Friday, September 30, 2005

Must Read

squashrow2 A must-read for anyone serious about food: "Debbie Does Salad" by Frederick Kaufman in this month's Harper's Magazine. No link to it yet on their site, so pick up a copy on newstands. It's a fasinating essay comparing the food media industry to the porn industry. In other words, food porn delineated for those of us with an interest in cultural studies. technorati tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

pizza In honor of Slashfood's Pizza Day (well, it was yesterday, so I'm one day late), here's a rerun of a post from July 22, 2005. I know, I know, it's the new fall season, but I just got back from New York and I haven't gotten it all together yet. Is it easier to make your own pizza instead of ordering take-out? A few years ago I would have scoffed at the idea--make your own dough, sauce, chop toppings? Crazy! Then I moved to a neighborhood a mere ten minutes away from my favorite pizza joint and inexplicably, they won't deliver to my house. Nope, absolutely no delivery to the northside of Richmond from Carytown. We have our own pizza delivery service, of course, but the pizza is so bland, so unexciting that I can't even bring myself to eat it even when I'm exhausted. For years my husband and I debated whether Piccola's pizza or Mary Angela's pizza was the best and the most authentic (in that NYC slice kind of way) in town. My husband was partial to Piccola's and I was a staunch Mary Angela's fan. Complicating the debate is the fact that the two families who own these places are related; the pizzas are very, very similiar. It becomes therefore, a debate hinging on degrees of greatness, and as you probably know, that kind of discussion can continue indefinitely. Nevertheless, the whole issue was rendered moot when we moved. No delivery service from either Piccola's or Mary Angela's (I will repress my ranting and railing vis a vis this issue for the moment); if we wanted pizza, we had to drive ourselves and get it. One day though, as we were loading our car to leave for home, my father-in-law stashed a pizza stone and a peel in the back along with our luggage (this is how my in-laws get rid of things they don't need). At first, I began making pizza just to see how it was done and then, as the drive to Mary Angela's became more onerous, I slowly started to take it for granted that when we wanted pizza, I would make it. Once I began stocking up on the basic ingredients--yeast, flour, mozzarella, cans of crushed tomatoes--I didn't really think too much about it. We still drove to get take-out, non-delivery pizza now and then, but I also made my own more and more. Eventually I developed a comprehensive, will-please-everybody sort of pizza that comprises three distinct sections: a pepperoni section, a plain cheese section, and for adults, an artichoke-goat cheese section. Remembering to make the dough ahead of time is the only real challenge. Leave it to trusty Christopher Kimball, however, to streamline even this process and reduce the rising, topping, and cooking time to a mere 75 minutes. Here's a link on the web to his Quick Pizza Dough. I also use his uncooked tomato sauce but you'll have to go to Cook's Illustrated-Recipe Resource for that one (again, I must exhort you to subscribe to this site--it's well worth it). Once the dough has risen and then rested, I roll out the entire ball, instead of dividing it in two as recommended. I have a hard time stretching the dough wide enough (although I have found Lora Brody's Dough Relaxer helpful) when it's that small, and I also prefer my crust a little thicker. Crispy is nice but crispy is also easy to burn. And as everyone knows, if it's black, children won't eat it, even if they're starving. Goat cheese, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and chopped scallions are my current favorite toppings, although with tomato season now in full swing, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil (the basil under the cheese to keep it moist) may replace them. I'd also like to try my hand at grilling a pizza--somehow that starts to sound like too much work though. Come to think of it however, I think--actually--it may not be so bad after all. The mandatory 500 degree oven for pizza cooking is a real killer these days and the grill would relocate the heat outside of the house. Hmmm . . . is it worth sacrificing dinner and losing a whole pizza (I have horrific visions of all of the toppings sliding ineveitably into the coals when I try to get it on the grill or try to take it off) just in the name of culinary experimentation? Maybe I should call Mary Angela's and have them hold me a table before I start. technorati tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Paella, Baby

spanishrice I’m still mourning the loss of summer and at the same time, simmering with quiet resentment that my husband just got to spend ten days in northern Spain. I too could have gone if I’d moved heaven and earth to arrange childcare, but opted instead for the easier, stay-at-home cop-out. Nonetheless, the summer continues to persist here in Richmond despite the start of school and despite the sycamore leaves littering the lawns. High humidity and temperatures in the nineties make it hard to think about fall dishes and the changing of the seasons, so I’m still stuck firmly in seafood mode—flip flops and bathing suits optional. And my husband’s trip has only intensified my continuing fixation with the cuisine of Spain. That and the five pounds of homemade chorizo he brought back in his suitcase. Seafood and chorizo, hmm . . . what could I make? Although truly, the possibilities are nearly limitless, the most obvious choice is also my very favorite dish. Paella has a long, rich tradition in both Spain and in my household. It’s my husband’s signature dish and the dish that has given him the reputation of high culinary excellence within his own family. Although my husband rarely cooks—paella and arroz con pollo are about it—he is widely seen as the latest in a long patrilineal line of men who cook (his grandfather was Francisco Franco’s personal chef before the revolution—and before said grandfather went AWOL to sail for America). I don’t really mind; all of the lovely calphalon pans and cookbooks he gets for his birthday and Christmas go straight to me. My husband’s paella really is wonderful, however. The recipe comes straight from his grandmother by way of his mother, and the only modification to it is my insistence upon using real, short grain, Bomba rice from Valencia. The rice is the foundation of this dish, and without the best, paella can never, ever shine the way it was intended. Other than that, I’ve left it alone. Now this is the real, peasant version of the dish—no fancy homemade chicken broth (I’ve tried, with disappointing results) but good, salty bouillon straight from a cube. This is the way it’s made (according to my husband, and he should know, because HE JUST SPENT TEN DAYS IN SPAIN WITHOUT ME) if you go to someone’s house and they pull out the paella pan and the bag of mixed seafood (from a scoop-it-yourself bin marked “Paella Mix”) they picked up at the store in your honor. Like most Spanish recipes, the amounts are guidelines only; feel free to increase or decrease different ingredients according to what you like. Oh! And you might want to add a few peas for a more authentic dish—we never add them because my husband hates peas (and so does his mother).
Pea-less Paella Serves 6-8
2 TB. olive oil 1 red pepper, sliced 1 onion, diced 4 cloves garlic, minced 2 double-sized cubes (like Knorr) chicken bouillon 4 cups hot water 2 very large pinches saffron (lightly toasted in a small pan ahead of time) 2 c. Bomba rice or, if you must, and you promise you looked really hard for the right kind first, Aborio rice 1 lb. real Spanish chorizo (no substitutions; smuggling optional), sliced into 1/2” rounds 6-8 pieces of chicken, skinned, rinsed and patted dry 1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed 1 1/2 dozen mussels, scrubbed 1/2 lb. large shrimp, peeled with tails left on 1-2 lobster tails, split (optional) Sauté the garlic, red pepper, and onion over medium heat in paella pan until soft and fragrant. Add chicken and sauté until golden brown. Dissolve bouillon in hot water; add to pan. Sprinkle with saffron and stir. Add rice and chorizos; bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering with the pan covered in foil. After about 8-10 minutes, the rice should be well on its way to being cooked, but still have a significant amount of liquid with which to steam the seafood. Add seafood (and, if you’re using them, the dreaded peas) and stir it into the rice thoroughly (this is a little trickier than it sounds because your pan is going to be quite full by this time) and re-cover. Cook slowly until all of the liquid is gone, and the rice and seafood are cooked. Serve from your impressive paella pan right at the table and put on the flamenco music. It’s time to celebrate! technorati tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

End of the Summer Blues

seafood stew As I dropped my children off for their first day of school yesterday, instead of the elation (alone at last!) I usually feel at the beginning of the school year, I felt sad and regretful that the summer was really over. No more lazy days at the pool or at the beach, no more long car trips to new places, and no more of the fresh vegetables I've come to depend on. Well, actually, that's an exaggeration, the vegetables should be around until early October, but you know what I mean. Seafood will be around too, but somehow, it never tastes quite as good as it does when the sun's been baking the sand and the salt from the ocean is drying on your ankles. To commemorate the summer's end, I loaded up the stockpot and made a glorious seafood stew, courtesy of Michele Scicolone (Savoring Italy) and Julia Child. From The Way to Cook, I first created the base for the stew with Julia's lobster stock. Now, you don't need a lobster to make this--you just need its shell. A brilliant idea, don't you think? Whenever you splurge and boil up lobster for a romantic dinner for two (and you really should, you know, every now and then) or if you eat lobster out (this takes a little more courage when you make this request of the server), save everything you don't eat and throw it into the freezer (or bring it to my house). When you want to make stock, whip out your frozen shells, wrap them in a kitchen towel and crush them into smaller pieces with a rolling pin. Or mallet. I don't happen to have one of those. Whatever. When they're thoroughly banged up, toss them in a large pan and saute with onion, celery, and carrot until the vegetables are soft. Add four cups of chicken broth, two cups of water, and half a can of diced tomatoes with a pinch of dried tarragon and a bay leaf. Simmer for about 45 minutes and then strain. Now you have your amazing, aromatic base. Add garlic, squid, clams, assorted fish, and tomatoes, and once again Italy transforms the simple into the sublime. Click here for Scicolone's recipe for Zuppa de Pesce alla Romana. The essence of summer will be distilled directly into your bowl, and although the season's passing will seem a little melancholy, this culinary balm will soothe your fretful soul. technorati tags: , , , ,

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Katrina [Emergency Exit]

It's time to give folks--no more excuses. Instead of talking about food or reading about food or--gasp--actually eating food, donate to the Red Cross so that hungry people devasted by Hurricane Katrina can eat again. For a more eloquent (and righteously profanity-laden) plea, see Heather Havrilesky over at the rabbit blog to get inspired.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Chocolate and Insomnia

grilled chocolate sandwich Sleep is precious, fragile, and so easily broken. For those of us who have problems sleeping, sometimes the night can stretch on endlessly, while at the same time, the inevitable daybreak arrives like an unwelcome guest, inducing panic and dread. What to do to while away those endless hours awake and alone, to stave off the inevitable anxiety that the lack of sleep engenders? Have a treat, I say--a delicious, ridiculous, guilty pleasure in the middle of the night. Most doctors (including mine, if I ever admitted to it) would counsel against eating in the middle of the night, and probably would advise even more strenuously against eating food containing chocolate when attaining sleep is the goal. Sometimes though, the calming act of cooking is all it takes to relax a little and allow sleep to silently sneak up on you when you finally go back to bed. Cooking however, inevitably leads to something on a plate that needs to be eaten; maybe it's just a bite or maybe it's the whole thing, depending upon what you whipped up there at the darkest moment before dawn. I always find myself turning to what I think of as my guiltiest of guilty pleasures: a grilled chocolate sandwich fried up in lots and lots of butter. It might be the endorphins the chocolate triggers or it might be the fat slowing the crazy carbs surging into my bloodstream but this sandwich always enables me to go back to bed, sleek and satisfied, and to drift off effortlessly in my already sleeping household. Grilled Chocolate Sandwich 1 slice of good bread (not sandwich bread--firm, European varieties only) Semi-sweet chocolate pieces to cover half a slice (Scharffen Berger is my favorite) 1-2 Tb. Plugra unsalted butter Cut your piece of bread in half (moderation, remember?). Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over low heat and swirl each half of the bread, one side only, in the butter. Place the piece of bread, buttery side down in skillet. Layer with chocolate pieces. Top with the other piece of bread, buttery side up and raise heat. Cook exactly as you would an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich, pressing down on the bread occasionally and flipping after the first side browns. Remove when the second side is golden brown and the chocolate has melted. Cool slightly and eat. Clean the kitchen carefully and never confess to your late night culinary excursion. technorati tags: , , , ,