Thursday, July 30, 2009

26 Pears and a Bottle of Wine

The pear tree started telling us about a week ago it was ready to pop.
A few pears, mostly runts and many with bug damage, started falling off. Two or three a day.
Then, yesterday, we got two dozen pears, all beautiful and edible, on the ground.
Today we got 26.
There must be a thousand more to "harvest." (They will harvest themselves. Best fruit tree ever.)
Not all are ripe, but they ripen beautifully off the tree. Cold storage is your friend.
And cold pears for breakfast is my new friend.
Unless I want to have them for dessert, midday, with a little wine. (I don't know, Peter! Something Italian. Pinot Grigio; soaked with the flavor of roses!)
Those are people who dined, dined.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Damn You, Bittman!

I love to toy with Bittman. I don't know why. Probably because he had the balls to publish a cookbook called "How to Cook Everything," and you and I both know Bittman can't cook everything. Never will.
But I've softened on the chap. I caught him on TV, looking healthy, explaining his diet of mostly avoiding meats and ghastly food. Hear, hear, Bittman.
Two things, though. First, our Amy tells us his latest book is a little bit unuseable. (And when you cough out that many books, it's bound to happen... right, Ruhlman?)
Second, he ran another of those confounded 100-Best lists the other day in the New York Times. It was for 101 salad ideas.
You need salad ideas? A hundred and one of them? I pity the foo.
Of course (and here comes the caveat), one of them really caught my eye. Pan-seared corn niblets with chile, cheese, a squirt of lime and maybe tomatoes. Number 39 on the list. Street food, he called it, and I was smitten. Bitten. By Bittman.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

She Sees Seashells

This is a true story.
Because, not all the other stories are always true, y'see? This one's true.
I awoke the other morning straining to figure out how I could get a stack of empty mussel shells. I have a little DIY project going on, some embellishment to the hem of curtains, and it needs lots of clean, pretty (and lightweight) shells.
There's this guy I sort of know, the GM at a seafood restaurant. I imagined calling him and asking if the kitchen would mind setting aside shells for me. Then I imagined his answer: "Jayzuz, woman! Hell, no! They will not do this for you. By the way, please come in for a drink."
I know my hobby store does not sell mussel shells.
What to do? The only way to get mussel shells seems to be... Oh smack me with a mackerel! Eat them yourself.
That very day we dropped in on our French bistro and each of us ordered the Moules Florentine. Ohgod. Dozens of specimens in each bowl, too many to eat at one sitting. Delicious.
(And this was my first restaurant foray since foreswearing gluten. It seemed to work, and I didn't even have to bug the waiter.)
So now I have a fridge full of stinky, empty shells. I'm going to wait a day or two longer, so they're really ripe, and all the animal matter just slips off when I wash them.
No matter how clever I think I am curtain-wise, though, I believe eating the mussels was the better experience. Maybe we won't have enough shells for this project. We'll have to go back!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summertime, and the Living Is... Tightly Scheduled

I just wanna sit on the patio with a cool drink while the house cleans itself. But there's stuff I gotta schedule.
We bought a couple of pork bellies from two different proprietors, and a couple of full duck breasts from yet another. The idea was to cure them for bacon.
The pork bellies take about seven days on the salt. But we'd been having torturous high heat, and didn't want to smoke them (after the curing period) during red-flag weather. So we had to fine-tune our start date.
And, the duck doesn't want that much curing time, so we had to squeeze another salting date in there sometime before smoking day.
Sigh. Life is complicated.
We survived.
When smoking day arrived, all systems were go. It was cool but pleasant. A touch breezy (better to carry away the smoke, but not to threaten the coals).
As with our one previous experience smoking cured pork bellies, it was easy to keep the temp at 200ºF, and the desired internal temperature of the meat (150ºF) arrived in the expected two hours... or so. Amazingly, the teeny duck breasts took about as long as the big meaty pig slabs.
We can relax now. The bacon is in the freezer (well, ho yeah we tasted some bits fried up first).
I'll get around to telling you what it tastes like. Sometime.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Coming Late to a Tradition

Cranky and I were called away from California sometime in the early 80s for a three-year stint in Florida — where I ate my first raw oysters on the half shell.
It was a tentative introduction to bivalves in Cocoa Beach. The shucker (knowing I was a novice) would open an oyster and slide it over to me on the bar. No ice. No fancy mignonette. There was lemon and Tabasco, take it or leave it. Saltines if you needed them.
I made it through about six oysters before my personal organic system had to withdraw. Whew.
But I was hooked.
Before long I was eating raw oysters by the dozen (or more), in Key West, St. Pete, Winter Park, Ft. Myers. Always with the lemon and Tabasco.
All good things must pass, however, and we returned to California.
A colleague of Cranky's in San Francisco learned that our pretty little Edwardian two-story in the Glen Park neighborhood had a brick barbecue pit. She had won some contest, and needed to pick up a sack or two of fresh oysters in the shell. Might we be amenable to holding a BBQ oyster party in our back yard for a dozen or so people we didn't know?
Well, that was a big fat no. And I'll tell you why.
It wasn't because we didn't know anyone. It was because she wanted to cook the oysters. Barbecue them! Lady, you are talking to a newborn slurper; we don't eat them cooked.
But see, I hadn't lived close enough to Marin County to know the deep, abiding legacy of the barbecued oyster. And as far as I'm now concerned (having become a dedicated convert), there is only one way to make them. If you're not going to eat them raw.
1) Start a fire.
2) Put the oysters on the grill.
3) When the top shells pop open from the heat, wrench them off (using gloves), and apply a Bordelaise sauce, New Orleans style, to the plump meat. (Today I just used melted butter, vermouth and minced chives.) Put them back on the grill.
4) As soon as the oysters shrink away from their shells, yank them off the fire and top each with a zesty (but not stupid) tomato BBQ sauce. Must be vinegary and a tad sweet.
I had one barbecued oyster today. Sadly only one. See, the smoker was otherwise crowded with cured pork and duck meats. It's all that would fit. More later.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Me and the White Witch

I want to learn to make these. Turkish Delight.
I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but Narnia... Had to try 'em.
We picked up a little sampler pack in Berkeley: Lemon, orange and rose. The rose is spectacular (and Cranky didn't care for it, so lucky me).
I couldn't tell you the manufacturer, because the store seems to have split up larger boxes and repackaged them. But (and honestly, the picture is so old, I sort of forget) I think the version in the photo was made in New Zealand, and I'm convincing myself without any proof that it was made by the person who crafted the Turkish Delight for the movie! It makes me feel so famous, almost like stealing a kiss from Mr. Tumnus. Six degrees of delectation.
I recently bought a couple hunks of the stuff from a local Middle Eastern restaurant. Shudder. It was so clearly made with artificial flavorings, and gaudily tinted with food color. So I must make my own.
The manufacturer of the handmade candies featured in the film dropped a comment over on Sam's long-ago post about making Turkish Delight (ooh, one degree closer), and says the true recipe doesn't use any gelatine. So I have gotten a free lesson from a master. And I did find a couple of recipes online from — Narnia nuts! (Not pistachios. I mean kooks.)
I'm getting over a little bug right now, but I'm going to finally tackle 'em.
This way for your num-nums.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'm Mad and I Can't Eat Wheat

I've been afraid to publish this photo, taken back in March.
It's a chicken pot pie made from leftovers, vegetables, gravy and traditional pie crust.
I'm not ashamed of it; it's just that I promised a pal I'd make him a personal pot pie, and I haven't yet. He didn't get a single bite of this one.
And now, what to do? If I do make him that pie, I'm going to have to learn how to make the crust from quinoa flour or something. Not wheat.
Isn't that bizarre? Well into middle age, and all of a sudden I can no longer eat gluten. (I self-diagnosed; take it however you like but don't tell me "it's all in my head," like my pot pie pal did.) I'm aware of more and more people learning they have a gluten intolerance all of a sudden (or about five years in the coming for me), at a late stage of life. Major change in daily operations.
I'm coping, mourning, being successful. I'm still scared to eat in a restaurant. I love the foods that are available to me. Rice! Potatoes! Forget bread. (Though I am doing Kalyn's socca.) And I found a truly yummy GF cracker from Italy. Good enough to eat.
I'm not turning this into a gluten-free blog. I just thought I ought to tell you what's up.
Oh, yeah, a food I can eat? Bacon. I started the cure on a couple of pork bellies yesterday.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yes We Can

It's not pretty.
It's beautiful!
Four jars of ugly, science-fiction-ugly chili, preserved in a pressure canner.
Oh, and the recipe was ugly too; we got it from the instruction manual that came with the pressure cooker.
OK, yes, it's just really an ordinary pressure cooker, but it has a tray that fits in the bottom, and there's a handle to lift it (and the hot jars) out with when it's time. It will hold four pint jars without touching.
I don't pressure-cook food much (though maybe I will try more now that we have this six-quart jobbie). The cool thing is that the instruction manual has a section on pressure canning, with this ugly recipe.
It's like diner chili. Soupy, bland, heavy on the tomatoes. We didn't dare vary from the proportions (except to spice it up a lot), for fear of botulism.
But! It cooks at 240ºF for 90 minutes! An hour and a half.
And after you take the jars out, they continue to bubble of their own accord for another two hours. I figure they ain't nothin' in there gonna kill me. Boiled the germs to death, more than the temperature of boiling.
Now, this is the silly part: I have never canned food before. Not jam, not tomatoes, not any of the easy water-bath things that are generally safe. I wasn't scared of poisoning myself; I was scared of... I don't know, doing it wrong? Explosions? And I'm really not all that fond of jam. Tomato sauce I can keep in the freezer. So yeah, I'd never done it before.
Then we get this new pressure cooker, and the first thing I preserve in it is MEAT. Ris-kay! But I'm not scared.
The only problem is that I want to open one of the jars right away and see how it came out.
The seals haven't even pinged yet; the jars are still hot. Nope, I'm not going to open them.
I've got a shelf picked out in plain sight (not a pantry, not a closet — a bookshelf) where I'm going to store these babies until it's cold enough to eat chili.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

You Didn't Have to Be So Nice

I would have liked you anyway.
You were just a mish-mash of leftovers, combined with some rice and cooked, all gunky and savory, in the rice cooker.
You were dowdy, but, draped in accessories of chopped cilantro and crumbled goat feta, you sparkled.
What amazed me was your depth, your sweetness, your complexity, and yet, your very simpleness.
It was a case of needing to use up some delicious liquid left from cooking black beans. This broth was already flavored very well, sort of Latin-ish with cumin and garlic. Bay leaf, of course. Then there was the drib of homemade tomato sauce, about half as much as there was bean juice. Mixed together, they yielded a cup and a half, so we just cooked 3/4 cup of rice with it until the beeper beeped. There. That's the recipe.
You were surprisingly delicious, in a Spanish Rice and Beyond kind of way; a little caramelized and sticky, hot, dark and sexy.
More than I expected.
And it's true.
I adored every lovin' spoonful.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

One Local Snickersnack

Our first Anaheim pepper from the garden!
It was about seven inches long, not counting the stem. It had a little heat in it. It was really, really slender.
But we wanted to stuff it anyway.
We figured the best way would be to slice it completely in half, and each of us would get a little boat filled with good things.
Everything except the avocado drizzle was local (and the avocado drizzle had loads of local items, including homegrown onions, tomatillos and peppers from the farmers market, and Marin County rain-reservoirs tap water — avocados and tomatillos contain a lot of pectin, and can take the addition of a splash of H2O).
Purty little black beans are from Full Belly Farms. The feta is made with goat's milk, by a local company. I don't know where they get their goat's milk (and they have no Web presence), but I'm happy to have it because it's not made from cow's milk, which I'm avoiding.
It wasn't enough food for a full meal, so we had to (had to!) eat fresh corn on the cob, also.
Very New World.
I'm changing my name to Stands with a Fist. (Hey, she was mad, too!)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Please Don't Buy BBQ Sauce

OK, let's be fair. There are some pretty awesome commercial barbecue sauces for sale. Arthur Bryant's comes to mind. And that special Alabama blend given to me by a good old boy.
But you're not going to find them at Safeway. Megamarkets carry sugary glop, and the sugar is high-fructose corn shit. (Shut my mouth!) They are oddly flavored with artificial smoke, bourbon, peaches, and all manner of stuff that doesn't belong in there.
Don't even get me started on ketchup.
I've always liked brewing my own barbecue sauce, and as recently as the most recent decade ago, I squirted ketchup into the mess for a sweet, tomatoey tang.
Ugh. All you taste is oil of clove.
I don't even have ketchup in my house anymore. I have homemade tomato sauce, frozen in little plastic bags.
So. How I do it: Marinate your pork spareribs in a good home-concocted marinade. (We are talking about ribs, right?) Then save the marinade, boil it down (to eliminate possible pathogens, to concentrate it, and to let the scum rise to be skimmed). At this point you should add tomato sauce or even tomato paste (I use both). A spoonful of honey. Tinker with the flavors. No mustard. I don't even bother with garlic. Let it cook into a beautiful, soupy slop.
You will love it.
Do not apply the barbecue sauce to the ribs until after they're cooked. You don't want blackened, bitter flakes. Ew. Just cook the meat lovingly, and then pass the sauce at the table.
Here's a rough approximation of my marinade: Equal portions of distilled white vinegar (hey, we're going the hick route, aren't we?) and — ohgod, I'm embarrassing myself here — vermouth. I used a highly botanical vermouth, and it adds tons of flavor. A little tomato sauce, but not too much because the sugars will burn in the grill (but meat loves to be tenderized in tomato). A terrific sploosh of Tapatío hot sauce (which reminds me of the Arthur Bryant's sauce). A drizzle of Worcestershire sauce, and an equal drizzle of soy sauce. Put this in a sealable plastic bag with the ribs, overnight in the fridge.
Next day, pull out the meat, save the juice, and follow the above guidelines.
It's good.

UPDATE: There is some discussion in the comments about whether this is a safe method for making sauce. I stand by my recipe, but I totally understand the concern. Use your discretion.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Karl Malden Story

Almost ten years ago, I had the privilege of joining a cast of the nipped, tucked and plucked for an evening of fawning gratitude to Michael Douglas.
I so don't belong to this set, but I had an "in." I sucked in my tummy, put on a slinky black dress, and pretended to belong.
There we were in the lobby of San Francisco's City Hall, when a publicist ran up to me and Cranky and whispered, "No one is talking to Karl Malden!"
Cookiecrumb and Co. to the rescue.
He was marvelous! And his wife, Mona... Well, I fantasized that we were going to be BFFs.
We chatted. Turns out Malden's Serbian uncle left Chicago and moved to San Francisco, the day before the Great Earthquake. He returned home the next day. Damn ground won't hold still!
Karl looked up the grand marble staircase in City Hall, recalling his days on "The Streets of San Francisco."
He said, "God, I can't tell you how tired I got of running up those stairs, take after take." And he was in his 60s during the filming of the show. Jeez.
I really didn't know how old he was as we stood there getting to know one another.
All of a sudden, though, the conversation came to a halt. Karl looked briefly flustered, and patted his pockets.
He fished out a little plastic card, pulled something out of his ear, and transferred a fresh battery to his hearing aid.
The conversation resumed.
It was a very nice evening.
Oh, and the photo. There are at least a thousand pears on the tree in our backyard, ready to start jumping within weeks. Yay, I think.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Rolly Food, and a Couple New Things

Really, it was just leftover risotto.
But there's this neat dish you can make from it: Roll it into balls, dredge the balls in egg and flour, and then fry.
I used garbanzo flour because it fries so nicely, and because we might have to talk about wheat flour sometime soon. It tastes a little beany, so I'll be experimenting with mixtures of "alternative" flours next time.
And I fried the balls in butter, rather than inches of hot oil. I don't deep fry. They came out... cute, not precisely round.
This is called arancini in Italian, but mine were much, much smaller than little oranges.
First time I've ever tried this preparation, and it was easy. If I have leftover risotto in the future, I will definitely do this again.
Oh, and the other thing I tried for the first time? That arty smoodge across the plate. It's basil-arugula pesto applied with a rubber spatula in just the perfect quantity.
I know. Arty smoodges are probably already passé.