Food & Cooking

Dinner21 Apr 2006 10:22 pm

It’s a long time yet until the greens show up here, but we have consoled ourselves with the fruits of the deli counter. Anchovies, proper Molinari salame, cornichons, a good comte, three kinds of olives, and a couple of baguettes. No jug of wine, but Victory Pils (bought on recommendation of the wise staff at Fromagio and just what suited our mood).

Despite the sticker shock coming home from the store, we also note that fancy dan food is surprisingly economical. You see – a single anchovy, scrape of cheese, or thin slice of highly flavored sausage nicely decorates a slab of good bread. Lesser toppings tend to need more bulk to hold their own against the bread flavor, leading to much less healthy (and more expensive) sandwich construction.

Of course there is also the entertainment value of a deli meal. There is something about nice anchovies (the big fresh kind with the delicate, fruit-like flavor to the meat) that makes L. grin widely and bounce as she utters little cries of “Feeeessshhhh! Feeeeeessssshhh! Niiice Feeeeeshhhh!” Ritual fork battles over the last of the pickles are also traditional.

Food & Cooking29 Mar 2006 09:17 pm

Do you fancy blood oranges? They’re ripe now, filled with staining juice and earthy undertones. Ripe enough to show that blood oranges aren’t … oranges but their own complicated selves. Further, we were out of marmalade, and our jam supplies are running low. We still have some damson, a little of the quince, a jar or two of boughten raspberry jam… but no marmalade.

The Spirit of Oranges Past So, consulting John and Matt Lewis Thorne (Simple Cooking, no. 76), V. delicately sliced the three nicest fruits into pretty pieces. Cut to purple hands and red stains everywhere after squeezing a dozen more moros to cover the fruit in juice.

We put the jar in the frigo to macerate for twenty-four hours. While we were sleeping (very well, thank you, and you?) and wandering in the wilderness (all of which appears to be named Groton, despite what the map says), the peels were sucking up juice until the whole chilled mass looked cohesive and jelly-ish.

Juicing the MoroWe disembottled the scarlet mess into our non-reactive pan, and, differing from the Thornes, added a pinch of salt. The idea is to cook the stuff for a quarter of an hour or so to soften the peel and get the whole proto-marmalade to integrate and pull together. Efficient people would have already have prepped their canning implements by now. Sensible people would have at least started to boil jars, simmer lids, and generally get things moving while giving the marmalade pot an occasional stir. Not us. Nope.

Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt the marmalade to let it sit for a bit off the fire while we take care of these little details after the cooking down! Sugar (3/4 the volume of the remaining mass) was duly mixed in and brought to a boil. By now, “occasional” had given way to “near constant” stirring. The tedium of standing over a hot stove imitating a stir bar was relieved by debate as to when to stop.

Cooking Down the Moro on the MorrowThe first instructions I ever encountered were “Keep and eye and the spatula and watch for sheeting as the goop runs off.” Useful, but not quite sufficient for an inexperienced marmaladier. The Thornes advocates the goop on a chilled saucer method. Pouring a little bit of marmalade on a cold saucer to see if it sets up right is not difficult to understand. It lets you suit your own notions of proper runniness or springiness for marmalade. It’s traditional. It’s pretty. It’s low tech, if you think a freezer is low tech. It also allows the circus clown effect as you run back and forth to the frigo hoping you don’t miss the magic moment while you trip over the slops pail.

We prefer a thermometer. Of course, we had failed to write down the optimal temperature last time. L recalled the magic number as somewhere around 218 degrees Fahrenheit. V thought it was in the 220s. We tried 219 and got a firm but by no means rubbery set. However, since we like our marmalade rather soupy, we’ll try 218 next time.

Again, efficient people would already be standing by, with the marmaladier’s assistant holding a shining tray full of useful implements and another tray of jars cool, dry, and ready to be filled.

Ladling Out the Marmalade“Funnel.”
“Lid dipper and chop sticks”
Glip. Clink. Glip. Shhhhkkk.

Instead, everything was still in the water, the pan with the lids was on the bookshelf, the assistant is on the wrong side, the trays on top of the mixer, and the marmaladier left to curse. With all in disarray, we were left to ladle hotter than boiling marmalade into hot jars (leaving enough but not too much head room), set the canning funnel down someplace suitably germless, fish a warm lid out of hot water and set it precisely onto the jar (without dinging or touching the lid with germy fingers), fish a hot band out of the hot water, screw it on lightly (but tightly enough to keep the lid on during boiling) and get everything out of the way and set up for the next jar.

No one was killed in the making of this marmalade.

Actually, the only really bad part is getting the lids out of their pan and onto the jars while using long metal tongs. Next time, we will glue a magnet for fishing lids out of the water to a stick. This will give us the fun of getting a lid off the magnet.

We eat sweets slowly, so we went ahead and canned the marmalade properly with a good boil. I like being around the kitchen when the jars “pop” (as the cooling air pocket shrinks down and sucks in the jar lid). It’s neat to see basic physics in action. Meanwhile, we got lick the ladle and plan what to eat with the marmalade when it was “ripe.” It’s really true that Marmalade improves if you let it sit a few days after making it.

Three (and a dozen) oranges. Two and a half jars of nearly black yumminess. Maybe we won’t share. Our friends can make do with lime.

Food & Cooking26 Mar 2006 09:37 pm

One good sized kumquat produces about a teaspoon of sour, tasty juice. A number of uses come to mind, but one does feel a trifle ludicrous.
Other culinary constatations today – We still don’t hold with New Hampshire maple syrup, though we admit that the product reserved for natives is not topped up with diesel.
Mendon Creamery butter is so cultured it quotes Plato and has a passion for Cubist art. It is also very tasty.

The Invisible Hand has a sense of humor. It is easier for us to buy butter from accross the Atlantic than from a creamery an hour or so away.

Dinner24 Nov 2005 03:09 pm

Victor being subsumed into frantic kitchen activity, today’s guest blogger reveals the dark side of Victor’s kitchen. Yep. We aspire to eat beautiful food, delicately prepared from the freshest, farmer’s market ingredients.

However, in real life, I get home from work and we discover that we’ve yet again failed to get the shopping done, and can’t face another cheese sanwich. Sometimes we’re out of cheese. Too often we bail and eat out, but I have a few techniques for getting dinner on the table with bare cupboards and no time to cook.

Stone Soup Principle

Boil a pot of water.

You don’t actually have to use the water. Boiling water is so easy that you can’t persuade yourself it’s too hard. Boiling water gets you into the kitchen, banging pots and pans around. If you’re really cunning, you can keep a clean pot on the stove so you can’t even complain that it’s too much work to dig out a pot.

Once you’re in the kitchen, ‘stone soup’ kicks in and dinner tends to happen.

“Well, the water’s about to boil – let’s make noodles and dump some jarred sauce on them.”
“Ok, but I don’t like red sauce, I’ll just put some butter and pepper on mine.”
“You can’t just eat noodles with just butter… let me start a roux while we’re waiting and you can put in some milk and cheese”
“...Oh… I forgot we had the salami in the fridge… here’s some salami and olives to decorate your pasta”
“...that looks good…I’ll have some too…”

_Leonard of Quirm Principle_

Leonard of Quirm is a brilliant fellow in a series of novels by Terry Pratchett. Leonard’s wild flights of imagination never quite make it to the names of his devices. The net effect is like those very literal translations on Vietnamese menus. “Beef tendon with fungus” is very tasty, but the name … lacks a certain something.

This technique requires a partner in cooking, preferably one who doesn’t mind being manipulated.

“You’re tired. You shouldn’t have to cook. It’s my turn to get dinner on the table.”
“What will you make?”
“Mmmm… rice and ... thing!”
“What kind of thing?”
“I’ll cook!”

Note that “Je ne sais quoi on rice” gets you landed with dinner cookery. There is an art to the unappetising name.

SECRET TECHNIQUE NUMBER THREE (for when number two fails)
_ Making dinner anyway __

If your bluff is called, stagger off to inspect your kitchen cupboards. There may still be a few tins of this and that lying around. One of my favourite standbys from pantry ingredients is pumpkin ‘curry’ over rice.

Start rice.

(Aromatic rice like Jasmine or Basmati are best, long grain rice rinsed to reduce stickiness gives some more texture to the meal.)

Chop an onion (or even use frozen, pre-chopped onions)

Fancy people can drop a dab of butter into a saute pan or skillet and start to cook the onions for a minute or two,

Then add to that skillet –

1 tin pumpkin (not pie filling please) chopped onion a blob of tamarind powder/paste (or some sumac and a bit of brown sugar, or a few cranberries from the freezer or …) splash of vinegar (cider or white would be the first choice) your favourite garam massala (or whatever is cluttering your spice cabinet)

Cook, stirring periodically until the onions soften/go translucent

Optional – add green beans, spinach or other handy veg bits.

Serve when rice is done. If I have them handy, toasted nuts are nice sprinkled over the top.


Beenz – tinned beans with some lime, onion, cilantro, vinegar, and some sage or fresh cumin or a bunch of black pepper, served with rice. If you’re too tired to make rice, you can use bread, or crackers, or …

Chicken Out Chili – tinned beans with tomato, mole base from a jar, onions, barley (or quinoa or steel cut oats) and maybe a few finely chopped hot peppers.

Sneaky Soup – bring chicken broth (real, boxed or tinned) to a simmer, cook some orzo in it, adding a pinch of bonito flakes (or a tiny glug of fish sauce) and sumac, served with lime.

Stir fried green beans with ginger, soy and garlic. (Better with real green beans, but even frozen ones are pretty edible. Spinach, chard or rocket also go nicely. Stir fried stuff in general is quick to cook, but you need to either be a fast chopper or keep a bunch of pre-chopped veg or meat in the fridge.)

Potatoes (baked with salad dressing, or broth, or butter, or just salt. Takes half an hour or an hour, but it takes less than five minutes to wash them, stab them and throw them in the oven, then you can go take a nap or play video games while they cook. Wrap them in foil before piercing if you like the skins more tender. Then you can add a little Parmalat and spend a couple of minutes with a fork or pastry cutter for mashed potatoes. Add garlic, or do artistically plated servings with a couple sticks of 2-minutes in the microwave broccoli for ears. Or run the taties through a slicer and stick them in a shallow dish. Crumbs with a little butter or cheese make a nice crust on top… )

Odds and Ends Sandwich (grated cheese rinds, salad dressing, three different kinds of leftovers… I know someone who will happily eat ketchup sandwiches – though I think they’d need pickles to be really nice… if your bread is stale, toast it or fry it in butter or cheap olive oil)

Next episode – “Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel”

Dinner29 Sep 2005 10:55 pm

Ok, I got lazy and we went to the Border Cafe again. In my defense: the Border is the only place in Harvard Square that seems to use lime juice to make margaritas, instead of that chalky stuff. But really, it’s a bad sign that they recognize us when we walk in. Like when I lived in San Bruno, and the people at the McDonalds franchise would ask worried questions if they didn’t see me at the drive-in window for a day. Nice, but in a way that tells you that you spend too much time there.

Dinner28 Sep 2005 10:03 pm

Tonight’s dinner is the easy option: sandwiches at Sarah’s Market & Café.
With Diet Coke and Dr. Pepper. Nothing to see here… but I’m going to have to learn to make my own French fries.

Dinner28 Sep 2005 09:59 pm

Well, apologies to all of you out there who were dying to know – dinner last night was sandwiches, tomato and cucumber with lots of spicy coriander chutney.
The bread: a flute from Hi-Rise bakery, split in half lengthwise. Good recipe—next time, I’ll know not to mindlessly double the quantity of hot pepper, though.

About the flute: this baguette compares favorably to every single baguette sold on the Rue Montorgueil in Paris—and yes, I did try at least 2 of every baguette from each bakery last December, plus a bunch from other neighborhoods. We work hard so you don’t have to.

For those of you who buy bread in Paris’s 2ieme regularly, your best choices in that neighborhood are the Chez Paul chain outlet, or the Rotodor-affiliated baguette tradition from the place at the head of the Rue.

Food & Cooking& Dinner26 Sep 2005 08:24 pm

Tonight was pasta with corn and tomato confit. Creamed 4 ears of corn, and cooked in the microwave for about 5 minutes with a glug of heavy cream. Added about a half-cup cut-up tomato confit pieces, then another 5 min. of microwave. Dresses one-half pound of pasta.

Food & Cooking26 Sep 2005 08:23 pm

I know – I’ve been on some kind of jam kick. Nonetheless, it’s rare enough to see a quince for sale, so I bought 2 of them. I’d read recipes which made them sound like the coconuts of the apple family, and it sounded like a challenge. The recipe I used was roughly that of Helen Witty’s excellent book Fancy Pantry . Pictures later, but for now: it was no big deal to cut the quinces, core them, and peel them. Honestly, supermarket pears are pretty much the same level of tough. I don’t know if my quinces are the rare culmination of some USDA consumer-friendly quince breeding program or something, but I couldn’t see what the fuss is about. Also, it’s a little spooky how you cut up this yellow & green fruit to reveal its white, apple-like insides, and then after boiling the suckers in sugar syrup for almost an hour, the whole pan full of stuff turns deep red. Pretty, but very odd.

Food & Cooking25 Sep 2005 09:03 pm

Here’s a project. I got 14 pounds of tomatoes from the Sunday farmers’ market (second or utility grade, at 80 cents per pound). I cut those in half and arranged them face up on half-sheet pans. Sprinkle with some salt, then some sugar. Garnish with thyme (oregano, whatever). Put on a sliver of garlic per tomato. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. Pour a whole cup of (cheap) olive oil over each pan of tomatoes. And cook for a very long time (4-6 hours)in a very slow (200-250F) oven. The resulting semi-dried tomatoes and tomato-flavored oil can be used to pump up any cooked-tomato dish, and can be refrigerated or frozen long after the fresh tomatoes are gone for the season. Should yield about 2 quarts of tomato-plus-oil per half-sheet pan; allow about 6 pounds of tomatoes per half-sheet pan.

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