Monday, January 4, 2010

Breakfast in a Far Away Place

Chinese Tomato and egg at my breakfast table in California

Fanqie jidan at the Naxi Family Guest House at Tiger Leaping Gorge

I'm dieting, and I have almost stopped cooking. But I read the food blog of my daughter, Lina Goldberg. She is traveling alone in Asia to distant spots that are off the beaten path. I don't know where she got the courage to travel in places where people stare, follow her around with a video camera, and want to have their picture taken with her. Her blog. is terrifically illustrated with lots of good pictures of food and lots of disgusting pictures of what people in places I would never go consider food. And only very occasionally do I see a dish that I would like to eat. But the other day she posted a Chinese breakfast dish that really appealed to me and based on her description, Google where I learned the dish is called fanqie jidan, and the picture which she posted, I made it (skipping the carbohydrate side dish) it and ate it for breakfast this morning. It was very pleased with it. Very easy to do, particularly since I skipped making the congee side dish , used canned tomatoes instead of fresh, and sliced a little onion in because I had no scallion.

Chinese Egg and Tomato
(for one)

1 scallion cut lengthwise and then into 3 or 4 lengths
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 egg. whipped till foamy
1/3 14.5 ounce can of ready cut tomatoes or one large tomato cut up

1. Heat the canned tomatoes in a small pot with a little of the liquid, or cook the cut up tomato.
2. In a small pan heat the oil cook the scallion lightly and then add to the tomato.
3. Pour the foamy egg into the pan and over low heat allow the underside to get golden brown. Then turn over and preak up.
4. Mix with the heated tomato pour onto a dish and serve with salt and pepper.

Note: Some recipes use sauteed garlic instead of scallion. And obviously the recipe can be doubled, tripled, etc.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Never Too Old to Learn

I went to the local supermarket for a couple of disparate things the other day. Ketchup, Plochman's natural stone ground mustard and candied fruit. I must mention that I rotate brands of Ketchup. I will buy Heinz even though after years of buying only Heinz I was pretty sick of it's predictability even if it is very good. Then one day I walked into the store and there was Hunt's, and I bought that. It was nice to have a change. The next time I needed Ketchup I bought DelMonte. I loved the change and also the idea of not being petrified in my ways. The problem is that big supermarket chains have changed their ways--more store brands and fewer national brands. Now in the ketchup department they will have only two or three brands, which means the house brand, Heinz and either Del Monte or Hunts but not both. Also everything that is not on sale is pretty expensive. The Plochman's mustard costs twice what it did just a few years ago. So I walked into the local national chain supermarket and was hit with the usual smell of rotting fish that has gone along with this supermarket under the last three mega supermarket chain owners and when I say that the Plochman's was $5.99 I thought who need this? And I went to another national chain which didn't have Plochman's at all, and when I asked what appeared to be the manager where I could find candied fruit, she had no idea what I was talking about. She looked very puzzled, and finally said "Dried fruit?" Then I went to the local supermarket chain where the rich people shop. It smelled like food rather than garbage and they had everything I wanted. The Plochman's was the same price as the place that stinks like fish. I learned a lesson.

I'm a little late with this but I give these biscotti to people for the holidays. And actually I always add the candied fruit, not the stuff with red and green, which is too garish, but the candied orange peel, citron and lemon peel.

Biscotti Monte d'Oro

4 ounces shelled, freshly toasted almonds
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two or three large steel cookie sheets with parchment paper. Don't use aluminum cookie sheets and don't use Pam or other cooking sprays for this
recipe they don't work.
2. Place the nuts on an ungreased cookie sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven, tossing once to
turn, until golden. Allow to cool and then chop half of them.
3. Mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda. Beat in the eggs and then the
4. Knead the dough for about two minutes. If it is still sticky, knead in a little more flour.
5. Roll into logs an 1 inch or less in diameter. Cut into sections about 3/4 as long as your cookie
6. Place two dough logs on each of the lined cookie sheets. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the logs are lightly browned and the tops are firm when gently touched. Don't turn off the oven.
7. Roll the loves off the parchment and onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each one diagonally into cookies about 1/2-inch thick.
8. Arrange the slices on wire racks and return them to the oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until
the cookies are crisp and firm. Cool completely before storing in a tightly covered container.
9. These biscotti not only keep for several weeks, but their flavor improves and deepens over

Variations on the basic recipe:

1. Substitute walnuts, pecans or pignoli in place of the almonds.
2. Add 1 tablespoon or more candied orange or lemon peel.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of anise seed.
4. Add 1/4 cup chopped candied citron, orange peel, or lemon peel.
5. Chocolate-dipped biscotti: When the biscotti are cool, melt a bar of chocolate in the top of a
double boiler. (I use a loaf pan placed in a pan with boiling water ) Dip one flat side of each cookie in the chocolate, then set it, chocolate side down, on aluminum foil. After two hours peel the cookies off the foil.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Gift Idea

My friend David Johnson, who married my kindergarten sweetheart, is an artist who specializes in fruit and vegetables. He produced this calendar with Leslie Stiles who is a caterer and demonstrates at Bay Area farmers markets. You can order it at or write to 2358 Banbury Place, Walnut creek, CA 94598 or by phone at (925) 935-3422.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A lasting aroma

This reminds me of an earthquake we once had. Other than losing a lot of beautiful Italian hand painted plates and homemade preserves the most lasting effect was I never put garlic in any chutney I made after the quake.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fantasy is the Best Reality

I readily admit that I am very lazy about this blog. But occasionally something sets me off. Today I was reading the advertising section of the local newspaper when I came across an ad for a "Bella Cucina electric knife with carrying case." I thought, wow, if I had a Bella Cucina (beautiful kitchen) electric knife carving it would transform my life. Not only would it be so easy and quick to carve the Thanksgiving turkey, but it would turn my two kids (neither of which are planning to eat with us on Thanksgiving, let alone provide us with grandchildren) into a very large Italian family with dozens of grandchildren who adore their grandparents and hang one their every wise word. Since my entire life would also be transformed, we would be celebrating the festività on our estate on a terraced hillside overlooking olive groves in a warn part of Italy at a long wooden table in the shade of a il fiore ha coperto l'armatura -- flower covered arbor. The grandchildren would be laughing and chasing each other around. A cell phone would never ring, in fact nobody would even have one. We would bask in the beautiful day, delicious food, and the warmth of one another's admiration.
When I looked at the reviews for some of the Bella Cucina kitchen appliances I actually read that one person was attracted to the slow cooker, waffle maker, toaster oven, pannini maker, electric knife, table top roaster, or whatever, by the name Bella Cucina. Some of the reviews were great, like the slow cooker, and others like the convection oven were terrible. Actually as I read the reviews of the convection oven the image of my terraced Italian hillside turned into cardboard refrigerator box under a bridge. Try as I may I can't think of an appliance that has transformed my life...for more than a few months.
Now we live in a small house and space is at a premium. When we were preparing to move we got rid of about 15% of what we owned. Another 30% of our possessions went into boxes and into our garage--as I feel that renting at an off premises storage facility is real a sign of defeat. This was compounded by a genetic disposition toward a refusal to throw anything away in our children. One child has left behind camping equipment, childhood electronics, and a crate of vinyl LPs for the last 10 years. The other occupies about 15 to 20% of the garage space with kitchen appliances, crafts items, books and all the detritus of everyday life. Unfortunately our own things tend to accumulate as well and on the rare occasion that I actually want to peel and de-seed tomatoes I have to go to the garage and find the machine that does that; or if I want to grind my own coffee I have to go out to get the grinder in the garage. I am not sure why I keep those huge salad bowl and gigantic stock pots as we would no longer have a place to seat more that 8 for dinner, and even that is a squeeze.
While we are not spending Thanksgiving at home this year nonetheless I am still cooking the turkey, making the stuffing and gravy, and the cranberries.

Really Good Turkey Gravy (and Lots of It)

½ cup turkey grease or butter
½ cup white flour
6 cups or more reduced turkey broth
¼ cup good jam, preferably homemade apricot
turkey giblets, cooked and minced
ground sage
dash of Tabasco or ground hot red pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup Marsala or Madeira
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Cook the flour in the turkey grease over low heat for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not brown.
2. With the burner still on low, add the stock a few spoonfuls at a time, stirring vigorously. Once two cups of stock have been stirred in, add the remainder a cup at a time. If lumps appear, use a wire whisk to break them up and make the gravy smooth. (But don’t panic if you just have a few small lumps—the giblets and jam you’ll be adding will disguise them.)
3. Stir in the jam, giblets, sage, Tabasco and thyme.
4. Add the Marsala or Madeira and turn the heat up. Bring the gravy to a brisk simmer and cook off the alcohol for a minute.
5. Add salt and pepper and adjust the other seasonings as needed.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cooking Without Cookware: It’s In the Bag

Linda C. (full name not given to protect the semi-senile) has lost this recipe again. Her solution was to email me (the nearly fully senile) and ask that I send it to her a third time. I couldn't even remember ever publishing such a recipe. But the meal is a memory as clear as the sound of a bell. (But, of course I am nearly deaf.)

If you’ve never made a turkey in one of those translucent Reynold’s Oven Bags you don’t know the pleasure of a basting-free Thanksgiving. You get less drudgery, plenty of crispy skin, and very little risk of the turkey drying out. I’ve cooked my turkey this way twice now, and both times it was delicious and even moister than with my basting-every-15-minutes method.

Now I’ve applied the same basic method to cooking pig, and was it ever good!.This recipe for pork shoulder may seem like a lot of work because it has a lot of steps, but look more closely and you’ll see that it will only take you 10 minutes, three times, followed by several hours in the oven completely unattended. Then all you need to do is cut it up and chow down.

What we’re doing in this recipe is getting the maximum amount of flavor into and out of a very cheap cut of meat. We’re brining it and then dry marinating it (think of it as aroma therapy), and then essentially braising it with the same aromatics that it chilled with overnight. The result is a large, very tender, very juicy piece of meat with crispy edges that give it a little bit of crunch in places, plus lots of delicious stewed carrots and light gravy. I served it with boiled potatoes browned in duck fat. I assure you nobody would have complained if I had browned them in butter instead.

Unless you have 16 at table you’ll have plenty of leftovers. Lucky you! Fry some of the leftover meat (no fat need be added) and top it with Curtido, a tangy Salvadoran cabbage salad. I first had this slaw in a little hole of a restaurant, served over crisp fried yuca and “oven-fried carnitas,” of which my pork-in-a-bag could be called a variant. Served this way, the leftovers are almost better than the original dish.

Pork Shoulder Braised in a Bag with Carrots

8-10 pound pork shoulder, bone in
generous ⅓ cup salt
2 quarts water
1 bunch thyme
1 head garlic, peeled and crushed
1 extra-large Reynold’s Oven Bag
2 tablespoons flour
8 carrots, peeled and diced or cut in chunks
1 leek, washed and sliced, white part only
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup white wine

1. In the morning the day before serving, trim the skin off the pork shoulder but leave on some of the fat. Dissolve the salt in the water in a large glass or food-grade plastic container. Add the pork shoulder. Refrigerate until the evening.
2. Discard the water. Dry off the pork and place in a glass dish with thyme and crushed garlic under and over the meat. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until four hours before dinner.
3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
4. Put the flour into the bag and shake well. Add the remaining ingredients and then the pork, fat side up, with the thyme and garlic. Seal the bag according to package instructions and cut 6 small slits in the bag.
5. Roast in the bag for 3¾ hours.
6. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Carefully open the bag, slice the meat, and serve.

(Salvadoran Cabbage Salad)

boiling water
½ head cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, grated
½ onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons grated red bell pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
red pepper flakes , to taste

1. Pour the boiling water over the cabbage and carrot. Drain immediately.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

When is a Plum not a Plum?

Years ago I went to the farm of an elderly fruit farmer. I said I wanted Italian plums with which to make my grandmother's recipe for plum tart (Zwetschgenkuchen). She gave me a funny look and said "You mean fresh prunes, and you don't want Italian because they are not sweet enough to make dried prunes that can be sold. You want a sweeter variety like French prunes or Sugar Prunes." She handed me a paper bag and directed me to an orchard.

Silly me. A plum is not necessarily a plum. It wasn't that day that I learned the difference between a plum and a fresh prune. Plums originally come from Asia and prunes come from Europe. A plum is usually rounder and redder, inside and out, than a fresh prune which is blue or purple on the outside and yellow on the inside. For Asian plums, many of the newer varieties were bred by Luther Burbank, think Santa Rosa, Satsuma, Mariposa, Kelsey, Red Beauty. For European plums or prunes or whatever you want to call them, think Damson, Italian, French, Sugar, Stanley, and Imperial. With the European varieties no matter what you call then someone could argue that you are using the wrong term, so I vote for telling them to shut up and eat.

You might have already guessed from my mention of a paper bag into which I was supposed to put the fruit: that old lady is dead and her farm is a housing development. And that is progress. I can still get fresh prunes, but no variety is indicated, and I now sprinkle a little sugar on the cut fresh prunes before I put it into the oven.

Zwetschgenkuchen (Plum Tart)

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, cut in chunks
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 pounds Damson (prune) plums

1. Place flour, sugar, butter, lemon peel and cinnamon in food processor and mix until grainy.
2. Add the egg and the yolk and process until the dough forms one large ball. If it doesn't, press it into a ball by hand.
3. Allow the lump of dough to sit uncovered for an hour. Then roll out on a floured board and transfer to a torte base form.
4. Cut the plums into quarters. Remove and discard the pits. Cover the tart base with plum quarters, overlapping slightly, starting with a ring of plums at the outer edge and filling in toward the center. Sprinkle on a little sugar.
5. Bake at 350 degrees until crust starts to brown and the plums start to bubble, about 50 minutes.
6. Serve at room temperature, with whipped cream.