So I made a batch of David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream. I’ve made several of his flavors, as you know, but never the most classic. Turns out it’s wonderful, combining an entire vanilla bean with its seeds and 3/4 teaspoon of extract (I did a combination of Madagascar Bourbon paste [magical stuff] and [my very favorite] Orlando Mexican vanilla extract). M and I had a couple of scoops the other night with macerated strawberries but the rest is to be paired with birthday cake.
Tonight I’m making Orange Syrup Cake with Candied Oranges, Lebovitz’s adaptation of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s version in Jerusalem. This is the birthday cake for C & K.
The orange and lemon zest baked into the cake scent the cake over the course of a day but the Mediterranean method of pouring homemade citrus syrup over the hot cake when it is removed from the oven is what makes this cake extra special. At first, most of the syrup pooled at the edges (and certainly tested the seal of my springform), but eventually it all soaked in. Man, it was over-the-top tender, and because most of the base is ground almonds, the flavor and dense texture are slightly reminiscent of citrus-flavored marzipan.
C & K said it was delicious.
Discovered this video explaining how to create a rocher, or oval-shaped scoop of ice cream, earlier today; I tried to do it myself a few times with some of the vanilla when I got home, but . . . I’ll need more time. Nibbled some remnants of the cake from the fridge and I’ve decided I might like it best chilled. If I make it again, I might replace all the orange with lemon to create a sort of lemon bar cake.
Thanks to J, I’ve gotten my hands on a Vanilla Crème Cake pan, so spongey cakes and creamy fillings are abounding in my brain. My favorite idea is a sort of neapolitan Twinkie: one injection each of banana, chocolate and strawberry cream fillings; since a Twinkie is on average three bites, each bite is a different flavor. Hmmm. I might have to just go ahead with that one, eh?
This week I lost a tooth, which always puts me in a maudlin state of mind wherein I obsessively contemplate the nature of mortality, and I’ve been thinking the best way to be memorialized would be to have a food named after me. Here are some examples I can think of:
The sandwich (Earl of Sandwich)
John Wayne candy bar (John Wayne)
Oysters Rockefeller (John D. Rockefeller)
Fettuccine Alfredo (Alfredo di Lelio)
Eggs Benedict (no idea, but it has to be someone)
Frangelico (Fra Angelico, duh)
Cherry Garcia ice cream (Jerry Garcia)
Earl Grey tea (some British prime minister)
Margarita cocktail (Rita Hayworth. Real name Margarita Cansino)
Melba toast (Dame Nellie Melba)
Pavlova (Anna Pavlova)
General Tso’s chicken (also has to be someone, right?)
Dongpo pork (Su Dongpo)
"I want Dong Po!" ... too obscure? I love 'Kickboxer'.
Dongpo pork is a new favourite recipe of mine. It is Chinese cuisine at its finest – simultaneously elaborate and simple. The ingredients are few but the pork must be boiled, reboiled, simmered in a sauce, fried, boiled again, then steamed. Why is it named after the poet Su Dongpo? No one knows. Almost certainly he didn’t invent it (who could imagine a poet going to all that work?). As Lin Hsiang puts it in Chinese Gastronomy, this dish is “…named after Su Tungpo, the poet, for unknown reasons. Perhaps it is just because he would have liked it.” And I bet he would have. When you are done, the pork is so tender the fat can be eaten with chopsticks.
1 lb pork belly
1 tea bag (Lapsang Souchong for preference)
4 spring onions
About an inch of fresh ginger, slivered
1 head broccoli
1 cup water
8 cloves garlic, smashed
5 slices ginger
1 tablespoon peppercorns
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
Boil a pot of water and toss in the pork. When it comes back to the boil, drain the pork, clean the pot (go on, do it), put the pork back in and cover with cold water. Bring back to the boil. Boil 30 minutes. Fish out the pork, keep the water.
Heat up another saucepan with all the sauce ingredients. Add the pork and simmer for a few minutes, until nicely coloured. Remove the pork and reserve the sauce.
Heat up some oil in a saucepan (or wok). Fry the pork on all sides until well browned and the skin is crispy. While this is happening, steep the tea bag in boiling water for a minute or so, then toss the water and keep the tea bag.
Place the pork in the saucepan of water again, and add the tea bag. Simmer 30 more minutes.
Cut the spring onions in half, and use them to make a lattice at the bottom of your bamboo steamer. Place the pork on top of this, then steam for 2 hours. You will need to top up the water a few times.
Don't forget to cover the steamer... unlike this pic
Cut the broccoli into florets and place in the steamer for the final 5 minutes of cooking time.
Place the pork and broccoli on a serving dish, reheat the sauce (thicken with cornflour if you like) and pour over the pork. Garnish with the slivers of ginger.
It’s a long process, no doubt, but there’s only one life to eat, enjoy, and enjoy eating. As the poet himself put it:
Shui Lung Yin by Su Dongpo
Drinking through the night at East Slope,
still drunk on waking-up,
I return home around midnight.
My house-boy snores like thunder,
no answer to my knock.
Leaning on my stick, listening to the river,
I wish this body belonged to someone else.
When can I escape this turmoil?
In the deep night, with the wind still, the sea calm;
I’ll find a boat and drift away,
to spend my final years afloat,
trusting to the river and the sea.
A friend of mine, Steve, has a predilection for bringing treats to parties that are naturally colored. There was the time he brought a trio of frosting-dips that had been dyed with blueberries, mango and matcha powder. So in a nod to Steve, I was inspired to create a naturally-colored cream filling of my own devising. Steve, I hope you will use this recipe to romance someone along your way away from Seattle. Have sweet travels.
And the rest of you…try this deliciousness.
Strawberry Whipped Cream
2 cups whipping cream
1 pkg. Trader Joe’s freeze-dried strawberries
2 T. powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla
Put strawberries in mini food processor or (clean) coffee grinder and process into powder. Put cream in large bowl, add sugar and beat until incorporated, then add strawberry powder and vanilla, beat on low until mixed, then beat into thick cream. You won’t have to do this for long, so don’t overbeat it into butter.
The result? Whipped cream with the flavor of fresh strawberries. How can red dyed artificially flavored syrups compete? They cannot. Reject them. Make your own sweet treats to keep your tongue buds pleased.
A couple of days later I was eyeing some Trader Joe’s Roasted Coconut Chips (The subhead description sounds a tad demented: mature coconut soaked in young coconut milk, roasted with a touch of salt & sugar). They’re one of my new favorite snacks. A couple or three half handfuls offer a slightly sweet crispness on demand. I’m thinking of pulverizing some into powder for another whipped cream flavor. In fact, I may just go on a freeze-dried freak run to Trader Joe’s for an array, an entire BUFFET of whipped creams. Heh. You know. WTFN?*
In other news, I’ve been brainstorming up names for the following iconic snack cakes: Twinkies, Ho Hos, Sno-balls and Ding Dongs. For work not for whim, in case you wondered.
A uniquely challenging challenge it is, naming a snack cake. How do you draw the line around where’s too far over the line? Snack cake names, after all, connote lewdness yet inspire a nostalgia that compels you to long for soft cakes cream-filled and occasionally frosting-dipped. At least that’s what I tell myself, since I have not had a snack cake in years.**
The reason for this most unusual of tasks is that Sur La Table will be rolling out new pans and implements for the truly nostalgic cooks out there to make their own home-crafted snack cakes. If you ask me, this just opens the oven door to creating snack-things far and away tastier than the originals.
Over a weekend I rolled out a white board and went through numerous cookbook indices in search of inspiration: Maidda Heater’s Book of Great Desserts, David Leibovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, Fran Bigelow’s pure chocolate, Lindsey R. Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts, Flo Braker’s sweet miniatures, and even 2002’s Minnesota-printed collection of my extended family’s recipes, Cooking with the Wencl’s. Here are some of my favorite names I dreamt up.
Ding Dongs: Cake Knocks, WTFudges, Dream Cremes, Choco-Lottas
Twinkies: Crème Declairs, Golden Sponges, Winkie Cakes, Cream-filled Winkies
Ho Hos: Choco-Ritos, A-Hoy-Ho’s, Royo’s
Sno-Balls: Sno-Cremes, Cloud Cakes, Whiteouts, Mallow-Moons
Only time will tell if any of my brainstorm ends up branding an actual snack cake pan, but those pans will have to get rolled out quickly, since the latest news from Slate is that the Great Twinkie Shortage is soon to be over. I think I’d just as soon get a pan of my own and make my own version of Twinkies. I’ve always wondered what the originals tasted like. They had a banana filling that was eventually switched to vanilla cream when shipments of bananas to the States were rationed during WWII.
Note to self: Add freeze dried bananas to your shopping list.
*Why the Fudge Not?
**Okay, that’s a fudge. When I first heard a whiff that Twinkies might finally be entering permanent retirement a year ago, I swiped a box from a Safeway. The first couple bites did indeed whisk me into a sweet tizzy of nostalgia, but then my palate began to detect a slight chemical undertone that was rather off-putting. Nevertheless, the entire box was eventually consumed. Ugh.
Virgil, my fry bread guide, got a deer this year and I got a piece of it. Two jars of canned venison, in fact. Until a couple of weeks ago I had no idea you could keep venison in a jar, but there it is. Life is a learning experience. Here’s what I did with it:
Hungarian Cabbage Rolls (with Canned Venison)
1 lb canned venison, finely chopped
1 cup uncooked rice
1 green cabbage
1 can sauerkraut
2 small cans tomato juice
The quantities here are a tad approximate, but this is a very forgiving recipe. First, cut out the core of the cabbage with a sharp knife. Boil the cabbage for about 10 minutes, prodding it aimlessly until the leaves start to come apart. Drain it and let cool.
In a bowl, mix the chopped venison, the rice, and enough salt and pepper. Take a leaf of boiled cabbage and put a few spoons of venison mixture on it.
Tuck in the sides and roll up. Easy!
Layer the bottom of a heavy pan with sauerkraut. Place the rolls on top of this.
Cover with sauerkraut and add tomato juice (and water) to cover. Sprinkle with sugar. Simmer for about two hours. Eat with good company and cheap wine.
Rice, to me, is not a comfort food like pasta or bread. It is something far more fundamental and taken for granted until you don’t have it, like blood. Rice is a hint at the great and profound fact that we must eat to live. When I hear the word “Spam,” on the other hand, I feel like I just watched someone trip off the edge of the sidewalk – simultaneously compassionate and amused. Spam does not even deserve to be rice’s opposite – their relationship is more akin to Superman and helpless victim. However! I should have realised that without the helpless victim, Superman is just a dude in tights wearing his underwear on the outside, and I’ve learned that if you put rice and Spam together you get the way-too-unknown Hawaiian snack known as Spam musubi. You won’t see it in fusion restaurants but musubi are true fusion cuisine, combining both the Japanese and American influences in Hawaii in perfect harmony.
If you’re going to do a dish comprised of just Spam and rice, do it right. Sushi rice is tricky to make perfectly, and, unfortunately, there is no simple recipe. It all depends on what kind of rice you are using. Once you open this particular can of worms you soon understand why in many Japanese restaurants there’s a guy whose sole job is just to prepare the rice. I quote from the brilliant but absurdly named Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji:
“It is difficult to prescribe an exact formula for the size of pot and the amount of water to use in cooking rice because there are so many variables. Assuming that our interest is only in short-grain rice, we still must consider whether it was grown in a flooded paddy or dry field, whether the rice is newly harvested or whether it has already been on the shelf for some time, whether the climate is hot and muggy or desert dry. These are all factors that the rice chef, with a many-year training period, would have no trouble in dealing with.”
Not being a rice chef, I had some trouble dealing with the factors. I used white medium grain Calrose rice from California, which is often considered a good substitute for real Japonica sushi rice. Shizuo Tsuji suggests as a general rule, for rice of Asian origin grown in wet fields, 1 cup of water to 1 cup of washed rice (not dry), and for rice of American or European origin (grown in dry fields), 1 ¾ cups of water to 1 cup of dry rice. Exhausted yet? I followed his directions for American rice and ended up with rice pudding, not at all suitable for sushi. Fortunately, no one was very hungry yet, so I had time to start again:
Rice for Spam Musubi
2 cups medium-grain Calrose rice from California
2 cups water
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Wash the rice. This is done by putting the rice in a bowl, covering with cold water and squishing the rice around with your hands until the water turns milky. Do not let the rice stand in the water – when the water is milky, pour it out. Refill the bowl with cold water. Do this for about five minutes, removing the starches, until the water is almost clear. Shizuo Tsuji makes a point of mentioning that later washings should be performed more gently than the first washings, to avoid “bruising” the grains. Sure. Whatever. When done, drain the rice in a sieve and let stand for 30 minutes to an hour. I am convinced this does something, because the rice changes from clear to opaque.
Place the rice in a heavy pot with a tight fitting lid. I used my Le Creuset cast iron casserole. Add the water, cover, and heat over medium heat until the water just starts to boil. Turn the heat to high and let the water get to a vigorous boil. White foam will creep out from under the lid and sizzle on your burner but this is a sign you are doing the right thing. After two minutes, reduce heat to low and simmer for five more minutes. Do not, at any time, take the lid off to see how it is doing.
Turn off the heat and let the rice sit for twenty minutes unmolested.
While this is happening, combine the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. The quantities of the flavourings vary, traditional sushi rice is quite a bit sweeter, but we don’t like sweet things much. When dissolved, cool the saucepan in an ice bath (just kidding. No I’m not. Well, I did it. Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?).
Now enlist your helper with a bamboo fan (or folded newspaper), lift off the lid on the pot, and sprinkle in the vinegar mixture. While your helper fans like a demon, cut the rice with a wooden spatula and turn it, essentially speed cooling it. This also apparently does something essential to the texture of the rice, I’m not sure what, but 126 million Japanese can’t be wrong, can they?
And there you have it. Perfect sushi rice, unless you are using a different brand than me or the weather is unsual or… anyway, if you want oodles more detail on the subject, I urge you to consult Japanese Cooking, a Simple Art.
Did I mention you will need a musubi mold?
Sorry about that. A musubi mold, exactly the dimensions of a slice of Spam, is used to compress the rice into a lovely brick shape. I don’t have a musubi mold, but I have a lovely 70s era sushi press that served the purpose. I have heard that some musubi fans use the empty Spam can.
Prepared sushi rice
1 can Spam
2 sheets nori
De-can your Spam and slice it into eight even slices. Heat up a frypan and toss in the Spam. When it begins to brown on the underside, pour in a mix of soy sauce and sugar. How much? Well, let’s say about three tablespoons of soy and 1 teaspoon of sugar, but you can mix it up to your own taste. Spam is far more forgiving than rice. The Spam will quickly suck up the soy; turn it off the heat.
Place rice in mold. Squash rice under high pressure until it is a firm brick. Sprinkle the rice brick with furikake and add slice of Spam. Since I was using a long sushi mold, I found it the perfect size to hold four slices of Spam, which I then turned into individual musubi with a sharp knife.
Cut strips of nori, and wrap the musubi up prettily. The nori is essential, it adds a fresh vegetable aroma to the heavily meaty Spam. My word, this is a snack for the gods, believe me.
I’ve dealt with some weird foods throughout the history of this blog. Finding and trying weird foods is a hobby of mine – in a new restaurant, I look for the oddest thing on the menu and order it. Sometimes the chef pokes his head out of the kitchen to look at me. On a recent trip through the astoundingly beautiful New Zealand, I found two more that I would like to share with you, one because it is good, and the other strictly for the horror-and-disgust factor. Consider yourself warned.
New Zealanders like whitebait, the immature fry of fish of many species. Every year, in a very limited and strictly enforced season, Kiwis compete for the chance to stand in a river with a net, scooping up shoals of the things as they migrate, rather like we do here in the Pacific Northwest when the salmon are running (except, of course, for a notable size difference in the prey. Whitebait are an inch or two long, and salmon a big enough to dent a car). The classic preparation of whitebait is fried in a “patty” (which is traditionally just a pure egg batter, like an omelet), which is then sometimes placed between two slices of bread. The end result is a fatty, greasy, protein-heavy snack full of tiny little fish, complete with head and guts and little eyes that stare at you as you raise them to your mouth. You can also eat them in more elegant preparations, such as sautéed in white wine, if you’re a tourist. I’d known about the Kiwi craze for whitebait since my young days reading Footrot Flats, so it was a given that I would sample them as soon as I could on my first trip to New Zealand.
Is it special? Is it fresh? Is it neither? Punctuation can be confusing.
First taste of whitebait: “Huh. Okay. It’s just tiny fish.” Second taste: “Okay. They’re not bad.” Third: “Are there any more?” That’s the mark of a true delicacy – initial uncertainty, followed by lifelong devotion. This is absolutely my favourite kind of food.
That was the good one.
Annnnnnd speaking of delicacies, here’s one I absolutely did not expect to see on a menu, ever: muttonbird, a.k.a. sooty shearwater. If you’ve never seen a shearwater, think of a dark brown seagull, which is essentially what they are. Now seagulls flock in great numbers to the rooftops around my apartment building, and sometimes, after being woken once again by their furious arguments at four in the morning, it has occurred to me to wonder how they would taste, had I a rifle handy. I always came to the conclusion that, were seagulls any good to eat, people would already be eating them, as with pigeons and squirrels in other cuisines. But now at last I had a chance to find out!
Muttonbirds are another species with a very limited and strictly enforced hunting season. In this case the strictures go further: muttonbird, or “titi” in the local language, can only be harvested by the Rakiura Maori people and their descendants, and as such is a key part of Southern Maori culture and heritage. How could I pass up a chance at this beast when I saw it on the menu of a fish and chip cart!
Here’s my advice to you: should you ever find yourself in Southern New Zealand, and you see muttonbird on the menu of a fish and chip cart, pass up the chance at it.
Deep fried muttonbird. Do not, under any circumstances, eat.
I pride myself on having an experienced and daring palate, but over the years I have found two foods I absolutely do not like: raw sea urchin, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Muttonbird is exactly like a cross between these two foods. It’s an incredibly fatty and greasy bird that tastes like a tidepool smells. Now when I put it like that it sounds it might be alright, and as these “culture and heritage” meals sometimes tend to be, it must have been better than slow starvation. But I sadly cannot recommend it.
To be fair, deep fried muttonbird from a fish and chip cart may not be the best preparation. A Kiwi friend of mine provided the following recipe from the enigmatic “Maori Cookbook.” (I say enigmatic because this rare paperback, which you can still find on Amazon for $188, contains no author, date or printing info, making it hard for me to credit.)
To Cook Mutton Birds:
Remove the feathers of the mutton bird (if any). The mutton bird may be treated in the same way as wild duck, i.e. roasted with a savoury stuffing of breadcrumbs, or, for a change, apples and onions. Bake for 1 hour. Alternatively, boil it briefly and pour off the water. It is really a matter of taste. If you don’t like the bird’s salty taste, boil it again, or rather simmer it until softish and then grill the bird until brown and sizzling. Garnish with a white sauce made with white wine. Pour it into the sauce as many Stewart Island oysters as it can comfortably accommodate.
That doesn’t sound so bad.
On the subject of this trip to visit the family Downunder, I must include a couple of pictures here from the Mecca of the produce world, Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. If it’s not at the Queen Vic, it’s not edible (you can’t get muttonbird, for example).
It's so hard to find good kangaroo garlic mettwurst in the States.
Rolling out fresh borek pastry. One of the things I miss most about Australia is the Turkish food.
And just to finish with a recipe, here’s a salad my mother makes.
Quinoa, herb and pomegranate salad
½ vegetable stock cube
75g pine nuts
A small handful chopped mint
A small handful chopped coriander
1 lime, juiced
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Cook the quinoa according to pack instructions and add the vegetable stock cube to the cooking water.
Leave to cool, then break up with a fork.
Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan until like golden.
Mix the pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, herbs, lime juice and olive oil through the quinoa.