Food & Cooking


Dinner25 Sep 2005 07:58 pm

Contrary to my own expectations, I did get dinner on the table: an okra gumbo with kielbasa sausage, and rice. Note to self—okra that’s too big gets woody and should not be used. Also, sherry vinegar helps the flavor a lot.

Lunch was more elaborate than usual; I whipped up fresh cream of tomato soup similar to this recipe from Gastronomie: Cream of Tomato Soup.
The soup, which I garnished with a bit of ground chipotle pepper, was OK but not spectacular. Not something I’ll be repeating often.

Food & Cooking25 Sep 2005 11:49 am

Matthew has given me a reminder of a culinary event I attended last week – the Massachusetts state fair.

Well, technically, this is the Eastern States Exposition, and serves as the state fair for all of New England. It’s held in Western Massachusetts, a place as close to neutral and accessible as is found here. It’s big—we went on a weekday morning, and there was traffic backed up for a mile through a rotary. On a typical weekend day (the Big E, as it’s known, runs for 17 days), they apparently get 100,000 visitors. I can’t imagine.

So, the main event of a state, or even a county, fair is of course food, especially deep fried food. We lunched our way through the fair, and had a surprising quantity of extremely good fried food. In the non-fried category, I plumped for fresh raspberries from the Massachusetts coalition of farmers’ markets (very good indeed), my first lobster roll, from the Maine pavilion (not enough mayonnaise to moisten the sandwich, and the bread was vaguely stale and floppy), and a rather good slice of pizza from American Flatbreads, cooked in the stone oven they’ve built inside the Vermont pavilion.

In fried food, the deep fried cheese curds and the deep fried oreos particularly stood out. Yep, deep-fried oreos. Like a beignet with a creamy chocolate filling—the shortening that makes the cookies crisp melts at deep-frying temperatures, as does the filling, so the whole comes out like a tiny chocolate-filled doughnut. The cheese curds, from the first stage of cheddar making, were like mozzerella sticks, but nice instead of nasty. The batter wasn’t that crumb coating, but rather a baking-powder batter that you might use for fish. Everything was fried to order, which makes a huge difference.

Food & Cooking25 Sep 2005 12:40 am

The summer is winding down in the farmers’ market in Harvard Square. Cucumbers are slowing down; tomatoes are also, though at least some will be available until the first frost. Eggplant is going strong, including the skinny japanese variety; unfortunately, the orange and green Turkish kind is gone for the year. Corn is still available, and should be until mid-October. Hot peppers are likewise in, after a late start. Fall vegetables are starting to arrive— broccoli, winter squash, cauliflower, leeks, and greens. In fruit, more apple varieties are coming in, as are the late plums and the end-of-season peaches and nectarines.

So, really, it’s still summer. Tomatoes, basil, corn – what more evidence do you need?

Dinner24 Sep 2005 11:46 pm

Today we went to the Border Cafe for fajitas and beer. An apple-strawberry pie from Hi-Rise Bakery (thank you very much), with some Yunnan tea, served for a late-night snack.

I can’t imagine that anyone really cares about my dinner—and yet, if it (someday) looks like we never eat anything but wonderful home-cooked food, these posts should serve as a reality check. In real life, we eat out for convenience, we eat sandwiches, we… but you can see for yourself. Enjoy.

Food & Cooking24 Sep 2005 03:35 pm

There’s a grape vine on the porch of the house we live in. Every year, it grows little bunches of grapes—green Concord grapes with seeds. It’s tough to know when they’re ripe, since Concord grapes aren’t terribly sweet anyway. Every year, they eventually wither or rot or get eaten by squirrels. The smell at that time of year is best described as “rotting Welch’s grape juice”—which is pretty much the case.

This year, the little rodents are out of luck. I harvested the grapes and made grape jelly. Until I get a picture up here, hold the thought of pale green jelly in your mind. It’s not crystal clear like commercial stuff, so consider: pale green opaque jelly. A color not found in stores.

Green Grape Jelly

So now I’ve got the picture—and it looks pretty and golden—much nicer than real life.

It was an interesting process. You need to make a jelly bag to strain out the skins and seeds – about 5 minutes with a sewing machine, and a piece of cheap muslin and some kitchen twine. If you use flannel, I’m assured you get a more clear result, but I wonder if it’s also a largely unflavored one.

It’s also the first time I’ve had to consider pectin levels. In the past, I’ve made stuff like marmelade, where the natural pectin levels are incredibly high, and the acid levels are more than adequate. This stuff didn’t quite gel naturally – and the tiny test batch I made was also hideously sweet with the suggested sugar levels (3 cups sugar to 4 cups grape juice – or something like 70% sugar by weight). So, in with the low-sugar pectin.

It works, though it still seems like cheating. And I could cut the sugar levels way down to get a more palatable result.

So, I have the technique, the equipment, and some ideas on how to improve results next time. I also have the old-world joy of preserved produce from my own garden. If only I liked grape jelly.

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