• Monday, October 30, 2006

    Oyster etiquette unveiled

    I recently wrote about my adored bivalves, in You Say Oyster. I've learned about new varieties and shared my newly acquired knowledge of the whole spawning issue. (ick) Still, a niggling little question remained...what is a polite diner to do when one has slurped an off-oyster into one's mouth? Thank you Epicurious for coming to the rescue once again. Apparently, we are allowed to discretely remove it from our mouth.

    See Epi's oyster_primer for more. And the Island Creeks mentioned are the very same I tried at G23...from Duxbury. Yummy, yummy.
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    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Orphans', Refugees' and Procrastinators' Thanksgiving

    My favorite holiday - Thanksgiving.

    Almost every year I host what I call the Orphans', Refugees' and Procrastinators' Thanksgiving. Anyone who has no place to go, is too far from home, or has put off finalizing their plans for too long, gets an invitation. I keep track of the number of invitees and allow them a genuine, last-minute decision. I make my preparations for the largest likely number of attendees, with enough for seconds and leftovers. It always works out.

    Usually someone resolves the dispute with their Mom, gets the invite from the newish boyfriend or girlfriend who was vascillating, or decides in the eleventh-hour to make the trek home. No matter, I like to take the pressure off. I know the holiday is a source of stress for a lot of people, my mission in life is to give people an enjoyable stress-free Thanksgiving. I can remember each one for the moments of joy, the mishaps, and everything in between.

    These Thanksgiving gatherings often feel more warm and family-like than many of us experienced in our own homes. There's no one carrying on with age-old grudges, no family dramas. Just good friends or new friends, or more often, both. Sharing laughs, lots of good food, football, couch comas and dessert. Oh yes, and wine.

    The Cookbook
    Last year I realized I knew a few people who were about to launch their own lives through marriages or moves, and they were not necessarily confident in the kitchen. (One was downright terrified.) I decided to put together The Orphans', Refugees', and Procrastinators' Thanksgiving Cookbook. It's also a handy guide for new cooks to use year-round to plan a meal whether it's for 2, 4 or 40. The book includes plans, menus, recipes, tips, tricks, advice and more.

    It's still in draft form, but my niece has just moved into her first apartment and I've invited her to guest-author a piece or two on what it's like to set up your first kitchen away from home. As she submitted the post (to follow here) she closes the post with a the request for Thanksgiving help and I realize how behind I am in my goal of offering this cookbook to her. She was only two years old yesterday, I swear.

    New Cooks, Fear in the Kitchen
    I'm feeling guilty remembering a young woman who worked at a shop I was visiting. She was telling me how ill-equipped she's found herself in her own first kitchen. Her mother was not a great cook and she didn't realize that she'd not learned how to do things like roast a chicken, until she moved out. I promised to write a how-to piece on my roast chicken (which more than one person claims would be their last meal if allowed to choose) in this blog. Then somehow forgot to get to it.

    With the holiday fast approaching, I want to share ways to relax and enjoy the good things we can celebrate together on this holiday. I'll send my niece advice and pieces of this cookbook in draft, but here's my introduction to the concept. I'll be your virtual Thanksgiving guide.

    Here's my Thanksgiving Spice Rub.

    This basic formula has fennel, sage, rosemary and marjoram as the dominant scents. I recommend you measure out one batch with these proportions, and see how you like it. Then add what you'd like more of.

    • I use my coffee grinder. Put a torn up piece of soft bread in the coffee grinder, before and after, then your coffee won't taste like Thanksgiving turkey or vice versa.
    • This can be used for roast chicken or pork roasts, too.
    • If you're brining the bird, you should omit the salt.

    Basic Thanksgiving Spice Rub

    • Fennel seed (2 TBSP)
    • Dried sage (2-3 tsp)
    • Dried Rosemary (2-3 tsp)
    • Marjoram (2 tsp)
    • Coriander seed (1-2 tsp)
    • White pepper (2 tsp)
    • Kosher salt (if not brining)
    • Powdered ginger (1/4 tsp)
    • Cayenne pepper (1/4 tsp)
    • Powdered allspice (1/4 tsp)

    I mix a bit with softened butter and apply between the breast meat and skin. Sprinkle some on the buttered bird before roasting.

    And now we turn to my niece's experience setting up her first kitchen. First installment:
    setting up your first spice rack...

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    You Are Your Spice Cabinet - Guest Author Marisa Dobson

    When I moved into my first apartment my senior year in college, I remember feeling liberated by all the space and the reality of my own genuine kitchen. No longer restricted by the microwaves and mini-fridges of dorm life, I set about preparing fresh simple meals. Outfitting my new kitchen was a hit or miss process. I would be in the midst of cooking up a storm - smoke alarm beeping, vegetables sizzling - and I would realize that I didn't have THE essential utensil. "My kingdom for a slotted spoon!" As a side note, I've finally found the perfect basting brush at Le Gourmet Chef at the Mall of America, about twenty minutes from my new home in Minneapolis.

    What I always have had, however, is a spice collection. My father, the chef, had stocked my cabinet with a few must-haves for my first kitchen and they've been with me ever since. If you peek into my , you'll immediately see my towering 16 oz can of Old Bay. Old Bay is a classic seasoning consisting of: celery salt, mustard, red pepper, black pepper, bay leaves, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, and paprika. You'd recognize Old Bay as the dominant flavor in all Maryland seafood dishes, like steamed shellfish or cream of crab soup. Being a child of the Chesapeake, I couldn't go far without that seasoning.

    My spice cabinet also sports the basics (basil, thyme, oregano), cilantro leaves, minced garlic and garlic powder, steak seasoning for my carnivorous dinner partner, kosher salt, and Worcestershire sauce. The latter is a definite must-have for households which consume hearty meat dishes. There are a few other exotics in there as well, such as curry powder, cumin, and dashi mix.

    One could write a neat paperback from extrapolating from the spices in my cabinet. What's in your spice cabinet? What does it tell you about your cooking? Or, (gasp) about YOU? If you've just begun outfitting your first kitchen, or simply haven't a clue where to start, I've got a few suggestions.

    All spice racks should include: Basil, Thyme, Black Pepper, Onion Powder, Granulated Garlic, and Salt (preferably not the iodized stuff, get a coarser flavorful salt for seasoning). If you're a little more adventurous, I would also suggest red pepper flakes (if only to spice up leftover pizza), chili powder, ground mustard, and oregano.

    Here's an interesting article I've just read in the Twin Cities City Pages about
    artisanal salts
    . Great Chefs know it: quality salts add taste and texture. Spices bring out the soul of a dish, so don't be contented with the unassuming and predictable flavor of salt and pepper. There are always new offerings at your local grocery. And, if you don't feel like investing the $6 per bottle (McCormick style) which might end up sitting full for years in your cabinet, then head to the bulk product section and weigh out a bunch of samples. You will feel a trifle scandalous running home with loads of little unmarked baggies, but your dinner later that night is sure to be all the better for it.

    Call for HELP!
    Yours truly, the newbie gourmand is facing the prospect of preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner. Any tips, recipe suggestions, or funny stories not to be emulated, please drop a note here.

    A word from your editor:
    A couple of additional spice notes:

    Spice blends make great hostess gifts or stocking stuffers. I wrote about a Cajun spice blend in Suite101's tribute to New Orleans series. It's getting to be gumbo weather!

    October is Fair Trade month and I found two terrific products that add sophistication to your spice cabinet and also support Fair Trade:
    Learn about exotic black peppercorns and Divine Sonoran Oregano.
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    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    You say Oyster, I say Erster - Let's just shuck and slurp.

    On Saturday and Sunday, October 14th and 15th, 2006 Wellfleet’s sixth annual OysterFest takes place down on the Cape. Shucking contests, cooking demonstrations, steel bands and more. If I weren't already otherwise engaged, you'd find me happily tasting my way through the various types of Wellfleet oysters now available.

    It's been an oyster-filled week for the Leather District Gourmet. Starting with my anniversary dinner at Grill 23 which we opened with Island Creek Oysters from Duxbury, to a visit to B&G Oyster on Tremont Street, to and the latest Cook's Illustrated which arrived, its illustrated back cover featuring: you guessed it, .

    In the midst of this mollusk mania, our wonderful floral artisan cousin shared a memory of her Cortes Island visit, where she literally picked up oysters off the beach, shucked and ate them. She estimates that she ate 2 dozen. I'm putting you on notice, Elizabeth, we're going to have belly up to some oyster bar (or beach!) someday soon and have at it.

    For an excellent overview of the Wellfleet oysters, their characteristics, and an interesting insight into the phenomenon of branding, see Bed Hopping.

    Oysters are an excellent source of protein, a good source of Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Magnesium and Phosphorus, Vitamin B12, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Manganese and Selenium. Eating a half dozen will average only 60 calories.

    I remember taking my friend Jesse to an oyster bar in the 8th arrondisement of Paris. I think it was one of the oldest ones in the city of light. We ate lots of oysters and I introduced her to my favorite wine pairing Sancerre. Or was it 1er Cru Chablis? Champagne or sparkling wine works pretty well, too.

    “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

    A perfect week and it's only Thursday.
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    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Here's to James Allardice and his (ahem) Entrepreneurial Spirit!

    The things you learn from those clever marketing folk...

    Reading the package of my most recent purchase (recommended and delivered by the wonderful staff at Bauer Wines), I discovered a tale to warm your heart. Maybe that's the whisky talkin' but never you mind...hear me out, it's a good story.

    Seems the good Mr. Allardice, way back in the early 1800's, was pioneering wood-finishing single malts. Deciding the world was in need of his fine product (The Glendronach Original 12 year old, double cask aged). He shipped a barrel to Edinburgh and went door to door to every purveyor he could find. To no avail.

    Enter another entrepreuneurial lot: ladies of the night in Cannongate, Edinburgh.

    The story continues: Retiring downhearted to his hotel he was accosted by two young women who asked him to buy them a dram. "Buy ye a dram?" he exclaimed, "I'll gie ye a dram."

    And a star was born. So raise a glass and in this rare occasion, no matter what the company, I'd say "Cin cin!" is an appropriate toast! For an explanation of what that seemingly benign toast means, see "Cin Cin for Shabu?".
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    Peppers, Peppercorns and Paella

    You may recall my efforts to find out about a "Basque Pepper" I'd heard Cat Cora describe in some Iron Chef dish she was whipping together. The
    Food Network ticked me off with a cursory reply along the lines of: "we don't give recipes, thank you for your interest and keep enjoying the shows."

    Sounds so genuine, doesn't it?

    I didn't ask for a recipe, simply the name of an ingredient that Alton somehow skipped over and I hadn't heard of before... I was in the process of reviewing The Cuisines of Spain cookbook by Teresa Barrenechea and thought it would be a timely side-note for my Suite101 readers (you have been reading me there, right?)

    I don't mind admitting that I can be tenacious as hell when I've got my mind set on something. Imagine a dog with a knotted sock in its mouth, wait, not a good image...never mind. Let's just say, very tenacious.

    I've found the elusive . For an excellent primer and a few recipes to boot, please see Dave's Pepper Pages.

    Piment d'Espelette is a pepper of the capsicum (nightshade family) variety; not the Peppercorn family(piper nigrum). The exotic branches of that family tree are well-worth investigating. Balinese Long Pepper? Kampot Pepper for Lover Sauce?

    Basques have worshipped their Piment d'Espelette for ages. It has become identified with their food and their region, their culture. Recently, it's attained controlled-name status, such as champagnes or bordeaux enjoy. If you're eating a "Basque pepper" it is most likely from one of the ten AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) communities.

    Other than my Hungarian ancestors, Basques seem to be the
    few Europeans who've adopted a fiery pepper in this way. On a recent trip to Toronto, I spent the better part of an afternoon in the funky Kensington Market. If the Community Garden in a car doesn't define "funky" I don't know what would. Maybe the three kids on the sidewalk directly opposite the car, stoned out of their minds, each playing a single note on their respective guitars and trying, mostly unsuccessfully to match those notes with their voices and each other.

    (I didn't have the heart to photograph them. What if they grow up and run for office or something? This explains why I will never make the fortune that "Girls gone wild" guy has made...)

    In addition to the entertainment value, there are terrific vendors of just about anything. Truly. Spices? Seafood? "Glass art?" Coffee? Empanadas? You name it, I would bet my last looney you could find it there. It was in one of the amazing spice shops that I found ground Piri Piri pepper. I had to buy it, knowing I had a vague notion it was (a) something I'd read about or heard of, and (b) something I'd not seen in my local markets.

    Buy now, figure out later. Words to live buy. You can quote me on that one.

    So, it turns out this fabulous little pepper is beloved in North Africa, Brazil and other places. The cool Portuguese stall in the St. Lawrence Market (the dressed up for tourists version of Kensington) had a barbecued chicken with piri-piri sauce. Delicious but fiery.

    I did a little research and used the powdered piri-piri to make my very own sauce. We marinated two split chicken breasts then baked them. It was the most flavorful, moist chicken breast I've ever had. Almost good enough to turn this dark meat girl into a white meat lover...

    Piri-Piri Sauce

    1 lge clove of garlic minced or mashed w/1 tsp kosher salt
    1 TBSP Each: chopped green onion, grated carrot, grated white or yellow onion, chopped parsley
    2 tsp red chilies (such as cayenne or Thai bird chilies)
    4 TBSP ground Piri Piri pepper
    1 TBSP Hungarian Pepper Paste (or use 1 TBSP tomato paste; adding more Piri Piri to taste)
    1/3 C cider vinegar
    ¾ C Olive oil

    The Hungarian Pepper paste was another great find! The St. Lawrence market has a great shop selling all kinds of gourmet products, among them these tubes of pepper paste. The labels are mostly in Hungarian (a good sign, in my book) so I asked whether this was like roasted red bell peppers, or like tomato paste we see in tubes...is it to be used in Paprikash? It is roasted Hungarian Paprika paste. Comes in Hot and Sweet. You know which I got, right?

    Not only is it amazing in the Piri-Piri recipe above, but I've used it in other things. A little dab will do ya, as they used to say. I've located one place on the web which sells Hungarian food products. While I haven't ordered from them myself, they guy has a photo of himself with an accordian - how could it we go wrong?

    Coming soon: Paella!
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    Monday, October 02, 2006

    Batnut, Devil Pod, or Root of Gargoyle?

    Well, it turns out that this thing shows up during autumn festivals, as well as in mojo (amulet) websites. (Thanks for that one Rev.!)

    Ian was first to respond with an excellent citation to Cook's Thesaurus. Water Caltrop is the English name for this type of pod. For the etymology of "caltrop" (creepy!) see Yucan's note.

    Horned water chestnut, ling kok, ling jiao, and various other names are used for this black nut that does look like a bat or like a bull's horned head. Interestingly, they are toxic if uncooked.

    So, Ian gets the glory for first answer and correct answer. Also reminding me of a good food information resource: The Cook's Thesaurus.

    Jesse, Michael, Sharon, Jim, Larry, Graham, Anne, Yucan...good job! Nice to know I've got a small army of food geeks on my team!

    And Marisa, I really do like the Root of Gargoyle...you get the glory for most imaginative name!
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