Thursday, January 06, 2005
I have no idea how they got into my house, but I recently discovered a jar of pickled green peppercorns in my pantry, so I decided to use them.
I’ve been reading Dangerous Tastes: the story of spices by Andrew Dalby (which is a very interesting book, BTW) and he mentions that once upon a time preserved green peppercorns were very popular in Europe, but that they’ve mostly been replaced by the dried form we’re used to. Anyway, it got me interested, so I put some in a spaghetti sauce last night, which came out quite well, I thought.
I started with some onions and garlic, then added the green peppercorns, maybe a 1/2 tablespoon or so, and healthy amounts of basil, oregano, and some fennel seeds (which I love in spaghetti). Then in went some celery. When it all cooked down, I threw in some meat balls, and a few tablespoons worth of capers. It went over pretty well with the family too. Ivan even wanted some for breakfast this morning, so it couldn’t have been too bad. I’ve been using Westbrae Natural’s whole wheat spaghetti, which has a very nice texture. Their spinach spaghetti is also really good, but Gwyn tends to freak out over the green noodles, so there are days when it’s just not worth it
So if you happen to come across some pickled pepper (not pickled peppers, mind) give them a shot. They added a very nice, mellow peppery taste without much heat.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Sunday morning I made a big batch of this egg dish called Parsi Egg Curry, or “ekoori”. My Dad learned to make it when he lived in Singapore in the 80s, and it’s been an extended family staple ever since. There are various versions, but this is how I made it
Saute the following until soft:
- chopped onion
- fresh garlic, minced
- fresh ginger, minced
- fresh chiles, minced. I usually use jalapeno or serrano.
- this time I used fresh tumeric root, minced, since I happened to find some. Very groovy stuff. Turned my hands totally yellow, but very good flavor.
- ground tumerix (if not using fresh)
- ground coriander (don’t be shy. I used maybe 3 tbl.)
- ground black pepper and salt to taste
- fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
Then scramble and toss in some eggs. Cook as you would scrambled eggs.
It goes really well with pastries and some kind of breakfast meat. Growing up we always had Russian coffee cake (yeast risen, heavy on the cream cheese and blueberries or peaches) and corned beef hash. This weekend I served linguica and raisin bread, which worked out well.
Enjoy. It’s really easy to make, and very flashy as a brunch dish.
Monday, December 27, 2004
My birthday (the 34th do date) was last Friday, and my Mom took us out to a fabulous Italian restaurant in Seattle called Buca di Beppo. I usually shy away from Italian restaurants, since I tend to associate them with neighborhood places that serve crummy food with way to much cheese and not very tasty tomato sauce. The phrase “gut bomb” comes to mind.
Buca di Beppo was a whole different order of Italian food. Very fresh, not at all greasy or over-cheesed. The tomato sauces were very fresh and vibrant. We got the “kitchen table” which is literally in the kitchen, so we got to watch the head chef at work and see how everything got cooked and served up. The part that was the most fun was that all the food is served up “family style” so everyone shares all the dishes. We started with some of the best fried calamari I think I’ve ever had (and we managed to wrest some away from my son Ivan, but not too much) that was served with a spicy tomato sauce. Then a very nice Caesar salad, with some of the nicest anchovies I’ve had in a long time. The kind that make you wonder why people don’t like anchovies. With the salad came a round of garlic bread with melted fresh mozzarella over the top. Very nice, and not overly greasy.
One of the biggest hits with the kids was the garlic mashed potatoes, which were made from new potatoes, and I think contained pretty much equal parts potato and garlic. My personal favorite were the cannelloni, which were not in the least bit greasy, and served with a tomato sauce that was more like salsa, very dry so as not to make the noodles soggy. We also had some chicken marsala (very good, but not my favorite style), some lovely sauteed green beans, a “macaroni” dish that was fusili with a light tomato sauce with chicken and broccoli called “macaroni rosa”, and a cheese pizza for Gwyn the picky 6 year old.
Since we had the kitchen table, we got to see the food going by, which was fun. For next time, both the chicken cacciatore and the baked shells with spicy sausage looked REALLY good.
The desserts were also fabulous. We tried some bread pudding, some chocolate canoli, and a chocolate cake. Three was too many desserts for 7 people, but we did our level best. Well worth checking out, even if you think you don’t like restaurant Italian food.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
I had some left-over ham in the fridge, so last night I whipped up a batch of split pea soup. There are few things better on a cold winter night than a good split pea soup. I went pretty simple:
- 2 cups green split peas
- quart of chicken stock
- an onion
- caraway, tarragon, and pepper
- diced ham
- chopped carrots and celery
cooked the peas in the stock with the onion until soft, then added the spices and ham. About 30 minutes before serving, added the carrots and celery.
About a year ago, I went out on a limb and used beef broth, and added some baby spinach. My kids declared this to be “weird” split pea soup, and ever since have checked to make sure I’m making the “regular” kind. So much for experimentation.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
One of the new foodie books I got the other day is “In the Devil’s Garden: a sinful history of forbidden food” by Stewart Lee Allen. What an interesting book. It’s all about the history of food taboos, and how we relate to the food we eat. I’m just about done with it, and it’s been a very fun read.
The book is organized into the Seven Deadly Sins, and each chapter contains info about food restrictions/taboos that relate to that sin. So under “Lust” he talks at length about foods that were off limits to various peoples because they might induce impure thoughts (think chocolate, among others).
I read a few of the reader comments about this book on Amazon, and several people expressed concern with some of the authors research, and the fact that he tends to speculate. I think they are missing the point. This book is not meant to be a scholarly research work. It’s meant to make us think about what we eat, what we don’t eat, and how we relate to our food and the foods of others. In that context, speculation isn’t really a problem, since it encourages critical thinking. I appreciate the fact that during these bouts of reflection, the author never tries to convince us that he knows “the facts”. It’s a very conversational work. When pursuing this kind of book, I don’t think it matters if the author puts down unverified tidbits of information, or things based on annectdotal evidence. The fact that they are annectdotes (which came from a person) is interesting in and of itself.
This topic is a favorite of mine, since I’m continually fascinated by the topic of why people do or don’t eat things, and this book has provided a lot of food for thought (pun intended). And it’s a very fun read. Mr. Allen has a fine sense of humor, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Last night Vikki and I actually managed to sneak away for a date night, and at her suggestion we headed for New Seoul Garden in Beaverton. Very tasty. We hadn't been there in a while, and I'd almost forgotten how good their food is. We opted for a BBQ table, meaning a table with a gas powered iron grill set into the middle. We got some marinated ribs and sliced beef which come to the table raw for us to grill ourselves. To go with the meat, you get a bowl of raw sliced garlic, some chili-bean paste, and a bunch of romaine lettuce leaves. The trick is to wrap up pieces of grilled meat in the lettuce with garlic and bean paste, then eat like a little burrito-from-on-high. Fantastic. You can get about 10 different cuts of meat to grill, including pork, chicken, beef, goat or lamb.
I also ordered a bowl of what is one of my favorite soups, called kimchee jige (or chige or cheege depending on how it's transliterated). It's a soups of cabbage kimchee with tofu and sliced pork. Very spicy, and just the thing for a cold winter evening. The also serve a version with big chunks of black cod, which is also very tasty.
The crowning glory of the restaurant, however, is the kimchee bar. Kimchee is one of those things (like saurkraut) that you either love or hate, and luckily Vikki and I are both lovers. New Seoul Garden used to bring you a platter with different kinds of kimchee on it, but at some point in the last few years they switched over to a help-yourself, all the kimchee you can handle bar. Depending on when you go, you'll get your choice of 10-12 different kinds of kimchee, some spicy some not. Last night our very favorite was some pea shoots (baby pea plants) with sesame oil dressing. Crunchy, bright green and very flavorful. There were also some really good, very spicy pickles that seemed like baby bok choy, only very tiny. There was also some traditional spicy cabbage and radish kimchees, and some mildly flavored radishes and black beans.
Best of all, there was enough of the soup left over for breakfast this morning.
Friday, December 17, 2004
In honor of Hanukkah I decided to make some latkes a few days ago. Being a low-glycemic kind of guy, I fear white potatoes, so I went with sweet potatoes instead. My kids went completely nuts for these. They ate them way faster than I could cook them. (I thought they were pretty good too.)
- 2 sweet potatoes (I got "yams" which are darker in color. "Red garnet" maybe?), grated (I used the food processor).
- 1/2 an onion, grated
- 1/2 cup or so cottage cheese
- 3 eggs, beaten
- salt, pepper, and a little allspice
- 2 tbl. or so barley flour
Mix it all together and fry into pancakes. I used unrefined peanut oil, which went well with the sweet potatoes.
One of my other interests (besides food) is disaster preparedness. I'm a member of my local CERT team and have spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to protect myself and my family (and neighbors) in the event of a major emergency.
One of the big concerns in time of emergency is food, so I thought I'd share some info and observations on survival food.
One of the things people most often think of as "emergency food" is canned goods. Things like tuna, SPAM, beans, etc. are all things that will keep well are easy to store. They are also a pretty good food source, having plenty of protein to keep you going. The downside to cans is that they are both bulky and quite heavy. Many kinds of canned food are also less appealing cold, although tuna, SPAM, fruit and veggies can be eaten cold and aren't too bad. Cold chili or baked beans from a can will keep you alive, but not so tasty. On the other hand, cans stand up to some pretty wild methods of heating, potentially including open fire, or the ever handy engine block. I keep some canned food at home for cases where we might have no power/running water but don't have to evacuate. In the case that you have to leave your home for an emergency, you don't want to drag canned food with you.
There are lots of places now where the public can get hold of military MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat). They will keep for several years, and provide plenty of nutritional value. I've never actually eaten one, so I can't comment on their appeal. They are generally intended to be heated, and you can get water activated chemical MRE heaters that will bring them up to a reasonable temperature (in theory). One thing to keep in mind, though, is that they do have their full water content, so they are heavy. Not as heavy as cans, probably, but not light. A good thing to keep in your house for power outages, but again limited use for evacuations, unless you keep some in your car.
Several companies, including Mountain House and AlpineAire make freeze-dried meals for backpackers. They also cater to long term food storage buffs like survivalists and the LDS. Both companies sell products ranging from single service pouches (which will keep for 5 years or so) to #10 cans that will keep for 30+ years under the right storage conditions. I've had several of these meals while camping, and have nothing but good things to say about them. They are light, easy to transport, and really tasty. You can get vegetable or meat dishes, pastas, and even eggs and sausage for breakfast and some pretty good desserts. One thing to keep in mind is that you MUST have a way of boiling water. If you use these with cold water, you'd stay alive, but they would be VILE! If you have are setup for an emergency supply of water and a way to boil it, these meals make a great solution. The big cans make a perfect buy-and-forget solution. with 3-4 cans you can provide food for 4-5 people for 3-4 days, and it will keep for 30 years. Very handy. You can also buy them in pre-arranged packs for a week, month, year, etc. and get a pre-picked set of breakfast/lunch/dinner items that are designed for long term storage. So far, Mountain House's sweet and sour pork, and their eggs and bacon are my favorites. My son also really liked them. The blueberry cheese cake is an interesting experience also.
In just about any grocery store these days you can find a huge selection of energy bars. These are great for things like your "ready bag" or "disaster kit", since they provide a great source of calories, and most are vitamin-fortified. They are light, easy to carry, and many of them taste great (although there are also some pretty bad ones). If you are buying them for emergency food, don't get lo-carb ones. In the event of an emergency, you'll want those carbs to stay warm. Plus a higher percentage of the lo-carb ones taste gross. One thing to keep in mind is that these bars have a limited shelf life. If you keep some in your ready bag, remember to change them out every so often, or they'll go bad. However, there are a few companies, such as Mainstay, that make special energy bars for emergencies. They have a long shelf life (usually 5 years) and are packed to provide all your food for a three day period (for one person). I have a couple of these that I keep in my ready bag and my car just in case. I haven't cracked them open yet, so I can't comment on the taste. They are also Kosher, Halal, and vegetarian, so just about anyone can eat them if you have to share. One of the big benefits of the energy bars is that they are pretty light, and don't require any water or heat.
You'll also need a supply of emergency water in case your home water supply is compromised, but that'll have to wait for another post...
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Monday, December 06, 2004
I’ve picked up several new food history/culinary literature books in the last few weeks that look really good, on topics ranging from the history of coffee and bread to spices and daring eating. I’ll post more info on them as I start reading. I found a great one this weekend at the Cannon Beach Bookstore, and I’m almost half way through it already. “Are You Really Going to Eat That?
” by Robb Walsh. It’s subtitled “Reflections of a culinary thrill seeker”, and that’s a pretty accurate summation. So far I’ve read about Mr. Walsh’s trip to Jamaica for a cup of coffee, Santiago Chile for conger eel stew, Thailand for the infamous durian, etc. It’s a great read if you are into eating crazy stuff, of if you wish you were. Mr. Walsh approaches tracking down these famous food items with a single mindedness that makes me wish I had a lot more time and money to do the same.
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