These sweet potato fries are the new crack. (Ha, you thought I was gonna say black! Silly people.)
And yes, this does qualify as a post. So bugger off.
Turns out I'm on a bit of a soup kick. I think it's the gloomy San Francisco weather. It's been raining nearly every day, or the better part thereof, for weeks now with no end in sight. Even when a day blooms balmy and blue-skied it turns nasty in an instant, not just raining but mercilessly pounding the pavements and unfortunate pedestrians caught outside without an umbrella (ahem). The first time we got caught in the downpour it was warm, so I kicked up my heels and started singing (though I couldn't convince Mr. Food Musings to do a jig with his walking stick. What a stick in the mud....) The next two (three?) times I just sighed and kept walking.
At night, I've veered towards soup with obvious reason. I've been planning a corn chowder for months, ever since Mr. FM came home with a thousand pounds (or maybe more like four) of fresh rock cod. But with my workload having gone from 0-60 in two days and still having to help Mr. FM with his s-l-o-w recovery, I haven't had too much time to go mad scientist in the kitchen. Hence, I made this yummy chowder instead. And suddenly, I was singing again.
OHMYGOD -- I FEEL DIRTY!
Positively Faustian, in fact.
Strike that last line.
It's way too tidy, too schmaltzy, too Grey's Anatomy for this blog (shudder!).
Forgive me...it won't happen again.
I just started subscribing to the second coolest food newsletter in town. And yes, as usual I'm a bit late to the party, so pardonnez-moi.
CUESA, which runs the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, stands for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. They put out a weekly newsletter highlighting what's new (and obviously therefore seasonal) at the market each week, provide recipes, profile a few farmers and talk up events. If you're trying to devote your Bay Area kitchen to a more seasonal way of cooking, it's a must read.
I found it because of some research I'm doing on nearby farms. I haven't blogged much about the farmer's market or farmers in general, but I got interested in them about a year ago. I met Larry Peter, a man with boundless enthusiasm for his herd of hormone-free Jersey cows and the rapid-fire auctioneer chatter to match. I met him at an old creamery in Petaluma, which is farm country if you're not from around these parts. He'd just bought the 90-some year old building and was cranking it back up to produce his cheese. My interest in him at the time was related to butter, but his passion stuck with me. It wasn't just the passion -- anyone who makes a living as a family farmer has to love what they do -- but also a bit of edginess that I sensed in him about his way of life. It's endangered, and he isn't sure he can fix it or the dwindling farm community he lives in, but he is damn well going to die trying.
Although his cheese is amazing (try the hard Giana modeled on Portugese cheese, or Mike's Fireman Jack if you want a three alarm fire in your moouth) it's his butter I adore. He starts with 100% Jersey cream, which matters because of the high fat content. Then he cultures it to bring about a certain flavor. It is a high-fat butter like the Euros use, and although it hasn't been certified he told me that he thinks most batches are nearly 88% butterfat. That is really high, which means extra yummy. He was working on getting certified organic when I met him last year, but that's mostly a technicality. Best of all, he sells his butter at the Farmer's Market, but get there early because they usually run out by 10.
If you like stories like these you'll love the CUESA newsletter. And when the rain seems like it'll never stop pouring down on the tops of our poor, soggy heads, it's nice to have a reminder that the market is there and waiting with its gorgeous produce, fresh butter, artisanal sea salt and fresh, free range eggs. Happy shopping.
I rarely ever cook from blogs. I guess that makes me, well, not a hypocrite exactly, but definitely a form of poseur since I obviously expect that you cook from mine. It's not that I'm biased against the blogosphere; I don't cook much from the paper's food section or from magazines, either. I used to tear out salivating recipes or even just the interesting ones (dill pickles filled with homemade pimento cheese, anyone?) until the hot pink binder I had set aside for my clippings refused to open its pages for another slip of paper. That's when I realized a Truth About Me: I'd never made most of the recipes that I'd thoughtfully torn from the pages of some prized place. And I never would.
I realized that their main service was to inspire, to make me rethink the ingredients in my pantry, to send me running into my kitchen to open the fridge and start removing herbs, vegetables, and meats at random, to pick through my spice cabinet with pursed lips looking for just the right flavor. That is purpose enough, most of the time.
But this recipe was one that I knew I would make from the moment I read it. Who can say why? I simply liked it. Its simplicity, both of method and ingredient. Its hominess. Its melting pot of flavors that I adore -- the almost minty rush of cilantro, the heat of chilies, the unctuousness of a few heavy drops of sesame oil.
Tara's Mother's vaguely Asian chicken-corn soup
I tweaked this just a smidgen, not enough to call it my own but enough to go to the bother of retyping it. I had planned to use udon noodles because I just love them so much, but then we ended up with gads of yummy rice from our take-out last night, and I hated to let it go to waste. Next time, Mr. Udon, next time...
3 cups chicken stock (I used homemade, but obviously that's not necessary)
2 scallions, white part separated from green, all thinly sliced
1/2-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups cream-style corn (about 1 1/2 14-oz. cans)
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
5-10 dashes chili oil
1 cup cooked rice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 TBSP sesame oil
scant 1/8 tsp salt
1 serrano chili, seeds removed, julienned
1 lime, cut into quarters
In a stock pot, heat the chicken stock with 1/2 cup water, the white part of the scallions, the ginger and the garlic over medium heat. Bring stock to a simmer and allow to steep until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the corn, chicken and chili oil, reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 8 minutes. Stir in the rice and heat, about 2 minutes. Add the cilantro leaves, sesame oil and salt (adjust amount to taste). Garnish with chili and a squirt of lime.
Bye-bye bacon: I have a new addiction. It's probably more apt to say I've rediscovered one that had the potential all along. Lemongrass Thai's crispy rice salad is not officially on the menu, but it's the kind of good that makes you want to be really, really nice to whoever answers the phone so that they don't deny you your fix. It's the kind of good that makes you not want to share, even with people who are recovering from severe brain injuries, the kind of good that has you fantasizing about asking for two orders next time so every pleasing clump of crispy rice and every little peanut belong to you and you alone. It's the kind of good that makes you sympathize with binge eaters as you sneak back into the kitchen under the guise of "cleaning up" in order to pop the last two remaining balls of fried rice into your mouth, the kind of good that reduces you to happily licking a styrofoam container for the last small flecks of cilantro, the kind of good that makes you worry that if you even tell people
about it, there might be a run on it one night when you want some.
That kind of good.
Yeah, it's true, I was gonna hold out on you. But then I started to worry that if I did, I might be racking up some seriously bad food karma. I figure if you can accumulate bad karma, you can also rack up good karma points -- Buddhists are pretty cool people, after all -- so I'm giving crispy rice salad a shout out from my virtual rooftop.
Crispy rice salad is full of spirit; it pretty much clobbers you over the head with comic book bonks. There's the fish sauce (ZAP!) and lemongrass (ZOW!), the chilies and ginger (ZING!) plus a handful of peanuts, scallions, red onion, cilantro and the aforementioned hunks of crispy rice divinity.
I tried finding a recipe and it turns out that most versions of the salad (nam kao tod) contain pork. But I couldn't find any for what I think would be called yam kao tod (that's my amateur linguistic detective work for yam = salad; kao or khao = rice; tod = patty). The closest I could find from a reliable source comes courtesy of Pim. Her recipe separates out the ingredients and method for the rice patties from the pork, so I think I'm going to give it a shot and see how I do.
Until then, I can't help but wonder if I didn't miss a morsel of rice last night when I was putting out the trash...
The only reliable reason to read the Chronicle food section just vanished. Thanks to the new weekly Tablehopper newsletter, you can get your fill of restaurant gossip, plus reviews of places new and old and upcoming food and wine events. Not only does it come out the day before the Chronicle (smarty pants!) but the last 3 weeks have proven that the scoop is often different -- scoopier, if you will, definitely more San Francisco-centric and way sassier. Juicy news, just the way I like to hear it.
And check this out, lazy people: If you can't come up with a suitable place to take your in-laws, just email Ms. Tablehopper and tell her what you need. She'll email you back some customized recommendations. Can you beat that?
I'm not getting any kickbacks from Ms. Tablehopper, I just dig what she's doing. You can subscribe here.
(In the interest of fairness, though, I should probably disclose that we write for the same publication.)
The Sopranos, that is, and as I do every year on premier night, this year I made spaghetti and meatballs.
Hmmm. Maybe not every year. Maybe only one year. But I do always make a pasta dish in honor of my favorite goombahs.
See, if I made meatballs every year, then I would have mastered the technique long before now. This year for the first time my meatballs did not dissolve into meat sauce when I browned them in the pan. This year I planned very carefully. I plotted and studied and modified my technique. In the end, I produced meatballs so perfect that they warranted a meatball victory dance.
Now I know I am not the only meatballer out there who wasn't born with The Gift. In fact, just the other day Mr. Food Musings' sister was asking me for my secret. There are many, dear readers.
1. Keep the meatballs refrigerated until the very moment you cook them. Normally I like to let meat warm up a bit so it doesn't hit the pan stone-cold, but this helps them retain their shape. If you make them fresh, refrigerate for at least an hour before cooking.
2. Dredge them in flour before browning.
3. Eschew the tongs! These will be your downfall. Instead, turn the precious meatballs carefully with your fingers. They get a bit hot so be careful and move fast.
4. Do not remove them from the browning pan. Pour off the oil (or leave it in if you want a really rich sauce) and then add the crushed tomatoes or pre-made tomato sauce to the browning pan and finish them off that way. If you're cooking a full batch, this probably isn't possible unless you own the world's biggest pan, so when removing them do so very gently.
Sopranos' style Spaghetti and Meatballs
Serves 6 (makes approx. 42 meatballs)
Meatballs freeze really well, and they keep longer when they're frozen raw. Since I was cooking for two, I made the meatballs fresh, refrigerated enough for dinner and froze the rest. Perfecto! For the sauce, you can really use anything -- a pre-made sauce of your own, a can of crushed tomatoes, even a store-bought sauce (gasp! - but it's true, I know because that's what I used.). Since you add minced garlic and oregano and then thicken the sauce, you can actually gussy up those thin store-bought sauces so that no one call tell the difference. I swear it on my mothah's honor.
2 cloves garlic; 1 whole, 1 minced
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, cut into small chunks
1 onion, halved
1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3 TBSP red wine
2 TBSP tomato paste or ketchup
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 cup flour
3 TBSP olive oil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (substitute homemade tomato sauce or store-bought pasta sauce)
1 lb. spaghetti or linguine
Throw one clove of garlic, the Parmesan cheese and the onion halves into a food processor and massacre them until the cheese is finely grated. Dump out into a large bowl and add the ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, wine, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Blend well; I find it's best to use your hands. Shape into 1-inch meatballs and line them up on a tray lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate for at least an hour. (If you want to freeze them, line a tupperware container wtih waxed paper and make sure none of the meatballs touch. Otherwise they'll freeze together. It's not the end of the world since you have to thaw them before you cook them, but still.)
Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour the flour in a bowl and dredge the meatballs in the flour before plopping them in the hot oil. Brown lightly on all sides, turning with your fingers. Pour off the fat if you desire, throw in the clove of minced garlic, the oregano and the tomatoes or tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat and gently simmer until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. When the sauce has 15 minutes left, make the spaghetti. Sit back and wonder if Tony really likes sushi more than Artie's chicken parmigiana.
Like March, these truffles come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. It's the first touch of tongue against powdery unsweetened cocoa flecked with sugar and lime zest that creates a pucker and paves the way for a ganache that's as smooth as Jamie Foxx's come-on.
Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles with Lime and Honey
Courtesy of Pierre Hermé in The Cook's Book
Makes approx. 50
I cut the recipe in half myself, but it made for odd measurements (3/8 of a cup, anyone?) and they keep so well that there's no need to. You might want to make a few practice ganache balls if you're new to the pastry bag thing; most of mine came out looking like misshapen Hershey's kisses. (I didn't smack Mr. Food Musings when he laughed at them, but I wanted to.) One hint: smooth down the rough tips with your fingers. Note that the lime sugar has to be made at least a day ahead.
zest from 1/2 lime
1/2 c. + 2 TBSP sugar
1 1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 lb. Scharffen Berger or best quality bittersweet chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
7 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into walnut-sized pieces
3/4 c. creme fraiche
3 1/2 TBSP fresh lime juice (about 3-4 limes)
2 1/2 TBSP best quality honey
Mix the lime zest and sugar and rub between the palms of your hands. Spread in a thin layer on a baking sheet and allow to dry overnight. Make sure it is completely dry, then combine it with the cocoa powder and set aside.
Put the chocolate pieces in a large heatproof bowl. Place the butter in a separate, smaller bowl and bring to room temperature. Meanwhile, set the creme fraiche in a pan over med-high heat and bring it to a boil. Grate in the zest from one lime, remove the pan from the heat, cover and let infuse for 10 minutes. Return the pan to the heat and bring just to a boil again. Remove from the heat.
While the creme fraiche is boiling, warm the lime juice and honey in a separate pan but do not boil.
Pour half of the creme fraiche over the chocolate and stir in small circles, moving outward from the center. Add the rest of the creme fraiche and the lime and honey mixture, and continue to stir until the chocolate melts. Once it is smooth, add the butter a piece or two at a time, stirring gently.
Thicken the ganache by chilling it for at least 30 minutes. Stir, then pour the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a round #9 tip (or improvise by pouring into a small Ziplog bag and cutting off a bottom corner at a diagonal). Pipe balls of ganache onto a parchment lined baking sheet and chill for 2 hours.
Spread the cocoa mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet or pan and, with a fork, roll the balls of ganache in it to cover. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon to an airtight container. Store in the fridge, and bring them almost up to room temperature before serving.
Can an improvised pastry bag made out of a Ziploc baggie stand in for the real deal with a #9 round tip, or will it be my downfall?
Will gently stirring the lime-infused creme fraiche into the chocolate in ever larger concentric circles give me carpal tunnel syndrome?
Will Wonder Woman -- that's me, and I've got the tin foil arm bands to prove it -- save the Hero with her Parisian truffles?
Find out on the next episode of Food Musings.
It may not look like much, but this lime sugar is the start of a very delectable treat. Those of you who have been to Paris or read any of the blogs that are based in (or frequent visitors to) the City of Love know that Pierre Hermé is the God of Pastry and the Saint of the Sweet Tooth. His creations regularly send fans into rituals of knee-bruising adoration on the sidewalks outside, and swooning when one gets to the counter is not unheard of.
A few weeks back, a friend brought by some Pierre Hermé truffles she'd made herself thanks to his recipe. After I gushed over them and tried to guess what mysterious citrus flavor was playing hide and seek with my tastebuds, as if by magic the cookbook and all the ingredients magically appeared on my doorstep. Aww, shucks, you shouldn't have. (Wink wink.)
Tune in later this week for the recipe and the finished product. Our very own British Invasion has come to town with visits from M., S. and S. all in one week, so the cocoa-dusted ganache bombs won't last long...