Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Goat Cheese Quiche

After gulping back a splash of coquito and a cup of coffee, we undertook the enterprise of baking a goat and parmesan quiche. Loaded to the brim with mushrooms sauteed in butter, shredded broccoli, onions and garlic (and of course more cheese), this quiche was the second best part of our day. The first best part involved homemade minstrel wrapping paper reminiscent of the French underground theater and recently pruned yew branches standing proud in a dish of water on my floor.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Buche de Noel, pt 1

What better way to take a break from the long hours working in the kitchen than to spend a few hours...working in the kitchen. I decided I would mark the Yuletide this year with a Yule log, mainly so I could have an excuse to produce inane edible decorations.
The Buche marked a number of firsts for me: first cake, first icing, first piped meringue, first use of marzipan, first log. I did stick to my habit of ignoring recipes, however. It's probably for this reason that the cake itself is a bit grainy. The coarse texture would suit a tea cake, but is at odds here with the filling.
Chestnut paste is apparently a popular choice for filling, but I wanted a chocolate theme. For simplicity's sake I used a butter ganache, and as a nod to wintry flavors, incorporated fig jam and a splash of port. The result was a creamy ganache with just enough body to hold its own against the cake, a slightly seeded texture from the fig, and a well-balanced sweetness.
With the foundations of the cake well in hand, I went to work on an Italian meringue butter cream. It turned out very badly indeed, as I failed to halve my recipe properly. I really should just write these things down. I turned instead to Pierre Herme's Chocolate Glaze and set aside some compromised meringue. Fortunately that meringue proved to be a delicious anomaly that I now must recreate.

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Pure Potential

This is going to be good.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Matzo Ball Soup

It's a little perverse, but I decided to introduce my family to a good Jewish soup using our Christmas leftovers. I appropriated my dad's homemade turkey stock in a twinkle, satueed onions, brought the stock to a simmer, added in matzo balls, carrots, celery, and little thin egg noodles in that order. The broth was rich and delicious, the matzo balls were light and fluffy (unlike last time, when they were dense little pucks!)--my family was delighted! Next time I will use less salt.

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Warm Coquito

Pictured above alongside a cranberry pocket, coquito is a Puerto Rican holiday drink much like a coconut flavored, rum laced eggnog, not to be confused with the Chilean palm wine by the same name. Coquito seems to get its name from either or both the Spanish word for coconut - "coco" - and the name of PR's beloved tree frog, the coqui. A rough English translation of this delicious drink would therefore be "cocofrogo" or "frogonut."

Traditionally served cold in honor of its hot place of origin, it seemed fair to heat it up in wintry New England. The warm coquito Elise and I made was fantastic, even though we ignored many of the ingredients that all the recipes suggest. We just went for the basics: coconut milk, egg, milk, sugar, rum, and those magical spices we all love at this time of the year. I also added pepper, having wanted to ever since reading about the addition of pepper sauce to hot punch in the Jack London short story "To the Man on the Trail." The coquito was warm, sweet, rich, and strong.

Since my first sip of a coquito made by our friend Marilola at a Brandeis party, I've wanted more. Ours was almost as good, though difficult to wipe off of the holiday cards it spilled on when I was trying to get a better angle for the photo.

Note: I predict that within five years the general public will be aware of coquito in the same way that dulce de leche has become a household flavor. It has all the makings of a food trend and only needs to tip.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Bog Blog

Cranberries help make a tart live up to its name. Made from leftover scraps of dough and filling from several tartlets, this is the only item that survived our dinner long enough to be photographed. Cranberries are one of only three native fruits still grown commercially, and these came from an old bog in Jersey that relies on IPM (integrated pest management). Look out cranberry blossomworms, cranberry fruitworms, cranberry tipworms, cranberry girdlers, and cranberry flea beetles!

The full menu:

1. olives and cheese (sorry Bittman!)
2. a Wellfleet oyster on a slice of buttered, toasted baguette
3. chestnut puree (fantastic, but I had overindulged by this point)
4. arugula, empire apple, almond, white balsamic vinegar salad
5. mushroom risotto and eggplant goat cheese lasagna
6. the afore mentioned tartlets
7. gyokuro

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Roasted Chestnut

It wasn't until I was already preparing a roasted chestnut soup that I realized I really didn't understand what a chestnut was. I had observed their annual arrival in displays at the end of supermarket aisles from a distance, thinking they were nothing more than some kind of expensive hazelnut and generally feeling above the hooplah.

But when I cut into my first roasted chestnut and saw the sheer mass of food available inside, I began to second guess my aloofness. When I tasted my first roasted chestnut, I was so impressed by the texture and sweetness that I was instantly made a convert.

The chestnut also has a fascinating history, from the devastating blight on the American Chestnut to it's use as a staple starch by other cultures, to the reverential spot it occupies in holiday rituals. I'll post again after I serve the soup tonight, but luckily I bought a few too many and have been enjoying those on their own.

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Tea Travels

Well, I didn't get to the last Dan Cong before I left to visit my family until the 30th. I guess that the exciting conclusion of the Dan Cong series will have to wait until 2008.

The next week and a half should be fairly pleasant. My main tasks will be eating and reading novels. Of course, with so much time on my hands I want to enjoy some good tea. Before taking off I made a little travelling collection of odds and ends I've amassed. Maybe I'll post about some of them. Here is my stock: 1 raw pu-er tuo from the puerh shop, 1 small bag of 1999 Loose Ripe Pu-er from the puerh shop, part of a sample of a 2006 GuoyanZhang Lao Ban raw pu-er cake, Goomtee Indian Oolong , the rest of my Junshan Yinzhen Green, Supreme Jasmine Pearls from Imen, and some Moonlight White from Rishi. Whew.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Review: Grand Prix Cafe

The Grand Prix Cafe really is the cafe you've always been looking for. Quiet, professional, reasonable and delicious, it even has free wireless.

With nothing more than a single burner and a panini press, Serge, the ever present man behind the counter, somehow manages to turn out incredibly diverse and satisfying meals. The fresh bakery items are constantly in flux, including such specialities as spanikopita, ravani, and "fresh" tiramasu.

There's also a mysterious drink known as Greek Mountain Tea that is only available seasonly and which features one ingredient that I'm told doesn't translate. If you want something hearty, you can sample the homemade keftedes, or Greek meatballs, with feta. Today there's something Serge describes as "honey Christmas bread," which is oozing honey as I type.

Though I come often, I'm regularly surprised by new items or new preparations of old ones, like the time Serge brought out a late in a tall parfait glass, the milk and espresso separated as well as beers in the most skillful black and tan. Other perks include organic eggs and this boast from the menu: "None of our products are remade." I also never tire of the European sports paraphernalia, and many patrons stop in just to watch soccer on the flatscreen.

I once overheard a woman who had just returned from a cafe tour of Paris in which she sampled the city's finest coffees. She told Serge she was glad to be back at the Grand Prix, because his is better.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Spicy Red Marrow Bone Crock Pot Stew

While picking my way through ice and slush and bitter wind this morning, I was reminded of the powerful warming effects of the spicy stews I had on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona last winter. I decided that's what I needed tonight.

The basic idea for this dish was to make a hot, red stew using one of my River Rock Farm marrow bones as a base. The bone provided a gorgeous layer of golden oil that floated on the top of the stew and then disappeared back into it. I soaked some pintos, then added them. It's nice to remember how wonderful a well cooked bean is. Not a bit overdone, they were still plump and firm. I dropped in a chipotle, and once it had reconstituted, I mashed it into a paste with some of the broth, then reintroduced it. I used a frozen scotch bonnet from Farmer Al, which I removed about three quarters of the way through. Two and a half diced onions, a bunch of whole garlic cloves, a can of tomatoes, and a chayote inspired by the Salvadorian take on menudo at Tacos Lupita.

The chayote is a perfect soup vegetable, and is almost exactly a cross between a potato and a zucchini, with the attributes of both and none of the drawbacks (mushiness and sogginess, respectively). Towards the end I incorporated a can of hominy, only because I couldn't find it dry. It was a shame that it couldn't spend the whole six hours in the crock, but it got to know the other ingredients fairly well. I ate the stew with a lime in hand, but was surprised to find that it's earthy heat begged no tang. The lime went into my beer, which reminded me a little of overdoing it in Cancun once, but was still a nice contrast of temperature, texture, and taste.

It kept me warm for hours.

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Honey Orchid Dan Cong

The Dan Cong tasting continues, sorry for the delay.

I finally finished a draft of the paper that I griped about and a cup of tea was my reward. Honey is the dominant flavor and taste. It is thick and soothing. Floral, too: I assume that's the orchid though I can't pick out the flavor of orchids generally. I've infused this tea 5 times and it is still going, though the honey has gotten a little less pronounced. It will be interesting to compare this to the Gold Medalist Honey Orchid, my last Dan Cong. I recommend drinking this tea while your dog licks your feet.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Peach Dan Cong

I've spent much of today on the phone trying to get wood delivered before a foot of snow comes tomorrow. On my break from that I made sure to put in some time staring at my latest paper, not thinking clearly enough to make revisions. I just couldn't concentrate. After lunch and before wood stacking I brewed this organic Peach Dan Cong. As soon as I lifted the gaiwan lid the peach scent hit me. Keep in mind that this tea is not scented with peaches, mixed with peach peel, or anything like that. The leaves just naturally smell this way. Amazing. I was expecting to be overwhelmed by the peach flavor, but the tea has so much else going on: an excellent earthiness. The peach taste really is wonderful too. It reminds me of the part of a peach that is closest to the pit: more pungent and less sweet. After one cup of this I was feeling relaxed and more mentally sound. Now it is time to get back to wood stacking.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yu Lan Xiang Magnolia Fragrance

Day one of a four day Phoenix Oolong event.

The White Leaf Dan Cong roasted at Tea Habitat was a pleasure to drink, though it was hardly subtle. This Yu Lan Xiang is obviously a more refined tea: it has a pronounced honey-like texture and the floral flavor sneaks up on you. Having never eaten a magnolia, or been sufficiently attentive to their smell, I can't say whether the floral flavor is clearly magnolia-ish. The flavor, though, is sort of soft. Much more like a discernible but distant flower smell than like rolling around in a patch. According to the description, Chinese women are known to use this as a perfume. If so, I bet it is fairly pleasant. Better than anything I've smelled from Karen's Vogue, anyway. So I can recognize the quality, this is surely an excellent tea. That said, it is not something I'd choose to drink all the time.

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Drunken Goat and Prosciutto

These two ingredients make an excellent combination. Thanks to my absentminded house guests for leaving them.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Buckwheat for Breakfast

I like eating buckwheat groats, or "kasha," so much that I can't explain it. My best guess is that it springs from some cultural memory in my Russian heritage. It's in my blood - and stomach!

Breakfasting on this grain has remained a staple for getting my day started on the right foot ever since my old holistic doctor prescribed it to me years ago. I topped this bowl with a little pan-scrambled egg. This food is so grounding, so warming, so energizing. The only comparison that comes to mind would be to somehow ingest an extra backbone while sitting in a hot tub. That must be why some Russians say "schi and kasha are what we eat." Guess I should start eating schi.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Brewing

One of the exciting things about tea as opposed to, say, wine, is that I get a say in how my tea tastes. The taste of tea depends on time, temperature, vessel, and water, to name a few. Whenever a cup is unpleasant, I assume that it is my fault and whenever a cup is amazing I spend subsequent brews attempting to reproduce those same conditions. I usually fail, of course. The temptation is to get scientific: thermometers, timers and the like can make things consistent. Unfortunately, they can also make things a bit sterile. It is wonderful to count to 30 and smell the pu-er steam rising to your nose. It is less pleasant to wash dishes until a timer goes off. I do employ some brewing aids, and I may even purchase some more. I am sympathetic to Marshal's warning though: brewing tea should be more relaxing than a chemistry experiment.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Whole Foods Dungeness

I didn’t eat shellfish for most of my life due to religious reasons, so you can only imagine how exciting it is to me now that I've abandoned those particular commandments. While I’ve since become comfortable with simple recipes, I’m still inexperienced with such basics as how to eat a crab. But when I saw cooked, cracked, whole Dungeness crab at Whole Foods for $7.95 a pound, I figured it would be a good intro. It was, tossed with broccoli rabe in oil and butter, black pepper, sea salt and served on pasta with raw garlic grated atop. I wish more restaurants offered that instead of parmesan.

I know you should cook a crab yourself, but plenty of juices still ran out of this one as I cracked the pieces over the pasta. Crab meat is so delicate once it's been removed, but serving it in hunks of shell gave this dish a rough appeal. Cracking the shell and digging out the meat with the butt of a fork and my own teeth, I couldn’t help but feel like that early human ancestor who first ate a cooked crab. Hopefully it was resting in a seaside patch of wild garlic and primitive rabe when the lightening struck.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Jasmine Green

Imen did send me a few non-oolongs. Among them were two Jasmine greens, her Supreme Jasmine Pearls and the Snail-Shaped Jasmine Green I enjoyed today. I'm certainly not a big flavored or scented tea fan, and that goes for jasmine. In the past I've brewed some jasmine tea and I found it offensively thick and syrupy, like I was chewing on the tea instead of drinking it. I was expecting to dislike this tea. Luckily, it is a world better than the candyish jasmine I remember. It is sweet and refreshing without being cloying. Far from disliking the tea, I quite enjoyed the sample. I look forward to the supreme jasmine though I doubt if either sample will move me to a regular (or even semi-regular) jasmine habit.

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Ohio Cape Gooseberry

This delightful morsel is a cape gooseberry, or "ground cherry." I was drawn to a basket of them at the North Market in Columbus, OH, because they looked interesting and because it said "take one." I did, and then bought a handful for thirty-six cents. They're a smaller, sweeter relative of the tomatillo, and have fun little paper husks to peel back. They were a refreshing snack after all the other things I ate at the market, which included cassoulet, free range goose chowder, a samosa, miso soup, a mochi cake with bean paste, something from a Vietnamese stand called broken rice with chicken, a summer roll, and a demi baguette so crusty that it seemed stale until I discovered the pillowy center.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tale of a Teapot

Teapots from Yixing are made with porous clay suitable for slowly absorbing flavors. With frequent enough infusion of, say, an excellent aged pu-er, the Yixing will come to smell like the tea and impart the flavor to future steepings. This sounds great. Unfortunately, pores don't discriminate. I purchased the (very cheap) pot above from ebay. It came quickly and with a rank warehouse smell. I was distressed. I rinsed and aired out the pot. Still bad. I simmered the pot for a few minutes. Still nasty. A day and a half of additional experiments didn't cure the smell. Eventually I simmered the pot for about an hour with some excellent oolong. Finally, the scent of storage had been replaced with the scent of oolong. I tested the pot, tasting water from the pot alongside water from other pots and there was no discernable difference. The moral of the story: don't trust just anybody on ebay. From now on I only get pots from dealers I trust.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dave's Fresh Pasta (Sauce)

A few weeks ago I made this pasta sauce. Some end of the season tomatoes, slivers of red onion and garlic, crushed red pepper, and some pieces of ground beef I shaved off a frozen block. The texture of the beef was more interesting and delicate than those firm little bits we're all used to. Served over black pepper capellini from Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square. The photo shows the tomatoes when only half cooked. They were prettier then.

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2003 CNNP Spring Banzhang

Oolongs still dominate my days but I needed a break for pu-er this morning. It is illuminating to taste the difference that 4 years of aging makes. Most of the bitterness is gone, and the smokiness is morphing into woodiness. Most interesting is the minty aftertaste that sticks around until the next sip. Different from my last Ban Zhang pu-er, it must be the aging.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

Lao Cong Shui Xian

My march through the bounty continues with Lao Cong Shui Xian, a Wuyi oolong. Wuyi oolongs come from the Fujian province and many are purported to come from hearty tea plants that grow between rocks in otherwise infertile conditions.

This tea stands in stark contrast to the White Leaf Dan Cong. That tea was peachy and sweet, this is rich and deep. Its flavor isn't easily explicable in non-tea terms, it simply tastes like oolong: smooth, a bit sweet, and lingering. Perfect for slow enjoyment in front of a winter fire. Then again, so many teas are.

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more leftovers

Pictured above is my first effort at a turkey. All in all not as daunting as I thought it would be, though the white meat was a little dry. Perhaps I'll roast it breast-side down next time. Or not, ahem, turn the temperature so high...

Even better though, was the turkey tetrazzini I made with the leftovers. Like Aaron's bread pudding, this dish was made entirely from ingredients that were already in the kitchen. I made a roux with some butter, flour, some turkey broth that I had made from the turkey carcase and a little milk, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. I folded the roux with leftover turkey, egg noodles, some peas for colour, and sprinkled bread crumbs and parmesan on top. The crispy topping was perfect with the creamy middle, and even the white meat tasted moist in its new incarnation! It would have been better with mushrooms, but we didn't have those in the pantry / Dave forgot to pick them up!

I have very fond childhood memories of turkey tetrazzini my dad made with canned mushroom soup the day after Christmas, but this was better.

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I Think I Can, I Think I Can!

I am now the proud owner of six jars of homemade, canned applesauce. Last night, Elise and I magicked the remaining 15 or so pounds of Macouns from the last farmer's market into their current form. Of course there is no sweetener, just cooked, unpeeled apples, a splash of water and some grated ginger for a touch of warmth. At least once in the 2 years and 8 months that I'm told it will keep, I plan to serve the sauce with a savory dish, perhaps alongside my homemade sauerkraut. Wouldn't that be nice?

But don't expect to get one of these jars as a gift. My first canning experience seems to have been a great success, but I'm not positively sure that I won't get botulism, even though a friend of mine who grew up in a log cabin in Vermont said that I really shouldn't.

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