Monday, June 27, 2011

Anthropomorphic Onions

People say these onions can walk all on their own.

They do, in a way. The Egyptian Walking Onion sends up a scape heavy with bulbils, and if it is the Catawissa strain of the Egyptian Walking Onion, that head of bulbils may send up another level of scapes. As the bulbils on the flower head grow, the head bends lower and lower until it finally plants itself a few feet away from the mother plant. It has taken a few independent steps.

I've grown the Catawissa strain, or at least what appears to be the Catawissa strain, for a few years, and have now designated a corner of the garden for a permanant patch grown primarily for its bulbils (that I use in the recipe below). I'm not finished harvesting bulbils yet this year, but after getting most of them, I've found that they're larger and more prolific than ever before. This winter, I also planted a separate temporary row of bulbils to pull up and use in the scallion stage through the winter. They were delicious in stirfries, on the grill, and even braised.

Pickled Egyptian Walking Onions
I strayed away from typical pickling spices to create something I wanted to put in a martini. The juniper berry, clearly, was a natural choice, and the Meyer lemon peel adds a sweet, citrusy, almost floral quality. What I learned while creating these is that Meyer lemon and juniper berry go together very, very well. It is a flavor combination I need to play with more (while I'm sipping a martini that has one of these little numbers floating in it.)

You will need:
6 ounces of cleaned, skinned Egyptian Walking Onion bulbils (or pearl onions) weighed AFTER cleaning (I used the largest bulbils here for pickling, reserving the small ones to plant for winter scallions)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 1"x3" strips of Meyer lemon zest (peeled off with a veggie peeler, no white pith!)
24 gently crushed juniper berries

To make the pickled onions:
Toss the cleaned, skin-free onions in a small bowl with the salt. Cover it and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. The same day you salt the onions, start melding flavors of the pickling liquid. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, lemon zest, and juniper berries. Bring the mixture to a boil, boil just until the sugar has dissolved into the vinegar, then remove the mixture from heat. Let it cool then pour it into a jar, lid it, and place it in the refrigerator to begin steeping overnight.

The next day, bring a couple cups of water to a boil, drop in the salted onions (do not rinse them!) and boil for one minute, just to get them tender. After one minute of boiling, drain them of the water they boiled in, and divide them among clean canning jars. I used four 1/4 pint (4 oz) jars, which gave me plenty of room to spread them out and include lots of the good pickling liquid. Pour the pickling liquid over the onions in the jars to make sure they're thoroughly covered, but leaving a 1/2" of head room. Wipe off the rim of each jar, place the lid on, and screw on the ring. Process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the hot water bath and let them cool for twelve hours before handling.

These onions will taste best if you store them for a few weeks before opening. This recipe makes one shy pint of pickled onions.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A to Z: Wealthy in Friends, Part 3

I had never been to Astoria before, and my friend A hadn't spent much time there, either. As we exited the subway stop, I think I heard A's jaw drop all the way to the concrete sidewalk. "A Greek place over there! And wait, is that Estonian? And look at all this basil at this corner store. What kind of basil is this? Smell it!" We crossed the street to the liquor store Z had recommended. It was a huge place, with wines organized by country of origin. California over there, Spain, Argentina, France, the regulars, but a whole lot more, too. I told A I didn't know where to begin.

"Oh, I know exactly where to look," and she marched straight to the wines from Croatia. A is a marcher. She knows where she's going. In situations like this, I'm much more of a flitterer. As A led me through a primer of Croatian wine, I got all glowy-happy, thinking to myself, I get to have dinner with both A and Z, people who I likely wouldn't have known if I had lived in any other time in history but who I am so happy to know now. We chose a white that turned out to be bright and minerally and a red with a donkey on the label that tasted of—you guessed it—donkey, in a very strangely pleasant way. Outside of the shop, we stopped again to make sure we knew where we were going and to smell the fragrant basil one more time.

Z's house has grapevines crawling up the front and a rose at the front stoop. The front entry smelled like mysterious flowers we wanted to eat, but neither A nor I could place the scent immediately. Taking in deep breaths of sweetness, we stood on the stoop for the minute before Z answered the door.

After a hug from Z and an introduction between A and Z, both writers I met through their blogs, who before this night, hadn't met each other, we had to ask: what is that smell? Orange blossom water.

The day before, Z thought she had run out of orange blossom water and ran out to get some. Back home, she tripped on the front step, breaking the bottle. She made a second trip for another bottle. The night we were there for dinner, Z discovered she had plenty of orange blossom water all along, so rather than find another place for another bottle, her husband poured the excess out on the front stoop. Two days of orange blossom water on the front stoop makes for one enticing doorway. It may have been an accident, but if anyone is looking for a way to create instant sensory joy, dumping a bottle of orange blossom water at the entrance isn't a bad way to go.

Z is blessed with giant hospitality, a hospitality that has inflections of every language she's encountered and terrain she's walked. She plied us with drinks right away: milk and white rum whirled with dates and almonds, perfumed with a drizzle of that orange blossom water. A plate of eggplant dip and flatbread emerged. We talked, poked around Z and her husband P's fascinating home, checked out the cookbook collection. We watched Z cook as she told us about her latest travel. A hearty lentil soup warmed on the stove, pasta bubbled in a large pot, and Z sauteed shrimp, calamari, garlic, herbs, and preserved lemon. She drained the pasta and tossed it with the seafood. She stirred in saffron yogurt. I can smell all of this as I am writing it down, and though the dominant scent of the evening was orange blossom, it is the saffron fragrance that is sticking with me and poking up in my culinary imagination since I've been back.

After we loaded food and tableware on the outdoor dumbwaiter P designed to accommodate rooftop dining, A and I nervously watched it rise outside the kitchen window. "Nothing has fallen off yet," said Z. Upstairs, food plants grew in pots and sedums, chives, and alpine strawberries velveted a green roof. We sat at a comfortable table and watched the sun go down over the city while we talked. A's wit kept us all laughing. P was wry and had good stories about his students and publishing experiences. Z listened with an active ear and told stories about her travels, one of which I had heard before but I asked her to tell again because it is that good. As it got even darker and later, we continued to talk about food, our jobs, and we told our quirky tales.

This is not a story with a dramatic arc or any kind of transformation. This is a reflection on food and the web, and how food and the web brought all of us together on June evening on a rooftop in a Astoria. If it weren't for the Internet, we wouldn't have known about each others' food, and if it weren't for each others' food, we wouldn't know each other.

Saffron Stuffed Eggs
I can't call these deviled eggs, for they don't contain any mustard, the ingredient that makes something deviled. What I can say is that these are very good—a classed up version of the summer picnic standard. This is a very loose recipe, one that I made on the fly while I was thinking about the saffron in Z's pasta dish. Unexpected, the saffron reminds the tongue of tagines and paella and all sorts of feasts where deviled eggs might not appear. The olives add complexity and the pickled garlic adds zing and crunch.

You will need:
8 eggs, hardboiled and peeled
6 strong-flavored olives, pitted and minced (kalamatas or nicoise with chile or something of the like)
2 cloves of pickled garlic, minced (if you don't have pickled garlic, a couple minced cornichons and a smidge of fresh garlic will do)
generous pinch of saffron threads
mayonnaise to taste
olive oil to taste
salt and pepper

To make the eggs:
Slice six of the eggs in half for twelve halves. Carefully pop the yolks into a bowl. Set the empty white halves on a platter to assemble later.

In the bowl where you have placed the hardboiled yolks, add the olives, garlic, and saffron threads. Finely chop the remaining two whole eggs, yolks and whites, and add them to the bowl. Begin adding mayo and olive oil, mashing the mixture together, adding until the mixture is as smooth and as rich as you like (adding more mayo makes the mixture fluffier; adding more olive oil makes it smooth and silkier). Add salt if needed and generous grindings of black pepper.

Now comes the messy part. Stuff each of the twelve of the egg whites you set aside earlier with a tablespoon or so of the yolk mixture. I scoop a spoon of the filling and set it as carefully as I can in the center of each white, pushing if off and into the indentation with my finger. However you do it, make sure to save a little of the filling as a treat for yourself smeared on a cracker.

This recipe makes twelve egg halves. Eat on a summer night with friends whose food tells stories.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Dance and the Drink: Wealthy in Friends, Part 2

We had come from a salsa club where it was too loud to talk, but if you watched well, you could follow entire conversations in which partners exchanged no words. Near the front, our table offered a view of half of the club, and the people we could see dancing ranged in age from 22 to 72, appeared to be many different ethnicities, and to have come from different economic strata. A woman celebrated her birthday at a table next to us. She wore a belted saffron dress, the swingy kind of dress that a woman who dances should wear because the dress becomes part of the dance.

A man, approaching from the back of the club, slow-moving but confident, asked the woman in the saffron dress to dance. She agreed. And her dance told a story of humor and grace and sweat. She smiled the whole time, sometimes tipping her head back in a deep, full-bodied laugh. Dancers around this woman showed off their moves; they could spin, bend over backwards, and move their bodies to a perfect rhythm. But, the woman in the saffron dress didn't even seem like she was trying or thinking, for she had become music. Her dancing was honest.

Though we could have watched her for hours, I hadn't come to New York just to watch people. I had come to be with people I loved. My friend H nudged me to leave. As we passed the woman in the saffron dress's table, I stopped to tell her it had been a pleasure to watch her dance. She grasped both of my hands with both of hers—both hands!—and thanked me. Sometimes in a short exchange, it seems as a part of each person passes to the other. I hope I carry that contagion of moving joy with me forever.

H and I left, high on beauty, and started walking north. She told me she had a place that was quintessentially, classically, historically, and in many other ways New York. We walked to Grand Central, through Grand Central, out one side, then in again, climbing dark red carpeted stairs. We entered The Campbell Apartment. A young woman in a pearls and a black cocktail dress that defied era greeted us and led us to a banquette next to the fireplace.

At 10pm on a Monday night, the place was quiet in a good way. Other people sat scattered throughout the room, and though I could hear the murmur of voices, the vaulted ceilings and dark wood kept secrets. Zelda Fitzgerald could have raised herself from the dead and walked into the room, and her beads may have caught my eye, but I wouldn't have been surprised. In the corner, H and I talked, each enjoying a drink. Our conversations are always good; we have known each other since we were 16, but our conversations aren't stuck at 16. They have evolved as we have.

She is pretty, my friend H, and as we sat in the light of old chandeliers, her hair sparked gold and her wit bubbled like her pink champagne. She is at home here: the salsa club, the streets of Brooklyn, the old money of The Campbell Apartment, the dark greens in church gardens tucked between brownstones. When I visit her, I get to be home in this grand city as well.

Kentucky Ginger Sorbet
At The Campbell Apartment that night, I ordered a Kentucky Ginger, a drink that in its basic form is ginger ale and bourbon. But, this was no ginger ale, and this was one hell of a bourbon. The drink was strong, spiked with fresh pineapple juice and a house made ginger syrup. The bartender had muddled the mix with a sprig of fresh rosemary. I was in heaven. H had a sip. She said, "This can be a sorbet." Absolutely. A very delicious, fresh, heat-busting sorbet.

You will need:
1 pound fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
4 inch sprig rosemary
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons bourbon

To make the sorbet:
Pour the sugar and water into a medium saucepan with the rosemary and ginger. Place on medium heat, bring to a boil, boil for a minute or so, turn off heat, and let the mixture steep as it cools. This will be the simple syrup that will both sweeten and add mystery to the final product.

In a food processor, whirl the pineapple chunks until you've created as fine a puree as you can. Pour the cooled simple syrup through a strainer into the food processor. (If you really like ginger, as I do, feel free to add one or two of the slices of ginger.) Pour in the bourbon. (I know you're going to be tempted to add more bourbon, but don't. Hard alcohol isn't going to freeze in your freezer, and if you add even a little too much, the mixture will be perpetual slush rather than sorbet.) Cover the food processor and whirl again.

Pour the mixture into a container, lid it, and place it in the refrigerator for at least three hours to chill. Once chilled, follow the directions of your ice cream maker to turn the mixture to a sorbet.

Eat the sorbet late on a warm night. Enjoy the city.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New York Botanical Gardens: Wealthy in Friends, Part 1

It's wet. It's green. It's alive.

Lucky, lucky me: I have a talented, funny, remarkably smart friend who works at the New York Botanical Gardens and who spent a day last week showing me around.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Good Goat!

I married an Argentine. While I call this cajeta, he asks me to call it dulce de leche. When I think of dulce de leche, I think of cow milk, but E says no, this caramelly goat milk confection is dulce de leche. Whatever it is, make it. Then spread it on a banana or on toast, or drizzle it over vanilla ice cream or pound cake, or fill an alfajore with it.

Here is my abbreviated story for the day: I have friends with goats. Goats are good.

Dulce de Leche de Chiva (or what other people call Cajeta)
You will need:
2 quarts fresh goat milk
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (that is not an error, yes, use a tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon dark rum

To make the sweet caramelly stuff:
Pour the milk, sugar, and vanilla in a very large pot and bring the mixture to a boil on medium-high heat. Remove from heat as soon as the mixture boils and stir to dissolve the sugar into the milk. Stir in the baking soda dissolved in water. The milk will bubble up, but stir it back down.

Return the pot to the heat and turn the heat on low. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and cook it for what seems like forever. Be careful and don't forget you've got the darned stuff on the stove, but if you're like me, you're going to have to multitask. I cannot sit in the kitchen and watch something boil for hours without losing my mind. Luckily, early in this process the mixture is quite liquid and won't likely stick to the pan. It is only as the cajeta cooks down that distraction becomes a liability.

After an hour or two, depending on how hot you are running your stove, the mixture will begin to thicken noticeably. Stir frequently now, making sure that the sugars don't burn on the bottom of the pan. The mixture will thicken and bubble in that thick way that tells you that a sugar mixture is approaching softball stage.

Carefully pour in the dark rum and immediately stir to combine it well with the rest of the mixture. Once the cajeta reaches softball consistency (when the hot mixture slowly drips off a spoon), remove the pot from the stove.

Place a strainer over a large-mouthed jar (or a strainer over a large-mouthed funnel over a large-mouthed jar) and strain the mixture into the jar. It will slip quickly through the strainer at first, but much slower as it cools and as crystals collect in the holes of the strainer.

Once you've strained the mixture, just try not to lick the strainer clean. Place a clean lid on your jar of goodness and keep it in the refrigerator. This recipe makes just over a pint. It should last for a month or so if you can keep from eating it. Here, it never lasts that long.

(Apparently, I've written about cajeta once before. Argh! The version above is an evolved version of the older recipe; it is how I make it now, with more experience. In other words, the recipe above is mine, not from another source.)

Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Quarter

One more week. That is what I have until I'm out of school.

Yet, I've got these recipes that I want to share even though I don't have time to put the story with the food; I'm not fond of providing food without a story, so I will abbreviate, cut the fat, eliminate any and all excess. Done. Here is the story that goes along with this limpa bread: I am a quarter Swedish.

Californian Limpa
Based on James Beard's recipe in Beard on Bread, I use fennelseed from the yard instead of caraway or anise and fresh orange peel instead of candied. To ensure a nice texture, I cut the flour back a little, and I add a smidge of gluten to make up for rye's lack of it. Because I have one, I use a stand mixer. The result is a brightly-flavored bread that's fantastic toasted with a creamy brie or fresh chevre, even a smear of a buttermilk blue, but this morning I had it for breakfast my favorite way, with lots of good butter and generous ribbons of honey, in this case Jacaranda Honey from Chaparral Mountain Honey Company.

You will need:
2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups ale (here, I like a rich ale, on the red or brown side)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1 teaspoon fennelseed, crushed
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange peel
2 cups rye flour, plus more as needed
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon vital wheat gluten flour

To make the bread:
Mix the yeast, sugar, and warm water in the bowl of your stand mixer and set aside to proof while you prepare other ingredients. Pour the beer and honey into a medium saucepan then add the butter and salt. Heat the mixture just until the butter has melted. Add the cardamom, fennelseed, and orange peel. Stir the mixture to dissolve the salt and honey, make sure it truly is lukewarm and not hot (let it cool to lukewarm if it is hot), then pour it into the yeast mixture in the stand mixer. Add 1 1/2 cups of each rye and white flour as well as the gluten flour. Beat well in the mixer for a couple minutes on medium speed. You will end up with a wet, sloppy mess. Good. That's what you want.

Now here I'm revealing one of my kitchen tips: heat a mug of water in the microwave for a minute or two until it is boiling hot. Set that boiling hot mug in the corner of the microwave, cover the bowl of the stand mixer with a barely-damp cloth, and set the bowl inside the microwave. Close the door, and you now have a hot and humid environment, perfect for quick rises. Let the sloppy mixture rise for about an hour.

After an hour, put the bowl back in the stand mixture, add 1 cup white flour and a half cup of rye flour, and turn the mixer to the setting for bread kneading. Knead for five minutes or so. More won't hurt you. You'll end up with a dough that is definitely a dough, though still pretty sticky. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it again with the damp cloth, place it back in the Washington-DC-summer microwave, and let the dough rise again for an hour.

Remove the mixer bowl from the microwave and scrape it out onto a very well-floured surface (I mix rye and white to keep the theme going). Flatten the dough out, fold it over on itself, repeat. Repeat this process four or five times, then cut the dough in half with your dough scraper. Form each lump of dough into a ball.

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper or a silicone sheet and place the balls of dough on the sheet, spaced as far apart as you can without risking the dough rising over the edge of the sheet. Cover the sheet with a dry cloth and place the whole cookie sheet in a refrigerator. Refrigerate for three hours.

When the three hours have passed, begin preheating the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and remove the cookie sheet from the refrigerator. Let the bread on the cookie sheet sit at room temperature until the oven reaches temperature, about ten minutes. Once the oven hits temperature, place the cookie sheet with the bread on it in the oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the two loaves are well-browned all over.

Eat it like a Swede, or at least a quarter of one.