January 15, 2015
Flipping through my Time-Life cookbooks is like stepping into a temperamental time machine. Some food-splotched recipes ring no bells, while others summon memories so vivid I can literally smell them. How many times did I make that manicotti, and for how many people? Suddenly I’m lugging it up the rickety steps of an abandoned building on Stanton Street that a friend once called home, still warm from my oven. There was only one fork for every two people that night – which made the manicotti taste even better.
It’s been a long time since I’ve made the ghobi sabzi (curried cauliflower) below. As I was cooking, I tried to predict what I would think of the flavor. Would it seem blandly familiar, like a robust curry that had been flattened to suit a mainstream American palette from the sixties?
Just the opposite. This dish may not be entirely authentic, but it really sings. With the exception of the black mustard seeds, you probably have the ingredients in your cupboard right now. It's easy to make and utterly delicious–comforting, richly spiced, perfectly balanced. I moved onto a second bowl almost immediately after finishing the first.
Gobhi Sabzi (Adapted from The Cooking of India )
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon scraped, finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 head cauliflower, washed, trimmed, divided into small flowerets, and dried thoroughly
1 small ripe tomato, washed, cored and finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeño or serrano, washed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon ghee, melted (clarified butter)
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Stir in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger and onions. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, add the salt and turmeric, and continue stirring for 3 or 4 minutes.
Drop in the cauliflower and turn the flowerets about with a spoon until they are evenly coated with the onion mixture. Then stir in the tomato, chili, ground cumin, sugar. Reduce the heat to medium low, and stirring occasionally, cook over moderate heat until the cauliflower is tender but still intact, 10-15 minutes.
To serve, transfer to a bowl, and sprinkle with cilantro and ghee.
January 13, 2015
That's me, Alice (Waters) and Nell (Newman), at the end of the Good Food Awards in San Francisco. We hand out the medals every year, to a slew of impressive artisans who are making outstanding charcuterie, cheese, honey, chocolate, oils, pickles, preserves, coffee, beer and booze. Afterward there's a Marketplace at the Ferry Building where you can taste the country's best sustainable food products under one roof.
I always discover a few new foods to fall in love with. This year, to my surprise, it was chocolates. Two chocolatiers really had me hooked: Black Dinah Chocolatiers from Maine and Askinosie Chocolate from Missouri.
Black Dinah Chocolatiers produce their delicious products on Isle Au Haut, Maine, an island 45 minutes from the coast (by mailboat). Isle Au Haut has so few inhabitants that almost all of them serve as chocolate tasters to the company. The center of the operation is an enchanted-seeming chocolate cafe. Getting there isn't easy, so it's nice to know they sell their chocolates online. Smooth, mellow, balanced… their Cassis de Resistance won a medal this year. No surprise.
An even more exciting operation: Askinosie Chocolate, the brainchild of former criminal defense lawyer Shawn Askinosie. He's an impressive person who does much more than merely buy chocolate from good farmers. He pays them well – and also shares the profits. Among the many programs Askinoise has engineered is one that feeds 800 schoolchildren free lunch at Milagros School in Davao, Philippines. He does it by selling hot chocolate from the community on the Askinsowe website and returning 100 percent of the profits. There's also a chocolate university – and so much more. If you have any interest in chocolate, this is a man to follow: he makes you proud to be a chocolate eater. As for the chocolate itself – it's fantastic.
January 10, 2015
A Taste of the Past
I love revisiting the cookbooks I used growing up. They shaped me as much as any novel, and flipping through the sauce-splotched pages takes me back, makes me remember long-forgotten dishes.
But dusting off the Time-Life Foods of the World books is an entirely different experience. These 27 books, with their accompanying spiral-bound recipe books, opened up whole words to me. They were beautifully produced and written by some of the greats: Julia Child, James Beard, MFK Fisher, Richard Olney….. Today, as I was looking at the recipes in Middle Eastern Cooking I was struck by how radically things have changed. So many of these once-exotic foods are now available in your average supermarket. Hummus, dolmas, tabouli…..
Then I came upon this recipe for keftedakia. When I first got the book I was enchanted by the idea of meatballs laced with ouzo and mint, and I immediately gathered the ingredients. My friends were equally excited. Making them again, after all this time, I was struck by one anachronism in the recipe. After you mix your ground raw beef, you're supposed to taste it for seasoning. In this age of e-coli and ground beef recalls, no mainstream publication would dare make that suggestion. On the other hand, if you buy your meat from a whole animal butcher, or grind your beef yourself ….
Keftedakia (Adapted from Time-Life Middle Eastern Cooking)
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or first course (about 40 meatballs)
2 slices white bread, trimmed of crusts and torn into little pieces
1/4 cup ouzo
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon finely-cut fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt (or less)
1/2 cup flour
Soak the bread in the ouzo for five minutes. Meanwhile, sauté onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil until wilted, about five minutes. Be careful not to brown them. Set aside in a large bowl.
Squeeze the bread dry and discard the ouzo. Add the bread, ground beef, egg, mint, garlic, oregano, salt and a few grindings of pepper to the onions. Knead vigorously with both hands, then beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. (Taste for seasoning.)
Moistening your hands periodically with cold water, shape the beef mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Then roll the balls in flour to coat them lightly. Refrigerate balls for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Add 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the skillet and bring to medium-high heat. Drop 10 or so meatballs into the pan at a time, shaking the pan from time to time to brown them evenly. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until cooked through. Transfer the meatballs to the oven to keep warm. Serve with fresh mint as garnish.
It's not in the Time-Life recipe, but I like a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top.
January 7, 2015
First Taste of LA
You can smell the rich scent of the beef cooking from halfway down the block. So that is, of course, the first thing that you order at Mexicali Taco & Co. The name makes it sound a lot fancier than it is. This is a humble place on an odd stretch of Figueroa Street – not quite Chinatown, not quite downtown – where the tacos are a fine example of simplicity.
The carne asada taco is just that – grilled beef, hacked into chunks and slipped onto a flour tortilla (the owners bring them up from Baja, and they're fantastic). You dress the taco yourself, from the bar in the back, where you have a choice of salsas, and an entire array of vegetables: cucumbers, radishes, pickled red onions. This is made totally to your own taste.
There are other great options here. Vegetarian tacos, filled with mushrooms, zucchini and a single grilled scallion. Tacos de camaron, the Baja way, with cheese.
Something called a vampiro, which also involves cheese and lots of garlic. Guacamole, of course, which is particularly good spooned onto the gueros – those completely addictive whole chiles pictured at the top.
If you like food that's made with pride, with good ingredients, and with such simplicity that there's nothing to hide behind, then this is the taco for you.
702 N Figueroa St., Los Angeles (213) 613-0416, Mexicali Taco & Co.
January 3, 2015
That, my friends, is the head of the capon I cooked for Boxing Day dinner. (Capons are castrated roosters; they are larger, firmer, fatter and juicier than ordinary chickens. They're less active than your regular rooster, which makes the meat especially tender. And because these capons are older than commercial birds, they have a lot more flavor. )
Simply roasted, with butter rubbed beneath the skin, the capon made a very festive dinner. I stirred the juices into a bit of roasted lemon juice, which made wonderful gravy. But six of us failed to finish the entire bird, so the next night I made capon pot pie.
It's been a long time since I had pot pie, and this one was so comforting I've resolved to add it to my winter repertoire.
Probably won't be using capon next time around, but this recipe would, I'm sure, work equally well with chicken or turkey.
Capon Pot Pie
2 celery stalks
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 large onion
4 tablespoons butter
fresh thyme or parsley
salt and pepper
leftover chicken or capon, shredded (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
Dice 2 stalks of celery, 2 medium carrots and an onion. Saute them in 4 tablespoons of butter for a couple of minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a bit of chopped fresh thyme or parsley. Toss in your shredded bird, add a quarter cup of flour, and stir for a couple of minutes until it's nicely incorporated.
Add a good splash of white wine and two cups of chicken stock, stirring constantly. Add a small package of frozen peas.
Break an egg yolk into a cup of heavy cream, mix well, then stir some of the hot chicken mixture into the cream. Now slowly stir the cream mixture into the contents of the pan and stir, over low heat, for about 5 minutes. It should become deliciously saucy. Taste for seasoning and pour into a casserole or deep-dish pie pan.
Cover with pastry, cut in a few slits to let the steam escape and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about half an hour until the crust is golden.
This will serve 6.
You can top this with any kind of pastry; frozen puff pastry works well too. Here’s what I used:
Put a cup and a half of flour into a bowl, sprinkle in a half teaspoon of salt and cut in a stick of cold butter.
Beat an egg into small bowl; pour out half, reserving to brush on the crust. To the remaining half add 3 tablespoons of cold water and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Mix into the flour and butter mixture, then pat it into a small disk, wrap in wax paper, and set in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Roll out the pastry until it’s a bit larger than the casserole or pie plate and fit over the chicken mixture, decoratively crimping the edges. Stir a bit of water into the reserved half egg, brush over the crust, cut in a few slits and bake.