Saturday, February 21, 2015

just noodling


Say you’ve got some scallions and garlic, a bright lime, some roasted sesame oil, maybe some sesame seeds, and perhaps some cilantro. What do you do? Add them to some soba noodles for an exuberant version of Sesame Noodles!
Could this be the first time I’d noticed the buckwheat goodness of soba? Could it be that I’d never had them before? Because I was very impressed. They were both silken and strong, as well as flavorful.
Soba is the gray/brown Japanese noodle made of buckwheat and water and it is literally the word used for buckwheat. The traditional recipe for cooking these noodles is to bring a big pot of water to a boil, plunge the noodles into it, and when it comes to a boil again to keep adding cold water each time to keep them at a simmer.
I brought a pan (I use a rather deep sauté pan for this) of water (but not an exorbitant amount) to a boil, plunged the noodles into it and cooked them over a medium heat for 6 minutes, then plunged them into a pan of cold water to cool them off but not make them too chilly. When I was ready, I drained them and tossed them with the ingredients above, adding maybe some salt and perhaps a small brunoise (tiny squares) of jalapeno. I took them as an appetizer to one of our Fridays@Five get-togethers and we all looked like birds, dangling those beautiful strands down our gullets.
The reason I was bothering with those noodles at all was because of a recipe I’d seen in Seven Days by one of their new food writers, Hannah Palmer Egan, for a Daikon Miso Noodle Bowl. I was particularly interested in the simple miso broth she made with 4 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of red miso paste, a scant handful of bonito flakes, and ½ of a medium daikon radish that had been peeled and thinly sliced. The water is brought to a boil, the miso paste whisked in, then the bonito flakes and daikon are added, the pot is covered and it’s boiled over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes. She went on in some detail and I did follow that recipe that can be found in their January 6 issue and it was very good but I’ll leave that up to you.
For those times when you just want a broth to add your own things to, this is a good basic one and you don’t have to boil up a chicken. I add some sesame oil, some garlic, and maybe an egg and it fulfills my afternoon hunger. Or supper. Or even breakfast.
An egg? My Facebook friend, CrescentDragonwagon, detailed a quick soup that she was having for breakfast when I questioned her about it. She had said, “…miso soup, with grated fresh ginger, minced garlic, scallions, tofu, a poached egg, a little cooked brown rice… this is what called my name.”
Ah, I said, and do you boil the water and then add miso and bonito flakes. She reminded me that she was vegetarian and so skipped the bonito flakes, “And yes, I bring water to the boil, today adding a few chunks of fresh ginger, then poaching the egg in it, then pouring a little water onto the miso paste to dilute it, then pouring the whole shebang into the diluted miso.” Sometimes she would add grated ginger and sliced shiitake mushrooms. But, one should remember that, “The egg yolk of course should still be on the runny side when it gets poured into the bowl, because the minute you pierce it with the spoon it flows into the hot broth and cooks further and the whole thing enriches quite wonderfully.” WOW. Egg yolk porn.
When I made my first miso broth the other day I dug out a white plastic container of Mitoku Organic Yamaki Barley Miso that I’d bought at Sunshine Natural Foods in the last century sometime and had never tried. It was a shiny mahogany color of clay-like consistency, and I thought – hey, now or never. Absolutely delicious. Now I am on a hunt for it. If any of you know of it or where it can be found, please let me know. Otherwise, a fascinating array of misos can be bought at the Co-op. 
So those are some ideas for soba noodles and miso broth, and now I want to talk about udon noodles and this is why: Saturday, which was Valentine’s Day you will remember, I stopped after the Farmers’ Market at Green Mountain Fresh on State Street to get some fish for Leo’s supper: He brings me flowers and I make him a nice dinner (which I do every other day, too, but I make a bigger fuss about it on Valentine’s Day). They had fresh chopped clams and I thought that we had not had clam spaghetti in a long time and we do both love it. And I thought that it would be especially good with soba noodles and I was sure that I had another package at home. Yum. I was hungry already!
Long story short, once home I found I did not have soba noodles, I had udon noodles and I was certainly not going back into town, so udon noodles it would have to be. And though I did not know what to expect, these turned out to be as silky and strong as the soba noodles, without, however, the nice buckwheat taste.
I cooked them up in the same way I did the soba and then I dumped them into a pot of cold water just as I had the soba, and they warmed the cold water to a comfortable level while I made the clam sauce, which was simply some white wine poured into the bottom of a sauce pan, some chopped garlic added to that, cooked until just a scrim remained then adding a stick of butter to melt over a very low heat and when it was melted I poured in the lovely chopped fresh clams and their juices and warmed the whole thing. In the meantime I chopped a lot of flat-leafed parsley and stirred that in. In shallow soup bowls I swirled the cooled udon noodles, spooned the hot clam sauce over and sprinkled that with grated parmesan cheese. 

I’d lit candles to illuminate Leo’s beautiful bouquet and we dug in, twirling our forks against a soupspoon and slurping those silken noodles and chunks of clams into our mouths. A crisp massaged kale salad bright with lemon proved the perfect foil.

Friday, February 06, 2015

oh sugar!

Remains of avocado with lime and panna cotta, so good forgot to take a photo
After all of this sugar – Marshmallows, for goodness sake??!! – I have been forced to get serious about deleting carbohydrates from my diet. Yes, sugar. Yes, white things like bread and flour. But also carrots and potatoes and, well almost every civilized thing you can think of, like rice, certainly pasta, oatmeal, in fact all grains – gone, gone until... well, gone. When we can begin to fit into our pants again we may begin to add things back – a raisin here or there, half an apple, because no, you are not eating fruit right now. Fructose is sugar.
You eat lots of non-starchy vegetables, like cabbage and broccoli and Brussels sprouts and turnips, and piles of salads, and eggs, almost any meat, almost any cheese. Fish. Thick cream in your coffee instead of half and half. Fat. Fat is your friend. On your fork, not on your body. And after a few days
cheddar crisps
of this? You are not hungry.  You aren't hungry because you've gotten rid of your sugar cravings. Possibly you are not hungry because if you were you would need to chow down on some more cheese. More Cheese? No, thank you very much. You do love cheese but enough is enough, especially without crackers or bread.
Except. Want something crisp? How about some pan fried cheese – now there’s an idea. Or baked.  Slice some cheese, lay slices on parchment paper, well separated, put them into a 350° oven for 20 minutes or less – until they are melted and golden and crisp. Some kinds will become pocked. Let them cool and eat them like crackers.
The potential problem with this way of eating is that, if you allow sugar or more than a very minimum of carbohydrates (25, say) into your mouth, your body will deposit all that fat you've been eating on your hips. You are aiming at burning fat and you will not burn it if carbs are available. I think of dockworkers and the foreman who yells at them, “Hey you wit da fat! Store it on the hips, in the belly, around the liver until we need it. And hey, we only need it when we don’t got carbs to burn.” Fat, stored in your body, around your organs, is a very unhealthy situation.
So. Are you hungry? How about an avocado, cut in half, pitted, salted and peppered, and olive oiled and garlicked. Spooned out of the shell into your mouth. Wonderful lunch. There are 21 grams of fat and 2 of carbohydrate in an avocado. Perfect for our purposes. Delicious, too, and satiating. You probably won’t need anything more, but if you do, you could have some cheese. Novel thought.
You notice we didn't count the calories in that lunch? They are irrelevant, that’s why.
This kind of eating is so effective, and delicious, is much easier to stick to than many others except that everywhere you go someone’s thrown some sugar into the salad dressing or added some flour to the sauce or coated the meat or fish with it.
And that brings up the second potential problem with low-carb eating – your cravings will return if you are careless about carbs. Let’s face it, carbs taste good and once you let them in you want them more and more and more. I just re-read that sentence, and really? It’s not that they taste so good, it’s that they’re so addictive. We just got an email featuring a luscious looking piece of pork but it was entitled Sweet and Savory Overnight Pork.
So we followed that back and found the recipe and it’s based on one by Jamie Oliver for pork with fennel seeds – nothing unnaturally sweet about that – except that the mother who sent us the recipe changed it to make it more attractive to her little girl, “I wanted something less Mediterranean and more barbecue, so I stirred together a thick paste of chopped garlic, brown sugar, maple syrup, mustard...” See what I mean? That little girl is being taught that everything should be sweet. Leave the damned sugar out of it, let the natural sweetness come through. And in roasted pork there is a great deal of a umami taste that’s even better than sugar sweetness.
We guess this could be called the third problem with this kind of cooking – that we are bombarded with carbohydrate ideas,  so unless we stick to plain, one-item things like meat and cheese and eggs, it’s hard to come up with an idea. Difficult but not impossible – you just have to think outside the box.  I've been using lemon juice and zest on everything. Yum. Citrus without the carbohydrates.
The other day I emailed a friend who happens to always be looking for something sweet but without sugar. Lots of things taste sweet when you don’t eat carbs –  Leo’s breakfast sausage the other day just about knocked me on my ass. Heavy cream in my coffee is wonderful. Very dark chocolate – say 85%? – becomes quite enjoyable. I suggested, in that email,
“How about: Whip some heavy cream. Whip in coconut manna and fold in grated very dark chocolate. So very few carbs.
“Hmm, wondering about adding some gelatin to make it pudden'y.
“Whaddya think?”
A word about coconut manna. It consists of the whole, ground, dried coconut. It is delicious and delivers a nice sweetness with very few carbs. For a tiny sweet snack I’d been embedding a shard of chocolate in a teaspoon of the manna. It was enough. Another thing that’s good in small quantities and helps to assuage sweet toothes is tamarind paste concentrate, or a miso broth. Stevia makes a good, natural sweetening agent. I like to keep little bowls of seeds and spices handy to dip a finger in to. Tiny tastes to keep your palate satisfied. I told you – we’re thinking outside the box.
So I gave the cream thing  a try and what I came up with was rather bland and, I thought, a little rubbery, but a good mouth feel and very satisfying. My friend, whom I’d given a little bowl, added something I’d never heard of – English toffee drops. We finally figured out it was Stevia under the name of Wisdom Natural, Sweet Drops, Liquid Stevia Sweetener, English Toffee. It comes in 2 fluid ounce dropper bottles. Stevia is a plant. It is definitely the best of the artificial sweeteners because it is not artificial, not manmade of chemicals. It grows as an herb and it is very sweet. Some people find it overpowering, but i quite like it in small amounts.
To my original recipe, I added another cup of cream, a bit of salt, and some stevia – or you could use the drops –  and this is it – very easy and quick and satisfying.   
Coconut Panna Cotta
·         4 tablespoons cold water
·         1 packet gelatin
·         3 cups heavy whipping cream
·         2 tablespoons coconut manna
·         1 teaspoon vanilla (or other flavoring)
·         ½ teaspoon stevia or  up to 24 drops of Wisdom Natural English Toffee
·         tiny pinch of salt (to bring out the flavor)
·         ½ ounce (or so) very dark chocolate
·         cinnamon (optional)
Grease 6 small (1/2 cup) bowls with butter or oil or even PAM.
Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the cream over low heat, whisk in the coconut manna and vanilla, and when it is very warm, take it from the heat, whisk in the stevia (or drops*) and salt and then the softened gelatin. Whisk very well. You may even beat it for a few minutes to make it a bit thicker, then pour into the bowls. Slice the chocolate very thinly with a sharp knife and it will break into thin shards. Sprinkle each bowl with a good number of those shards, then chill for at least 4 hours. Sprinkle a little cinnamon over it if you like before eating.


The title of this little piece is Oh Sugar! It should, of course, be No Sugar! Give it a try.
panna cotta

Sunday, January 25, 2015

such a comfort: James Beard's braised onion sauce on pizza




Often in these doldrums I’d just as soon pull on a pair of wool socks and another sweater and make a bowl of polenta (or rice or ferro) laced with cream and maple sugar and a hint of cinnamon and sprawl on the couch to catch up on the last season of Mad Men. That childish meal would take precedence even over a slightly more sophisticated bowl of the same stuff condimented with olive oil and garlic and parmesan – if you’re going to be twelve, be twelve! In that light, forget the maple syrup – make it brown sugar, and be sure to put a lump of good butter in the bottom of the bowl before you pour in the hot cereal.

But those days are gone forever. At seventy, one needs to dredge up at least a modicum of dignity and put to work the things one knows are good to do for oneself and one’s ones. But sometimes good intentions fail when 8° Fahrenheit is a heat wave and you just want something comforting but not too pointedly childish.
And, sometimes the more you know the ‘less’ you need to do to get away with very little. Recently I heard reference to James Beard’s Braised Onion Sauce from his book, Beard on Pasta, one that I don’t own, but was able to look up online. The recipe is simplicity itself and, though it is meant to go on pasta, I thought I would use it as a pizza topping.
Most of us can recognize the desirability of braising onions long and slow until they turn golden and soft and very very sweet. Nowadays food writers can get a little pretentious about it and call for a certain kind of sweet onion. And yes, it is possible that the reason James Beard called for plain ole yellow onions is not because of choice but because of the lack of it: When he wrote, there were two kinds of onions readily available – yellow and white – and yellow were preferable for this recipe.
I’m sure he knew of the sweet cipollini or Maui or Vidalia but I like to think that even if they were available he would still have preferred to cook down strong sharp flavorful onions to discover their hidden sweetness rather than to accentuate the already sweet and often insipid ones. I would, anyway. Of course he does call for the addition of a tablespoon of sugar to the onions and that can be omitted or at least halved, as the finished sauce was quite sweet and in my opinion the sugar detracted from the natural sweet flavor of them.
He calls for 1 ½ pounds of onions and ½ pound of butter! That – 2 sticks, or 16 tablespoons – is too much butter, if such a thing can be said of butter. I used ten tablespoons, which is a stick plus 2 tablespoons and next time I would cut it down to one stick. (Actually, thinking this over, the amount of butter may not be too much for pasta because it makes up the sauce. It IS too much for a pizza topping.)
So the idea is that you slice up about 3 large onions, put them in the pan with the butter and a bit of salt, turn the heat to low and let them just sweat in the butter and their own juices for about an hour until they are golden and even puddeny. When they have become that thick, unctuous, caramelly sauce, you add some Madeira – or sherry, as I did, lacking Madeira – and then you throw them over some substantial pasta and shave a bit of parmesan over them and voila::: Comfort Food!!!
This idea caught me early in the day so I started braising the onions, thinking that – for lack of an appropriate pasta – I would use it on a pizza. So that’s what I did, and here’s that little recipe:




James Beard’s Braised Onion Sauce
(for pasta or pizza, annotated, of course, by me)
  • 10 to 16 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used 10 tablespoons and the pizza was ringed in melted butter. I’d use 8 the next time)
  • 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (for me, this is optional – I would leave it out next time)
  • Salt (about a teaspoon for the cooking, and a sprinkling of coarsely ground at the end)
  • 1/4 cup Madeira (lacking this, I used sherry)
  • 3/4 pound hot cooked pasta (I used a pizza crust)
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving
  1. In a large (12-inch) skillet, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent.
  2. Stir in the sugar and a pinch of salt, and reduce the heat to low. Cook the onions slowly for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Patience is key! When they're done, they should be golden, caramelized, and borderline jammy.
  3. Stir in the Madeira, cook for a few more minutes
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the pan. Shower on a generous dusting of Parmesan, and using two large spoons, toss the pasta well with the sauce OR
  5. simply spread the onion sauce over the pizza crust, shave parmesan over the top, pop it into a 450° oven for about 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly and that will be that.
We loved this for dinner and I cut the leftovers into little squares and served them as a snack when friends came over the next day.
It was very popular, arguably a bit healthier than the sugary hot porridge, but still Such a Comfort!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

marshmallows from mastadons




hands of mom and dotter make easy work. photo by Isobel Gabel Nimtz
Yea, it was Christmas Eve day and all through the house there were presents to be wrapped, rugs to be vacuumed and, if I ever got my rear in gear, cookies to make. But then, who would eat them, all crunchy and sugary? And who should? Certainly not me!
So what did I do with this holiday crescendo hanging over my head? I decided to make marshmallows, than which there is not, of course, a healthier snack nor one more emblematic of the holidays. Which holiday? Well, maybe Easter or the 4th of July.
Nevertheless I persevered, tempted by a photo of a plateful of them online somewhere. We would have marshmallows for Christmas.
Or, rather, we probably wouldn’t. How many times had I attempted my grandmother’s divinity in this season, beating a sugar syrup into egg whites until light as clouds and dropping mounds of it filled with black walnuts onto a sheet of waxed paper. Hers remained mounds, and she portioned them out to all the men in her life; mine became lakes. I always blamed my failure on damp Christmas air.
This Christmas Eve it rained all day but I nevertheless determined to make a sugar syrup and add it to gelatin, and whip it into light and airy marshmallows. It had no more chance of success than my divinity efforts, but for some reason I followed this strange compulsion.
Was I insane? I believe I was suffering from at least a temporary form of holiday insanity.
I checked for supplies: Yes, the last of the 40 year old gelatin was in the spice cupboard, assuming it was still viable. (Do hydrolyzed beef bones go bad? I wonder if we could make marshmallows out of mastodon bones?) And yes, I had about a cup of corn syrup (not high-fructose) left in the bottle – how old was that? I’d used up my lifetime can of  PAM in about 1987, if I remember correctly, and that did seem to be an integral part of this process – PAM to spray the pan, the parchment paper, the spatula, the knife, lots and lots of PAM.
Not the healthiest thing I’d done this year but shut up about that. Please. You can not reason with the insane.
Okay, PAM. It was Christmas Eve, remember, and I was NOT about to go to Hannafords or Price Chopper or anywhere near Rutland, which would be a mob scene. Lowell!, I thought, and called her. “Which kind of PAM would you like? she asked. “I have coconut oil, olive oil lite, canola oil...” I told her, anything with some lecithin in it, which I believe is the ingredient that gives it its legendary properties of non-stickness.
Back home again! I needed 2.5 tablespoons of gelatin. I may have overestimated the amount in each of those little packets – they felt fat. I measured out the last two of them and came up with about 2 tablespoons. There was an opened packet, partially full, and without measuring I dumped that in, too. I was taking no chances on being a trifle short, just BAM, there we go. Okay.
But then I measured out the cup of corn syrup and I was a good quarter cup short. Damn. I knew Lowell wouldn’t have it because she doesn’t bake. The little store had none, but they suggested the family dollar. I’d forgotten we had a family dollar so I drove there. They had no corn syrup but they did have PAM, so I bought a can of it and will probably never run out of it again.
So then I stopped back at Lowell’s and sure enough she had no corn syrup but called Cassie, who did. After I sat around and chatted with Lowell and Dave, who was finishing up the holiday cards, I drove over to Cassie’s and chatted with her and her mother while Cassie rolled out pie crust.
This day was turning out to be the most Christmassy and relaxing and pleasant thing I’d done all holiday season. I wondered who I could visit next, and thought I’d have to when Cassie pulled out her bottle of corn syrup::: It was, Get this, LITE corn syrup! Lower in sugar. What the hell?!!! You’re not going to drink corn syrup all that often, but when you DO find occasion to use it you don’t want them to’ve cut down on the sugar. Sugar’s the whole point! 
But enough was enough. I took my Lite Corn Syrup home and proceeded to make the marshmallows.
I think what caught my eye in the first place was the idea of combining the honey and sugar and corn syrup and water and heating it until the sugar dissolved and then bringing it “to a full boil for 30 seconds”. None of those hard or soft ball stages – just blast it for 30 seconds, which you can count, you know – and then if it didn’t come out it wasn’t your fault. You’d done your part!
I Pammed the pan, lined it with parchment paper and Pammed that. Then I Pammed the spatula and scooped all that luscious froth into it, smoothed it out, and set it aside. Then I looked at the floor, which had been Pammed, too. We could’ve skated on it.
Next afternoon I Pammed a sharp knife, cut those suckers into cubes, Dotter rolled them in (yet more) (powdered) sugar and pronounced them – not divinity – but divine! Nobody even missed Christmas cookies. Some purists wanted to age them like Peeps and eat them for Easter. Fat chance they were going to last that long.
So just in case you want to follow up and make some of these lovelies, here’s the recipe. it’s one I found with the help of one of my favorite pages, Improvised life, and those ladies reprinted it from a blog called Kitchen Repertoire. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
Marshmallows
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water (this will be divided into ½ cup + 1 tablespoon and ¼ cup*)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup (this is light as in color, not lite as in less sugar)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • food coloring, sprinkles and flavoring of choice (I used rum/vanilla for flavoring, and next time would definitely use some sprinkles or something for color)
  • Confectioners sugar, for dusting
In a bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water.  Let stand to soften.  Meanwhile combine sugar, corn syrup, honey, salt and remaining 1/4 cup  water in a large heavy pot. (*I believe I forgot to add in that last quarter cup of water...Jest sayin’) Cook over medium heat for a few minutes until combined.  Increase heat and bring to a full boil for about 30 seconds, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat and stir in gelatin, 1 tablespoon of whatever flavoring you wish and stir for a 30 more seconds until all the gelatin has dissolved.  Transfer the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer, add a drop or two of food coloring if using,  and whisk until thick and fluffy and very stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes at a high speed (I whipped it until it could stand up and walk away – about 10 minutes).
Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with Pam - lots and lots of Pam.  Line pan with parchment and spray the parchment.  Spray a rubber spatula with more Pam and transfer marshmallow goo into the pan.  Flatten top - using sprayed spatula.  Let cool, wrap in plastic and allow to stand overnight.  
Turn out marshmallows.  Spray a knife with Pam.  Cut into squares of any size, toss with sifted confectioners sugar, shaking off excess.  If decorating with sprinkles - dip ends into sprinkles instead of using confectioners sugar so that the sprinkles stick. 
Happy (early) Easter!


Monday, December 29, 2014

the Lebovitz adaptation




I can scarcely read David Lebovitz  without wanting to share with you whatever it is he’s talking about that day. But then you might just as well read DavidLebovitz.com yourself instead of tuning into Twice Bitten every other Tuesday.
I have to admit that some of his recipes work better than others. For instance, in a braised endive dish that I couldn’t wait to try a few weeks ago, the endive is braised in butter on the stovetop and then tucked in with a parchment paper covering to the oven for about an hour before taken out and cooled, each endive wrapped in thin ham, then put back into the baking dish and covered with a béchamel (white sauce) with Gruyere or other Swiss style cheese folded into it, and then browned back in the oven.
I made it and Leo thought it was dreamy, but I found a few things wrong with my execution of it. First of all, the sauce was brown instead of white and golden on top as in David’s photo. And there was something about the texture that I didn’t like, the endive being extremely soft and yet rather stringy. Neither of which was the fault of the dish but, as I say, in my execution of it and, possibly, in David’s directions as to the making of it. And perhaps the endive could have been fresher. A better cook than I would have adapted it to her own expectations, anticipating that the browned butter in the dish would turn the entire sauce brown. Which I may have recognized, but did nothing about.
So now, in hindsight, let me tell you, I would bake it until the juices had become a glaze, not liquid, and then, instead of a béchamel, I would simply nap it with warmed heavy cream and the grated cheese and bake it until bubbly and golden. That would make a wonderful very low carbohydrate dish for this carb-hyped season.
Another thing that David did, recently, was to print another cook’s adaptation of a recipe from David’s book, My Paris Kitchen, for a slightly sweet Israeli cous cous! I’m unable to find that now – he may have taken it down for it’s circuitousness – but I did find the adaptation, itself, by Sara Rosso on her blog, www.msadventuresinitaly.com. It involves a lot of fresh lemon juice and cilantro along with dates and pistachios and a bit of cinnamon.
It sounded wonderful to me and so I tried it – adding bacon to the mix, and more lemon – and was blown away. I thought it was outstanding and I could eat it all day, while Leo thought it was good but too sweet for a main dish despite the bacon. Whomever you believe you can bet it would make a wonderful side dish for the holiday table.
Israeli or Middle Eastern (as the Co-op labels it in the bulk department) cous cous  is simply a larger grained cous cous. And of course cous cous is not a grain, or only remotely, being made from flour, traditionally from semolina wheat. I think of it as a pasta. Don’t ask me how they form regular cous cous  into those little balls::: Well, do ask me, and I would tell you women’s fingers and lots of gossip I would guess. Sitting outside on kitchen chairs in some North African landscape, deftly rubbing dough between their palms to form tiny little pellets. On the other hand, Israeli cous cous is actually extruded into larger little balls and then baked. It is cooked, then, by boiling briefly.
I am buying bacon made from the hog jowl from Plew Farm at the Rutland Winter Market on Saturdays. I keep it frozen and shave off just as much as I need for each use. I imagine I used 2 or 3 ounces in this dish – just enough for a bit of savory flavor. Excellent Medjool dates may be found in the Co-op’s produce section. Roasted and salted pistachios in their bulk section. As a matter of fact all the ingredients (but the bacon) can be found in different parts of the Co-op.
Here’s the recipe. It is Sharon Nimtz’s adaptation of  Sara Rosso’s adaptation of David Lebovitz’s
Lemon-Pistachio Israeli Cous Cous
3 or 4 ounces thin sliced bacon (see above)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ cup cilantro, chopped just coarsely
½ cup diced Medjool dates
½ cup salted and roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons very good salted butter at room temp
1 ¼ cups Israeli cous cous
sea salt to taste
 Freshly ground pepper
Add all the ingredients except cous cous, salt and pepper to a large bowl.
Boil the cous cous in salted water according to package directions, or simmer about 8 minutes until al dente. Drain, then add the cous cous to the bowl and stir until the butter is fully melted and all the ingredients are mixed well. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. I would not re-heat leftovers.
Happy Holidays, Dear Readers!
this Twice Bitten column was published in the Rutland Herald on 12/23/14

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

...in the most delightful way



Last summer when I harvested my delicious, pungent, crisp and plentiful 2014 crop of garlic, small-headed though they were (a whole other story), I peeled almost two cups of the cloves and put them into a pint ball jar, salted them liberally and let them sit over night in order to begin the fermentation. The next day I rubbed them dry and covered them with local Rutland honey from Right Mind Farm. I put the lid and ring on the jar and set it aside in a hidey place over by the coffee pot.
Now, a recipe for this substance called Ninniku Hachimitsu-zuke from the book Quick and Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes, does not call for the garlic being salted overnight, but just covered with honey and set aside in a cool place. Sarah Nelson Miller, who referred to that recipe on her blog, Killer Pickles, points out that not only is honey 80% sugar but it is also acidic, both traits that help preserve whatever’s in it. Like garlic. Miller also urges us to, “try using it in dressings, sauces, and marinades, and it’s a natural choice for many kinds of Asian cooking. I love to chop up a bit of the garlic and mix it with the honey and some raw apple cider vinegar and drizzle that over (a pork loin).”
This concoction was being raved about by posters on a Facebook thread called Fermenter’s Kitchen and another called Wild Fermentation (started by Miller) after the book by Sandor Katz. It was promoted as being, number 1, delicious and, number 2, a fantastic remedy for colds and flu due to the antibiotic and healing properties of both ingredients.
Truthfully, what I had in mind was an approximation of the delightful taste you get when you baste thin flatbread dough with garlicky olive oil, bake it off, and then drizzle it with honey and a sprinkle of coarse salt, and eat it while it’s warm. If you’ve never tasted this you must must must make occasion to try it.
But this was not to be, for when I tried the garlic and honey after it had fermented on the counter for a couple of weeks, the honey had watered down with the juices of the garlic, I guess, and simply did not have that unctuous mouth feel. And of course, then, also, there was the fermented taste, which is not to be scoffed at, normally, but in this instance was not what I was looking for. I left that jar alone after that, merely glancing at it balefully once in awhile, trying not to bewail the waste of valuable garlic AND honey......
But that was before this insidious little dry cough that came on slowly over a week or so became productive and near constant, keeping me awake at night and finally making my ribs hurt. That baleful glance happened once again on that little pint jar and this time lingered, and I thought well, what the hell, that’s what it’s s’pozed to be good for and I forked out a garlic clove and ate it! That was a treat! Then I spooned up some of the honey and swallowed that. Not bad.
Next morning, cough was still there, and still productive but with the air of clearing out and cleaning up rather than going deeper and despicable-er. Another clove of garlic and spoonful of honey – hot and sweet! there are worse ways of dealing with illness – in the morning and healing is definitely on the upswing.
Just proving that A Spoonful of Honey makes the medicine go down...
This Twice Bitten column first printed in the Rutland Herald 12/9/14 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

caramel alchemy



Partner-in-life has been on a too-long ice cream jag, which would be all right except for all the sugar carbs  that tempt me to share the jag, and two more reasons, #1 that he has eschewed Ben and Jerry’s creaminess (and priciness) for Second-Best-Local-Ice-Cream. SBLIC, which used to be really good, is now, due to a family quarrel regarding quantity vs quality, not as good as it used to be: It tastes icy instead of creamy.

P-i-L HAD brought home one of those B&J pints with a core of caramel down the middle of it. That was dicey in that it was TOO good. Next he bought the SBLIC Sweet Cream flavor, which sounds so good but was still icy, and a little jar of brand name (SureFine? Smuckers?) caramel which sported as first ingredient high fructose corn syrup. That was Reason #2. I put that little jar on the porch. I said, “You take that right back, we don’t eat that kind of Stuff in this house.” Dotter was home, knowing (as did he) that I was right. But. Caramel! “What do you think that caramel core in B&J’s was made of?” he whined. I hate to think.

Well, actually, I did think and so I looked it up. Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Core Ice Cream has about 23+/- ingredients but, though it does list corn syrup, it is apparently not high fructose corn syrup.

Twenty-three ingredients! Ice cream is best when you have three ingredients. In June those would be Cream, Sugar, and Strawberries. In July substitute blueberries for the strawberries. Caramel should have 2 or 3 ingredients: sugar, cream, and maybe butter. Added together that’s 4 ingredients, most of it sugar.

So one night, right after the marvelous shrimp dinner that I wrote about 2 weeks ago, that he and she had cleaned up after, with SBLIC Sweet Cream looming, almost without thinking I plunked the black cast iron skillet on the burner and turned it up to medium-high heat and, when it was getting there, poured a cup of white cane sugar into it, then shook it a bit, and turned the heat down a bit and stood looking at it, as did dotter.

“What...?” she said. “Just sugar...?” she said, as the edges of it browned and sank and ate at the interior, and a couple of hot spots in the center began to spread.
“Yep,” I said, “caramel.” A gasp. “I didn’t know it was such alchemy,” she said.

Alchemy, yes: When you think what different substances ice cream and caramel are, both made with almost the same ingredients.

I modulated the heat, picked up the skillet to that end, put it back down, turned the sugar with a silicone spatula, and when all was melted, white turned to amber and that turning dark reddish brown, watching witchfully, as soon as it “was just past the point when it starts to smoke,” (David Lebovitz) I turned the heat off and added heavy cream that I’d warmed in its own container in a bowl of hot water, Thomases again, and stirred carefully as it rose whoosh up the sides of the pan (silicone gloves are handy) stirring with that silicone spatula. I turned the heat back on low and when all was incorporated I turned the heat off again and added a couple lumps of salted butter and swirled them in. It was gorgeous. 


Ice cream sundaes were made with that Second-Best-Local-Ice-Cream’s Sweet Cream flavor topped with fresh, pillowy red raspberries and then that Surprise Caramel Sauce that astonished me as well as them, because it disappeared over the berries and ice cream only to be re-discovered in the process of spooning it up where it had formed its soft, round, buttery mouthfuls deep in the ice cream and berries.

Chemistry. Ain’t it grand?

***
Post Script: This is privileged stuff, having the sugar, the pan, the stove, to cook. How many people don’t. I can’t imagine. But I know it happens and so I give my money to people who can help those who haven’t even the basics, Vermont Foodbank. Please give to them this holiday season and every other season. 


Monday, November 03, 2014

Shrimp with a Snap

Let’s just say that flaccid shrimp are not my cup of seafood!

I found the following instruction in a recipe posted by a popular cooking show: 

"Immediately drop in the shrimp (to a moderately hot pan) and stir for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the shrimp are turning pink and are barely firm. Turn the shrimp into a serving bowl..."
Did you say UGH as loudly as I did?

A friend told me of his dear friend who habitually brought rather limp shrimp to events, so that one time when he forgot to cook them at all no one noticed. Flaccidity in shrimp is not your friend; as a matter of fact i can't think of an instance when it is a good thing. If you have anything in your home that the word flaccid could apply to it is probably a good idea to get rid of it.


But that wasn't the only thing that was wrong with that recipe. It called for the shrimp to be brined in a mixture made of water, 1/2 cup sea salt, 1/3 cup cane sugar, and 1/3 cup medium-hot chile powder! Soak for twenty minutes and then dump all that chili powder and sea salt out? I don't think so.

Sometimes we glom onto old advice that does not benefit us. For instance it is certainly possible to handle pastry dough too little and it is probably done quite often simply because everyone is paranoid about "handling it too much," advice that benefits only the makers of store-bought pie crust. After all, the stuff has got to hold together. 


Ditto about cooking shrimp and lobster for a short time "so as not to make it tough". Well, I'd rather have it tough than flaccid. But most of all I'd like it firm and with a bit of snap when you bite into it. A juicy snap.


A few weeks ago my daughter was flying out the next day to drive a u-haul back here from North Carolina with her significant other and all their belongings. That night called for a special meal for her to remember and come back to and that's why I picked up her favorite, shrimp, that had been imported from an Ecuadorian shrimp farm by Green Mountain Fresh down on State Street.

I'd been talking to Ingrid Wisell there about the advantages of farmed shrimp versus wild shrimp when owner, John Schramm, walked out and said he'd stack up his farmed E-Z Peel shrimp against wild-caught any old day. So I ordered 1.5 pounds of E-Z Peel. 


It's cheaper than wild-caught –  about $12 a pound that day as against just about $17 for the wild-caught –  and Ingrid had told me that most of its food is swept over it in the wild ocean, and that food is supplemented with appropriate other wild food. "It is definitely not fed chicken feed," she said, rather offended, but dispelling my greatest fear.
To prepare that shrimp I set my oven to 450° and placed a heavy cast iron griddle in it and as it heated I peeled the shrimp. E-Z Peel means the shells have been cut up the back, which makes them perhaps E-Zier, but not really E-Z, to peel. As I peeled them I lined them up on a flat, rimless pan so they would be easier to slide onto the hot griddle when it was time. 

I have an old oven so by the time it had come up to temp I had prepared the shrimp and thin-sliced the last green tomato from the garden and fried it in some lard (rendered by Pine Woods Farm in West Pawlet) in a heavy cast-iron frying pan. 


I removed that flaming hot griddle from the oven ever-so-carefully, drizzled it with just a bit of olive oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking, then slid the shrimp onto it and placed it back into the oven for about 2 minutes. Back out they came to be doused with half a stick of melted butter and 2 or 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Back in for another 2 minutes, and when they came out this time I sprinkled them with the juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon, some coarse sea salt, and covered them with a bit of parchment paper and let them sit and sizzle and drink up the flavorings for a few minutes. 


They were served atop polenta made from a bit of masa harina that I'd cooked down for a long time until it was positively gluey, then thinned with Thomas’ heavy cream and grated cheddar. Slices of that wonderful green tomato went on the very top, juices were drizzled and chopped fresh parsley was strewn over everything.


It was exquisite, the shrimp snapped with flavor and texture, and the meal did its job – Daughter showed up safely, right on time a few days later and again lives in Rutland. 


Good shrimp'll do it every time!