Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rishi Ancient Emerald Lily

I've been in love with oolong for soo long that I can barely remember the last straight up green tea I've had. When I recently saw the attractive, slender whole leaves of Rishi's Ancient Emerald Lily displayed in a plastic baggie at my local natural foods shop, I decided to give it a go.

The Rishi website promises notes of pine nut and wildflowers. These I did not taste. I found the first brewing a little, for lack of a better word, seaweedy. It's a slightly unpleasant flavor I sometimes find in greens, and a personal reaction that can probably be traced back to my earliest associations with the stuff.

I first had green tea as a kid at the Japanese restaurants in my home town of Boca Raton where it was served along with miso and sushi. Those umami, oceanic flavors were so different from anything mom made at home, and when I drink green tea with a particular flavor profile today I can still summon up the befuddlement of my young palate.

Subsequent steepings proved more mild and less fishy with the nuttiness and grassiness that I associate with some of my favorite greens. The flavor was fine if unexciting, but what I really like about this tea is its organic and fair trade certification.

Sometimes, fair trade means a compromise in quality. Fair trade coffee and bananas are just as good as regular (or "evil") coffee and bananas, but they'll probably never be the THE best coffee and bananas. Of course human rights are vastly more important than complexity of flavor, which is why a pretty good fair trade trea becomes a very good tea in my book (or blog).

As I've discovered thanks to my new bowl, food and drink alone are not the sole components to pleasureable eating. Think about eating a Jean-Georges meal out of a tin can: it's just not the same, unless you're a goat. So in addition to lighting, tableware and presentation, we should all add ethics to our meal enhancing bag of tricks. This is one of the many reasons Chez Panisse remains so popular. After eating there, diners radiate a glow for more than one reason. There's the quality of the food and then there's the righteous feeling of knowing where it all came from.

I'm willing to give a so-so tea a great rating because of factors that have nothing to do with its flavor, and I'm not alone. Heck, I'm even happy to spend a little more cash to get this mediocre tasting but more ethically just product.

Restaurants, are you getting this?

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Monday, December 28, 2009

A Nauseatingly Decadent Christmas

This year I observed Christmas in the manner that I felt best befit my Jewish heritage: eating so much food that I felt sick.

On Christmas Eve there was tourtiere, a French Canadian meat pie that allowed Karen to embrace her culinary roots and me to eat three kinds of meat in one bite. As is the custom, the tourtiere was served with pickles, which help to cut the richness of the very once-a-year tasting pie.

Christmas day started with a cup of coquito, smoked white fish and Elise's challah (notice Oli's interest in it).

After doing the breakast dishes, we then made more breakfast. This time it was scrambled eggs with bacon and leeks, and of course by the time we'd finished it was time to start preparing dinner, a braised turkey stew.

Gripped by the festive spirit (and beer), I combined every delicious ingredient I could summon. I browned two turkey wings and one thigh along with onions, celeriac and carrots. In went several dried figs, some defrosted chicken of the woods from last autumn's bounty, dried shitakes in case defrosted chicken of the woods don't taste good (they do), a few Santa Barbara black olives, leeks leftover from breakfast, wild rice, which isn't really rice at all, fresh sage and parsley, a dash of pimenton, and an ample sprinkling of black pepper. Admittedly, there may have been fewer ingredients if I'd had fewer coquitos at breakfast #1.

Amanda brought some seriously marinated seared beef (in merlot and Sichuan peppercorns), and for dessert there were Karen's homemade truffles. Throughout the day I ate gingerbread ornaments off of the tree, without my hands. I also seem to remember eating some sausage, and probably putting some into the stew, too. There were copious amounts of Fingerlakes wine, Belgian beers, Belgian style beers, port, a small bottle of icewine that myseriously appeared, some Jameson with a lemon wedge, more coquito, and, in a nod to temperance, handfuls of mesclun mix eaten out of the bag. Oh, and some leftover goat gouda from our wedding. And at some point I ate three eclaires.

When I went to bed, I felt like I was body surfing on a wave of protein, sugar and alcohol. Sugar plum fairies would have danced in my head if all of the blood wasn't going to my stomach to fight the losing battle for digestion.

I went to sleep feeling as regal as the Nutcracker but woke up in the middle of the night feeling more like the eviscerated mouse king. Only instead of a sword, my stomach had been pierced by my own lack of self control around so much incredible food. Call it protein hara-kiri.

Cold, in pain, and alone in the darkest hours of the night, I swore that I'd never again eat and drink with such abandon. In the morning I woke up feeling fine and couldn't wait to do it again next year. Or maybe next week.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Market, Reviewed

Jean-George's new Boston restaurant Market was reviewed favorably in yesterday's Globe. You might recall my preview piece on Market from when JG was in town scoping out suppliers. That is all.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Avatar

Spoiler alert: I'm taking a break from posting about tea and food to discuss the film Avatar, and in doing so I'll be revealing certain key plot points. More important spoiler alert: Avatar is a terrible movie.

Before we come along, the planet Pandora is inhabited by tall, blue humanoids that look part African, part Native-American, have pointy teeth and can hiss like snakes.

As a Jew, I found the portrayal of my people in Inglourious Basterds to be rather flattering. If I were Masai or Sioux, I'm not sure I could say the same of the creatures in Avatar, who with their ear stretchers and monkey chant-like prayer ceremonies are clearly meant to represent the indigenous peoples of Earth, only hotter.

With air-brushed features and waspish waists, the Na'Vi look more like something from the pages of Cosmo than National Geographic. In creating a race of athletically superior, scantily clad supermodels, Cameron commits one of the biggest colonialist no-no's: sexualizing the natives.

In the director's defense, the Na'Vi have an elaborate social order, rich spiritual traditions and live in harmony with their planet and their god. Of course all of this, including learning to control flying dinosaurs with your hair, is mastered by the protagonist in three months.

Though the film champions indigenous rights, it's white people (in blue bodies) who get the best health care. When the Na'Vi tribe is decimated in an attack meant to evoke September 11th, instead of looking after their own, the entire clan gathers to appeal to their god to heal one white lady. And who unites all of the tribes to save the day? A white guy, on a red dinosaur.

Halfway through the film, at which point you'll already have to pee, I found myself wondering how Cameron could possible resolve a situation that, in the real world, has yet to be resolved: how to make peace between corporate interests and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. The solution was fantastical flying reptiles, some guns, and the will of god. (forehead smack) Of course!

But my problems with Avatar extends beyond the portrayal of the Na'Vi. Despite the film's title, the actual theme of what it means to have an avatar was underdeveloped beyond the notion that if you don't have legs and your avatar does, you like it. The 1994 Aerosmith video for Amazing makes you wish you had an avatar more than Avatar does.

Also, what's the message for the thousands of adolescents who are flocking to see the film in crowds as thick as the trunk of the Hometree? That deep down, who you really are is your twitter account.

A word on the effects. Contrary to what you are clearly meant to think after being beat over the head with millions of dollars of technology, I didn't find the CGI drenched landscape realistic or even engaging. I found most of the effects shiny, cartoonish, and sort of... fruity.

The 161 minutes of eye candy make you feel the same way you'd feel after eating real candy for 161 minutes. After Halloween, all you want is a piece of lettuce and a glass of water. After Avatar, you crave real actors and good writing.

Also, who named the planet Pandora?

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Leeks and Eggs (or Eggs and Leeks)

What, besides dirt that's impossible to remove, is there to not love about leeks? They're like onions without the bite, plus some spinach.

I've played around with leeks a lot and found that they're as versatile as they are funny to anthropomorphize. Though most chefs would say "discard" if you asked them to free associate a word with leek greens, I'm a big fan. You can blanch them and crisp them in hot oil as a garnish, you can chop them up and add them to a soup, or you can do my absolute favorite thing to do with either part of a leek. If you've read the title to this post, you know what that is.

A warm mound of leeks and eggs is the most comforting breakfast imaginable. Disagree? What, do you think French toast is? You're wrong: it's leeks and eggs.

Leeks and eggs are like peas in a pod, only better, because they're two things and because they're better than peas. They go together perfectly, and I could waste your time by describing exactly how and why, but instead you should just go make some.


Recipe: Scrambled Eggs and Leeks for Two (People)

Leeks (about half of a normal sized leek or five inches' worth or 3/4 cup chopped)
4 eggs
a pinch of salt
a pinch pepper
a pinch of your cheek, to know that you're not dreaming

1. Slice the desired amount of leek once down the middle and then chop into half circles, about the thickness of a Necco wafer.

2. In a deep bowl, pour cold water over the chopped leeks and thrash them around to remove the dirt. Once the dirt has settled, skim them from the surface and rinse again.

3. Warm a glug of olive oil or a pad of butter in a pan, enough to cook both the leeks and then the eggs. Add the leeks. Cook until tender but not crispy.

3. Add the whisked eggs, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring, to achieve a custardy, small curd scrambled egg. Serve with toast.

4. What else do you need to know?

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quote of the Day

In today's The Pour, Eric Asimov writes the following:

"You might have to travel to Sauternes territory, southeast of Bordeaux, for a demonstration of how a good Sauternes can highlight and amplify the sweetness of, say, lobster."

Though I don't think you really have to go anywhere to get that lobster and Sauternes would be good.

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Self-Fulfillment Through Servingware

As I've said before, when it comes to food, I'm all about the food.

I'm much more concerned with the quality of what I'm actually eating (both gastronomically and ethically) than with the pedigree of the china it comes on or the knife it was cut with. That said, we've received some really nice wedding presents that have caused me to re-think my hard line on non-edible kitchen items.

Granted the gifts have remained within the spectrum of our preferences. Rather than a home sous-vide machine, we've received items such as a handmade Oaxacan table cloth and a lazy Susan made from a "retired" wine cask, but even these crunchier accoutrements have shown me the pleasures of atmospheric dining, and now that I've been there, I'm not sure I want to go back (to eating lunch directly from a hot skillet).

Salad just tastes better from the bowl pictured above. It turns ordinary dining into feeling like you're having dinner at a the hole of a very well-off hobbit. We're nursing the last greens we'll be getting from our winter CSA, and they deserve no less pomp than being nestled in the hollow of a handsomely carved walnut burl.

To return to the subject of knives, we also got a really, really good knife. I used to think that sharp was the only important feature of a knife, but I've now tasted Japanese steel, and I like it.

Watch out, bushels of root veggies in my hallway.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Flavor Imbalance

When cooking, one generally tries to achieve a balance of flavors. If your dish is salty but flat, you can splash in a little lemon juice for acidity, and so on.

But what about a dish with boldly unbalanced flavors? What about something that just screams one single ingredient? Like CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICKEN!!!!!!!!

That's what happened when I made the soup pictured above.

I normally go for balance, but an off-balance dish can be much more interesting. Granted, this only applies to those who want their food to be "interesting."

Butternut squash puree is, by now, a no brainer. Even a stupid baby could make it. I've made it many times, sometimes with cream, sometimes with stock, sometimes with nothing more than water, and it's always easy and tasty. But since I rarely cook the same thing twice, I decided to mix it up this time.

No parsley garnish. No splash of cider vinegar. No trace of nutmeg. No roasted garlic. No sweated onion. Very little salt. I only added a small but dense amount of chicken jus replete with a thick layer of yellowish fat. It was not stock, which would have been delicious and well balanced. No, this was a one-note addition. And that note was chicken fat.

Though simple, and though it didn't contain anything remotely like, say, pomegranate seeds, shaved parmesan or a drizzle of truffle oil, all of which would have been lovely, it was a challenging bowl of soup. Rich to the point of disconcerting, chickeny to the point of overshadowing the typically dominant, sweet squash, it was unlike any butternut puree I'd ever had. Even the color was more poultry than plant.

If I'd had it at an otherwise unremarkable restaurant, I would have thought it was terrible. Why didn't they at least sprinkle on some black pepper? But if I had been served it at a great restaurant, I would have marveled at their audacity.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Quote of the Day

From the fascinating NYT piece on the new and (not at all, really) affordable sous-vide machine for home cooks:

"English chef Heston Blumenthal, who once sous-vided a whole pig in a hot tub..."

I'm sure sous-vide cooking is extraordinary, but can you imagine anyone who buys one of these things feeling anything but regret about their purchase in 10 years?

An imagined conversation in 2019:

Wife: Honey, let's get rid of that creepy machine you bought that costs as much as it costs to feed many starving children.

Husband: But I was just going to make some perfectly poached eggs, even though, with talent, I could do so more or less for free.

Wife: All right. But I'm going to put it with the bread machine and salad shooter.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Black Garlic

I'm not going to beat around the bush: black garlic is crazy, and you should try some.

I can't think of any other foodstuff that is at once so familiar and so confounding. When you taste a clove a black garlic, you know that you're eating garlic, yet the flavors have all been rearranged in new and different configurations. In terms of taste, black garlic is to garlic as ice-9 is to water.

For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, black garlic is non-black garlic that has been specially fermented and aged. Like most delicious things, it's long been used in Asia for medicinal purposes and is now being exploited in the West.

And with good reason. One word you'll often hear associated with b.g. is "fruity," and it's true. In comparison to boring old raw garlic (yuck!), the dark stuff is mellow, sweet, and... very difficult to describe.

When Amanda made an aoli with both roasted garlic and black garlic, the mysterious flavor only deepened, though walnuts were suddenly apparent. Black garlic reminds me of real balsamic vinegar without the tang and with.... again, hard to say.

I guess that, like Coke, black garlic tastes like black garlic.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Poached Chicken

Now I love a roasted chicken as much as the next guy, assuming the next guy is Simon Hopkinson. In other words, I really love roast chicken. But if you're not going to eat the whole thing as soon as it comes out of the oven, with your bare hands, hunched over the skillet, dredging it in its own fat, roasting may not be the wisest use of a bird.

If you're cooking a chicken to eat all week, poaching provides a much moister option. Cold roasted chicken, by which I mean a roasted chicken that has been refrigerated and not some feat of molecular gastronomy, is quite delicious but seems so much tougher and drier than when you ate it hot. Yet poached chicken can stay downright silky when cool, even a few days after refrigeration.

In the past I've always boiled, but Fuchsia Dunlop has turned me on to the magical texture of the gentle poach. See the awesome Land of Plenty for the full technique, but the basic idea is that you boil water, add the chicken, bring back to a boil, simmer, then "plunge" the chicken into cold water to stop the cooking process. Here's mine in it's cooling bath/watery grave.

You think any chicken cooked in liquid is moist and tender, but you've never had it this good. Another bonus is that you're then left with the poaching liquid, which in my case also contained about a thumb's worth of a crushed ginger, a few pathetic old carrots that looked like a very tan witch's fingers, and a dried chili from Common Ground a few years back.

I drank the liquid in a bowl of noodles with a few paper thin (assuming the paper was cardstock) slices of raw kohlrabi. Doesn't that seem like something you can do?

Apart from the brutal murder of the chicken, it was a remarkably tranquil dish.

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Breaking News: Holiday Cocktails

See here for my latest piece in Stuff magazine (Boston) on holiday drinks to rival eggnog.

Though deep down, I do love eggnog. I suppose I even love it not deep down.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Wedding, Honeymoon, Homecoming

Last week, I got married. It was incredible. Neither words nor 0's and 1's masquerading as words could describe it.

What I can describe is the food. The entire experience can be broken down into three distinct food phases: wedding, honeymoon, and homecoming.

At the wedding ceremony, we (barely) ate:

-mushroom, leek and ricotta salata strata
-turkey chorizo and black bean strata
-the best soup I've ever had (sweet potatoes, chicken stock, cumin, peanut...)
-roasted potatoes
-Iggy's rolls
-Iggy's croissants
-tons of incredible cheese
-arugula salad
-rivers of West County hard cider
-boatloads of roasted marshmallows
-bushels of sun crisps and merle rouge
-olive oil gingerbread with cranberry glaze, whiskey whipped cream and candied Buddha's hand (our wedding cake)

All of which was prepared by my good friend, the excellent chef Mrs. Amanda Jane Loring. If you want her to cater your event, and you do, drop me a line and I'll put you in touch.

For our honeymoon, my wife (!) and I then went to Portland, ME to do little besides eat. We consumed:

-french fries fried in duck fat, in Duck Fat
-the best piece of fish I've ever had: a small square of seared swordfish toro at Miyake
-one of the best cheeses I've ever had, Maine made (the name escapes me, but I'll post it later)
-Honeymaker mead (wouldn't be a honeymoon without it)
-Damariscottas and Pemaquids
-the rest of the Sustainable Red
-$2.75 bahn mi at Kim's
-leftover Iggy's croissants
-leftover olive oil gingerbread with cranberry glaze, whiskey whipped cream and candied Buddha's hand (our former wedding cake)

The first meal I made once home is the one pictured at top. Baked chicken legs and apples with a root veggie melange and hearty salad greens, the latter two from our winter CSA.

The food at the wedding was delicious, geared to please a crowd, appropriate for brunch and indicative of our epicurean ethics. The food on the honeymoon was sheer decadence. The meal back at home was a balance of both. May my new wife and I eat thus till the end of our days.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stewart v. Ray

I can't BELIEVE that Martha Stewart went so far as to say that Rachel Ray might not have a garden. When will these divas stop clawing each other's eyes out?

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Choice of a Lifetime

In all likelihood, this will be my last ever blog post as an unwed man. This Saturday, I'm getting married.

I was well prepared for the intensity of planning the wedding thanks to advice from friends and family and thanks to the movie Father of the Bride. What I wasn't ready for was the nearly talmudic decision making process of how to make the event (and the menu) as sustainable as possible (or as sustainable as we could afford).

Compostable cups or reusable glasses? Local apples that have been sprayed or organic ones with transportation induced carbon footprints? Classy, printed invites or a pdf sent over e-mail? Such decisions were seemingly endless.

This may not surprise those of you engaged in the complex task of figuring out how best to eat while remaining a responsible global citizen. Though vegan/Hummer versus omnivore/Prius comparisons aside, I think the solution is fairly simple and well summarized on the yellow rubber band on the cover of Pollan's most recent book: "eat food, not too much of it, mostly plants" (he goes on to provide a more precise definition of "food"). Though of course this is harder to do if you're one of many Americans living in a food desert or if you're part of the growing ranks of the poor and unemployed who can't afford such a lifestyle.

In the end we compromised, using some local ingredients, having very little meat, and serving locally made hard cider in compostable cups (and I'm still craiglisting for someone who's actually willing to turn them into compost). But the real challenge came in picking a wine to use during the actual ceremony.

In one hand I held a highly rated Canadian ice wine which I knew would make for a thrilling, sweet and complicated sip while at the altar. In the other hand was a small bottle of something called Sustainable Red, a California blend that was much less exciting but which claimed to be carbon free among other eco-perks advertised on its recycled paper label.

Suddenly, on the eve of my wedding and on this threshold of my future, I felt as though I was making the choice of a lifetime. Though simple, the decision seemed epic: should I pick the bottle that contained experience or the one that held morality? Should I eat the apple or live in Eden?

In the end I went with the Sustainable Red, because that's the carboon free foot on which I want to start my new life.

But if someone bought me the ice wine, I wouldn't turn it down.

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10 Unforgettable Brazilian Dishes You Never Heard Of

See here for Brazilian blogger Regina Sharf's post on some of Brazil's more popular but lesser known culinary offerings. If you're unfamiliar with buchada de bode and pato no tucupi, you should really bone up.

The jambu, which Regina describes as "numbing... a plant that causes a weird anesthesia effect on the mouth" sounds a bit like Sichuan peppercorn. With the exception of overdoing cloves I can't think of any other ingredient known for its numbing effect. Can you?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

If I Lived in Philidadelphia...

...I'd be going to the Festival of Forgotten foods:

"It is a fine time to review the inventory in the local larder, our vintage foodscape eroding in spots, the scents of our street food overshadowed too often by the cheesesteak."

On the menu will be salt oyster and sweet corn casserole, a Thomas Jefferson recipe ale, snapper soup and catfish and waffles.

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Vegan Dog Bone

Finally, a use for those wilted Brussels sprout stalks that you never got around to braising with bacon and figs.

I'm sure I'm not the only one familiar with the paralysis resulting from not using produce at its peak. If I have supermarket romaine that starts to wilt, it doesn't stop me in the least. I rip off the slimy parts, wash, spin and essentially still have fresh lettuce.

But the higher the quality of the produce, the more intense the paralysis. For instance, if I have a backyard tomato that's starting to get fuzzy, rather than quickly throwing it into a sauce, I guilty watch it collapse into a pink puddle, frozen by guilt.

My Brussels sprouts are not only organic but also locally grown, a real double whammy for the conscience should they go to waste. It's even worse than when your parents make you finish your soggy, defrosted spinach because of the starving children in Africa. You bought those Brussels sprouts because you believe that, as Wendell Berry said, when we eat, we vote. Therefore not using those sprouts is akin to checking off the box for Nader.

Luckily, I've seen the error of my ways and also have some fresh sprouts from my winter CSA that I'll be sure to use up right away. And in the meantime, I've found that an old B.s. stalk makes an excellent dog toy. Especially for a dog who's getting cabin fever because his severed artery hasn't quite healed yet.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Serious Salad

I like salad one of two ways. Completely unadorned, eaten without utensils and out of the bag, or loaded up into a meal in and of itself. Give me anything in between, like a wilting mesclun mix with a few mealy slices of apples, and I'll punch you in the face.

The above photo does not do justice to the spectacular meal-of-a-salad that I assembled last night. That's because I took the picture halfway through the process, and by the time it was done, it looked so good that I couldn't wait another 1/60th of a second.

In its finished state, the salad contained the following:

-mixed greens from our Shared Harvest winter CSA
(spinach, chicory, red leaf lettuce, radicchio)
-cubes of baked sweet potatoes leftover from a previous meal, warmed and well salted
-crisp bits of Vermont Smoke and Cure bacon
-roasted sunflower seeds
-balsamic vinegar, whisked into the bacon grease (I'm currently roasting blue potatoes in the rest of it)

I cannot tolerate that fact that this divine creation -- at once sweet, salty, crunchy, and mushy -- shares the same name as bowls of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots.

This is how tenth generation vintners must feel about "Two Buck Chuck," or how other, more successful gods feel when they look on our god's creations. Because, when it can be so good, it's embarrassing by what humans deign to call "salad."

Then again, if we were made in god's image, bad salads are His or Her fault.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Armenian Cucumber: Cucumber or Alien?

Every now and then I like to touch base with my good friend, storyteller Jordan Hill, about how much more exciting the local food scene is in his current residence of Tucson, AZ. Of course I'm extremely proud of my own foodshed, but I guess the mesquite flour is always greener on the other side.

One day the subject turned to Armenian cucumbers. I've been delighted to find these crisp, thin skinned snacks at Boston far-mar's and was glad to hear from Jordan that they were thriving in the Southwest as well. Only it seemed there was something different about the Armenian cucumbers he was getting. While mine were the size of a small cigar, his were as big as my dog. Or, as Jordan here illustrates, his (hairy) leg:

They seem less like a vegetable and more like an oasis. Apparently the adjective "Armenian" not only means a resident of the republic of Armenia but also "either small or of Seussical proportions."

His cucumbers looked like they could eat him. However, it seems Jordan and his wife Autumn found a way to beat the cukes to it.

They butchered the monsters into delightful salads and cold soups: perfect food for living in the Sonoran dessert.

Many vegetables will grow to these proportions if left unpicked, like okra or zucchini, but at that stage their increased size usually correlates to a decrease in texture or flavor. Apparently not so with the Armenian snozzcumbers. Jordan and Autumn report that they are quite delicious.

My curiosity is certainly peaked by these watery beasts, and I'd appreciate it if someone out there could clear up the mystery as to why my Armenian cukes are small and Jordan's are so big. (Besides the obvious explanation that he's more of a man than I am.)

One thing I do know about Armenian cucumbers is that, though large, they're nowhere near as creepy as that giant rabbit. That thing gives me the willies.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Cinnamon-Chile Wood Fired Chicken

As much as I appreciate the exotic, if lemongrass and rosemary were tied to train tracks and I could only save one, I know I'd go continental. In other words, I'm no Jean-Georges.

However, when rubbing down the above chicken before it's fight with the flames, I suddenly felt inspired to add some tropical notes to the mix. I took two Eberly's (sorry Lionette's) chicken legs and smeared them with peanut oil, salt, cayenne, chile powder, cinnamon and ginger. That and the smoke from the wood fire -- nature's pimenton -- created an eye-crossingly good grilled chicken.

As far as wood fire cooking goes, I've said it before and I'll say it again: even though you associate sitting around the fire with the nighttime (and perhaps harmonicas and plastic saguaros), it's a really good idea to start your fire earlier if you plan to cook on it and plan to see what you're cooking.

That said, I've never thought to start a cooking fire before dusk, but even so I'm starting to get a feel for it. This time I didn't scorch the chicken black and leave it sashimi grade on the inside, as I have in other dimly lit grilling experiences. And when the coals pooped out I did have to finish it in the oven for about ten minutes, but otherwise this was everything you want from chicken grilled over a real fire: crackly skin, juicy meat and just a touch of ash.

But it was really the spice mix that drove me to blog about it. I can't imagine anyone trying this recipe and being disappointed, unless they're either vegetarian or a chicken.


Recipe: Cinnamon and Chile Grilled Chicken

serves 2, or 1/2 of a glutton

Note: You could use a charcoal or gas grill instead of a wood fire, but you could also go to KFC.

2 chicken legs, as sustainably raised as you can afford
a glug of peanut oil
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp chile powder (something like ancho)
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne

1. Start your fire.

2. Rub your legs with the peanut oil and spices. Do the same for the chicken legs.

3. Once the flames have given way to coals and once your grill is hot, add the legs.

4. Watch carefully. If they're giving any suggestion of catching fire, raise the grill or spread the coals to diffuse the heat. If they're not browning, lower the grill closer to the heat.

5. After about 10 minutes or when mahogany (golden is for people who peel cucumbers), flip and repeat on the B-side.

6. When both sides are brown and crackly, cut one thigh to check the interior. If they're at all pink, continue grilling with less direct heat or finish in an oven set at 350.

7. Barely hear the rosemary scream over the train's whistle.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kimchee Donuts!?

Thanks to Serious Eats for making us all aware of the fact that there are kimchee donuts at Korean Dunkies.

I like Serious Eats' rubbernecking attitude towards food: half of the stuff they post about grabs me because it looks delicious, the rest intrigues me just as much for precisely how it does not.

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Coffee: A Seven Hour Thrill Ride

I drank a cup of the always excellent Karma coffee yesterday at 11:30am. I felt like a king, or a god, or the king of the gods. But at 7pm that night I was still twittering, and I'm not talking about social networking.

For those of you who are numb to its effects, allow me to be the canary in the coal mine: coffee does absolutely crazy things to your body. You may not be able to tell because you've gotten used to it, but hear my words. Coffee is black magic. Not being used to it, drinking just one cup changed the entire course of my day.

I respect it, but I wouldn't let coffee into my daily routine any more than I'd invite someone dangerous over to tea, no matter what that series of "How to Be An Artist" posters from the 90's said.

Even in my years as a touring performer, I never wanted to turn to the dark side, for I knew the temptation would be too great. In all those years of 1,000 mile driving days, late night performances and 6am flights, I could count the cups of coffee I had on one hand. And I don't have extra fingers.

If I don't like what coffee does to me, why, then, do I ever drink it? Because, a few times a year, I think "why not?" I also recognize that few ingestibles have the powerful sensory properties of coffee -- that aroma, that viscosity! -- but a few hours after I've had a cup, I inevitably think "why did I think 'why not'!?"

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Cocoa Rose Tea

I recently received a comment asking "when will you talk about tea?" The answer is "now."

With cooler weather more or less here to stay (we've been bouncing between snow and 70 degrees), tea season has officially begun. I've been drinking a lot of mate and tung ting, with the occasional herbal like elderberry, hibiscus or lemon thyme from what remains in the garden. But the most interesting non-true tea I've had in recent memory has been the cocoa rose served at Sofra.

Like soy and flax before it, cocoa is now making appearances where it often doesn't belong due to the fact that people think that it will save their lives due to the fact that it does have some healthful attributes but more because the industry is paying massive amounts of money to make you think so. And so I approached cocoa rose tea about as skeptically as I approach rooibos chai, which is to say very skeptically.

And yet it was wonderful. The bitter richness of the unsweetened cocoa, the full perfume of the rose petals. At once earthy and celestial, it worked.

When I was in middle school, one of my teachers blew my mind by saying that it didn't matter if you ate healthily because you could still get hit by a bus. From then on, I would use this rationale as my excuse to eat ho ho's and drink liters of Jolt, which was a bar mitzvah's version of being a devil may care bon vivant.

To some extent, I still believe in my teacher's words. But if, at the moment that reckless MBTA bus splattered your brains across Mt. Auburn Street, you had a cup of cocoa rose in your hand, you'd go out smiling.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Happy International Day of Climate Action

If you don't know what I'm talking about, see the icon at right or see here.

And don't forget, the way we eat has a tremendous impact on the world around us. And perhaps more importantly, on the world around other people, around the world. So eat your broccoli stems.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Make Steak

As you may have noticed, I'm more of a foraged mushrooms and noodles kind of guy than I am a steak eater. But as you can tell from the photo above, I do also eat steak. And when I do, I lick the cutting board afterward. Hmm, maybe I should make steak more often.

There are several reasons I don't usually make steak. One is that I never buy it. Two is that it's kind of boring. Three is that eating copious amounts of beef doesn't set the best example for all of the aspiring third world peoples who are now destroying their resources to copy our lifestyles. Sorry, planet.

But I do eat beef on occasion, and in my world order there is certainly a place for small amounts of locally raised, lightly seared, grass fed cow flesh. Especially if it's cooked in butter and topped with a rioja reduction, as was the steak I made last night.

I picked up a Hardwick Beef flat iron (the steak formerly known as top blade) from City Feed and Supply in JP, one of the few markets in the Boston area that makes you feel like maybe, if you squint real hard, you could be in one of the lamest neighborhoods of San Francisco.

I did what I almost always do with steak. I heated a skillet, tossed in a lump of butter, waited until the foam subsided and then slapped in the salt-rubbed meat. I didn't touch it until the juice started to bubble up, at which point I flipped it, at which point it was basically done.

I then transfered the steak to a cutting board to rest (forever) while I deglazed the pan with a splash of wine and a little more butter and chopped shallots, rosemary, or whatever I happened to have on hand that made sense. I served the meat over arugula alongside basmati rice and a butternut squash and chicken stock puree, assuming you can still say "served" when it's just for yourself.

I don't describe this process because I feel that it's the best, or even because I want others to follow my technique, which isn't even "my" technique but something I once read somewhere. I share this information in the democratic and confessional spirit of food blogging: this is what I do, know that, and now go do what you do.

But if you do do what I did, you'll be as happy as a cow. Or as happy as I was when eating a cow that, from what I understand, had been relatively happy.

Also, for those of you who think you can't eat responsibly and well for an affordable sum, know that this steak was only a little over four bucks and that I was completely satiated after eating only half of it. In other words, I had one of the best steaks of my life for about two bucks and could still feel plenty smug about supporting a righteous cattle farmer.

And I'm going to do this again any time I'm by City Feed & Supply, so watch out.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Real Deal

Over the weekend Elise and I stumbled upon what must be our best local cider hook-up: One Stack Farm in Stow, MA, which presses its own apples in the antique device pictured above.

And that's the only place you'll find it. Because One Stack doesn't pasteurize or add preservatives, they're only legally allowed to sell on-location. On top of that, the stuff they do sell has to be slapped with a warning label detailing the potential health hazards for the young and old.

Now think about the other potential health hazards in the food we eat, and think about what bullsh*t it is that that crap doesn't have to be labeled while this does. Meat cut by workers who don't get paid for the time it takes to clean their knives gets a pass, yet the kind, old pipe-smoking apple farmer down the road has to put a skull and cross bones on his juice.

Regardless, One Stack cider is so delicious, so fresh, round and balanced, that I'd drink it even if it could kill me.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Tea and Food... and Music!

Last night I had a perfectly good Jack Daniels and club soda at the Avett Brothers show at the Boston House of Blues. If you only read food blogs, stop reading now. For the rest of you, I now present my first ever post on music.

In a nutshell, the concert was absolutely rockin'. I can't think of any other band with two leads who, when not singing and simultaneously manning the drum set, are singing, playing guitar or banjo and banging out percussion with a kick drum or high hat, the latter being alternately played by pedal and by direct kicks from the taller Avett brother's boot tip. The crowd was up on their feet for the entirety of the concert, and not just because there weren't any seats.

Nor have I seen a cellist play with such emotion that it seemed like the bow was a saw he was drawing across his own stomach. Nor have I ever heard a band make a point of saying "Thanks for inviting us back to the stage" when doing that thing that bands do and coming back on after pretending to finish.

Perhaps that gratitude was not as sincere as it seemed and was instead an example of a highly polished folksy affect. If that's the case, then I'm just as impressed with the Brothers' theater skills. They're either the nicest, most earnest band I've ever seen ("Y'alls' enthusiasm is the only reason we can stand straight right now"), or they're superb actors.

I especially recommend checking out the AB's at this catalystic point in their career. As I type, they tip, and it remains to be seen whether they'll become a full blown stadium act with indie roots, like Wilco, or an indie band that plays like they're playing for a stadium regardless of the venue. By the end of their set last night, the Avett brothers, along with the non-Avett brother Avett Brothers, were drenched with sweat, hoarse, exhausted, and, it seemed, delighted.

For the first half of the set I marveled at the manic enthusiasm they brought to the stage, but for the second half I worried about them. Can the kind of guys you'd like to bring home to meet your mother survive an increasingly stacked tour schedule and continue to belt out their anthems with the same blend of ease and energy night after night? It remains to be seen, and the shorter of the Brothers sounded like he was really straining by the end, though not remotely holding back.

Listening to their music or watching their videos alone, the Brothers' shamelessly sincere lyrics and dreamy, lingering gazes sometimes verge on awkward. Watching them do the same live, you don't care, you just stomp your foot.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Peace and Hominy

There may be nothing more comforting than having a bubbling crockpot full of hominy stew. Except perhaps two bubbling crockpots full of hominy stew.

I've been making such meals ever since having the posole at Ole in Inman Square, and I have to say that I'm quite pleased with my results. I've used both beef bones and chicken legs and each has yielded a rich, buttery broth. After a long simmer, the hominy surrenders its starch to the surrounding liquid, and the whole thing tastes like the best corn tortilla.

I've also been using Amanda's slow cooked soup plus fresh garnish theory, which I think I can now call the slow cooked soup plush fresh garnish law. One day, Amanda thought "It seems like such a waste to make stock out of ingredients like vegetables that you could eat instead." And then she thought "What if you could make stock out of something that you wouldn't otherwise eat, like bones and spices?"

So she started making soups with just a spiced bone broth and finishing it with herbs and veggies at the very end, thereby creating the perfect yin and yang of slow cooked richness and last minute freshness.

Here's how my posole works, and I'm open to other suggestions. I brown a few chicken thighs and do the same with onion, garlic and cumin seeds. That all goes into a crockpot with the hominy (previously soaked overnight), a large can of tomatoes, a dried chile, salt and a splash of some leftover wine or vinegar. I forget about it pretty much all day, then take the meat off the bone, reintroduce it, and serve with chopped cilantro, diced raw onion, and lime wedges. It is divine.

Here's the one problem: when the chicken is falling off the bone and everything else is just perfect, the hominy still needs to keep going. What I've been doing is finishing it on the stove on higher heat once I take the chicken out, but it would be nice to get everything to finish at the same time (single entendre). I suppose I could just start the whole thing earlier - any thoughts?


Recipe: Posole (At Least I Think It's Posole - Call It Hominy Stew to Be Safe)
serves 4

The stew:

12 oz of hominy, soaked overnight
4 chicken thighs
1 28 oz can of tomatoes
2 cups water
2 onions
1 whole garlic clove
2 tbsp cumin seed
1 whole, dried, chile pepper
salt to taste
a splash of wine or a slightly smaller splash of balsamic or wine vinegar
2 tbsp pimenton

The garnish:

1/2 bunch chopped cilantro
1/4 diced, raw onion
1 lime, cut into wedges

1. Brown your chicken thighs, onions, garlic, and cumin seed.

2. Add the above to a crockpot with everything else in the stew list.

3. Simmer on "high," about forever.

4. Remove the chicken and shred like pulled pork. Put it back as such.

5. Serve with the garnish.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Destiny Fulfilled

I found this old photo of myself when I was back home in Florida. Guess I've been a foodie since the time that I might have referred to food itself as "foodie."

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Amateur Gourmet on Kimball on Gourmet, Plus Zombies

See here for Adam Roberts of the Amateur Gourmet's brilliant response to Christopher Kimball's op-ed in the Times regarding the fall of Gourmet. (And can we all just note the irony that an old media publication called Gourmet has fallen while a food blog called the Amateur Gourmet continues to thrive? )

Apparently, Christopher Kimball thinks that it's me, a blogger, who killed Gourmet, and Adam couldn't be more lucid in my (and his own) defense. He writes:

"These food blogs represent a welcome break from institutional food writing; they are fresher, brighter and more truthful than the kind of writing Kimball mourns—writing that must pass through board rooms, across copy desks, and into editorial meetings before it’s ok-ed and printed. By the time it hits the stands, it has all the relevancy of a tomato in January."

Well roared, Lion. Adam has voiced my own thoughts better than I could have, though I do have a few additional points and observations. The first is that, while I disagree with his position on new media, I do admire Kimball's dogged, "cold dead hands" defense of his crumbling ivory tower.

If you've seen Zombieland, it brings to mind Tallahassee's climactic stand-off at the film's close. Locked in a cage (closed minded thinking that fails to see the good in new media), Tallahassee (Christopher Kimball) fires his pistols (NYT op-eds) at a seemingly infinite wave of attacking, rabid zombies (Adam Roberts). The only difference is that Tallahassee wins.

Also, Kimball writes that if you "Google 'broccoli casserole' and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing." But isn't every broccoli casserole disappointing?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Understanding the Chicken

After multiple dining experiences (and blog posts) involving the chicken of the woods mushrooms growing near my home, I have only just begun to know how to fully appreciate them.

Though this fungi can run tough and/or dry, when you pick the right parts of the right mushroom at the right time and prepare them correctly, the c.o.t.w. is absolutely divine. Sound like more trouble than it's worth? It isn't. The same guidelines apply to a zucchini, we're just more used to dealing with those.

Here are my rules for having a healthy relationship with this vegan chicken:

1. Only pick specimens that you want to eat. This is difficult to do, because in your ecstasy at having discovered an enormous, traffic cone-orange wild mushroom, you're going to want to take it all. But you really only want the tender, flexible tips of an older mushroom and not quite all of a younger one. They're most tender at the edges and become woodier as you move back towards the base. I suppose the tougher parts are good for stock, but so are onion peels.

2. A mushroom brush is not enough. Unless your 'shroom is growing high up on a tree, or in a hospital, it will have dirt not only on it but in its "skin." The mushroom seems to embed little pieces of the forest that can't just be wiped away, so before you cook it, taking a paring knife and gently scrape or poke out any dark bits. Remember, you'd do the same with an unsightly zucchini.

3. Keep it simple. It's only when I try to dream up fitting preparations for this glorious ingredient that I end up not using it and letting it turn pale and sad. Pick it, clean it, and just cook it up in a pan with a little olive oil and salt. Eat it straight up as an amuse, on toast, on noodles (pictured at top), or whatever. It is so richly flavorful - sometimes like poultry, sometimes like eggs, sometimes with a hint of lemon - that it needs little else.

4. Slice it thinly. Doing so will shorten the cooking time and enhance the texture, which, if you follow the other rules, can be as soft as an omelette.

4. Don't eat it if it's growing on a pine or another type of conifer. Apparently that can make you ill, though your odds are probably still better than if you were eating ground beef.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

My Favorite of Michael Pollan's Favorite Reader Submitted Rules for Eating

"Eat foods in inverse proportions to how much its lobby spends to push it."

From this entertaining and thought provoking NYT feature.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great Ingredients, Horrible Food

Dinner prospects couldn't have looked better.

I had chicken jus, chicken fat, and a fresh chicken of the woods mushroom harvested from the woods behind T&F HQ. I also had a can of coconut milk and an heirloom eggplant from Allandale Farm -- a Louisiana Green -- plus plenty of spices, fresh cilantro, scallion, and my go-to dried noodles. By all accounts, it should have made for a bangin' curry.

It was not, and I blame the Louisiana Green. The eggplant was gaggingly bitter and made my tongue prickle and itch in that special eggplant way. I would have just eaten around it, but like a skunk that's been hit by a car, its influence had spread.

The whole beautiful thing tasted as bitter and as mushy as the eggplant. I ate the noodles with as little of the sauce as possible and, out of respect for the slugs whose food I'd stolen, picked out the pieces of the mushroom with a pair of chopsticks. I was so disgraced that I couldn't even bear to empty the pot for another day, and so it remained on the stove, full of horrible curry, haunting me. It's final resting place was not my stomach, but the trash can. Hence the above photo.

Ironically, I had picked up the eggplant while researching an article on the resurgence of heirloom vegetables. My slant had so far been positive, but now I might reconsider.

It was definitely the worst tasting, highest quality food that I've ever eaten. In that one sense it takes the cake, though I wish I had taken a piece of cake for dinner instead, and I hate cake.


Recipe: Ruined Curry

Directions: Combine the freshest, most flavorful, heirloom, organic, local, seasonal vegetables possible with spices of your choice and equal parts coconut milk and chicken stock. Add a nasty eggplant. Serve over noodles. Throw away.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

My Latest

See the link for my latest article in Stuff magazine (the Boston one, not the now defunct lad mag). The topic: fall wines.

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Fall Raspberries: The Best I've Ever Had

I'm going to be honest with you. Berries aren't as sweet as you think.

Yet when you think berries, you think sweet, largely because you think of what we do to them: crisps, cobblers, cream and sugar. Fresh from the bramble it's a different story, as the flavor profile of a berry is often dominated not by sugar but by pucker.

I generally prefer the taste of unadulterated ingredients, so I appreciate the tang of a real berry, but the fall raspberries I've been eating lately have me singing a sweeter tune. I don't really know what I'm talking about here, but it seems as though there are very different raspberries in summer and in fall. Also, there are raspberries in fall at all.

I usually think of raspberries as a strictly summer thing (barring tasteless - in more ways than one - imports) and am glad to see that they're getting a second wind. My hunch is that the fall raspberry is a different variety that's on the up and up as eating locally and seasonally gains ground.

From what I've observed (and not from any actual research), fall raspberries differ from their summer counterparts in two ways. The color, like the weather, is darker. The flavor is sweeter, more mellow, somewhat honey-like and almost absent of any acidity.

I'm reminded of a passage in the Omnivore's Dilemma about different recipes for eggs from different seasons, and I wouldn't be surprised if, in our recent past, there were similarly varied treatments for summer and fall raspb's.

I'm sure that in the annals of cookery there are absolutely delicious fall raspberry-specific tarts and sauces and such, but they're just so good that I can't stop myself from gobbling them up unaltered.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mr. Vongerichten Goes to Boston

See today's Globe for my article on the Boston opening of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's 25th restaurant.

His farm-to-table concept, called Market, already exists in three other cities around the world. Which is why I thought it was so funny to write the following line:

"The Boston Market, not to confused with Boston Market..."

My editor disagreed. See the whole thing here:

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cereal + Diabetes = Comedy

I try to do my part in helping the association between sugar and diabetes, but Boston area comic Tom Dunlap has taken it to the next level. I saw a recent set of his at The Comedy Studio and got him to send me the relevant bit. Here's the transcript, so you'll have to do your own comic timing:

These next few jokes are called, "Advertisers don't care about children."

Cookie Crisp Cereal: It's cookies for breakfast! And diabetes.

Kellogg's Corn Pops: Gotta have my type II diabetes.

Frosted Flakes: THEEEYY'RRRRRRRE diabetes.

I think you get the point. It upsets me that advertisers shove sugary cereal down kids throats, and they don't care! They don't care that Raisin Bran is just two scoops of diabetes, you know, they don't care there's some children in hospitals, snap-crackle-lost-a-foot to diabetes. What it comes to is Kix Cereal: It's kid tested...positive for diabetes.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Shortcut to Food

As some loyal readers might know, T&F is in part a musing on how to eat well while working from home. And I think I've finally cracked the code.

The answer: highly seasoned ground meat and noodles. Don't be thrown off the seeming simplicity of the dish. This can be very, very good food.

For instance, dan dan noodles, perhaps the greatest culinary gift the Sichuan province has made to the rest of the world. If you can just look past your school room cafeteria associations -- to stop beating around the bush, that's "beefaroni" -- you'll see the vast potential in this elemental combo.

The version pictured at top includes ground pork from happy, heirloom pigs at nearby Drumlin Farm and mung bean noodles, which looked very cool and just a little scary while resting in a glass bowl.

My inspiration started with dan dan noodles, which is basically soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, Sichuan peppercorn, chili flakes, and something else that restaurants do that I can never replicate at home (and no, it's not MSG, unless they're lying to me). But now I just throw together real meat and complimentary spices and it always works out. The one in the photo, which was the best yet, had a sauteed onion and bell pepper and focused primarily on the interplay of pimenton and cumin. It was so rad.

And you really could make the whole thing in ten minutes. Add more veggies to the meat and you've got a balanced meal, assuming that phrase still means anything. Use non-wheat noodles such as mung bean, rice, or buckwheat and it's that much more interesting.

This really is the fastest, most filling and flavorful lunch (or dinner) I can think of.


Recipe: Not Beefaroni

1 package mung bean noodles (or rice noodles, buckwheat, udon, spaghetti, etc.)
1 lb organic, sustainably raised meat (pork, beef, turkey, beefalo...)
1 onion
sesame oil
soy sauce

1. Boil the noodles until katame ni yuderu. Rinse and toss with oil.

1. Sautee the onion until translucent.

2. Add the meat to the same pan and cook until brown and slightly crispy.

3. Add the soy sauce and spices (such as pimenton and cumin).

4. Add the sesame oil.

5. Top the noodles with the meat.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Reign of Gorditas Continues

Now just because the article isn't still up on the Globe's main food page, it doesn't mean that I'm not still cooking and eating tons of gorditas ala Chole Adams.

In fact, they're the most satisfying vegetarian - vegan, even - meal I can remember eating in a long time if not ever. Must be the starch combo of the beans and cornmeal. Or maybe it's all the fat? Either way, they're one of those perfect, transitional early Fall foods. A hearty base of corn and beans, and an end-of-summer topping of raw tomato, onion, and cilantro.

For the recipe, follow the link from the article, with two additional notes. Your choice of refried beans can really make or break the dish. I recommend taking cooked (canned works) beans and blending with a little water, some sauteed onion, garlic and ***pimenton***. Also, it's a lot easier to just dress the top of the gordita rather than slicing and stuffing it.

If you really want to be like me, you can also garnish with lemon (cucumbers) and lime, as pictured above.


Recipe: Gorditas de Chole

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Not Too Chicken to Eat Chicken of the Woods

I was recently poking around in the woods behind my house (by which I mean my rented apartment) with my dog, and as always, I had one eye out for wild edibles. But unlike most of our forays, this time I returned home with a few pounds of serious food tucked under my arm. As you can see from the photo above, it was a mushroom.

A chicken of the woods, aka sulfur shelf mushroom, as I've previously covered here.

Though I am interested in foraging, I am not at all interested in eating a mushroom that might kill me. Luckily the c.o.t.w. is no such mushroom. Known as a "beginner fungi," it has no poisonous counterparts and is ridiculously easy to spot. It's like it wants us to eat it.

And the feeling is mutual.

We made a risotto with little else but the wild fungi for flavor, and also sautéed a few hunks of it in butter and pan drippings from a chicken not of the woods. These were absolutely outstanding.

The sulfur shelf ain't no slimy, watery tasteless white button. It's a wild mushroom, and it tastes like it. The 'shroom is meaty in both texture and flavor, hence the name (I think). In fact I can't recall any other vegetarian foodstuff with a chew so downright steak-like.

Of course the actual chicken pan drippings accentuated the fungi's umami, but it worked with what was already there. As the drippings reduced, the mushroom took on a glaze and the edges began to candy. Little bits of hand-torn fresh rosemary didn't hurt either.

I don't eat every wild edible I find in the woods behind my house, largely because of concerns for the health of the soil. Though the woods are beautiful, they're low and surrounded by suburbia, and I imagine that much of the pesticide from my neighbor's lawns and the oil from our cars all finds its way down there. There's a beautiful elder growing out of the middle of a stream at the nadir, and at present it's full of berries, and I love elderberries, but I don't love lead.

But when I saw the chicken of the woods, I couldn't resist. After all, it wanted me to eat it.

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Late Night

The only thing worse than being woken up at 3am by raccoons scattering your trash is then knocking a glass bowl of compost-ready noodles down the stairs, and then cutting your finger picking up the pieces.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

News Flash: Filet-o-Fish Not Sustainable

I can't say that I'm shocked that the tasteless fish served in anonymous, fried patties by McDonald's, Denny's, and Long John Silvers is not being harvested sustainably:

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Article In Today's Globe

See here for my article and photos in today's Globe.

The subject: great Mexican food very close to Canada. Click on the recipe link to see the second photo. And the recipe.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ceci N'est Pas Une Orange Juice

To round out a brunch I made for visiting family over the weekend, I decided to buy orange juice. When I took a sip, I was surprised how much like orange juice it tasted, given the fact that orange juice isn't really orange juice any more.

I first had this realization thanks to my acupuncturist's blog, which referenced the book Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice. This excerpt from an interview with the author is what made me realize just how different the orange juice on the shelf is from what we think of as orange juice:

"The leading producers of “not from concentrate” (a.k.a. pasteurized) orange juice keep their juice in million-gallon aseptic storage tanks to ensure a year-round supply. Juice stored this way has to be stripped of oxygen, a process known as de-aeration, so it doesn’t oxidize in the tanks. When the juice is stripped of oxygen, it is also stripped of flavour-providing chemicals … If you were to try the juice coming out of the tanks, it would taste like sugar water. Juice companies therefore hire flavour and fragrance companies, the same ones that make popular perfumes and colognes, to fabricate flavour packs to add back to their product to make it taste like orange juice."

And that goes for the stuff they're still allowed to call not from concentrate, or worse, grove-style or whatever the latest, homiest qualifier is (smooshed by grammy and grampy?).

So it was surprising that the orange juice I bought at the grocery store still tasted more or less like what I think orange juice tastes like. Kudos, flavour and fragrance companies.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Nice Try

An anonymous commenter responded to my post on acai, saying only "acai is great food." The comment was then signed with a link to something called "weight loss diet pills."

I don't which the internet is better for: food blogging or hucksterism.

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Lobster Bolognese, Revealed

I'm sure you all think about The Best Thing I've Had All Year as much as I do, but you may not have realized that we received the recipe for it in a comment.

I'm also sure that you all comb through the comments as obsessively as I do, but just in case this one slipped past you, I thought I'd showcase it here. Thanks to Rick Rodgers for sending it along. He wrote:

This recipe was popularized by Alfred Portale at Gotham Bar and Grill in NYC, and is in his first cookbook. You are right--cream, stock, and veggies are the ingredients. I have the recipe in my computer because I worked on the book as the recipe tester and writer.

Recipe: Fettuccine with Lobster Bolognese
makes 4 to 6 main course servings

Lobster Bolognese Sauce:

l/4 cup distilled white vinegar
3 (l to l l/4 pounds) live lobsters
2 tablespoons olive oil
l medium onion, chopped
l/2 cup chopped carrot (about l/2 medium carrot)
l/3 cup chopped celery (about l/2 small celery rib)
4 garlic cloves, sliced
5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
5 sprigs tarragon
5 sprigs basil
l dried bay leaf
3 tablespoons tomato paste
l/4 cup Cognac or brandy
l/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups white chicken stock, or as needed
1 cup heavy cream
Coarse salt and cayenne pepper

Bring a large stockpot of 10 quarts salted water and the vinegar to a boil over high heat. In batches, if necessary, add the lobsters and cover. Cook for 5 minutes. (The lobsters will only be partially cooked.)

Drain the lobsters, place in a bowl, and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Working over a bowl to catch the juices, twist the lobster bodies away from the tails; reserve the bodies. Saving as much of the juices as possible while working, crack the lobster tails and claws. Remove the meat and cut into 3/4-inch dice. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Coarsely chop the lobster shells.

In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and parsley sprigs and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about l0 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the lobster shells and bodies and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add the cognac and reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and reduce by half, about 3 minutes. Add the reserved juices and enough stock to barely cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until well-flavored, about 45 minutes.

Strain into a large bowl, pressing hard on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible, then discard the solids. (If making in advance, cool, cover, and refrigerate.)

In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat and reduce to l cup, about 30 minutes. Add the cream, return to a boil, and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Taste and season carefully with salt and cayenne pepper.


l pound fresh fettuccine
l tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons finely chopped tarragon
l0 basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
Sprigs of chervil for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.

If necessary, reheat the lobster sauce over low heat. Add the lobster meat and cook just to heat the lobster meat through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley, tarragon, and basil. Add the warm lobster sauce to the pasta and toss well.

Serve in warmed pasta bowls, garnishing each serving with the chervil leaves.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

To Eat Wheat?

You can imagine a well sculpted, deeply researched New York Times piece about the increasing numbers of those who cannot (or just think they cannot) tolerate wheat, but this isn't it. This is a baseless morning blog post.

As I've said before, when it comes to the burgeoning realm of food sensitivities, I'm torn. There's my inner Michael Ruhlman, who thinks people who don't eat everything are sissies. Then's there's the inhaler that I stopped using once I stopped using dairy.

Wheat, or gluten, is by far the fastest growing intolerant food. I'm shocked by the sheer volume of people who are giving it up. Often these tales of abstinence are accompanied by miraculous recoveries. Suddenly that chronic back pain you've had for years just disappears, all because you switched to quinoa pasta like that pictured above (with bacon, escarole, garlic and chili flakes).

Sounds fishy, doesn't it? And yet I have my own health success story with cutting out dairy, so I'm left wondering if perhaps it isn't the wheat itself that's to blame. Why would one of the oldest crops known to humanity suddenly turn on us?

Probably because we turned on it. I'm no farmer, but I know we don't grow wheat like we used to. Perhaps we've done to wheat what cell phones did to good old to human interaction.

I don't know if it's the pesticide, genetic modification, over-processing or... well, it's probably some combination of those.

Do I eat wheat? All the time. We all do, and the number of those who cannot is vastly outnumbered by those who can. And I wouldn't be surprised if those who think they can't eat wheat could eat some kinds of wheat, perhaps an heirloom variety not processed into white bread. But to be perfectly honest, I now eat less of it and feel better.

Recipe: Quinoa-Corn Pasta With Escarole

Ingredients: just look at the directions. The ingredients are in there.

1. Boil pasta.

2. Sautee diced bacon and chili flakes. When the bacon is crisp, add escarole and garlic.

3. Toss the pasta with the escarole, bacon, spices, and one dipper of the pasta water.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I just made a curious discovery that I feel obliged to share. If you google image search the word "food," this is what you get:

The irony is that many of us do not consider to above to be food, but rather what Michael Pollan famously called food-like substances. In other words, corn manipulated beyond recognition.

Pollan also suggests that we not eat anything our great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. That excludes pretty much everything in the image above. Then again, great-grandma didn't know what google was either.

Which begs the question: was great-grandma better off? Hard to say, though she was certainly better at not getting obese and diabetic.

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