Sunday, July 29, 2012

Field Trip

It started with a photograph with the tagline "essential summer reading."

The two books on the bottom of the pile did not immediately surface in search results lists on various bookselling sites, perhaps because they have a web site of their very own.

The site has a description and videos and a blog.  It also has a list of retail establishments -- all of them independently owned and many of them devoted exclusively to food -- where they can be purchased.

Rabelais - Fine Books on Food and Wine in Maine is a place I have heard of and have wanted to visit for a while, but then I saw Stir Boston and decided to check that out instead.

I don't think that Julia Child would even fit in that kitchen, and I wish that I had more time to explore the surrounding area, because it is in an interesting area of Boston.  I am already planning a return trip when I have a bit more time.

The book selection is small, but impressively diverse if a bit more on the gourmet or high end or ... advanced end of the shelf.  No television celebrities that I could see.  There was even a copy of Modernist Cuisine on the shelf, which I think might make an appropriate subjective bookend to Notes from a Kitchen, because it is as technical and scientific and structured as Notes is freeform, organic and alchemical -- two ends of the spectrum or two sides of the same coin.  In between I found The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley and Spice: Flavors of the Mediterranean by Ana Sortun and Heston's Fantastical Feasts by Heston Blumenthal, as well as Blumenthal's cookbooks and all of the River Cottage books.

The best part is that not only do places like Stir and the other establishments on the list exist, but they are thriving.  At least, I hope they are thriving.  Based on the call I heard the employee take while I was paging through cookbooks, Stir certainly is.  Cooking classes and private events are booked well in advance, and the business is preparing to celebrate its fifth anniversary next month.

Equally encouraging is the success of grassroots creative endeavors.  I'm sure that they have always been around, and I am sure that there are still quite a few that never see fruition, much less success, but there are projects such as Notes from a Kitchen which have found a niche and a market without being sold through major outlets.

It is certainly inspiring, potentially motivating ... contagious, even (in a good way).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Food meet wine, live happily ever after

Since I have been experimenting with and learning about wine, I have heard about the wonder that is food and wine pairing.  I have even experienced a bit of it myself -- a tannic red wine mellowed by a creamy blue cheese, for example.

Last night I attended a wine dinner and experienced the true wondrous possibilities of combining complementary wine and food.  The food was delicious.  The wine was excellent.  The two together transported everyone gathered around the table to an entirely new dimension.

Four "small plate" dishes, each paired with a complimentary generous sample of wine.

First course: Truffle Lobster Purse paired with Louis Latour Pouilly Fuisse 2010, Burgundy, France
From the menu: "Claw and knuckle mean with a portabella cream sauce baked in spring roll wrappers and topped with white truffle oil."

This is the only dish I photographed because once
the eating began, I forgot all about photography.
I am often not one for cream sauce, but mushrooms in cream sauce is a classic, the ration of mushrooms to cream was generous, and the way that these little "purses" were assembled, the lobster ended up nestled in a bed of the sauce, neither overwhelming the other.  The spring roll wrappers brightened the dish with a bit of crunch, while offsetting the richness at the same time.

The wine was a Burgundian chardonnay.  Generally, I am not a big fan of chardonnay, although I have been introduced to a few that I have been willing to bring home with me.  I'm pretty sure that this was the best I have tasted so far -- smooth, almost creamy, mellow, lightening up the rich food.  The French just know how to make wine.  That's all there is to it.  Even more so than the Italians (but that may be because I tend to prefer lighter wines and have become rather fond of bubbles).

As soon as I tasted it, I couldn't help wondering what effect the simple, gorgeous, spacious, delicate feeling, probably actual crystal wine glasses had on the taste.  The wine glasses in my house are fairly basic and functional (although I did make a point of buying flutes from which to drink sparkling wine), and as wine glasses go, not very large, or at least the bowl of the glass is not very tall.  They certainly get the job done, but now that I have had wine in the "right" glass, I can appreciate how the appropriate vessel opens up a wine and allows it to reveal greater complexity and depth of character.  (That being said, my cupboard space is limited, so I am going to stick with my current drink ware for now.)

Second Course: Wild Mushroom and Confit Duck Crepe paired with Byron Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Barbara, California
From the menu: Tender confit duck leg blended with porcini and shiitake mushrooms, cram and demi-glaze rolled in fresh herb crepes.  Topped with creme fraiche and a blackberry port reduction."

This was my first experience with duck -- rich, but not as fatty as I expected.  The tang of the blackberry complemented the richness of the meat, and the crepe added a touch of sweetness, all of which were enhanced by the pinot noir.  Since I tend to like sour cream or cheese on just about anything and everything, the creme fraiche was a lovely touch.  Meanwhile, the slight tannic qualities of the wine complemented and were complemented by the mushrooms.  I think that the cream almost made the wine taste creamy.  Or maybe subtly velvet.  (I don't speak wine, yet.  I only speak yum.)

Third Course: Korean Short Rib paired with Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Lodi, California
From the menu: "Marinated and slow braised, served with scallion jasmine rice and braising liquids."

This was the piece de resistance, with the strongest aromas promising delectable things to come.  The meat fell right off the bone and readily disintegrated into shreds of meaty goodness.  The scallion jasmine rice was more of a garnish, adding subtle hints of flavor in the background.  The braising liquids were savory, until you sipped the wine and the peppery chile flavors popped out.  I don't care for sharp spice, but in this case it was a pleasantly surprising new experience.  This combination offered the most layers and variations, distinct but woven into a cohesive whole -- a culinary example of the whole being so much more than the sum of the parts.

Dessert:  Doughnut Bread Pudding with Espresso Ice Cream paired with Campbells Rutherglen Tokay NV, Australia (no vintage year given)

After the savory, spicy richness of the rib, something mellower and sweet was a welcome change and a delightful finish.  The doughiness of the pudding enhanced the raisin, honey and vanilla flavors of the wine, which was not so sweet as to be cloying.

The group was a fairly big crowd of a about twenty-five at one long table, but multiple conversations carried on with ease as people bonded over a shared love of food and wine and branched out into subjects of family and occupations and travel and hobbies.  Given that this event was such a success, the organizer has plans to make it a monthly offering, and I can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tuna Benedict?

As I sat down to eat my tuna salad on tomato slices, I couldn't help thinking that while tasty, they might be missing something.  Perhaps a salad or a side of steamed vegetables.  Then I thought -- eggs!  An egg would be just the thing.  Initially I thought a few slices of warm, hard boiled egg, but then I thought "tuna melt meets eggs Benedict": toasted English muffin (or stick with the tomato slices), plus tuna salad, plus egg, plus hollandaise sauce and/or Swiss cheese or perhaps pesto, assembled and toasted or broiled until heated through and browned on top.

I'm salivating with curiosity.  Anyone else?  Yes?  No?

Tuna Salad on Tomato Slices
1 Medium to large tomato, sliced crosswise
(Mine was a little smaller than a softball, and I got four probably 1/4-inch slices after cutting off the top.)
1 5-ounce can Wild Planet Skipjack light tuna, *undrained*
1 Rib celery, finely chopped
Mustard to taste
(I used whole grain dijon, probably between 1/2 and 1 tsp.)
Mayo or Miracle Whip to taste
(I used about 2 tsp of Miracle Whip light.)
Small handful magic cheese
Sunny Paris seasoning

Arrange tomato slices on a plate and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper or to taste.

Mix the tuna, celery, mustard, and Miracle Whip in a bowl until well blended.

Sprinkle in the cheese and a few shakes of Sunny Paris seasoning and mix again.

Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

Pile the tuna on the tomato slices until the bowl is empty.


Food riff: Sprouts, baby spinach leaves, small leaves of lettuce, fresh basil or other fresh herbs of preference could easily be layered over the tomatoes before piling on the tuna.  A thin slice of Swiss or cheddar or Harvarti or mozzarella could be used in addition to or instead of the greenery.  Alternately, the cheese could go over the top and the lot could be toasted or set under the broiler for a few minutes and then perhaps even topped with a touch of marinara or salsa.  As with the salmon salad of a recent post, garlic and/or onions could add a bit of zing and relish a bit of crunch.  Maybe even mix the tuna with pesto rather than mustard and mayo.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Layered Omelette

Usually when I make an omelette, I beat the eggs, mix in whatever other ingredients I want to include and pour the whole mixture into a hot pan.

Today I decided to try layering instead.

I chopped up several slices of prosciutto and heated them in a pan.  Once they started to crisp, I poured two beaten eggs over them.  I let eggs and prosciutto cook for a moment and then sprinkled shredded cheese over the eggs.  I cooked the mixture with minimal disturbance until almost set before loosening carefully and flipping bravely.  (I must have had the courage of my convictions because everything stayed in the pan.)

After switching off the heat under the pan, I steamed some chopped zucchini separately and scattered it over the omelette once I had slid it onto a plate -- the plate which covered the bowl of zucchini while it was steaming, so it was nice and hot.

I'm not entirely sure that it was *better* than the way I usually prepare omelettes, but I could tell the difference, tasting layers of flavor rather than simply a blend of flavors.

As a side note, hot food really should be served on warm plates.  I remember my father putting plates into the oven to warm a few minutes before dinner was ready.  I remember warnings about hot plates from waiters in restaurants.  I never gave it a whole lot of thought or really made any kind of connection.  Only when I read The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry in which there is an instance when the author fails a test because she did not warm the plate did I put it together.  (Keeping a few glasses in the freezer for cold beverages is an excellent idea, too.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wild Planet Salmon Salad

I much prefer fish to beef, pork or even chicken, but as seafood prices have risen and sustainability becomes ever more a concern, I have been eating much less fish as well, but canned tuna in water continues to be a staple -- lean protein that is easy to prepare.

After a batch of not so great grocery store brand albacore, even the old standby was suspect, but now there is hope in canned seafood from Wild Planet Foods.  Their products are by no means inexpensive, but you get what you pay for in this case.

Tonight it was once again too hot to cook, so I decided that tuna fish salad was the way to go.  When I discovered a can of salmon in the cupboard, I upgraded.

It was so tasty that I ate it all before I really even thought about taking a photo.

I started with six ounces skinless boneless canned Alaskan pink salmon.  No water, no oil - just fish and fish juice, which meant that there was no need to drain the can and which also meant I could use a lot less dressing.

I added fresh dill, organic whole grain mustard, Miracle Whip light (I know, I know, but I haven't gotten too far on making my own dressings yet), and magic cheese.  All of these were to taste -- probably five or six torn sprigs of dill, about a teaspoon each of mustard and Miracle Whip, and a generous sprinkle of cheese.  I  added small quantities until I was satisfied with the look, feel and flavor.

There is certainly room for a little salt & pepper and perhaps a bit of celery and/or relish and/or onion for crunch.  Serve it on a bed of lettuce or sprouts or chips or make a sandwich.

I ate mine right out of the mixing bowl ... but I did take the time to use a fork.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book reporting

Despite what various purveyors of school supplies probably want you to think, it's a bit early to be thinking back to school thoughts, but I found the following while cleaning out e-mail, and it seemed like a fun thing to share.  If anyone else wants to share scholastic (or not) formative book memories, feel free.

E-mail originally written 5 February 2011:
Although I like writing about books (and music and movies for that matter), I was never much for book reports.  I think that second grade might have been the first year I had to write them because I have several memories of never quite getting it right.  I either included to much detail or not enough.  And then one day I got in trouble for (I think inadvertently because I don't recall doing it deliberately or to get out of my own assignment) using a significant portion of the blurb on the back of _Superfudge_ by Judy Blume in my own report.  I think that it made sense to me because it seemed to have exactly what the teacher wanted.

Wait.  I take that back.  It was third grade.  Not second grade.

The too much detail mostly came from wanting to share the complete experience of a book I had read -- such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- and which I had enjoyed, or which had made a strong impression on me.

I don't necessarily remember a whole lot else about grade school, but I have lots of memories of reading and books.  Fifth grade was The Red Pony by Steinbeck, and an abridged version of A Tale of Two Cities.  Sixth grade was All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott and To Kill a Mockingbird as I recall.

Charlotte's Web is one of the few books I have read more than once, and I have read it probably half a dozen times.  Second grade might have beenStuart Little.  I remember a teacher reading it to the class.  I never could get through The Trumpet of the Swan.  James and the Giant Peach was another book I heard read aloud in second grade.

I remember Ann Burns giving me a copy of Peter Pan.  And Willow giving me a copy of The House of the Spirits.  I remember Just So Stories.  I remember Beatrix Potter and Madeline L'Engle and Saturday trips to the library.  Books and stories have been the constant in my life for as long as I can remember.

A while ago I came across a book titled Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde.  Oscar Wilde is one of those literary figures I have always wanted to know more about and read more by.  I am not so much interested in the scandalous bits as I am his library and how much literature, reading and writing were so much a part of his life, his very being.  He is up there with Tennessee Williams' notebooks and the diaries of Virginia Woolf.  Dashiell Hammett was a great letter writer, and the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway intrigue me as well.  I like seeing them on my shelves next to Homer and Shakespeare.

I like reading what famous writers (or even just writers I enjoy reading) have to say about reading and about books they love.  Allende's The Sum of Our Days is a wonderful memoir because of the way that her writing is the constant through everything else that happens.  I should send it to you if you haven't already read it.  I have her other personal/non fiction writing, but I haven't read it yet.

The letters between Julia Child and Avid Devoto are a complete delight to read.  I should plan another day trip to D.C. so that I can go to the Smithsonian and see the famous kitchen.  I did it a couple of summers ago to go to the National Book Fair, which was held on the national mall.  I went to the talks I wanted to hear and then wandered around the city.

Many of my "friends" on the ubiquitous social network (to which I no longer belong) were famous people I have never even met, but a lot of them post about writing as well as their lives.  The social networking site I actually prefer, however, is  I have author friends there, too.  It's all about books.  You get to see what your friends are reading, what they have read, what they want to read, and how they rated or what they wrote about various books.  It's fun.

I like the book world.  Movies and music are good, too, but books are still my favorite.

But can you eat a book?

In an attempt to refocus time and energy (dare I say attempt organization?), I find myself wondering if books and food can coexist and co-mingle peacefully in one blog.  On the other hand, it might be more work than it is worth to keep the two separate.

I think that the best plan is to not worry about it so much and do something about actually writing, even in fragmented bits and pieces.