Friday, February 20, 2009

Photos Provide Evidence of a Real Recipe

Top left: Greek (left) Italian Oregano (right; Middle: Browned; Right: with garlic etc;
Bottom left: parchment; Middle: done and out of the oven; Right: deglazed with a basting brush

More than once has my wife clipped a recipe; kept track of the clipping for 15 years; finally gotten around to making it; and decided it wasn't any good. Last week's prize goes to Marian Burros' recipe for Spinach Fettuccine with Lentil Sauce from the April 20, 1994 New York Times. I cannot believe that if Marian had cooked that recipe she would have published it. 5 cups of water in the sauce? Why not 50 cups plus a 2 pound box of Madagascar sea salt? After we ate it, and decided it was noth worth making again, let alone the first time, I read the recipe and not for the life of me could I figure out what my wife found so appealing about it. But then I not as adventurous as she is, and don't like munching on chicken feet in a Chinese restaurant, and am no longer willing to even try tripe unless I'm in Italy. And I know for a fact that French cooks, at least the ones Au Pied de Cochon, that Paris 24 hour a day tourist trap, don't make it so I would eat it, but then what I chose wasn't so good either. Adventure for me is doing a tasting of 5 different salumeria's mortadella in Bologna, not choosing between 5 different snake soups in Shanghai. So the other day when she pulled out three cookbooks and opened to the lamb shanks recipes, I got nervous. The first thing I said was, "Do you want to make this, or would you like me to? It's time to post something to the blog." Perhaps that was her purpose in pulling out the cookbooks, but in any case I got to eat what I wanted to make didn't have to endure the shanks cooked with soy sauce and star anise or something creative.

Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Greek Oregano
for 2, double, triple, or quadruple for more

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lamb shanks
salt and pepper to taste
juice of one lemon
14 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 sprig Greek oregano, Italian, or teaspoon dried crumbled
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
1 disk parchment paper

1. Brown the lamb shanks in the olive oil in a Le Creuset style dutch oven on the stove top without the lid over medium heat.
2. Remove from the stove top, squeeze in the lemon juice, add salt an pepper, the oregano of your choice, and then add the garlic cloves.
3. Cover with a sheet of parchment and then the tight fitting lid.
4. Put the dutch oven in a 350 degree oven for 1 3/4 hours.
5. Add the wine and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
6. Adda 1/2 cup water to thin the intense liquid, deglaze the sides with a basting brush, and if the shanks were fatty skim off some of the fat. And finally mash the garlic cloves into the sauce.
6. Serve with Bulgar, or orzo.

Note: I say Le Creuset, but I only accept Le Creuset as a gift; I buy the cheaper versions from Target, Ikea, or a garage sale.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Winter Dinner in Less than an Hour

It's been raining on and off all week and since we really need the rain I'm not complaining. But I wanted something hot and comforting for dinner. In addition, I wanted to stock the fridge with some fairly low cal lunch protein. So I went to the supermarket, where I rarely go anymore, and what a great time I had. I saw things I had forgotten existed, like Spaghetti Os, French's Mustard, and Mon Cheri chocolate coated maraschino cherries. After I congratulated myself on my great idea and adventure I got down to work and chose a couple of whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, and then I was sort of stuck on what else I should fill my basket with since I had been to the vegetable market the day before. I ended up adding a couple of cans of brisling sardines, a can of mackerel, and some bananas. Odd choices but I guess that I have forgotten how to shop in a supermarket anymore. It was a slightly embarrassingly weird basket I realized as I headed for checkout. I know I am a very judgmental person, particularly about people's supermarket carts, and I can tell you why. When I was writing about food for a local newspaper many years ago, someone came up to me, looked into my cart, and said "Lots of gourmet treats?" At the time we had a little very pale skinned skinny 6 year old who never ate anything that wasn't white, except for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner and the cart was filled with it because it was on sale. I still remember the snide look on my reader's face. So ever since when I go food shopping I look at people, make a snap judgment about them, and then check out their cart and based on it's contents I decide if my judgment was correct. I was ready to cruise the aisles for more on the sardine and mackerel day when I saw that this was a market where they let you scan the items yourself. That meant I didn't have to have a checker assessing me.

Quick Chicken Stew

1 double chicken breast (I made 2 and saved one for sandwiches)
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence mix
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
water to cover in a covered medium sized sauce pan
1 tablespoon butter
3 carrots coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper coarsely chopped
1/2 onion coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
cayenne pepper to taste

1. Simmer the chicken breast in the water with the herbs, salt, and pepper until done. About 20 min. Set aside
2. In a covered glazed cast iron casserole saute the vegetables in the butter until the onions and bell pepper are soft.
3. Add the flour and stir to moisten with the butter and cook for a minute.
4. Remove the chicken breast to a cutting board and add the broth to the flour and vegetables. Stir with a whisk to blend the broth and flour and bring back to a simmer.
5. Cut up the chicken breast into 1 inch chunks and add to the stew.
6. Season with the cayenne, additional salt and pepper to taste, and let it simmer for another 20 minutes.
7. Serve over cooked brown rice.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pain au Levain

When gasoline dropped in price I thought the round of price hikes was over. But today I went over to Acme Bread to get a loaf of Pain au Levain, a slightly sour french loaf, half the reason I moved to this area, and some might say the love of my life. The price of my dear loaf had skyrocketed from $2.95 to $3.05. My wife buys a bread which is heavy on the "fiber" which I think means wood plus soy, wheat, and oat chaff, but is half the calories of real bread for $4.69 a loaf. Don't laugh, lumber has really gone up in price. Of course, if you toast that stuff it is remarkably like brown cardboard. Whereas my favorite bread will show nicely against any bread in the world. Last time I was in Paris I went to the original Poilâne just as the sun was coming up, and tore into their famous bread. I was disappointed. It was not at all the moving experience I was expecting. A few days later I heard that this original bread baker was practically the first shop in Paris to put up a sign that said "No Jews Allowed" when the Nazis took the city. Now when I go away, the one thing I miss is Acme's Pain au Levain. Even at $3.05 I think I'm getting a bargain.
Acme Bread Co.
1601 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, CA 94702
(510) 524-1327

Friday, February 6, 2009

Seville Orange Marmalade: Now or Next Year

During the Great Depression one did without Seville orange marmalade. But this time around, since they have started growing Seville oranges in California that isn't necessary. They are near the end of their season so this is your last chance to get Seville oranges this year.

Seville Orange Marmalade

6 Seville oranges
Juice of 2 small Moro Blood oranges
10 cups water
pinch of salt
8 cups sugar
12" x 12" square of 4 layers of cheesecloth rinsed and wet

1. Take the damned stickers off the oranges, wash them and dry them. Cut each orange in half as for juicing. I hand juice thoroughly on an old fashioned glass juicer as I can't find the machine since we moved. Pour all the juice including the blood orange juice in a wide kettle.
2. Then pull the membrane out from the rind and scrape away some of the pith (remember Seville, not Dresden, don't be obsessive with the pith) and put all the innards including the seeds in cheesecloth lined bowl. Tie it all up in cheesecloth or muslin very securely. and toss it into the kettle.
3. With a very sharp knife slice all the rind into very, very thin slices. The cross cut the slices about the length you would like them in your marmalade.
4. Add the water, pinch of sea salt, and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it only simmers. Simmer until the peels are translucent, about 25 to 35 minutes. It is very important that they be translucent as they do not become much more translucent after you add the sugar, and you don't want white pieces in your marmalade.
5. Add the sugar and bring to a full boil, then turn the heat down to a vigorous simmer. Simmer until the jam passes the "Spoon Test:" Scoop up a small amount of jam in your cooking spoon and let it run back into the pan. First it will pour. At the end when the jam is ready, it should form two large drops which will merge into one big hesitant drop.
6. Remove the seed and pith packet and put in in a metal wire strainer set over the pot. Press to squeeze out any remaining jam and pectin with the back of the cooking spoon. Careful as this is very hot, indeed. Then dump the seed packet directly in the garbage.
7. Remove the pot from the heat or leave it on the lowest setting. Fill and seal the jars. Turn them upside down and let them sit for 5 minutes. Then turn them back right side up. Let cool, label them and put them in your larder.

Bottom Feeding

I'm cheap. And I love cheap food, which is why I cook so much. Just moving an 8 ounce steak costing $10 at the butcher into the kitchen of a fancy restaurant turns it into a $30 steak. Add a 30 cent potato and 6 string beans and it's a $40 entree. So when I go out I want my food more labor intensive that I am willing to do at home, and cheap. Cheap dives are transient, so you have to use them while they are there and then move on and try to keep the regrets at a minimum. My favorites at the moment are:

House of Soul
1526 Solano Ave.
Vallejo, CA
(707) 644-3792
This place has the only cast iron pan fried chicken in the San Francisco Bay Area that I know of. But they won't start it a fryin(g) until you order it, so don't expect to get served in five minutes--it's not Colonel Saunders. But the chicken, collards, mac n' cheese are great. Great unsugared cornbread. Mostly a lunch place, but it is open in the evening. A rule of thumb is that you go to a soul food place for the chicken and you go to a barbecued ribs place for the ribs, so don't order the ribs. No matter what any web sites say this place is never open on Sunday because it is Mama Soul's ministry. The Martin Luther King family portraits on the wall made it a nice comforting place even before the Obama era.

Mi Tierra
324 S. Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA.
(415) 252-8204
Very good Salvadoran food. I'm not expert on papusas but this place seems great to me. I also love their fried yuca (cassava) with curtido (coleslaw). My wife likes something that looks like a collapsed loofah. Usually empty in the evening

El Taco Zamarano
4032 Foothill Blvd.Oakland, CA 94601(510) 536-3146
This is my favorite semi local place at the moment. It is in dangerous East Oakland, but because the Hell's Angels headquarters is across the street it is safe. Hell's Angels generally seem like very nice old guys. Someone once pointed out that you often see them in Zamarano sipping on Diet Coke, and speculated that they are diabetic recovering alcoholics, a funny image, but they seem to be loyal customers. I love Zamarano's burritos which are the size of a large premie and are easily a meal for two. The dinners are equally big, and I usually go for carnitas plato, and my wife goes for the seafood or octopus cocktail and then we split the two. We used to try eating the whole thing but now I unembarassedly ask for a carton to take the rest home. Did I mention that their corn tortillas are home made, and that the have Modelo Especial (beer)? Booths make it a very comforting, if loud place

Vik's Chaat Corner
726 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA
(510) 644-4412
This place started out as distributor of ingredients to Indian restaurants and stores. Then they started serving lunch so it is located in a warehouse. But soon, in April 2009 they say they are moving (to another warehouse, I think). I go there for Masala Dosa a huge crispy pancake wrapped around a potato filling with Dal a lentil sauce. But all the food is great but at this chaotic, loud place. It does not have a single ounce of gemutlichkeit.

Bauerntanzgäßchen 186150 Augsburg, Germany
This is real Swabian farm food that has been around forever--Mozart's grandfather ate here. I love the place particularly in October or early November for the goose a with huge Swabian softball sized dumpling. The venison with schupfnudlen, which are small torpedo shaped dumplings fried in butter or goose fat and served over sauerkraut which had Riesling and bacon in it, was delicious. The Kasespatzle are transcendental and will have you smiling with satisfaction for days, but I could see where they would become addictive. This is the cutest, most ambient place I have ever eaten. You regret leaving.

Osteria Ardenga
via Maestra 6
Diolo di soragna
near Parma, Italy
0524 599337
This is not really bottom feeding, but is isn't expensive either. How could I not love a place where they tell you to drink the local wine (6 euros) as the food is designed to go with it. "The wine list is for tourists." Take an Italian food dictionary with you but everything will be good. Ardenga is out in the country and the building has been a restaurant for 300 years. We started with antipasti of really good fried polenta cubes, pickled zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, haricot vert, celery, chipolini and red peppers. Also a plate of the local prosciutto, salami, and culatello; all of which were just perfect. They really wanted to show off all their pastas so we got tasting plates which seemed like 4 half portions instead of quarter portions. They included pumpkin ravioli which were the best Ive had, green ravioli filled with force-meat and in a walnut sauce, chestnut gnocchi with chestnut and truffle sauce, and some simple cheese and chard ravioli in butter. We've been twice and were dazzled both times. We plant trips to Italy around this place.