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Archive for June, 2010

The Tardy Blogger strikes again…. This post dates to June 18. But just like stock, the best events need time to simmer, right?

If you’d asked me last week who my favorite TV chef was, I would have said Gareth Blackstock. Now it’s a tie.

Thursday evening Lucy and I made the voyage (there’s really no other word for it) to North Point Mall for a cooking demonstration given by Marcus Samuelsson. In case your existence is as cable-free as mine, Chef Samuelsson recently won Bravo’s Top Chef competition. He was born in Ethiopia, grew up in Sweden, trained in France, traveled the world, and moved to the U.S. to raise our national standards and our self-esteem when it comes to our relationship with cuisine.

Here are some things I learned.

  • Crab cakes are best small and with lots of crab. (I thought my crab cakes were small, but Chef Samuelsson’s were maybe an inch and a half in diameter and an inch thick. And really, really good.)
  • When serving a wedge of lemon or lime with a dish, brown it a little with the food. The juice will come pouring out when it’s squeezed.
  • If you have to serve collards, cook them with Pac choi. The softer, wetter Pac choi makes collards downright edible.

  • Frying chicken is too much work.
  • I am one lazy cook.
  • Gravlax, a Swedish dish of salt and sugar-cured salmon, is delicious – especially Chef Samuelsson’s biographical gravlax made with Ethiopian Berbere spice.
  • The best way to get Berbere spice is to barter for some at an Ethiopian restaurant.

Stories to tell

Thursday night Chef Samuelsson regularly hit on two ideas: 1) we all have stories about food and 2) the diversity of our stories is America’s best advantage and gift to the world of cuisine.

I suppose I have a story about food – perhaps more philosophical than ethnographical. My tastes don’t run to the Southern cuisine that genealogically is mine (with the exceptions of cornbread and pimento cheese). But the ideas of family and table and of cooking as service, joy, and necessity all rolled into one are definitely part of my heritage.

So I warmed to Chef Samuelsson’s comfortable attitude toward food and people. There was a great moment when he cut up and hand-fed a piece of freshly fried chicken to a waiting ten-year-old. Earlier, he took it in laughing stride when two avowed non-piscivores declared his seared salmon “not bad.”

There was useful advice on how to introduce new foods or foods people don’t like (slowly and with lots of honey-mustard). And, after issuing the caveat to always buy sushi grade-A, he shrugged off concerns about eating gravlax. Life has risks; don’t avoid the tasty ones.

Sharing and story-telling is warm, fuzzy, and inclusive; professional fine dining is another story altogether. Chef Samuelsson’s grace on the impromptu stage in the middle of Macy’s and his quick smile that always contained a hint of a challenge told their own story of skill, passion, and drive.

So it wasn’t surprising when he started throwing out phrases like “exceed expectations,” “over-deliver,” and “always do your best.” I’ve heard these phrases many times in my life and from many different people. And they never fail to stoke my desire to curl up and take a nap.

(I’m not sure why I find exhortations to excellence so exhausting. Maybe because I tend to only hear my own expectations? I think it’s awfully difficult to exceed those. Kind of like trying to tickle yourself.)

I respect chef-hood, the discipline, and definitely the results. But even as a diner, I’m not convinced I want to be over-delivered to. It turns the joy of dining into an arms race between diner and kitchen. How delicious can I imagine this pasta to be? How are you going to beat that? That’s not fun. Ecstasy and comparisons, analysis and bliss are mutually exclusive in my experience. I intentionally try not to have expectations about food. And it’s useless over-delivering to a slate that’s doing its best to be blank.

And now back to our stories…

Chef Samuelsson’s take on our stories about food and new American cuisine is compelling.  It reminds me of that old PBS ad that never failed to stop me in my tracks. Remember this?

Welcome to a place that is always just beginning. That rouses itself day to day to admire what it has made starting with nothing and then rushes to invent itself all over again…. Welcome to a land which is never quite what you think it is and will never stay that way for long…. There are a million stories on the streets of the cities that we never finish building. We intend to tell them all.

I love the idea of our national pantry bursting with foods and techniques. I love that we can throw open the doors of this pantry to create and enjoy food like no other place on the planet. We just need to do as Chef Samuelsson urged us that night: decide our stories have value and that we all get a say in the conversation about good food.

Thanks to Lucy at A Cook and Her Books for making me go, to Dawn who invited me up for crabcakes, to Pedro at Foodie Atlanta for all the great pics (except the hamster; that’s from Pondstone Communications), to Marcus Samuelsson for the delicious food and social commentary, and to Lauren, Genna, and Macy’s Culinary Council for throwing such a great event.

Next month, Macy’s Culinary Council is hosting another free demonstration. This one’s at Lenox Mall with Tyler Florence. Visit here for details and to RSVP.

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Fruity, fruity, fruit, fruit!

The last three years haven’t been the best fruit years in Georgia. So this is my first real fruit season with Farmers’ Fresh, and I’m having lots of fun!

blueberries, peaches, plums, and blackberries

With the plums, I’m planning plum upside-down cake with half the recommended sugar. Last time it was too sweet.

The berries are already frozen. I like to eat frozen fruit because

1) it’s hot out there, and

2) I reeaallly don’t like the texture of fresh fruit.

Freezing gets me most of the flavor and none of the gag.

I’ve frozen berries many times, but today I also chopped and froze a plum and a peach in order to learn what they really taste like, i.e., not in pie or cobbler. Then one evening I’ll have a fruit morsel tasting with blueberries, blackberries, tart cherries, plums, and peaches.

Vegetables can be fun, too.

These are Romano green beans. They’re not as pretty as the rounder beans, but their flavor is terrific. They come in a range of sizes.

As usual, I’ll separate the beans into bigger and smaller halves. I’ll go ahead and cook the bigger half Southern-style (simmered for 30 minutes or so). Then I’ll blanch and sauté the smaller ones in olive oil and garlic for other meals.

eggs and lettuce

This lettuce is a treat – very sweet with a nice, delicate texture. However, I know from experience that this variety of lettuce only lasts a few days, so eat up. We ate half of ours last night and will have the rest for lunch tomorrow. The sweet flavor goes well with sliced Asian turnips from last week.

baby zucchini, fingerling potatoes, and oyster mushrooms

I’m excited about these baby zucchini, but haven’t decided what to do with them yet. Probably brown slices and then slow cook them with tomatoes and serve over pasta. Local potatoes grown in healthy soil are delicious and good for you. I plan on slicing and roasting these guys and making them the focus of a meal. And we sauteed the mushrooms last night (more below).

I also got a head of garlic this week. I love CSA garlic because it’s flavorful and because the size of the cloves makes normal recipes taste much yummier

Add one clove of garlic...

Beverages

coffee, lemon balm, orange mint, and lavender

The herbs are a wonderful treat – lavender, lemon balm, and orange mint. Fran suggests using them for iced tea, but I like my herbal tea hot. I made a wonderful pot yesterday afternoon with this mix. It would also make an excellent simple syrup to add to just about anything.

I’ve never been a big fan of fragrances and didn’t think I liked the smell of lavender. But fresh lavender smells completely different from what I’m used to. It’s sweet and makes me think of chocolate. It doesn’t really smell like chocolate as much as it smells near chocolate. I think the lavender smell receptor lives next door to the chocolate smell receptor in the brain, so the emotional reaction is similar.

many wonderful pots of afternoon tea in my future

Last night’s supper

Last night I sautéed mushrooms, onion, garlic, and fennel in butter. I chopped all of the mushrooms and divided them into thicker stems and more delicate ends.

That way I could start cooking the stems a few minutes before the thinner pieces. When the mushrooms were done, I mixed in some rice grits and served it with fresh lettuce and sliced carrots and Asian turnips.

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Summertime to CSA subscribers means incredible goodness and quantities of fresh, colorful produce. But it also means you have to be more on your game than ever.

You simply must open up your food, take it out of its bags, and look it over as soon as you can. Dump it out and repackage it. Don’t think of yourself as the end-recipient of the CSA packing process. Instead, you are its last stage, the linchpin, the make-or-break player. (more…)

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My plums from last week became individual plum upside down cakes from Simply Recipes.

First, I sliced the plums.

Then I peeled them. Probably should have reversed these two steps. (more…)

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A rainbow of tomatoes!

grape tomatoes, slicer tomato, peaches, and golden plums

I’m going to take a break from peach muffins this week and make a crumble or cobbler with the peaches and golden plums. Cobbler is tastier, but crumble is easier. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. (Right now, crumble would win by a landslide.) (more…)

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Squash muffins

Squash muffins

I made these squash muffins last year after seeing the pictures at Kitchen Kung Fu. The recipe is from the 7/22/09 CSA newsletter.

Ingredients

* 2 cups all-purpose flour

* 1 tablespoon baking powder

* 1/4 teaspoon salt

* 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

* 2/3 cup grated yellow squash

* 1 egg, beaten

* 3/4 cup milk

* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions

1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and squash in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.

2. Combine egg, milk and oil; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.

3. Spoon batter into lightly greased muffin pans, filling two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove muffins from pans immediately.

Yields 1 dozen.

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They were tasty (especially with butter and honey) and went great with leftover vegetable soup. They had zero squash taste as far as I could tell, and I’m not sure whether that’s a plus or a minus. Either way, I’m glad to have this recipe. I don’t seem to have extra squash much, but it’s good to have an emergency plan.

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I tackled the tart cherries today. Sometimes in the kitchen, I start in on something and halfway through think, “Maybe I should have figured out what I was doing first.”

That’s how it went with the cherries. There must be a more civilized way to pit cherries. I just sliced off a side and reached in Temple of Doom-style with my thumb and forefinger and ripped out the pit.

Just add warmed brandy. Tastes way better than Advil PM.


(more…)

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This week, I got my first fresh basil of the season.

Pesto sauce is the default for fresh basil in my kitchen. But we’ve so been there and done that. So this week we tried some different things.

Bruschetta-like success

For an appetizer Thursday, we had something akin to bruschetta. I have to admit that sometimes I’ll put something bruschetta-like together and it’s barely more than the sum of its parts. This time, however, it worked.

(more…)

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Freezing eggs

Did you know you can freeze eggs?

It’s a bit of a process but really useful when you suddenly need an egg or when you need a bunch of yolks or whites.

The first step is separating the eggs. While there are tools that help with this, I find it easier to use my hands. First, crack the egg into a bowl.

Then carefully slide a hand under the yolk and pick it up. Carefully shift the yolk from one hand to the other. After a few times, all you’ll be holding is the yolk and the whites will be in the bowl.

(If you break a yolk, it’s no big deal – you’ve still got an egg. Put it in the fridge and use it in a day or two.) (more…)

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Egg custard!

Chris and I have a new love – egg custard. I’ll make three servings in the morning whenever I’m planning vegetarian meals. Then we have one each that night for dessert and split the third at breakfast the next morning.

Here’s the basic recipe. It’s quick and easy without a lot of fuss. It evolved from this recipe, but I returned all the fat, replaced the Splenda with sugar, and then cut the sugar in half.

(more…)

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