Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Best Sauce I've Ever Made

I recently braised two turkey drumsticks and a few carrots in a dutch oven. The liquid became the greatest sauce I have ever made.

Once the turkey had cooked to the desired consistency (not quite falling off the bone -- call it walking the tightrope of the bone), I reduced the liquid (old white wine, older Herbes de Provence, water, salt, pepper) and added just a bit of butter. The resulting sauce was so good that it falls into the category of so good there must be a name for it in French.

The herbs (or "herbes") and the sugar in the carrots and wine made for a sweet and succulent complement to the turkey. And here's a compliment to the turkey: your meat was very tasty.

But the best part about the best sauce I've ever made was the fuel; the dutch oven started on the range in the kitchen but ended up nestled in the glowing coals of the fire pit outside. The kids who live downstairs (with their parents) asked me to make a fire for them, but they quickly lost interest once their marshmallows were toasted.

I was left with a heap of glowing coals that, once I remembered the pot back in the kitchen, looked like money in the bank. In fact there was a (slight) financial benefit to using the coals, which were made from gathered wood, over the gas, which I -- and the planet, meaning you -- pay for in more ways than one.

I carried the dutch oven downstairs and left it on the coals, which, like making tea from a stone, was something I have always wanted to do. When I could no longer discern a glow down at the pit, I figured it was done. It was.

It seems all of my dreams end in fire and all of the things I think are French involve poultry and reductions.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

From this article in the NYT:

'“It does not make sense to acquire oil from the Middle East or the north slope of Alaska and turn it into a plastic bottle, use it once and throw it away,” said Allen Hershkowitz, a scientist at the [National Resources Defense] council."

It especially doesn't make sense if the water in the bottle is from Fiji.

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Passion for Passion Fruit

While in Florida this past weekend I went to the most incredible fruit stand I could ever imagine. I'd tell you where it is if I wasn't also trying to write an article about it; wouldn't want to scoop myself.

However I would like to scoop some more goop out of a fresh passion fruit like the one I bought there. The twang of passion fruit is remarkable in nearly any form, even in those dubious tropical fruit cocktails that probably don't contain any actual passion fruit (or any fruit).

Jean-George's trademark passion fruit souffle is the star of the dessert menu at Market (though not made with the "seasonal market ingredients" the restaurant promises, though there are varieties of p.f. native to the U.S.). You can even purchase a passable passion fruit at some higher end supermarkets. I'm not going to name names, so I'll just call such a place "Foal Hoods."

But the passion fruit from my mysterious fruit stand blew away all other incarnations. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the ultimate ingredient based cooking is just eating the ultimate ingredient. Raw, with no prep and with your hands.

You wait until the skin is a little crinkly. You pick up the fruit, wondering how someting so light could taste so crazy. You slice it open with your mom's challah knife whose handle you unsuccessfully tried to refinish in middle school. You show the spread-eagled fruit to your wife, who recoils a little at the sight of the pulp, which admittedly does look like a cross between frog's eggs and a sinus infection (though she does take a taste).

You spoon the innards into your mouth. Your eyes widen. Your hips start to waggle. Your passion is stirred, making this the most aptly named piece of produce. Besides the orange.

The flavor is sour enough to feel it in the A-1 spots. Unlike a guava, a passion fruit's seeds are not an imposition and instead offer a delightful crunch not unlike the puffed rice in a Krackel. The taste is more tart than sweet and is as bracing as a cup of coffee while delivering a heavy dose of that funky tropical flavor that I am simply not creative enough to describe.

A fresh passion fruit tastes like.... well, a fresh passion fruit.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shanghai Gate

For most of my life I was content -- happy, even -- to slurp down the thick, sugary sauces of American Chinese food. Was it authentic? Uh-uh. Was it more exciting than American American food? Uh-huh.

Then I discovered Sichuan cuisine and everything changed. The tongue numbing and transit time-speeding sensations of Sichuan peppercorns paired with chilis was a world of flavor I couldn't have imagined while still eating at places with names like Happy Garden (you'll know the worst of them by the overexposed photos of dishes hanging over the counter).

But then I realized that Sichuan Chinese food was perhaps only better than American Chinese food because it was true to region and therefore less corrupted by those diabetes-inducing creations like Orange Chicken that more resemble a deep fried Twinkie than whatever they started as.

Enter Shanghai Gate. Gone are the fireworks of Sichuan cooking but with no compromise in flavor, texture, or options for eating offal (above: pig kidney with ginger and scallion). Instead you'll find subtle flavors as humble as the modestly atired women depicted in the restaurant's logo.

At (through?) the Gate you can sample dishes you may have read about in Fuschia Dunlop's excellent books on Chinese eating. Dishes like Lion's Head Casserole: a slow cooked, sweet and anise-heavy ball of beef and rice, tender enough to eat with one of those shovel-tipped straws that come with Slurpees.

The Globe once wrote that "What you get at Shanghai Gate plain and simple is a chef who really knows how to cook." Luckily, you also get that chef's food. And you get to eat it.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tea and Food Party

I would just like to make it perfectly clear that Tea and Food is in no way affiliated with the Tea Party movement.

Tea and Food believes in bettering our society by rejuvenating our relationship with food and not by siding with militia groups and global warming deniers to resist the government. When Tea and Food feels down about our government, it remembers that delightful little organic garden on the White House lawn.

Perhaps the only thing that T&F and TP have in common is dried beans: I've been meaning to eat more of the heirloom Jacob's Cattle beans I received in my winter CSA, and Tea Partygoers have been meaning to stock up on cans of pintos to survive the coming Civil War that they wish to incite yet feel they have no choice in avoiding.

Again, Tea and Food has nothing to do with the Tea Party movement. I support local agriculture because it enhances communities and because small scale farms produce more flavorful fruits and vegetables, and not because I think the Federal Reserve was created to control my mind and that I need to grow my own corn in order to survive the oncoming clash.

If, however, anyone out there would like to start a rabid grassroots initiative called the Tea and Food Party Movement, I won't stop you. In fact, I'll bring the whole grain cookies.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Elegant, Vegan Dessert

This is a somewhat elaborate dessert recipe, but a good one nonetheless. And if you use dark chocolate, it's vegan.

Recipe: Raw Ginger and Dark Chocolate Sandwich


2 small squares of dark, fairly traded, organic, communist chocolate
1 thick slice of raw ginger root, peel on

1. Carefully snap the pieces of chocolate from the bar. Snap another and eat that one too.

2. Slice off a thick slab of raw ginger root. Stick your nose in the freshly cut root and deeply inhale.

3. Place the ginger between the slices of chocolate, pinching between your fingers to keep in place.

4. Garnish with nothing, serve by putting in your mouth.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Latest

Pick up a copy of tomorrow's Boston Globe for my latest article, or if you personally want to be responsible for the death of old media, click here:

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"A" Perfect Meal

For those of you who read Anthony Bourdain's book on the perfect meal, you'll recall the cop-out ending in which he declares that there is no such thing as the perfect meal.

Neither the Bedouin-roasted lamb testicle nor the still-beating heart of a cobra took the title, and in the end I think he said that the ribs he was eating while writing the epilogue were just as good as anything else he'd had because of the context (a beach in the Caribbean, with his wife).

As Bittman (and probably many other people) says, perfection is often the enemy of good enough. So while "the" perfect meal may not exist, I realize that very often I eat "a" perfect meal. Last night's dinner, which is today's lunch as I type, was one such repast. (Note: I want credit as the first person in the history of the English language to use the word "repast" without also saying "sumptuous.")

Elise and I reconstructed a cauliflower soup we had at Chez Panisse, baked cornbread and perfectly blanched and shocked some kale. That's it.

"The" perfect meal? Well it's no lamb's testicle, but certainly "a" perfect meal. It was delicious, it adhered to my food ethics, and we weren't struck by lightning while eating it. Let's not forget to be thankful for the little things.

We've been making black pepper flecked cauliflower purees since before our pilgrimage to Chez Panisse, but it wasn't until after our meal there that we hijacked their swirl of (what I hope really is) truffle oil. The cornbread was made with cornmeal from Pete's Greens, neglected since the summer but still perfectly good, and the kale was as good as kale gets: kale cooked even one moment too long, unless in that awesome Portugese soup with sausage and potatoes, is grey, squishy, pathetic, and the kind of thing that vegetarians deserve to be made fun of for.

There was no meat, but there were ghosts of animals. Chicken stock in the soup, bacon grease in the cornbread pan (which made for a crackly, brown crust), butter on the bread. To someone who doesn't eat meat, these might seem like unnecessary corruptions. To someone who does, they're a beautiful compromise.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quote of the Day

"They're happy because they eat butter!"

From the Weston A. Price Foundation's website.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is Kosher Greener?

Thanks to Jay for sending me this article from Slate. It's an interesting read for anyone like me who has wondered if the ancient foods laws of kashrut and halal match up with the newer school (though many would argue that it's not new at all) of food purity: sustainability.

So is kosher meat better for the environment than the non-kosher alternative at the supermarket? According to this article, no.

Essentially a kosher animal is one that is raised exactly the same as a non-kosher animal (in a feedlot, on antibiotics, without massages) until the moment it is killed. While a kosher animal may be killed more humanely (an overlap with sustainability), by that point the environmental damage has already been done. Kosher meat may technically fit the criteria followed by observant Jews, but it does little more for the animal, the planet, or the eater. If you want to eat kosher and eat green, you need to look for eco-kosher certification.

As I've said before, if I have the choice between a sustainably raised pig and kosher, supermarket chicken, I take Michael Pollan's advice before the lord's. Kudos to those who are making it easier to do both.

What's really interesting to me is that if you were to raise animals the way Jews did in the ancient days, by default you would end up with eco-kosher. So really the enemy is modernity.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Winter Shrimp Boil

While skating over (refrozen) ice fishing holes on Fort Pond last weekend, I was reminded of another way to keep it local in a New England winter: eating ice. Also, fishing.

Unlike crops, fish don't die in the winter, so we can kill them and eat them. Last night I had the chance to eat many, many marine creatures thanks to sometimes T&F contributors Dave and Karen.

They participate in the Cape Ann Fresh Catch seafood CSA (or "CSF") and receive alternating pick-ups of shrimp and fish, fishing conditions permitting. To make up for a missed share last week, yesterday they received a whole cod plus five pounds of shrimp, a pairing my friend Amanda called "surf n' surf."

You would not believe how much shrimp five pounds of shrimp is. At a restaurant, shrimp is stingily doled out by count: a skewer of four, one per summer roll. Last night the four of us ate as much shrimp as we possibly could, the shrimp was as delicious as imaginable, yet shrimp remained.

Even a rubbery, defrosted and then overcooked, farm raised Indonesian shrimp that's destroying the environment is still pretty tasty, but these were a different ball game altogether. I often bring up the backyard tomato anology and it applies perfectly here; everyone knows how much better a homegrown tomato is than its pale and mealy supermarket cousin, but not everyone realizes that everything is like that. Whether it's a leaf of sage from your herb pot or a shrimp hauled in that morning, fresh, local, real food is always as different from the alternative as those two tomatoes are from one another.

Every shrimp was like a little lobster. The flesh was as supple as cotton candy, the flavor sweet like the finest, freshest butter and not at all "fishy." Most were teaming with (what I hope was) roe, a delicacy within a delicacy. The heads were a pleasure to suck and contained a more concentrated dose of shrimpiness than rest of the body combined, besides a couple of bitter ones that must have been thinking dark thoughts when the net was hoisted. I'm glad they were stopped before they could act on their impulses, whatever those were (probably "let's eat some more sh*t!").

Dave being a Marylander, the shrimp was prepared a la boil and quickly steamed in a pot that contained shrimp stock (from a previous week's shells), white wine, a little heat, Stillman Farm sausage (another CSA), potatoes, and corn.

Of course fresh locally grown corn can't be found for a thousand miles in any direction, and the boil is generally a summer thing, but the novelty factor served as a bright light in these cold, dark days. It was a decidely unseasonable way to feast on an otherwise seasonally available ingredient: (too much) shrimp.

Now isn't that better than eating ice?

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