Friday, May 30, 2008

To a Tea

Cobe left for China yesterday and as he was leaving he was talking about buying more tea.

I am already excited.

I love tea. I even gave up coffee for several years and just drank tea.

Not currently. Coffee is like crack in Seattle, it's so good.


The last time Cobe went to China he brought the most amazing teas. They are worlds above our teas. Pure leaves most of them, and not the dry and crackly kind, but soft and pliant. They make tea with no bitterness, just a haunting aroma and a soft smokiness.

My favorite is the jasmine. It comes in these little balls, "jasmine pearls" that slowly uncurl to become leaves at the bottom of your cup. You don't need to strain them, it never gets bitter. And it never gets that gritty sensation of regular tea.

There also are a multitude of larger balls that open into flowers. The best ones are all gone. We watched them in awe on the day of his return as they slowly opened and then sent forth a several inch long yellow tendril like some alien life form. It felt odd to drink it.

Hopefully he will bring back more.

We did still have some chyrsanthemums, which are delicate and impressive.

But I want more alien teas. Keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Red wine reborn

I love to drink wine. But sometimes Jacobe is not so enthusiastic. Despite my best efforts, we still end up with 4 or 5 half drunk bottles of wine cluttering our countertop. I've tried everything---the vacuvin, pouring them into half bottles, keeping them in the fridge. Nothing seems to keep them longer than a few days.

And then I discovered vin cotto.

Vin cotto literally means "cooked wine" in Italian. It's traditionally made with grape juice rather than wine, cooked down to make a sweet syrup. When you use wine you have to add a little sweetner, but the results are equally spectacular. It makes this rich flavorful syrup that tastes like a very mild balsamic. It's great as an instant sauce for meats, or as the heart of a soft and silky salad dressing.

Tastes like magic.

Vin Cotto

Several half empty bottles of red wine.
Honey to taste

Pour wine in a pan over high heat. Bring to boil, then turn down heat to medium low. Reduce 75%. Add honey to taste. That's it! Will last about a month.

You can play with this too, adding flavorings while cooking it down (cloves, orange zest, black pepper, raisins). I added raisins to mine, a nice flavor. Of course then you have strain it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The sum of its parts

My favorite recipes are those that feel like magic.

A few onions, roasted peppers and beef broth go into the pot. You simmer for a while and then...poof! Rich beautiful flavor.

This recipe is like that. And believe me Rick Bayless has gone way up in my book.

But sadly this is a meal I ate alone.

I had big plans when I decided to make this. I've been a lazy cook lately, so last tuesday I decided I would cook after our 6:30 puppy class. I bought all the stuff, pork loin, poblanos, tomatoes. The class schedule said 1.5-2 hours.

"They just say that to scare you," Cobe said. "I'm sure it'll be like 45 minutes."

Two and a half hours later we were finally walking back to our car glassy-eyed. Cobe was like a hungry animal, his sentences short. At that point there is no cooking, just Subway.

But I had that pork loin. And I can't bear to waste food.

I decided to cook it up, even if it was like 10 pm. And lo and behold it was magic. The spiciness of the roasted peppers with the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes and the rich meatiness of the pork loin. It washed over you with each bite.

Did I mention it took like 45 minutes? And that is not just what I wrote on the schedule.

Pork Tenderloin ala Mexicana
(adapted from Rick Bayless, Mexican Everyday)

2 poblano chiles
2 jalapeno chiles
1.25 lbs pork tenderloin
2 T olive oil
vidalia sweet onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
28 oz can whole tomatoes, drained
3/4 c beef broth
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Turn on broiler, place rack as close as possible, and roast poblanos and jalapenos. Turn every few minutes. They should be black on the outside (like completely). Put in paper bag to steam and forget about them for a bit.

Wash and dry tenderloin. Salt generously. Heat oil in pan over medium heat, brown pork on all sides. Remove from pan. Add onions and saute until brown and wilted (4-5 minutes). In the meantime, pull skin off chiles (should come off easily) and remove seeds. Cut into 1/4" strips. Add chile and garlic to onions and stir x 30 seconds. Then add tomatoes, crush with spoon. Add broth. Bring to boil and cook until slightly thickened (5 minutes). Add whole pork loin back with chopped cilantro. Turn heat down to medium, cover and cook until pork is just cooked. I usually go for 140 degrees which is just a tad rosy because I can't stand tough pork, but you maybe should cut it and see what you like.

When cooked, take out of pan and slice into 1/4-1/2" slices. Sprinkle with more cilantro. Serve with rice or tortillas.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

The mystery of orange cheddar

Sheela had another question (she is a scientist after all, she has a lot of questions). She wanted to know why cheddar cheese is orange.

Cheddar is a mysterious thing. Made with a "cheddaring" process where the whey is stacked in blocks (a process that originated in Cheddar, England), in its natural state it's creamy white. But a lot of the stuff in the grocery store is dyed bright orange.

So why dye? I'll lay out the facts:

1. Cheddar made in England is always white and is never dyed.
2. BUT... other cheeses in England are dyed orange. Double gloucester, red leicester. They've been dying them for centuries. They used to dye them with carrot juice or saffron, now they use a natural dye called annatto. There's even a french cheese that's dyed orange (mimolette).

Maybe cheddar was originally dyed because american producers confused cheddar and double gloucester, and thought dying it would make it appear more english.

Or maybe they just thought it looked better. It is odd though. We don't dye jack or mozzarella and they're white as can be.

In any case, it must sell because there's a hell of a lot of it. The good news is that the dye won't hurt you, annatto comes from the achiote tree in South America.

Even in Velveeta! (look on the label---annatto)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Two buck chuck

Ah, two buck chuck. Everyone who is anyone has tried it. But the question, posed by Sheela's boyfriend Robbie, is "why is it so damn cheap?"

Robbie had heard the rumor that an unhappy divorce had forced poor Charlie Shaw to turn over all his profits to his wife, so he dropped the price to spite her.

A little scoping on the internet revealed other rumors, that after 911 airplanes couldn't use corkscrews and thus dumped a ton of wine onto the market, or that United was the source of the wine, trying to boost their sales with some wine bucks.

The reality? It's owned by Bronco, a big company. They buy cheap grapes in central california and package it in Napa and so get to write Napa on the label. How they make it taste good is a bigger mystery. Probably filtering, blending, and wood chips.

For the record, it did used to be owned by Charles Shaw, and he was divorced. But he has no piece in it anymore. Bronco is owned by Franzia.


So the real answer? Box wine baby.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ham and peas, if you please

The weather has been frustrating in Seattle of late. One minute the sun is out, the birds are singing and I think, "finally! Summer." Then 2 hours later the clouds appear and the temperature drops 20 degrees.

It's like a tease.

I've stopped hoping for summer. Instead I've retreated to comfort food. The other night I was rummaging around in the fridge and remembered the coppa I had bought at da Pino and all of a sudden knew the perfect meal: pasta with ham, onions, cream and peas.

My roomate in college (Martina) was italian and used to make this when we had leftover ham. All pasta is comfort food in my world, but this was the ultimate. Creamy and rich with pork flavor from the ham, but with the punch of peas to accent it. Luckily it's also easy and fast (like 20 minutes, no lie).

Just one note....don't be tempted to use cheap ham. Most of the flavor in this dish comes from the ham. Make this when you have leftover ham from easter, not when you're trying to use up that stuff from the deli. You could, of course, always use prosciutto. ;)

Pasta with Ham, Cream and Peas
(adapted from Epicuruios 2002)
makes 2 hungry-man-size servings

4 ounces ham, cut into slivers (~1inch x 1/4 inch)
1/2 bag frozen peas
1 sweet onion, fine dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bag pasta (something meaty, like penne or orecchiette)
1/2 cup half and half
2 Tbls butter
1 tsp olive oil
parmigiano reggiano

Place pot of water on stove, add good amount of salt (like a tablespoon). When boiling, add in pasta. Cook until al dente (depends on your pasta).

In the meantime, melt butter in a medium size saute pan over medium high heat and add olive oil. When hot, add in chopped onion. Saute until translucent and soft. Then add garlic, saute ~30 seconds more. Add frozen peas and 2 tbs of water. Cook a few minutes. Add ham. Cook a few minutes. Add half and half and cook ~5 minutes until it all comes together. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with pasta and top with grated reggiano.

Friday, May 2, 2008

From France with Love

Sorry to have been away so long. I was in France with my dad. Have you been to France? You should go. It’s beautiful. They love food.

The first meal we ate, I knew things were different. We were in a little restaurant in a small town, but the salad I ordered came with perfectly poached eggs, a handmade vinaigrette and thick pieces of beautiful ham. All through France we had the same experience…the bar was higher. There was no watery meat, no wonder bread, no gas station hot dogs. People wouldn’t stand for poor quality food.

But the longer we were there, the more I felt something different, something even more profound. The food was largely the same from town to town, restaurant to restaurant. Perhaps one would have slightly better bread, slightly more involved appetizers. But in general they were serving French food to French people. There was so much less variety than you would find in the US, even in a small town.

And really, to be frank, I wasn’t as wowed by the food as I expected to be. There was some wonderful duck, some delicious cheeses, a wide variety of cured meats. The wine was phenomenal. But the meat was sometimes tough, the sauces the standard fare. It was rarely exciting. To be fair, we were in small towns, places not usually known for encouraging creativity.

Luckily we had decided when we planned this trip that we wanted to cook. This was a father-daughter trip to explore the wines of burgundy, and to really explore wine you need to drink it with food, and to do that you need to cook. So we rented a villa in a small town in southern burgundy. It was remote and rustic, even more beautiful than we expected. And the kitchen was perfectly appointed.

Each day we would get up late, eat long slow lunches in cafes, taste wine in the afternoon, and then come home and cook dinner.

It gave us an excuse to wander the farmers’ markets and gape at the roosters. We bought white asparagus and fresh eggs “plein aire.” We went to the supermarche in Nolay, a pathetic little store that still managed to have reasonable vegetables, a large meat counter, and a whole section of foie gras.

And we cooked.

The first night I tried to make oeufs en meurette (eggs poached in red wine), but failed miserably. I made the sauce, poached the eggs in it and boiled it down, but sadly my poaching technique was not stellar and I ended up with strands of egg. After some straining and adding more wine it was edible, but barely. I didn't take a picture. I'll let you imagine it.

The next night I gave in and made something easy, an onion omelette. But this was no ordinary omelette. The eggs from the farmers' market were wonderful, with dark yellow yolks. And the onions had this sweetness that I have never found in the US. With some comte cheese and an impressive bottle of premier cru chassagne-monrachet, it was a wonderful meal. I also cooked up some of the white asparagus, not realizing that the outer skin is so tough you need to peel them completely. The flavor was wonderful, but we could have chewed them forever.

Next I tackled boeuf bourguignonne. We found a boucherie to buy the meat, but were perplexed by the cuts. There was no “chuck” or “rump.” When we asked for meat to use in boeuf bourguinonne, the bucher pointed to first his leg then his shoulder, holding up the appropriate cuts. Leg is like rump? I went with the leg. The stew turned out wonderfully, but even after 3 hours the meat was still somewhat tough. Perhaps I should have used shoulder. Or maybe I am spoiled by lazy corn-fed cows. I did discover that in france they have prepackaged pre-cut lardons.

My father’s favorite meal (or perhaps he was just placating me) was a salad
made of leftovers that we dubbed “salade beaunoise.” Endive, hardboiled egg, lardons fried crispy, browned garlic, morbier and my standard vinaigrette. I’ll give you that recipe, since it so perfectly reflected our week in burgundy: good meat, good cheese and above all good wine. I recommend drinking some Meursault with it, if you can find a bottle. Or at least a nice Chablis.

Salade Beaunoise

2 endive
100 g pre-cut smoked lardons OR 3-4 slices thick cut bacon cut into thin one inch strips
3 cloves fresh garlic (not dried) if you can find it, can substute dried, sliced thinly
2 eggs
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
good French mustard (I recommend Maille a la ancienne)
morbier cheese (or other good cheese, a little sharpness is nice, blue would be fabulous)

First hard boil the eggs. My favorite method is to put the eggs in cold water so that there is 1 inch of water above them (the depth is important as it changes how long it takes to boil the water). Then bring the water to boil. Immediately take off the heat, let sit in the hot water for 9-10 minutes (10 for very firm, 9 for a little softer). Then place in a cold water bath.

Saute bacon pieces in a medium hot pan with a small amount of oil until brown (5 minutes or so). Remove from pan and place on paper towels. Saute garlic in same pan.

Wash and dry the endive, cut into 2 inch pieces.

Make a dressing using the olive oil and vinegar. I usually guesstimate this, 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 oil (to make a total of ~1/2 cup). Then mix in 1/2 tsp mustard, 1/2 tsp honey, salt and pepper. Whisk or mix with a fork until mixed. The honey should keep it from separating. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Mix endive with dressing in a big bowl so you can get it all in. Divide endive into bowls. Top with garlic, bacon and hard boiled eggs (cut in half). Ladle on extra dressing onto the eggs. Top with pieces of morbier.