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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What will You be Reading this Christmas?

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I don’t know about you but I take my cookbook buying very seriously. Throughout the year I scan Jessica’s Biscuits newsletter and Kitchen & Letters and shuffle books over to a cookbook folder. At Christmas, when NSSP is looking to feed my habit, I give him the list. The first few years he DIDN’T GET IT meaning that he thought he had a CHOICE from the list. No, No dear NSSP I want all that I ask for! But as you know compromises occur in any marriage. So I modified my request. There were the ABSOLUTES and the “you can pick from my surprise list”. This has been a win-win ritual. NSSP “surprises” me and I get what I want.

There is a bit of excitement-will he place the order in time? What DID he pick? Then, the arrival of the box. I stroke, shake, and dream of its contents.

Christmas day when all the presents are opened a second pot of coffee is made and I curl up with my new stack. I know I have a few hours before the kitchen turns into Christmas dinner mayhem and I am riding high on my cookbook fix.

I thought it would be fun to share the books I have accumulated through the year. Some were bought at Christmas others gathered from the “can’t live without” category.

My southern cookbook section is slim so I “requested” John Besh’s My New Orleans The Cookbook. This is a book of seasonal ingredients, celebrations, and the terrior of New Orleans through Besh’s palate. Many recipes have universal appeal and can be made anywhere but after reading about shrimping, Mardi Gras, Feast Days and Creole Tomatoes I started to understand why this iconic cuisine needed to be recorded and passed down. A note must be made to Ditte Isager the photographer and Dorothy Kalins the editor who brought the whole concept together.

I always like to get a BIG book. That means a culinary tomb written by a chef with amazing recipes oozing with creativity. Last year’s hit was MOMOFUKU by David Chang and Peter Meehan. If you haven’t heard of one of David’s restaurants-MOMOFUKU Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar, Ko, Milk Bar or Ma Peche you’ve been living under a rock. This book is flipping hot! His combinations and techniques are worth a cruise. Who knew a compound butter of Miso and sweet butter could be so sublime?

In January I continued my Asian infatuation with Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat’s Japanese Hot Pots. Harris pens The Japanese Report. A blog that features his ruminations on Japanese ingredients, chefs, techniques and travel. Through the year I have become more comfortable with Japanese recipes and it’s thanks to Harris.

I didn’t really want to take a class on Stir Fry, but I did want to check out Grace Young. She was coming to The Edge and off I trundled to her class. Boy was I wrong! There was a whole level of stir fry that I didn’t know about. I quickly grabbed her The Breath of a Wok and Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge and haven’t turned back. I have many Chinese cookbooks but what turned my head was the procedure logic in her recipes. Before I started cooking I could easily imagine the flow of the ingredients and execution. A recent dish I made was her salon stir fry. Excellent, light , and not a splash of soy sauce. I have been able to widen my Chinese repertoire and listen to the “Wok Hay”.

Another Asian Chef blew through town and I signed up for her class on Asian Dumplings (book of the same name). Andrea Nguyen is an effervescent cook passionate about anything wrapped in dough. It was hands on, not my favorite venue but how else do you learn a new technique? The dough that captivated me was made with wheat starch. It took me 3 Asian stores before I found it in a reasonable quantity. A Google search led me to businesses that sold it by the pallet load. It is library paste to some but to Asian cooks it makes supple translucent dumplings that melt in your mouth. It was worth the search!

My Italian section has been growing. For years I dismissed Italian cookbooks. I liked my repertoire and felt comfortable creating my own versions. My sights turned to Italy a few years ago when The Princess went there for Junior Year Abroad (we called it finishing school…). Lidia Bastianich came out with Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy and it flew onto my Christmas list. Her passion is felt in every recipe and the chapters start with the regions in the north at Trentino and end in Sardinia. Each region is unique and each chapter illustrates this.

Another book I picked up this year dove tailed perfectly with Lidia’s and that was Why Italians Love to Talk About Food by Elena Kostioukovitch This book focuses on the people of the regions, their differences, and relationship with food.

Cruising the aisles of Borders one day, I picked up Venezia Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros. Venice is a visual confection and walking the streets you feel like you are in a play. If you never go there buy this book! From the gold edging to the sumptuous pictures and velvet book mark, this cookbook is the next best thing to visiting Venice. The recipes are good and the chapters laid out like a meal from Cicchetti to Dolci you’ll want to share the romance.

Summer found me at the library and I checked out, Recipes from an Italian Summer published by Phaidon. I jokingly told myself I would just skim it but the mind is a devious organ. I didn’t get 10 pages into it when my post-its started dotting the pages. Half way through and I capitulated and bought it. I haven’t regretted the decision. Summer in Italy is easy to imagine with our wonderful Farmer’s Markets and this book. The recipes scream fresh, seasonal and languid meals. Always looking for another food holiday, Italian Summer didn’t let me down. I was introduced to Ferragosto an Italian feast that dates to pre-Roman times and a must celebration on August 15!

In gathering these books I’ve become humbled by all of the must have purchases. When I saw that Dorie Greenspan came out with a new book, Around My French Table I thought I could wait until Christmas, but no. A 40% off coupon at Borders coincided with a cookbook signing on The Edge. Dorie’s books aren’t for the weak wristed. Her Baking cookbook (fabulous- no need for any other baking book!) weighs 4pounds 13 ounces and the new one is 4pounds 11 ½ ounces. I was carrying 3 of them around to be signed and my shoulders were killing me. Ahh, the new book-Such gorgeous pictures by Alan Richardson and recipes that make you imagine your home is in Paris. Dorie is like a good friend whose love of France is infectious. This is about putting together good, simple, food not as a grand dinner party but as a vehicle to a casual night with good friends and conversation. I’ve done a little stroking of the book but am resisting its use until the holidays. I think Dorie’s book will be my featured holiday inspiration.

Last but not least, and in my quest for dinner table etiquette I found The Art of The Table by Suzanne Von Drachenfels. From Dining Fundamentals to Table Manners, Susan deftly covers every aspect of the table as well as upkeep and care of your items. The topic can be daunting but Suzanne keeps on track without bogging down. There is much to learn about setting the perfect table and how it sets the stage for a meal.

A few tips on buying books. I don’t just go off willy nilly and slap the plastic down as soon as I see a book I want. My three go-to sources are: www.powells.com, www.ecookbooks.com, and www.alibris.com. I compare ponder and oft times will buy a used one.

Soon the holidays will be here and I’ll slip my list under NSSP’s office door. I can’t wait for Christmas Day!! What will be under your tree?

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fall and Apples Go Hand in Hand

Fall is a magical time of year for apples. It feels like a true connection with my American heritage. Juice, cider, hard cider, vinegar; pies, sauces, betty’s and crumbles. A simple satisfying bite and snap of the skin as the juice dribbles into my mouth.

When I was growing up in a state that begins with an “I”,my parents would buy a gallon of apple cider and let it sit on the attic stairs to ferment, turning it into hard cider. The container had to be opened to release the gathering gasses. There had been some close calls with bulging plastic containers. My father would taste a bit to determine if it was ready. I never really liked the bubble feel on my tongue or the slightly sour flavor but it was a seasonal family drink.

Apple cider emerged again when I was living with three other women. It was an ex- tavern built in 1747. On a cold night you could feel the wind scuttering over the wide floor boards. One of my roommates was fond of hot cider with cinnamon and a healthy splash of Captain Morgan’s dark rum. Served in a large coffee mug it chased the chill away and left fond memories. I still drink my hot cider this way with a nod to the roommate.

As a young wife I discovered making applesauce. At first I dutifully peeled the apples before cooking them, rendering a pale yellow brown sauce. One day I left the peels on and strained it afterward. The sauce was a beautiful pale pink. It was added to my growing repertoire.

I also discovered a chopped apple added to cranberry sauce softened the sourness. It sits next to the canned cranberry jelly on our Thanksgiving table.

My mother wasn’t a pie person but made crumbles instead. Easy, satisfying, a crunch of cinnamon flavored oatmeal any fruit would do but apples were the best. It took me awhile and a second husband to gather up the courage to make pie dough and an apple pie. Although the first attempt was tasty the gap between top of the pie shell and the apples didn’t look right.

One of my epiphanies was in talking to a friend of mine who was a chef. We were living in a state that begins with “M”and he was from apple country. He told me to always use as many different kinds of apples as I could find thereby giving as much depth to the dish. Made sense to me and I filed it away.

Moving to a state that begins with “O”, and another recipe, I discovered perfection. It was an interesting technique. Instead of putting fresh apples into the shell etc., the night before you cut the apples, added seasonings and let them sit at room temperature. When ready to make the pie you drained the apples, poured them into the shell, thickened the drained juices and poured it over as well.By making the pie this way the apples lost their volume before baking and the pie stayed high and the juice was thick. I don’t look for apple pie recipes any more.

I’ve made beautiful duck and pork sauces with shallots, apples, apple brandy, cream and stock. The ultimate caramel apples for a catered Halloween party were also drizzled in dark and white chocolate and packed with chopped walnuts. My Thanksgiving stuffing isn’t complete without chopped apples.

Apples store well but in time they lose their crunch. The season closes but I have learned patience and wait for another fall and its apple richness.

The Ultimate Apple Pie
I found this recipe in my local newspaper in 1997 and with a few twists of my own think it is the best! The filling must be made at least 8 hours or 1 day ahead.
Try this pie dough recipe as well. I multiply the recipe 4 times using about 5 pounds of flour, making it on my bread board. Once made, I weigh out ¾ pound portions wrap in plastic wrap, label and freeze. I’m ready for pie and pasty season.

Vinegar Pastry Makes 2 8 inch or 9 inch double crust pies.
1 ¼ C Butter or Shortening (I use half butter half non-hydrogenated shortening) cut in
3C All-purpose flour
1t Kosher Salt
1 Egg (I use 1/4C Egg beaters)
1T White or Cider Vinegar
5T Ice Water
Put flour in food processor and cut the butter in chunks over the flour. Add the salt. Pulse the mixture several times until the butter is about the size of small peas.

Mix the egg, vinegar and ice water together and with the processor running slowly pour the liquid down the feed tube. As soon as the dough binds together remove it and put it on a floured board. With the heel of your hand, push the dough 3 times away from you. Gather it, divide in half, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Apple Pie Filling
9-10 Assorted Apples (about 9 cups) peeled and sliced
1/2C Granulated Sugar
1/2C Firmly packed Dark Brown Sugar
1T Ginger Preserves
1 ½ t Ground Cinnamon
1/4t Ground Nutmeg
1t Vanilla
1/4t Kosher Salt
2T Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
1/4C All-Purpose Flour
1T Butter
Place the sliced apples in a large bowl and add sugars, preserves, spices, vanilla, salt and lemon juice. Mix well, cover and let sit at room temperature for 8-24 hours.

To Bake
Preheat oven to 425°.
*Position the oven rack in the middle.
*Roll out one piece of pastry for the bottom crust and place in a pie pan.
*Using a strainer; drain the apples reserving the liquid and combining it with the flour.
*Mound the apples in the pie pan and pour the reserved juice evenly over them. Dot with butter.
*Roll out the second pastry and put on top. Crimp or seal the edges and pierce the top several times with a fork. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.
*Bake 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350° and continue to bake 45-60 minutes or until the apples are tender when pierced.
*If the edges are getting too brown, cover them with strips of foil until the pie is done.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'm Falling for Pumpkin Sweet Rolls!

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Fall is a very confusing season. The last of the tomatoes vie for attention with the new crop of winter squash. The same is true of what and how to cook. Oven? Crock Pot? Grill? Soup? Roast? Salad? Broccoli and Brussels sprouts emerge pushing the zucchini out of the way. Hamburgers turn into pasty and roast chicken today is chicken soup tomorrow. I relish the change it keeps my cooking nimble. Sometimes an ingredient bought for one dish morphs through my mind into another as the weather swings. When all else fails it gets popped into the freezer until the weather settles down.
A few days ago I my eyes were flitting over recipes on the internet. I lingered, dragged, and clicked a recipe over to my folder for future experimentation. It was Saturday and there was no sweet or savory starch to go with Sunday coffee. I pulled up the internet recipe and did a quick inventory of my pantry. We were in luck! Pumpkin Sweet Rolls to the rescue!
I decided to split the recipe process into two days. I wanted hot rolls on Sunday. The recipe works perfectly and is a great fall addition to anyone’s repertoire. This makes 2 large pie pans of rolls (16-18 rolls) so it is wonderful for giving or brunches.
Pumpkin Sweet Rolls
Preheat oven-375°
Grease 2 9” pie pans or 2 9”X13” baking dishes
1/4/C Warm Water 100°-115°
1 Pinch Sugar
1 Package Yeast or scant tablespoon
Put the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Stir and let sit until bubbly.
1C Milk
1/2C Sugar
1/2C Unsalted Butter
In a small sauce pan heat the milk and butter. When butter is melted add the sugar. Stir until it is dissolved.
1Cn Pumpkin Puree (15 oz.)
Pour the milk mixture in a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand up mixer with paddle attachment. Add the pumpkin and mix until warm (100°).
1 1/2t Kosher Salt
1t Ground Cinnamon
1/4t Ground Allspice
1/4t Ground Cloves
1/4t Ground Ginger
1/4t Ground or grated Nutmeg
5 ½-6C All-Purpose Flour
Add the salt, spices, and flour (5Cups) all at once. If the dough is too wet (like a batter not like a dough) add more flour until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If you are using a hand mixer you might have to switch to a spoon for the last bit of flour.
Cover and let rise until double in size 1-3 hours. To speed it along you can put it in the oven with a pot of boiled water. If you heat the oven it must be no hotter than 100° or you will kill the yeast before it rises.
Once raised, punch down and either cover and put in the fridge to bake later, or continue the recipe.
1/2C Unsalted Butter
1/2C Dark Brown Sugar
1/2C Grade B Pure Maple Syrup
2t Ground Cinnamon
1/2t Ground Ginger
1/2t Ground or Grated Nutmeg
1 1/2C Chopped Nuts
1/2C Raisins or dried fruit (cherries, blueberries, chopped apples)
In a medium sauce pan melt the butter, dark brown sugar, and maple syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients. Let cool. Add the nuts and raisins.
Roll out the dough in a 12”X24” rectangle. Spread the top with the filling leaving a ½” edge all around. With the 24” side horizontal to you roll the dough making a tight tube.
Cut the tube into about 1 ½” circles. Place in the baking dishes (this is the second time that the rolls can be covered and put in the fridge for the next day or baked.)

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When ready to bake let rise until double in size and place in a pre-heated oven at 375°. Bake 25-30 minutes or until the tops are light brown. Depending on your oven you might have to rotate the pans for an even bake.
This quantity is for a drizzle on top if you want more of an icing double the quantity.
2T Unsalted Butter
1/4C Milk
1/4C Dark Brown Sugar
1/4C Grade B Pure Maple Syrup
1 1/4C Powdered Sugar
Pinch Kosher Salt
Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan and let come to the boil stirring occasionally.
When the rolls are done let cool slightly and using a large spoon, drizzle the glaze over the top. Serve warm.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Slice and Dice on the Line and Memory Lane

Last Sunday was the food section in The Only Real Paper I Read. I wandered over to This Week in Review and paused. I know that the Op-Art section is cute, a tie in to other weighty pieces but really Choice Cuts? Asking chefs and “chefs” about their burns and cuts on the line?

I gazed at my arms and went down memory lane. My right arm is criss-crossed with various line scars. My right arm was the oven arm and there are many quiche scars and Salamander licks. Splatter burns? Yes I’m sure some of the scars are from an overzealous jerk of the pan in the heat of sauté. Little nicks from barnacles on mussels, and I remember a few times I grabbed a hot sauté pan handle that bubbled the whole hand in the heat of the action. Such is a cook’s life.

There was the time when I was new at a restaurant and doing prep for dinner service. I sliced lemons and myself. Not wanting to bring attention (I was the only female in a testosterone cesspool) I grabbed a clean side towel wrapped it around the finger and continued to slice. It was painful.

There are only slight scars where a cleaver came down on 4 joints as it missed the mark on a chunk of Parmesan. Why the heck was I slicing it during service on a Saturday night? I guess the chef told me to and we needed it. Four squirting fingers joints brought the chef and manager to my side. I was woozy and the manager promptly brought a glass of brandy. He took the first sip. I regrouped, calmed down, went back on the line and finished my shift.

This wasn’t out of old school camaraderie it was about not losing a few hours of pay. Every penny counted in the glamorous world of restaurants.

There are matching thumb scars with stitches created at different times and honestly I don’t remember when. They’re kind of cute in a perverted way.

I don’t see why the public would be interested in scars on knucklehead cooks’ arms. Paula Deen burned her forearm taking out cookies. Big Wazoo.

I think the most ridiculous was the cook who inadvertently burned his chef with splattered grease on the chefs’ pants. At the end of the service the budding chefflete found the dupe that caused the burn, put it in the deep fat fryer for 15 seconds and heroically adhered it to his forearm to replicate the pain he inflicted. He has two more hash burns he has self inflected to remind him of preventable gaffes. Wow that’s noble! Can’t wait to see him at 50!

I have never sat next to a chef drinking a smarty and jauntily asking him about the burns on his arms. Shit happens. Your timing is off some nights. What is more important is getting the food out and not getting the line in the weeds. That is the true fear that numbs the random burns and cuts makes you suck it up and keep slinging hash.

I think Marcus Samuelsson summed it up. “I have scars all over, but they’re part of my DNA as a chef.”

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Chicken Fried Lady

I wasn't ready to scramble to the top of the driveway this morning so I fired up Toshi(ba). There is a feed I follow with this video. Not only did I find it hilarious but it reminded me of what dirty minds food people have-I miss talking dirty to my food!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Adieu Dear Coho!! Til Next Year!

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It shouldn’t have been a surprise when the fish monger told me that he was cutting up the last salmon of the season. My basket was filled with squash and apples.

I cast my eyes on the sides of salmon trying to figure out which was the darkest pink. Pointing to a side closest to me I asked for a tail piece about 4 inches long. I figured (and rightly so) that it would be shy of ½ pound and perfect for NSSP and me.

But how to cook it? How to bid adieu to the mighty Coho from The Edge? Time was running out for our meal. NSSP was leaving for a sojourn in the quad cities (a grandiose description of 4 measly cities in the mid-west) then onto his epic 40 HS reunion.

I kept it simple with one of my favorite “recipes”.

Pre-heat broiler
1.Spray an oven proof baking dish with vegetable spray
2.Splash the dish with white wine
3.Thinly slice or chop a shallot, add ½ to baking dish, sprinkle of herbs (I used dried dill but when I want a French spin I use fresh tarragon)
4.Skin the fish, check for bones, cut a few diagonal slices in the top of the fish, lay on top of the shallots
5.Push some of the shallots into the diagonal slices as well as some more dill
6.A sprinkle of Kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper
7.Broil until firm to the touch
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The beauty of this recipe is that the wine on the bottom keeps the fish moist as the top broils

Sometimes I coat the top with Dijon mustard, other times soy sauce and slices of ginger and garlic. It is fail safe and a good way to be creative.

I served it with butter and chive noodles tossed with zucchini and patty pan squash and a bowl of first crop Bartlett pears. I guess I am ready for fall!