Friday, December 19, 2014

Bee all that you can bee

Napoleon liked bees. Do you know why? When Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor, he and his inner circle needed to choose appropriate emblems of his sovereignty. There was much discussion. Some wanted a lion, some an elephant, some an eagle, some an oak tree, some the honey bee. There were two winners: the eagle and the bee.

The eagle because of its association with military victory (and the days of Roman emperors). The bee because it had been the symbol* of France's earliest rulers, the Merovingians (credited with founding France in 457). The Napoleonic advisers thought it wise to ally the Corsican upstart with France's true origins.

Both the Napoleonic and Merovingian connections are why you find lots of stuff from France with the bee as a design motif.

For example, there's the bee glassware from a glassworks in Passavant-la-Rochère, Haute-Saône, in eastern France. The glassworks has been in almost continuous operation since its founding in 1475. The pink La Rochère Bee Tumbler at left holds 8 ounces, is 5-1/2 inches high, and is $10 from A French Addiction. The La Rochère Bee Bowl (photo way above) is 5-1/2 inches in diameter, and is $16 from Terrain. (La Rochère makes tons of other Napoleonic bee glasses and serving pieces. I just picked two of my favorites.)

More bees: There is a town in the South of France called Laguiole. It is known for beautiful hand-forged knives, and a cheese. Unlike the cheese, which can only be called Laguiole if it really comes from that region, any knife can be called Laguiole if it has been made in the general style of Laguiole. The classic Laguiole knife has a bee emblem at the joint where the handle meets the blade.
P.S. There are those who insist that it's a housefly and not a bee, but I'm going with bee.

Laguiole knives (and forks and spoons) can be quite costly, especially if they're made with exotic woods or horn. Just in case you have some extra bucks you don't know what to do with, check out the Laguiole website. The set of 6 ebony-handled forks at left is $364.

*The assumption that the bee was the symbol of France's earliest rulers is based on the discovery of 300 gold-and-garnet bees (see below) in the tomb of Childéric I, the first of the Merovingian kings. Though commonly accepted as bees, they are more likely golden effigies of the cicada, which was a symbol of resurrection--perhaps because the cicada nymph lives underground for years (up to 17 years, depending on the species) before emerging as an adult. It would certainly look as though they were rising from the dead, if you ask me.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Spicy Cherry Vinegar

It's so ridiculously easy to make flavored vinegar that it makes me wonder why people pay big bucks to buy it. Anyway, got me some cherries the other day, since it's just the very beginning of cherry season, and decided to donate some of them to the cause by using them to make cherry vinegar.

The cherries colored the vinegar in only a couple of hours, but I left them there for a full day to let the cherry juices exchange with the vinegar. I took the cheap way out and used distilled white vinegar, but I imagine the vinegar would taste even better if you started with a good white wine vinegar. In fact this would be perfectly tasty made with red wine vinegar, but you won't get the dramatic effect of the vinegar changing color.

Spicy Cherry Vinegar

2 cups quartered sweet (Bing) cherries
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cups distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a large nonmetal container, combine all of the ingredients. Let stand 24 hours. Strain and put the vinegar in a clean bottle.

Makes 3 cups

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mega-Recipe: Ricotta Torte

May is Bone Health Month. (Who decides these things, anyway?) So in honor of that, and in honor of mothers—who as a class definitely need strong bones—this week's recipe is for a calcium-rich cheese torte.

The torte is what I call a Mega-Recipe. What this means is that, in order to get a meaningful amount of a certain nutrient in a serving, I load the recipe up on ingredients high in that nutrient.

In the case of the torte, I went for the obvious sources of calcium: dairy products. But by choosing lower-fat versions of them I could get more calcium (too hard and boring to explain, but true). Then I also added nondairy sources of calcium, including almonds and broccoli. Broccoli has the distinction of being high in calcium and relatively low in vitamin K, which inhibits the body's ability to use the calcium in the vegetable.

Too much nutrition blah-blah, here's the recipe:

Ricotta Torte with Broccoli & Basil

My plan was to come up with a single serving that had significant calcium in it. I used skim milk to cook the rice and chose part-skim ricotta over full-fat. I used 1% cottage cheese, but since cottage cheese is not as good a source of calcium as other dairy products, I chose one of the brands that has added calcium. The other good sources in this torte are the broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes (?!), eggs, almonds, scallions and basil. When it all gets added up, a single serving has just about 500mg of calcium, which is 50% of the DV.

2 cups skim milk
3/4 cup brown-wild rice blend
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted and very finely chopped
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, slivered (2.5 ounces)
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 scallions, chopped
2 cups (packed) finely chopped broccoli (6 ounces)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 container (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese (1-3/4 cups)
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese (with calcium)
3 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1. In a medium saucepan (preferably nonstick), combine the milk, rice blend and 1 teaspoon of the oil. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cover tightly, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, 45 to 50 minutes. (Make sure it doesn't foam over.) Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9- to 10-inch springform pan. Sprinkle the almonds and Parmesan evenly over the bottom of the springform. In a small heatproof bowl, cover the sun-dried tomatoes with boiling water and let sit to soften while the rice cooks. Drain and coarsely chop.
3. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and scallions, and cook for 30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the broccoli, water, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Cover and cook until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and set aside.
4. In a food processor, combine the ricotta, cottage cheese, whole eggs, egg whites, basil and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and pulse just to combine. Stir into the cooled rice mixture.
5. Spoon one-third of the cheese-rice mixture into the springform. Top with the broccoli mixture and spoon the remaining cheese-rice mixture on top, making sure the broccoli is completely covered. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and a knife comes out clean. Cool completely to room temperature before serving.

Makes 6 servings

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Homemade soda

My sister Megan has a cool seltzer-making machine called a Penguin (you can read more about it on the Sodastream website). I admire it deeply, but with limited counter space I'm currently content to go to her house and drink her homemade sparkling water.

However, I did stumble across this cute little gadget called U-Fizz. It's really more a mini science experiment for kids than a serious way to make sparkling beverages, but it's only $9 (from Scientifics), so what the heck?

To make a sparkling drink with U-Fizz, you put the juice or water to be carbonated in one bottle and screw the cap on. Then in a second bottle, you combine vinegar and baking soda and screw that cap on. The chemical reaction of the baking soda and vinegar produce carbon dioxide, which escapes through a tube into the awaiting juice/water.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I confess that I like using devices for cutting bagels. Some people of my acquaintance consider this wussy behavior. ("What? Not willing to hold a bagel in your hand as you slice toward your palm with a really sharp knife? Sheesh.")

I currently use a wooden thingie that looks sort of like a paper napkin holder, but it has seen many years of service and I've been looking for a replacement. This is how I stumbled across the Bagelpod. I have resisted writing about it because I've never actually used one. However, the engineer dude who invented this is so incredibly earnest and detailed about the process he went through to create this bagel-cutting device that I just had to pass it along.

The Bagelpod sells for $26 from Amazon.

Here's a (maddeningly soundless) video of a person I suspect to be the inventor demonstrating the use of the Bagelpod.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Linguistic bloviation

There's got to be a term that describes words that evolve through the linguistic game of telephone. Here's an example of what I mean. In France, back in the day, if you wanted to let a girl know you liked her you would give her a flower, or donner une fleur à. This evolved into the verb fleurter (to flower). The English language picked this up and changed it to flirt. In modernday French, the verb for flirting is flirter and comes directly from the English word flirt. So, game of telephone.

This brings me to the parfait. In France, the word parfait means perfect, but it also refers to a frozen dessert. In this country, round about the turn of the 20th century, we adopted the word parfait and used it to mean ice cream layered with other ingredients (like syrups or fruit) in a tall soda-fountain-style glass. The concept then evolved to mean anything that was served in layers in a tall glass (object being, of course, to show off the layers).

Flash forward to now: For the past couple of years, chi-chi caterers and restaurants in this country have adopted this cool, new presentation idea from France: the verrine. It's layered ingredients presented in a glass so you can see the layers. Hmmmm, wait, that sounds familiar...

So again, language has moved on. To try your hand at parfa....verrines, you could check out Terrines & Verrines from chef Franck Pontais.