Wednesday, September 24, 2008

PB&J on the road, without MB

i just got off the freeway, 987 miles south of my beloved pacific northwest. i haven't had time for anything but driving, and haven't see today's video yet.

but this is can say: peanut butter & jelly sandwiches are the best road food ever. you can eat them while driving, they taste good with tepid water, canine companions appreciate them AND, best of all, the longer they're in the car, the better they taste, so that as you get wearier and wearier, and the road gets longer and longer, the sandwiches keep getting better and better.

but beware: this is not an occasion to be too generous with peanut butter or jelly. excess in this regard can be if not fatal, certainly very messy. and you NEED sandwich bread. crusty bread will get soggy, which is what make the sandwich great, but would make a crusty bread revolting.

what can i say, 987 miles in a straight line leaves a lot of time for thinking, and i had a lot of PB&J sandwiches to contemplate.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Is this vaawwdvill???

With S off at some boring conference and me back for a short while, I feel it is my duty to offer a timely, if not pictorially enhanced, post.

The title is, as those of you who have already checked MB's video on, entirely inspired in one of the memorable lines of this Wednesday's contribution. The recipe doesn't look half bad either, sort of an East Asian version of my grand-mother's chicken soup, but it screams for lime, or chili, or something acidic, don't you think?

And on that note, here is my grand-mother's chicken soup recipe:

Soupe the poule

1) buy a hen, preferably an old hen. apparently hens have way more flavor. Iwouldn't know how to tell a hen from a chicken or a rooster. Ok, maybe a rooster is obviously different, but once they're headless and featherless - how can you tell? You can tell by the flavor says my grand-mother, deaf to the circularity of her reasoning.
2) put the hen in a large pot, cover in water and add a bouquet garni and salt. Set to boil, then cover, lower the flame and walk away. The hen, being old, also needs to simmer for a verrrrry long time.
3) about an hour before you think this hen is done, add chopped vegetables : leek, celery, carrots, turnips, peas, green beans, whatever you have (forgive me, but this is literally how my grand-mother cooks - she has no recipes, it's all in her head, and she thinks it's silly to do it any other way. In her words, if you know how to cook, you just know. I know this doesn't help you, dear reader, but it's all I got).
4) once that hour has passed, take the hen out of the pot and let it cool, and set the covered pot out on a windowsill (these are the precise instructions) and let it cool, skimming the fat off the top as it congeals.
5) shred the hen
6) the next day, after you have skimmed as much fat as you can off the broth and added the hen back into the pot, reheat, and enjoy. You can add cooked rice (which is how today's MB recipe enters into this) or cooked short pasta (like orzo, fideo, or alphabet noodles).

I don't know if it's the hen or the windowsill, but if there is one thing this grand-mother does well, and does better than anyone else, it's chicken soup. Maybe one day MB can confirm the hen issue.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is enjoying the weather. We are having a prolonged summer in the Pacific Northwest - not exactly chicken soup weather - and how happy am I about that!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Too much fun.

Usually towards the end of July, my husband and I lament our busy social lives (party, party, party) and look forward to the quieter month of August. Since we live in a part of the country with capricious weather, July is generally a big party month because everyone can host large gatherings outside, virtually guaranteed to be rain free. This year, the parties continued into August. Sunday mornings, recovering with coffee in hand, we start eyeing September as a possibility for some respite. This year, this is not to be had. With a late harvest, winemakers are just getting all the partying in they can before their hands turn purple. Am I telling you this to make you jealous about all the fun we are having? No. Really, I just want to apologize to our two readers (hi out there!) that there will be no review of Mark's vegetable soup this week. Maybe later on in the week when it is supposed to get cooler. But for the next several days, when the mercury is going to reach into the 90's, we will continue to party like it is July.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Belgian fries and spice grinders, oh my!

This was dinner on Friday. This and the TĂȘte de Moine cheese, and the cullatelo ham, and the heirloom tomato salad with buffala mozzarella. Accompanied by a Chateau Margaux eventually, but what you see there is a lovely Chablis, if memory serves.

It was dinner at midnight on Friday, because fries of this order are not a rapid affair.

First, you wash and peel very specific potatoes. In Belgium - where these divine fries were made a consumed (and the reason why I have been absent from the blog is because I was in the lovely flat land for a week)- the only potato for the occasion is the bintje. It's a big spud and I will try to find out what its American counterpart is.

Once washed, you peel, slice and chop to make fries - not too thin, not too thick. Then you rinse these raw potato strips until the water runs clear - you are getting rid of as much starch as possible.

In the meantime, heat your friteuse, a basic implement of any Belgian kitchen. I fear it will be a bit harder to find the simple electric deep fryer my brother-in-law has. I also haven't found the blanc de boeuf, or beef tallow or suet that apparently creates the optimal frite.

So here in the US, you might use shortening in a deep fryer, and wait for the oil to reach approx 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the oil is hot, gingerly deposit the potatoes in it - but make sure they have been drained and dried!

Leave in the hot oil for about 5 minutes, or until the edges of the fry are getting dark blond.
Take out of the fryer, and let rest for a minute, until the oil reaches between 350F and 370F.
When the oil has reached that temperature, put the fries back in.

This double cuisson is the secret of great fries. Fry the fries (!) for another 5 minutes or so, then take them out, place in bowl and sprinkle with fleur de sel and eat as soon as possible. Within ten minutes the fries will have lost their crunch, and trust me, this is the crunch of ages, the crunch that connects you to the essence of the potato and the brilliance of those Walloon or Flemish peasants* looking for something else to fry than small fish, and who thereby stumbled, magnificently, on the frite.

There is more to Belgium than fries, and I will share some of that in another post, but the fries, especially late at night and with home-made mayonnaise, were epic.

As for MB's spice grinding issues, I have two things to add.
First : brilliant idea of S to have two coffee grinders for these purposes. I will acquire second one asap.
Second: if you don't have rice, or if like Mark (and I) you are occasionally a bit spastic in the kitchen (how I loved his clumsiness this week!), a broken up slice of bread will do just as well, and you may save yourself the back-of-the-fridge / between the cabinets vacuum episode...

* as you know, or should know, the French did not invent the French fry - there is some legend about Waterloo and soldiers etc, but essentially, my flat-land compatriots fried potatoes since well before Belgium was Belgium, and if things continue as they are, they'll be making frites well after Belgium ceases to be Belgium. But the frite never was and never will be French. Flemish maybe, but not French.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chick-Pea Salad and spice grinders

So on yesterday's video, Mark had a "technical malfunction". He couldn't figure out how to make the coffee grinder work on his cumin seeds. It was a nice light moment in the video (not that these are traditionally terribly heavy pieces of film). I giggled a little, but could relate. I must disagree with MB, spilling some of the rice is absolutely crucial to getting this right! At least they didn't edit it out! This is one of the many things I love about Mark Bittman and his videos. He is self-deprecating, which is always appealing. I can't say I loved the new intro, but was happy to see Mark back in his old kitchen. Even if only for a while. I also really enjoyed Mark's translation of "voila" - who knew!

On to the food. Years ago, we received two coffee grinders as gifts. We kept one for coffee, and the other as a spice grinder. I am always glad that I did this. Of course, it took me a few years to get smart enough to label the one for spices. There were several instances of grinding coffee and not being sure of what had been in the grinder before. Roasting your own spices is very easy, and I probably don't do it enough. Ok, I'll be honest, I almost never do it. But, I am now a reformed woman! I will endeavor to roast most of my spices. Happy?

I didn't have any yellow or orange bell peppers in the house, so I used some great heirloom tomatoes that I got in my CSA box (shout out to Oakhill Organics!). The cilantro in my garden had BOLTED! The nerve, so I had to run down to the Mexican market and grab some. I also had some japanese eggplant in my garden that I roasted, peeled and chopped and added. It was dee-licious. I ended up adding more cumin and lemon juice too. Almost forgot to mention the jalapeno, also from our CSA that was grilled and chopped up for the salad. The tomatoes gave it some nice juices as well. I had some leftovers on a bed of spinach for lunch today. It too was delish.

So not exactly Mark's recipe, but we are not sticklers for accuracy, right?


Monday, September 1, 2008

Pasta with Shredded Vegetables and Lavender or: It Felt A Little Like Fall Here

Wednesday morning when I watched the video of Mark making shredded veggies and pasta, I had a hard time focusing. I remember thinking, this is not the kitchen that he used to cook in. The other kitchen had a better layout, especially for filming. In this kitchen, the stove is behind him when he stands. This makes filming awkward - and not terribly effective, which is probably why I was distracted. Also, I found this dish to be really uninspiring. I mean here we are, at the peak of our fresh vegetable season, and all he can use is zucchini, bell peppers and carrots? What about tomatoes, eggplant, beans, fresh berries, other greens, all this great stuff that is in season now? I realize that these vignettes are probably filmed all at once sometime earlier in the year. In fact, I believe that he referred to that in a posting somewhere. But come on, lets use some more interesting veggies!

That being said, when one goes out to the garden and peers between the overgrown leaves and sunflower plants only to find that her zucchini plants have been possessed by some invisible steroid, one must deal.

Plus, on Saturday, the weather here was sort of crap. It was cool and had a real feeling of fall. That made a pasta dish sound good, but after a day clearing out the ginormous plants in the garden, being creative in the kitchen just wasn't in me. So Mark's pasta dish got a test.

I actually added half of a white onion (Walla Walla) to the chopping party. I also included some oregano. My question is this: what if you have several different types of lavender growing in your garden, and you are not sure which one to eat? Two of mine looked vaguely like what Mark had in the video, so I took some leaves from one of them, chopped 'em up and tossed them in. Overall, it was a tasty dish. We did grate some asiago cheese on top. My picky daughter even liked it (after I threatened her with no dessert!) I will probably use this recipe as a base for other shredded veggie dishes.

Now, does anyone have any suggestions besides zucchini bread for my XXXL zukes? We have been slicing them up and grilling them with a little olive oil and salt and pepper, but I can only do that for so long....

And, yes, I have tried to palm them off on unsuspecting friends and neighbors.