The final meal of my quest provided me with that happy ending I know you've all been hoping for. I had a perfectly good green chili at the absolute last moment that I could have: as a side dish to a burrito in the Denver airport. It really was my last chance, and it really was good. Unthickened, more green than brown, spicy and tangy. That's all I'd ever asked for.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
In the wake of a recent oral surgery, I found myself with some spare silken tofu on hand. I've often wondered why most homemade fried tofus use a "firm" texture when restaurant chefs so clearly prefer "silken" for dishes like agedashi. The cylindrical shape of my brand of curd gave me the idea for this dish. I very carefully sliced wheels of tofu, dredged in flour, and fried. They really looked like scallops, and tasted like nothing.
My first oolong from the bounty is the White Leaf Dan Cong. I was especially excited to try it because it is roasted at Tea Habitat. I've never before heard of a store roasting its own tea. This is really cool. It makes me want to try and roast some tea at home. I can already roast vegetables pretty well.
The tea itself is really cool. The roasted flavor is very light and the sweet fruit flavor dominates: peach and honey. I would love to know what the unroasted tea tastes like and how this differs.
Pictured above is Phoenix Mountain in the Guangdong Province, where this tea originates. It is cool that the tea started its life there then went to the west coast for roasting and now the east coast for consumption. Unfortunately for the tea, its beginning was a little more picturesque than its ending.
I’ve wanted to make this dish ever since I first witnessed the transformation of stale bread into moist pudding while working the counter of a local bakery in high school. I was so impressed by the frugality with which the baker could turn a worthless product into an expensive one. Since then, finding bread pudding on a dessert menu has saved me after many unfulfilling meals. Offering a hearty bread pudding is a restaurant’s way of making it okay to consume the mass of a second entrée while pretending you’re having dessert.
I chopped stale corn and blueberry muffins into chunks along with two apples, two eggs, a splash of milk, a squirt of honey, lemon zest, grated ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and more cinnamon on top for an added browning effect. The pudding consisted entirely of ingredients I had on hand with many of them (muffins, lemon, apple, ginger) not fresh enough to be used for their standard purposes. But together, resurrected, they created an entirely new and wonderful food.
The use of the lemon zest and ginger comes from my recent reading of an English food history, while a recipe for “brood mit appelen” from a Dutch family cookbook inspired the presence of the apple. However, I merely glanced at these recipes and was surprised at how simple it was to fulfill a long standing culinary desire. Please note the cross section of apple chunks in the photo, and just imagine how moist this is.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
There was no lunch day two, and for dinner I was confined to what I could buy at a gas station. I was worried that I wouldn't get a square meal, but even more worried that I wouldn't fulfill the g.c.f.e.m. challenge. So I was overjoyed to find this item: carne seca, a Mexican beef jerky I've had only once before and have never forgotten. It's almost paper thin with a seriously crunchy texture. Not a leathery or chewy bite to be had, and none of the preservatives so common even in brands that claim to be "natural." The flavor? Green chili.
The chicken stock is still going.
I rarely stick to recipes, but this time I followed a Cook's Illustrated recipe fairly closely. The first step was to simmer some stock and coconut milk with lemongrass and coriander. Whew. The broth it produced was amazing. Once it took on the chicken and mushroom flavor and had some help from lime and red curry, it was even better. My favorite thing about this soup is that it is even better than the version I've loved at Thai restaurants. It was less sweet, since I omitted the sugar, and it had a deeper flavor. I attribute this, of course, to the stock.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Getting a pair of packages upon my return brightened an otherwise stomach-bug blighted Thanksgiving holiday. One was a book I'd been looking forward to and the other was an Oolong bounty. Imen from Tea Obsession was kind enough to send me 10 samples, 8 of which are oolongs, from her store Tea Habitat. If you're ever near L.A. make sure to drop by. Posts are coming soon.
That's right, for breakfast. This green chili was had at the restaurant attached our kitschy hotel. The place was a real throwback, meaning the green chili was so bad that I wanted to throw it back into the kitchen. While nicely green, it was completely opaque. If you turned the spoon upside down, it might not fall off. To speak in its defense, I tried to eat it like a soup though it was offered as a side and therefore may have been intended as a smothering agent. To speak in my defense, I think that's a waste of g.c.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Again, a mediocre green chili that still tasted pretty good and was fun to eat. This from a restaurant in Alamosa that had an enormous all you can eat dinner buffet that came with a complimentary horchata. The g.c wasn't opaque, but it wasn't too flavorful either. Instead of tang or spice, saltiness was a primary flavor, but it was still fun to eat.
Friday, November 23, 2007
On a recent trip to Colorado, I pledged to eat green chili for each of the four meals I would have there. My first was lunch. Following an enthusiastic tip from a baggage handler at my rental car service, I set off for the restaurant pictured above: La Casa Del Rey in Commerce City. I ordered the green chili with beans at the recommendation of the waitress, which came with two flour tortillas. While it wasn't extraordinary green chili, it still met my expectation of a perfect food: regional, unprocessed, spicy. It had an excellent heat that hit the back of the throat and a nice tang. It was on the opaque side, something I dislike in g.c. for its tendency to go with the adjective "smothered." Green Chili that "smothers" is usually more like a gravy than a soup or stew. When you smother something, it dies.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
A lifelong hater of sour, fruit teas, I'm surprised to find myself a regular drinker of a hibiscus and rose hip blend that is everything I once despised. Suddenly the very traits that repelled me now draw me in. While looking at some hibiscus flowers in the garden here in Florida, I figured there must be some way to make it fresh. The internet said I was correct. Apparently hibiscus tea is a traditional drink in places as varied as Mexico, Egypt, and the Sudan. I was shocked at the deep, cool purple the water turned when poured over a single red blossom.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
These were part of my final Farmer's Market stock-up for the season. I also bought several winter squashes, twenty pounds of apples, eight heads of cabbage and about six pounds of beef. I was told that these are cayenne peppers, and that they should dry if left somewhere with a decent air current. Hence their climbing toy. Sadly, if you google "cayenne," a Porsche comes up.
Aaron's mom bought him this Sencha at the mall, Teavana I think. Since she got him a huge cannister he passed some on to me. I was skeptical about a mall purchase but I really like this. It is a little sweet and it actually has that roasted chicken taste that Aaron has read about. A tea tasting like roast chicken may sound offensive, but it is actually excellent.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Another simple trick from Wild Fermentation. Get some cider, ideally unpasteurized, though I've heard pasteurized without preservatives will still work. Let it sit with cloth over the neck of the vessel until it reaches the desired dryness and alcohol content, maybe two or three weeks. Cider wants to do this - just let it.
I'm leaving for home tomorrow so tonight it was time to use up the odds and ends in my fridge. I constructed this pasta with parsley, mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, olive oil, and leftover turkey from Karen's dinner party. I love putting the raw garlic in the bottom of the pasta bowl and having the pasta's residual heat cook it.
I washed this down, of course, with some ripe pu-er.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
This is the third Guoyan raw pu-er that I've tried, and I've loved them all. It comes entirely from Ban Zhang mountain, which, I take it, is one of the famous pu-er producing mountains in Yunnan. To limit the bitterness, I kept the first three infusions very short: about 5 seconds. Far from bitter, each was extremely sweet though the characteristic smokiness of a young raw pu-er was there too. There was a fruity flavor too, though it was hard to pick out among the others.
Gnocchi is easier to make than it seems like it should be. Just cook some starchy potatoes and use them as a base for a dough. I didn't know quite how to dress my gnocchi so I made a simple pesto and decorated the plate with basil leaves, parmesan cheese, and freshly ground pepper. The plate was pretty enough and the gnocchi was pillowy enough to impress Karen, which really was the point anyway.
Friday, November 16, 2007
And here is that afore mentioned dish, the tea smoked duck. I concur with Mr. Tea and Food in regards to how good the meal was. China Road in Syracuse is one of those rare restaurants in the United States that actually seems more Chinese than Chinese-American. Everything was just right, especially the soup dumplings, which somehow featured all of the flavor of a whole bowl of soup wrapped in up in one little, doughy package.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
When I was buying a teapot from Rishi, I figured I'd get some tea too. I picked this Oolong slightly at random. The name is generic enough---it is clear that this is an oolong that tends towards green---but the website tells us a little more. This is a rolled Taiwanese oolong from Nantou. Googling Nantou yields pictures of green slopes and low-hung clouds. It is pleasant to think that my morning on the east coast has a dose of Tawianese atmosphere.
The leaves take a while to unfurl. The picture above was taken after the second infusion and you can see that they still have a way to go. The flavor is light and a little juicy, not nearly as interesting as the Tung Ting that I picked up in Paris, but highly enjoyable nonetheless.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
The first thing I did with my chicken stock was make chestnut soup. It couldn't have been easier. I roasted chestnuts in the oven, peeled them and simmered them in the stock for about a half hour. I then pureed the stock and chestnut mixture. The result was far richer than you'd imagine. It tasted like a cream-based soup. Mmmm.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
After an eerily filling calzone from a college cafeteria the night before, I was overjoyed to realize that the Farmers Diner was on my route today. For those who don’t know, the Farmers Diner features regular diner fare made almost exclusively from local ingredients. Eating there, you realize how good normal food can be if it’s simply made by people who aren’t trying to f*ck you.
I had the corn fritters, a pot of mint tea, and the maple barbecue sandwich. I don’t normally trust barbecue this far North, but the sauce had the right vinegar and spice so often retarded by sweetness in non-traditional barbecue regions. It was very, very good. You should go there.
Interestingly, my vegetarian companions were somewhat disappointed by the food and by the fact that not every single item (orange juice, black tea, potatoes) was local. If you're vegetarian and already a local eater, you might not like it too much. But if you're the kind of American family for whom "neighborhood restaurant" means ingredients from China served in a casual atmosphere, and you stop at the FDr while on vacation, it might just change your world.
Not one to turn down free tea, I filled out an online form to get a free $5 gift certificate to Adagio. I wasn't too blown away by the store. They seem to have replaced Chinese names for tea with names that Americans will have an easier time with, e.g. Oolong #38. I decided to get a bit of Japanese tea, since I like to have Sencha and Kukicha around but am less likely to spend money on them than I am on, say, a promising pu-er.
This Kukicha was fairly pleasant. I think I didn't use quite enough leaves, but the characteristic twigginess was evident nonetheless. There's a richness to Japanese greens that really distinguishes them from Chinese greens. It is not always my thing but I do dig it once in a while. I wouldn't go running to buy this Kukicha, but if you want it for the price of shipping you probably won't regret it.
If anybody wants to know how to get the gift certificate just let me know. I'd feel a little cheap putting a direct link on the blog.
Friday, November 9, 2007
India certainly isn't known for its oolongs, though this was an interesting tea. It it had many of the same flavors as the Doke Snow Bud that I reviewed earlier. The first time I brewed it I couldn't stop thinking about it. Strangely, though, I've had little desire to drink it for the last month or so. It became something of a chore so I'm glad that today I used the last of it. I'll be interested to compare it to the two other Indian oolongs I have waiting in the wings.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I roasted a chicken a few days ago and finished the last of it for lunch today. Instead of throwing away the bones I threw them into a stock pot with the remaining skin and neck. Tomorrow I'll have a huge pot of homemade chicken stock to use as a base for whatever I choose.
How should I use it?
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
I'm not a huge black tea fan, but this morning I had to be dragged out of bed by a dog and I needed something warm and caffeine-laden to get me going. All pu-er comes from the Yunnan province, as do a few green and black teas, including this one. The dry leaves of this tea are beautiful, if you peer in the canister you can see the gold buds intermingled with the black leaves. The tea itself is rich and a little sweet.
In addition to being delicious, this tea taught me a lesson. For months, I thought that it was quite bitter. It turns out that I was just using too many leaves. I began using about a level tablespoon of leaves per cup and the resulting tea wasn't bitter at all. As it turns out, brewing tea can be a little tricky.
P.S. I am drinking the broken nugget pu-er as I write this. I can't get enough of it.
Monday, November 5, 2007
I'm still kicking myself for having gotten food poisoning right before a trip to New Orleans with Mr. Tea and Food last year. Thanks to a children's anti-nausea syrup I was able to at least watch as MT&F made himself a tiny po' boy with a few broiled oysters and a slice of the feather weight French bread that began our (his) meal. I have now finally enjoyed this delicacy myself, and in the comfort of my own kitchen. Local Wellfleet oysters from the Somerville Farmer's Market, toasted generic French bread, Kate's butter. They were open faced, as was I while shoving them into my face.
Something interesting I learned about oysters from the vendor, whose name I'll have to get for you. He'll throw the shells back in the ocean for you, to dispose of them naturally and to booster the wild population. Apparently oysters regenerate like gremlins and just sort of pop off each other.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
"Tung Ting" means 12 trees, it is also the name of a mountain in the middle of Taiwan. This tea was another Paris purchase from La Route De The. There are two particularly interesting things about it. First, it changes around infusion 3 from a sweet fragrant tea to a more deeply flavored one. Second, it makes me thirsty.
Since it can last for 7 infusions or so I tend to brew it early in the morning and re-steep it as the days go on. It is kind of nice to have the company of a single tea as the day develops. Today, Twelve Trees took me all the way from sitting at my computer in the morning to sitting at my computer in the evening. We had quite a journey together.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Googling "junshan yinzhen" yields lots of conflicting information. Some list it as a white tea, others as a yellow tea, and others as green. This one was listed as a green tea so I'm going to go with it.
When brewed, it is easy to understand the trouble with classification. It has the grassy flavor of a light chinese green but the sweet scent of a white. You can see how pale the tea is too, it looks like most whites I've had. Perhaps it is more appropriate for a early spring day than a mid-fall one, but I was thrilled to be drinking a chinese tea that was as interesting as I wanted.
This tea, like the broken nugget pu-er and the 2004 raw tuo, comes from pu-erh shop. I highly recommend it.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Most great pu-ers come in beautifully compressed cakes. As a result, compressed pu-er is more highly valued than loose pu-er. This gave me an idea: maybe I can get some really good loose pu-er for cheap, since all of the suckers will be avoiding it. Turns out that I was right.
This cooked pu-er has all of the things I love about cooked pu-er: earthy smooth richness that lasts for 7-8 infusions. It also has none of the things I sometimes don't like about cooked pu-er: a sour dank flavor. It is a perfect after dinner tea. Even Posh Spice thinks so.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Portuguese kale and sausage soup. I used a base of rice cooked with extra water. The result was a marriage of the sausage fat with the rice starch, suspended by the water in a nice, velvety broth. Also threw in some onion, potato, garlic, thyme, paprika, cumin, and a whole scotch bonnet that I removed halfway through. But you could just do sausage, kale and spices and be happy. We had it with a Portuguese red called Berco do Infante, courtesy of a certain mustachioed old landlord.
Aren't these seaweed green leaves beautiful? One can only imagine the intoxicating tea that they could produce. Unfortunately, they don't. The only way to get any flavor out of these leaves is to steep them forever, and even then the tea is bland and uninteresting.
I picked this green oolong up from the bulk section at my local Wegmans. They stopped carrying bulk tea and I never labeled it, so I have no idea exactly what the tea is. I knew, of course, that the tea would be more expensive and taste worse than any number of greenish oolongs that I could have shipped from China. But I bought it anyway. I guess I didn't feel like waiting three weeks. I'd like to tell you that I'll never do it again, but we both know it's not true.