Monday, December 14, 2009

My Internship...

Last Tuesday I stared my internship at Perbacco. It is a anagogical space, which reminds me a little bit of what the Rabbit Hole must have been like. A long, tall narrow space with an open exhibition kitchen and off to the right a door opens to the back hallways and stairs that lead down to the salumeria and prep space. Winding concrete spaces lead to offices, storage, bathrooms, lockers... and other businesses. The shiny newness of Perbacco's lovely muted space giving way to the hodge podge of of a layered city built during Victorian times.

We go up and down the stairs many times a day... winding our way through the Rabbit Hole. Out the employee entrance is a McDonalds that reminds me, in a direct and stark way, that McDonalds are owned by individuals, Franchisees. This one looks like it's been owned for at least 60 years, by the same guy... who has not updated in anyway the decor. The harsh light and mumbling bag people mix innocuously with the business people on lunch break. I can see the prep chefs and The Boys smoking just outside Perbacco's employee entrance. They look at me dumbfounded when I come out of McDonalds... why didn't I just ask them to make me something!? WHO in the name of Lilith and Thor would eat at Mickey D's when they can eat at Perbacco? They are totally right. I really like The Boys.

My first day I worry I will be the only girl. I see so few of them in chef's scrubs. But I am relieved to find the Chef de Cuisine for the soon to be opened Barbacco is the tall and lovely Sarah and her tiny (but mighty) Sous Chef... Kathryn. Sarah has been the Salumi-Queen of Perbacco and we spend three glorious days down in the salumeria making all manner of things... duck mortadella with spanish olives, pork salumi with red wine and peppers... old time Italian ones with Spices that would have been found in Scappi... mace, cloves, nutmeg...

The Boys, Carl and Jaime, are the Sous Chefs for Perbacco. Young and much pierced, wise and gentle. I love the smart energy of the space. Even the youngest prep chef, speaking only a handful of English, grins incredulously at me while I tie up Cow Middles (yes, the large part of a Cow's intestines). I can tell he wishes he could say, "DO YOU KNOW WHAT THOSE ARE!?" and I only wish I could tell him, "Yes, I do! And This is what I do for FUN on my days OFF!" I am secretly glad I get to do this work, since he probably get stuck doing most of the time and obviously thinks it is freakishly special... and not in a good way.

My first week went well, but I can't help but wonder what do they see when they see me? The chefs d partie are almost all hispanic, but the executives are 4/5 Caucasian, with the Chef d Cuisine of Perbacco, Benjamin, being the only one who is not. The dynamic is not the rarefied Caucasial Fields of my Jr. College. No one my age is still a prep chef. In fact... no one my age is a Sous Chef. So there I am, blond, a woman and really really old. I sometimes feel like an alien in a strange world. I have my first serious self doubts about what I am doing. I feel like I should probably pare down to living in my car before I actually endeavor to live on what a Chef makes. It doesn't bother me that I am not going to strike it rich being a chef... it bothers me that trying to live on $10 an hour in the Bay Area means I will be homeless. Thank goodness work for Brion is going well!

So I will have to write up my goals for my internship after the semester starts. Three of them. I think these will be "the goals"

1. Learn how to make amazing Salumi
2. Learn some kitchen Spanish
3. Cook something

I know #3 seems weird, but the salumeria downstairs does not even have a range/oven/stove in the whole room. If I stay down there and don't come out, I won't do anything but prep. If I want to open my own restaurant, where I might be able to avoid being homeless, I need to learn so much more. And at (almost) 40, I feel like time is of the greatest importance.

Tomorrow is day #4 of my internship. I have also decided to do a personal project. The Ferry building is a couple of blocks from Perbacco and I have decided during my internship to eat at every eatery there and blog and photograph them all. I love to write. And I love to eat! I will do my first installation of the Ferry Building Eating Project This week :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Porcine Dreams...

Today I will prep for a private Medieval event at a good friend's property in Sonora. It is probably my favorite SCA event of the year and within their close knit household they have an amazing number of capable and competent people. So I was pretty honored to be asked to make a food contribution.

I am reading Scappi a lot lately and delving ever more into medieval meat preservation methods... I am sure that sounds all very scientific and pretentious but I assure you, after your first bite of duck confit rillette you will agree it is to serve a base hedonistic desire... for good food.

So today I will go to the local Asian store and pick up pork belly and lean and fat meat and fresh spices for sausage making. I haven't made bacon in about a month and my last few batches have been overly salty, so I need to stop being lazy about pulling them out of the cure in a timely manner.

I am making the event's Friday night simple one pot meal and I was going to do a beef barley, but I think I will do my meatballs instead with some kind of starch, either pasta or bread (maybe make a slider bar?) so I need to pick up some ground beef and chorizo. I also need to spend some time today planning out my menu for the Esfenn Feast so it can start making it's way into that event's copy.

Back... found something intriguing at the market. Something labeled "pork chin" that has similar striation and meat/fat ratio as bacon...

I asked the guy behind the meat counter and he gesticulated to the jowl area, so I am going to try and make guiancale again.

I got four pork bellies this time, I will cut one or two up for the fat for the sausages and then make 2 new batches of bacon. I will likely make one sweet and one salty. It is getting to warm to hang meat for curing (this is the only depressing thing about the change to warmer weather for me), but I will hopefully have time over the summer to make a new sheath for my meat closet that is out of a natural fiber. The plastic-ish covering it has now is not breathable enough and if I close it all the way the sausages have more of a proclivity to mold. I also will cover the window in the curing room. It is really pretty dark in there as it is, but I would like even less light. Light can make the fat more opaque looking and rancid.

I am starting to collect my thought for my W/AT War class on medieval preserved meats. I will have to narrow it down a lot more than just "preserved meats" because depending on which climate you lived in and what your natural resources were, there was a prtty wide variety of preservation methods including salting, pickling, wet and dry curing, covering with oil, confit etc. Each of these methods could be an entire class. And different regions did them a little differently as well (mainly having to do with natural climate... you will see more drying and smoking in a cooler climate, more pickling and wet brining in a hotter climate... even tho you will generally see both almost everywhere).

The thing I like about it is even if it is kind of esoteric, if people wanted to learn some of these techniques, they could really add to their real life SCA camping experiences by preparing delicious food that was meant to keep without modern conveniences like a freezer/refrigerator. So it is really a pretty practical skill for your average person who regularly camps in the SCA, or really who camps period.

It is such a large mental shift tho, refridgeration and canning has totally revolutionaized how we think about food and managing our food products... I cannot stress that enough. I will use some of the information from my Food Safety and Sanitation class to highlight the differences... and the similarities. How PH effects food safety, and how they used acids and oils and removing moisture instead of refrideration to keep food in the "Safety zone".

Generally moisture, heat and mid level PH are the three things that can feed bad bacteria. So the medieval way to do that was to often salt something (either cover with salt, or cover with a salty brine) or cook it (killing bacteria) and then preserve it by either drying it (with smoke or air) or covering it with an acid (vinegar or citrus) or oil (like olive oil, which is alkeline). This retarded bacteria growth.

I also got the meat for the meatballs for next weekend. If I make those up today or tomorrow I will just freeze them for the weekend. I also got to geek out with some of the chefs at Wente last night. Two of them are playing with meat smoking and we all agreed to bring in some of our products for trying. I will bring in some of the next batch of bacon and some of the dry cured sausage. I had this terrible panic attack last night that I had used all of the Scappi mortadella at the St. Mary's feast and for Vittoria's Salon of Awesome. But I got up this morning and there is still a good four pounds of it in the freezer for Eirreanwood. WHEW!!!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Making 16th Century Sausages

I did some major good geekery yesterday with my friends Erzabeta and Vittoria. Vittoria is translating a more obscure Italian cookbook (well more obscure than Scappi) and they had a few sausage recipes, and since I am making some sausages for a Medieval event I am attending in May called Erinwood, and Vittoria wanted to serve some dishes from her translations at Beltane, I figured it might be fun to play with meat!

I did 3 different types of sausages:

"Yellow Sausage" which I interpreted as an emulsified sausage (this is going to be long and boring, but it's interesting to me!) and here is why. Here is the translated recipe:
[96r] Yellow Sausage.
Take twenty-five pounds of fat pork meat, and the thigh meat is best; pound it very well with your pestle, then take two pounds of grated piasentino cheese [this is an aged cheese from the town of Piacenza, which is how it gets its name, and apparently it’s like a modern grana padano:
nizi_01.htm], and one-and-a-half ounces of ground black pepper, one ounce of ground cinnamon, half an ounce of ground cloves, one-eighth of an ounce of ground saffron, and incorporate all this together well with fifteen ounces of salt, and spugnegiala very well. Then take the intestines prepared in the same manner as for the yellow mortadella, and stuff your sausages, and they will be absolutely perfect.

Here is how the casings were prepared for the Yellow Mortadella:

Then take the intestines well cleaned in several washes, and salt them sufficiently, then take an eighth of an ounce of ground saffron diluted with a bit of white wine, enough that it is incorporated together, and throw them into the intestines, mixing them together in a pot such that they turn yellow, then make your mortadellas or sausages.

Here is why I interpreted it as an emulsified sausage... there are several different descriptions for how they process meat for sausage making and they include: "pound the meat with the back of your knife", "pound the meat well with your knife" and "take two knives and pound the meat well" and "pound very well in a mortar and pestle"... Since it is pound "very well" in a mortar and pestle, I am guessing they are making a type of paste from the meat, which is how emulsified sausages are made as well (think like the inside of a hotdog... as hot dog is a smoked emulsified sausage... bologne is a abomination of modern Mortadella, also emulisfied, with pork back fat added, but not smoked).

Additionally, the emulsification process dose the lighten the meat (making it likely hold the yellow color from the saffron better) because the lighter colored fat is evenly spread out in the meat. Another thing that happens with emulsified sausages is the addition of a milk product, in this case the hard cheese.

So I had obtained pork middles to make a larger Mortadella size sausage and I also had saffron soaking in wine to soak the middles. The middles smelled so bad that after washing them out several times, I took out my regular/smaller hog casings and added them to the wine mixture as well!

The rest... I toasted my spices and then processed the meat with cold water in my food processor, stuffed the middles and other casings and then simmered them until they were done. They were really really good!

The other ones I made were an amalgamation of these two:

[103r] Sausages.
Take two parts pork by weight and one part beef, and pound all these things together well, and for every pound of meat put in half an ounce of salt, and six grains of pepper cracked, and a bit of fennel according to your judgment, and spugneza everything together well, then stuff these things, and make sure they are well fitted into washed beef intestines, and cure them [103v], as the others aforementioned.
[103v] Zambudelli [I think this is kind of similar to French andouillette sausage]
Take the small intestines of pork or veal, and make sure they are well salted. Afterward open them lengthwise, and wash them well in several changes of water, and make sure the water is hot. Then have good vinegar, and throw it in the pot where you will place said intestines, and after they are well washed, you will throw fennel into them, and salt, and let them stand for a night and a day in said seasonings, and a bit of something sweet would not be unwelcome, then stuff them according to the usual way, and put them in smoke to dry.

And this was more of a rougher textured smoked sausage in my reading of it, so I put everything thru the largest die on my grinder and stuffed them in the smaller casings and smoked them on Cherry and Apple wood until they were done.

The dried sausages... I still have not seen a recipe for a dry cured sausage. We know they had them, and there are a few recipes for dry cured meats (like prosciutto) and there is a ton of modern lore about them that has been passed down in the sausage making community (please don't hesitate to point me in the direction of some dry cured sausage recipes!) so this is my educated guess on dry cured sausages in the middle ages...

The lore and the materials...

Pink (or curing salt)... this salt is dyed a pink color so that people don't accidentally ingest a ton of nitrates/nitrites but lore has it that (like some French Sea salt, which is also pink) curing salts were found in specific areas and were naturally higher in these substances, which is why we modernly still use the pink to denote curing salts. It is really salt-peter... yes that you can make explosives out of. I used to be able to get it at local pharmacies, but now you have to order it online pretty much (Lunardi's has #1 pink salt, but not #2).

Creating a bacteria free environment... bacteria loves moisture and a higher (well in the middle really) ph level. So what you want to do is create a low (around 4) ph environment that will last until the meat is dry inside the casing. How this is achieved modernly is by adding a bacterial fermented milk product called L. acidophilus, sugar, and #2 curing salt. This product was found naturally in milk/cheese products in period but we pasteurize milk now and this kills off the live cultures.

These cultures feed on sugar, either natural milk sugars or added sugar, this creates lactic acid. The lactic acid along with the salt, create an environment where bacteria cannot grow and spoil your salami.

In period, I would guess they added sugar and raw milk product to meat, plus special curing salts (there are salts mentioned by region in Vittoria's translation of the one semi-dried and smoked sausage listed, inferring that special salt was used, either fora specific flavor or because it had some special function. I am guessing it was a salt that lent itself better to curing) to achieve the desired effect.

By lore some sausages have been made since Medieval times including Tuscan Salami (the spices used are so common in Medieval Italian food, it would be hard to imagine this is not the case, especially since many Italian butchers have had buchery in the family for many many generations, one famous one has been in the family for 500 years and calls their salami the same one made in the court of Catherine Medici, which may be hubris... but it also may not), Landjeager (a completely dried salami that went on campaign with German soldiers) and Saucisson sec (a very simple dry salami with garlic and pepper).

I choose to use my favorite Italian dry sausage recipe because 1. all of the spices used are mentioned repeatedly in Vittoria's translations (Fennel, nutmeg, cinnamon, cracked pepper and cloves) and 2. The processes are all the same except the additional drying the sausage (which is mentioned "in smoke" in one recipe, but I am guessing this was a slowly dried sausage over a low heat/smoke over the course of two or three days, not a month... once again if anyone has a book or info on dry curing in period, I would be very happy to check it out).

Since I am not using raw milk, I purchased the milk culture to add to my sausage. I also an using dextrose, which is a very fine sugar that is easily incorporated into the meat. The salt is fine sea salt and the fat and the meat or ground on a large die separately, with Erzabeta finely chopping some larger bits of fat to incorporate. We did pack one 12 inch length of bung, but it will hung separately from the smaller (better smelling) casings (that the rest of the meat was hung it). I put them in slated water overnight to kill off bacteria and will hang them today to dry in my little make shift area for that.

Anyway, WHEW! The two we did already came out really well and I think Rowan is going to get a kick out of the saffron sausages for Erinwood, and they really are delicious. Very light with a complex sweet savory flavor. The color is a bit grey-yellow with is kind of off putting, but it looks actually pretty good when you put the sausages side by side... they are just totally different from both a flavor and texture perspective.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Productive day! And Zombies....

There is something about picking up my CSA produce that gives me a tiny thrill. I am kind of getting into the rhythm of it and I can tell the growers try really hard to mix things up, even when... well what is ripe at any given time changes at its own pace. The items have been largely the same on a week to week basis so far (I know this will change as other things come into seasonality) but they try really hard to throw in some variety (today it was chard and frozen figs, which were beautiful) even if what is actually ripe doesn't change drastically on a week to week basis.

I have been eating the greens we get almost as soon as we get them home but the dancy tangelos have been building up albeit my daughter is eating them daily! So I don't want to waste any of it and I've been perusing my 1964 Gourmets for tips on canning and freezing things.

Today I took the figs and tangelos and made marmalade.

I put ginger, galanga, cloves, mace, and nutmeg in the mix. I am going to serve one of them on top of the Russian Easter cheese tomorrow.

A tip from a commercial kitchen:

Raw meat spoils if it's not frozen so what commercial kitchens often do is process the meat into a cooked form (like grilled chicken, or meat into a meat sauce) and THEN they freeze it. The nice thing about this is, you can save meat that is close to going bad AND when you are out of ideas for dinner, you have ready made food all you have to do is thaw out.

You can do this with left overs too, I took our frilled flank steak from last night and covered it with two cans of diced tomatoes, some red wine, tomato paste, bay leaves and spices and a little sugar and stewed it all day. It made a great pasta sauce for dinner and I still have some I can toss into pasta tomorrow night for fighter practice.

I also really liked the pickles John Thsophilus brought to Paul's birthday party and it inspired me to make a new batch to set up in the pantry:

I forgot how easy and delicious it is to make your own ricotta (which is basically what the Easter Cheese is with a tiny amount of brandy and honey added)... 1/2 gallon of whole milk, 1 cup of cream, 1 tsp of salt... bring it to a slow boil, wisking now and again to stop it from singing to the bottom and sides of the pan (it will anyway) then when it is slowly boiling add 4 tbsp of fresh lemon juice (I have not tried it but I think vinegar would work as well) and then put the heat up to a more brisk boil and wait like 2-3 minutes, stirring now and again.

Then if you want to add 1/4 cup of honey and some brandy and stir it for like another minute, you can, but it does make it a much sweeter cheese than what you might want to use on a lasagna. Then you line a colander with double layer of cheese cloth and drain it... you CAN add raisins or currants (I added currants because I am out of raisins doh!) ... they have special molds they set the cheese in that have crosses on them. I wait about an hour than add a weight to the top (like a salad plate with jar of pickles on top) overnight in the fridge, then you can unmold it and eat it, or store it in Tupperware til you need it.

Having a fascinating conversation on an earlier post with Else about the unfortunate divide between the consumers perception of food and where it comes from and what is viable, vs. the farmers and what... you know... people will actually BUY once they are in the store.

My step dad owns a pretty decent size commercial farm and let me tell you, times have been really hard for farmers. He went quite a few years where he was not really breaking even. They have to grow things people will buy, not just the discriminating few, but aim for the majority of people. If you want to blame anyone for not getting the kind of seasonal organic, free range pig, pesticide free food you think you deserve... blame the mass of human beings who don't want to pay one farthing more than they absolutely have to for anything. And if that is you... well, times are hard, I can't really blame anyone for skimping on what they buy at the grocery store.

But that doesn't make the farmer a penny pinching bastard... they have to be able to do the things we all want to do, make the mortgage, buy the kids new shoes before school starts, have a car that runs. They are not trying to poison us with crap food but they are also not running a charity. If you don't use pesticides on your produce, bugs eat them, and they look like shit, and then no one buys them. We eat with our eyes first.

And Americans... we are woefully spoiled. We don't have culture that joyfully eats it's frogs, tripe and bugs.... why? Because we don't (generally, maybe in some Florida Bayou?) have a past where we had to be inventive with these common staples because we simply could not afford to eat every part of an animal. Lucky us... only... a living creature dies so we can eat steak... maybe we should be trying harder not to be wasteful?

I mean... when the zombies come baby, what is your plan? When it's just you and like 40 normal people and 3 billion zombies... let me tell you, I will be eating high on the hog on Alameda Island while Illadore, Ajax, Bri and Paul cut the heads off anything that tries to get thru the one tunnel we leave open. I mean Else has to be there to help us with our meat/poultry stock. When the zombies come, you better be useful. I mean, I know how to cook a whole lot of stuff that I can find just walking around the shores... mussels, fresh anise, wild grains. I can smoke and preserve fish and all kinds of foods. If you can't eat seaweed and shell fish, guess what, it's called the "bottleneck effect" (check it on wikipedia) and you are going to cease to exist in the genetic make-up of homo Sapien sapien. It's called survival of the fittest and we have become a lazy haphazard people... how will you fare on the "Useful Scale" when the zombies come?

Ok.... hmmmmm... possibly I have been in a wine drinking cooking frenzy of spring joyfulness that has gone somewhat awry in this post? tee hee!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Miraku: Walnut Creek

Miraku... I know you are supposed to be pragmatic when you are critiquing a restaurant... even a bit cruel... but we were totally charmed in every way.

We decided for "Date Night" to go get "some pasta or something". When we hit Pasta Primavera they were packed with a 20 min wait, one of the most gracious maƮtre d' I've experienced not only took our name but offered to call if we wanted when a table was available (and he did!) when we said we would keep looking for a place with an open table... but we will be going back there! I mean, WOW, you just don't see service like that.

So we missed a turn and ended up on Broadway in Walnut Creek and stopped at the first place we saw, Miraku. A very tipsy gentleman sauntered his way out the place (driven home by his very pretty wife) and accosted us jovially as we perused the menu to say, "This is the best place in town! I come here every Friday!" so we decided to take a chance and went in...

It was the most surreal flashback to 1980's Japanese fascination... women in obi with socks and flip flops, giant wood sculptures with koi fish and a fountain in the middle of the place.

Yes, burled wood and small intimate booths. We ordered the sake flight, which came in a wood stand reminiscent of the votive holders Villa Luna gave for 12th Night gifts last year. The sake was SO good, our young attentive waiter told us which was crap, which was medium-good and which was the good stuff. We liked the crap the best (very plumy) and ordered a cup each of the sake. I think they really couldn't believe we were going to order cups of the crap and so they brought out all three big bottles and insisted we try each one to be sure it was the one we wanted... we still wanted crap!

The Crap

We were totally stoked when we saw they had shabu shabu hot pot on the menu and anago (salt water eel, vs fresh water eel which is pretty common)! I mean no one carries anago! Once we ordered the shabu shabu we were assigned out very own kimono clad grandmother to cluck and fuss over us, her name was He To Me ("You know like 'he told me!' and I'll never tell what he said" she winked at us).

He To Mi dishes out some noodly goodness

So she brought out a steaming bowl of housemade broth and a plate of fresh vegetables and thinly sliced red meat

WOW. I mean probably the healthiest meal I've had in a month and it was sumptuously delicious (also the best tasting meal I've had in a month... and I've been eating well)! The meat was dipped in the hot broth just long enough to barely be cooked thru; it was tender and delicious, the vegetables were cooked just till they were barely crisp tender and then plopped in a separate bowl with a gingered vinegary sauce, the beef was dropped in yet another small bowl with a sweet savory thin sesame paste (it reminded me of Thai peanut sauce). We picked and plucked and giggled and every few minutes He To Mi san would come fuss over us.

We ate till we were sated (on many levels) and then ordered a scoop of the green tea ice cream. He To Mi san also brought us a glass of plum wine as a gift, and suggested we dip a scoop of our green tea ice cream in the wine... if you have not done this yet and are curious... I cannot describe how utterly delicious it was. The whole experience was total decadence... mentally, visually, physically, gastronomically.

As you can see we also decided to do date night in our pajamas and we still got really superb service. This, I have to say, is our new favorite restaurant!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cookbooks of Yore...

Went to the White Elephant sale on Saturday with the girls and found lots of treasures!

I don't know what it is about those recipe compilations put out by the Jr League and Southern Churches as fund raisers that I cannot resist! I picked up a whole mosh pit of old pamphlets and cookery from all over the US

Here is the "Old Virginia" Favorite Recipes Cookbook which was first published in 1984

This cookbook was written by Mrs. Euradel Parker who was the proprietor of the Kansas City Hickory Pit starting in 1952. It has such delights as Green Goddess Dressing, old fashioned apple dumplings and Smothered Chicken

Smothered Chicken

1 recipe Southern Fried Chicken
1 whole onion
4 cloves fresh garlic
1 med bell pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp black pepper
1/4 cup veg oil
1 1/2 cup hot water
Saute all vegetables in oil, add hot water, pour over fried chicken, simmer ten minutes and serve

Mrs. Euradel Parker

The next cookbook was written by a Grand Old Dame, Lillie Hitchcock Coit (Coit Tower)

This one is fascinating as Mrs. Coit lived in France and also had knowledge of chili peppers and other local fare that must have been made known to her through the local Mexican population so her food was quite sophisticated and well traveled. She has recipe for Mole and Game and Pigeon Pie, plus Civet de Lievres and Risotto.

I especially enjoyed the measurements, which included roux made with "butter the size of a small egg" and "a walnut size piece of butter" in another recipe.

Anchovy Toast

Toast the bread. Take Anchovy paste and mix with 1/3 butter. Butter the toast thick with paste. Scramble Eggs with truffles and pour over the toast.

The Little Compton Garden Club cookbook first appeared in 1941, but the one I have was dated 1976
With such delicacies as Vidalia Onion Hors D'Oeuvres, Herbed Walnuts and Stilton, Port and Celery Pate I especially liked the long section on vegetables they grew in the Little Compton Gardens.

Fennel, Orange and Asparagus Salad

1 lb Apsaragus
2 large fennel bulbs
2 seedless oranges
juice of one lemon
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
Boston or Bibb lettuce
Blanch Asparagus lightly and then cool, and toss with all the other ingredients and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Serve over lettuce with sesame seed garnish.

This next one was is Le Livre de la Cuisine de Lafayette, which was compiled by the Jr. League of Lafayette Louisiana and has a whole section on Mardi Gras! This section, unsurprisingly, has 40+ recipes for mixed libation and at the end some truly fabulous looking dips!

Lobster Au Rhum

1 large can lobster
2 oz butter
1/3 American cheese
3 oz light rum

Heat butter, cheese and rum in a pan and when it is hot add crab and stir, serve on toast.

This recipe the chef assures us is a "wonderful snack for unexpected guests who have dropped in"

They also have pages and pages of Grits recipes. Fried grits, baked grits, garlic grits, grits pudding, grits cheese souffle. Mmmmmmm Grits! or as the Italians would say, "polenta!"

I found a tiny tome called Favorite Cotswald recipes, which is all traditional British foods (no date on this one). On Sat when I brought the books home everyone cooed over the "Mothering Sunday Pork" and I will likely make Gloucestershire Pie and Crayfish and Bacon Savory.

Two of the books I snagged were Pennsylvania Dutch and one from the Mennonite and Amish community. They are AWESOME! With such treasures as Sauerkraut and oatmeal scrapple.


Separate one hogs head into halves. Remove and discard the eyes and brains. Scrape and clean the head, put into a large heavy kettle and cover with cold water. Simmer gently for 2-3 hours, until meat falls from the bones. Skim fat frequently. Remove the meat from the bones and chop finely, put back in the pan with the stock, salt and pepper to taste, sage and yellow cornmeal, stirring constantly until it is the consistency of mush. Cook for one hour gently. When cooked pour the scrapple into a greased loaf pan and cover and store in a cool place. To serve cut into thin slices and fry in hot fat until crisp and browned.

I also picked up the Balkans Cookbook circa 1972 Too much yummy stuff in this one as well!

It even has a recipe for stuffed bear claws! And a spanikopita type dish with hard boiled and grated eggs added into the goat cheese.

Anyway, I did not pay more than $2 for any of these books and they gave me all kinds of new ideas. I am really eager to find recipes that are a little more in touch with our regional heritage pre-TV dinners and frozen microwave foods.

American food (like any large sprawling country) is a collection of regional areas. In each area you can find subtle differences in food even within a distinct sub culture. For example "Southern BBQ" can mean a lot of different stuff. It can meat pit smoked, or not, or pit smoked with sauce, or without. It can be spicy, sweet, vinegary, smokey, savory or any combination of the above. BBQ across the South, and what this is, can be hotly argued by the various creators and advocates (and likely frequently is).

Each new group of people who come to the country and settle down add a little something from home, filtered through what is readily available here. We forge a new cuisine as time goes by based on the natural abundance of the land (California grows more rice than China), the rare ability to grow wine grapes (they only grow between a certain latitude and longitude on the planet), our freedom from the rigid hierarchies and food legacies that most other countries (rightly so) treasure and revere and our fearlessness of mixing it all up and making it our own.

I hope to some day be a part of the new breed of Chefs who are artists and craftspeople, forging our bright and honored place as a country of fine and unique cuisine. As the California wineries broke barriers in the 70's to take their place as world class wines, I believe American food (in all it's abundant regional glory) will continue to make it's mark on the world.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Organic Farming, co-ops and getting my fair share...

When canning food (or "tinning" in aluminum cans) became de rigeur around the Civil War, eating seasonally became less and less a necessity. As refrigeration became more common in 1911, and then as hot house and imported foods became more common, seasonal cooking was lost to all but the most rural agrarian areas of America.

The shiny new world we sought in the 1960's of space flight and the "Kitchen of the Future", complete with TV dinners and manufactured breast milk all but destroyed the pioneer legacy of living off the land and a rich regional food tradition (Creole, South Western, North Western etc).

Today the majority of urban Americans live far removed from the seasons and knowledge of what goes into their bodies. I mean, don't get me wrong, we know calorie count and how many grams (and what kind) of fat... but isn't food so much more? I am envious of my Italian Swiss friend who can recall his mother's panettone recipe and how she made ravioli at Christmas time. My Christmases came with refrigerated rolls, frozen peas, ham coated in brown sugar and canned cranberry sauce. I felt robbed... I WAS robbed... the American "melting pot" had wiped my cultural slate clean.

Today, I embrace my American-ness, and especially my Californian-ness. The clean slate I have been given lets me explore everything with fresh eyes. The bounty of my beautiful home also supplies my larder with the best and freshest ingredients from all over the world.

So now as Spring approaches, this is my year for seeking the seasons. I want to sit on the beach and see what is growing on the banks (Fennel for starters) and what is in the water (Mussels!). I want to be a part of the world and get my nails dirty... not live in a sterile, freeze dried, faceless, tasteless and out of touch rat-habitat in a lab... or George Jetsons place for that matter. F*ck that. We, the new American Chefs, are the dreamers of dreams and the forgers of a whole new composite cuisine that transcends race, creed, time and place. Bring it on.

To that endeavor, I'd heard whispers that local farmers sometimes organized co-ops to sell their products directly to the public. I looked all over, they were common in the City ("the City" being San Francisco, the best city in the world) and in Berkeley, but finding one here was rough. I finally found Eat Outside the Box: and sent them an email.

They sent me a sign up form and I peppered the administrator with questions, "How does it work? When and where do I pick up the produce?"

Today was a sunny gorgeous day (60 degrees F) to pick up my second share of goodies. As I drove around the corner I noticed another client pulling up in her Prius (covered with Obama stickers, of course). The set up is thus: a plastic lawn table with an umbrella is just inside the front courtyard of a lovely Eichler home. An ancient wooden beach chair has damp paper bags, a collection cup, stacks of rainbow colored eggs in cartons. Pink, Brown, Blue, Terra Cotta. The sign says, "First come, First served. $5 per dozen".

On the table are cardboard boxes, each containing a different item labeled with a hand made sign. A typed paper on a clipboard posts how much of each you may take: 1/4 Lb Salad Greens, 1/2 Lb broccoli rabe, 1/4 Lb arugula, 1 bag dried figs, 2 Lbs tangelos, 1/4 lb some other greens. An old scale sits with a white plastic bowl atop it so you can weigh your own items. I have to remember some plastic baggies next time as I end up trying to separate everything out of the sole damp paper bag when I get home otherwise.

I exchange the pleasantries you would expect with the Prius driving sandy blond. The mystery green is like spinach, she is going to put in ravioli with ricotta (of course). We both try to squeeze in as much snotty cooking talk as we can while filling our bags. I am thrilled there is more green garlic. I'd never tried it before last week and it is ridiculously good. I am not even sure what it really is? But it is a bit like a cross between a leek, garlic and a scallion... only better. The flavor and texture is far superior to any of the former. Both the green part and the white part are totally usable.

I eye the nubby tangelos warily and she assures me they are really good. Maybe if I can get some beets I will do some type of beet and citrus salad with thyme?

Here are some pictures of my treasures

I am going to make some chicken liver pate with the green garlic and serve it with good bread tomorrow night. I throw a dinner party for friends every Wednesday night. Some of my friends fight (it's this super hot martial art), while the rest of us drink wine and eat and I get to cook.

I just made a fresh batch of bacon, it is super salty because I left for vacation without smoking it first, but I like salt! I am sure we will be munching on that as well!

Welcome to my brain!

It's a dark dank place, not unlike a cheese cave. For those of you who know me, you know I cook. All. The. Time. I love it!

I am a Culinary Arts student and one of the things we are asked to do is write about food and since I love to write, here it is!

So Welcome to my brain and I hope you had something to eat before you started reading or a snack close by as I am fervent devotee of food porn.