Monday, December 30, 2013

Dave's Law of Combinant Foods

My 20-something son, Julien, introduced me to something he calls Dave’s Law of Combinant Foods. The law works like this: If you take two solid foods that you really like individually, you should also like the combination. (For some reason—known only to Julien’s friend Dave—liquids are not allowed in the rules of this law.)

So I thought about it, and I could not come up with a combination that didn’t at least have potential. For example, how about roast salmon and chocolate ice cream? I know it sounds awful, but they might actually work. There was a famous French chef who put sweet vanilla sauce on lobster. Can salmon and chocolate ice cream be far behind?

Anyway, think about it, then come back and add your two cents below. See if you can disprove Dave’s Law. And don’t forget, it has to be two foods that you really like. No cheating.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Exotic food kits

A couple of months ago, I bought myself a wonderfully exotic cookbook that covered about 8 different Asian cuisines, including Burmese, Thai, and Indonesian. I was really excited to try one of the Thai recipes (a coconut custard with fragrant sugar syrup) and spent a good deal of time and energy traipsing around New York City to collect the ingredients. When I finally found everything (including pandanus leaf*), I had visited 4 stores and spent a huge amount of money. And the worst of it is that I had all these leftover ingredients that I really had no idea how to use on my own (i.e., without a recipe).

Anyway, when I saw these recipe kits called Destination Dinners, I was very impressed. In each kit, you get all the ingredients you need (minus any perishables) to make an exotic dinner. But you get only the amount you need and no more.

Each kit includes the premeasured ingredients, a grocery list for the fresh items you need, plus a little history and culinary trivia for the cuisine you've chosen. For example, one of the kits is for a Thai green curry with jasmine-scented sponge cakes, and the exotic ingredients included were jasmine rice, rice flour, green curry paste, fish sauce, jasmine water and palm sugar.

The handsomely packaged kits cost $30-35 and serve 4 to 8 people, depending on which recipe you've chosen. In addition to the Thai green curry, the 12 kits currently available include chicken garam masala (Bangladesh), jerk chicken (Jamaica), falafel (Israel), pork and egg rice bowl (Japan), beef bulgogi (Korea), baked spiced lamb (Lebanon), chicken and cashews (Thailand) and jambalaya (Louisiana).

If you really get into it, you might want to look at what they call the Destination Passport, which is basically a kit-of-the-month club. You can buy a 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month passport.

*Just in case you're curious, pandanus leaf is a long thin leaf that looks sort of like a piece of palm frond. It's used in Thai cooking to flavor coconut-based desserts and sugar syrups.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hi, Monkey

I must be very easily amused, because I find the website called "Hi, Monkey" absolutely charming. The site is filled with recipes and craft projects all illustrated by photographs of a small stuffed terrycloth monkey preparing the food or making the craft. (Bear with me, here.)

For example, Monkey's recipe for potato latkes, which starts out with a photograph of Monkey and two potatoes and a caption that reads: “My two little friends from Idaho have graciously consented to be turned into potato pancakes.” In the next photo Monkey is peeling the potatoes and the caption reads: “After thanking them profusely I peel my little pals. Please don't do this with any of your friends unless they are actual potatoes.”

Anyway, you get the picture. But the recipes are serious, and although the ingredient quantities are a little loose, you could probably make potato latkes after reading this.

There are tons of other craft ideas and recipes and photographs of Monkey. I recommend checking out his decorating ideas for “Panda Cupcakes.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Uchiki kuri squash

My new favorite squash, the uchiki kuri (also called red kuri), is a Japanese cultivar with a teardrop shape and a beautiful reddish-orange skin. Near as I can figure out, the name uchiki kuri translates as bashful chestnut. Awwww. Not sure why bashful, but I definitely get the chestnut part, because the squash has a nice, mild, nutty flavor.

Not having cooked with it before, I wasn't sure what to do about the skin. But I know from years of writing about phytochemicals that there were certainly some important antioxidants hanging around in that deeply colored shell. I compromised by just taking off some of the skin so it wouldn't be a total loss either way. The peeling exposed the beautiful juxtaposition of green and orange you see in the photo at left. There is a similar greenish tinge in the flesh that holds the seeds in the seed cavity.

Turns out that the skin is perfectly edible, or at least in the exemplar that I roasted. The seeds, on the other hand, were encased in what I imagine dragon skin to be like. I roasted some of them with the squash and they were inedible. I will try some more roasted all by themselves, but I'm not sure the game is worth the candle, as my mother used to say (though I never knew what game she was talking about that involved a candle...was it Colonial kids playing a nighttime game of hide-n-seek?).

In the course of researching the kuri squash, I stumbled across several gardening sites with heirloom squash seeds*. In addition to the uchiki kuri, you can also get seeds for a squash called the potimarron, described as the "famous winter squash from France." The potimarron is in fact the same squash (C. maxima) but by another name. In French, potimarron is a mash-up of the words for pumpkin (potiron) and chestnut (marron). VoilĂ , chestnut squash. But it's not bashful, cuz, you know, it's French.

*Try this website: Seed Savers Exchange.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Frustrating old recipes

Feeling in a old-timey kitchen mood, I decided to find an old-timey recipe for all of my home-dried apples.

I stumbled across one called March Pudding in an 1877 cookbook called Buckeye Cookery, and Practical Housekeeping. The book was conceived as a fund-raiser, with recipes submitted by local housewives in Marysville, Ohio. The book sold for about $1.75, and it raised $2,000 to build a parsonage for the First Congregational Church.

The March Pudding recipe came from a Miss Lizzie March, who (I discovered through a little genealogical sleuthing) was the 20-year-old daughter of the local Presbyterian minister, William Gilmore March.

Here is the recipe as it appeared in the cookbook.

It's astonishing to me that recipes with so little information actually got published back in the day. I guess the recipes were more like sketches than actual blueprints for cooking. Maybe all of the women of the 19th century were so accomplished as cooks that they didn't need annoying little details like How much liquid goes into this batter? What kind of pan does it cook in? How hot is the oven? How long do you bake it? And I defy anyone to follow the exact order of business as described in the recipe. It simply can't work.

However, I did my best to reinterpret the information given. I didn't change any of the quantities, but had to make a complete guess on the soaking liquid for the apples. Since it was called a pudding, I made the assumption that it belonged to a class of desserts that were sort of like plum pudding, so I baked it—with much expectation—in a shaped pudding mold*. The resulting dessert was more cake-y and less dense than plum pudding. And I could NOT get it to unmold, though it was perfectly tasty. I have temporarily given up (I mean really, how many molasses cakes is a person expected to have in the refrigerator?), but I may get back to this one day.

I'm putting this out there now in hopes that someone who stumbles across this says, why of course, Lizzie March said bake but she really meant steam. Or else she baked it in some other kind of container that made the dessert easier to unmold/serve.

* The steamed pudding mold shown above is from Creative Cookware. Search on Plum Pudding Mold; they sell 1.5-quart and 2-quart molds. They also sell nonstick molds.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Plastiki Expedition

[I thought it was time to bring this post back to the surface--it was originally posted May 19, 2009--because the Plastiki has now completed its cross-Pacific journey from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia. Their website continues in their efforts to increase awareness about the massive waste stream connected with plastic bottles.]

I've written about a Japanese fellow who built a canoe out of recycled wooden chopsticks and the American dude who made a Viking ship out of popsicle sticks, but this boat (artist rendering at left) really takes the cake. (See how I distracted you with a food reference so you wouldn't notice that this post is just about boats?)

From March through August 2010, David de Rothschild (a self-styled eco-warrior and, yes, that Rothschild family) and a crew sailed 8,000 nautical miles from San Francisco to Sydney in a boat made of recycled plastic bottles (more than 12,000 of them).

Here's a part of their mission statement:
The Plastiki aims to draw attention to the rethinking of our everyday human fingerprints on the natural world and in turn capturing the world's imagination by telling a story; that of the pioneering and sustainable design process that created and built The Plastiki...

It is our aim to captivate, inspire and activate tomorrow's environmental thinkers and doers to take positive action for our Planet and to be smart with waste, ultimately we hope to inspire people to rethink waste as a valuable resource. One person's waste could be another person's treasure.
Check the voyage out on the Plastiki website or their Facebook page. Or follow @Plastiki on Twitter.