Wednesday, August 30, 2006


See, what I love about food blogs is that you can find there interviews of people who make chocolate--as for instance, here, where David Lebovitz interviews Frederick Schilling of Dagoba Organic Chocolate on his wonderful (often chocolate-focused) blog. Lots of interesting stuff about chocolate making, the chocolatemakers community, etc. Schilling quotes Dr. Seuss and mentions a fantasy of transporting chocolate from South America in sailing boats--could he be more charming? Plus, Dagoba makes one of my favorite chocolat bars, the Xocalatl, bittersweet chocolate with chilies and cacao nibs. It turns out it's their #1 best selling bar, which dashes my feelings of being unique and clever in my liking of it, but I'll get over it.

Friday, August 25, 2006


I always thought I'd like to do some canning, in the way that people think they might like to write a novel, some time, in the future, when other interests have palled, perhaps when they've retired and don't have enough to do. But this summer I had canning thrust upon me. D's father Raymond, who has an intensively planted city garden, has always canned--tomatoes, peaches, pears. And this year, he decided he wasn't up to it any more, so D said we would do it. Sure, we'll do it, I said comfortably back in June when the peaches were still in the future, and I sat back to read another ancient mystery I'd found when cleaning the closet.
And then the peaches arrived! Several hundred of them.
So we're canning, and just in time for the 22nd Sugar High Friday, Can You Can, hosted at Delicious Days.
The main reference we used (besides D's father, who had plenty to say) was the older version of The Joy of Cooking, which has been there for me through many culinary triumphs and failures. We supplemented it with an intensely wordy online treatise from the USDA, and a perky but useful FAQ, here.
So far, we've done 35 pints of peaches and 10 quarts, canned in a medium sugar syrup by the cold-pack method. We've had 4 exploding jars (they didn't really explode, just broke in the hot water bath), which was exciting (what was that noise!?) but annoying. We don't need cologne because we carry with us a mild but pervasive odor of peachiness. We have only one peach-related injury--D cut his knuckle during some over-enthusiastic peeling.
We've learned several things: pack those peaches in tightly; when they say to fill the jars with a certain amount of headroom, they really mean it; boiling water is HOT!; and, although this may seem obvious, peeled peaches are slippery. Mainly we've learned that it isn't as hard as I feared it might be. It's the kind of thing that you get better at the more you do it. And I have to say that I feel an immense sense of accomplishment when I look at the jars on the dining room table.
I'm thinking: we can do this!; which is a good thing, because in a couple of weeks, the pears are going to start coming in.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

one local summer #8: pot luck

My featured local meal this week wasn't actually a meal. I made locally grown food the star of my potluck contributions (as it turned out, I wasn't the only one--there were some homegrown tomatoes in the salad and, I believe, local eggplant in the main dish).
I made 2 things--a kind of tapenade with garlic toasts and a fruit crumble. The tapenade was all local except for the olive oil and spices, and the bread was from a local bakery. The crumble (or was it a crisp?) had local plums and cherries and local butter from Hartzler's Dairy in the crumble topping. I made it with very little sugar because one of the potluckers is a diabetic.

1 small tomato, seeded
1/2 medium onion
8 oven-dried tomatoes (from last year)
1/2 mildly hot pepper
1 garlic clove
handful of local black walnuts, chopped
handful of mixed basil from the garden (green, purple, lime, and Thai)
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp of smoked paprika
1/2 tsp of chipotle powder
drizzle of olive oil
I put everything except the oil into the food processor and let it go for a minute. When it was chunky, I started adding the olive oil in dribs and drabs until it started to look spreadable (probably about 1/4 cup). It tasted fine, and was popular enough that it was half gone before I took a picture of it.

Plum-Cherry Crumble

about 15 prune plums, pitted and sliced
about twenty cherries, pitted
5 tbs white (divided use)
pinch of ginger
pinch of nutmeg
1/8 cup of red wine
1/4 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup flour
2tbs demerara sugar (although you could use brown)
3 tbs butter
pinch salt
I roasted the plums a little first after tossing them with 3 tbs of the sugar, the ginger and the nutmeg--about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven to draw the juices out a little. I put the plums and their juice in my baking dish (a smallish 5-cup pyrex) along with the halved cherries. I added the wine and tossed them a little. (I had some rose petal syrup leftover from something else and added a couple of spoonsful, but this was optional.) I put the oatmeal, flour, butter, salt, and the rest of the sugars in a dish and mixed it with my hands (although you can use a pastry cutter if you want to). Then I spooned it onto the fruit and put it in the 350-degree oven for about 35 minutes (or until you can see the fruit juices bubbling up a little.
At the potluck we had this with Hartzler cream, and it was universally commended. It turned out very red/purple, despite the prune plums--some powerfully colored cherries, I guess.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

in honor of Julia

Lisa at Champaign Taste had the nifty idea to celebrate Julia Child's birthday today by making one of her recipes. I decided to make mayonnaise because I've never done it and always wanted to. To make it even easier, Julia gives Blender Mayonnaise as a variation in Mastering the Art of French Cooking--I couldn't put it off any longer.
I want to say I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't done it before--it was soooo easy.
Julia Child's Blender Mayonnaise
1 whole egg
1/4 tsp dry mustard (I used prepared because I couldn't find dry)
1/2 tsp salt (I used kosher)
1 tbs white wine vinegar (or Julia says you can use lemon juice)
1 cup olive oil (or a mixture of oils)
I put the 1st 3 ingredients in my food processor (figuring it would work as well as the blender--which it did) and whirred it for 30 seconds; added the vinegar and let it go 10 seconds more. Then I poured the oil very slowly into the feed tube--in fact, I put it in by dripped spoonsful, because Julia was emphatic about the need for slowness. I could see it turning into mayonnaise right then and there--it was like a chemistry experiment (and more successful than most of mine were in Sister Gabriella's class).
And voila--le mayonnaise (la mayonnaise?).
I tried it immediately on the classic cheese and tomato-from-the-garden sandwich.
Bon appetit!

Postscript: I just read on megnut that mayonnaise is (possibly) 250 years old this summer. Glad to have observed two anniversaries in one.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Local Spice is Right

Local spice, local ingredients. This is my entry for The Spice is Right 5: Fresh and Local. Barbara at Tigers and Strawberries this time asked us to come up with a locally grown spice if we could and pair it with as much local produce as possible, in honor of the lush and prolific growth of summer.
My local spice is coriander, the seeds of cilantro, and their terroir is my backyard. I've been growing cilantro for more than ten years, and sometimes now it reseeds itself, which I love. But I don't take any chances--I plant it every year, somtimes twice, because I love it so much.
The cilantro wars have been fought fiercely at my house, because D is one of those people who are genetically disposed to dislike the taste of cilantro. To some of these unfortunates, cilantro tastes like soap; D says it tastes like wet cardboard. I used to think he was just giving me a hard time, or that if I snuck it into enough dishes he'd get to like it. But I can't fight a genetic disposition.
In doing a little research on coriander/cilantro, I was glad to find out that its name derives from the Latin coriandrum, which in turn derives from the Greek corys, a bedbug, supposedly referring to the scent of the crushed leaves (I'm not going to tell D about this). It's both a spice (the seeds, whole or ground) and an herb (the leaves). The seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs (I've noticed this is claimed for a lot of plants--those Egyptians must have been fiends for seed burial). It was one of the 1st herbs grown by the American colonists, and the Roman legions carried it along on the march to flavor their bread. It is still used in cough medicine in India. There's a website for cilantro haters: I Hate Cilantro! And it's the name of the title character in I, Coriander.
I got my recipe from The Serendipitous Chef's Fiery Cool Cucumber Soup. Here's my version, only a little different:

about 3 medium cucumbers, seeded and cut in large pieces
(I peeled them, but left a little on for green flecks)
half an onion, cut in chunks
1 tbs dill
a small handful of basil
a small handful of mint
about 1 tbs of green coriander seeds, smashed a little with a knife
3 cloves garlic
1tsp chipotle chile powder
1 tsp paprika
pinch of sea salt
a pinch of cumin seeds
a splash of olive oil
and another of white wine
about 2 cups of yogurt
I put everything except the last 3 ingredients in the food processor and whirred it up until it was small-chunky. Then I put in the olive oil and white wine, and started adding yogurt about a quarter cup at a time. When it got to a nice soupy, not-too-thick consistency, I stopped (hence the imprecise measurement). I chilled it in the freezer for about 20 minutes (since it was very close to dinnertime), and brought it out and garnished it with mint sprigs (forgot them in the picture).
As for locality--the cucumbers was from D's father's garden, the onion from the farmers market. The herbs and the garlic were all from my garden, the white wine was a local wine, leaving only the salt, chile powders, olive oil, yogurt from out of town.
It was great--so good that I ate some for a bedtime snack later that night--chilled and icy, with a snap of spicy pepper and the pleasant tang of the yogurt--so good that I'm planning on adding the Chef to my blogroll--I don't want to miss anything else this good.

(Neither of the photos do it justice--I swear it didn't look that brown in real life!)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

vegging out

The heat has broken somewhat, but it's still not what you'd call cool. So we opted to keep the temperature of dinner minimal, both the cooking of it and the eating. It also turned out to be more or less vegetarian (I used some chicken broth making the beans, but mostly because it was in the fridge, a leftover; vegetable broth could be easily substituted).
Black Bean Salad
about 1 cup uncooked black beans
liquid to cover (I used a mixture of water, red wine, and chicken broth)
half an onion
several sprigs of Thai basil
2 cloves of garlic
a sprig of mint
2 ears of corn
assorted heirloom tomatoes, enough to make about a cup roughly chopped
half a lime
olive oil
Herb Pesto (see below)
I sorted through the beans, put them in the dutch oven with the liquid and the next 4 ingredients, and simmered them until they were tender (this took a while, because these beans were pretty old). When they were done, I discarded the onion, garlic, and herb sprigs, and set the beans aside to cool down.
I microwaved the corn--my new discovery, and I wish I remembered whom to credit, but I don't. Corn cooks perfectly in the microwave wrapped loosely in a paper towel. For 2 ears, I put the timer on 2.5 minutes, but you probably would need to experiment to find the perfect timing for your own microwave.
I cut the corn off the cobs and combined it with the beans and the tomato, annointed it with the juice of the half lime and a dose of olive oil (probably a couple of tablespoons), and the pesto.
The pesto looks depressingly khaki in the picture, probably because I used a mixture of purple and green basils. I threw it together, but this is a good approximation:
Herb Pesto
handful of green basil leaves
handful of purple basil leaves
the leaves from a goodish sprig of purslane (optional)
handful of mint leaves (I used 2 kinds--apple mint and spearmint)
5 or 6 walnut halves
about 3 tbs parmesan cheese, in small chunks
a dash of cider vinegar
olive oil
Throw the 1st 5 ingredients in the food processor and whirl it up a little; add a splash of olive oil and watch it approach chunky paste-hood. I kept adding olive oil until the texture looked right to me, probably about 3-4 tablespoons--some people would like more. At the last, I added the cheese and the vinegar (in vain hopes that it would keep the color bright--it did--bright khaki) and let it go a few more seconds. It was marvelously good, destined to be eaten on toast for breakfast the next day.
This was a hot-day meal to remember: it was vegetable-rich; I believe the beans and corn give you a complete protein; it was easy; and it was very good.

Friday, August 04, 2006

a return to one local summer

The above is an action shot of D putting together a 90%-local stirfry: his father's carrots, squash and onions broccoli and corn (not visible) from the farmer's market, some herbs from our garden, various condiments, and rice (which is the unlocal 10%, or so I declare). We had guests, and dinner was running late, so no photo of the finished product. It was whisked onto the table and we fell up on it. Very good.
Working quite hard on my novel, plus time out for a high school reunion--when will I get to cook anything interesting again? D is having all the food fun this summer, with his Wonders of Wok Cookery cookbook. And of course, it's been hot. I have a wistful desire to make some muffins, or a batch of chocolate chip-pecan cookies. But I'm not prepared to turn on the oven until the temperature dips substantially below 90.