The other night I spotted this small herd of Hazelphants on the table and was able to get a couple photos before they lumbered off. Few are now seen in the wild, caught as they are between diminishing habitat and the rising cost of hazelnuts. Some of the Hazelphants appear to be juveniles, which is encouraging in terms of the future population. While chocolate shops are rife with their chief predator (humans), the shop is also known for its tendency toward speciation. Within a few generations, these Hazelphants could be another flavor altogether.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Today I had the pleasure of dining at Asia Kitchen in Owings Mills, Maryland. It squarely meets most expectations and exceeds the rest.
Thanks to the photographic evidence above, I'm sure the rest of the planet will soon follow in my decree of their having the Best Fried Eggplant on Earth (with Bengal Cafe in Camridge, MA a not too distant second, having stolen that title from the now defunct Peking Garden of Cleveland). A.K.'s comes in a serious, candy coated batter complete with citrus peel and disks of scallion. Somewhere in there is actual eggplant, but you don't care.
Their kimchee is also fantastic, and they once told me they make it right there, though twice they have told me that they do not. But their most impressive accomplishment is a deft hand with fake meat. Being a fake meat skeptic, I am also exposed to a lot of it from regularly traveling with a vegan and a vegetarian. (My skepticism is well informed by experience.) But Asia Kitchen's is dense, flavorful, and umamilicious, especially in the form of "Chicken" Cashew Nut. Go there.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Quite serendipitously, I ate five fermented foods yesterday: yogurt with breakfast, eerily green Japanese pickles and miso with dinner, and a mid-day nosh of the homemade pink kraut. But the finest by far was this home brewed hojicha kombucha. Besides assonance, consonance, and a nice rhyme, it also had fantastic flavor and fizz, that golden (beige?) fleece of the kombucha homebrewer.
To describe the taste of kombucha is to risk insulting it. Vinegar, beer, wine and rot come to mind, and yet the taste is pure and clean. This particular batch has a distinctive, toasty, caramel flavor thanks to the hojicha. I was given a bag of it by a good friend and decided to stretch out the last few portions by feeding it to my kombucha mother. Apparently she liked it as much as I do, and now I'm drinking her delicious babies.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I recently had my first fresh date from a Far Mar in San Fran. Yellow, starchy and only barely sweet, it was not unlike a plantain in tostone form. But after a few days, the sugars took over, the yellow darkened to a grayish brown, and a sweet syrup collected in the bottom of the plastic grocery bag I was using as a carry-on. (In date speak, that's khalal to rutab.)
Back in Boston, we popped them out of their thin skins, popped out the pit, chopped them up, and tossed them into a basic scone recipe. If you think they were soft, sweet, fresh and delicious, then you're right.
Previously, my best experience with nature's candy - aka the world's finest fruit - was when I got to keep a handful of medjools dropped by an apathetic Whole Foods employee. As I've said in previous posts, it makes sense that juicy cacti spring from arid climates, but I have a hard time understanding how these little brown sugar bombs hail from palm trees. A desert food and a dessert one, it may be the only food that makes sense whether you use one 's' or two.
Dates might be the oldest cultivated tree crop, and have been found in the tombs of Pharaohs, thought to sustain the leaders from their death until the time Anubus, the jackal headed god, weighed their heart. The many functions of dates are staggering: using the syrup to seal pipes, the seeds for flour, the fruitless branch as a broom. But as far as I'm concerned, their high water mark in human history happened in my kitchen, padded with butter.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Whenever I brew a sample I hope I'm going to find something I love. Usually I find something I like. This time I was just bored. I tried brewing it every which way: short, long, pot, gaiwan. Nothing made it more than a pale sad version of my favorite ripe pu-ers. There were no off flavors, but nothing to keep my attention either. It was smooth, smooth and boring.
Friday, February 22, 2008
I got up late today, falling back to sleep around 6AM after a early morning airport drop-off. Unable to get right to work I decided to brew a Dan Cong sample and browse some blogs. I've been enjoying Imen's latest round of samples, but I haven't posted about them. This is mostly because I have run out of adjectives to describe the subtle differences between types of Dan Cong, though it is also partly because I've just been working a bunch.
Today's 10 year aged Dan Cong is worth special mention. The first infusion tasted highly roasted and subsequent infusions have slowly revealed the honey orchid flavor. The brilliant orange liquor captures both the tension and fusion of these two facets. I really am a sucker for this type of complexity. There is also a slight astringency that puckers up the lips.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
A boyhood wish has been fulfilled - I finally have all the sauerkraut I want!
About a month ago I chopped up the remaining good parts of the eleven heads of green and red cabbage I bought at the season's last FarMar.
Salt plus time plus magical wild yeast, and poof! Fresh, living, zingy pink kraut. This one doesn't have the same snappy, fruity flavor that my last batch did, but I think it's just because the cabbage was pretty pooped by the time I got around to it. It's still great and a thousand times better than any of that pallid shred you get from a can or jar. Plus, I've managed to stretch out locally grown veggies deep into a Massachusetts winter.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
My grandmother swears by drinking aloe, and judging by her health as an octogenarian, I probably should too.
To ensure an affordable, consistent supply, she basically ran her own small aloe farm from the eleventh floor balcony of her North Miami Beach condo. I copy her recipe whenever a leaf from the plant in my bedroom becomes damaged. I slice it off, chop it up, cover with boiling water and let sit overnight. At first the pieces dance up and down, as captured in the photo above. The liquor then becomes yellow and deepens to red.
Maybe it's not for everyone, but I find it thrilling to consume something that's grown in my bedroom. In fact, I like it so much that I just ordered a bunch of heirloom seeds for a little bedside salad garden.
I haven't had enough aloe to comment on its medicinal properties, but rest assured that a quick google search will yield plenty of wildly contradictory, crackpot testimonials.
As a drink, aloe is slightly astringent, with a familiar flavor like strong mineral water. The raw gel is gag-reflux bitter, and I always thought the drink was too. But after my last brew, I took one sip of Honest Tea's plain, iced green and realized how much nastier an incompetently brewed comellia sinensis is. Like the avocado leaf tea and the hibiscus, it's a subtle and wild taste that probably predates the cultivation of tea, or frappuccino.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Breaded Pork Chop, Fried Potatoes, Black Pepper and Cheddar Oatmeal and Steamed Watercress with Homemade Ginger Apple Sauce, Meyer Lemon and Sacrilege
Incidentally, that's the absolute size limit for a title on a blogger post. It sounds like a lot, but I hadn't had a square meal in a couple days and it's what I conceived of while driving home. And it didn't take long: a half hour after entering the kitchen, it was in my mouth.
While buying supplies at Pemberton Farms, I was faced with a moral dilemma (this happens to me a lot while food shopping). I could buy a chicken breast, which, coming from an animal considered Kosher by Jewish law, was much more in my comfort zone. Or, I could buy a pork chop. The catch was that the pork was naturally raised, while the chicken, despite having the lord's okay, was not.
I was suddenly confronted by the dichotomy between kosher and what some now call eco-kosher. I could eat something that had been factory farmed with quantifiable damage done to the environment via pollution, chemical additives in feed and in preservatives, not to mention inhumane conditions for the animal, but which was allegedly sanctioned by word of god some thousands of years ago. Or, I could buy meat from an "unclean" animal which had been raised in a humane and environmentally friendly manner. The moral imperative was clear.
I was very happy with my choice in this meal, and it was very good. As of this writing, god has yet to strike me dead, which he/she could easily do through the homemade applesauce, which you may recall had no guarantee of not being tainted with botulism.
Truffle oil just always sounded too expensive and silly for me. Then I tried some. Once I discovered that I could get an affordable small bottle at the grocery store, I went for it. A small bottle is all you need, because adding just four drops of truffle oil to this pizza changed it into a mushroom pizza. The heat allowed that the sun-dried tomatoes to fry in their own oil, so they were crisp.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Buying a few Rishi teas is what initially made me tea crazy, so it was a little sad when I finished my last bit of my last tin. (Well, I continue to store much of my tea in the tins so Rishi is never too far from my mind.) Moonlight White is an organic Yunnan white tea. The leaves are among the most autumnal I've ever seen: just look at the mingling red, green, and brown. The tea is tasty, though not nearly as nice as the leaves. It is viscus and fruity but, above all, refined. The flavors don't come out and hit you at all, you have to chase them. Nice tea, though I'm not heartbroken that it's all gone.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
It started with an unpleasant fermented taste, but after the third infusion that was gone. Left was a rich, smooth, and sweet ripe pu-er. 10 infusions later it was still going: I tired before the tea. If it wasn't for the unpleasant start, I'd rush to buy more.
Showy yet simple, this apple tart is so easy to make that's it's almost intuitive. If an elaborate cake is a machine gun, this dish a crude, but effective, sharpened stick.
Make a pie crust. (Equal parts flour and butter, enough water, pinch of salt if you're butter's unsalted, we like Kate's.) Toss two cut up apples in very little sugar and a dash of nutmeg and arrange to impress. Even this late into the winter, we managed to find some local MApples at Pemberton Farms.
This tart also proved that you don't necessarily need to peel apples before baking with them. We ate it, and nothing bad happened to us, except when we realized there wasn't any more.
Friday, February 8, 2008
There are lots of great things about Karen, but right now I'm focused on one: that she occasionally drops off a few baggies of homemade pierogies. I had forgotten about her latest batch until lunchtime today. Not wanting another sandwich for lunch and not knowing what else to do, I trolled my freezer. Luckily, I found Karen's pierogies hiding behind some stock. I sauteed an onion while boiling water then browned them. The outsides were buttery and chewy and insides were rich and creamy. Mmmm.
The last stop of our tour, La Corneta, was also the worst.
By this point I could no longer contain what I can only hope will be a life long obsession with tamale. Although these were tough, dry, and bland, the fault may have been my own. When you're on a taco tour, don't get tamales. In other words, it was probably the least popular item on the menu, and therefore the least fresh. Another valuable lesson learned on Mission: Taco Tour. No matter how hard you try, after 9pm on a Sunday, your Mission will terminate.
Our guide acknowledged that La Corneta was considered by some to be a "McTaqueria," but assured us that everything else was better than the tamales. This was true of the crumbly, sweet and slightly gamy alfajoles.
We'd come a long way (though not physically) from the wagon wheel of meat at La Vallarta, the free skin at Rancho Grande, the watery guac of the Guadalajara, and the enormous spike of meat at San Jose. In the end, my favorite taco goes to the tender al pastor at Taqueria San Jose. But they were all good, because they were all taquerias.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Here, at the Taqueria San Jose, I finally had the taco al pastor that I wished I'd had at the Guadalajara. It was as soft as my grandmother's brisket.
Mouth ablaze, I surrendered to the glow of the official drink of the Mission taquerias: carrot-orange juice. It made my taste buds sing and my hypoglycemic index rocket.
Despite not having some of the more exciting items on the menu (fish tacos and menudo), the staff was extra friendly and even let me sneak into the kitchen for a shot of their demonic looking meat spike. I did not, however, enjoy Sprite.
Besides a wood fired grill, there is no better way to cook eggplant than thinly sliced, brushed with oil, and under a broiler. There's also no other way that's faster or that uses less fat.
Thinly sliced, broiled eggplant actually takes less time to make than ordering a hamburger. I had a few slices left over from a lasagna and popped them in the oven while reading Mark Bittman's new blog. I sprinkled them with some za'atar from a huge, cheap box I picked up at a co-op in Ohio and they were soft yet crispy in no time. I threw them on an arepa, because I had one, and because I thought they'd look nice on something white. They did.
By the way, if you have a charcoal grill, and you have some wood, you can have a wood fired grill. Just make sure you don't use any kind that's poisonous.
Monday, February 4, 2008
I've been sitting on this one for a bit but wanted to put it out before we leave on Wednesday for Napa, where I will eat everything in sight. I rarely cook red meat; my family in Arkansas raises (largely naturally) wonderful beef, yet it was always cooked to chewiness when I was young, so I don't exactly crave it. But I'd been hearing about this trendy new (to the U.S) cut of meat for some time and wanted to try it. I finally found it at Whole Foods, where I never go because, really, you may as well hand them your wallet when you walk in and have done with it, but this was surprisingly reasonably priced and in the butcher's case, which I vastly prefer to cyrovac.
So, 1 flatiron steak, 1 gift-registry Lodge cast iron grill pan, 5 minutes each side, and you have bloody deliciousness. Yes, I realize that 1 tip is raw - don't worry, I took care of that. It's much more flavorful than flank steak, its nearest competitor. Slice thinly, add baked potatoes and salad, express surprise at the more-conventional-than-usual meal you're eating, and enjoy!
...We hardly knew ye. Actually, I was quite familiar with ye during and after an introduction in 2002 in a little town near Charlottesville, VA. Tuppers' Hop Pocket was developed by a Maryland high school teacher and his wife who then convinced Dominion Brewery to produce and bottle this super-hopped beer. Unlike other hoppy IPAs that over-do the malty sweetness to 'balance' the hop, Tuppers' just lets it all hang out, and I love love love the clean bitterness that results. Sadly, Dominion will no longer participate in the process due to the price of hops and the labor-intensive and multi-barrel-occupying process. It's possible that another brewery will pick it up, but who knows....
Anyway, I had many a Tup while sitting on the back porch of the 1850s farmhouse I lived in ouside of Charlottesville. We were nestled in a little valley (the house was named the 'Dell House'), and looked across rolling pastures up to the Blue Ridge. It's treated me right here in D.C. too, where I recently came across a six-pack - before I knew it would likely be my last.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
The first time I brewed this I treated it like a typical pu-er: boiling water with short infusions. It was bitter. This time I treated it like a white tea: water around 175 and infusions starting around 45 seconds. The result was a thick and fruity brew that reminds me of my favorite whites. It has a bit of a tangerine taste and kept going through 6 infusions. It is kind of amazing that this is even a pu-er, it is so different than the typical young raw cake. The tea is similar to the Rishi green tuo cha that I posted about, though this is better tea at a very small fraction of the price.
Friday, February 1, 2008
China National Native Produce and Animal By-Products (CNNP) is hardly the small mom and pop operation that I like to imagine produces my pu-er. Nonetheless, I've had some excellent CNNP tea and I generally trust their products. This young raw cake has had time to mellow out and it shows. There's no bitterness at all and the smoke flavor gives way to a pleasantly sweet and fruity flavor. I found it unremarkable, though surely pleasant.