Sunday, October 9, 2011

L'Shana Tova

Happy New Year! May it be a sweet one!

Chopped apples.
Almonds and rosemary, later mixed with honey for a frangipane.
Apples and sugar.
Taking cue from the Kitchen Window series, I gave this year's apples and honey new style in the form of a rosemary honey apple galette. It would also make a good yuletide dessert—the sugar shimmers like a Thomas Kinkade scene, and alternating rows of un-peeled Granny Smiths and Galas work in the whole red and green thing.

I opted for the galette because, well, pre-made crusts make them oh so easy. On this one, the nuance of rosemary kicks it up a notch from its core simplicity. For ease of execution, leave the skins on even if you have a monochromatic apple selection. It is, after all, one less step. And since everyone—yes, everyone—agrees galettes are charmingly rustic, why not play it up au naturel?

Simplify your prep with this apple coring method. Bon appetit!

The final thing was garnished with a rosemary sprig.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Julia Child: Coast to Coast Ratatouille

Summer is here. We are officially thirteen days into the season—Fourth of July. A temperature spike caused me to spend most of my three-day weekend sprawled out on the floor. Yes, summer is here! So what better way to celebrate than with a piece harkening back to Christmas?

You see last December Dad & Co. gave me Julia Child’s two-volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking along with the “Julie & Julia” DVD—fancy, indeed. This themed gift was the impressive brainchild of my ten-year-old (now eleven) sister. Maybe I don’t give her enough credit, but I’m not sure I was that clever at her age. I’m not sure I’m that clever now, almost twenty years later. It did shed new light though, to learn she herself has the famed Julia Child bug. Of all the things at the Smithsonian, it was the installation of Child’s kitchen that lured her away from the group. Lucky gal that she is, my sister received a matching cookbook-and-DVD care packet of her own on Christmas morning.

Since then, cross-country projects from Mastering the Art of French Cooking have ensued. My sister, our dad, and I take turns selecting recipes to make together from our respective kitchens. We sometimes miss our self-imposed deadlines—currently three months late on a lamb dish—but it is a fun migration through Child’s classic how-to.

Mastering the art of French cooking... and fashion.
Prepped and sauteed veggies.
For our first feat, my sister selected ratatouille. The main entries in Mastering the Art of French Cooking cross-reference others, making it as much a lesson plan as it is a recipe guide. The ratatouille entry sends readers to a tutorial on seeding tomatoes. I typically like cooking with tomato innards, especially where you might otherwise add a splash of oil or water. Too much tomato is a concept I do not know. However, when the recipe’s first step is to set chopped vegetables aside with salt (to pull out their natural waters a la Biology 101 osmosis experiments), even I will seed a tomato. The remaining pulp still renders plenty of juice for basting.

Poblano, zucchini, tomato, chayote, tomatillo, onion.
In addition to the book’s planned lessons, we had some self-made ones of our own. A loud “pop” greeted my dad and sister as they photographed their final product. It seems they used an oven-only dish on the stovetop. Oops! With the heat of their camera flash (or so the physics play out in my antiquated version) the pottery was pushed to its limits and cracked. The lesson of the day? Know the abilities of your clay cookery—unless, of course, you’re looking for an excuse to replace it with something new. Ruined cookware aside, they served the salvaged ratatouille with grilled filet mignon and had a big hit at the dinner table.

I served my ratatouille with wild rice and gave it a regional twist by trading out the eggplant and bell pepper for chayote, poblano, and tomatillo. Mmm-mm-good.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cabbage, Kale, and Carrots - Oh My!

At long last, I've found my way back to Un Repas, to create a new (long-ish) post! In between studying for my finals next week, I decided to take a break and to utilize some of the great veggies delivered to me from Farm Fresh To You (my new favorite service!). 

Mid-morning revealed a beautiful day to prepare my first attempt at making sauerkraut. While chopping up my cabbage, I had a view of our newest members to our front yard family - a flock of goldfinches.  I discovered this was a lovely way to begin a cooking endeavor.

I decided to read over a couple of recipes for making sauerkraut and chose to wing it - using some oddly shaped carrots from my garden that I had plucked from the dirt last night and one of the red onions delivered from farm fresh.

I chose to use glass jars for the fermentation process - a google search indicated that others have been successful with glass - even though many others tend to use crocks or large plastic containers. Uncomfortable with plastic (toxic?) and not being in possession of a crock - glass jars it is! I've never attempted to ferment anything without a starter before, but my hubby has been keeping a jar of yeast dormant in the fridge for a while now - so I have at least seen it ferment freely and I now feel secure in giving it a go on my own. 

Tangentially, I enjoy listening to podcasts or audiobooks while preparing food - and today's listening included a segment on ancient shipwrecks from Stuff You Missed in History Class. Oddly enough, it had a great side-note that dealt with food. Turns out that there was a very famous fish sauce that well-to-do Romans loved to eat and was apparently worth a whole lot of money. This fish sauce, called garum, was the primary cargo in several of these sunken ships that were discussed in this segment. A little food history while preparing food is always welcome!

Anyway, I was pleased to find that there was a nice amount of water expelled from the cabbage while I mashed it down. I did have to add some salt water to the "jarred" cabbage just to make sure I was keeping as much oxygen away from the cabbage, carrots, and onions as possible. People recommend using a plastic bag full of water to help weigh down the mixture - but again, wary of the plastic off-gassing into my food - I found two small glass jars that fit inside of the larger jars I used to ferment my cabbage, filled them with water (to make them sink below the water line) and lo and behold, they worked perfectly!

can you see the other glass jars inside
that are weighing down the ingredients?
I'm going to keep my eye on the process of fermentation as the days go on - I hope to hold out for at least a week of fermentation before I give it a taste. Wish me luck!

*Late Afternoon/Early Evening Update
Somehow, I managed to get a good deal of studying completed in addition to a fair amount of food preparation! I finished off the cabbage and carrots with a batch of cole slaw - super tasty with veganaise, vinegar, sugar and toasted sesame seeds. Yum! 

serving of cole slaw
kale, chard, onions and pine nuts
(shallot-potato mash in the background)
Then, I made a really good dinner (and future take to work/school lunch) with the remaining kale and chard (also delivered by Farm Fresh To You). I used my  homemade preserved mushrooms (a wonderful oil, thyme, lemon-y concoction from my favorite food book of all time) to saute the greens along with white onions and toasted sesame. I also roasted shallots in oil and added them to freshly-mashed potatoes. Let me just say - this is a very satisfying meal. I strongly recommend having a large container full of marinated oil to use with sauteing greens - it is so flavorful and is great as an addition to so many things!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Truffles: A Pinch of Coffee and A Splash of Bourbon

I had great plans for the holiday season. Great, great plans. Condiments. Can you think of a better way to spread the yuletide cheer? Who doesn’t like a good condiment? Let me rephrase that: Who doesn't love a good condiment? And homemade!

I like them so much I have created meals based on the condiments found in the refrigerator. These meals are generally not very satisfying. And yet, I continue with this approach to food preparation. Maybe I am blinded by love, but I assume others must be equally infatuated with spreads and sauces. My cousin once had with the idea of a weekly column on the topic.

Bourbon balls ready to be dredged in sprinkles.

When Katy and I decided to undertake this gift making together, I thought for sure a robust production schedule was on its way. Maybe this cherry jam Katy emailed a while back or this tangerine curd. You might have guessed my grand plans did not come to fruition, but I hold out hope I might still make these things as Just Because gifts.

By the way, I saw Katy while writing this, and she gave me a jar of homemade habanero sauce!


Two sticks of whipped butter with sugar, chocolate, cocoa, and coffee.

Segueing to the treats I did make ::drum roll:: truffles! Chocolate (coffee) truffles and bourbon balls, both conveniently ganache-free. My impression is that ganache is simple, but time-consuming. This was my first venture into candy kitcheneering (unless you count the caramel incident I chronicled). I shut myself behind closed doors Christmas morning, and emerged about three hours later with a whole lotta sugar spheres. The near-by grocer and the Ninety-Nine (99 Cent Store) do not sell candy wrappers so I made little packets of wax paper tied with gift ribbon.

As one person noted, coffee and whiskey are a good pairing. With that in mind, I orchestrated a top-notch Sunday morning with the puzzle, a cup of coffee, and a couple bourbon balls for myself.

Recipe Notes

  • I opted for a mortar and pestle instead of the food processor. I used the stoneware to turn fine-grain sugar to super fine, and to crunch up the oats, pecans, and wafers.
  • Wanting a strong coffee flavor, I skipped the brewing and dumped 2 Tbs straight grounds into the chocolate truffles. I worked in the requisite moisture by melting 2 oz bittersweet chocolate shavings with 2 Tbs water in what is commonly known by the Turkish word cezve, or as a surjep in Armenian. That language lesson noted, as an Anglophone I call it a coffee pot.
  • The bourbon balls were a muddy mess and hard to roll. This was pretty frustrating. I had Crass and Dead Kennedys going, but my laptop's built-in speaker didn't meet the needed level of cathartic aggression.
  • The coffee-flavored truffles were much easier to roll, probably because it was a base of chilled butter instead of syrup and wafers.
  • I think extra oats would be good for more grit. I like that kind of texture.
  • I think some of the whiskey evaporated with time. Or, I acclimated to the taste.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I Coo, You Coo, We All Coo For Couscous!

Yes, it’s true. The first annual Pasadena Couscous Festival was last month. Equally true: I was there! Originally scheduled for one day, the festival was extended a second day to accommodate the response. Organized by Ecole de Cuisine Pasadena at the Chefs Center of California, the festival aimed to "raise awareness and admiration of the glorious flavors and techniques in North African cuisine.” That’s according to the press release.

Stock photo by Meghan Anderson-Colangelo
The Santa Anas came late this year so there were gray skies and a mild drizzle as Armand and I passed the entry gate to the grill stations set up in the parking lot. We oriented ourselves with batata chips, lamb-beef merguez, and live nomadic Saharan music. The couscous, vegetable tagine, and preserved lemon chicken tagine eaten later kept me full all day. With the balance on our food tickets, we finished the outing with Arabic coffee and a pastry sampling that included beignets I have craved ever since.

The chair was taken out from under as I listened to Clifford A. Wright and Charles Perry discuss food history. Did you know we use a totally bastardized method to cook couscous in this country? Couscous is not to be steeped lest it be heavy. Clifford Wright—a prolific academic and popular author on topics of Mediterranean and Arab cuisine, among others—presented Origins of Couscous and the First Pastas and stressed the grain product is at its best when steamed. This traditionally takes about three hours. Fortunately, the commonly used instant varieties can be steamed in a fraction of the time at only an hour or so. It becomes all the more flavorful when steamed two or three times, using broth or olive oil on the subsequent goes. Talk about dedication! During the Q and A, a savant-type in the audience provided the anecdote of a couscous box that said to add boiling water in English, French, and Spanish. Yet that same box instructed Arabic speakers to steam.

Turns out the savant was accomplished culinary expert Charles Perry, which explains his agility with the four languages. I did not hear much of what was said about couscous, but his lecture on Medieval North African and Andalusian Dishes introduced me to unexpected origins for fish and chips and Baja tacos, which I investigated further at home. Fish and chips, that iconic British dish, resulted from the Sephardic diaspora. Fried fish was among the cuisine Portuguese and Spanish Jews brought to England, where it became custom in the 1800s to serve with fries. Quintessentially British, the meal was born with one foot on the Iberian Peninsula and the other in Belgium or France (the origin of fries is disputed).

Likewise, named for the Mexican peninsula of their origin, Baja tacos resulted from a meeting of cultures. Japanese immigrants who were part of Baja’s fishing economy brought new customs, and introduced their own twist to the local food—fish tempura. Using the fried fish in place of traditional meats gave way to the tacos de pescado frito everlastingly loved by so many on the Mexico-California coast.

All in all: the eating was good and the information was interesting. I look forward to next year’s Couscous Festival.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Peremptorily Plump Persimmon Pudding (Cake)

This weekend, I am moved once again to write about yet another neighborly gift turned tasty treat. Several nights ago, while watering my garden - I heard a kind "hello" coming from the sidewalk. Our neighbors from down the street who had given me that giant pink banana squash came by to say hello. This is the first time I've seen them since our introduction. They asked me if I like persimmons and I happily replied that I do. Well, these kind folks said that they would be by tomorrow night with some persimmons for me. I felt so lucky! I also immediately started to think about what I could give them? After a brief online conversation with Ms. E.T. herself - we came to the conclusion that I should give them some cherry preserves produced from a previous cherry picking excursion that E.T. and I conducted.

The next evening, around the same time, the husband came by the house with a bag FULL of persimmons: 3 ripe hachiyas and many more of the fuyu. I ran back inside the house to grab my jar of preserves - I was so happy to give something back!

boo bear really seemed to appreciate the persimmons
vanilla, flour, baking powder and soda, walnuts, eggs, milk,
butter, and of course, persimmon pulp

I ended up finding a recipe for persimmon pudding cake that sounded pretty good and decided that I should give that a try! It was perfect for my 3 ripe hachiyas. It's a very simple recipe and I am proud to report that only a few snags occurred along the way. There is not a size requirement in the recipe for the square glass pan - and I was not keen on putting the mixture in a pan that was too large or too small. So I decided to compromise and split the mixture between two cooking pans. About half-way through the baking process, I noticed a whole lot of smoke coming from the top of the oven. Nothing smelled burnt - but boy was there smoke! I opened the oven door to see that my pudding cakes were both a good inch or so above the rim of the pan - and juices were spilling out onto the foil I had (thankfully) lined on the bottom of the oven. I made the decision to just keep keeping' on and to open up some extra windows/doors around the house to manage the smoke. This recipe was going to work, damn it!

After waiting a couple minutes beyond the suggested time - I took out the two items and left them on the cooling rack. They looked pretty good, especially that pool of butter that was swimming around the center of both cakes.
note: the butter pool and the plumpness of the
out of oven experience

Fifteen minutes later and my pudding cakes were super-deflated, but my happiness was not. I figured that a pudding cake is probably not too different from a bread pudding - so a deflated cake was still an acceptable cake in my book.
no more butter pools and mr. rectangle cake
in the back is severely deflated

I'd probably use a bit less butter in the recipe next time, it's a bit overwhelming on the soggier portions of the cake - ya know, probably those parts that absorbed the previous pool of butter? I'll probably also use that large glass pan next time too, rather than these deeper, smaller dishes I used today. But, despite some slightly overwhelming butter bites, the cake is good and is none too sweet either!
all is yummy on the Katy front...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Early Dawning, Sunday Morning...

After my requisite cup(s) of coffee, some hummingbird field recording, and a little bit of reading, my tummy began to call out for some morning nourishment.
ready to serve
Quick and Easy Swiss Chard Scramble (Serves Two):
Eggs beat with cream, fresh ground pepper, and paprika
Cubes of aged cheddar
Swiss Chard harvested minutes before slicing - stems sliced into quarter inches, leaves very casually chopped (really just sliced a couple times)
Two small (rather garlicky) shallots harvested last weekend diced
Handful of cherry tomatoes sliced in two
Olive oil
harvested shallots
prepped ingredients
Heat pan, add olive oil, add shallots and chard stems. 3 minutes. Add tomatoes. 1 minute. Add chard leaves. 1 minute. Reduce heat and add eggs. Slowly turn the eggs, keeping them moist and cooking slowly on low heat. Add the cheddar last. The slow/low heat gives me time to take care of the toast, wash out the prep bowls, and keeps the eggs from overcooking or burning. Quick and easy way to add some extra veggies to my favorite breakfast item: eggs! The hubby seemed to enjoy the end product.