Saturday, December 23, 2006
Really really hybridized corn - a very early nanoscape...I promise not to give up painting to explore plant genetics... If, however, you are interested in homicidal plant geneticists, look for Emma Lathen's Green Grow the Dollars (1982, Simon and Schuster; 1983 Pocket Books). "Emma Lathen" is/was two women who met in the early 1960s in a library at Harvard. One became a lawyer, the other an agricultural economist. Together, they used the device of the Trust Department of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, the third largest bank in the world, and its Senior Vice President, the supremely unflappable John Putnam Thatcher, to explore literate and civilized murder and mayhem in a wide swath of industries. The gore is always off-stage, and they assume that you know that "defenestration" means throwing yourself out the window. It's hard to pick favorites, but those set in the automobile, candy, ice hockey, home-delivered fried chicken and oil businesses come quickly to mind. They also wrote together as R.B. Dominic, with just five books featuring Ben Safford, a Congressman from Ohio. Using the power of Congressional investigation, they explored Supreme Court appointments, defense contracting, wildly abusive medical professionals (before it was "normal" for doctors to testify against one another in malpractice suits), and my personal favorite, Murder Sunny Side Up (Paperjacks, Ltd., 1985), which centers on a process for producing shelf-stable "fresh" eggs. Sadly, the Dominic books are out of print, but you can often find them used.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
If you give the gift of five pounds of candy, the recipient will be sick for a week.Whether you are playing an instrument or playing golf or playing the radio, using the best tools and equipment makes the activities easier and more pleasant. You can, of course, make this recipe without a candy thermometer by learning the rules of "soft-crack" and "hard-crack" stages of boiling sugar, and you can get by without either parchment paper or silicone mats, but you will have to deal with the messy cleanup after having to buttered the baking sheets. Your choice. You are, after all, the boss of you.
However, if you give the gift of a Candy Thermometer, the recipient will be able to make
jam, jelly, Italian meringue, caramels and Cashew Brittle -- and you may reap your just rewards (or just desserts.)
- To double or not to double? With the Bergin Nut Company in my back yard, I will always buy cashews in five-pound bags, and I will also always roast all of the nuts because roasted nuts are better to my taste. Extras go in the freezer.
- Would I double the brittle recipe or make it in small batches? Until I have factory-style equipment (giant sugar-stirring machinery), I'll continue to make small batches.
- Would I leave boiling sugar unattended for any length of time? No way. Turn on your I-pod, the TV or the radio, or grab a book -- but stay nearby. Boiling sugar is really really hot, and boiled-over sugar makes an incredibly awful mess.
3 qt saucepan
2 large rimmed baking sheets
parchment paper or silicon baking mats
silicon spoon or spatula
clip-on candy thermometer
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of vanilla-flavored light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter
scant 1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes (OPTIONAL)
3 cups roasted (not salted) cashews or cashew pieces
1 tsp baking soda, sifted
1. Roast cashews: Heat the oven to 350 (regular or convection oven). Cover baking sheets with parchment or silicone and spread the cashews in one level. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes, until the nuts are toasted to your satisfaction.
2. Make caramel: In a 3-quart saucepan, mix the sugar, corn syrup, water. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the butter and optional red pepper flakes. When the butter has melted, clip your CANDY THERMOMETER to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and boil at a moderate rate, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 280 degrees (soft-crack stage). This might take 30-40 minutes.
3. Cook caramel and cashews: Add the cashews and stir. When they first are in the pot, the mixture will seize up because you have lowered the temperature and the sugar is angry. Keep stirring to loosen it up, and then stir often until it reaches 300 degrees (hard-crack stage). This may take another 20 minutes.
4. The Mixture Foams: When the mixture reaches 300 degrees, remove it from the heat and add the baking soda. The mixture will foam. Keep stirring until the whole mixture has achieved foaminess. Quickly, pour the mixture onto two parchment or silicon-covered baking sheets. Spread as the mixture as thinly as you can while it is still hot.
5. Cut it up! When it has cooled a bit -- still really too hot to handle -- lift one of the planks of brittle onto a cutting board sitting inside a rimmed baking sheet (which will capture the flying brittle shards). As soon as you can, begin to cut the brittle into strips and then into bite-sized pieces. Store air tight.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
But on to the pecans...I first made these for a party, dutifully following the recipe and making one pound. The guests inhaled them until there was but one left. It was on the floor and people were circling, but one of my cats batted it away. Never again have I made fewer than 5 pounds, which freeze beautifully, becoming pantry staples. If you must make fewer than 5 pounds, do the math yourself.
This is a two-day or early a.m. and then late p.m. project. Don't be intimidated. All you have to do is boil water, divide by four, turn on the oven, stir the nuts while they bake, and then toss them with spices when they are brown.
SPICED PECANS (adapted from Beat That!)
Day 1 - STEP 1: Boil the pecans
Day 1 - STEP 2: Soak the pecans at room temperature
Day 2 - STEP 3: 12-24 hours later, bake at 350 degrees (conventional or convection),stirring every 5-10 minutes until they are deep deep brown.
Day 2 - STEP 4: Toss with spices
INGREDIENTS AND TOOLS for Step 1 (boil)
5 pounds of whole raw pecans, divided by four
a large pot of boiling water
a colander for draining
INGREDIENTS AND TOOLS For Step 2 (soak)
4 bowls that you can cover with plastic
2 cups white sugar, divided by four
2 sticks of butter, divided by four
8 T light corn syrup, divided by four
4-8 T vanilla
INGREDIENTS FOR STEP 4
Mix the following in a small bowl, and divide by four.
1-1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1-1/2 tsp ground allspice
1-1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper (white pepper is nice)
1. STEP 1 BOIL Boil the water. Boil each bowl of pecans for 1 minute.
2. STEP 2 SOAK Drain carefully, and toss with the melted butter, sugar, corn syrup and vanilla. Store covered at room temperature.
3. STEP 3 BAKE 12-24 hours later...In a 350 degree oven (or, better yet, in a 350 degree convection oven), bake each bowl of pecans until they are quite brown. Ann Hodgman says to aim for "deep, mahogany brown." Less than that and they won't be crisp. This goes quickly with two baking sheets at a time. A word to the wise: do not walk away from this task, and do not imagine that you can do this without stirring.
4. STEP 4 TOSS Mix the spices and divide into four small bowls. When your nuts are brown, return them to their soaking bowls and toss with 1/4 of the spices. Cool on a baking sheet. Store in zipper bags in the freezer.
1. Why don't you have four bowls?
2. Bake these on the weapons-grade rimmed baking sheets that come from restaurant supply houses (Hockenbergs in the Twin Cities).
3. Buy your nuts from a wholesaler (Bergin Nut Co., in the Twin Cities) or from a co-op.
4. This is a surprising flexible recipe. I have mistaken curry for cinnamon and no one complained. It was an honest mistake and they are near to one another in my alphabetically organized spice rack, a habit leftover from years of representing Spice Islands when I worked for a San Francisco-based food broker.)
Saturday, December 09, 2006
The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (Barbara Tropp)
China Moon Cookbook (Barbara Tropp)
China Express (Nina Simonds)
I first had Scallion Pancakes in the late 1970s at an otherwise undistinguished strip-mall Chinese restaurant in San Jose, in the days when you ate Chinese and went for ice cream -- yet another of the sound culinary traditions that has been tromped by our troublesome obsession with cholesterol. My Mother – not a fan of frivolous food – was quite fond of them.
Fast forward to 2006, and time to revisit Scallion Pancakes in a most interesting week in May:
Monday: As written, Tropp’s China Moon pancakes are inedible. She describes them as a “gussied up” version of the scallion pancakes in her first exemplary cookbook, The Modern Art of Chinese Cookery. Not in my kitchen – they were tough and poisonously salty.
Wednesday: Simonds’ China Express pancakes are delicious, but far too complicated to be a “fun” food for entertaining. She does, however, use cake flour, which makes an incredibly tender pancake.
Thursday: Go to the source. Although it requires making a cold and a hot dough, the Tropp’s Modern Art pancakes are simple (five steps, puffy, tender and delicious. She gives helpful instructions for freezing so that they can be a handy appetizer.
FOR 2 seven-inch pancakes:
Food processor, silicon mat (optional but excellent) or parchment, rolling pin
Cold water dough 1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup cold water
Boiling water dough 1 cup all purpose flour (or ½ cup all purpose and ½ cup cake flour)
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 2 tsp table salt)
1/3 cup boiling water
For the dough bowl & filling 1 T plus 2-3 tsp sesame oil or hot chili oil*
2-3 whole scallions, sliced into very thin rings
1. Make the dough: Cold dough: Put the flour and the baking powder into the food processor. Slowly add the water and process just until the dough forms a ball. Remove it from the bowl and reserve. Hot dough: Put the flour and salt into the food processor. Slowly add the boiling water and process just until it forms a ball. Add the cold dough to the hot dough in the work bowl and process for 15 seconds.
2. Form the ball: Remove the ball and knead until smooth on a silicone mat for about 2 minutes. If it starts to stick, add some flour. Coat the inside of a small bowl with a tablespoon of sesame oil. Roll the dough in the oil and cover the bowl with a towel for 30-45 minutes.
3. Make the pancakes: Turn the dough out onto the mat. Knead until smooth (1-2 minutes), adding flour if it gets sticky. Cut the dough in half, leaving one piece in the oiled bowl. Roll the dough to about a 1/8-inch thickness and don’t worry if it isn’t perfectly round. Brush lightly with sesame or chili oil and sprinkle the scallions all over. The scallions should look like a moderate case of zitz, not like a wall-to-wall carpet.
4. Roll and coil: Roll the dough up like a cigar (not too tightly), and then coil into a spiral. Press the ends together. Flatten the spiral with your hands or a rolling pin to about 7” in diameter. Cook immediately or cover with a towel for about half an hour for a more tender pancake.
5. Cook (fry and steam) the pancake: Heat a heavy skillet on high. Add a small amount of oil (to about 1/8”) and heat until a scallion ring sizzles. Add the pancake, reduce the heat and cover for 2-5 minutes. Watch it carefully so that it doesn’t scorch. Flip it, reduce the heat and cook for 3-5 minutes more, checking every 30 seconds to keep it from burning. Serve immediately.
Freezing option: Freeze flat, uncovered at the end of Step 4. When completely frozen, wrap tightly. Partially defrost in the refrigerator and cook as in #5, but on slightly lower heat.
* In China Moon (page 10), Tropp has an excellent recipe for Chili Oil with chili flakes, dried black beans, fresh ginger and garlic, which, if used in Step 5, makes a very zingy pancake.
If you have an hour to spare and are looking for something that will inspire "Did You MAKE these??", try "$100 Almonds" which I first made on Labor Day 2000. And it was a laborious day...
THE WRONG WAY
The best food writers implore their readers to read the recipe before you begin. Although not in their league, I beg you to read the recipe before you SHOP.
I read, but didn't write down the recipe, and bought raw instead of blanched almonds. It took three hours to blanch 1-1/2 pounds of almonds. (NOTE: To blanch almonds, dip in very hot water for about 10 seconds, and then remove the peel. Almond by almond. One at a time. Very tedious.)
A more focused almond blancher would have thrown the almond peels into the trash instead of into the garbage disposer which promptly clogged. Adding the $89 plumbing bill to the $8.49 for almonds and $2 for chocolate created "$100 Almonds."
Correctly prepared, this recipe takes an hour. It is ridiculously simple.
THE RIGHT WAY
"Roasted & Frosted & Chocolate Almonds"
(adapted from"Handcraft Illustrated" Fall 1998.)
1 # (6 cups) whole blanched almonds
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
dash of salt
2 oz semisweet, really good chocolate
Restaurant-quality sheet pans (won't warp)
Large non-stick saucepan (for easy cleanup)
Silicon spoon or spatula (for stirring sticky sugar)
Parchment paper or silicon liner (for easy cleanup)
1. ROAST ALMONDS Preheat the oven to 350. Spread the almonds in a single layer and roast for 10 minutes or until slightly brown and fragrant. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Set aside 2 cups in a large bowl.
2. FROST ALMONDS Combine water, sugar and salt in a large preferably non-stick saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add 4 cups of roasted almonds. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicon (or wooden) spoon until the water evaporates and sugar crystals form. (This is AMAZING) Spread on a baking sheet and cool 30 minutes. Add 2 cups of frosted almonds to the 2 cups of roasted almonds in the large bowl.
3. DRIZZLE CHOCOLATE. Spread the remaining 2 cups of almonds on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Put the chocolate in an unsealed freezer bag and microwave 1-1/2 minutes on medium power or until melted. Cut off the tip of the bag and drizzle chocolate on the remaining almonds. Cool overnight.
4. MIX the roasted, frosted chocolate almonds and store airtight.
1. Buy a serious baking sheet from a restaurant supply house such as Hochenbergs on Kasota in St. Paul, MN. For about $6, you''' have weapons-grade, yours-for-a-lifetime heavy baking sheets measuring 12x19 inches, which would cost at least $15 in an Important Cooking Store.
2. If you buy five pounds of almonds, you will need three baking sheets to prepare this recipe efficiently,
3. Separating the almonds after they are frosted and after they are chocolate-drizzled is a very nice thing to do for your friends and family who will love these things. Or, leave them clumped and call it all "Bark."
4. You can use LOTS more chocolate, and you can mix white and dark.
5. FOR EXTREME DECADENCE, drizzle one side of the almonds and let the chocolate set. Do not separate the nuts. Cover the baking sheet with wax paper or parchment and flip them. Drizzle the second side. Let the chocolate set and THEN separate the nuts.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
During the summer of 2006 I discovered watercolors, and I will, occasionally, post a painting. This was one of two very early food-related series. The first was "Demented Olives," and this is from the "Fried Green Eggs Group."
June 2010 UPDATE: nanoscapes have taken a decidedly unexpected turn. They have grown from post-card sized paintings, such as Fried Green Eggs, to much larger geometric abstractions including Connectivity (1-4), Fractured Glass (1 and 2), and a host of Bright Boxes and Boxes & Dots.
Monday, December 04, 2006
This will make plain and perfect bread with an insanely crisp crust that only comes from commercial ovens or, perhaps, the ridiculously expensive ovens that are all too frequently installed in McMansion Kitchens and never used. Make it twice and you’ll never need the recipe. And, oh, by the way, there is NO KNEADING.
Bittman’s recipe which he adapted from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery (a GOD to all who love bread) is both stupid simple and fool proof, and I speak from experience. Four ingredients. Who could err? Moi. But the recipe really is fool proof. And adaptable. Makes Cheese Bread or Pepper Bread…
3 cups all purpose flour
¼ tsp instant (rapid rise) yeast with a package date in this century
1-1/4 tsp salt
1-5/8 cups water
1. Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a mixing bowl with a fork or a whisk. Add the water and stir until the flour has disappeared. This will be sticky and shaggy. Cover with plastic wrap and walk away for between 18 and 24 hours.
2. Flour a board. Scrape the very relaxed and sticky dough onto the board. Flouring the dough a bit, fold it over on itself. A silicone spatula is very helpful here. Cover for 15 minutes with the same piece of plastic wrap.
3. This is the fun part: take a cotton dish towel and sprinkle half with corn meal or flour. Using your silicone spatula, scrape the now very very relaxed dough onto the corn meal. Cover with the other half of the dish towel. Set a timer for 90 minutes.
4. After 90 minutes, put a 6-8 quart pot (cast iron, enamel or Pyrex) with a lid into the oven and heat to 450 degrees. Set the timer for 30 minutes.
5. After 30 minutes, remove the pot and lid. Carefully dump the dough into the pot. Slap the lid back on. Return the pot to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
6. Remove the pot cover and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool on a rack.
How foolproof is this?
1. If you add too much water (an additional 5/8 cup, for instance), your bread will be a bit doughy, but otherwise fine. If I make that mistake again, I’ll add 15 minutes to the covered baking time.
2. Old yeast is fine. New yeast is excellent.
Because my pals wanted to know how to make cheese bread or a seasoned loaf, and I was concerned about adding ingredients to a yeast dough (“It’s alive!!”) without having the dough turn alarming shades of green or blue, I experimented:
3. For Cheese Bread Tipping my hat to the Stud Muffin cheese bread in Rose Levy Berenbaum’s classic The Bread Bible, I added 2 oz grated Parmesan and 2 oz grated Romano and either 1/8 tsp cayenne or ¼ tsp cracked black pepper to the dry ingredients.
4. For Pepper Bread Add ¼ tsp cayenne and ¼ tsp black pepper to the dry ingredients.
But with some oil and garlic and some patience, you can create something that guests will fight over – if you decide to share. I can’t imagine how good this would be with Height of Summer Tomatoes – but who would turn on the oven for three hours in July?? Fortunately, winter Romas are cheap, so you can make this often.
2 pounds (or more) Roma tomatoes, cut in eighths (sliced the long way)
5-6 cloves garlic, crushed (or ½ tsp dried minced garlic added midway through baking)
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to your taste)
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, cut in ½ inch dice (optional)
salt and pepper
1. Heat the oven to 325.
2. Cut the tomatoes. Crush the garlic and dice the bell pepper.
3. Combine the ingredients in a shallow roasting pan. NOTE: If you use a rimmed cookie sheet, you will certainly have to clean the oven.
4. Roast for 3 hours, stirring twice an hour.
5. If you can resist the temptation to eat these tomatoes right out of the pan, leaving no need for creative use of leftovers, you might:
a. Use in place of fresh tomatoes in Mark Bittman’s Tomato Curried Scallops;
b. Layer on a grilled cheese sandwich;
c. Serve alongside any grilled meat or fish;
d. Add to salads;
e. Process with some Italian cheese and serve over pasta;
Other references to food like this:
1. I first read about something like this years ago in Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking (HarperCollins, 1993, pp. 111-112). She’d had it at "a very fancy buffet as a side dish...or condiment....Whatever it was, I tried not to disgrace myself by eating enormous quantities of it, but I was not successful. I could not get enough. Finally I snagged a waiter and begged him to tell me what it was." The waiter said to take drain canned plum tomatoes and roast them with garlic and olive oil -- for an undesignated "long time." If you need more reminders that Laurie Colwin was a writer to be reckoned with, she concludes "With a loaf of bread and a bean salad, this makes a dinner I would walk through fire for." 'Nuff said.