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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Broccoli and Wild Rice Salad


one head broccoli, cut up small and blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water
1-2 chicken breasts, seasoned and grilled, then cubed
handful of tart cherries, either preserves or dried
1/2 c wild rice, boiled in 2 c. stock covered for an hour
salt and pepper to taste
Mix together, then add cherry vinegar and olive oil--about an 1/8 c. of each and toss. Add more dressing if needed.
I got broccoli and tart cherry preserves in my Taproot CSA box this week and somehow this just cried out for wild rice to me. This has a wonderful whole grain flavor with a fruity finish.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Apricots and Strawberries


1/2 lb. apricots, sliced
1 pt. straw
berries, sliced
1 tbs. Cherry
preserves
1/3 c. orange
juice
Chiffoned fresh
mint leaves

Combine the fruit and preserves, and gently toss together. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then toss with the orange. Toss with the mint shortly before serving.
This could be a brunch fruit salad, or part of dessert, with a lemon pound cake, and some whipped cream--allowing for a healthy option, all the way up to an indulgent one. This is adapted from Martha Shulman's recipe, and while she advocates for cherries in place of strawberries and uses honey where I use some tart cherries.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tortilla Espanola


4 potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
Salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, quartered & thinly sliced
6 large eggs
Freshly ground pepper

This dish can be found throughout Spain in cafes and is delicious warm or room temperature. I like it best the next day, room temperature. The flavors have a chance to mesh, and the potato especially is much better. If you make it and aren't happy with the seasoning, let it sit overnight and try it again in the morning.

Directions

1. I like this lower fat preparation of boiling the potatoes instead of frying them. In a large saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water, add 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 7 minutes. Drain the potatoes and rinse under cold running water.
2. In a heavy 12-inch ovenproof skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onions and cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until golden brown, ~10 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Gently stir in the potatoes and onions and season generously with salt and pepper.
4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Add the egg mixture and cook over moderate heat undisturbed until the bottom of the tortilla is lightly cook over medium heat covered, about 5-6 minutes. Use a plate to slide the tortilla out of pan, then put the frying pan on top (careful! It is hot!) and flip over--cook 5-6 minutes covered on the other side.
5. Loosen the tortilla from the pan by running the tip of a knife around the edge. Place a round platter over the pan and invert. Cut into wedges and serve hot or room temperature.
I got a dozen wonderful eggs this week from my Taproot CSA, and this is how I used half of them.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Age of Entanglement by Louisa Gilder


What I know about physics could be summed up by an AP Physics student--perhaps better than I could say it myself. So I come to this book with no more than a simple understanding of the science. Gilder attempts to cover the two theories in physics that have changed and are still changing the world a century after they were first put forth--relativity and quantum mechanics. And while relativity is something you can wrap your mind around, quantum mechanics was far from intuitive. Gilder spends the first half of the book describing the world of academic physicists pre-World War II, when collaboration was the rule, and scientists moved across borders frequently, published papaers together, and modified theories amongst themselves. But quantum mechanics posed problems that were difficult to resolve in this manner and the war forced physicists to take sides--in a way that mattered a great deal.

In the Cold World atmosphere that followed, progress was more fractured, and academia was tainted with politics--luckily, the book gets more coherent at this point, because the theories get harder to follow.
From the New York Times Review:
"Bell’s theorem, stated in a 1964 paper: You cannot have a theory consistent with his experimental predictions of quantum mechanics and have that theory describe the world in a completely local way. To put it differently, we may be troubled by various aspects of quantum physics and hope it can be replaced by some other theory that will capture its predictions but go deeper, giving a local, un-entangled account. But Bell showed that if a certain measurable inequality was confirmed experimentally, it would follow that any successor theory to quantum physics you tried to write would itself exhibit one of the strangest features of quantum theory: it will still be non-local."

The second half of the book is material that is more modern but that I am less aware of. It focus' on the work being done by a handful on contemporary physicists in CERN, and bell was the premier thorist of the bunch, known as 'the oracle of CERN'. Which is saying something. The world of modern physics has changed horses--the age of theroy has been replace by the age of experiments, and the knots of quantum mechanics are being gradually detangled.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Taproot CSA


Taproot Farm is an endeavor that is based in love and sustainability. The duality of that commitment is important in every undertaking they begin and we are thrilled to be part of their move into the world of Community Supported Agriculture. We often travel four to five weeks of the summer, and have a hectic fall schedule as well, but this summer, we are largely home, and eager to cook using seasonal fruits and vegetables. So this is a dream come true, with exquisite timing. I am eager to make things that are driven by what I have on hand plus what I get. Click on the link in the title to explore Taproots multi-layered website, and learn more about what they are building in North English.

The CSA is planning to have things more than the usual fruits and vegetables, as they are making things and they started out on a great foot.
Here is what we got in our first week's box:
*Sesame semolina bread, Prairie Flour Bakery, Iowa City
*Tart Cherry preserves, cherries, Megan Koppenhafer, Oxford
*Flowers, Anna's Cutting Garden, Oxford
*Eggs, Taproot Farm, North English
*Cucumbers, scallions, broccoli, and beets, Scattergood Farm, West Branch
*Basil, Jon's garden, Iowa City

I first trimmed out the dead flowers from the garden flowers I harvested at my house last weekend, and combined them with the flowers I got and had a lovely bouquet (pictured above). I made a soup with the beets and beet greens, plus the white part of the scallions. The green scallion went into a cucumber salad, and I made a salad with the broccoli, adding wild rice and some of the tart cherry preserves. I made the basil into a pesto and used some of it to season a chicken noodle soup. I have some additional ideas for how to use the rest of the bounty (the bread is a levain batard with a wonderful sour flavor, so we are enjoying that 'as is').

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bubby's Brunch Cookbook by Ron Silver


I have over 500 cookbooks, but I would recommend this cookbook, even for a small collection. Why? It has a couple of nice features. One is that there are very few brunch cookbooks and it is definitely top-tier in a small field. Another is the array of menus at the beginning of the book. They are seasonal, arranged through the calendar year around events that you might choose to host a brunch. The New Year's brunch features black eyed peas, and the Easter menu has ham--so you will definitely have seasonally key dishes if you follow the menus, and that is a great feature if you are not a native. The menus have the page numbers for the recipes featured, which seems obvious but is only included in about half of cookbooks. There are recipes that I do not have for two things I like to make--coffeecakes and stratas (savory bread puddings). They are both things that you can make the night before so you don't have to be up at the crack of dawn to serve a crowd at noon. The only quarrel I have with it is that there are very few photographs and more of those would have been nice.

Apple Streusel Coffee Cake (adapted from the cookbook)
1 c. Butter
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
2 3/4 c. flour
1 c. non-fat yogurt
4 c. finely diced apple
Cream butter and sugar, add the next two ingredients with a dash of salt if using unsalted butter, blend. Add eggs and vanilla until incorporated. Add flour alternating with yogurt (end with flour). Add apples. Top with brown sugar mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger. You can add nuts too, if you like. About a cup of brown sugar should do it.
Bake in 9 x 13 pan at 350 for 40 minutes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Road


The movie is even darker than the book. Perhaps that is because it really is dark. No light kind of dark. Nuclear winter dark. You can hardly see dark. They are both dark in the grim world view sense of the world--the book and the movie share that. The book is more graphic in the pervasive depths that surviving men have stooped to--we do not see gang rapes, merely cannibals who keep their future meals incarcerated, and we are left to imagine the worst. Charlie Theron plays the mother, who opts for suicide rather than face that fate herself and she begs the father to let her take their son with her, but he cannot and she does not push it. Viggo Mortenson show once again that he has the capacity to sympathetically express all sorts of men, to make them real for audiences. His body language is pitch perfect here, as the gaunt, haunted, dying father trying to find a ray of hope for his son before his own life ends.

The review I have linked to from the New York Times does not think the movie is bleak enough to really capture the end of the world--well, perhaps not, but it is definitely at the edge of the bleakness that one can manage to watch. The landscape is burnt earth--maybe exacerbated by nuclear winter. There are no bugs, no rodents, none of the things that you would think would outlive man in a catastrophe. the bleakness is oppressive. Who should watch this movie? Someone who thinks it will never happen. Or who thinks it will be okay if it does.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Strawberries and Whipped Cream


1 1/3 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. nonfat yogurt
3/4 c. butter, melted
1 Tbs. lemon zest
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Mix all dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ones in another. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Butter and flour a 9" x 2" round cake pan. Put batter into pan, level top. Bake at 350 for 40-45 min. Unmold cake, serve dusted with confectionery sugar on top, with strawberries and a dab of whip cream.
This cake is a wonderful blend of the earthiness of the cornmeal and the tart fruitiness of the strawberries. And it is a snap to make as well. It is adapted from Tish Boyle's 'The Cake Book'.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Singapore Beef Satay


1-1/2 pounds rib-eye steaks, cut 1/2 inch thick

For the marinade:

3 Tbs. light brown sugar
2 Tbs. ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons nam pla
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions:
Cut each steak, including the fat, into 1 inch strips (each 1/4 inch thick) and place in a nonreactive mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar, coriander, turmeric, cumin, pepper, fish sauce, and vegetable oil. Marinate the beef, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and as long as overnight.

Thread the beef strips onto bamboo skewers leaving the bottom half of each skewer exposed as a handle and the top 1/4-inch of the skewer exposed as a point. The recipe can be prepared several hours ahead to this stage.

Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Brush and oil the grill grate.

Arrange the sates on the grate, sliding the grill shield or folded foil under the exposed part of the skewers to keep them from burning. Grill until cooked to taste, about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side for medium rare, a little longer for medium. (In general, Southeast Asians eat their sates medium to medium-well.) Serve with Singapore Cucumber Relish and Singapore Peanut Sauce if desired.
Note: the traditional way to eat sate is to skewer a piece of cucumber on the pointed end of the skewer, then dip the sate in the peanut sauce.

Singapore Cucumber Relish

1 medium cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
1 small shallot or green onion, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 small hot red chili, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the cucumbers into 1/4-inch dice. Place the cucumbers, shallot, chile, vinegar, and sugar in a mixing bowl and gently toss to mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Singapore Peanut Sauce

5 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, 2 cloves minced and 3 cloves thinly sliced crosswise
1 shallot, minced
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced
1 to 3 small hot chiles, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice (or to taste)
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a wok or saucepan over medium high heat. Add the 2 cloves minced garlic, shallot, lemongrass, chiles, and dried shrimp (if using). Fry until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 minutes.

Stir in the peanut butter, coconut milk, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce (if using in place of dried shrimp), lime juice, and 3/4 cup water. Reduce heat and gently simmer the sauce until thick but pourable and richly flavored, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the cilantro the last 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a small frying pan. Add the sliced garlic and fry over medium heat until just beginning to brown. Do not burn or the garlic will become bitter. Drain the garlic through a strainer over a heatproof bowl.

Just before serving, stir the fried garlic slices into the sauce. Sauce should be thick but not pasty: add a tablespoon or so of water as needed. Correct the seasoning, adding sugar, salt, and/or pepper to taste.

This is from the Planet BBQ cookbook, and it is amazing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Planet Barbecue by Steve Raichlen


This is the best barbecue cookbook we have ever used. The recipes are straight forward, easy to follow, and delicious. There is a fair amount of barbecue history here, and where appropriate, history of the place that the recipe comes from. We have cooked a number of dishes from here (the favorite so far is the Singapore Beef Satay, but the Cumin Chicken with Llajua Sauce was delicious, as was the Peruvian Kebabs, and the the Malaysian marinated flank steak).
Here is an example of a side sauce that is unusual and easy.

Sweet Sour Mint Sauce

1 cup mint jelly
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar (more or less to taste)
1 tablespoon dried mint
Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Place the ingredients in a saucepan. Gradually bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking steadily. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until the vinegar has lost its sharpness, 2 minutes. The sauce should be sweet, sour, and aromatic. Add salt and pepper to taste and more vinegar as needed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Task


Happy Father's Day!
On this day for reflecting on fatherhood, I post a poem which summarizes the task facing fathers. it is written before WWI, when Kipling's own son is failed by his father. So Kipling probably had a few more reflections on the 'what if's' of his life.

If
by Rudyard Kipling (1910)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Raygun Shirts


I got my Father's Day present at Raygun. These guys are way too hipster for me to know about them, but twice in two days I was confronted with great homegrown T-shirt art. Iowa. We are what are fondly known as the fly over states. No one plans to come here. We are on your way to someplace else. Preferably someplace that does not require you to stop here, much less be here. People are a little fuzzy on exactly where we are, as well. Iowa, Idaho, Ohio, it is all just a little too confusing for some. But those of us who live here know what it is we love about it, and we don't go around trying to get more people to come. Best of all, the weather keeps most of the riff raff out.

I am constantly amazed by how many beautiful women live here. It is a Scandinavian thing. More blondes anywhere outside of Sweden, with the possible exception of Wisconsin. But another shirt touches on a less savory fact--we are winners in the per capita methamphetamine arrest numbers, and we have been for a long time. So the Iowa: Don't Meth With Us shirt is clever, sad, and true.

The Raygun guys have some very funny apparel that doesn't require you to have midewestern roots to appreciate--
My favorite would be America! Only the Insured Survive. Followed by
Make Awkward Sexual Advances Not War.
But they really excel at poking fun at the locals.
"Iowa: Let us exceed your already low expectations!"
"Actually, we're just outside the middle of nowhere" (with clever graphic to demonstrate).
They concentrate their best stuff on Iowa, but North Dakota and Wisconsin have some winners.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Safe From the Neighbors by Steve Yarborough


Wow. Great voice on this book. I loved it from the first page onward. This is a story told the way I like to listen. Yarborough tells an interwoven story well. It is perhaps a little overplayed, but the prose is so pleasant to read it becomes a minor criticism.
The title of this book could be "What Was I Thinking" and the subtitle would then be "I Wasn't". There are several layers of stories here. The historical context is the everyday man's response to what was changing in the South during the 1960's. The story itself is about the interconnectedness of small town life, and how two people who barely know each other can share a history that changes them and their families forever, and be completely unaware of it. And then there is the familiar story of a man cheating on his wife with another woman. This is the part of the story that I am most interested in how it is told, because it is the universal theme. What can we learn about how this happens? Yarborough's take on it is that when you put one foot in front of the other, when you take the next most natural step from where you are, and never raise your head up to look at the big picture that you end up in a place that you never intended to go, and with consequences that you have not realistically considered. Our hero in this novel actually spends a period of the novel convincing himself his affair is good for his marriage. He hasn't spent a bit of time considering that his wife might leave him, and he definitely hasn't thought about how his daughters would respond to his behavior.
Instead of the little picture, Luke focuses on a man killing his wife, and who knew what when. He plays the part of writer and historian, without ever connecting his modern affair with an affair of yore, and the role he plays in history repeating itself. This is a fabulous book and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nocturnes by Kazao Ishiguro


I do not quite have a handle on this author, and this is the fourth book I have read by him (Remains of the Day, When We Were Orphans and An Artist of the Floating World). There is so much variability in the story-telling, but he reminds me a bit of Ang Lee. He either tells stories that are bittersweet and western, or he tells tales that horrific and Asian. This is the former. It is five stories that are loosely connected to each other (along the lines of Jumpa Lahiri's 'Unaccustomed Earth'), and that are also loosely connected with music. The stories are best when they reveal something about the character, and do so in a poetic and unexpected way.

The stories are successful on their own, and perhaps they are successful as musical analogies--I do not feel qualified to hazard a guess on that level. They are not successful at imparting the passionate side of the musician. The book that does that best that I have read is Vikram Seth's 'Equal Music'. The concept of weaving music into a fictional novel is a good one, but it is hard to do and to make it transparent. I liked this more than any other book I have read by this very talented writer, and so the limitations I note should be viewed within that context--this is a thought-provoking collection that is well worth reading.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Asparagus Gratin


1/2 cup milk
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1 bunch fresh spring asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/8 cup grated fontina cheese
1/8 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Fresh lemon juice, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Set oven temperature to 400 degrees.
4. In a mixing bowl combine asparagus, wine, milk, fontina, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Mix well and place in a gratin dish that is about 10 inches long and 4 inches wide, or an other shallow, ovenproof baking dish. Top with panko. Bake until asparagus are tender, the sauce is bubbling and the top is turning golden, 15-18 minutes. Spritz with lemon juice, and serve hot.
Adapted from Joey Campanaro's recipe from the New York Times--A great use of asparagus!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt


THis book is a mixed bag. I have read a dozen or more books and seen dozens of movies that have depicted the devastating effect of World War I on Britain, but for me, this book is the best yet. It captured the unbearable sadness related to the crushing of hope and the reality of man's brutality to man. The book is long, probably too long, and it is hard to catch the central message--and perhaps there isn't one--for all the details, some of which are tiresome.
It is most successful at describing a complex web of inter-relationships between a wide number of characters from various walks of life. The social class and prejudices of the time, as well as the effect of a rising role for women, comes across in a palatable manner that helps to better understand what England and the turn of the century were like.
The aspect I like least about the book is the thread related to it's title--the children's book author, Olive Wellwood. Apparently, Byatt has some deep-seated resentment for those adults amongst us who clamored for Harry Potter, and therefore neglected more deserving children's authors. I wish she had taken those feeling to her therapist's office rather than regale the reader with them--when the book diverts into Olive's world it is at it's weakest. The 'excerpts' from the book are too long, and building a dislike of Olive could have been done more expertly and in less time in another manner. The fact that she writes children's books is a distraction. As are many of the details of the book. It is brilliantly written, so these criticisms, while real, do not mean the book shouldn't be read. Rather they are lamentations that the book could have been so much better, perhaps even a classic.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Oil Spill is My Fault Too


Two things. The first is that the response to the gushing oil leak on the bottom on the Caribbean Sea is not just BP's problem. It is not just the government's problem. It is the problem of every person who is using an unsustainable amount of fossil fuels in their day to day life. That would include me.
It is distressingly rare to hear someone say "What can I do?" If it were not so consistent it would be amusing that all the people who want small government seem to also want the government to have a limitless ability to respond quickly and effectively to a range of man-made and environmental disasters. Not possible.
But what can we do to prevent this in the future? One thing is to decrease our dependence on oil. Decrease the pressure to take these kinds of risks. There are very few of us who are doing what needs to be done in this arena, and this disaster could serve as the impetus for all of us to start actively encouraging our elected officials to step up incentives for alternative sources of energy and to upgrade the national energy grid to accomodate these alternatives.
The second is that I haven't heard much in the way of commentary on the role of regulation in all this. If we are going to drill in the ocean, then we need to verbalize what we are willing to tolerate in the way of this sort of disaster. With the airlines, we tolerate zero airplane crashes. The level of regulation and enforcement of those regulations reflects that. We did not have a collective voice on what was intolerable related to deep water drilling. So long as we depend on oil and it exists under the ground, whether that ground is above water or underwater will probably not matter. We need to determine the cost we will pay to get it, and then enforce those regulations.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Artist in Treason by Andro Linklater


The link I have posted is to an article in the New York Times by Gordon Wood (who is the only History professor I ever had--what my education lacks in depth it makes up for in quality). Wood compares two recent biographies, one of George Washington, and this one of James Wilkinson. The era of early American history is the area of expertise for Wood, so when he calls this the best available biography of the finely feathered general, he know what he is talking about. He also calls it a good read.
I picked this up when I heard the author speaking about it on NPR. Wilkinson was on the Spanish pay roll as a spy for much of his adult life, and it was curiously well known that he was either a spy or a double agent. He lived in the Louisiana purchase, where apparently allegiances were shifting at best and mixed at worst, depending on who controlled the territory. Wilkinson was a decorated Revolutionary War hero, a vain and pompous man who was a disaster at business, and so needed to become a spy to support himself in the style to which he had become accustomed. He was tried for espionage several times, and used his charm and the usual weakness of the case against him to elude legal ramifications. He even encouraged Spain to stop Lewis and Clark, giving up their route westward so they could be intercepted. Fortunately, his talent as a spy did not appear to eclipse his talent at taking care of himself. The book is largely a good read--it is slow in places, occasionally shifting back in time, which is confusing, but overall I would recommend it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chicken Pho


Ingredients
i onion, sliced
Three 1/2-inch-thick slices of fresh ginger, smashed
8 cups rich chicken stock
2 tablespoons nam pla
1 pound dried rice noodles
1 scallion, thinly sliced
4 cups mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup torn basil leaves
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 jalapeƱo, thinly sliced
basil leaves and other fresh herbs
shredded roast chicken
Asian chili-garlic sauce and hoisin sauce, for serving
Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Put the onions and ginger on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned--this step can be skipped--if you have wonderful stock, it can compensate for alot. The roasting adds a sweetness and flavor complexity to the soup that is wonderful. Add roasted vegetables to the stock, with nam pla.
2. In a large bowl of warm water, soak the noodles until pliable, about 20 minutes.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Drain the noodles, then add them to the saucepan and boil over high heat until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well. Transfer the noodles to 4 large bowls and sprinkle with the scallion.
3. Ladle the broth and chicken over the noodles. Serve with the bean sprouts, basil, lime wedges, jalapeƱos, fresh herbs, chili-garlic sauce and hoisin sauce.
Joel and I went to a pho restaurant when we were in Washington, DC last month, and the take home message for us was that this seemed pretty easy to prepare at home--the only critical thing is to get fresh bean sprouts. I made it on a week night, so I used frozen stock and a rotisserie chicken, and it was delicious (and easy--the most important thing to remember is to start with soaking the rice noodles in warm water first--this is not what it says on the package, but they cook more evenly if they are pre-soaked before boiling them, and then watch them very closely when cooking them to avoid overcooking. Everything else can be completed while they are soaking. Second is to get the vegetables roasting, but these are optional).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Carnaroli Rice


When Napoleon Bonaparte was ceded the Lucedio Estate in 1807, it's hard to imagine he intended to spend the time and effort that its future owner, Count Paolo Cavalli d'Olivola, would spend to grow Italy's finest rice. But when the Count handed the 800 year old farm over to his daughter Countess Rosetta Clara, her mission was clear--make the absolute best rice for risotto possible--and she did.

Carnaroli is the preferred rice of Piemontese chefs, and after the risotto I had made with the Lucedio carnaroli this past week, I have to agree with them--the larger grain holds more starch per grain--so the final product takes more stock than Arborio, and has more flavor as well as plumping up, with a velvety texture. The rice is very difficult to grow and with a small yield per stalk, so growing carnaroli is a labor of love on the Lucedio Estate. The link in the title takes you to the best price for this rice I could find.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Real Cajun by Donald Link


We ate at Donald Link's two New Orleans Warehouse District restaurants on a recent trip, and decided that his cookbook would be worth trying out. Usually I take cookbooks out of the library in order to try them out, but after reading about the book, knowing that it had won the James Beard award in the American Cookbook section, and eating his food for a couple of nights, I decided to take the plunge, and I am glad that I did. The cookbook has a very chatty quality to it--the author opens with a recipe for making four pounds of bacon, and he thereby sets the tone for what is to follow.
This is a cookbook for home cooks. It is home-style. Some recipes are for families, but he shares his Super Bowl Sunday jambalaya, which is gargantuan in portions (also, somewhat of a challenge to get all the ingredients in the land-locked Midwest). And everyone that we have tried to date has been fabulous (see previous posts on crawfish gumbo and dinner rolls). Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips


“Lark and Termite” takes a few sentences from one of my favorite authors. It borrows from William Faulkner and “The Sound and the Fury” for one of its three epigraphs: “Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to a man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”
The comparison with Faulkner does not begin or end there--the story is moving and sad, complicated and simple. Lark is 17, living with her aunt and her half brother Termite, a boy who is profoundly developmentally disabled. Her mother shot herself upon being widowed in the Korean War. She discovers that her father is the ex of her aunt--that her mother has conspired to provide them with a child they could not have themselves--they no longer have each other (such acts carry consequences) but they share Lark.
At the beginning of the story there is a flood, one that disrupts all the characters lives in the story in different ways, and leads them on different paths, with different knowledge than they had before the water rose. Great story telling and great imagery permeate this highly recommended book.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nottoway Plantation


This was the last of four plantations that I visited on a recent trip. We made our way to this grand home, the most luxurious that we saw, after having spent the night at the Madewood plantation. The house is not just bigger than other houses we looked at but also much more plushly detailed--perhaps that is becasue it is the only house that has been continuously inhabited throughout it's history. One house we saw had a herd of cattle run through it, damaging the marble floors beyond repair (well, I would have tried to do a Gaudi-inspired mosaic, but I suspect my thoughts on decorating are not going to be much appreciated.

One highlight of the house for me was the dining room. The table was set with Sevres china (apparently this china comes in four colors: pink, blue, green, and yellow--the china of the original house was pink, but the same style as the table was set, with different scenes depicted in the center of each plate, you you might wonder which one you were eating of of tonight. I loved all the fine detail, down to the crystal knife shelves. So convenient.

The moulding around the doorways and ceilings throughout the whole first floor were spectacular. It surprises me that I think htat, because I usually uch prefer simpler lines and decoration, but these really worked with the house, and have been well preserved. They are of humble origin (mud and horsehair) but once painted add an elegant touch. I would recommend a visit, and if traveling as a couple, an overnight stay either here or at Madewood (which is more modest in price, not open as a tour house without an appointment, and dinner is included with the room).

Monday, June 7, 2010

It Hurts to Watch the Birds


I have seen the aerial photos of the oil spilling, still spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil rig. I have seen fires, and booms to prevent it from coming ashore. But somehow the thing that breaks my heart is birds covered in oil, looking bewildered, and often frightened, cold, emaciated, dehydrated, exhausted and suffering from the internal effects of oil. So what can be done for these guys? Take them to a rescue center ASAP, it turns out--they need expert help.

What will they do there? Initial procedures may involve cleaning the eyes, nasal and oral passages of oil and dirt, applying saline eye solution, giving oral fluids and activated charcoal solution, but not washing.
To wash a bird that is already highly stressed and not medically stable could mean death. Apparently, many oiled bird's die because well-meaning people, anxious to get oil off the bird, wash it immediately. It is actually more important to give oiled birds the much needed nutrition, hydration and medical treatment they need before they are washed.
Once stable, oiled birds go through a series of tub washes alternating between baths with a one percent solution of Dawn dishwashing liquid and clean water. The wash time varies depending on the amount of oil, and the size of the bird, but on average it takes two people 45 minutes and 300 gallons of water to do a thorough washing.
After being washed, the birds are put in cages with warm air dryers. The final steps are to put them in warm water pools, where they continue to preen, and finally into cold pools. Birds in rehabilitation are checked constantly to make sure that they are completely waterproofed and when their blood work and weight are in the normal range, they are banded and released.
I learned that Procter and Gamble has made countless donations of Dawn dishwashing liquid over the years for bird cleaning operations--thank you for this largely unsung contribution to decreasing suffering.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus


McManus, a poker player of some renown himself, has written several books about the game. One is a memoir of the time he finished fifth in the World Series of Poker, and in others he recounts celebrated poker stories. This book is a copious recounting of the game itself.
McManus starts at the very beginning--when paper-making came from the East to the West. From there he goes on to describe the making of cards, and what cards looked like and were used for. This all has a very non-American feel to it. But McManus' thesis is that poker is an American game. It is a marriage of the Puritan and the cowboy in one. The combination represents a tempering balance of dualities: steadiness and adventure, calculation and risk, skill and chance, caution and greed, the cool reality of numbers interacting with the warm reality of luck — getting hot or not. That is the recipe that makes poker a great American invention.
Love the game, or not, this is a great read. There are numerous good stories that revolve around the game--both old and new--and there is a very good description of the game itself, what the terminology is, and what is good poker etiquette. It is also a very quick read, and well worth it.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Roasting Beets


Roasting beets is as simple as it gets--put them in the oven that you have on for another reason. 375-400 degrees is the best, and it takes about an hour. Take them out and let them cool down before attempting to peel them (I usually fail at this step--I haven't gotten them out enough ahead of when I need them is often the case. One way to avoid this pitfall is to roast them a day ahead of when you need them. They hold beautifully in the fridge for a week). Peel and slice into bite sized pieces, and use them in green salads. I like beets and blue cheese together, which I served earlier this week. I also like beets and orange slices with an orange juice dressing. They pair nicely with toasted pecans as well. Roasting brings out the beet's rich sweetness which is hard to resist.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Louisiana Voodoo


Voodoo is alive and well in New Orleans. It was brought to the French colony Louisiana through the slaves. From 1719 to 1731, the majority of African slaves came directly from West Africa, and they brought their cultural practices, language, and religious beliefs rooted in spirit and ancestor worship with them. The practice of making and wearing charms and amulets for protection, healing, or the harm of others was a key aspect to early Louisiana Voodoo. The ouanga, a charm used to poison an enemy, contained the poisonous roots of the figure maudit tree, combined with other elements such as bones, nails, roots, holy water, or crucifixes. The administrator of the ritual frequently evoked protection from Allah, the Christian God, and Jesus Christ. This openness of African belief allowed for the adoption of Catholic practices into Louisiana Voodoo.

Most noted for her achievements as voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 1830’s was Marie Laveau (grave pictured here, but the St. Louis #1 Cemetery). Once the news of her powers spread, she successfully overthrew the other voodoo queens of New Orleans. She acted as an oracle, conducted private rituals behind her cottage on St. Ann Street of the New Orleans French Quarter, performed exorcisms, and offered sacrifices to spirits. Also a devout Catholic, Marie encouraged her followers to attend Catholic Mass. The influence of her Catholic beliefs further facilitated the adoption of Catholic practices into the Voodoo belief system. Today, she is remembered for her skill and compassion for the less fortunate, and her spirit is considered one of the central figures of Louisiana Voodoo.

Many still firmly believe that she can still grant blessings from the grave. The blessing will cost you an offering of zombie brand candles, flowers, food, or money. There is an urban legend which states if you mark her tomb with “XXX” using chalk or brick that she will grant a wish. There are different versions on how to practice this old ritual. Voodoo practitioners state that this practice has nothing to do with Voodoo beliefs. The Voodoo practitioners and historical preservationists strongly discourage marking the graves because it is disrespectful and causes damage to the grave.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Invictus


Clint Eastwood is a master at making a movie that appears to be all about a sport, but really is all about something entirely different. The slightly off kilter viewpoint allows us to relax and think about what the subtext might mean to us.
The setting is 1994-1995 South Africa. Nelson Mandela has become president after a bloody and contentious battle with the ruling white minority. Tension is high, and he is mindful that the stakes are high. If they respond in kind now that they have power, the world will isolate them, and while the former oppressors no longer rule, they have all the financial clout and the new government will ultimately fail because the economy will implode.

So, how is this a sports movie? The tale revolves around the South African Rugby team--which is not particularly good. And it is even less popular with the black South Africans--they are soccer people, and they see rugby as another symbol of white oppression. So when Mandela puts his political good will behind rooting for the team, he does so as an olive branch to white South Africans, and as away to unify a country that is badly divided. He states that in his 27 years in jail he studied his enemy at close hand, and will use everything he learned to bring peace of a sort to his homeland. Nicely done.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Buttermilk Dinner Roll Rhapsody


3 T. active dry yeast
2 cups warmed buttermilk
1 T. kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar or honey
½ teaspoon soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ cup melted shortening
5+ cups flour
Combine the flour, buttermilk, yeast, salt and honey in the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix on medium till the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (See this post on Bread Baking Basics for more info on mixing and rising: http://blog.ruhlman.com/2009/08/bread-baking-basics.html)

Cover and let rise till doubled in volume (dough shouldn’t bounce back when you press a finger into it). This will take at least two hours, maybe three or more depending on the temperature of your dough and the temperature of your kitchen.

Turn the dough out onto your counter and give it a good knead. Divide the dough into equal portions and form each into a tight boule by rolling it on the counter. Spray or butter a pan. Fit the boules into it, each with some space around them and some amount that will touch as they rise, about 12 per 9 x 13 pan, cover it with a towel and let the dough rise for an hour.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

When the rolls have risen again, bake them for 40 minutes (to an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees F). Let them rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Crawfish Gumbo


2 c. diced peppers
2 c. diced celery
2 c. diced onion
2 T. olive oil
1. tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 c. flour
8 c. shrimp stock
1 lb. sliced okra
2 lbs. cooked and peeled crawfish
salt and pepper to taste
Serve hot sauce on the side
Sautee vegetables in olive oil--once they begin to wilt, add spices. Add flour, and incorporate, stirring often, until flour has browned. Add stock and okra, cook until the okra is soft. Add crawfish, and season. Serve in a bowl with a scoop of rice on top.
I adapted this from Donald Link's 2009 cookbook 'Real Cajun', and made it for my parents. It was delicious!