Friday, May 13, 2005
Big success last weekend. I made a big batch of Persian Rice and Lentil pilaf. You cook the rice and lentils, and separately back some lamb or chicken with onions and spices, then serve them together at the end. It came out really well, and we had so much rice left over that I cooked up a second batch of meat a few days later.
Persian pilafs are a lot of work, but well worth the effort. You boil the rice with lots of water like you would pasta, about 6–10 minutes, then drain it, and pile it in a mound in a heavy pot with lots of butter. Then you let it steam over low heat for about an hour. The result should be very light and fluffy rice with a hard crust on the bottom that is the best part. I’d never tried it with lentils before. It made a nice contrast in color and texture.
The meat was super easy. Throw some stew lamb, shanks, whatever (or chicken parts) in an oven proof container with some salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, tumeric, and some onions and garlic and bake at 350 for 2 hours. Simple goodness!
Thursday, April 28, 2005
I’ve tried this one twice now, and not only is it way easy, but it comes out really well, and makes for great leftovers. If you don’t like pork, however, turn back now…
Start by sauteing some onions, garlic, celery, carrots and some herbs (I used dried basil this last time I think). Once they are golden, throw in some Italian sausage and some country-style pork ribs. When they are brown, add about a cup of wine (red or white) and cook it down to being almost dry.
Then add another cup of water, cover, and simmer about 1/2 hour. Then add some tomatoes. I used a big can of “crushed tomatoes” from Muir Glen. I also threw in some pickled peppercorns. The basically just cook in until the ribs fall apart. Maybe 2 hours.
Very tasty, low stress, and the leftovers are great. I just took the leftovers, added some extra tomato sauce and served it over pasta. Mmmmmm. Porky goodness.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
I just finished a truly fascinating book called “Why Some Like It Hot”, by Gary Paul Nabhan. It’s all about the effects of our environment on our genes, and how that in turn influences how and what we can and should eat. For example, the author describes how it was only in Northern Europe that being able to digest milk became a survival characteristic, so it’s only Northern Europeans (mostly) that can tolerate lactose into adulthood.
He cites a number of similar examples, from Crete to Arizona to Hawaii, where the food and climate that were available shaped the genetic makeup of the people who lived there and have a profound effect on what foods are or are not healthy for those people to eat.
The phenomenon, which Nabhan terms “food-gene-culture” interaction, is one that has interested me for quite some time. This is the first material I’ve read that cites such wide ranging examples and really brings home how what is a “healthy” diet has much more to do with the individual than most people think.
If you are interested in nutrition, or why we eat what we do, it’s a great read.
Monday, April 04, 2005
We had some friends over this weekend for Vikki’s birthday, and she made a big batch of rumaki for everyone on Sunday morning. For those who haven’t had the experience, rumaki are basically chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. There are numerous variations, including some with a soy based sauce on them, but we go for the purist version.
The number one biggest thing is to get good chicken livers. It’s not easy these days, but check out your local organic or whole foods grocery, or if you have a kosher deli/grocery, that’d probably be a good source too. I’ve made them with commercial livers from a big grocery store and they can be pretty gross. Keep in mind that the liver is the part of the body that filters out all the stuff that’s not good for you, and big commercial chicken farms feed chickens lots of stuff that’s not good for them. Suffice it to say that you can really taste the antibiotics. Anyway, get organic free range chicken livers if you can find them. They have a much milder and more pleasant taste.
Cook the livers until they just stop wiggling. You don’t want to over cook them! To assemble, wrap up a water chestnut slice with a piece of liver about the same size in about half a strip of (uncooked) bacon and toothpick it together. Put the finished rolls under the broiler until the bacon is crisp.
We like to serve ours with hot Chinese-style mustard for dipping. Well worth the effort. For the liver-squeamish, we usually make some with green olives instead of the livers, which are also quite tasty, though maybe not quite so sublime.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Quiche is one of those things that I pretty much tend to forget about. Not something that springs to mind. I don’t find myself answering the age old question “what should I make for dinner” with “why, quiche, of course”. But in that last couple months I’ve made a few quiches and I’d forgotten both how easy and how tasty they are.
Last night I ended up making two, since frozen pie crusts always come in two for reasons I’m unable to fathom. Turned out it worked nicely. One for dinner, and leftovers for breakfast.
I fried up some chopped “cottage bacon” we got from New Seasons (sort of halfway between your average bacon and the “Canadian” variety), then added some chopped onion, and sliced white mushrooms. I got a pair of whole wheat frozen pie crusts, and into them went some broccoli florets (raw). When the bacon, etc. was cooked, I dumped it in over the broccoli and added some shredded Tillamook cheddar. I happened to have some eggs to use up (blown out of their shells for Russian Easter eggs) which is what prompted the quiche project to start with. For each quiche I used 4 eggs, and added probably 1/4 – 1/3 cup of heavy cream. That just got poured over the top of the vegetables, and away they went, into the oven at 375° for about 40 minutes.
Much easier than I remembered. I’ll have to start putting quiche into rotation more often.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Last night I decided to make some quick Indian food, and here’s what I came up with…
One of my favorite Anglo-Indian cookbooks (I can’t think of the name just now, but it’s the kind that Costco sells for like $6 with lots of color pictures) has a recipe for “Tarka Dal” (sp?) that’s my standby favorite for a quick week night dinner, especially since I usually have all the ingredients on hand. You just boil 1/3 cup moong dal (split, skinless mung beans) and 2/3 cup red lentils in 2 1/2 cups water with a chopped onion, some garlic, some ginger and a little tumeric. On occasion I’ve added a chopped green chile like a jalapeno. Boil until the beans are soft and mush together, then add 1/2 tsp or so of salt and still/mash well. Just before serving, in a separate frying pan, fry some brown mustard seeds and some nigella seeds in oil or ghee until they start to pop, then toss in some dried red chiles (or not) and some chopped tomato. Last night I used some of those little grape tomatoes, since I had them. Once the tomato is soft, stir the oil, seeds and tomato mixture in with the dal and serve. Very tasty and super easy.
To go with, I made some Rogan Josh. Again, super easy. Brown and onion and some stew beef, throw in about a cup of plain yogurt, 1/2 cup or so of water, and some Rogan Josh paste or powder. I use powder from Penzey’s, which is fabulous. I usually add some extra fresh ginger, garlic and cardamom, ‘cause I like it that way. Cook until semi-dry and the beef is tender.
Throw the above over some basmati rice, and you’re good to go.
If you like Asian food, or in fact anything with rice, and you don’t have a rice cooker, go get one. Indispensable if you cook a lot of rice. It always comes out right, and never burnt. Even the cheap National brand ones are pretty good, but if you use it a lot it’s worth shelling out the $100 for one of the good ones. I have a Zojirushi that I love. It has settings for brown rice, sticky rice, etc. Even a “paella” setting, which works pretty well. If you like rice, you’ll LOVE a good rice cooker.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
In the last few months, I’ve done some pretty serious stumbling on my road to eating low on the glycemic index, but I’m doing my best to get back on the wagon. One of the things I’ve been eating for a long time is “low carb” tortillas. There are 5–6 brands to choose from in most stores these days, and they vary from pretty dang good, to horrendously awful. There’s also a pretty wide range of “low carb”. Many of them are pretty much just whole wheat, and what they really mean is “less carbs than pure cake flour”. Everything’s relative I guess. My favorite ones come from “La Tortilla Factory”. They are largely made from oat bran, and they have a very nice, light texture. And they really are pretty low carb. The other ones I tend to eat come from Costco, and I can’t think of the brand right now (Don Pedro, maybe?). They seem to be composed mostly of chaff as far as I can tell, but they are growing on my. You definitely get your fiber. Compared to some other brands that seem to be mostly sawdust, the chaff is pretty good.
Anyway, not only do they make good sandwiches (or “wraps” in the common parlance) but they are the perfect thing to wrap around a good hot dog. Having been raised on California Hippy Vegetarian cuisine, I have a special place in my heart for a good hot dog. However, as I get older I really appreciate a good one from a bad one. My wife picked up some “bad ones” the other day for the kids, since they don’t care much either way. Boy, you can really taste the lips and hooves. Costco actually has some of the better ones, including the fabulous Mt. Sinai kosher dogs. Well worth the small fortune they want for them, if you like that kinda thing. They had some even better ones the other day, whose brand I didn’t note unfortunately.
Ever since High School I’ve been fond of the occasional “burrito dog” for breakfast. Nothing like a hot dog in a tortilla with some melted cheese and hot sauce. At least I’ve stopped washing them down with Jolt cola.
Friday, March 11, 2005
I love simple. Especially when it involves tofu. This month’s Saveur has an article on street snacks of Sichuan, and one of the dishes is called “flower bean curd”. I tried it last weekend, and wow, was it good. Basically you just heat up some soft/silken tofu in hot water, then slap it in a bowl. Over the top you pour some
- soy sauce
- chili oil
- black vinegar
- Sichuan preserved vegetables (I used preserved turnips)
- roasted soy beans (I had peanuts, so used those)
- ground Sichuan pepper corns (really hard to get. I used the Japanese equivalent, called sansho)
- the recipe called for chopped green onions, which would have been good, but I didn’t have any
Enjoy. Very tasty, quick and filling. Since the stuff gets pored over the top, each diner can decide how spicy they want it.
Monday, February 28, 2005
I love a good gumbo. There’s not much better than a rich hearty bowl of gumbo with plenty of greens and some andouille. Personally I prefer mine with okra, but since my wife is an okra-phobe, I usually make file gumbo at home.
This weekend I undertook the gumbo from one of my favorite soup books, The Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Cookbook, by Crescent Dragonwagon. It’s a great book, and a truly fine gumbo, but it definitely takes a commitment. You have to separately make a roux, saute some vegetables, and mix up a spice paste in a food processor. Once all three of those are done you start the soup proper, into which goes a mess of greens. Once the greens are cooked, you throw in the other stuff you’ve already prepared. What comes out the other side is then your gumbo “base” which for my family actually makes three batches of soup, so I freeze most of it.
To make the soup, you throw in some of the base with more soup stock and your meat of choice, be it andouille, chicken, crab, shrimp, whatever. This weekend I stuck with andouille. Our local New Seasons carries a great nitrate free smoked andouille that was perfect for gumbo.
It’s a good 2–3 hour undertaking, but well worth the effort. Everyone pretty much licked there bowls, so I call that a success.
Friday, February 25, 2005
There’s a perennial debate in the SCA about what is “authentic” or “period” cooking. In the SCA context, “period” means “correct for the time period under study” which in my personal case is 10th Century Scandinavian. For the SCA in general that tends to mean “anything prior to 1625”. That’s a lot of food to choose from. Added to that is that fact that outside a very few documentary examples, we don’t have hardly any recipes. Particularly for “dark age” periods like mine. If only a small percentage of the population can write, they probably aren’t writing recipes.
Anyway, I’m a firm believer in the idea that you can create “period” food from two things, 1) studying the archaeological record, and 2) knowing how to cook. We have a very rich archaeological record available which for many times/places allows us to know exactly what foods were being eaten, how they were preserved, and what equipment was used to cook them. Add to those facts an understanding of food and cooking, and hey presto! you’ve got what I argue is “documentable” food. I gave a class on this subject at Estrella last week, and it seemed to be pretty well received. I had some very interesting people in my class including two practicing archaeologists, which was pretty cool.
On a (slightly) different note, there’s a debate currently raging on one of the SCA cooking lists about serving people food that they are “comfortable” with. There seem to be two broad areas of thought. One says that as an educational organization, it’s more valuable for us to introduce people to foods that they are probably unfamiliar with and thus broaden their horizons and educate them about the way our thinking about what is food have changed. The other says that what is really important is making people happy and “comfortable” and that is best achieved by picking “period” recipes that are most like familiar modern foods. This includes things like “macrows” which is essentially macaroni and cheese. While I have nothing against macaroni and cheese, I think serving only that kind of food at SCA feasts or other food gatherings is missing an educational opportunity. The education aspect of macrows is basically “the more things change
”. I’d rather make food that challenges our modern assumptions and opens people up to new possibilities.
On the other hand, what I certainly don’t advocate and wouldn’t tolerate is someone coming up with a whole menu of deliberately “challenging” foods. As in, “let’s see how weird we can be and freak everybody out”. That’s just egotistical and exclusivist. I don’t like that for the same reason that I never liked nouvelle cuisine back in the bad old 80’s. It makes people feel as if they are being left out if they don’t like it and that’s not what it should be about.
So, to try to bring that rant to some sort of reasonable conclusion, I’d advocate shooting for the middle way. Introduce people to new ideas, but don’t scare them away with stuff that’s deliberately outrageous. To pick an example from Ancient Roman cuisine, you’ll get much further with vinegared cucumbers with mint (not something many modern people would be familiar with) than you will with stuffed doormice. If you could find doormice anyway. Or stuff them.
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