Archive for August, 2012

August 24, 2012

The Cooking Has Begun

 

I spent the first half of the week planning the execution of my menu for Julia Child’s 100th birthday celebration.  I went to the farmer’s market where I procured this bounty of local produce.  I’m already realizing I probably need to buy more garlic.  Yes, three heads is not enough.

I will report back with more details of the process when it’s over, including the menu and a few recipes should you want to host your own celebration. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some non-cooking thoughts.  While I’ve been busy in the kitchen this week, I’ve been listening to a lot of radio podcasts.  There is a clip, from This American Life, that struck me as one of the most creative, beautiful, funny, and painfully sad pieces I have heard in a long time.  It was written and performed by David Rakoff, who died August 9th from cancer.  Aired only a few weeks before Rakoff’s death, it is a tangent to the story of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the cockroach who reaches out over the Atlantic to a doctor (who speaks only in rhyme) is a beautiful piece of art that everyone – no matter if you’re a German Studies major or not – should listen to. If you can call a radio play written in response to a short story published almost a hundred years earlier “fan fiction,” then this would be the best fan fiction I’ve encountered.

Click here for the story “Oh the Places You Won’t Go”

Note: click on the arrow just below the picture to start the clip. The player starts in the middle of the show, right before Ira Glass introduces the piece.  It’s about 13 minutes long.  If you have the time, the one-hour special on Rakoff’s professional, and personal, life that aired on this week’s This American Life show is a beautiful tribute.

August 18, 2012

Garden Gnomes: Zucchini Blossoms Wilting on the Vine

I’m starting a series on my vegetable gardening experiences here, since I’ve only been gardening for a few years.  I think blogs should be beautiful, but they shouldn’t only portray the best sides. Here I’ll definitely be sharing my stumbles and mistakes.  I might also share some triumphs if there are any.  It’s called Garden Gnomes because, well, those mythical creatures are blamed for pretty much anything that goes wrong in a garden, often when it’s not their fault at all.

Just after arriving in Oregon, I planted a zucchini plant in the side vegetable garden.  I’ve never grown zucchini myself before, and I was nervous.  It was a spindly little romanesco seedling.  I haven’t had romanesco zucchini in a long, long time and I’m looking forward to eating zucchini of a different texture, with its ridged edges.

I planted, and hoped. A couple weeks ago, I saw the first bloom.  By nightfall, it had shriveled and died. The blooms have coincided with a heat wave here in Oregon. Were my blooms shriveling in the heat? Were they suffering from some sort of rot or wilt?

Luckily, doing a little bit of research, I found out that this is really quite normal.  Zucchini plants produce male flowers first, then female flowers a week or so later.  The male flowers grow, are used by bees to pollinate the female flowers, and then die off. Side note: as the plant matures and has more female flowers, you can harvest some of the male flowers to stuff and eat.  Since the male flowers grow first, you often get a lag time between the first blooms and the first fruits.

You can also visually tell the difference between male and female flowers.  Male flowers have long stems, like the one you see above.  Female flowers have what looks like a mini zucchini growing below the flower (in fact, that’s what turns into the zucchini fruit).  I don’t have a photo of that, since my plant hasn’t produced any female flowers yet, but I’m crossing my fingers that all is well in the vegetable garden and we can proceed as usual!

August 17, 2012

Sausage, Tomato, and Kale Recipe

I had grand plans to share recipes with you in the past couple weeks.  And then the plans fizzled.

First I planned a peach cheesecake – I’ve been on a peach kick all summer, so when a neighbor stopped by with fresh, hand-picked peaches from a local orchard I kicked into gear.  I’d just gotten a German cheesecake cookbook from my mother for my birthday, and I decided the stars had aligned for me to make a peach cheesecake.

But it flopped. Quite literally.  While it tasted delicious, the juiciness of the peaches (the original recipe was for a berry cheesecake) was too much for the poor cake to handle and the bottom third just oozed peaches and the remains of the crust.  David’s mom called it “Peach Delight” and we all gobbled up the flavors of summertime. But the sad dessert was not photogenic, and certainly not something I’d recommend to others before tweaking it a bit more so it holds its shape.

Then yesterday morning around 8am, I beat the heat and did some gardening. I had some pruning to do in the tomato plant section and ended up with a bunch of small green cherry tomatoes as collateral. Almost immediately (it was early after all and I hadn’t had my coffee yet), a light bulb went off in my head: fried green cherry tomatoes!

We had them for dinner, crisped with flour, an egg/yogurt mixture, and panko. They flopped too. At first I thought the first batch was bitter because the oil was too hot. I turned the oil down and cooked the rest of the pint of tomatoes, heaped them up on a serving plate, and dug into them for dinner. The whole batch was so bitter we couldn’t eat them. And everything else tasted bitter, including the rib-eye steak we served with it.

I’m so glad we didn’t have guests over. Those fried green cherry tomatoes look way too innocent.

So, with photos that look deceptively delicious but don’t have good recipes to go along with them, I had a conundrum on my hands for a blog recipe.  Which brought me to this tried and true favorite.  Unlike the peach cheesecake, it’s supposed to be a bit a bit soggy, and the kale cooks long enough that the bitterness dissipates and the whole dish just tastes amazing. We used to blanch the kale separately, but we recently started just throwing it in with the liquid washed and chopped up. There’s enough liquid to “blanch” the kale, but you still keep all the nutrients in the liquid that turns into the base of your sauce (and you spare yourself making a third pot dirty).

So here you go: this week’s recipe.  I worked hard on this post, so you better go out and try it. Besides, these vegetables are all in season right now, so you don’t have any excuse not to. And did I mention it was easy? It’s really easy.

Sausage, Tomato, and Kale Linguine

1 lb pork sausage (pick your favorite flavor, you can also substitute for chicken or turkey for a healthier option. I usually buy bulk sausage, but you could also use link sausages chopped up or removed from the casings)
1 lb linguine pasta
1 cup leeks, washed thoroughly and minced
1 cup onions, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1 bunch kale (somewhere between 6 and 10 stems), washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups water or broth
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup cheese, finely grated (I like using a mix of Jarlsberg and Parmesan, though also use Gruyere when I’m feeling like splurging. Other Swiss cheeses such as Emmenthaler would be good too)
red pepper flakes to taste (optional) for less spice but still peppery flavor, consider using aleppo peppers
parsley and/or chives, chopped (optional)

1. In a heavy-bottomed saute pan, brown the sausage and set aside on a plate lined with paper towel to soak up the grease.

2. Meanwhile, set a pot of water on high on the stove to boil for the linguine. Season it liberally with salt.

3. Drain any left-over grease out of the now-empty saute pan. Add a dash of olive oil (if needed) and the leeks and onions. You want the vegetables to pick up the sausage bits and flavor on the bottom of the pan, so do not clean the pan between cooking the pork and the alliums (=members of the onion family, aka leeks and onions – maybe you learned a new word today!).

4. Add the kale and the liquid and cook covered for about six minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure all the kale gets “blanched.”

5. By this point your pasta water will likely be boiling, so add your linguine and stir, cooking to package directions.

6. When the kale is cooked down, check the level of the liquid.  There should be a bit left coming about a quarter inch up the pan. If not, add a bit more liquid. Then add the cherry tomatoes, sausage, cheese, and pepper flakes.  The cheese will thicken the leftover liquid enough to coat the vegetables and linguine.  Bring the vegetables and sauce to a light boil, then turn off the heat almost immediately. Taste and correct seasonings (notice you haven’t added salt or pepper until now, because the sausage is flavored enough and the cheese also provides salt – I rarely add pepper unless I’m not using pepper flakes).

7. Drain the noodles and gently pour them into your saute pan and carefully mix them into the vegetables.  If your pan is too small for this maneuver then mix everything together in a large serving bowl and top with the parsley/chives.  Voila! Your meal is done.  Guten Appetit!

 

August 9, 2012

Julia Child’s 100th Birthday Celebration

When I was little, my family and I would watch a lot of PBS.  Of course this meant many sessions of watching Julia Child cook in her Cambridge, MA kitchen.  We enjoyed watching her cook with other master chefs, and in particular I liked her series with Jacques Pépin. Fun fact: I thought Jacques was Julia’s husband until I learned about Paul Child many years later.

When I went to Smith, I learned that Julia was a Smithie too.  She was rumored to have been on campus my first fall in Northampton, but I didn’t get a chance to meet her.  Which is sad, because on August 13, 2004 (two days before her 92nd birthday) Julia passed away in California.  I was at a family reunion at the time.  That evening, my sisters and I prepared dinner for our extended family, and held a toast to our fellow jovial Smithie.

Three years later, I would be accepted into the Gastronomy Master’s degree that she and Jacques Pépin helped found, and in Fall 2007 I enrolled in the culinary program at Boston University that Julia developed. In November of that year, I spent three magical days cooking food with Jacques Pépin and his best friend, Jean-Claude Szurdak. It felt like a dream, a wonderful, delicious dream. We deboned whole chickens, prepared sweetbreads, oysters Rockefeller, omelets, candied citrus, caramels, and so much more. We put the huge, 8-station lab kitchen to the test, and all 12 of us students were pushed to the edge of our culinary abilities. We cooked with so much butter Julia would have been proud.

Next Wednesday, August 15, would be Julia’s 100th birthday. I’m thankful that almost fifty years after her first TV show launched, her accomplishments and her enthusiasm for food are still being celebrated. I’ve been drafting a multi-course meal for the occasion. Because that’s what Julia did on her 80th birthday (she had multiple such celebrations across the country). And what better way to celebrate birthdays than with food, family, and friends?  We’ll be celebrating a bit late, so check back here at the end of the month for a round-up of my culinary attempts.

In the meantime, if you feel inclined, pick up one of her cookbooks and prepare one of her dishes next week. Counter to popular belief, not all her recipes are complicated. In fact, many of them are quite simple. I highly suggest her easy-to-use cookbook Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom. If you have an iPad or Nook, and want to be a bit more adventurous, download the Mastering the Art of French Cooking app. Or, simply give a toast in her honor when you eat your regular dinner. After all, Julia’s mission was to help us all celebrate good food and good friends.

August 1, 2012

Kitchen Tools: Pots and Pans Part 2

Earlier this week we talked about what to look for when purchasing pots and pans.  Today I’m going to go over the cookware I use, and why it’s so useful.  A well-stocked collection of pots and pans will really help in the cooking process, not only to be able to do multiple dishes at once, but also so that everything cooks in the manner it’s supposed to (sautéing in frying pans, braising in dutch ovens, etc.).  Of course, this is just what works for me, and it may be different for you.  I’m simply sharing what I like in hopes that it helps others curate their own collections.

*Note: I’m giving brands NOT because I was asked to/am paid to (I wasn’t and I’m not), but to give you an idea of what we use and like. There are other good brands out there, and I recommend you look for what works best for your price point and needs.

Without further ado, here is what we use the most:

Pots

  • 1 1.5 quart saucepan + lid (part of our Calphalon set) – for small batches of rice, oatmeal, tomato sauces, etc.
  • 2.5 quart saucepan + lid (part of our Calphalon set) – for larger batches of the above and for soups
  • 1 6 quart stock pot + lid (part of our Calphalon set) – to make stocks (wow! imagine that!)
  • 1 6 quart enameled dutch oven + lid – for soups, stocks, braises, roasts, bread, and anything else that benefits from being cooked on the stove and then pushed into the oven.

Pans

  • 1 10-inch frying pan – called omelet pan in the industry  (part of our Calphalon set), for browning chops, cutlets, stir-fries, schnitzel, and, well, frying things.
  • 1 3 quart saute pan – like a frying pan but has straight sides, for making simple braises and cooking things that need a lot of surface area like a frying pan, but also need some height on the sides to keep the food in. I love to make noodle dishes in here, especially when I’m tossing the noodles with the toppings at the end.
  • 1 8-inch (or 10-inch, as you wish) non-stick omelet pan – for omelets, scrambled eggs, rösti and crepes, not much else.
  • 1 untreated/unseasoned cast iron frying pan (season it yourself) – we got our unseasoned Lodge frying pan at TJMaxx for $6 and it’s the best pan in the house, for pretty much anything except acidic foods (no tomato sauce): use it for bacon, fried eggs (not scrambled, see above), pancakes, cutlets, steaks, corn bread, heating flatbreads such as pita, and cooking just about anything else. A seasoned cast iron browns meat really well. This is our favorite pan in our collection, hands down, and always stays on top of our stove ready to go. Be sure you only clean it with water (no soap!), wipe it dry, and swish it quickly with a lightly oiled cloth after each use to maintain the seasoning. A well-seasoned pan over time becomes almost jet-black.

On Lids
We have only four lids (the ones that came with our pots). The large stock pot lid fits our frying and saute pans nicely, and we rarely have to use two lids at once.  However, if you feel the need, you can buy extra lids for your pans from almost every company.

Things I Find Less Useful

  • Anything with only one use (e.g. fold-over omelet pans, egg poacher) – we call this “David’s Rule” in my house
  • A wok – a lot of people find these really useful, we just never used ours. That said, my mom uses a semi-wok semi-sauté pan that Calphalon calls an “Everyday Pan” and loves it.
  • 8-inch regular frying pan – This came with the Calphalon set, and I don’t find as much use for this because it’s too small. The only thing I like to use it for is to pop mustard seeds when making raita. I can easily do that in another frying pan or sauce pan though, so I don’t find ours useful.
  • 12-inch non-stick pan – I bought David a set of two non-stick cooking pans (a 10-inch and a 12-inch) and I just don’t like the 12-inch. It’s just too big.  David disagrees, so there you have proof to take all this with a grain of salt!
  • Double boiler – I flip-flop on this one because my parents have one and I like using it, but lack of space has won out so far. Generally I just place a metal bowl over my 1.5 quart saucepan and call it a double boiler. Works for me, and I’ve used the method to dip 300+ chocolates in one go, so I think it’s good enough.

 

So tell me, what’s your favorite pan in your collection? Where do you buy your cookware? What do you stay away from?