've never felt a closer connection to the food that I've been eating, and I find that it's comforting and rewarding at the same time.

Yesterday I made a sweet corn soup from a recipe so simple, I felt compelled to add a bit more to it. Instead of straight corn, onions, butter and water, I rehydrated some dried matsutake mushrooms that had been sent to me at work as a sample. I saved the water that I used to rehydrate the mushrooms with and used it as the base for the soup, which worked out well.

Sweet Corn Soup
(adapted from Alice Waters)

4T butter
1 diced onion
5-6 ears of sweet corn, shucked
1/4 cup dried mushrooms (more or less depending on desired strength)
1 cup boiling water
3 1/2 cups water
fresh herbs for garnish, like dill or oregano

-Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour the cup of boiling water over top to cover them. Allow them to soften for 20-30 minutes.
-Meanwhile, cut the kernels from the corn cobs.
-Once soft, remove the mushrooms from the water, and reserve the water for the soup.
-Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat
-Add the diced onion and chopped mushrooms and cook until translucent, stirring enough to keep it from browning
-Season them with salt, then add the corn kernels.
-Cook the kernels with the mushrooms and onions for about 3 minutes, then add all of the water.
-Bring it to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a simmer. Allow it to cook for about 5 minutes, or until the corn is done.
-Remove from the heat and puree in small batches in a blender, being careful not to splash hot soup on you when you blend it.
-You can pass it through a medium-mesh strainer to achieve a smooth consistency, or enjoy it a bit more rustic.

Serve it warm, and have salt and pepper nearby so you can season it to taste. Tear a few fresh herbs over top, or add a drop of creme fraiche to finish it off. It occurred to me only after eating that a crispy fried piece of prosciutto might be the perfect accompaniment....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Banana Sorbet

Banana sorbet is one of the easiest, fail-safe desserts I know of. It has the double advantage of being a great use of bananas that have gotten too ripe to eat. Their ample starch content results in a fluffy, creamy texture.

This is a very basic recipe with only three ingredients. You could enhance it in many ways (a little orange zest, infuse a spice (star anise, cardamom) into the simple syrup, a small splash of dark rum).

*The simple syrup should be a mix of equal parts water and sugar (though often I use a little less sugar), heated until dissolved and cooled. You'll likely have some left over- I usually start with 3000g of water and 2500g of sugar.

You'll need this simple syrup, ripe bananas and the juice of 1/2 freshly squeezed lemon.

Peel the bananas and weigh them. The ratio of bananas to simple syrup is about 1:1.2 by weight. For example, if you have 4 bananas they will likely weigh about 400g. Add 480g of the simple syrup and the lemon, and puree it all together in the blender.

Don't delay: put it in your ice cream machine right away or it'll start to oxidize.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

All tied up in a pretty package

Between a wedding and a death, traveling internationally and a trade show for work, there was Tchaikovsky by the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. The soloist Mikail Simonyan was mesmerizing.

The two biggest trends at the fancy food show seemed to be ‘local’ and ‘smart foods’ (aka, foods to prescribe to cure your ailments). And lots of truffles, though that trend has been riding high for a few years now.

Pastificio dei Campi, and Italian pasta company from Gragnano, has gone to great lengths to connect the pasta makers with their customers. Their website features a 'total tracking system' where you can enter the expiration date from your box of pasta and see not only when it was made, but when the grain was seeded, the date of harvest, the faces of the farmers and the field where the grains were gathered, and where the mill and pasta factory is located via google earth. The packaging is really nice- all in boxes (several different serving sizes) with a cover that slides off for easy opening and closing. Their goal was to make it easy for chefs to open a drawer under their station and reach into the pasta box and grab what they need. Though I'm not sure how practical the commercial kitchen idea is, it'll work great for the hope cook who doesn't want to use an entire box all at once.

I also got to meet Susannah Trilling, from Seasons of My Heart in Oaxaca, Mexico. They produce mole pastes and chili jellies. She published a great book back in 1999 about Oaxacan food, which is now out of print. I'm glad I asked about it- they have a stockpile of copies, so I'll be able to get some.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Le Salto de Nogada

In the sky there was a
deep causeway of black, brightening the white.
The rain was coming.
It blew and blustered and wets itself into rivers in the streets.

We traveled into the country in a car resembling a sewing machine.

It bobbed its way unevenly down the rocks and stones.
We passed eucalyptus trees and cacti,
a small town and the road we were supposed to turn on with
patayas for sale in leave covered baskets,
dogs sleeping or wandering, children holding their parents hands.

The end of the road: a car graveyard. And two confused guards at its gate.

The second day we attempted the same journey, though we made the right turn.
The buena vistas and burros and curious construction made up for our map reading skills,
which were more of a conversation than an outlined directive.

We waved at everyone we passed, and they waved back. We shared the road with
cows and seemingly impassable puddles, but our sewing machine forged on.
We stopped and played charades with a man
to make sure we were headed on the right path
and he implied that our car wouldn’t make it,
to which we responded as if his logic was also in a foreign language that we didn’t understand.

Over a cow grate, down a steep, uneven rocky path that continually brought us to the left:
the end of that road lead to two men and no visible waterfall.

It would be a twenty minute hike on an unclear path.

We thought about the wedding in a few hours,
thought about that decent that we were not sure we could ascend
stopped to stretch, smoke and pee,
and decided that we had seen enough.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happily caught in the rain.

We spend the day yesterday in Ferria de Tula, a small village nearby. Oswaldo’s family friends that live there have been caring for the sheep that are going to be the main course at tomorrows wedding reception. Their lovely seven year old daughter Lluvia and several of her friends tagged along with us as we walked through the town. Apparently the phrase ‘uno, dos, tres, queso’ when taking a photo is not in common practice here, so I had the kids in stitches.

As it happens every day around 2pm, it started to rain, but this daily rain was a bit heavier than we expected. As we took shelter in the gazebo opposite the church, the rain picked up and turned into hail. The temperature dropped and we could see our breath. In the deluge we kept warm by huddling together in a big group hug. It was a great experience- old and very new friends all cuddled into a big mass, with Gleb, the biggest man among us, bearing the wind at his back.

When the sky cleared, Lluvia and I wandered off up to the church, which also was the local school. During the revolution it was partly destroyed, but the damaged facade by the entrance didn’t prevent it from being used and cared for. Inside the main hall and the school off to the side were colorful and well cared for. Lluvia gave me a wonderful tour, pointing out all of her favorite things. I didn’t understand most of it. Occasionally she would ask me a question, but after my apology she would continue on, leading me by hand up another staircase or into yet another room.

The group of us here for the wedding is growing by the hour as people continue to arrive. Some old friends and I set out this afternoon to see a waterfall nearby, but the road was nearly impassable by heavy rain. We somehow got off course and the rocky road ended at a junkyard. The rain continued to fall so we turned around, feeling satiated by seeing enough flowing water on the road, and went and had lunch.

Currently I’m sitting here as Karen’s old friend Shannon is practicing the hymns she’ll be performing at the wedding. Gleb, her friend from her days in Russia who is a wildlife photographer, will be ‘shooting’ the wedding. Oswaldo’s sisters and family friends are cooking the food and the wedding cake. I’m impressed by the level of personal engagement of everyone involved in this wedding, and am really looking forward to seeing it unfold over the next day and a half.


A 4 hour bus ride through every little town between here and Guadalajara and I've arrived. Karen & Oswaldo, and Olga and Gleb from Russia- we had a fantastic time helping get ready for the wedding, running around in the rain, eating tacos, drinking michelada's (a blend of beer, tomato sauce, lemon, chilies, salt, magi sauce & clamato (if you'd like)). It's a beautiful little town in the mountains and we're staying in the central square, near the cathedral that they're going to be married at on Saturday.

The photo of the woman in red is chopping pork cheek meat for tacos, which we're eating in the next photo. The best are the crispy tacos- they fry jalapenos in oil, then wrap them in corn tortillas and fry them again. Then she cracked them open, filled them with carnaza (pork cheek meat), beans, cilantro, chile sauce and lime.

Now, we go to see the flock of sheep that Oswaldo & Karen bought 6 months ago. This is their last day- tomorrow they will be slaughtered for the evening's reception.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bang Bang y Bling Bling

The Festival of San Pedro here in Tlaquepaque begins on June 12th and is celebrated nightly until the 29th. I had read about it, but didn't put two-and-two together when I was woken by random loud bangs at 2am. Fireworks, I'm presuming, though I couldn't see them. It's so quiet here at night that they seemed especially loud, and someone nearby seemed to have a bumper crop and was in a particularly celebratory mood.

I visited the Museo del Premio Nacional de la Ceramica Pantalenon Pareduro this morning. It's considered the largest museum in the area of traditional Mexican ceramic art. I lucked out in meeting a guard that took me through the whole museum explaining the regional differences. The collection is very impressive- each piece is a winner of a previous years' national competition. As it happens, this week is the judging of this years competition and many of the competing artists are in town.

They had work from the nearby state of Michoacan, which is identifiable by it's figurines, images of death and devils, and bright colors. Also represented was work from Oxaca, which is fired in presumably a reduction kiln and is all black in color. The details were amazing. Also from Michoacan was the tradition of large elaborate pineapples that function as serving vessels for drinks. Most notably was work by an artist named Avalos Guerrero Abel, whose hand-built, intricately carved vessels were innovative and very impressive. He pushed the media to a level I haven't seen before. My friendly guide mentioned that she had met him for the first time the night before and she was gleeful like a schoolgirl. She told me that he had adjusted the lighting on his pieces as if he were a god descended from the heaven providing light for crops. I was touched by her appreciation for the work and the artists- it's fantastic to be in a community that holds such reverence for it's craftsmen.

Afterward I took a bus into the central district of downtown Guadalajara, whose charms are not immediately visible. It's very big, crowded, loud and dirty. However, the focus on public art and appreciation of it is visible everywhere if you look for the layers beyond the advertising, which is impressive for a city of its size.

I came across a temporary wall with art on it, covering up another mural underneath. I couldn't figure out exactly what was going on (why the first paintings were covered up) but the state of decay and the amount of interplay of the people that put those holes there was intriguing.

In some ways, Guadalajara reminded me of Calcutta, except the two cities have very different histories and are on different trajectories.

I had read about a famous place for pork tacos but never found it. My search took me to an area full of jewelry shops. On one side were the real deal shops, replete with many police officers standing around with big guns. On the other side was a newly built multi-layered mall that had all the cheap shiny bling bling things (and a public bathroom!).

I went to the highly recommended Cultural Institute, whose permanant collection is focused on Orozco, a painter and muralist who was active from the mid 20's through the 60's. His work was very interesting, and they provided a lot of insight into how he was responding to politics and the world around him as his work progressed. The center of the Institute was a series of very large murals painted in a church-like building. He was exceptionally talented, and if you ever get to Mexico City, be sure to look up some of his many public murals there. His work got increasingly dark as time went by- he moved away from realism and his work became more abstract, and often violent to reflect what he saw happening in Mexico. I particularly liked this passage from a grouping of his 1945 work called 'the Truth':

"The pathology of human condition that he depicts in this series is grotesque and abhorrent. Tyrants, matrons, buffoons, devils, headless women covered in mud, jackals, scorpions and other 'fauna' are used by {the} creator to "clarify more the words of the tribe," specifically one, the word 'truth,' which has been so degraded and perverted. From that muck and purification, the artist suggests a redefinition of this essential term- to fix the word, Confucius would say- so that we may again understand each other as a society and civilization."

That, a bus ride back and a nap find me ready to seek out some small place nearby that has reportedly transcendent guacamole and margaritas. The sun is setting and the bang-bang of fireworks are starting. This is my last night in Tlaquepaque- tomorrow: to Talpapa in the mountains.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Muy Sabroso, estoy lleno.

It took me a while to wrap my tongue around the name of this little town that has been swallowed by Guadalajara, Mexico. Tlaquepaque. (Tlah-kep-pah-keh). The taxi driver asked why I wanted to stay somewhere so quiet and I stumbled through the little spanish that I know to explain that I was actually looking forward to it. He asked "Why not go to the Downtown {Guadalajara} and dance all night?" It's a curious question, indeed, since the main city (the second largest in all of Mexico) is famous for it's mariachi musicians, hat dances and nightlife.

I was attracted to Tlaquepaque because it's an historic artisian community, with good food and a smaller neighborhood feel. After meeting the husband and wife who own La Casa del Retono I felt immediately comfortable. She gave me a list of restaurants and dishes to try and a key to my quiet little room in their historic building, once home to a famous craftsman. It's modest, and slow- presently I'm their only guest all week- and I won't argue with the guide books' description of the garden being 'uninspired'. It's charming, though, and the stone and brick construction in close quarters with trees, potted plants and a water fountain is pleasant. The owners have a young child that keeps their hands full. And an old, blind dog named Benji that sleeps wherever he pleases, most often in the middle of the walkways.

I was intrigued by her recomendation for a dish called 'Chiles en Nogada' at a Restaurante El Patio, a few blocks away. With it's origins in the neighboring state of Puebla, Chiles en Nogada consists of poblano peppers stuffed with 'picadillo' (a mixture of ground meat, aromatics, fruits and spices) and covered with a walnut-based cream sauce. Usually topped with pomegranate seeds, it envokes the colors of the Mexican flag and is considered a representation of their independance. Today, the kitchen must have been out of pomegranate, but it was no matter.

The texture of the ground meat stewed with fruit and spices and the roasted poblano chile was very nice. At first I was questioning the slightly sweet flavor of the sauce, but I enjoyed how it paired with the the occasional hint of spice. I couldn't tell where exactly that spice was coming from, but it was filling and delicious.

I lucked out with a patient waiter (though I wish he would have silenced the busboys' kissing noises). He showed me how to squeeze lime juice and sprinkle salt & chile powder over the sliced jicima and cucumber that he brought out as an appetizer. He also brought me a sweet 'Mexican coffee' with cinnamon, sugar (a bit too much for my black coffee loving palate), a twist of orange and a dash of rum. I was happy.

I was asked three times if someone was joining me, a frusturation I haven't endured since traveling in Spain, but felt as though it was indeed a table for two: a bee took to my cucumber/lime appetizer and spent most of the meal resting on the side of the plate. A few times a bird rushed past my head, and it occured to me that the restaruant only had a roof and walls on two sides. The weather is so temperate here they don't need to enclose the space.

Eslye told me that I can get good tacos and fried bananas in the main square during dinner time. I saw the vendors setting up their carts and the smells were exciting, but I don't know that I have any more room in me after such a filling lunch so late in the afternoon.

I only briefly explored some of the many stores that sell traditional art. It's slightly confusing that they use the same currency symbol $ as in the US, but it's actually in pesos. Logically it's very easy to do the math (the exchange rate is about 11 pesos to the dollar), but I still feel conservative when looking at something priced at $80 regardless of my logic. I'm sure I'll get over that by tomorrow. I saw many colorful, simple still lives in brightly painted frames, day of the dead figures with glittery gowns and skeletal grins, bicycles made of wire with pesos for wheels and a lot of beaded jewelry. I also saw several stalls selling Mexican wrestling masks, which look hillarious hanging from hooks en masse.

The travel time here was shorter than I expected, and it's only two time zones away from home.
I'm looking forward to gaining my footing after a full nights sleep. Tomorrow: downtown Guadalajara, with it's catedral, museums and food.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lu Zhen Green Needles Tea

I'm tasting some Lu Zhen Green Needles for the first time this morning. It's a little-known tea from Hubei, China. This current batch from Rishi Tea is the result of a revival of an ancient tradition in that region.

I've learned over the years that when a tea is really fresh, and I get to be the first person to cut open the vacuum-sealed package that contains it, it usually means I'm in for a treat. I get really excited when I hear that rush of air and feel the bag expand.

I have two types: roasted and steamed. This morning I went with the roasted. I enjoyed the first and second infusions, but on the third I noted some orchid notes that made me think of the high mountain oolongs from Taiwan that I like so much. Except, these orchid notes are paired with some unusual green evergreen notes. If I drew you a map of the flavor progression, it would start with orchid and finish long with some green, nutty, almost piney flavors.

The leaves themselves are beautiful. Aptly named 'needles,' this particular varietal of tea bushes leaves are thin and pointed. I'm going to be tasting it again tomorrow morning with some friends and am looking forward to hearing their impressions.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Onion spring

My garden is just getting started, and the first of many things to pop up have been the onions. I've also planted several types of tomatoes, hot peppers, sunflowers, greens, carrots....and I have no idea if any of it will take. Every time I walk to the garden I get excited to see what's occurred since I was there last.

I've rented a 1/2 plot through Project Grow in a public park near where I live. The other gardeners in the neighboring plots are all just about settled in, though it's still early. With so few plants, it currently looks like a hodge-podge of odds-and-ends fencing and posts.

This evening I walked back just as the sun was setting. The smell of pine trees and the sound of the birds was wonderful- this is a very exciting time of year in Michigan. It's going to be a great summer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gourmet Rhapsody, and questions that arrose from the novel.

Gourmet Rhapsody by French writer Muriel Barbery is the fictional retelling of the life of a highly esteemed French food critic named Pierre Arthen. We begin the story as he is dying, and throughout the book we are shown different vantage points of who he is as a person through the eyes of the people that knew him. Revered by some, detested by others, he was a powerful man who exerted his influence and criticisms on the people of Paris.

Barbery is better known for her best selling book The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Although Gourmet Rhapsody was actually written before Elegance, it was translated and promoted after the second book had gained popularity in the US. These two novels are the first published work by Barbery, who previously taught philosophy in France. They contain many of the same characters, though the protagonists are different.

As Pierre is dying, he is searching for a flavor that he struggles to identify. Each chapter vacillates between his and other peoples recollections of his life. In the end, when he identifies what he had been longing for, the reader is left wondering what the true point of his search was.

I will not spoil the surprise for those of you who have not read it. Rather, I would like to pose a few questions that came up when my friends and I were talking about it this afternoon.

When you're reading this book, consider the dichotomy between gluttony and restraint, and the pursuit of pleasure vs. power. What was Pierre's main objective? Did he enjoy the subject of his writings?

Though some interpretations of his life implied that he only sought his own pleasure, how does that tie in with his genuine treatment of simpler, less complicated things and the world he wrote about in his reviews?

We were curious what had been lost in the translation from French to English, beyond the words themselves- did the writer (or the translator) give enough weight to conveying the French attitudes and values on food and culture to a non-French audience?

Was Barbery's florid use of language when describing foods genuine or was it a satire on French food writing in general? Could she have been trying to prove a point, or were her descriptions fodder for underlying philosophical clues to Pierre's motives?

Many of the criticisms payed to him were based on the amount of power he exerted in his relationships, but did he take away power from the people around him, or did those people blindly assign it to him without being conscious of it?

Closure came up several times when we were discussing this novel. Pierre gained closure in the end when he identified what he had been searching for, but not with his daughter. Was that more another example of him single mindedly seeking his own pleaure or not having an understanding of her feelings towards him? Did he consider his family, and what does it say about him as a person if he didn't? What effected him externally- who had the greatest impact on him, and did he respect them?

What did the final request represent? Is it a commentary on the instability of certainty? If it is not nostalgic, than what is at the core of it's impact on him during his dying moments?

What is the writer's point of view? What is she trying to say about the relationship between people and eachother, and people and food?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Trends in the Specialty Food market

The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) just released it's annual report. The trends they've found are interesting- some surprising, some not at all. Most encouraging is confirmation of the strength of the local, sustainable and eco-friendly food movement.

The NASFT defines specialty foods as foods of premium quality that are often made by small or local manufacturers or have exotic or ethnic flavors. Of these foods, the top five categories of foods most purchased last year were cheese; condiments; frozen and refrigerated entrees, pizzas and convenience foods; chips, pretzels and snacks; and frozen and refrigerated meats, poultry and seafood.

Specialty food accounts for 13.1 percent of all food sales at retail.
Yogurt and kefir is the fastest growing specialty food category; sales jumped 38.9 percent in 2009 to $830 million.

-Mediterranean, Latin and Indian were named as the three fastest emerging cuisines.

-Retailers report that 23.4 percent of the foods they sell are local, produced within 250 miles of the store.

-85 percent of specialty food manufacturers make or market natural foods.

-56 percent of specialty food manufacturers report sales growth for 2009, but 10 percent saw sales declines of greater than 20 percent.

-Sales to foodservice represented 20 percent of specialty industry food sales in 2009, or $12.75 billion.

-Mainstream supermarkets remain the predominant seller of specialty foods, with 74 percent of sales.

-Local, sustainable and eco-friendly products were identified as the items that will grow the most in the coming years.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Gougeres are essentially cheese puffs, originating in the Burgundy region of France. We've got delicious comte cheese at Zingerman's right now, so I made some for my Dad's birthday, and served them along side Schwarzwälder Schinken (smoked, cured black forest ham). I bought a bottle of medium bodied red that I've already forgotten the name of, which I drank a bit of before he arrived, as the gougeres grew cold, because he was late.

Either way, they were much easier to prepare than I had imagined and will continue to experiment with them. They're delicious on their own (best served warm), or you can fill them easily with any manner of fillings- mushrooms, beef, ham- by either slicing them in half and filling them like a sandwich, or piping the filling in through the bottom or side with a pastry bag with a small tip.



1/2 cup (125ml) water
3 tablespoons (40g) butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of chilli powder
1/2 cup (70g) flour
2 large eggs
12 chives or 1-2 T fresh thyme, finely-minced
3/4 cup grated comte cheese (or gruyere)


-Preheat the oven to 425F/220C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
-Heat the water, butter, salt, and chili or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted.
-Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.
-Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don't 'cook.' The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out.
-Add about 3/4 of the grated cheese and the herbs, and stir until well-mixed.
-Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato.
-top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, then pop the baking sheet into the oven.
-Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F/190C and bake for an additional 15 to 25 minutes, until they're completely golden brown.

My {malted} milk shake brought all the boys to the yard

I've had cravings for malt-flavored sweets ever since we had a malted vanilla milkshake on the menu back at NoMI in 2004. We were using amber malt, procured from a beer brewing supply company, and bourbon vanilla beans in the ice cream base. What put the milkshakes over the top was that we were blending the malted vanilla ice cream not with milk but with un-spun ice cream base. They were so rich we had to serve them in a shot glass. It was about that same time that there was popular song out, with the chorus of 'my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard' and i would hum it in my head, never sure of what it was supposed to mean in the songwriters context, but certain of how it fit into mine.

Malt is not a common ingredient, but I came across this recipe as a quick fix for my cravings:

This recipe appears in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2008)

Brewer's Blondies

Yield: 24

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons malted milk powder

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 3/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup malted milk balls (like Whoppers or Maltesers), coarsely chopped in a food processor

3/4 cup (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Vanilla ice cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and malted milk powder together.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until completely combined. Scrape down the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture in two batches until just combined. Add the malted milk balls, chocolate chips and walnuts and beat until just combined, about 10 seconds. The mixture will be thick. Turn the mixture out into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.

Bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the blondie comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. These blondies taste delicious warm. Cut them into squares and serve with ice cream. They also taste great at room temperature. Once thoroughly cooled, cover tightly with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

For the ultimate snack, place one Brewer's Blondie on a microwave-safe dish and heat on high for 15 seconds. Remove the blondie from the microwave oven and top it with one heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream. Let the warmth of the blondie melt the ice cream for a few moments, then serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Buckwheat Crepes

The sun is finally beginning to shine again, as the winter months are more behind us than ahead. Late this morning I walked over to a friends place and we made crepes. As usual, we couldn't decide on just one filling so we made three. Each of them turned out delicious enough to warrant sharing.

The thought of buckwheat crepes was on my mind when I woke up- one of those random food cravings that pops into my head when I'm dragging myself out of bed and getting ready to go to the gym. It seemed like a good idea, since the batter needs to sit for at least 30 minutes before it's ready. Every time I make crepes I wonder why I don't make them more often- it's a fun process and it takes only a little effort to get a great result.

This version is from The Gourmet Cookbook, which has over the years become one of my 'go-to' books for whenever I'm looking for a recipe that I've never made. It seems to have everything in it, and they are all tested and work well.

Buckwheat Crepe Batter
(enough for about eight 10" crepes)

2 T unsalted butter
3/4 cup + 1 T buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs

Start by making a brown butter: cook it in a small saucepan over moderately low heat until golden brown. This gives a nice nutty depth of flavor to the crepes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

Sift together the flours and salt in a bowl. Separately, whisk together the milk, eggs and brown butter. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.

My friend has a fantastic cast iron pan from lodge cookware that is the perfect size and weight for crepes (and useful for other things as well). Let the pan get hot enough to make butter sizzle, and run the end of a stick of butter across the top of. Tilting it up slightly, pour about 1/4c of the batter onto one side and quickly roll the pan around so that the entire surface is coated with a thin layer. After a minute or two, flip it over. They taste best when there is a little bit of browning but they're still soft enough to drape and fold. With the oven on warm (250F) we stacked them on top of one another on a plate as they were finished- this keeps them warm. If you're not going to be using them right away, cover them up with a slightly damp towel.

For our first course, we sauteed some spinach with butter, a dash of nutmeg, salt and pepper and piled it in the middle of the crepe, folding the four sides in. We left a little bit of the spinach showing in the middle and topped it with a fried over easy egg. The runny yolk made a great sauce and the overall flavor was at the same time light and filling.

We then moved on to the classic nutella + banana, followed by crepes stuffed with sauteed apples with cinnamon, with a light dusting of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice on top.

When the fridge is empty, a simple squeeze of lemon juice and a dusting of sugar is a delicious alternative.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The poached and the soft boiled:

I've been awash by the pursuit of making soft boiled eggs. I like delicately piercing them with a small wire to release the air in them before boiling, and was pleased that my carefully timed 6 minutes this morning resulted in just the right amount of runniness in the yolk. Oh, egg yolk. Please pass the salt and pepper. A bowl of yoghurt with red current preserves on the side, a pot of yunnan at hand.

And tonight's lentil serenade was as much about the rendered pancetta, toasted spices, brown chicken stock, lentils du puy and caramelized onions as it was a vehicle for a poached egg, yolk barely contained by a thin skin surrounded by soft whites. My mistake of too much vinegar in the poaching water turned out to be a blessing in disguise- the overall effect of the finished plate would have not been complete without that hint of bright acidity. Next time I'll poach them with a bit of sherry vinegar.