Do people eat goose (geese?) around Christmas? I have a vague notion that they do or did at some point in time. Being the good Jewish women that we are, my Mom and I cooked a goose this Christmas day, just to say we did. It was an experience.
Let me preface by saying that I now know enough to stay away from cooking whole birds. This year’s Thanksgiving turkey experience is likely to stay with me for years - anything larger than a chicken now paralyzes me with fear. When I say that my Mom and I cooked a goose, I mean that she let me chop things while she cooked a goose. I am an excellent chopper.
I had never seen a goose wrapped in plastic before and, therefore, feel the need to describe it. Ours resembled a small, elongated turkey. Its body was long, its wings were long, its neck (stuffed where it wouldn’t reach under normal circumstances) was long. I found the sight of the long wings somewhat disquieting but I am not sure why. Perhaps they were too arm-like for my comfort. The breast of the goose seemed atrophied as compared to a turkey - there was not a lot of meat there.
The key thing about geese is this – they are basically bags of fat. This wasn’t even one of them force-fed geese that are now inaccessible to Chicago’s dining community (I will have to leave Boston if they ever ban foie gras here. I am not kidding). Ours was a farm-raised, free range, organic, hippie, happy goose and it was still a bag of fat. I know, I know – fat is flavor, but wow. Trimming the bird took a bit of time. (Please note that I abstained from posting a picture of a pile of goose fat. Said picture can be produced upon request).
We followed Emeril’s recipe for roasting the goose. His approach involves the thoroughly gruesome step of poking holes all over the bird to allow rendering fat to escape during cooking and dousing the goose with boiling water every half hour to help that fat render. And render it did. There was goose fat all over the oven door, on the floor by the oven, and hanging in the kitchen air. There must have been an inch of fat at the bottom of the roasting pan. After the cooking was done I felt as though I was covered in a thin layer of goose fat. I smelled goose everywhere I turned for a day following.
So how did it taste? Like a cross between a turkey and a duck - not as gamey as duck but more flavorful that turkey. It was dark meat all over like a duck, more fatty (for discussion, see above), and more chewy. The breast meat was great – juicy, tender, and flavorful. The rest of the bird, however – the legs and all other accessory parts – were rather tough and not very pleasant to eat, although the wonderful mild duck flavor was still there.
We were surprised to find that our 12 pound goose really only fed three people. That’s a lot of inedible goose! The ever-wise they say that a four pound chicken can feed four people while a four pound duck can feed just two. I would say that a four pound goose, if such a thing existed, would feed only one.
Ever seen goose on a restaurant menu? I haven’t, not once. Maybe it’s not economically sound to offer goose when only a fourth of it (breast meat) is desirable. It does seem odd for the restaurant industry to neglect an entire species of farmed bird, though it does explain why the high schoolers at the Whole Foods checkout counter didn’t know that people eat geese.
At the end of the night, with the goose experience behind us, my Mom decided that she doesn’t like goose and I decided that I need a shower to wash that goose off. I think that the tougher texture and more delicate flavor of goose is better suited to slower cooking methods as opposed to roasting. Goose confit would be fantastic, especially since the fat can be removed once the confit is chilled. Food (goose) for thought.
Update: I asked an actual chef why actual restaurants don't serve goose. This was Chef Josh's response : "Because it's a pain in the ass." Concise and to the point. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Do people eat goose (geese?) around Christmas? I have a vague notion that they do or did at some point in time. Being the good Jewish women that we are, my Mom and I cooked a goose this Christmas day, just to say we did. It was an experience.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
I, much to the horror and disbelief of my friend Ben, have never had Taco Bell. Have I been deprived? No. Uninitiated? Yes. Well, I am innocent no longer. Yesterday, I had Taco Bell for the first time.
After a night of bowling… Aah let me rephrase. After a night of watching my friends bowl while drinking beer in a bowling alley in Virginia (an experience that is difficult to convey without pictures. You just wouldn’t believe me), it was decided that the time had come for me to experience the wonder and potential stomachache that is Taco Bell. And so I did. Pulling up to a Taco Bell drive-through in one of the million strip malls that make up the entirety of Northern Virginia, I let Ben take the reigns and order his favorites. A giant bag of his favorites.
My gastronomic curiosity did not get the best of me – I stayed away from things containing lettuce and/or beef… if beef it be. I stuck to chicken – spicy chicken taco, I think. Or burrito. Don’t remember. I have to say, it wasn’t terrible. It was certainly not as bad as I was expecting, having programmed myself to believe that Taco Bell is the representation of all that is wrong with fast food. It was better drowned in hot sauce, but not awful. The rice was on the crunchy side and the tortilla tasted slightly raw, but the chicken pieces were blessedly small enough that I didn’t have to have an opinion on their quality.
I don’t know if it was the late hour or the bowling alley or the beer that didn’t sit well with me, but I admit that it may have been the Taco Bell. I felt a little wonky for about an hour but was perfectly ok in the morning. No doom or major gastro-intestinal distress to speak of, even though I was told to expect it by people less enthusiastic than Ben to have me try the Bell. I don’t think my body was all that surprised at what it was given, considering my never-ending love of fried pickles. I am not an haute cuisine 24-7 kind of girl. There is too much to eat all around me to confine myself to organics.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I tried my best, I really did, but I think there is simply no way to make cooked cabbage look attractive. Even the word cabbage is ugly – it’s staccato and has that icky [dj] sound at the end which makes it sound like the flatulence it has been said to induce. A raw cabbage leaf is really the best I can do. To add to its unfortunate appearance when cooked, cabbage is associated with stench, need, and poverty, implying that you only eat it if you have no other choice. Well, I object.
I grew up eating cabbage (and, yes, I admit that a large part of Russia’s cuisine evolved out of need) and happen to like it (if not its English name) a great deal. I know for a fact that there are acceptable and interesting uses for this vegetable besides mayonnaise-drowned coleslaw. There is pickled cabbage (my grandmother’s is best but oooh kimchee – not at all Russian but so very tangy and spicy and wonderful), cabbage soups, and braised or stewed cabbage just to name a few, none of which will make your house smell like that of a pauper in a Dostoevsky novel.
For all my cabbage enthusiasm and loyalty, I have never cooked it myself. It never occurred to me to go out and buy a simple head of cabbage. Somehow I always got distracted by leeks or fennel or something along those sophisticated and elaborate lines. Luckily, I didn’t have to go anywhere – it came to me in my Boston Organics box. This led to a phone call to my Mom and the birth of what I now call Pink Cabbage.
The cabbage is cooked with onions until it’s soft but not mushy, and is colored slightly pink by tomato paste. That’s it. I can’t figure out if that’s a braise or a stew or a sauté or wilting, and I know that I am in no condition to go through more schooling to find out (more school may well break me), so any help is appreciated. Pink Cabbage is simple, relatively fast, not stinky, and has a lot of flavor for little input… all those pluses but it’s still ugly. I took a picture just to say I did, so here you go:
This recipe has the infuriating characteristic of all those handed down from one’s Mother - the measurements are a dash of this and a pinch of that. The point is that the amount of ingredients you need depends on the size of your cabbage. If it’s large, use a large onion and slightly more tomato paste. My cabbage was teeeeeny (organic, remember?) so I used a smaller onion to match. The amounts I listed are for a smaller head of cabbage.
1 head of cabbage, sliced or shredded
1 onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 tsp tomato paste
½ tsp sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1) Saute onion in olive oil till softened and golden.
2) Add cabbage and salt it aggressively – the salt is needed to break down the cabbage and get it to release some of its water. Cover with lid and cook over medium-low heat till most of the water from the cabbage has evaporated.
3) Add tomato paste, sugar, and black pepper to taste. The cabbage should turn slightly pink – add more tomato paste if your cabbage is larger. Cook with lid on for about another 10 minutes until the cabbage is soft but still a little resistant to the bite. Al dente, if you will.
P.S. Hidden behind ugliness and lousy reputation is cabbage’s nutritional value – it’s really good for you. Cabbage is super low in calories and has a lot of vitamin C, and it’s umami. And now for some more cabbage leaf pictures, because I was on a roll.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
How I wish I was clever enough to have come up with the word Hellidays all by myself. Sadly, that is not the case. It is the brainchild of Chris Schlesinger, chef-owner of the East Coast Grill in Inman Square. The East Coast Grill (let it be ECG) is a fantastic restaurant on any night. The menu is half barbeque, half seafood with a large raw bar. I have never made it past the seafood to the barbeque and so cannot speak for it. The fish, however… Blackened tuna tacos sound odd and taste amazing, with pickled jicama and avocado. The fish is super fresh as are the accompaniments, all prepared with respect for the ingredients, which is to say nothing is drowning in an unidentifiable sauce.
Well, the ECG is hard enough to get into on any old night. Now imagine a once in a year event in which the chefs try to come up with the hottest, scariest, most searingly spicy dishes and put them all on one menu. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Hell Night. Or three Hell Nights to be precise. I have been trying to get a reservation for months. Months (!) without success. Finally, the people at ECG realized that I really needed to get in on the Hell Night action and, in an unprecedented move, added another three nights. So the Hellidays were born.
The items on the Hell Night menu are rated for spice level in bombs. Ten bombs is the highest and belongs to the Pasta From Hell. This dish requires a signed waiver prior to consumption. Puking is not unheard of. Of course should you be a total loser you can order off the bright pink (to signify weak and girly? If girly is to be considered weak and derogatory, that is. Regardless...) wimp menu but be warned that you will be laughed at and humiliated by the entire staff. Should you bite off more than your stomach lining can take, you can order the Antidote, again knowing full well that you will be ridiculed for it. Now, I don’t know this from personal experience, not being a loser and all, but the antidote is in fact a creamsicle in a champagne glass. How debasing!
So, what do non-losers, hardcore spice-eaters such as myself order on Hell Night? Well, first up were mussels swimming in a green sauce of pulverized jalapenos in a green curry type of sauce. The mussels were giant and creamy and remarkably, not at all overpowered by the jalapenos. They were flavored with subtle coconut milk and curry.
Moving on, next up were Hell fries – self explanatory, good, and somewhat curry-tasting, fried noodles with shrimp and duck, and a baked stuffed crab. Much beer was needed as accompaniment. I am proud to say that nothing overwhelmed me (then again, nothing was over 4 bombs…) but was all very flavorful and good. And then I met my match. Or came close to it.
I always wondered when it would happen, when would I reach my spice threshold. Well, it happened yesterday. Almost. (Not admitting weakness here, mind you). Carnitas tacos with jalapeno sour cream, guacamole and red salsa: five bombs. Tender meat, crispy vegetables, fresh tortilla, and a delayed, slow-rising, and painful burning sensation all about the mouth area: priceless. It came on so slowly! I thought I was in the clear, munching happily away very proud of the fact that I was eating what my dining companions (of markedly weaker constitutions) had to put aside.
Then the spice came. It wasn’t enough for tears, certainly nowhere near puking territory but it was some of the most intense heat I have ever experienced (and I have been around the spicy block). Burning, prickling, and imagined swelling aside, I do find it remarkable how the taste of the tacos was in no way obscured by the heat. It was almost magic. That’s something I noticed with everything I tried that night – no matter how burning hot it was, the spice never overwhelmed the taste of what I was eating. A wonderful balance was struck between trying to make you cry and actually letting you taste your food (which was seriously good). With the tacos specifically, you taste something totally awesome, count to 20 (really, it was that slow) then start drinking a lot of beer under the pretense of being really thirsty. Yeah.
Wisely, the starters were far spicier than the entrees… I suppose because you would be eating a lot more of the entree, volume-wise. I had the Vietnamese Big Bowl of Seafood, which at four bombs was frankly not spicy at all, and I don’t think it was due to loss of sensation on my part. There were baby fennel bulbs, giant shrimp and scallops swimming about in a lemongrass-flavored broth. Good, but not close to the genius of the tacos.
And then there was dessert. Jalapeno rocky road ice cream. OMG. That’s really all I can say. OMG. Sweet and chocolaty with a slightly delayed kick. My mouth alternated between cold and hot. It was brilliant and addicitve. I could eat it every day.
There was a lesson to be learned from all this. Spicy doesn’t mean flavorless. Intense spice does not have to overwhelm what you’re eating. The balance struck between the food and the heat was awesome, and dare I say? masterful (I think I just earned another pretension point). I am so going back to the next Hell Night, provided I can get a table. I can push myself further. I don’t think I reached my limit with the heat. I can do better. [I didn’t actually finish the taco, but don’t tell. That’s one taco for three people. Small taco. Potent taco.]
P.S. Did I mention that the hell-like environment was established by blasting Motley Crue and Satan Claws (get it? Satan Claws? Ha!) parading about the room festooned with wreaths of chili peppers and, occasionally, a truly unappetizing scary mask while yelling no, not HO HO HO, but HOT HOT HOT. Creative: no, effective: yes.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
There are a few words that I still don’t believe are real. Kumquat is one of those words. It sounds like a made up word, like those used in some cartoons or statistics textbooks. I didn’t know that kumquats existed for the longest time. [I was also shocked to my very core to find out that road runners are actual birds that actually live and really do run]. This is not a fruit that I was brought up eating or even being aware of. But they do exist, and this being the season of all that is citrus, they abound.
As I wandered aimlessly through Whole Foods (I have no time for museums but at least there is still Whole Foods) I decided that today would be the day I tried a kumquat. I brought the little plastic box home and stared at it for a good bit. I had no idea what I was in for. I knew that kumquats are meant to be eaten whole, the rind and all. This appealed to me greatly as I love citrus rind – I have a bizarre habit of eating lemon slices, complete with rind. This is certain to be a left over from when I was little - my grandfather and I would stare at each other to see who would flinch first from eating big pieces of lemon. It was a very tame sort of show-down. He let me win.
That unwarranted digression aside, I had no real idea what to expect from a kumquat. They turned out to be very odd sort of little creatures. Their rind is sweet with mild bitterness in the shadows; the tartness of the flesh seems to vary from one fruit to the next. Some are sweet all the way through, some pop with sourness. It’s a bit of an acidity roulette (yes, I know I am a dork. A sleepy dork, at the moment). The really cool part of the kumquat is its truly bizarre textural contrast – the spongy and slightly resistant rind gives way to an interior that seems effervescent, almost carbonated. The batch I have has quite a few seeds. I don’t know if this is the norm, but it may render kumquats not entirely suited to polite company – there is a bit of spitting and sorting involved.
The next step in my kumquat adventure, having conquered not only their name but their entire uncooked selves, is to make kumquat preserves or relish which is a common use for these mythical little things. Next on my list of weird fruit to try: quince; next weird word to become accustomed to: graduation.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Pretty loud title, I know, but I am so excited! I have been dying for one of these things for ages, and now I finally have one! No, not my long-awaited degree, but close. It’s a masala dabba, or tiffin*. It’s a metal tin with little jars to hold the most commonly used spices in Indian cooking. There is a little metal spoon for scooping out the spices, and a tight-fitting lid to keep it all fresh. It totally beats opening seven little baggies in a row, and spilling, and inhaling… oh not good.
Sur La Table sells a masala dabba for an absurd amount of money, considering what it is. Don’t get me wrong, I would live inside a Sur La Table if I could, but come on! The one I am now proud to call my own is the genuine article, straight from wonderful, food-begetting India (180 rupees = $4. Ha. Oh wait. Combined with the cost of the plane ticket to India… Yeah, maybe it’s not such a bargain after all). It’s good to have friends in high places. Or friends who travel to India frequently, as the case may be.
My most awesomest friend’s Mom (Hi Auntie!) brought this tiffin back for me on her last trip. She is kind and patient enough to try to teach me how to cook whenever I come to stay with them. She may just be humoring the funny white girl that hasn’t gotten out of her way in the kitchen for the last decade or so, but I am ok with that. I think I am starting to catch on to the dal thing. Given a few dozen more tries, I am almost certain that my dal will resemble hers. From afar.
The spices that now live in my brand new tiffin, clockwise, starting with the very yellow on the left: turmeric, cumin powder, cumin seeds, coriander powder, garam masala (Auntie makes her own but I may be lacking a few genes necessary to pull that off), black mustard seeds, and red chile powder in the center.
* This I should clarify. A tiffin is (I think) a metal box that is sometimes stackable and is commonly used as a lunch box in India (I have seen Japanese people with a version of a tiffin as well). A masala dabba is a tiffin, but not all tiffins are masala dabbas.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I have never been much of a troublemaker. Never skipped class (a lot) in high school, never did (too many) drugs, drank within reason (for a Russian person). The closest I ever came to doing something actually bad was aiding and abetting a rather minor theft. When I was in high school, I was out with a friend at a TGI Fridays type of establishment. My friend wanted to steal a goblet. Why, I don't think I could tell you. And so she did! Stuffed the thing in her bag and ran out to the parking lot, with me close behind. I really thought there would be a police cruiser in my rear view mirror, because clearly, the police would have nothing better to do than chase a couple of dorky 16 year-old girls with a large glass stuffed in a bag... Like I said, I have never been much of a criminal… not in my own eyes, anyway. So it is odd that I now, as an adult (ugh), should choose to steal.
My transgression is this - I have stolen a recipe idea, ripped it off most mercilessly. I attended the wedding of a very good and very old friend this past September (totally weird to see someone you have known since 14 walk down the aisle). The wedding was perfectly lovely, in a country club type place in the middle of gorgeous woods in Virginia (is that right? I think so) and the food was fantastic. Oh it was so good. The two things I remember best were rockfish* stuffed with blue crab (both Maryland specialties), and green beans with dried figs and goat cheese in a white vinaigrette. The green beans in particular were so good, that I stole them. Well, the idea of them.
I attempted to recreate the green beans using a classic French vinaigrette recipe but unfortunately, forgot about the goat cheese until right about now. The vinaigrette was tangy and the figs were sweet and chewy, the beans were fresh tasting and crisp… oh it was really good. Good, but not as good as in VA. Just goes to show you, crime doesn’t pay... much.
*Rockfish is another name for striped bass. I have never heard bass called rockfish outside of the Chesapeake Bay area, curiously enough.
For the vinaigrette (from Epicurious.com)
2 garlic cloves
5 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard (I added little more to make it more mustard-y)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a small saucepan boil the garlic in 2 inches water for 15 minutes, or until it is tender, and drain it. In a bowl mash the garlic to a paste and whisk in the cream, the mustard, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste, whisking until the mixture is thickened slightly. Add the oil, drop by drop, whisking, and whisk vinaigrette until it is emulsified.
For the green beans:
Blanch desired amount of green beans in heavily salted boiling water for about 3-5 minutes, until the green beans are bright green and still crisp. Shock in cold water to stop the cooking, and drain well. Toss with desired amount of vinaigrette and about 8 quartered dried figs (or as many as you would like). Add chunks of goat cheese, if you have it [I really wish I did - I missed its creaminess].
The green beans are even better the next day because the figs absorb some of the vinaigrette.
P.S. This is sad, I know, but I have been thinking about this recipe since I got back from the wedding. I tried making it once before but I didn’t have any lemons. Being the amateur that I am, I thought I could use a bit of white wine vinegar instead. I am sure that would have worked well, had I not used the same volume of vinegar as lemon juice. Not so much with the super-vinegar vinaigrette.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
This year marked my first Thanksgiving without my family. I celebrated instead with good friends and many bottles of wine. Well, I guess the wine remained a constant, even if the company did not. I was very excited about the meal I would prepare and was looking forward to it for days. Everything was in its place in my head, everything was planned and made perfect sense. Not surprisingly, that didn’t last long. Some things didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, some things didn’t turn out at all, but in the end all was well. The evening was great fun, due in no small part to the fact that Lisa (savior) had prepared half the dinner.
Now, for my part of the meal – the part I am not too embarrassed to discuss, that is.
I was making a butternut squash and apple soup* that was to be garnished with roasted chestnuts after being pushed through a fine mesh sieve - exhausting but worth it. The chestnuts were a new experience for me. I think I have had them just once before – they are not a part of my everyday eating vocabulary. To me, they seem to be a cross between a nut and a potato - slightly mealy, a little nutty, definitely starchy. Very much unlike anything else I have had. I had to learn as I went along.
And this is what I learned that fateful Wednesday before Thanksgiving: chestnuts are the devil’s instrument. Our prison system can be completely revamped by making convicts peel chestnuts instead of doing time. It is a punishment far more horrible and one sure to warn off a relapse of criminal activity. Kids should never be grounded – they should just be forced to peel a pound of chestnuts. They will be guaranteed never to stay out too late or get bad grades again. Brilliant plan, isn’t it! So yeah, I peeled a few chestnuts this Thanksgiving.
I could have bought the chestnuts peeled and ready. But no, I wanted to do things the right (read: hard) way, starting with actual chestnuts. Everything I read about preparing chestnuts made it sound rather easy, nothing too sinister. Score the shell before roasting in the oven and peel the nuts while still warm. Ok. But then came the problem – the stupid shell and underlying tough skin just. would. not. come. off. It was horrible. After getting a couple of cuts on my fingers, running out of curse words, and opening a beer, I tried blanching the nuts in hopes of loosening the shell and skin.
This is when I figured out that when they said “peel while still warm,” they actually meant “while burning, searing, boiling hot straight out of the water.” That was the only way I could get the chestnut skin off. If I allowed the chestnuts to sit for even 10 seconds after coming out of the boiling water, the skin would toughen up again. It was truly awful. I am now completely traumatized and am dead set against all things chestnut. It’s like when you are bitten by a dog when you are little and have an aversion and fear of dogs for the rest of your life, except with chestnuts. To give credit where credit is due, at least half of my suffering was worth it – the cornbread, sausage, and chestnut stuffing that Lisa made was ridiculously good, and the smoothness of the soup I made was nicely offset by the meaty chestnut pieces.
To wrap up, please learn from my mistakes – buy the ready chestnuts. There is no glory to be gained by doing it yourself. All that said (or recalled with a shudder, as it were) I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, with friends, tons of food, and completely unfitting conversation for the dinner table. It was great. So great, in fact, that I completely neglected to take pictures of what we were eating! That's too bad.
*Note : I prepared the soup as in the recipe except that I used an actual butternut squash instead of the jarred nonsense - why go the easy route? It actually worked out really well - I roasted a butternut squash at 450 till it was caramelized and soft (~45 minutes), choped the flesh and added 4 cups to the soup. Better than jarred, I think. Pushing the soup through a fine mesh sieve after blending it seems like yet another form of torture but it was totally worth it for a special occasion - I have never made a soup that smooth. This is not a technique to bust out on a regular Wednesday night.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I don’t know when or how this happened, but crap beer is, and has been for a while, the latest in chic. I was at a bar in the South End full of people who most would consider to be “hip” and “with it”. Many of these scenesters were sitting at the bar, wearing very nice shoes, enjoying something certainly involving truffle oil… all with a can of Schlitz in front of them. It was unbelievable. All the way down the bar, all the people were drinking Schlitz. Someone explain this to me because I don’t understand.
When did this happen? When did people start drinking PBR and Schlitz to be cool? And in the South End, no less! Is this the same kind of trend as wearing hideous trucker hats? Is it trucker chic?
All that being said, I spent all of Monday night in a bar drinking, oh yes, Schlitz. Let me make this clear – I am not a scenester, I am not emo, and I am not a trucker. So what, may you ask, was I doing sitting in a bar for 5 hours on a Monday night with a can (or two) of Schlitz in front of me?
The thing is that I am suggestible. I have never been able to resist the B-Side. That place has a gravitational pull directed right at me. Whenever I am within a five mile radius of the B-Side, I somehow wind up sitting there for hours, regardless of whether that was my plan in the beginning of the evening. [Those of you that are familiar with Boston will understand the implications of the previous sentence. I think all of Boston is about 5 miles in diameter.] I think I have started inventing reasons to go out to the vicinity of Inman Square, just to bail on the “plans” and go to the B-Side. It is absolutely my favorite bar, and employs my very favorite bartender (you can sort of see his back behind the Schlitz can in the drunk-like picture). Should I be concerned that I have a favorite bartender?
The B-Side has a feel and loyal clientele of its own. The back wall is filled with LPs that they actually play, on an actual turntable. The people that work there are very cool, laid back, thoroughly tattooed (so I am certain to like it), and have great taste in music – yesterday’s selection included very early Rolling Stones singles. Tall stands of hard boiled eggs are out on the bar instead of peanuts. How cool is that? The food is fantastic - garlicky blue cheese fries, mussels with basil, and the best calamari I have ever had in my life are just the tip of the food iceberg. I really think they put crack in the blue cheese fries. They are just that good. Don’t misunderstand though – this is not the place for typical bar food – the special that night was a flounder with haricot vert and a caper beurre blanc. Yeah. One day I will manage to get past the fries and eat an actual dinner.
So anyway, there I was on a Monday night, drinking a Bass, eating good things, when I happened to mention the bizarre Schlitz phenomenon to a friend who is a very, very bad influence (you know who you are). About a second later, I had a thoroughly entertained bartender and a can of Schlitz in front of me. Both the Owner-Patrick and Bartender-Mike were inspired to pop open beers of their own. And that’s when things started getting a little blurry, as the picture might suggest. Owner-Patrick thought us amusing enough to pull out another round when I was barely done with the first one.
Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t drunk. I think it may be a physical impossibility for me to get drunk off Schlitz. I could never ingest the volume of fluid that would be necessary to get to Schlitz-based drunken-ness. The beer is fizzy and hydrating, much like a carbonated Gatorade, with a only faint beer-like taste.
So I didn't get to the bottom of the cheap-beer-coolness phenomenon, but it wasn't for lack of effort. The bartender said we were punk rock. He may have been joking. [I totally am though, FYI]
P.S. Next post will be about Thanksgiving dinner! I am hosting for the first time this year. I had about 5 seconds of cockiness that were quickly followed by shear and persistent terror. Wish me luck.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Lest you all think that I am some sort of a class act, please let me present my latest favorite : South Street Diner, in the Leather District. I was at a biotech networking event at a bar next door to the diner. Once the miracle that is vodka stopped counteracting the horror that is networking, it was time to go… next door. Luckily, South St. Diner is the absolute last place one would ever find a biotech-er. Good thing too, because if I saw another business card that night, I would most certainly be ill.
South St. is a real 50's style diner, with a long bar and stools, and booths along the wall. It was appropriately dingy, but not too much for my comfort. The juke box and one end of the bar was inexplicably playing Nelly (the boy, not the girl), totally ruining the late night diner atmosphere, but that's ok. The people that worked there were so nice! Really warm, welcoming, and talkative (in a good way).
The food was typical diner food, done well. There was no interpreting of old classics, no “deconstructing” of the grilled cheese. It was straight-forward, good diner food. We ordered a pile of fried things, including homefries. They were deep fried and crispy, sprinkled with something spicy and salty. Homefries are soooo good at 10PM on a Tuesday, especially after a couple of drinks. I was fully intending to continue drinking but was informed that they were having certain issues with their liquor license. The waitress said that everyone that comes in there is drunk anyway. Fair enough.
South St Diner
178 Kneeland St (Cross Street: South Street)
Boston, MA 02111-2733
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I took the day off! I only went into lab for a few minutes. I used the day to put my life back together – it’s remarkable how errands (and dirty clothes) pile up when you’re never home. One of my most important errands of the day? Oh yes, getting my nails done. This happens about every 6 months and is just about the greatest thing.
My manicures have a very limited life span – if the the gloves in lab don't do them in, cooking does. The kitchen is a varnished nail’s worst nightmare. Sharp knives wait around to take a chunk out, dirty dishes lay around the sink aiming to dull the shine, bits of food climb underneath to make me look (if not act) like a ten year old boy.
After along nap (manicures can be exhausting!) it was time to make dinner. I don’t know if y’all are aware of this, but Boston is cold. Really cold. Big, warm soup is all I can eat once November hits (it does feel like a punch most years). To honor this cold November Saturday, I made a squash and sweet potato soup. Roasting the vegetables helped to warm my kitchen… guess it made the soup taste better too, as a pleasant side effect.
My kitchen may have warmed up, but oh how my nails suffered in the process. I somehow managed to drop a piece of turnip into the oven, below the grate at the bottom. I would be lying if I said this was the first time I ever dropped anything in there. Bugger. I had to remove the bottom of the oven to get the turnip bit out and avoid a fire... or at least a nasty smell. This involved me not only locating, but using a screwdriver. Oven, screwdriver, manicure - not words that belong together in a sentence.
The roasting made the squash and sweet potatoes so sweet that the resulting soup scared me a little – it was almost dessert. Crème fraiche did the trick, muting the sweetness with a bit of sour; the thyme made the soup woodsy and rich. Combined with laundry (yet another activity to wreck my nails) and my 5,000th viewing of the first Harry Potter movie, it had a pretty good November Saturday. I am trying to pretend that my love for Oliver Wood is not wrong.
Well-Manicured Squash Soup
1 carnival squash (or any other would work)
2 small sweet potatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
5 large garlic cloves
1 tsp fresh thyme
pinch of cayenne pepper
~4 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp crème fraiche
1) Rub halved squash, potatoes, and unpeeled garlic cloves with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 400F for about 45 minutes, until all are soft (remove garlic early so it doesn’t burn).
2) Peel the roasted garlic cloves, scoop out the squash and potato, chop the flesh – a smart person would have waited for all to cool before attempting this. I did not. Ouch.
3) Sauté onion in olive oil until soft, add the roasted veg and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and add thyme and cayenne. Cook over low heat for about 15 minutes till all the flavors combine.
4) Buzz with immersion blender (my most favorite of all kitchen toys, thanks to the most greatest aunt and uncle of all time) and thin with more chicken stock if you’d like – I prefer my soup on the thick side. Add crème fraiche and reheat.
P.S. To allay your fears, my nails made it through. They shall live to see another day.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I am so tired. How tired? So tired that I am afraid I might fall asleep on my laptop and damage it somehow, which would just about kill me. Tiredness for me glides right into laziness. If there is something I don’t absolutely have to do (for fear of swift retribution), you can be sure I will not do it. My accumulating dishes and the general war zone appearance of my apartment are clear evidence of my new-found laziness.
I am the queen of shortcuts these days (oh how my hair hates me. My hair is a shortcut, I am afraid). I took a few shortcuts that I now wish I hadn’t while making dinner. It was good but it could have been better. It wasn’t in scary in-between land but it was close. To be honest, I was excited enough just to have dinner that didn't consist of chips and salsa. Food shouldn't be triangular.
I got another gorgeous eggplant in my last Boston Organics box. Lacking the energy to do anything involved with the eggplant (or my hair, apparently) I popped it in the oven whole to roast while I… take a guess… worked. I remembered about it about an hour and a half later, and it was just right – wrinkled, collapsed, and smelling rich (I could go places with that but I am, err, too tired). I wish I had taken a picture of the roasted and collapsed eggplant but sadly, that activity fell under the category of shortcut. It sat in the refrigerator till I was ready for it.
I wanted to make something resembling a Georgian (the country, not the state) dish that is frequently on the menu at Russian restaurants. I unfortunately cannot remember what it’s called – any family member reading this is welcome to chime in. Its two main ingredients are eggplant and walnuts, all mushed up together into a sort of spread or cold salad. Curious aside – a “salad” in Russia/Georgia is something quite different from the standard American lettuce-based mix. It’s most often something that is cooked and served cold, frequently drowning in mayonnaise.
I set out to create my version of this Georgian mystery-salad with roasted eggplant, cilantro, walnuts, and lemon juice. When it came time to mush up the eggplant, the thought of pulling out my (beautiful, gorgeous, beloved… and heavy) 11 cup food processor was immediately vetoed. Instead, I used a fork to break up the roasted eggplant. That worked well enough, but the salad would have been better were the eggplant smoother. Mine was still a bit on the chunky side.
I had beautiful raw walnut halves from Trader Joe’s (my sincerest condolences to all those that have to live without TJ's). I briefly contemplated roasting them but that sounded like work, so I didn’t. Should have though! I could hardly taste the walnuts in the final product. I forgot how much flavor roasting brings out in nuts. Despite my shortcuts, I was pretty happy with the result. Lemon and cilantro added freshness to the rich and slightly smoky eggplant and it was all smoothed out with olive oil.
I had this salad, dip, or mush concoction with the most perfect bread from the most perfect grocery store in Watertown. Russo’s is possibly better than Whole Foods for produce, if that’s even possible. I will make a point of taking pictures of it (and possibly of the many posh-looking people that shop there) next time I go. Ok, so Watertown is nasty and scary (in parts). I recommend going with a friend. And a cell phone.
Eggplant and Walnut “Salad”
Do as I didn’t – roast the walnuts and puree the eggplant. Or not.
1 medium eggplant
¼ cup toasted, roughly chopped walnuts
¼ packed cup roughly chopped cilantro
handful of chopped chives
juice of one lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch of sugar (it must be genetic. My Mom told me that the majority of Jewish food has sugar in it somewhere).
salt and pepper
1) Smear eggplant with a little bit of olive oil, poke a few holes in the skin to allow vapor to escape, and roast at 375F for about an hour, or until its soft and wrinkly, and allow to cool.
2) Scoop the flesh out of the eggplant and mush with a fork (or a food processor, if you are so inclined and energized).
3) Mix in the rest of the ingredients.
4) Nap, if possible. That may have just been me though.
P.S. Entirely off the topic of food (just this once, I promise): I have come to the realization that I *hate* statistics with the fire of a thousand suns. Mr. Bonferroni can take his Multiple Comparisons Test and shove it where those suns will never shine. Oh, and! Has anyone ever noticed that Microsoft Excel rhymes with HELL?
Ok. I am done now.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
I learn new things all the time. Not in grad school, mind you – there I only learn how much I don’t know. I mean that I learn things by exploring, by listening, by putting things in my mouth that make most people cringe. That’s how I learn – I eat weird things. I recently learned that chile on watermelon is stellar and that fried pickles are so much better than they sound. Recently, I learned something new about peanuts.
I had a chance to go to a Red Sox game a while back – they had started sucking royally and tickets to the games were easy to come by. The scalpers couldn’t give tickets away, much less turn a profit. Since I couldn’t make myself care about the Red Sox if I tried (although Theo Epstein is completely adorable) their suckage didn’t bother me one bit. I like going to games for the eating… and ok, the drinking.
We sat down right behind home plate with enough barely-yellow beer to last through at least half the game (my first thorough experience with Bud Light… *shudder* ), hot dogs, and a bag of peanuts. I don’t know why, but those were the best peanuts ever. They were salt encrusted and roasted to a perfect pale yellow (the good kind of pale yellow, not the Bud light kind).
I was busy drinking, talking about something perfectly insubstantial, and building a distinctly un-ladylike pile of peanut shells by my feet when I heard my friend’s peanut crunch differently in her mouth than in mine. You know why? She ate the peanut with the shell on. I didn’t know you could do that! Since anything that can serve as a vehicle for salt gets an A+ in my book, I tried it… and it was great. The nuts tasted a lot earthier (well, obviously). The papery dryness of the shell combined with the firm crunch of the nut inside and oh, there was all that glorious salt... Absolutely perfect with beer. Who knew that a plain old peanut could reach such tasty heights! Well, my friend clearly did, and now I do too… because I listened to her chew. I weird even myself out sometimes.
So engrossed was I with the peanuts and the conversation and ok, the beer, that I didn’t notice what was going on down on the field. The Red Sox had 11 runs scored against them in one inning. Eleven! In one inning! Seems like it would take work to suck that badly. It was at this point that I inquired as to who the Red Sox were actually playing… that seemed immaterial in the prior hour, with all those peanuts… and ok, the beer to occupy me. I may not have any recollection as to who the Sox were playing, but I sure remember the peanuts, and their shells. I am all kinds of learn’ed now.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
I have so woefully little to report, foodwise. I haven’t been doing anything besides working (a lot) these last couple of weeks. To maintain this blog and not fade into internet oblivion, I have to resurrect a food event of a month ago. The theme of this food event is “the lengths I will go.”
I went to Texas this summer, a trip that has fueled at least half the entries on this blog, likely due to the fact that I did nothing but eat for a number of days straight. Before I left the Texas summer heat for the miserable tepidity of Boston, Lara gave me a jar of salsa (among many many other things) from Dick’s Cafe in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The jar sat around waiting for a fitting occasion. As I mentioned, that occasion turned out to be a random Thursday, complete with hibiscus tequila cocktails.
The salsa was worth the wait. It is without doubt, the best salsa I have had. It’s smooth and thin, very very garlicky, slightly sweet and really hot. It tastes fresh and non-preserved - this observation is supported by the ingredient list: tomato puree, tomato sauce, Hatch Valley jalapeno peppers, garlic and salt. Granted, the tomato sauce part is somewhat vague, but the product couldn’t taste further from mass produced.
So the jar was gone in oh… a couple of hours. While never having this salsa again seemed horrifically depressing, flying to NM for a jar of salsa did not seem economically sound. The internet came in to save me yet again - Lisa and I ordered a case (8 jars) of salsa from Dick’s Cafe to share. That sounds really simple, doesn’t it? Well, consider this. I nearly broke into a cold sweat typing that web address into my lab computer’s browser. One small mis-step (or mis-type) and my network connection would be shut down by the hospital for downloading inappropriate subject matter. I typed very s l o w l y. WWW.dickscafe.net. Whew.
The site is painfully low tech, the order didn’t really go through and I had to call NM. When informed where I would like the salsa shipped, the guy on the phone asked, “Err, how did you hear about us?” So I told him. I am in the know.
The following is my best attempt at presenting the broad strokes of a dialogue (somehow, non-science writing was left out of my graduate school curriculum. Shame) that took place as I was trying to get my package from the post office.
The scene: Tuesday, 7:30AM, post office.
Me: Sleepy and perilously close to cranky.
Post office employee (POE): Bejeweled, disgruntled, and slow as molasses.
POE, struggling under the weight of an innocently small box: “What is in here? It’s so heavy!”
Me, perking up: “It’s salsa!”
Pause and blank stare from POE
POE: “Salsa? As in, chips and salsa?”
Me, perkier still: “Yep! There is a restaurant in New Mexico that makes this great salsa and I ordered a box of it from them. It’s reaaaally good salsa.”
POE, dubious: “Well, yeah… I guess it does say New Mexico on the box… Huh.”
Me, thinking: “No shit, lady.”
POE, clearly puzzled by me: “So they just sent it to you? That’s nice of them.”
Me, confused: “Um ok. Thanks! Bye now.”
I don’t know how, but I could smell the salsa outside the box. I am lucky this stuff doesn’t have alcohol in it. I would be in real trouble if it did. It is positively addictive. I am glad not to have to weigh each occasion as salsa-worthy, or not salsa-worthy. I can always just order another case!
I went to great lengths for this salsa. I agonized over the web address, I struggled with the website, I had indirectly apologize to a POE for the heft of my precious box… and it was all worth it.
I have to go to lab now. Sigh.
P.S. Someone from the UK visited my blog after searching for "bugger smell" on Google. I don't even want to know.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I hate in-betweens. I hate being in between sizes, in between meals, in between decisions, in between a rock and a hard place… Point is, in-betweens are uncomfortable and disconcerting and I hate both them and the fact that life is filled with them. Well mine is, in any case. I particularly loathe the in-between when it comes to food. I am not terribly upset when something I make sucks royally and completely. I can chuck it in the trash bin, deem it a failed experiment (oh I am so good at failing experiments - ace, in fact) and move on. Likewise, if I make something wonderfully excellent and spectacular, I eat it, I am happy, I write a blog post. It’s all very straight forward. But then sometimes, I make something that is almost-there-but-not-quite-something-is-missing. That bugs me. I am not happy eating it, I feel guilty tossing it, and I can see what I should have done differently. That one small misstep is staring me smugly in the face, taunting me with what could have been.
In the name of full disclosure, I would like to present my latest in-between: the roasted onion. A long time ago, the Boston Globe ran an article on onions slowly roasted on a bed of salt. They were said to come out picturesque, meltingly soft and sweet, and were eaten whole from the top, like a soft-boiled egg. I loved the idea of eating an onion in its shell, of turning something sharp and unappealing into something sweet and scoopable.
I had a lot of onions in my last Boston Organics box. They were picture perfect – small, perfectly round, and looking really perky. I left them to sit around for a while because I was (surprise) in lab and too busy. They were starting to look decidedly less perky. It was time for me to intervene in their rapid descent into non-perkiness. And so we come to my first mistake. The Globe article used red Bermuda onions but all I had were plain yellow ones. I figured that all onions become sweet when slowly cooked so I decided to take a chance. Bugger.
I didn’t remember if I was supposed to cut the top off the onion or not - being the experimenter that I am (not for much longer, I hope) I cut the top off one and left the other whole.
I then rubbed the onions with olive oil, sprinkled them with black pepper and Red Hawaiian Sea Salt that I have been dying to use, and stuck them atop a mound of coarse (plain) salt. Into the oven they went, at 350F for as long as I could stand it.
Turns out I could only stand it for an hour and a half. They stank. Seriously. My entire apartment filled with essence of onion, and not in a good way. It was a pungent smell that hung in the air. How something so small could emit so much odor is beyond me. The onions were two inches in diameter, max! I even lit a candle to cover up the smell but it was no match for the mighty onion. So, mistake number two – I should have probably left them to roast longer but I didn't, for fear of being told I stink the next day. Bugger, again.
The grand reveal came the next day because I was too tired to eat them that night. Turns out that leaving the top on is definitely the way to go – the whole onion was more thoroughly cooked than the decapitated one. I guess it could steam inside of its own skin, as disturbing as that sounds. The texture of the onion was close to smooth and buttery (I could tell that it would have gotten there had I been more patient) but the taste was off. It tasted just like… onion. Less offensive than raw onion to be sure, but not terribly flavorful. I don’t think there is enough sugar in yellow onions to develop the depth of flavor and sweetness that I am guessing would be the case with red onions. It was alright as a spread on bread but certainly not something to be eaten with a spoon, as I had envisioned. Bugger once more.
The texture was almost there, but not quite. The taste was kinda there, but not quite. So there you have it - my in-between. The onions made for a pretty picture but sadly, that was about it. I will try to make this again once I have a) a bigger apartment with b) a powerful exhaust hood and c) red onions. I do recommend you give it a try. They really are nice to look at, if nothing else.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Have you heard the news? Chilean Sea Bass is back! It's had a difficult few years but now appears to be on the road to recovery. So. There is much excitement in my life. Get ready for it… Whole Foods has a podcast! Yes, I am that big of a dork that I listen to the Whole Foods podcast while in lab. I now know all kinds of things about Chilean Sea Bass (or CSB, as it will now be known). I shall now proceed to share these things with you. If you find me too big a dork in my discussion of a fish, please feel free to scroll down and read something else… Eh, on second thought, don’t bother. It will be dorky down there as well.
CSB is also known as Patagonian toothfish. The fish-seller-dealer people decided that “toothfish” could not possibly start anyone salivating and changed the name to Chilean Sea Bass in 1977. This was a rather bizarre choice of name for a fish that is neither a member of the bass species nor fished anywhere near Chile. The Chilean part of the name comes from the fact that Chileans were the first to market the fish in the US. The bass part… Not a clue.
Whole Foods stopped selling CSB in 1999 because the methods used to fish for CSB were non-sustainable, poaching was rampant, and the fish was at risk of becoming endangered. Most restaurant chefs supported the informal ban on the sale of CSB. If between the years of 1999 and 2006 you were served CSB in a restaurant it was likely a) not CSB and/or b) smuggled into the country, although some legal CSB was still being imported.
The development of new and sustainable methods of fishing along with the application of highly rigorous standards and control measures have permitted Whole Foods to begin selling CSB once again. Yaaay! The sea bass in Whole Foods stores has been caught off the coast of South Georgia Island, near Antarctica, using eco-friendly methods. The fish is traceable from the boat on which it was caught to store in which it is sold. The fact that CSB has better supervision than half the children in this world may explain why it costs an arm and a leg. But man, is it worth it.
After assuring the fish guy at my Whole Foods that I did indeed intend to purchase the coveted fish and was not just jerking him around (he was looking at me all suspicious-like. I guess I look suspicious), I sped home to try it out. It only got more exciting from there. A small aside: I am now the proud owner of a giant cast iron skillet. Since I apparently have absolutely no sense of dimension, I bought a 12” pre-seasoned cast iron skillet and was surprised to find out that it hardly fits on my stove. It’s giant and not a little intimidating. So, I did what any self respecting cook would do at this juncture – I opened a bottle of wine and set the burner on high.
Once the skillet was almost smoking hot I poured in a bit of olive oil and threw in a piece of salted butter. I say threw because I was trying not to get close to the skillet – it was sputtering everywhere. This is where I became extremely glad that I took the battery out of my smoke detector. Don’t tell anyone. The butter browned right away, I put the salted and peppered fish in the skillet and let it sear and sear and sear on one side until there was a thick brown crust – my very favorite way of preparing fish. A couple more minutes under the broiler and it was done!
And let me tell you, it was perfect. The thick crust was crunchy and salty, giving way to creamy creamy fish. CSB is very fatty, which explains not only its spectacular texture but also its intensely sweet taste. It really is one of the most flavorful fish I have ever had.
I highly advise everyone to go get CSB from whoever will sell it to you. It’s ok now! The fishing methods are eco-friendly, and earth conscious and all that. You will be doing the planet, the long-suffering (and now, eco-friendly) fishermen, and yourself a favor.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
My Mom used to make a mushroom soup when I was little (12ish). The crinkled and crusty piece of paper that had the recipe photocopied on it (from an unidentified source) had the heading “Mushroom Velvet Soup.” This was back in the early nineties, so Mushroom Velvet Soup didn’t sound nearly as tacky as it does now. Actually, it sounded rather sophisticated and involved. The soup had a lot of flavors familiar to me, having spent only a couple years in the country at that point. There was dill and there was sour cream – two staples of Russian cooking. I loved it.
I had absolutely no interest in cooking at that time. In fact, I considered it punishment. This soup, however, really was punishment. Velvet obviously implies something smooth and rich. Unfortunately, a biting box grater and my 12-year-old hands were the closest we came to a food processor or immersion blender in the house. So, the soup making would go a little something like this. My Mom would call from work and ask me to grate the mushrooms before she got home. Yep, grate. Mushrooms. A whole carton of them. I hated every minute of it. I lost a lot of skin to that stupid grater.
After she got home, my Mom would make the soup with my nowhere-close-to-pureed mushrooms. The resulting soup tasted great but was certainly nowhere near velvety – even less velvety on the days when I was an extra cranky 12 year old and didn’t do very well with the aggressive box grater. The soup was one of the first things I learned how to make when I started cooking a little in college. I haven’t made it in years, for obvious grater-related reasons.
This is a slightly more grown version of that soup, made with the advantage of kitchen gadgets I am now privileged to own. I substituted crème fraiche for the sour cream to make the soup rich with a slightly more subtle tang, and used shallots in place of onions to let the mushroom flavor stand on its own a bit more. It was as classy as I remembered it.
Mushroom Velvet Soup, all grown up.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 small shallots, chopped
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped (ha!)
¾ tbsp flour (helps with the velvet part of the soup)
2 cups chicken stock (more if you like a thinner soup)
3 tbsp crème fraiche
big handful of finely chopped dill
1) Saute shallots in olive oil till softened, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper, cook until all the water from the mushrooms evaporates.
2) Add the flour to the mushrooms, stir until absorbed. Pour in the stock and bring soup to a boil. Locate the pot lid at the very bottom of your sink that is overflowing with dirty dishes (or is that just me?), wash it, cover pot, lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, till the soup thickens and the mushrooms are thoroughly cooked.
3) Buzz the soup with blender (hehe) until smooth.
4) Add crème fraiche and dill, reheat but do not boil. Thin soup with stock if desired. Season with salt and pepper.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Now that I am all atoned and repented, I can share a bit of wisdom with you that I managed to stumble upon during my time of reflection and starvation.
1) Clothes fit a lot better after a fast. I am, however, in no way advocating this as an effective weight loss technique because frankly, and not surprisingly, it sucks big time. Breaking the fast most certainly makes up for all the calories denied the day prior leaving you (me) back at the start.
2) I spend an inordinate amount of time during each of my days thinking about food. When I wasn't eating and was trying desperately not to think about food, I was totally bored! There was nothing to fill all of my empty time. Food = intellectual stimulation.
3) When preparing to embark on a 24 hour fast, the choice of reading material is absolutely crucial. For example, I chose My Life in France, Julia Child's autobiography. I don't know why the problem with this choice wasn't obvious to me until the day of the fast. The book is wonderful, Julia Child's voice is inviting and lacking in pretense and she is generally a whole lot of fun (none of these are novel observations, I realize). It's so much fun to read, especially since each sentence is dripping with her joy and enjoyment of every moment of her life (or of the life she chooses to present, anyway). BUT she talks a lot about food. Duh. She talks about food in gorgeous detail, about both her failures and unmitigated successes. I highly recommend it, but only when you are not at all hungry.
That's as far as I got. I try not to dig too deep.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
This post, as all of my posts are it turns out, a retelling of the dark and twisty path I took to get to the featured final product. So here goes, the story of the drawn-out birth and lightning-fast demise of Hibiscus-Tequila cocktails.
I brought back a big bag of dried hibiscus flowers (flor de Jamaica) from San Antonio, one of many kind gifts from Lara and Anthony. I had been staring at the bag for a month trying to think of a fitting use for the flowers. Sure, I could have made plain tea or karkade, but it would be missing something. It would be missing alcohol.
Food and Wine came to the rescue with a recipe for Hibiscus-Tequila cocktails from Jacques Pepin. And so the preparations began. I couldn’t just brew up some half assed version of Jacques Pepin's vision. I needed a proper occasion and I needed the proper ingredients. The proper occasion turned out to be easy – it was Thursday. That was it. That was the occasion. AA, here I come.
As for the ingredients -- I got quite a few limes in my last Boston Organics box and at least half of them had yet to become desiccated and sad little versions of themselves in the bottom of my gapingly empty fridge. So I had the lime juice taken care of. It was organic and aged! Aging is good for lime juice, right? Like balsamic? Yeah, no, but that's ok. It did the trick.
On to the tequila. I have half a bottle of Cuervo Gold sitting up on my liquor shelf -- it has been there ever since I can remember. Since I am not in college and not a member of a fraternity, I decided to skip the Cuervo and get something a little more befitting the adult that I am. [That last part is a joke.] Turns out that the utterly shady liquor store (are they all shady?) near my house doesn’t have any decent tequila - no Don Julio, no Patron. Bugger. I got a bottle of Sauza and was pleasantly surprised. It has a lot more flavor than Cuervo (in that it doesn’t taste like gasoline) but lacks the smoothness of Don Julio. Good enough.
The hot sauce (how can you not love a drink that has hot sauce in it?) I used was some that I brought back from my last trip to the BVI. It’s not the best hot sauce in the world but it has sentimental value.
I was, at last, all set to make the cocktails. I steeped the hibiscus flowers in boiling water for far less time than I was instructed to (Come on. How long am I supposed to wait for a drink?). The flowers turned into purple baby octopi, a little rubbery and somewhat Halloween-looking.
And yes, I did taste one. Why? I don’t know. They had released all their flavor to the water, so my curiosity went unrewarded. The hibiscus tea was a beautiful deep maroon color and painfully tart. I added sugar purely out of fear of having the enamel stripped off my teeth without it. I was careful not to add too much (I actually added half the recipe-stipulated amount) so as not to go in the gag reflex-inducing candy drink direction.
The drink was light, tart, not too boozy yet certainly not plain juice – although it did go down like juice. Lisa and I went through a whole pitcher of it. Yep, just us. Aside from the fact that we are aspiring alcoholics, the drink really was quite good. I will be less shy with the hot sauce next time. It made the drink absolutely addictive. Yeah it was the hot sauce that did it and not the tequila. Really.
Hibiscus-Tequila Cocktails, my futzed-with version
Food and Wine, July 2006
2½ cups water
½ cup dried hibiscus flowers
3 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
½ cup tequila (or to, uh, taste)
¼ cup fresh lime juice
4 dashes of your favorite (for whatever reason) hot sauce
1) Bring the water to a boil. Add the hibiscus flowers and boil for one minute. Let infuse for as long as you can stand it – ideally about 15 minutes but I was perfectly happy with the result after 7. Strain the tea into a bowl and stir in the sugar till dissolved. Chill the tea thoroughly – this I did in the freezer due to the aforementioned impatience.
2) Stir in the tequila, lime juice, and hot sauce. Pour over ice and… bottoms up.
P.S. Pardon the not-so-great picture of the cocktail itself. I may have been drinking at the time...
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
I saw Little Miss Sunshine last week and decided that I need a routine of my own. It took me forever to work it out.
And here it is, set either to N.E.R.D. "She Wants To Move" or The Raconteurs "Level," whichever your pleasure. Pleasure being the point here, of course.
Turn it up.
That's all you get. Don't be greedy.
Please note: no cheese was harmed in the making of this post. In fact, I think it rather enjoyed itself.