Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ripeness Matters

Okay, you walk into your local chain grocery store hungry for melons which are at the peak of their season. You are hoping for something ripe and sweet. You won't find it. Odds are your fruits have traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach your market. They are picked before they are fully ripe because of the distances they must then travel. Possibly they are sprayed with ethylene gas to promote off the vine ripening. This does not add any sweetness.

And don't fall for "certified organic" a term which is virtually meaningless when it comes to flavor. It just costs you more.

The best thing to do is to buy local when you can. Get up early and visit the farmers markets. You will find salad greens that are crisp and delicious and fruits that are ripe and sweet. You can choose a melon, like the one picture, by sniffing the stem end. You should be able to enhale a bit of sweetness. Try that in a supermarket and you'll just get a musty smell.

If you are lucky enough to have a real green grocer located near you send your business his way. And ask questions.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Our Signature Recipe from Purgatory

Chicken Purgatory Soup

On a recent weekend I “grill roasted” a baby chicken (poussin) over a charcoal fire. I seasoned it with salt and pimenton dulce and laid it out over the wood coals, covered, where it developed a nice smoky flavor. There were leftovers.
I crafted this soup recipe to include three layers of “flame roastedness.” The other two are fire roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen) and a small green pepper blackened over a stove top burner. To these ingredients I added sliced okra and and red corn which I found at Whole Foods, but you can substitute white corn. I finished it with thinly sliced green onions and chopped cilantro. I plated it with long grain white rice.
I enjoyed this enough to make it the signature recipe for my blog.


1 tbs chopped shallot
2 tbs olive oil
¾ cup chicken stock
1 16 oz can fire roasted tomatoes (e.g. Muir Glen)
1 ear red corn (or substitute white)
1 smallish green bell pepper, roasted over an open burner flame
½ cup slice okra, fresh or frozen
½ green onion (green and white parts), sliced
Chopped cilantro, just a small handful
½ of one wood grill roasted chicken, meat from breast, thigh and leg (note: you can grill the chicken over gas, lid closed, but you won’t get the smoky flavor, and I won’t respect you in the morning. And you’ll spend another ten years in Purgatory).
Salt and pepper
1 cup cooked white, long grain rice

Begin by flame roasting the green pepper on an oven burner, turning frequently. When the skin is blackened place in a paper bag, rolled closed to steam. Or place the pepper in a glass bowl and seal with cling wrap. Both methods work fine. I keep small bags around to recycle just for this purpose.When the pepper is cool enough to handle rub the blackened skin away (it's okay if a little bit clings). Cut into strips lengthwise, and then into smaller pieces across the width.

By hand tear the meat from the chicken and shred by hand. Set aside.
In your soup pot heat the olive oil and add the chopped shallot. Cook until just translucent.

Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the tomatoes. Season with salt and a couple of grindings of pepper and bring back to simmering, uncovered.
Meanwhile, using a sharp knife, carve the kernels off of the corn and stir into the soup.

Add the okra, roasted pepper and stir everything together. Cook at a steady simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, allowing the okra to contribute some thickening.
About half way through cooking begin steaming your rice in a coved pan over low flame. Usually 18 minutes does the job.

Taste the soup for seasoning. It will need more salt and ground pepper. Add green onions and cilantro to finish. Cilantro can be added over individual bowls. See note.
When the soup has thickened but is still “soup like” remove from heat. Add the rice to individual bowls and ladle the soup over or around the rice. It’s ready to eat.
Notes to the cook: if you are feeding guests offer them the option of having their serving with or without cilantro. I love the stuff but I’m now convinced that some people are genetically predisposed to dislike it. It’s not an acquired taste.

I picked up a pretty nifty trick for scraping kernels from a corn cob from Michael Chiarello. If you have a bundt pan, invert it, place the pointy end of the cob into the hole in the tube. Scrape away. The pan will collect the kernels so that they are not flying all over the place.

If you like you can use a larger chicken, maybe a Rocky Junior.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Spain: Why We Love Those Little Tins in Our Pantry

This dish exploits the Spanish infatuation with canned seafood. They do a marvelous job of cramming superb fish into cans; tuna, sardines, anchovies, but also octopus, and all packed in olive oil! Let’s admit that imported canned seafood is expensive. But it’s worth it and it’s always there waiting for you in your pantry when you are hungry.

Octopus Tartine w/salad of romaine
Ingredients per person:
1 slice baguette cut on the bias (the tartine)
1 can octopus packed in olive oil (preferably Ortiz)
1 clove of garlic, sliced
Grey salt
1 tsp of Piment d’Esplette or other good Spanish pimento (aka paprika).
Lemon juice
Chopped flat leaf parsley

Begin by addressing the baguette with a serrated bread knife, “bon jour Monsieur baguette.” Turn the baguette on its side and make a long bias cut giving you a slice about 8” to 10” long, with one thin end and one thick end. Lightly toast in the oven and set on a serving plate.

Open the tin and drain the olive oil into a pan set over low heat. Add the garlic to color lightly and then add the octopus. Stir in salt, piment and lemon juice. Continue to cook until heated through. The octopus will already be quite tender. Finish with chopped parsley.

Carefully pour the pan juices over the bread on its serving plate. Spoon the remaining contents of the pan onto the bread. E’ voila!

Romaine salad

1 heart of romaine
Juice of one lemon
¼ cup olive oil
Fresh thyme
Fresh lavender
Salt and Pepper

Slice romaine crosswise into 1” ribbons. In a pyrex measuring cup combine the dressing ingredients and whisk with a fork to combine. Dress the romaine. Serve on the side.

Source information: This all sounds very easy but quality tinned Spanish seafood can be difficult to find. I’ve found to be extremely reliable in quality and variety.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Deep Thought

This past week I had to surrender my laptop for much needed work (the curse of the curious insertion point). It turned out to be an opportunity to think, read and write notes on legal pads in long hand sans the toggle on/off effect of Facebook and God help us, Twitter.

I spent my mornings studying and my afternoons cooking. Not disagreeable.

I turned to the work of deep thinkers Keller and Adria. Ferran Adria's books read like string theory as interpreted by Antonio Gaudi and Jacques Derrida. Amazing, eyeopening stuff. I won't be cooking from Adria soon but I have cooked and will continue to cook from Keller.

I also seanced with Julia Child. I think of Julia child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" as akin to the Old Testament. I own both volumes and they are shelved with the respect they deserve---or at least deserved in 1961. I read from them often but I seldom cook from them now. I do enjoy the part where Rachael Ray is cast into hell to be tormented by James "Beelzabub" Beard.

The New Testament begins with the gospel of Alice Waters---another American Girl in France. I think it may end with the Apocalypse. Surely it wont end with Keller---per se.

Pig has resumed its properly place among the heavenly bodies. Soon it will have its own constellation in deep space. No longer outcast as "the other white meat."
Real pork is back and it tastes good. Supermarkets are carrying real vegetables. And for those of you who are thrill seekers, your supermarket possibly has a sushi counter.

Another faint glimmer on the horizon is that young people are training to be real artisan butchers, breaking down carcasses and not just running primals through a band saw and sticking them in foam packages. The rock star icon of this movement is the Tuscan, Dante quoting butcher Dario Cecchini. He's not likely to be handing your kid a slice of bologna. Now this dream is still just that little bit of pinkish light in the early morning sky. But...

Things are not so good in the oceans. Believe in sustainable fishing? It's a joke. There's no miracle of loaves and fishes happening here. Learn to love anchovies and squid. Bigger fish which can attain great age are being taken before they can reproduce, hence dwindling stocks. Orange roughy aka slime head comes to mind. If you consume farm raised salmon you are committing crimes against nature and against yourself. So stop now.

I guess this is where I stopped thinking.