Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Snack and a Read Before Dinner - Pappadum and Darjeeling


Sometimes you just don’t feel like sitting at the computer, staring at a bright screen, maintaining perfect posture so your back doesn’t buckle and your elbows don’t freeze at 90 degree angles. Sometimes you just want to plop your tense, tired tuckus into the coziest corner of the house as far away from technology as possible. This is the time when nothing but tea and a book will do, a real live physical book with paper pages, a bendable binding and a formal frontispiece. Making the decision to pull away from the PC is easy enough; deciding what to read, however, is very, very hard. We own a lot of books. I mean, A LOT of books. Don’t ask me how many, but they dominate the condo. We made a special pilgrimage to IKEA in a rented van so we could haul home the tallest Billy bookcases we could find. We need more. Bookcases, that is. We don’t need more books, but they are on their way, too. There are pending purchases in our Amazon shopping cart as long as the Nile; trips to Barnes and Noble where we break oaths not to tarry; and the heady wheel-of-fortune site What Should I Read Next?

Which leads me to that cozy corner where I have assembled a late afternoon snack of pepper-shot pappadum and a tall glass of iced Darjeeling chai tea. I have finally narrowed down my selections. Will it be Eric Ambler’s “A Coffin for Dimitrios”? Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard”? Or “The Mysterious Mr. Quin,” the only Agatha Christie work I own and love, a one-off of short stories featuring an elusive, wise and altruistic phantom, never to be written about again? It’s getting late, and I will soon have to start thinking about what to make for dinner tonight. I will quickly read a Quin story, "The World’s End." I snuggle in, sip my tea and crack open the paperback. Hmmmm. What have we here? A bookmark from Borders. I forgot about Borders. You know what that means?

Iced Darjeeling Chai Tea

Ingredients

2 Darjeeling teabags or equivalent loose tea
4 cups water brought just to boil
(You can adjust level of tea strength by adding more tea, using less water, or steeping longer)
4 green cardamom ponds
4 whole cloves
1/2 stick cinnamon, broken

Method

Pour boiling water into teapot or other vessel over the tea and spices. Steep at least 5 minutes, longer for stronger tea. Strain into a room temperature glass and chill ten minutes in refrigerator. Fill another glass with ice and transfer luke warm tea into it. Add sugar and/or milk to your taste. Makes approximately 3 servings.

Pappadum
Pappadum are rarely made by the home cook, but purchased in their uncooked state like popcorn. Like popcorn, the thin, flat lentil wafers need to be cooked via roasting or frying. Pappadum can be found in Indian grocers or larger cosmopolitan supermarkets like Whole Foods.

I have both fried them in oil and roasted them in a microwave. Frying requires a great deal of speed and caution to regulate the hot oil. I was very pleased with the effortless microwave results; they were light, extra crispy and free of grease. The link above provides all the cooking options.

Williamson's Elephant Tin Darjeeling

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

For the Love of Three Greens - Pasta with Parsley, Capers and Olives


It is a little early here in New York, too early for spring, though the calendar says March 28. Yesterday’s 72 degrees took down the last of the filthy snow piles, crusted at the curbsides. But still no green yet, no peak of leaf tipping gnarled branches, so paralyzed and parched they pretend they are dead. It will all happen very suddenly while I am asleep, but I am twitching with anticipation. There are tastes of herb, brine and wine I am collecting for a quick spill across a bowl of capellini. In Liguria they make a sauce where parsley, not the beloved basil, is king. My recipe is a nod to theirs, but with the speed and agility of not having to grind it into a pesto. I will try the classic pesto version someday, but right now, I am too impatient for spring.


This post is being submitted to the Weekend Herb Blogging event hosted by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Pasta* with Parsley, Capers and Olives

Ingredients

4 cups Italian flat-leaf parsley plucked from their stems, washed and dried
3 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 rounded tablespoons capers, drained
6 green olives sliced into rings, no pimento
4 tablespoons white wine
Ground black pepper
Shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

½ pound angel hair pasta or
* 1 medium-sized spaghetti squash for those limiting their carbohydrates

Method

For the pasta:
Bring to boil a large pot of water with teaspoon of olive oil.

For the sauce:
In a large skillet over low heat, cook parsley in olive oil until the leaves start to wilt. Add the wine and capers, stirring to just mix. Turn off heat and let stand while you tend to adding the pasta to the boiling water and cooking it to your prefered tenderness.

Drain pasta and divide into two bowls. Top with green sauce and a scattering of sliced olives. Finish with a crank of black pepper and a few shavings of cheese.

Serves two. --


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Reading While They Eat - Food in Literature

(Image: istockphoto.com)

My fondness for literature and food is only surpassed by my love of the supremely talented blending of the two. This gem in the Wall Street Journal reminds us of those special places writers can take us, to tables opulent and humble, the pathos and pain of hunger, and the charming company of the most convivial of creatures sharing picnic hampers and gypsy caravans full of feasts and friendship.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dyeing to Try Them - Naturally Colored Eggs

(Image: istockphoto.com)

No disrespect to Paas, a box of which I have stashed unopened for the last few years, but I'd rather have these.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

What's Wat? An African Repast

(Image: istockphoto.com)

I collect spices the way other women collect shoes. Our kitchen has pretty much been re-ordered around the spice cupboard. This is not to suggest that the cupboard itself is orderly; there are scores of zip-top bags and bottles, tiny tins and packets. No matter how I periodically sort and position them on the shelves, they are an unruly crowd. I do not need any more double-decker carousels; I need a Ferris wheel. This, of course, is all my doing, but I will not hang my head in shame, but poke my nose into Penzeys catalogue searching for the fragrant grind that got away.

I have always had a weakness for Eastern aromatics, cultivated by my early child introduction to lebkucken, the hard, chewy German cookie of ginger, clove and cinnamon highlighted for the Christmas season. Over time my tastes expanded into uncharted territory; there was paprika, then turmeric and mustard, the “gateway” powders. By this time, I had found my dealer in the historic splendor of Grand Central Station, the jewel in the otherwise dismal grid of midtown Manhattan. I could be found there on any given lunchtime in the food market, at the spice merchant, Adriana’s Caravan (now Penzeys), squinting my way through hundreds of temptations. I’d spent so much frozen time behind the dried capsicum column that the proprietress thought I was shoplifting. I wasn’t. I was contemplating Scoville Units. She made a particularly good sale that day.

It was Scoville Units that lead me to Africa, all over Africa. From my stovetop I’ve been to Tunisia, Morocco, and I just got back from Ethiopia, where I made doro wat and injera, the unique, sour pancake used as the chief table utensil. It wasn’t my first journey there, and it won’t be my last. I still have a lot of territory to cover.

Doro WatAdapted from Dinner Co-op
(This recipe, with the addition of peanut butter, is different, and in my opinion, better than one I’d used a while back. The peanut butter creamed and sweetened the sauce just enough to take the edge off the punishing heat, and lent even greater complexity to flavors that were already on the top of my hit parade.)

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken pieces (thighs work best)
1/3 cup butter or Niter Kibbeh*
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 large onions, chopped
3 ounces tomato paste
1 tablespoon berbere seasoning**
½ teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup peanut butter
½ cup chicken stock



Method

In a large skillet, cook onions in butter over low heat until soft and translucent. Add the berbere, black pepper and tomato paste, stirring well after each addition. Cook for 10 minutes over VERY low heat to avoid scorching the paste. Add chicken pieces, turning to well coat each side. Pour in chicken stock. Cover skillet and simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes. Remove 1 cup of liquid from skillet, stir all the peanut better into the liquid and pour mixture over the chicken. Re-cover skillet and cook at least another 20 minutes until chicken is thoroughly cooked. If using chicken with bones, you will have to allow even more cooking time.
Injera (1 recipe of batter prepared 24 hours in advance)

While the chicken is stewing, oil the largest skillet or griddle that you own and turn heat to medium. The batter, after growing and fermenting for 24 hours, will be thick with a mind of its own; this certainly supports my theory that living yeast is indeed a free and rebellious thinker. Add one ½ cup batter to hot griddle, spreading it out as large as you can. Do not turn the injera, but allow it to cook and steam through the raw top batter. I was tempted to speed things along by flipping it over, but I feared I would loose the characteristic spongy texture. Instead, I briefly covered the skillet to confine the steam, then removed the pancake to a warm oven to grill the others. The authenticity of my method can be challenged, but it’s the best I could manage first time out. Besides, I was getting hungry.

As often the case with the first pancake, the coordinates of batter and temperature often turn out less than desirable though quite edible results. My injera did not look anything in color or texture like the photos of experienced native cooks. The consistency should be thinner than a traditional pancake, but thicker than a crepe. The batter behaved very badly no matter how much additional water I added to thin it out. My attempts to spread it to the maximum proportion resulted in a Pollock painting. I attribute this to my inaugural use of teff. Practice will make perfect, but probably not for your first attempt, either. Do not let this discourage you, for great rewards are to come.

Assembly and Dining

Place an injera on a plate, top with the wat and serve. Injera and accompanying dishes are traditionally eaten out of hand as you tear, roll and scoop your meal up with the pancake. I've read that injera is sometimes used as a tablecloth with various wats placed on the giant surface. I don't know if this is fact or hyperbole, but another dictate to mind your Western manners and not put your elbows on the table unless your hostess tells you otherwise.


* Niter Kibbeh – Adapted from whats4eats.com
Ingredients

4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 1-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled
2 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 small cinnamon stick
½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Method

Melt butter with all ingredients in small saucepan over the lowest heat. Let simmer for at least ½ hour, stirring occasionally. Strain solids from butter before use.
** Berbere seasoning can be freshly made by following the recipe included in the Dinner Co-op link. In the interest of time, and since my countertops were fast filling up with a clutter of bowls, utensils and compost scraps, I opted for a commercial blend with good results. --

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Close to Home - Injera in New York

(Image: istockphoto.com)

Sampling a Continent at Home

I am too happy now. I have just stirred down my ripe and ready injera batter, and am doting on the finer details of the doro wat recipe I have selected. We will eat Ethiopian tonight, as promised, and eat well. Addis Ababa is closer than I thought, though we will not be greeted by the scene above when we exit the PATH station. We will eat Ethiopian again, at Meskel, and eat well. Another promise.

The Best Recipes May Be Your Own

For Orange Zest, Substitute Kool-Aid

"There's no use arguing over matters of taste." Of course, Cicero never tasted Kool-Aid.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Teff Talk: Ethiopian Pancakes (Injera)


Some months ago, I made injera, or what I thought was a reasonable facsimile of the famously dense, oversized Ethiopian pancake, the de rigueur of a culture that eats with its hands. It was to accompany a stunningly hot doro wat, a simple chicken stew thick with tomatoes and onions, shot through with hellion berbere seasoning. The doro wat, hotter than I thought humanly possible to consider putting in one’s mouth, was a hands-down success, but there was something amiss with the pancakes because something was missing: teff, the chief ingredient. I am happy to report that it is missing no more. Thanks to Whole Foods, I was able to seize a fresh cellophane sack of the finely ground, distinctive grain, delirious in my discovery. After much research, I settled on one highly authentic recipe, happy to wait the 24 hours before the batter comes to fermented term.

I suspect the first wat dish was even hotter than the custom, since my pancakes did not have the sour, spongy quality that only teff, live yeast and the time to cure can conjure. It is this distinctive taste and texture that helps to balance the incendiary. Since I doubt I will be visiting Addis Ababa any time soon, thanks to teff, I can go there right in my own kitchen.

Tomorrow evening the injera batter will be ready for the griddle. I will also revisit the doro wat recipe and post on what I expect to be a beautifully adventurous meal worth the wait.


Injera - from EthiopianRestaurant.com (recipe linked above)

Ingredients

4 cups teff flour
3 cups luke warm water
1 teaspoon active powdered baker's yeast

Method

In a large bowl, mix teff flour and yeast, then mix in luke warm water, stirring well. (Please see photo above.) Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in warmest part of your kitchen. I have it in the oven with the light bulb left on. --

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Sun's the Limit - Meyer Lemonade


There is a famous French festival every late winter that pays tribute to the glory of the yellow lemon, where the fruit is featured as a harbinger of summer months to come, the months when the sun's beacon of heat is closer to the Earth and scorchingly intense. The festival, where huge statuary and other exhibits are designed using citrus fruit, primarily lemons, is a ritual of long standing, akin to our flower-saturated bowl parade floats riding through our cities on New Year's Day to kickoff a full day of college football games.

We often think of lemonade as something to imbibe during the hottest months of July and August when we are sluggish and in need of refreshing cheer. I think it an appropriate beverage any time of year and would rather squeeze a fresh brew than snap the tab off a can of Coke any day. You could even add carbonated water to the juice if you really want that fizzy snap.

Our markets in the Northeast rarely carry Meyer lemons, those plumper, thinner-skinned relatives of the common bright yellow grenades we know and love for their zap, zest and zeal in every sort of recipe. When I unexpectedly discovered them a few weeks ago, I thought they were a specialty orange. Of course, the 4-pack went right into the cart next to the last of Florida's famous February strawberries, the ones that rival any local summer crops, and are grown naturally as in-season fruit.

When I got them home, I didn't quite know what to do with them, so opted for the most basic recipe to highlight its qualities. Lemonade was made to order. Meyer lemons seem to be suffering a bit of an identity crisis; they are genetically a cross between a Mandarin orange and a lemon. They look like a lemon in general shape and texture, but are distinctly a pale golden orange in color. Their flavor and juice content are also more inclined to the orange than the lemon, with a high, easy-to-extract yield of juice and low amount of seeds. While the unadorned sour flavor required the calming effect of sugar, once it was sweetened it became, by my taste buds, more of what I'd think the base of Orangina is, a faint tang akin to tangerine. Not unpleasant, but not what I expected, either. If you happen on some in your market travels, do consider it, for novelty alone it is worth it. But for me, it will always be the lemon, for there is nothing like the sun.


Meyer Lemonade

Ingredients

Juice of 4 Meyer lemons, strained of pulp and seeds
10 tablespoons of superfine sugar (bartender's sugar) or simple syrup*
Cold water or club soda
Ice cubes

Method

Fill 1 quart pitcher with ice cubes. Pour juice and cold water/club soda over ice cubes to fill pitcher. Add sugar/syrup, stirring to fully mix.

Serves 4.

Simple Syrup

Ingredients

1 cup white granulated sugar
1 cup water

Method

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Cook over low heat until sugar dissolves and you can see bottom of saucepan. Pour into jar or bottle to store. Will keep several weeks in refrigerator.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Green with Envy - Colcannon

It is March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and I feel I have let the parade pass me by. I am consoling myself with a buttery, bottomless bowl of scallion-flecked Colcannon, and the knowledge that others feel the celebration bursts through the entire weekend.

Missing the parade, the grand march up New York’s Fifth Avenue, is not the norm for me. I had spent the last few years perched at the tenth floor window of a skyscraper, close enough to the street where I had a sharpshooter’s clear aim down 44th Street, west to the Hudson River. But yesterday was a Saturday, and the streets were slushy and slippery from Friday’s sleet storm. I decided to putter around the house in my fuzzy, fleece robe, watch an old movie, and commune with our cat. Even so, I felt envious of those who braved the mess to enjoy the festivities, spilling in and out of pubs all over Manhattan, garbed in any hint or hue and cry of green they could get their hands on from the back of their closets and drawers. Green is not a color most people wear any other time of year.

I was there last year, and the year before that and the year before that. Each year was the same, my walking commute cutting through the gauntlet of hundreds of police officers as they casually mingled, waiting for the official order to formation on 44th Street near the assembly point for the marchers. As it got later into the morning, I would watch from my office window as more of them collected, until the intersection was a swath of navy serge.

Because we were working, my colleagues and I never actually got to see the parade up close and personal from a curbside, even though we were only two blocks away. I’d always felt a little cheated, so close yet so far. But last year was different, serendipitous and special.

It was well after 5 p.m., and I was headed home, heading toward the Hudson River where I would catch a ferry for short passage back to New Jersey. I was tired and grumpy and put out from a typically grueling workday. I waited and watched at the dock for the boat to come in, an inconspicuously black-clad commuter among many other black-clad commuters, until my eye caught the kick of a kilt.

The piper stood at least a foot taller than I am, the wool of his socks clinging and stretched around his massive calves. I didn’t want to stare, but everyone else was just as delighted for the diversion from a dreary day. We boarded the boat, and I took my customary place outside on the front deck, as close to the edge of the bow as we were safely allowed. I needed the wind smacking my face and tangling my hair. I lost sight of the plaid piper as the boat backed out from the dock. We were about a minute into our ride in the open river when I heard it, that twisted, buzzing whine of breath coaxed and wrought from deep down the piper’s lungs transformed and released through the sack clutched at his belly.

There is no other sound quite like it. Everyone was transfixed by the bleating, keening, humbling cry winding through our ears and our heads. Five minutes later, I alighted from the ferry in a trance. My day at the office was centuries away. I was serene, in a state of grace. Amazing.


Colcannon

Ingredients


1 pound potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender (I used Yukon Gold)
1 full, healthy bunch scallions, cleaned and chopped into approx. 1/3 inch pieces (or equal amount of cabbage or kale)
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup milk or cream
¼ teaspoon salt

Method

In a small skillet over low heat, sauté the scallions in the butter until they are partially softened and browned. Sprinkle them with the salt, stir and set aside. Strain the boiled potatoes from their cooking water and return to the pot or a bowl. Mash the potatoes by hand or with an electric mixer, adding milk or cream incrementally until they are soft, fluffy and free of lumps. Carefully fold the prepared scallions into the potatoes. Serves 2-4, depending on appetite.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Finger Food - Herb-Crusted Lamb Chops



There are certain foods where it is expected that we will pick them up with our fingers and either gingerly or greedily press them into our faces, foods like cold canapés or hot fries, artichoke leaves or drumsticks, berries or pizza. Polite society expects us not to eat in a manner that reminds us that we are animals, but will make certain allowances as long as the morsels we select are not too sloppy or show too much bone. I’m sure syrupy, garlicky, herb-crusted lamb chops are not what Miss Manners had in mind, no matter how tiny, tender and tempting they are. I know and appreciate that etiquette is the lubricant of the well-oiled social machine, but I must plead the case for greasy, sticky fingertips with a supremely simple, yet gloriously flavored recipe. I think you will agree that you won’t want to leave any little tidbit behind. A napkin is optional.

Herb-Crusted Lamb Chops - Adapted from DiSalvo's Station Restaurant, DiRoNA, 2004

10 small lamp chops
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon each: dried oregano, basil, rosemary, mint
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
¼ cup honey
In a large skillet over very low heat, barely sauté the garlic in the olive oil. Scatter all the herbs, salt and pepper into the skillet, then press each side of each chop into the herbs. Turn heat up to medium to brown the chops, turning them every few minutes until there is no visible pink and fat has been rendered from them. Add the vinegar and allow chops to cook another few minutes, turning them a few more times. Drizzle the honey over the entire skillet, turning heat up to high until the juices start to thicken and bubble. Turn chops to evenly coat. Spoon the syrup over plated chops and serve immediately. Serves 2.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Couscous Calling - Preserved Lemon Tagine


I have wanted a tagine since the year 440 BC.

Let me fast forward. I have wanted a tagine since 1992, when I read the passage in The English Patient where the war-weary nurse Hana reads from handwritten notes tucked into a ragtag copy of Herodotus (circa 440 BC) kept by the mysterious patient. Imbat, aajej, simoom, are among the many melodious and menacing Arabic evocations for winds that are weak or wicked, soothing or severe. There are possibly as many words for wind in Arabic as there are words for snow in Eskimo. When nature is, at it must be, anthropomorphized, it rouses all the senses like spices and links us back to the Earth with ground powders of turmeric, ginger and cayenne. If you could hold all the heat and hearth of those spices in just one vessel, what would it be? It must be a tagine, the conical clay pot that cradles a stew swirling in steam, so fragrant, flavorful and fiery.

And so unforgettable, until last year when a tagine came to visit our home and became a member of the family. Scott and I had enjoyed many wedding gifts from our generous friends and family, so many beautiful things. And as is practical when giving to a couple who were combining mature households full of their own belongings and equipment, we did receive a number of envelopes and gift cards, for the couple who has everything….or almost…

It was never a question whether we would get a tagine or not. The more pressing issue was which one and what color? I Googled everywhere, collecting a dizzying array of choices as well as recipes. Finally the decision was rent from my hands by the simple fear that whatever I ordered would not safely make the journey from the warehouse to our condo. I got in the car and drove to Williams-Sonoma. I still had a choice to make, the break-your-toes weight of the Le Crueset in an assortment of hip party colors or the traditional earthen red Emile Henry. My hand went up for Henry.

The tagine, THE tagine, is now such an integral part of the household that I am repainting the kitchen walls exactly the same ruddled hue so that our hearth will feel the heat even when the oven isn’t on.



Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons (and Couscous*) - Adapted from A Big Slice and easier than the LATimes recipe linked above.
(The original recipe is ferociously hot. If you can stand the scalding tongue or have plenty of beer on hand, you have my blessing).

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds chicken thighs (with or without skin or bone)
1 large onion, chopped
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons cayenne
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup water
½ cup kalamata olives, drained
½ preserved lemon, slivered, retaining pulp
1 handful golden seedless raisins
1 15 ½ oz. can chickpeas, undrained
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Method

Preheat oven to 325°.

In a large, heavy skillet sauté the onion until golden and transparent. Add all the spices, stirring to mix. Add chicken thighs, turning frequently to evenly brown and coat with the spices. Arrange chicken thighs in the bottom of a tagine or ovenproof pot which has a well-fitting cover. Add the water to the skillet, scrapping to remove any remaining bits of spice mixture. Pour this water over the chicken pieces in the tagine. Evenly spread the olives, lemon slivers, raisins, and chickpeas in their water over the chicken pieces. Scatter with cilantro. Cover tagine, position in oven, and bake for approx. 40 minutes or until the juices in chicken run clear. It will not dry out if you bake it longer.

* Couscous can be found in Middle Eastern grocers, natural food stores, and in the rice and grain section of a larger supermarket. Couscous is a foolproof grain product and much easier than pasta to prepare. Just follow the directions on package. I used whole wheat and we were very satisfied with the results. --

Monday, March 12, 2007

Peasant Potage

"What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow." A. A. Milne (1882-1956)

Who knew that Winnie the Pooh’s author was fond of potatoes? But who isn’t? How much we take our potatoes for granted after mashing, cutting, frying, baking, hashing, roasting and all the other spud permutations of culinary necessity and art. I dare say McDonald’s is more popular for its shoe-string fries than for its burgers; at least, I’d like to think so. I know they were James Beard’s favorite, and pretty much the only fast food critics and the public alike could agree on. The potato is the meat of the earth, the plain, scruffy but robust starch that makes it possible to live a plain but robust life. What would we do without it? We are now insisting on a world that restricts trans fats, but what would we do if a perfectly healthy, nay necessary, foundation of our daily diet was taken from us? There are people on our planet who did have it taken, who suffered beyond description and comprehension when the fungal blight came and destroyed the humble, stalwart crop and broke the Irish during their infamous famine.

There is another potential famine afoot now, one not borne of agricultural mishap, but of the mishap of human greed and callousness. The “terminator seed” is not a figment of a silly, violent Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, but it does have the potential to violently wreck cultures, agrarian peasant cultures who are highly dependent on the potato as a staple of their diets. Agrichemical corporations are busy in laboratories genetically mutating seeds from a variety of plants to render harvested seeds sterile for replanting in subsequent seasons unless a chemical is purchased and applied to these bad seeds to restore their germination. How many poor farmers do you know who can afford these chemicals? Among those particularly at risk are South American farmers, who do not have the political clout like the collective powerhouses of the European Union.

South America has many basic, bountiful and beautiful dishes of aboriginal comfort and pride. Locro de papas, featured in the February 2007 issue of Gourmet Magazine, is a classic Andean recipe. I am not the first blogger to highlight the richly warming potato porridge, anointed with annatto oil and curried with cumin. And I do not want to be the last blogger to pay tribute to the humble, hearty potato and the people who have depended on it since they sprung of the same earth that bore them both.

Locro de papas – Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, February 2007

Ingredients

2 teaspoons annatto seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ½ pounds baking potatoes
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black ground pepper
7 cups water
1 cup whole milk
6 ounces ricotta salata (hard ricotta), ½ coarsely grated, ½ shredded with wide-edge grater
2 small ripe but firm avocados

Method

In a small saucepan, heat annatto seeds in olive oil. Swirl pan, bring to simmer, then remove from heat and let steep 20 minutes.

While oil steeps, peel and cube (approx. 1 inch) potatoes, reserving ½ the cubes in a bowl of cold water. Strain infused oil from seeds, discarding seeds. In a large (approx. 8-quart) pot, cook ½ the potatoes and all the onion in the oil until onions are transparent, stirring occasionally. Add cumin, salt and black pepper, stirring to mix. Add all the water and bring to boil, scrapping the pot to release any stuck vegetables. Cook partially covered over low-medium heat until potatoes are very soft (approx. 25 minutes). Mash the softened potatoes into the broth and add remaining cubed potatoes (drained), maintaining heat and cooking until potatoes are tender. Add milk and the coarsely grated cheese, stirring gently to mix. Allow to simmer, then remove from heat.

Peel, pit and cube avocados. Ladle soup into serving bowls, dividing and scattering reserved shredded cheese over top of each bowl. Top with avocado cubes.

Serves 4.

Friday, March 9, 2007

58 Million Italians Can't Be Wrong

My beaten-up old girl.

I am feeling lazy. It is mid-afternoon. When I am lazy, I don’t like to do too much, as befits the definition. It is that particular sort of idle exhaustion having not expended any effort whatsoever.

I call her the little engine that could, a silvery sweetheart with a wasp waist, rubber arm and sturdy seat. Alfonso Bialetti invented her in 1933, and she’s been a little runaround in kitchens all over Italy and Europe ever since. She is a romantic icon of the days before everything electric, literally a steam engine, gurgling up three shots of earthy, almost smoky elixir in about 10 minutes. If you stand very still and cock your head to the burner, you will hear the finest hiss of heat escape through the pinprick valve. This is enough for me. Two shots later, my eyes are clearer, and I am seeing my kitchen as if for the first time. I need to get moving on that chicken stock now. I no longer just think, I do. I’ll chop some fresh onions, carrots and celery, grind a bit of thyme in my green marble mortar. I am no longer lazy. I am now the little engine that could.



Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Sweet Sorrow – Rosina Pie


I am not particularly fond of raisins. I can’t put my finger on it nor trace back the origin of my prejudice, but there it is. For those who are MAD for raisins, however, there is a recipe that is MADE for them, and I CAN trace back its origin. Rosina Pie (it sounds so wistfully far away, from another time, when photographs were tinted sepia and a weathered life showed on a weathered face) is a memory of my Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Deutsch) heritage. Rosina (which means raisin in German) is served traditionally after funeral services. Raisins, which are plentiful and store well, are an obvious choice, but there’s something more to it than just the practical; the pie is cloyingly sweet, which makes it the ideal comfort food. You can hardly think of anything else while you are eating it. There will be those farm cooks who will dispute my recipe as not truly traditional, since it doesn’t use egg or milk for a custard base, but both my mother and I remember the pie as similar in preparation, taste and texture to English mincemeat. My mother never had a recipe handed down to her. This is my version as I recall it from many years ago, faded by memory, tinted sepia.


Rosina Pie (aka Funeral Pie)

This recipe will make one deep-dish pie (pictured), but there is enough filling to make 2 regular sized pies. If you make 2 regular sized pies, you will need two recipes of pastry.

Ingredients

2 – 15 oz. boxes dark raisins
3 cups water
3 packed cups dark brown sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons your choice of very fresh ground cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg (plus ½ teaspoon for dusting crust)
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
1 recipe pastry for double crust pie (your choice or recipe to follow)

Method

In a large saucepan, combine raisins and water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until raisins are plump and soft. Drain raisins and set aside to cool, returning cooking liquid to saucepan. Add all the sugar, lemon juice, zest and your choice of spice to the raisin liquid in saucepan, stirring with a wooden or plastic spoon to mix well. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken into a syrup but not as thick as honey. The mixture will frequently threaten to boil over, so you do have to watch it and adjust the heat accordingly. Meantime, finely chop to a paste ½ the raisins in a food processor. Add them and all the whole raisins into the saucepan with the syrup, stirring well. Slowly boil for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. It will thicken even more and become sticky as it cools. It also needs to cool to prevent the crust (which will not be pre-baked) from getting soggy from a hot mixture.

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare pastry. Roll out bottom crust and arrange in pie pan, making sure you have overhang around the rim. Fill with raisin mixture. Roll out top crust and arrange over filled pie shell allowing overhang again. Carefully lift both edges of pie dough tucking top dough under the bottom to create a very thick rustic edge. Pinch the edge with your fingers to flute or gently press down with tines of fork. Slit top crust to allow steam to escape and strew lightly with granulated white sugar.

Place the pie on a stable cookie sheet and position in middle of preheated oven. Bake for 45 minutes. If you are making smaller pies, 45 minutes is approximately enough. A deep dish will require ¼ to ½ hour longer. The pie is done when the crust is medium to dark golden brown and the filling bubbles up through the slits in the top crust.

Remove from oven, dusting with spice of your choice. Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting. The first cut will be very juicy. Filling will firm up nicely overnight.

Pastry (Adapted from Betty Groff’s recipe)

Ingredients

2 ½ Cups All Purpose White Flour
½ Stick Butter
½ Cup Vegetable Shortening
Ice Water

Method

Cut or rub between fingers butter and shortening into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add water a little at a time, tossing & folding with a rubber spatula between additions. As you continue to add, toss and fold small amounts of water, press the mixture with the spatula against the bowl until the dough can easily form a ball. Use as much ice water as you need. It is better the dough be moister than dry; dry dough will not roll out evenly. Transfer dough onto a well-floured rolling surface, gently shaping into an even ball. Cut the ball in ½ and reserve in plastic wrap for the top crust. Roll the bottom crust large enough so that you have overhang when you fit it in pie pan. Roll top crust in same manner. --