Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quote of the Day

From Mark Bittman's post about why he's fasting to protest "Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry." He writes:

"This isn’t about skepticism, however; it’s about ironies and outrages. In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food — and still run out monthly — and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time."

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rabbit Confit

On my weekend off while teaching Shakespeare in VT last summer, my cohorts and I tooled around the Northeast Kingdom sampling its many delicacies. Before reaching Parker Pie for lunch, we saw a roadside sign whose gravitational pull had turned the wheel of my car before my brain knew what was happening. I believe it said "custom meat processing," or something along those lines.

I left with a frozen rabbit and having gotten a tour of the walk-in fridges where moose and bear sometimes hang. I don't have the name of the place with me, but my dear friend Maria Gould wrote a profile of the processor in a recent issue of Meatpaper.

The bunny hibernated in my freezer for several months until I worked up the nerve to make a confit. I had made neither rabbit nor confit before, and I was a little skeptical. Why use a technique that requires tons of fat when I know I'd be perfectly happy with a much leaner, cheaper braise?

While breaking down the bunny I was confronted with its very animal-like animalness. This is was no chicken or cow whose friendly shape has been ingrained in my food psyche since childhood. This was no animal: this was a creature. It's shape made me think of my dog, and I don't want to eat my dog. We should always experience such reflection before chowing down on something that used to walk (or hop) this earth.

I slid the bunny parts into a warm bath of olive oil along with a sliced bulb of fennel, a handful of kumquats from a recent trip to FL, rosemary, garlic, and a heaping handful of juniper berries.

Several hours later, the rabbit, and everything else for that matter, was succulent and tender. I pulled the meat and put it back into the aromatic fat along with the spices, fruit and veggies until I could decide on what to do with my rich bounty.

Our preferred method -- largely due to expediency -- was to simply pour some of the confit over slices of slightly toasted homemade bread. We also ate it tossed with steamed potatoes, and I'm sure it would have been lovely over pasta, though we didn't get to that.

The juniper berries were musky and spicy, the kumquats sweet and tangy, the fennel fennely. Was it good? Of course it was good. Who, besides a vegetarian, vegan, rabbit, or olive, wouldn't enjoy gads of golden olive oil laced with butter soft bunny flesh?

But would I ever make it again? Nope. I respect the technique of preserving meat with fat, but I'd just as soon do a braise and put the leftovers in the freezer.


Recipe Question: Do you miss them?

I much prefer the story of a dish to its nuts and bolts, and while I used to include more recipes, I would rather give you the gist of an idea and have you experiment with it than just follow my marching orders. That said, I want to know your preference. So shoot me a comment letting me know if you a) want me to keep including recipes b) like it this way or c) are a Russian spambot trying to redirect traffic to your scam.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

3... 4... 1!

Yan can make mincing garlic and ginger look like a magic trick, and, as his theory goes, therefore... so can you! Though you may find yourself halving his enthusiasm.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Corn According to Onion

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So Long, Dubious Friend

At long last, I'm bidding a bittersweet farewell to my trusty non-stick pan.

It's a sweet occasion because with the pan's passing, I'm stirred to remember all of the tractionless pancakes, slippery pasta dishes and unhindered tortillas we made in this baby. It's a bitter moment because I'm concerned that the gashes in the pan's fragile coating were starting to give us cancer.

When the non-stick coating finally wore through, my fears of being poisoned by this mysterious technology became too great, and I decided to cut my losses. So it's back to cast iron, until an omelet sticks, at which point I'll probably go crawlin' back to sweet, sweet perfluorooctanoic acid.

But hey, it's low-fat.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No-Knead Bread, Five Years Late

Cast your mind back to 2006. Al Gore informed America that the planet was getting warmer as jeans grew skinnier and the Chinese River Dolphin was declared extinct. And who can forget sitting on the edge of their seat as Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encycylical?

But the number one thing I heard in '06 was "You have to see Little Miss Sunshine!!!" I never did. The number two thing I heard was "you have to try Mark Bittman's no-knead bread!" I did, five years later.

First off, you were all wrong. It wasn't Mark Bittman's no-knead bread, it was Jim Lahey's, and Bittman made that clear. But as I recently learned, Lahey is as good of a baker as Bittman is a publicist. This bread really is the best that you can make at home.

However the title of "no-knead" is somewhat misleading. No, you don't have to knead it, but you do have to fold it a few times, flour a work surface, and handle the dough, and that's kind of like kneading. There are other bread recipes where you do none of those things -- I'll be sharing one soon -- and so the fact that this bread isn't kneaded per se is not its most distinctive quality. Someone else has probably pointed this out in the past five years, but as you can tell, I'm a little behind the Times.

Instead of Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread, as this recipe has become commonly known, a more accurate title would be Jim Lahey's Slow Rise, Low Yeast, Preheated Dutch Oven Bread. Because the technique is what sets this bread apart, and that's what gives it its perfect moisture, crumb and crust. My only problem was that our old bacon-seasoned cast iron Dutch oven (originally Elise's grandmother's) filled the kitchen with smoke as it heated. Almost makes me want to buy an enamel one. But who needs another hefty kitchen implement when you've got open windows, a damp bandanna tied like a bank robber, and an inhaler?

We made the bread as part of our new Valentine's Day tradition of having a meal at home made from whatever ingredients we want instead of eating out on what many chefs consider the worst night of the year. (In the above photo you can see Elise dramatically whisking the tinfoil off of the broccoli rabe.) Also on the menu were local oysters and defrosted chicken liver-and-Maker's Mark pâté from Christmas. Like Sylvester Stallone's character in Demolition Man, it survived the freeze quite well. In addition to baking the loaf of JLSRLYPDOB, I enacted another Bittman-influenced culinary fantasy: oven fries with pimenton aioli.

Lahey/Bittman's loaf is now available in regular, whole grain, and speedy. If you haven't tried it yet, you definitely should. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an endearing hipster dramedy to watch.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Urban Syrup

See here for my piece in yesterday's Globe about a maple syrup project in Somerville, my old stompin' grounds:

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Da Hong Pao, or Big Red Robe

While in Florida my sister gave me a small bag of Da Hong Pao light roast oolong. It was a cloudless eighty degrees at the time of this transaction, but this morning here in Mass it's only four, or negative six if you go by the mysterious "feels like" scale.

My bedroom window looked like this.

The first thing I did was brew some Da Hong Pao.

My former roommate Mark once invited me to help him work his way through a mixed case of bottles of red as he tried to discover his favorite. They were all pretty good, but when he opened the Bordeaux, I thought "yes, that is red wine." It perfectly matched my preconceived notion of what red wine should taste like. (In contrast, my first taste of whiskey was a huge letdown. As a kid I concluded that it must taste like butterscotch based on the way adults talked about it, but when I tried it, it just tasted "like burning.")

This tea is to oolong what that Bordeaux was to wine: it tastes like what I think oolong should taste like. Roasted, toasted, slightly sweet and woodsy. Like licking a drop of caramel off of seasoned cordwood.

It has none of the complexity of peachy dan cong or the floral effervesence of my beloved tung ting, which could mean that it's a fake, but it's delicious either way, and for anyone unfamiliar with this kind of tea, this could be your oolong 101.

The name Big Red Robe is said to come from an incident in which a grateful emperor sent fine garments to protect bushes whose brew had healed him from an illness. I don't know if that actually happened, but I do know that when I drank the tea on this bitterly cold morning, I felt robed.

Thanks, sis.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

More on Olives

After reading Ian's post on harvesting olives in Ramallah, my aunt-in-law Kathy wrote the following about picking them in her California backyard:

It really is fun harvesting them . . . we have two trees in our backyard and learned how to run our fingers down the branch and hear them ping into the bucket. We've been experimenting with brine curing. ( I couldn't bear to pour lye over them. :( ). Some of them are about ready to eat by now, yay. The almond trees are almost in full blossom and the beehives are all set up in the orchards. It's a different kind of snow . . .

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Root Veggie Laden Fried Rice

I've been on a fried rice for breakfast kick, and I've been experimenting with how much vegetable matter one can add while still calling it fried rice. The answer: lots.

Two factors make this breakfast almost as easy as toast. The first is that I always have a big pot of rice around for the dog, whose food we cook (ground turkey, brown rice, sweet potatoes) due to his sensitive stomach. The second is the menagerie of wacky root vegetables constantly streaming in from my winter CSA.

I pour enough oil into a pan to barely create a film across its surface. I add the chopped up veggies, which vary, but often include carrot and various radishes: daikon, black, watermelon, and "mystery." Sometimes I'll add some sliced cabbage, but the point is versatility, and every vegetable I've tried thus far (celery, spinach, turnip, leeks) has worked.

When the veggies are just beginning to soften up -- I like them crunchy and sometimes don't even bother cooking them -- I add the rice and a splash of water to rehydrate it. Then I clear everything to the sides of the pan, add another wee bit of oil, turn up the heat and crack in an egg. Sometimes I quickly scramble it, sometimes I let it fry and then mix it in. Sometimes I don't use an egg. Again, versatility is the key ingredient.

Then I plop in a scoop of chili paste and a splash of soy sauce and mix it all up. I was using sesame oil too, until I ran out, and then I found that I didn't miss it.

Fried rice can be divine, especially if you use Mark Bittman/Jean-George's crispy ginger and garlic trick and get all fancy by packing it into a ramekin before plating it. But I think of this version as morning workhorse fried rice. It's quick, it's easy, and it helps me chip away at the root veggie stash.

Another benefit is less easy to describe, but I'll try. And that is the feeling I get from eating rice, chili paste and almost-raw root veggies first thing in the morning. If toast makes me feel like I'm dangling my feet off of a happy cloud, this makes me feel like I'm planted up to the shins in warm rich dirt. It's not a bad way to feel when kicking off the day.


Recipe: Root Veggie Laden Fried Rice

about 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
about 3/4 cup finely chopped root veggies, such as carrots, radishes and turnips
1 egg
1/2 tbsp of chili paste
a dash of soy sauce
olive, canola or peanut oil, about 1 tbsp

1. Briefly saute the veggies on medium heat in a little of the oil, about three minutes.

2. Add the rice, add a splash of water, cover and cook for a few more minutes until the rice is moist and warm.

3. Clear a space in the center of the pan. Add a little more oil into the center of the pan, set heat to high, and crack in the egg. Once the white is cooked through, turn off the heat, add the chili paste and soy sauce and mix it all up.

4. If you want to get fancy, pack it into a ramekin or other mold and stamp it out onto your plate.

5. Have a grounded day.

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