Thursday, August 9, 2012

Nice Cuppa Tea

That old taste for tea has returned. When I was nine years old I decided that I would most likely turn out a coffee person. This caused much consternation from my grandmother, especially when I asked for a second cup at the farmhouse table in Ohio. She would warn me that it would likely stunt my growth, ignoring the fact that at that time I was probably two feet taller than my peers.

My dear departed father LOVED tea. He would have a cup or two to wake up, made in a tiny two cup pot, another late morning, one in the afternoon and the occasional random cup would strike him on an occasional random day. He kept such a store of the stuff that I am still drinking from his hoard when I visit their home despite a considerable stream of tea drinking guests of my mother. Her own morning habit mirrored her husband's. Their tea was always brewed in a pot to a very strong dark oily point, and creamed with a dash of milk in the cup. I always needed a lot of milk to get it down with a scant teaspoon of sugar. They keep Royal Gold Yorkshire Tea and Taylors of Harrogate which friends from Thirsk and The Yorkshire Dales bring them. Personally my own favorite is Fortnum & Mason's Royal Blend, which can be found at Williams Sonoma , a black tea blend which was blended for Edward VII at the start of the Twentieth Century and I always buy it loose. But I must say that the habit was renewed thanks to a French tea which has dried flowers in the blend and each sip turns into a gulp which leaves me waiting for the next one. A friend brought a tin from France and thank goodness it can also be found at Williams Sonoma. I try to stretch out each small tin, since it is an expensive $22 dollar treat Mariage Frères Marco Polo. Mind you it's the only thing I buy with any regularity at that luxurious emporium. Never foresaw that a French blend would revive that most English of habits in me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cast in Iron

Time flies, doesn't it? There are big changes afoot this year and it seems as though nothing is written in stone. Fewer dinner parties and more nesting suits me fine. There are new found friends and, rather sadly, lost or fading friends. Sometimes there is hardship or suffering, but personally I am finding the now a pleasant time of adjustment and a veritable cleaning out of the cobwebs. Dead wood and new buds, and like vines, new buds on old wood. My father passed away while I held him in my arms on a mid-summer's night, an hour short of his 84th Birthday. He had been afflicted for some good time but perhaps the saddest part was that he could not swallow and so could not eat. For a man who relished his own salads at lunch and dinner (a fondness for which he passed on to me amongst other things), this was a cruel turn of events. He loved the bonhomie of the table and the impromptu circus of his sons' antics that inevitably surfaced when we were all together and which he mischievously spurred on. Life will never be quite as complete without him.

It's been a whole summer between posts and, on the verge of feeling negligent, I realize that this has been an intense and eventful period in my life. Cooking for family on multiple trips out east, and to make sure I keep my strength up, I've been able to add some new dishes to my repertoire which I hope to share with you soon. Familiar friends came back into my cooking life in a big way recently and one of them is Lodge's cast iron cookware. Think of it as being like Le Creuset without the enamel coating, and indeed Lodge makes its own line of enameled ware. Cast iron developed a stigma due to the risk of it rusting and the ingrained oily buildup carrying rancid flavors and grit, but this is ironware that settled the Wild West and with proper care that is much easier than one might think, it can last forever. A Lodge skillet's unrivaled heat conduction is a real joy and rediscovery. Because it retains and radiates heat so very well I find it easier to clean than most enameled or non stick pans and the caramelization of juices and sugars is unbeatable. Up top is photo of a skillet and griddle on the stovetop, the skillet roasting some pepitas for a Mexican sauce.

More on all this soon. I'm leaving you with a picture of my first East Coast oysters of the season, pricey Blue Points from Fire Island in New York, a stand in for my beloved Washington State Hama Hamas. Pretty shells, plump cucumbery centers!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bacon Bit

The dish pictured to the right, Atlantic sea scallops sautéed with bacon and scallions in a cream sauce with grapes, was very successful and I was going to go on and on about the virtues of seafood but I thought a change might be in order and so I am putting my feet back on dry land with this post despite the taste of seaspray.

I want to focus on the bacon I used in the dish, because I sured it myself. I am a big fan of Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman's  book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and I now frequently make Prosciutto Crudo and Bresaola, my method based on their recipes in that book. I have yet to cure Biltong which was a favorite of mine as a child in South Africa. I am not going to give my adaptations of their recipes here but to mention some of my spice and herb additions since there is always a risk of botulism poisoning with non acid cured meats and although I do use "pink salts" that by definition include sodium nitrite to preserve color and to retard growth of botulism  in the drying meat (don't click unless you can stomach vivid descriptions and pictures) I am always the first to taste each item I cure with instructions to people close to me if I go catatonic - call 911 and name the likely suspect. The book was given to me from a "Secret Santa" list when it came out and I already have complaints that I have not made peppered salami from the giver. Interestingly enough the Latin word botulus means sausage which explains the whole problem in one word and I have yet to get the fermenting bacteria or the casings, which are expensive, to foray into sausage making.

I'll address curing ham and beef at another point but, for bacon you need a Pork Belly which is easily found at Asian markets in Los Angeles and neatly trimmed to manageable proportions, but most important is the selection of flavorings, quite apart from the curing agents. You can suit yourself when you pick these but keeping them few and keeping them simple usually yields the best results. For this one I cured with juniper berries and the classic allspice berries crushed and mashed with whole black peppercorns. It takes about five days to flavor the pork belly and for the meet and fat to fully absorb the spices. The result was a mild, sweetly flavored bacon that fully complimented the halved table grapes and subtle sashimi grade scallops when it was chopped finely and combined with butter as the first sauté medium for the scallops, and, since it was all finished with cream the flavors were silkily distributed throughout. This dish was all about less is more - YUM!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

End of Harvest

It's spring once more and I wish I had the drive to be neatly boxing things up for posterity and tying everything with silk ribbons. I am content to sweep in dark corners and take unused things to the relevant recycling facility. Seasonal changes acome with refreshing reminders and new discoveries. Remarkable how many changes for the good are afoot despite the generally gloomy economic air.

One seasonal change is not so welcome. Almost every Friday During the last three months I have been in the habit of dropping in to the oft mentioned Fish King in Glendale to buy a dozen live oysters and the odd scallop or two. They usually have Fanny Bays from Canada but I opt for the delicious Hama Hamas from the Hamma Hamma estuary up in Washington State (note the two spellings - one trademarked). They are farmed and harvested in an ecologically sound and old fashioned way in their natural environment, according to Rowan Jacobsen's excellent and comprehensive book on the the American oyster, A Geography of Oysters. Once home, I have an inexpensive shucking knife with which I pry them open, squirt on a drop of lemon and it's down the hatch, chased with a mouthful of prosecco. Fresh, raw oysters have more in common flavor-wise with fresh vegetables such as cucumber and celery than with other shellfish though the liquor in the opened shell is important to retain and it often has small traces of seawater. One Saturday I changed tack and went downtown to a seafood wholesaler and fetched some tasty little kumamotos but they just didn't do much for me and I was back to the Hama Hamas, which are also a Japanese variety introduced to replenish the devastation of our natural beds on the Pacific Coast during the gold rush. The Olympia is the only native Pacific oyster left and is hard to find outside of Puget Sound. It has been thirty years since I was in its habitat and I still remember the dozen I had then as the most delicious oysters I have ever had. These days, with the Hama Hamas as my weekly treat I cannot think of anything much more luxurious or satisfying for about a dollar a pop.

Sadly the season is now at an end and the spawning season begins four month stretch. True, the limits are vague depending on the warmth of the water and the location, apparently in the gulf it can happen at any time, but, elsewhere in the northern hemisphere the general rule is if there is an R in the month, the oysters are going taste strange or full or unpredictable, and that is all. The Oyster's reproductive cycle is remarkable and I cherish the fact that most oysters are in their prime for the plate after three years of growth. Some eat during the spawning season but I am going to wait until September and count the days while they finish getting their thangs on.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Back To The Present Future

I had friends over a Sunday evening or two ago. It was a split meal deal where I made stuff and they made stuff and we did indeed have a lovely time.  I hardly ever entertain, but this was fun and I will attend accordingly to my lack of it.

I am a fan of the Roux Brothers' cookbook,  The New Classic Cusine.  Important to the development of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement The Roux Brothers  (one of the the most apt surnoms a French chef could be born with) were amongst its early champions, if not inventors. I lost my original copy of the cookbook to misfortune but I still remember the recipe for an artichoke heart with poached egg, smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce. I found a recipe of a similar kind by son, Albert Roux, who runs Le Gavroche, their London establishment, and decided to adapt it.  Mine ended up looking like a sloppy hamburger as you can see from Tony's picture, but after a couple of bottles of Prosecco and such, and many visitors along the course of that afternoon, what would you expect?  I did trim and poach the artichoke, whipped up a sauce rosemarie and added chopped dill and gravadlax which formed a bed for the soft poached egg. On top of that you can see the home cured salmon topped with a little mustardy mayonnaise I had left from the rosemarie sauce and then there is that ornamental sprig of dill. It fell apart on the plate, and in my mouth, and for that I am thankful. More about that dinner soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fishy

My friend George writes a very beautiful blog and shames me with his dedication not just by regularly posting, but also because his careful research is impressive. I sometimes wish he would pop in some gastronomic tidbits, but, the gossip is in itself is nutritious and I always end up satisfied.

I'm so ready to read Taras Grescoe's recent book Bottomfeeder. I was a huge fan of his book The Devil's Picnic. Popping Omega-3 fish oil pills recently, I've felt the benefit, though I won't share here in what way. I cook fish about once a week and here is a picture of this past Friday's salmon dish with fennel and scallions, fingerling potatoes, all roasted. To accompany, I whisked up fresh mayonnaise and added chopped cornichons for an impromptu tartar sauce, and loosely mixed up a garlicky viinaigrette for the salad bowl of mixed greens, dill and radicchio. Let me tell you that when you have a tiny kitchen and a busy day, roasting food makes it all a lot easier, and the preparation is easy. The most complicated element in the picture was the mayonnaise/tartar sauce since it was whipped up from scratch and even then it took five minutes. The rest roasted like this, 20 minutes for the fingerlings and fennel, sliced thinly. 15 minutes for the skin on steelhead salmon. Salt. Pepper. Well you can see the results in the pic.

If The Moon Were A Piece Of Cheese

If the moon were a piece of cheese it would be a finely holy havarti with a smile gently pressed into it. Tonight, unprepared food-wise, I quickly picked up a block of havarti, a chunk of buttery St. André, a loaf of "rustic"bread, grilled artichokes, olives, mortadella and coppa for an al fresco supper. As we grazed I was reminded of the French themed lunches which often featured my mother's home made terrines shared around the family table in my youth, though this one, American in spirit was much more mix and match.

As I understand it the moon is not made of cheese, but of rock and dust, and its gravity exerts a force on bodies of water, contributing to the ebb and flow of ocean tides. Our human bodies average a sixty per cent water content and so we are susceptible too. Judging by some of the craziness affecting me this last week, our current full moon is ripely smiling at its power to watch us all squirm down here, and I am snifiing that cheese-like stink. And on into this new week. Here is a similar supper the next night, my home pickled Persian cucumbers, sardines from the can in olive oil, the leftover bread and a mug of home made chicken broth, apparently Louis XVI broke his fast with a Sèvres cup of it each morning. I finished this evening with a with a similar brew in a gift-mug from Las Vegas.