Tuesday, June 1

Food for Thought

Though I haven't posted here for what feels like ages, my mind continues to return to this place wondering when I'll be inspired to write something new. For me this small corner has been a place to explore my creativity and inquire into the expansive universe both large and small. There is so much to experience and share, and still- I got bogged down. Initially I thought it was from the process of writing/drawing and recipe finagling; and that has undoubtedly been some of it. But I think a bigger part is that food is both metaphor and vehicle to explore the natural world, and when it comes down to it- it is hard to separate me (alternately, us) from it. I am dazzled and inspired by the beauty surrounding, but the counterpart is that attached, there is an underlying aspect of heartbreak. While I put great efforts towards expressing myself in writing, if I were to be truthful, there was an element held back in the name of equanimity. Not surprisingly, this growing awareness coincided with longer absences.

Now with the ongoing devastation occuring in our Gulf coast, I don't feel I have the luxury to pretend that my heart isn't breaking when I consider all that is happening in our environment. Please take the next 20 minutes to look at this video. If you are unable to spend that time, bookmark it for later! May it serve to educate, re-inspire, and re-dedicate our collective vision and efforts.

Monday, March 29

Breakfast of Champions

I'll keep things brief because truth be told, I'm feeling once again sheepish for posting so infrequently. Stammering and apologies pushed aside for instead, a rather spectacular approximation of my latest sandwich of my dreams...

The PEEP-wich: the mishmoshing of a chocolate croissant with the thin crackle of brulee and a dose of creamy nutbutter for good measure.
1) Plug in your trusty Forman Grill

2) Lavishly butter 2 pieces of sliced whole wheat bread. It is best to go for a loaf that is light and sprightly with visible holes. Bear with this process and I swear you'll end up with something buttery and pastry like. You'll thank me for passing on the dense wholegrain bread.

3) Spread nutbutter of your choice on the unbuttered side of a piece of bread. I used sunbutter to my great satisfaction. While this may be a matter of personal preference, I'm still guessing that a thin skim is Not enough, but an eight of an inch is just about right.

4) Gently apply two peeps about equidistant upon the nutbuttered side. If feeling especially peckish, go for three.

5) Bedazzle the surface with some good chocolate chips. Too few and you'll miss out on the lava flow, too many and the bread slides around in an unkempt manner.

6) Press down with the leftover bread, buttered side up.

7) Place the Peep-wich into the mouth of the grill and resolutely lower the top down.

8) Wait until sizzling and peeps subside... take a quick peek to make sure that the top surface is golden and buttery.

8) Slice in half and pause. Note that this most clever bird pulls an utter Houdini and simply disappears into the bread. You will most likely notice a gossamer thread-o-peep or two when the sandwich is cut. Eat and enjoy- Happy Easter!

Tuesday, January 5

Somethin' This Time Around

"Sacrifice, if you please, three mutton cutlets for every one required. Tie them together, with the choicest and tenderest one in the middle. Grill them, turning them over often so that the juice of the two outer cutlets pervades the one between. When the outer ones are more than cooked, take all three off the fire with infinite precaution and serve only the middle one."
-King Louis XVIII of France (1755-1824)

Mutton is majestic meaty morsel. This is surely what the Mutton Renaissance Campaign had in mind with their logo of a vaguely recognizable distinctly proud animal standing within a windswept field, which incidentally reminds me of Heaven. Endorsed by Charles, Prince of Wales no less, surely the profile of this antiquated Dickensian food must be on the rise. Who knew that in the locals of my freezer, I would find such a thing?

I vaguely remember that afternoon a year to two ago when a small brown package arrived tidy and unassuming, along with another of its kind tethered, to a friend. Attention instead towards eggs, there was I believe a distant blur of the hand and then out of nowhere mumbled words sounding like, “pig’s liver and --mutton”. Unable to process the heft and meaning of either word or package, they unceremoniously made their way into the holding area of my freezer until a time when any of those things just might suit an occasion.

No closer in understanding or need of mysterious meats from yore, actually forgotten entirely but still in want of an organized freezer; the unearthing began. The inside door most closely akin to things that remain on the surface, a social veneer completely respectable offering bulk foods and unobtrusive choices. But past the freeze line a lively assortment of tidy mislabeled packages: undrunk portions of wine sloshed into chutney jars, tidbits and tufts of bread, bricks of stew-y things, unfortunate food projects, and the designated meat corner consisting of bacon ends, one individually wrapped hotdog, 2 sausages, oxtails and-- mutton.

Being a new year, it is time to take inventory of our lives; question the contents for freshness and purpose, extracting the undesirable for something more fitting. Old barmy sheep get out, hello refined lamb! While it is hard to pull the wool over my eyes, I’m still sold on this rebrand clever or not. Marketing minds hard at work it is true, but it is still a way to see our lives and the things in it with new eyes and feeling. Starting over is a break from the acquisition of days, a reboot and glad news for those of us unsure of how our freezers ever got so full.

Mutton Kofta approx 20 batons: Chief criticism seems to be that the meat is quite gamy (oily and such) and tough. Make sure that your mutton has been aged properly! Since chief populations still enjoying this venerable sheep do so with a flourish of spices and a quantity of sauce, I’ve combined a bunch of Indian recipes using a fry/steam technique. Of course lamb and other non-animal protein may be replaced.

1 lb. ground mutton
1 ½ tsp yogurt
1 tsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp garam masala
1 ½ tsp. ketchup
1/3 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 Tblsp. Grapeseed oil
2 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
½ C water
2 Tblsp. Yogurt

Directions: Mix first nine ingredients together until just mixed and shape into ovals 2 inches long and 1 inch thick. Heat medium sized skilled until hot and heat oil. Add cardamom pods and cinnamon and toss around for 10 seconds. Lower the heat and add meatballs, turning them occasionally until they achieve a golden brown coat. This takes about 15 minutes. Drain any oil. Mix the yogurt and water and pout into the skillet. Heat to boil and then reduce heat. Cook until most of the liquid is evaporated. Serve with basmati rice and some sort of mint/cilantro chutney. As for Dickens, Our Mutual Friend is a fine pairing with any mutton meal.

Friday, December 11

Holiday Treats

Fool for Fruitcake and Torrone (Montelimar) too... This song one of my favorite Beatles tunes, capturing the pleasure and pain of oh, so many good things.

Tuesday, December 8

Maitake Madness

There has been very little as of late to thrill my taste buds to the point of audible exclamation. Food ingredients I will never blame, rather the issue occurs when there is a severance from the source of inspiration, and this small tragedy strikes when too long operating within the confines of the tried and true. Fortunately a recent trip to the market unearthed an exotic fungal beast, a cluster of vigorously formed maitake mushrooms jeering for attention. Grifola frondosa or playful, hen-of-the-woods are praised for their health virtues. This I presumed might make them medicinal and at best pithy, perhaps more apt for brew. With relief I found this assumption to be utterly wrong as I jogged to memory of a man stuffing a sizeable vegetal hen into his knapsack whilst crowing about his find. Inappropriate behavior within a National Park, but now I understand his misappropriation and find myself likewise scanning dark corners where the trees hit the forest floor.

Apparently maitake is named the dancing mushroom because foragers tend to jump about excitedly with glee upon discovering some. The descriptor is no exaggeration. To behold Grifola is to be captivated by honey brown plumes erupting forth from a base somewhat wiggly, irrepressible, and full of musty mushroom odor. Cap-less, the fronds shred easily revealing nested recursive forms and if not mindful of the time, one could get lost in the maze of wonder. Where to go from there? A quick trip to the fry pan with some oil and a flash of heat, nothing too long or too gentrified. A steady squeeze of lime, umami rich fish sauce, cilantro, mint, and yes I believe some sugar too. Now at long last, a fork. Pleasing on so many levels, this might be one of the best things eaten this year.

The preparation is reductive; bowls, measuring spoons, and all other instruments of cooking drop out of sight, leaving only intimate connection to the land and its fruits. The flavors, clear singular notes which play upon the entire terrain of the tongue achieve triumphant perfection. But what makes these bites so revelatory for me, is undoubtedly the texture. Some describe it as meaty which is partially true, but that suggests an experience full, rotund and muscular. This has the slight weird factor which Asians adore and demand in their food. Reminiscent of jellyfish, though not as crispy, it has a slightly dry mouth feel which calls to mind shredded turkey or deep fried tofu, a tad spongy, the barest hint of elasticity… thoroughly interesting and hard to describe. Meanwhile the whole time one is thoughtfully masticating and attempting to identify the essence, this nutty sweet fungal perfume fills ones entire head cavity. The chewiness which connotes funky things like collagen, innards and the cartilage-in-between, mixed with the secretive flavors of the earth, wakens me to my animal self, to the being desirous to sample dirt and all connective tissue tethering firmament to ground.
Maitake mad now and wanting to growl and claw, I race over to tree stump barely noticed the week before; sure I had seen a huddle of hens. Disappointed I find instead shelves of handsome calcified ruffles, velvety striped accessories decidedly non-edible. At the mouth of the Royal View, a 50 plus acre development overlooking the Mt. Washington Valley, I enter with the usual swell in my heart. The spectacular view is gaping expanse of water colored profiles melting into mackerel skies. The foreground is a clear cut hill side community standing nearly vacant, money pouring down the granite sided drains. I find myself contemplating man vs. nature, as I observe swift aggressive decisions made in the name of development and wonder what the trees out yonder think about their domesticated brethren. Rather than people, most lots are occupied by Zeussian plugs of Sweet Fern; one of the first to move in after brush and trees are removed. Spicy rich oils emerge from scalloped leaves, perfect for imparting enigmatic flavor into a mug of hot water. A slow amble later, tiny winter berries peep underneath low lying plant matter. Bold red mints disguised in cheery form, the electrical boxes’ hum recedes behind the wind. A hawk stands watch- and suddenly it is apparent that there is a wildness to life that cannot be squelched. This gives me great relief as I leave the Royal View, heart swelled still. The search for mushrooms for another day.

Tuesday, November 17

Back to Basics... with Man-Bread

Right at home with bony rickety things outside my window, I love creeping around the edges. While folks consider the peak of leaf season, when the leaves are kissed by the sun, to be the royal view worth gawking over, I’m finding immeasurable beauty in the barrenness left behind. The leaves on trees are near fallen exposing stunted misshaped limbs injured from last winter’s ice storm. The giant stores of acorns once unloading playful vengeance upon industrious critters are now spent, crushed into dust underfoot and the crabapples last week- waterlogged and eerily luminescent are now slightly wizened. It is all happening fast as nature scrambles to tuck in and close the shutters. Finally it seems I’m back in synch with time, smack dab in the decay and decline of the season.

We are down to the wire, the last few weeks before the holiday tumble, every bit of summer sensuality wrung out. The bare trees now expose ungainly piles of junk from the neighbor’s too-close-for-comfort yard. Roots have grown in; highlights faded out, in fact most I know are sporting hair more akin to shrubbery. Once horrified by the unrelenting practicality of an entire town’s wardrobe, I too have submitted to the unspoken wisdom of fleece. This is territory unspeakably honest- without the gloss and cosmetics of warm month pageantry.

So it is really no wonder that I’ve been gnawing on what I’ve dubbed man-bread*, for about a week now. Yes, the loaf was overcooked a hefty 10 minutes which further accentuated the coarse nature of the beast, yet didn’t destroy it at all. Sure this fig, nut, and lentil bread sounds exotic and sophisticated first upon the ear, but a slight scratch below the surface reveals a substance possibly representative of the entire category of Food- at its most base requirement. Mortar like and gnarly in batter form, it bakes into a stout brick durable for adventures far and wide. No need for fancy Tupperware or plastic wrap, just cut a slab, stick it in your trouser and go. Surely some version of this bread stowed away in yesterday’s traveler’s bindlestiff serving as head rest, hammer, and staff. Man-bread is primitive, touching an ancient survival memory long lost. Not plied with deft hands like baguette, nor fanciful as cake, this bread’s sole purpose is to feed the hungry masses and do so in an unobtrusive way. I suppose that is what I’m really responding to. Durable, plain faced and practical… it fits the bill this November month. No cozy, No fluffy, No decadence- it is unadulterated food that shames all the crock pot-casserole-monstrosities we will be inundated with come January. And yet, man-bread manages to help me dig in and occupy the bones of this place in season, and that is no small feat.

* this name bestowed upon the loaf is reference to Sam Martin’s study of manspace.

Balsamic and Lentil Bread: one loaf adapted from Susan Jane Murray great site. Ingredients: 1 C millet flour
½ C quinoa flakes
½ C sunflower seeds
½ C pumpkin seeds
1 C walnuts
½ C dried figs
¼-1/3 C chopped dried cured olives (optional)
2 Tblsp. balsamic vinegar
3 Tblsp. Olive oil
2 eggs
1 C of cooked beluga lentils plus ½ cup of leftover water from the cooking.

Directions: Dump the dry ingredients (first 6 or 7 if including the olives) into a large bowl. Mix the rest of the wet ingredients into another smaller bowl with a fork. Dump the wet mixture into the dry and mix with a few strokes until just incorporated. Pour into a greased loaf pan. Pop into a 325 degree preheated oven. I did 350 degree for 50 minutes and mine was a little too brick-ish. Could have been not enough lentil “juice”, too high of a temperature, too long? Bake until just firm. It is quite nice with scoops of cottage cheese/avocado. Enjoy with other manly people.

Friday, October 23

The Last Tomato

While one might imagine that I’ve been hufflepuffing my way through these dazzling autumn months, I haven’t. My mantra revitalized me long enough to become temporarily obsessed with the porcine power of Kevin Gillespie’s bacon jam, which tamed the otherwise inaccessible escargot and momentarily stunned a seemingly unflappable Daniel Boulud on Top Chef 6, episode 4. “Bacon Jam” became my new fixation, a word tonic uttered repeatedly in strange wonder. Like its predecessor it became a symbol, a question to be lived and in a series of screwed up turns, changed into hyped up shitake jam posing as pig. Good- perhaps even excellent without the expectations heaped on, but in the wake of such anticipation, instead… a red faced sham.

Figuring it wasn’t a favorable sign starting an entry feeling sheepish; I scrapped last month’s post. Flummoxed, a bittersweet chocolate-meyer lemon tart also went “the way of the pig” and turned into something odd and a little rubbery. That tart was grand in meaning, representing the lyrical play of light and dark of the harvest season and of relationships too. It seems my food has become steeped in mental meanderings in an attempt to distract myself from the grim realities of the fast approaching end of the year. Lamenting over squash, confused over good-food-gone-bad, I missed the peak of the leaf season when flaming fluorescents light the valley in colors almost unreal.

But V_ to the rescue again, has magically coaxed tomatoes late- in an otherwise barren season with Houdini like prowess. As many plants much earlier across the eastern states have succumbed to blight, these paeans to summer have survived just barely, raising their status to something a little unearthly. Determined to no longer pine for the months passed by and revel in what surely must be the most handsome dignified time of the year, I offer a tomato dish that takes the sunny carefree orbs of summer and with a wave of a wand, transforms them into a sophisticated concentrated concoction. The tomato has grown up. Swirled in red wine, introduced to the briny seduction of capers and olives, the vinegary sear of pepperoncini, and dressed in a feathery cape of aged parmesan, herbs and crusty crumbs- this dish is happy marriage between summer produce and fall winter technique. It is lusty food with bold flavors leaping with the confidence to assert not dominate. The red filling has the darkened jammy patina of age, not the mere blush of youth. This tomato crumble is completely beholden to the season, conveying quiet knowledge of the passage of time. In possession of this, everything is just a little grander, richer for the existence. What a relief to know that I can still have my metaphors and- eat them too!

Spicy Tomato Crumble adapted from Savory Baking by Mary Cech: Not only is this basically a dump and stir sort of recipe, but it begs to be played around with. I can equally envision anchovy fillets to cracked eggs to chunks of goat cheese baked in. Just the thing to get one’s mind finally off of bacon jam.

Crumble topping:
1/3 C dry bread crumbs (I used 1/2 panko and 1/2 oyster cracker crumbs- I think leftover crusty bread would be perfect to make adhoc chunky bits)
1/4 C rolled oats toasted
1 Tblsp all-purpose flour
1/4 C finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried oregano/marjoram
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tblsp unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes

Tomato filling:
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tblsp. capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 Tblsp. finely diced pepperoncini
2 tsp. clover honey
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 C dry red wine
6 fresh large tomatoes roughly chopped and seeded or one 28 oz. can whole tomatoes with juice, roughly chopped
1/2 C kalamata olives, roughly chopped

Directions: Combine all ingredients for the crumble topping in a food processor and pulse a few times to break down the oats a bit and bring the mixture to a crumble. Put aside. In a large shallow pan bring all the tomato filling ingredients to a simmer for about 25 minutes, reducing the liquid down. (I found there was still so much liquid I reserved about half a cup to reduce further at a later time- tomato jus, delicious!) Pour mixture into a casserole pan and crumble the topping on top. I think a little drizzle of olive oil would be highly appropriate. Pop into a preheated 350 degree oven until the top looks brown and the filling is bubbly. I believe the author has the crumble cooking for 15 minutes, but we cooked ours for at least 35 minutes… but then again our recipe was doubled. Enjoy hot or cold. Nice with a piece of fish, atop pasta...heaven I tell you.