Friday, January 30, 2009

Lemon and Eggs

If you haven't tried lemon on eggs before, do so. Just a squeeze can transform a plate of eggs from the normal salt and pepper profile into something much more stimulating. Yes, stimulating.

Eggs with lemon wakes up the mouth. While chickens aren't known for their ability to fly, lemon allows the flavor of the egg to soar. Eggs are so often served with heavy, earthy foods likes potatoes and bacon that you could almost forget how light they can be. Lemon will help you remember.

Pictured above is a dish of twice cooked noodles with scrambled eggs, a must try if you've got leftover noodles lying around, which you do. Neither noodles nor eggs nor egg noodles have the same effect on their own, but put them together and something magical happens.

I heat a small pan with oil, sprinkle a few flakes of crushed chiles, add the pasta, then scramble in the egg until it sets. Salt or soy sauce help to develop the flavor, but it's that bit of lemon that will brighten your day.

This isn't necessarily a winter dish, at least not in New England, and that's exactly why I like it. In fact, I like it so much that sometimes I even use once-cooked noodles.


Recipe: Twice Cooked Noodles With Lemon and Eggs

serves: as many as you want
prep time: inconsequential

1 & 1/2 cup leftover noodles (per person)
1 egg (ditto)
2 tbsp olive oil
a dash of chile flakes
a dash of salt (or soy sauce)
the juice of 1/2 lemon

Heat a pan, add the oil and chile flakes.

When the oil is hot but not sizzling, add cooked pasta and salt (or soy) and stir to coat.

Add egg, stir with a fork until flashes of cooked white are visible.

Remove from heat and sprinkle with lemon.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Latest Health Craze: Worms?

I cannot believe this sentence exists:

"And pig whipworms, which reside only briefly in the human intestinal tract, have had 'good effects' in treating the inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, he said."

Yet it hails from the NYT, in an article about how things that you think are bad for you (dirt, worms) are actually good. (The "he" refers to Dr. David Elliott, a gastroenterologist and immunologist at the University of Iowa.)

That takes probiotics to a whole new level. Thanks to Ruhlman for pointing it out.

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More On Palm Oil

I received a rather lengthy and well informed comment on my recent Smart Balance post, so I thought I'd give it a little more exposure. This thread really encapsulates what many of us are trying to figure out in a post-modern food world: what the f*ck should we eat?

There are several points here that I really enjoy. One is the lesser of evils approach when it comes to the environmental impact of food production. Perfection is great, but elusive. I also like the idea of replacing an animal fat with real food, like macadamia oil, instead a food product (like Smart Balance). Our ancestors didn't need text-heavy plastic tubs to tell them what to eat, so why should we?

Thanks to Adam for sending this in:

1) Oil palms yield more oil per acre than any other oil plant. Greater productivity = greater environmental efficiency = more land left untouched by modern agriculture.

2) Oil palms aren't an annual crop, like soy, canola (rapeseed), etc., so less violence is done to the land with the constant tearing-up of the soil to plant and yearly re-plant. Less aggressive (chemical) fertilization is used and less pesticide since it's a tree crop growing in its natural habitat.

3) Yes, oil palm plantations take habitat away from orangutans and the like (although a lot more wildlife can survive in a tree plantation than a monocultured field full of annuals). But let's not throw that stone in our glass house. Until we tear up our wheat fields to let the bison back in, let's not get on our high horse about a poor, poor country trying to make some money off their own agriculture. Almost all large-scale agriculture is inherently, ecologically violent. Oil palm plantations much less so that the alternatives.

4) On a nutritional basis, a distinction ought to be made between palm kernel and palm fruit oil. The kernel oil ain't great for you -- but it's not nearly bad as you've been told. The palm fruit oil -- brilliant red -- is actually one of our healthiest, most heat-stable fats. Like other fruit oils (olive, avocado), it's very rich in antioxidants, and can stand up to long storage and high-heat cooking without a whole lot of lipid peroxidation.

5) CSPI are a bunch of scare-mongers. That "Dying for a Cookie" ad they ran full-page in the NYT was kind of bullshit. I wrote them to tell them as much. They wrote me back to (mostly) agree with me -- or at least, to agree with my individual points, not the final assessment...

6) Finally, if you want vegan "vegan" butter for pancake frying, may I suggest straight-up red palm fruit oil, avocado oil, or macadamia oil.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pacman or Flatbread?

Answer: flatbread.

A few months ago, Bittman wrote of the wonders of socca, a chickpea flatbread that is both versatile and facile. I believed he called it "instant starch." He and Conan (the food writer) then revisited the dish, and since then I've been hooked. Incidentally, the titles of both pieces are extremely pleasant to say: "The Saga of Skillet Flatbread" and "A Street Treat from Nice."

Thanks to their plug, socca has become an absolute staple in my kitchen. And why wouldn't it? It meets all of my criteria for perfect food: quick, easy, cheap, nourishing, and kind of weird.

I throw one together anytime I've got a meal that feels like it's missing something. I've baked, baked and then broiled, and simply broiled, and all are perfectly acceptable. If you're really going for speed, I suggest broiling and flipping. In my mind, the perfect socca is crispy on the outside and still moist and somewhat hummusy on the inside.

Luckily, the flavor of chickpea flour is generally more sweet and pea-like than with a canned garbanzo, so you've got that going for you too. I eat most of my socca straight up, but of course you can add anything you like to the batter or on top during or after baking. I imagine grated cheese would look nice and help ensure a good crunch.

By far the best socca I've made was one topped with the tomato sauce we put up at the end of the season. Each jar is a time capsule of summer, an explosion of flavor from a forgotten temperature.

So don't be a suckah; make a socca. And if you want to go all out, eat it in a sukkah.

Recipe: Socca (aka Farinata aka Chickpea Flatbread)
-adapted from Mark Bittman

1 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

Put a skillet under the broiler and set oven to "broil."

Mix chickpea flour with equal parts water, then add the salt and pepper. Whisk until smooth. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover, and let sit while oven heats, or as long as 12 hours. Batter should be about the consistency of heavy cream.

Pour 2 tablespoons oil into heated pan, and swirl to cover pan evenly. Pour in batter, and broil about 5 minutes on each side. If it looks dry, brush the top with more oil.

Cut it into wedges and serve hot.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

High Fructose Corn Thermometer

It seems American consumers are playing a big game of Sesame Street's "one of these things is not like the other thing."

But instead of a plate with the wrong number of cookies, the thing that doesn't belong is now within the cookie. Like E. Coli in spinach, salmonella in peanut butter or raisins in rice pudding (not a fan), now there's something scary in foods with corn syrup, besides the corn syrup itself. And that's mercury.

The Washington Post reports that "Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products."

Guess the dumbfounded skeptics in recent ads by Big Corn Syrup will now have something to say.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Homemade Granola

I can't remember the first time I had granola, but shortly afterwards I wrote it off. As a kid, it was too healthy. As an adult, it wasn't healthy enough. What began as a wholesome, grain based snack had at some point morphed into candy for rich hippies. Until I made it myself.

Ah, the power of "homemade." After years of eating a food dictated by popular consensus, in your own kitchen you finally gain the satisfaction of unchecked creative control. Want a salty granola? It's your call. Granola dotted with marrow croutons? Yes, we can.

Making your own version of a commercially available food is deeply satisfying for any home cook on a budget, especially if you have control issues. When I made my first batch of granola, and I've made more since, it finally tasted how I've always wanted it to and it cost what I've always wanted to pay: next to nothing.

While it might seem like a specialty snack, I didn't even have to buy anything to make it. If you feel the need to load it with acai and gogi you'll have to make a trip to the obnoxious store, but otherwise you can make do.

I adapted Bittman's recipe to what I had on hand, combined with observations from having watched others make it in the past. My version is not candy, but I do eat it as though it were. And it makes the house smell like winter should.

Recipe: Tons of Great, Cheap Granola

6 cups (real) oats
2 cup sunflower seeds (or whatever)
1 cup dried currants (or whatever)
1 cup dried coconut
1 cup honey
2 tbsp canola oil
pinch of salt
dash of cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 325. Combine everything but the currants and oil and mix well.

Spread the oil on two baking sheets, divide the granola between them, and toss lightly.

Bake until brown but not burnt, stirring as often as necessary (about 4 times, about half an hour.)

Let cool. Feel cool.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Hi-Rise Bakery Potato Bread

Humans are such repulsive creatures, especially foodies. We never want the same thing twice no matter how good it was, always searching for the next thrill, be it the latest obscure grain (farro) or the cheapest tongue mulita (Tacos Lupita).

For instance, how often did I go to the fantastic Hi-Rise bakery during the years in which I lived a few blocks away? Twice.

Now, through the eyes of others, I've seen the error of my ways. This first happened in the Ferry Market in San Fran, pretty much the last place you'd expect to feel good about your own town's food. But when I mentioned that I had come from Cambridge, the cheesemongers at Cowgirl Creamery started gushing about the H.R., and I couldn't help but blush. I felt like a supermodel had told me that I was beautiful.

Then yesterday I took an out of town guest there to secure provisions for his flight back to Ithaca, which of course is the San Francisco of Tompkins County, New York. As soon as we set foot in the door, I saw the expression on my friend's face, the drool seeping from the corners of his gaping mouth, and I realized how numb and ungrateful I had become. I crossed out the existing words in my thought bubble ("Ah, the place with expensive sandwiches") and instead wrote in my highest compliment to any Boston area eatery: "Wow, this is the kind of place you can find in New York!"Link

I'm eating a slice of their potato bread right now, and its sheer splendor has shaken me out of hunting mode. Why look elsewhere when you've got something this good right in front of you?

Thin, crunchy crust, moist and fluffy interior, deep potato flavor. Those Cowgirls were right: I am beautiful.


Hi-Rise Bakery

56 Brattle St
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02143

(617) 492 3003

208 Concord Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138

(617) 876-8766

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Help The Human Rabbit

My friend is undertaking an intense, almost all-veggie diet, and he came to me for ways to make it palatable. Here is his regiment, as I understand it.

There are milk days and veggie days. On milk days, it's just whole milk and yogurt. On veggie days he can have two fruits and 1.5 pounds of veggies, so it's obviously more about what you can't eat than what you can. No oil, grains, nuts, alcohol, vinegar, and in his words, he's desperate for anything that tastes good, or "tastes at all." (And I'm assuming there's no beans if there's no grains.) Obviously he could use some help, so please comment if you've got any bright ideas.

I have three bits of advice. The first is to favor starchy, filling veggies. If all you can eat is vegetables, baby arugula will only go so far. I'm thinking baked acorn squash (or any winter squash), roasted sweet potatoes, whole baked eggplant, mashed potatoes or mashed anything like a potato. If avocados fit the criteria, I would eat as many as possible, with just a squeeze of lemon and lots of salt and pepper. If coconut milk is cool, I would mix in a few spices and use it to turn plain old steamed veggies into curry.

Still, if you find something you like, you'll soon hate if you don't vary the preparation, especially the texture. That way you can trick yourself into thinking that you're eating a greater variety than you actually are. This is how a lot of raw foods people do it: "lasagna" that's just thinly sliced layers of different vegetables and so on.

In keeping with the first idea, I think spaghetti squash could go a long way here. It's filling, it's flavorful on its own, and it's fun. I would also suggest purées, since you can cook and blend almost any veggie with a little water and salt and suddenly have a satisfying soup. Since you can do spices, might I suggest carrot ginger. I haven't done it, but I bet baked latkes made with any grated veggie wouldn't be bad.

My third suggestion is to hit the blogs. There are a ton of people out there with specialized diets, and they're often the same folks who are compulsive enough to tell you about every little thing that they consume. 101 Cookbooks is queen of the veggieblogosphere, and I bet you could find some inspiration in raw foods; just the fact that you can use heat might make your options look decadent in comparison.

I will say that it's surprising how much we can alter our diets just by changing the ratios of the kinds of things we eat. I grew up with meat taking center stage in every dinner, and I still eat it, but I've also learned that if I up the amounts of other stuff, like grains and veggies, I can not only adapt but also do better.

That said, it sounds really tough, so good luck. Anyone else?

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Teatulia's Tulsi Tea

I've had a few readers complain that Tea and Food is much more food than tea, and they're right. One reason is that it's more important to eat food than drink tea, so one tends to overshadow the other.

Another reason is that I might focus on the same variety of tea every day for a month, but I'm not going to blog about it more than once. But rest assured that when I try something new, unless it's Lipton French Vanilla, you'll hear about it. For instance, Teatulia's Tulsi Infusion Tea.

You might recall Teatulia (then known as Tetulia) from my two-part post back in June, but if you're too lazy to click on the hyperlink, here's the short version: they're an extremely socially and environmentally conscious company, and they make great tea. Support them.

This morning I finally had the chance to try their flagship blend, an infusion of the Ayurvedic herb tulsi with their standard black tea, both sustainably grown. It's a tea unlike any other that I've tasted, and its unusual flavors drew me right in. Tulsi is also known as holy basil, and in some parts of India it is considered to have almost magical properties, as this excerpt from the blog Health is Wealth will attest:

A few leaves dropped in drinking water or food-items can purify it and can kill germs. Even smelling it or keeping it planted in a pot indoors is said to prevent the whole family from infections, cough and cold and other viral infections. It has been an age old custom in India to worship it twice daily, water it and light lamps near it, once in the morning and once in the evening. It was, and still is, believed that it would protect the whole family from evils and bring good luck.

On this ten degree day, it certainly did have a warming and uplifting effect that went beyond the usual warming and uplifting effects of c.m. The flavor of the herb was similar to that of the sweetest, most licorice-like Thai basil, and it was nicely balanced with the earthy pucker of the black tea.

There are so many cloying herbal blends out there (again, Lipton French Vanilla), so it's refreshing to taste one that has some real umph. Think I'll go brew a second flush right now.

If you'd like to try some for yourself, see here. And yes, I know I need to oil my cutting board.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Smart Balance or Stupid Balance?

I recently, and mistakenly, bought a tub of Smart Balance to use in pancakes for some vegan friends. While its cousin Earth Balance is indeed suitable for vegans, it seems Smart Balance is not, as it contains whey. Clearly the distributor thinks that people who don't eat dairy are more earthy than they are smart.

Though both Balances have been widely embraced as healthy stuff, they violate several of Pollan's rules for good eating laid out in the climax of In Defense of Food. For instance:

-Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

-Avoid products that make health claims.

-Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number.

In looking over Smart Balance's ingredients, which are both numerous and alien, I paused when I came to palm oil. I had just read an article in Nat Geo about deforestation in Borneo, caused in large part by supplying the growing demand for, you guessed it, palm oil. (For a rebuke of the article, see the very suspiciously named Palm Oil Truth Foundation, which seems like something out of communist Russia. It also calls the article's style "meandering" and states that "there has not been a public debate about the causes of global warming." Red flag!)

Without seriously researching the subject, I can't say that the palm oil in Smart or Earth Balance comes from Borneo, though the odds seem good, since most of the world's supply does come from there. Palm fruit plantations now cover much of the island, replacing habitat for the local indigenous people and the orangutans and pygmy elephants they share it with.

The deforestation necessary to create the plantations also helps Indonesia to rank third for greenhouse gas emissions, just behind the U.S. and China (!). I don't know about you, but that's not something I want to spread on my pancakes.

Again, I can't comment on how direct the link is (unless any editors out there want to pay me to), but here's something I can say.

It sure seems a lot more simple to just buy butter from your local dairy farm. It has one (two if there's salt) ingredients, and your great grandmother would definitely know what to do with it.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Best French Fries I've Ever Had

Until now, the best fries I'd ever had were in Ithaca, NY. It's no secret that I have a soft spot for the town, but it's with good reason.

A friend of mine who is also a former Chez Panisse employee is considering moving from the Bay Area, and Ithaca is near the top of her list. Partly because she's interested in a grad program there, but partly because it's one of the few towns in America that won't make a former Bay Area foodie feel like they live in the desert outside of the house in Beetlejuice.

So it was no surprise that I had great fries there, especially because the region is also known for something called salt potatoes. But yesterday, all that changed. Elise had a rare free night now that her new show is up, and there was only one thing on her mind: making fries.

They were the perfect fry, with crisp skin and light and creamy guts. She admittedly has a heavy hand with salt, but in this case it was just right, going toe to toe with the surprisingly sweet taste of the taters. Crispy, fluffy, sweet, salty - may my epitaph be so kind.

We have three guesses as to why they were so ethereal. First was her general skill, including the decision to steam and then fry. Then there was our luck of having the right potatoes chilling in the hallway thanks to our winter CSA. But the third and most unusual reason was the choice of fat, or fats, rather.

We just so happened to be low on all oils, so she made a blend of peanut, canola, and olive. We wouldn't have done so for any other reason but necessity, but it just might have been the killing stroke that made these the best fries of my life.

Now who's gorges?

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Not At All Vegetarian Broccoli

You might think that it would be difficult to make a vegetable unsuitable for a vegetarian, but it's not. In fact, if you order a vegetable dish at any French, Cuban, or Southern restaurant, there's a good chance that it will have equal parts vegetable matter and pork or duck fat. Is that wrong? Not necessarily.

I sautéed the above broccoli in bacon fat and then finished it off with a quick steam in reduced chicken stock. Before you ask yourself what kind of monster uses two different kinds of animals to make one vegetable, allow me to explain.

First off, like all meat that I make at home, both animal products featured here came from reliably sustainable sources, one just down the road. Second, you'll notice that there isn't any actual meat in the dish, just a couple natural remainders of a meat eater's kitchen: I make stock from chicken bones that I freeze over time, and the bacon fat came from what else but making bacon.

Using animal products as a teaser rather than a feature presentation could go a long way in improving the health of our planet, as many have already pointed out, most notably Mark Bittman. This is especially true when the animal product in question is leftover from a previous dish and might otherwise have been discarded.

I eat meat, but I eat way more vegetables, and in fact many dishes that I cook are either deliberately or coincidentally vegetarian or vegan. Straddling both worlds as I do, I am familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of both camps. But one thing is clear: when you cook broccoli with a little bacon fat and chicken stock, you'll want to eat a whole lot more broccoli.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Slight Exaggeration

A new video from The Onion about the way we eat. If it were any more true, it would be true.

New Wearable Feedbags Let Americans Eat More, Move Less

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The Thaw

Perhaps the only downside to locally raised meat is that much of it comes frozen. Unless you're vegetarian, in which case it's nothing but downsides.

Personally, I'd rather get my protein from a happy local cow than a soybean grown in Iowa. But this doesn't mean that I possess the forethought to thaw said cow before wanting to eat it. Hence the above photo, which captures my effort to simultaneously thaw and brown a frozen block of ground beef.

Actually, it worked. When one side of the meat-ice was done to my liking, I'd flip it and do the same to the B-side while using the spatula to shave off the finished portion. I continued doing so until the block had disappeared, at which point I turned up the heat, cooking off any remaining water and giving the meat a final toast. This served as the basis for a sauce to go with leftover (and also frozen) lasagna noodles. It was great, it was hearty, and it was local.

If you really want to eat seasonally in the winter, eat food that's as frozen as the hard, cold earth.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kimchee Pancake

In damp, cold, snowy weather, a hot, crusty, kimchee pancake seems like the perfect food. It also makes sense seasonally, since this is the time of year when fermented veggies are the only kind available, excluding root vegetables and Chilean green beans.

A pajeon is also a good way to use up kimchee if you've got more than you can handle. I've started buying mine at Little Pusan, our local Korean restaurant and home of the best food in town. When I realized that they sold their excellent homemade kimchee in bulk, I had the following conversation with the owner, a charmingly opinionated woman:

Me: What size does the kimchee come in?
Her: Eight-fifty, six dollar, twelve.
Me: I'll take an eight-fifty.
(She disappears into the kitchen, returning with a five pound jar.)
Me: Whoah, that's a lot of kimchee!
Her: Not a lot.
Me: How long will it last?
Her: (Huff!) Three month. Six month.

It lasted me about one month, which helps me structure my visits to the restaurant. I always want to eat there, but don't want to get to a place where I lose interest or take it for granted. But now when the jar runs out, I know that it's time to go back for a meal and a reload.

I'd include my recipe but it's not quite there yet. I basically mixed kimchee with an egg and enough flour to bind, then fried it in hot oil. That wasn't bad, but see Wandering Chopsticks for a little more precision.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Quote of the Day

From Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry in an Op-Ed for the Times:

"For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we will have food. That is a mistake."

See here for the full piece.

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A Complete Waste of Apples

One of the reasons I was excited to move to my current place of residence was the apple tree in the front yard. I can't pin down the variety, but it seems to fall somewhere in the red delicious family. They aren't the best eating apples, but they bake like nobody's business.

So you'd think I would have used them for baking. Nope! I decided on cider, despite the fact that I didn't have any of the necessary equipment or know-how. This was also right before I learned that good cider contains a carefully blended mix of different apples selected for complimentary flavors. Instead, I just took all the scraggly ones left at the end of the season, ran them through my neighbor's juicer, then used a piece of an old pair of pajama pants for a filter.

The flavor was all wrong, the texture somewhat chalky, and I lost a high percentage of the liquid due to the inadequacy of my filtering setup. What would have made loads of fantastic crisps, tarts and pies made less than one wine bottle's worth of cider.

"At least I'll have alcohol made entirely from my front yard," I thought. Wrong again. It went moldy. It was, as the title of this post suggests, a complete waste of apples.

That said, I did dump the cider/vinegar/mold onto the ground by the tree, figuring that it might at least be appetizing to the bacteria which colonize the dirt. In doing so, I performed a rather tradition wassail.


RECIPE: Ruined Cider

Take lots of apples that would be great in something besides cider, and make cider from them.

Incorrectly ferment the cider, rendering it useless.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Romanian New Year's Cake

Just moments ago I answered a gentle knock on the door to my apartment to find the little girl who lives downstairs (with her parents). She was clad in Nemo slippers and holding an intriguing napkin wrapped bundle. I desperately hoped it was some sort of holiday pastry from Romania, her father's country of origin. It was.

I opened the napkin to find the thick slice of marbled cake pictured above. When I asked her what it was called, she said something that sounded like "Koozelnacht," and when I asked her to repeat it she said it faster and angrier, and therefore even less intelligibly. From a brief google search, I'm guessing that it's cozonac, also called Romanian walnut panetone.

The cake is light and faintly sweet, the crust a gorgeous, smooth golden brown. I'm not sure of exactly what is in the marbling, but I taste walnuts, spices, liquer, and perhaps cocoa, and it's faintly reminiscent of charoses.

It's fantastic, and serves as a reminder of the many culinary traditions that sometimes bubble up in our culture's otherwise corn syrup filled melting pot.

In exchange for the cake, she stuck around to play with Oli, who recently fell asleep on my face.

My New Year's resolution: more shamelessly cute pictures of my dog that have nothing to do with food.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Aged Egg Nog

Michael Ruhlman takes charcuterie so seriously that he's even doing it with cocktails. See here for his thoughts on aging egg nog, which sounds spectacular.

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