Thursday, August 31, 2006

Light Summer Pasta

So remember that chicken I roasted earlier in the week? Tonight I turned it into a really tasty summer pasta dish that's also pretty good for you. The recipe is loosely based on one from Cook's Illustrated Janary 2005 issue, but only loosely. For one thing, I cut the fat in the recipe by about 3/4, and didn't miss it a bit.

Be sure to use a wine that you like in this pasta - a huge amount of the flavor of the pasta sauce will come from it, so this isn't the place to use up the dregs of something someone left at your house. I used a 2005 Seigneurs de Bergerac Bergerac Sec. It's one of my favorite wines for keeping around the house - it's a little bit fruity and just a tiny bit off-dry and goes with every food I've ever tried to serve it with. And at $7.99 from my local wine seller, it's got huge QPR (quality to price ratio). This French wine comes from a region adjacent to but not in Bordeaux, so it's got a lot of what makes white Bordeaux great, but at a non-Bordeaux price. (Although, to be fair, there's a lot of good white Bordeaux available for not much more.)

Light Summer Pasta
1 tbsp butter
1 leek, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1 c dry white wine (but only a wine you like)
2 c low-sodium chicken stock (preferably homemade)
4 c broccoli florets
2 c trimmed green beans
1/2 lb penne or ziti pasta (I used Martelli, an excellent imported Italian pasta)
10 oz leftover cooked chicken, in pieces
1.5 oz parmesan reggiano, grated
1/2 c cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half (I used some tiny orange tomatoes from the Farmer's Market)
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper

Bring 4 qts water to boil in stockpot.

Melt butter in a large skillet, and saute the leek with a pinch of salt until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme, and flour, and cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. Add wine and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and simmer. The sauce will reduce and thicken slightly.

While the sauce is simmering, add 1 tbsp salt to the boiling water. Add the green beans and cook for 1 minute. Add the broccoli and cook for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer broccoli to a plate or bowl.

Bring water back up to a boil, stir in pasta and cook until al dente.

Just before the pasta is done, stir leftover chicken, parsley and parmesan cheese into the sauce and cook until pasta is heated through - about 1-2 minutes. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Combine the drained pasta, sauce, cooked vegetables and tomatoes. Toss and serve immediately. The sauce is fairly thin, so you might prefer to serve it in a bowl or just with some bread to sop up that tasty sauce.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Update on the Chicago foie gras ban

The foie gras ban went into effect last Tuesday. The initial reaction wasn't necessarily what Alderman Joe Moore was looking for:

Chicago's immediate reaction to a city ordinance banning foie gras—the French dish made from the livers of force-fed ducks and geese—was to embrace the gray goo like never before, in flights of culinary imagination.

Rhetoric and pâté abounded on the first day of the City Council's ban, as restaurateurs and gourmands openly flouted the prohibition—cultured, giddy, goose-liver-fueled acts of defiance.

On Tuesday morning the Illinois Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to overturn the ban, accusing the City Council of overstepping its authority.

At the same time, many diners tried the dish for the first time, drawn to the outlaw pâté out of curiosity or desire to chomp on the wild side.
That's right - so far the biggest result of the ban has been to encourage people who've never tried foie gras before to try it so they can see what all the fuss is about! Woo-hoo, Chicago.

The city Public Health Department has been put in charge of enforcement, but purposefully let restaurants have free rein on that first day. There are questions as to whether the department even has the resources to enforce the ban, and they have made it clear that they will only respond to complaints, not seeking out transgressions.
Even after Tuesday, though, the possibility of foie gras raids appears remote. City officials will respond to citizen complaints, Mr. Hadac said, first sending a warning letter to restaurants, then demanding a fine — from $250 to $500 — for second offenses.
One of my favorite responses to the ban comes from Doug Sohn, proprietor of Hot Doug's, and a conniseur of encased meats.
...Sohn offered three variations of a foie gras-laced sausage despite the prohibition. In April he named the foie gras and sauternes duck sausage (with green apple mustard and goat cheese) "The Joe Moore" in honor of the proposal's sponsor.

Sales have been brisk, Sohn said, and he doesn't plan to stop selling it until more clarity about the law arrives.
Unfortunately, today brings news of the first official complaint.
A daily special at a Lincoln Square restaurant has triggered the first -- and only -- official complaint stemming from Chicago's controversial ban on foie gras.

A caller to the city's 311 non-emergency system complained that foie gras was being served over the weekend at Block 44, 4365 N. Lincoln. The restaurant is not refuting the claim.
The restaurant received a warning letter. Only time will tell if this is an isolated report, of the first in a series to be made by masked foie gras crusaders...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sunday Chicken Dinner

Okay, it was actually Monday chicken dinner, since I didn't get around to making it yesterday. But fortunately, as the picture demonstrates, I've recently discovered the wonder of butterflying (aka spatchcocking) a chicken, which actually makes roast chicken do-able for a weekday dinner. Spatchcocking has a bunch advantages - the meat cooks faster and more evenly, and it's a cinch to carve. It's ideal if you want to grill a whole chicken. But on day 3 of rain here in Ann Arbor, I was happy to use my oven.

Since this was a weeknight dinner, I prepped the chicken last night to save myself some time and effort today. Butterflying a chicken is easy - you just cut out the backbone with kitchen shears, turn it over, then push down firmly on the breastbone, cracking it and allowing the chicken to flatten out. (Follow the link above for an illustrated guide.) For seasoning, I made a paste of crushed garlic, finely minced rosemary, salt, pepper and a little olive oil and rubbed it under the skin on the breasts and legs - you can see a little bit of the green through the skin in the picture. Then I put salt and pepper on the outside, covered it and put in the fridge. So all I had to do when I got home was preheat the oven and get it in.

While the oven was preheating, I started prepping some veggies for roasting. I put the beets off to one side for color preservation purposes, and so as not to taint my beet-hating husband's portion of the veggies. I tossed everything with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and handful of garlic cloves still in the paper, and put that in the oven with the chicken. Voila - now nothing to do except wait for it to be done.
Well, there was one more thing - slicing up some great local heirloom tomatoes for a little tomato salad. I had four different color tomatoes which would have been beautiful all together, but I knew that that would be too much for just two adults and one non-tomato-eating toddler, so I picked two.
I cooked everything at 400 degrees F. The chicken took less than an hour from start to finish. The veggies took about the same amount of time, but went in later, which made the timing perfect for them to just finished when the chicken had finished its 15 minute rest.

With a 4.5 lb chicken and only the three of us, I knew we'd have a bunch leftover. I carved off the breasts and served those tonight, then pulled the rest of the meat off the bones and put it away for soup or casserole making later this week.

The meat was juicy and flavorful, and infused with a mild garlic rosemary flavor/ aroma. The roasted vegetables were great - the slightly crispy potatoes, sweet carrots, and earthy beets made for a nice combination of flavors, textures and colors. And it's hard to go wrong with fresh picked tomatoes this time of year.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Risotto in the Pressure Cooker

The first job I had when I moved to Ann Arbor was selling cookware at Kitchen Port, a local kitchen shop. It was an interesting job, and I learned much of what I know about cookware, knives, and gadgets during my time there.

I always had a fascination with the pressure cookers, but at over $100 for the smallest of the Kuhn-Rikons we carried, I wasn't willing to pony up the money to try one out. The promise of a pressure cooker is significant - no need to braise a stew for hours and hours, just pop it all the pressure cooker and 20 minutes later, dinner is served. But I wasn't willing to take a chance on the reality.

So when I came upon a pressure cooker for $1 at a yard sale last summer, it was a no-brainer that I would buy it. If it didn't work, or I hated it, I was only out $1. If I actually used it and liked it, I could decide if I wanted to get a more elaborate one.

It worked fine, and a year later I'm still thrilled with it. I haven't used it a lot, maybe pulling it out once a month or so, but it was only $1, so in any calcuation of meals per dollar spent on cookware, it totally wins. Perhaps this winter I'll try a few more stews and get a little more adept at using it. But yesterday, faced with a conflict between my desire for risotto and my aversion to standing over a hot stove for 25 minutes in the 100% humidity we're living in right now, I decided to try it out for risotto.

Using a pressure cooker for risotto seems counterintuitive. Afterall, the defining characteristic of risotto for most of us is that you have to stir it constantly, and you can't do that with a sealed pot. But lots of people absolutely swear by the pressure cooker version (although the method is not without it's detractors), so I thought I'd give it try.

It certainly was easy - saute some aromatics, toast the rice, add the liquid, put the lid on, and then it's just a matter of timing the cooking. There's not a lot of savings in cooking time, but since you don't have to stir, it's time you can spend doing other things. Taste wise, it was pretty good. Next time I would cook it for a minute or two less, as it had gone past the nice firmness one expects from a risotto. The chicken stock I used was unsalted, so it would have been better to add some salt earlier in the cooking process. It was a little denser than a stirred risotto, but that may also have been a factor of being a little overcooked. My husband said that, given the choice, he'd prefer non-pressure cooked risotto, but that he certainly wouldn't say no to another helping of this one.

Here's the recipe I used, adapted from The Pressure Cooker Gourmet. The recipes in this cookbook look great, and I bought it very enthusiastically, but I haven't used it nearly as much as I thought I would. Maybe a resolution for the fall...

Pressure Cooker Risotto
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, white part only, cleaned and sliced (onions or shallots could be substituted)
1.5 cups arborio or other risotto rice
0.5 c white wine
3.5 c chicken stock (preferably homemade, add salt if necessary)
1/3 c grated parmesan reggiano (about 1 oz)
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the olive oil and butter in the pressure cooker. Add the leek and saute for a couple minutes, just until soft but not beginning to brown. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until it starts to have a toasty aroma and the exterior looks translucent. Add the white wine and cooking, stirring, until the wine is absorbed. Add the chicken stock, then put on the pressure cooker lid. Bring up to pressure over high heat, 3-4 minutes, then lower to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 6 minutes (original recipe said 8). Carefully release any remaining pressure and open lid. Stir in cheese and season to taste.

This would be great with some blanched or steamed fresh vegetables and some chopped parsley stirred in with the cheese.

Chef Profile

Kitchen Chick has posted a great profile of Chef Alex, the man behind the Zingerman's Roadhouse tomato dinner. Learn more about the man behind the tomatoes, and why the Roadhouse is so expensive.

Lisa's own photo essay of the meal will be going up soon. She's an excellent photographer, so I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Heirloom Tomato Dinner

Zingerman's Roadhouse
holds a special dinner about once a month. There's always a theme, which might be connected to a special guest (like Bill Niman or Andy Quady) or a particular style of food (California BBQ) or - as in the most recent dinner - a specific ingredient. The ingredients in this case were more than 30 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes, plus heirloom varieties of potatoes and carrots as well. To take things even a step further, all the vegetables served at the dinner were grown in Chef Alex's own garden. Given that there were over 100 people at the dinner, one imagines that it's a heck of a garden!

I've already written about the cocktails, so I'll go straight to the food. Dinner was served buffet style. (Side note: I greatly prefer the special dinners that are served as a number of plated courses - they allow for better pacing, more focus, and some really well thought out wine pairings. But I decided to attend anyway, because I had a friend visiting.) The buffet line started out with two different kinds of gazpacho, a green and a red. The green had some heat and sharpness to it, and I prefered the mellower red. Then we entered into the realm of the "bruschetta bar." Bread, piles of sliced tomatoes in a rainbow of color, several different olive oils, and even multiple salts and peppers to choose from. Then several different cheese presentations - simple slices of made-that-day fresh mozarella from Zingerman's Creamery, and a couple of different marinated goat cheeses. These were all excellent.

The hot items included two different recipes for fried green tomatoes (one with bacon, one without), the aforementioned heirloom potates and carrots, roasted patty pan squash, "Three Sisters Succotash" (green beans, corn, and early winter squash), grilled California sardines with tomato sauce, risotto with leeks and celery, two different stuffed tomatoes - one with tuna and one with Italian sausage, and an incendiary green tomato pie with roasted cayenne peppers.

A lot of food. All of it excellent, except maybe the green tomato pie, which was hot enough to burn out the tastebuds you wanted to use on the rest. The risotto was probably my favorite, if I had to pick one. Oh, and my take on the bruschetta bar, where I topped a variety of tomatoes with Pasolivo olive oil, some variety of pink salt, and Balinese long pepper, then a slice of fresh mozarella. Mmmm. The freshness of all of the vegetables really shone through in all of the items.

The buffet selections were accompained by pours of three different "summery" wines:
Sauvignon Blanc, Matetic Vineyards, 'EQ,' San Antonio DO, CHILE, 2003
Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, Riccardo Falchini, Toscana ITALIA, 2004
Tempranillo, Bokisch Winery and Vineyards, Lodi CA, 2002

The Sauvignon Blanc was really excellent. Very classic, aromatic sauvignon blanc nose (I always love the way these smell) with tropical fruits and green grass and grapefruit, and then nicely rounded on the palate, not as one-dimensional in flavor as even some of the best smelling sauvignon blanc can be. So I was very pleased to have a chance to taste it and will have to look for it. The Tempranillo was also much liked at our table.

But one of the highlights of the dinner was yet to come. Dessert was a delightful cookie with cornmeal, lemon zest, vanilla and (perhaps?) pinenuts, served with an assortment of three different gelatos - tomato, basil and olive oil! The tomato was flavored with a tomato butter, so had a little bit of heat and hints of nutmeg or cloves or some other sweet spice. The basil was really basil-y. And the olive oil tasted like, well, olive oil, and was just excellent - but I'm definitely a fan of odd flavors in my ice cream. Very clever and memorable dessert. Olive oil and other savory ice creams aren't unique (in fact, they're becoming downright trendy), but these were very well executed examples of the genre.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tazo Tea

I feel like this has been more of a drink blog than a food blog lately, but I've spent the last two days in meetings and eating hotel food, and there's just not much I want to say on that subject.

Service and catering at the hotel we're using isn't very good, but one thing that has been a pleasant surprise is that they have a nice selection of Tazo herbal tea out with coffee and tea service. This has been particularly welcome, since the hotel is (as usual) over-airconditioned and I've spent the last couple of days chilled.

I like Tazo teas. They have bright colorful packages, and fun names. The flavors are not subtle, and I'm an in-your-face kinda gal, so that works for me. At home I usually drink Passion (which their fun website describes as "a luscious explosion of flavorful hibiscus, subtle citrus, tart rose hips and a kiss of mango and passion fruit"). But with all that citrus and rose hips it can be kind of tart, so I've been experimenting with other flavors. So far I've tried Refresh (peppermint, spearmint and tarragon) and Wild Sweet Orange. I'd try Calm (chamomile and rose petals and other soothing herbs) but that's the last thing I need in the middle of a 12 hour long day of meetings.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Celery Sour

Consider the picture above a sneak preview of a future post about the excellent Heirloom Tomato Dinner I attended at Zingerman's Roadhouse last night. But I don't have time to write that post right now.

So instead, I'm going to talk about celery.

Did you know that Michigan used to be one of the country's major celery growers? Sadly, in recent years we've dropped quite a bit. But once upon a time, Kalamazoo, MI was a major celery center. One of the products that was produced in Kalamazoo was a celery bitter.

Unless you're a cocktail afficianado, the only bitters you've probably heard of - if you've heard of them at all - are Angostura bitters. But once upon a time, there were many different kinds of bitters. Orange bitters, mint bitters and yes... celery bitters. Want to learn more? For the Cliff's notes version, checks out this Wikipedia entry on bitters. If you're really hardcore, delve into the "All About Bitters" thread on eGullet.

Zingerman's Roadhouse has a "classic cocktail" program, and they've dug up all sorts of archaic cocktail recipes. For the Heirloom Tomato dinner they offered three different cocktails - a classic Bloody Mary, a tomato water martini, and a celery sour. Celery bitters are an essential component of a celery sour. But there's a small problem - no one makes celery bitters anymore. Fortunately, little details like that never hold Zingerman's back from seeking quality and authenticity, so they set out to make their own.

Unfortunately, I don't have the recipe for those. I only have the recipe for a celery sour, which may not do you much good without the bitters (but could be worth a try anyway...)

Celery Sour

chiffonade of celery leaves
1 part gin (preferably Plymouth)
1 part freshly sqeezed and strained lemon juice
1 part fresh pineapple juice
4 drops of celery bitters

Place some of the celery leaves in the bottom of your glass. Add a few drops of gin and muddle to release the celery goodness. Add ice and the remaining liquids. Shake in a cocktail shaker and pour back into the original glass.

Of the three cocktails, this was by far the unexpected favorite. (In the picture below, it's the leftmost.) I look foward to getting back to the Roadhouse to try it again!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On the heels of the bacon martini

How about a weenie-tini?

Over the years, I've tried various sorts of infusions, with vodka and other liquors. Fruit and herb-infused are the best known, and are often wonderful. But what I like is meat. Where's the infusion for people like me? I felt disenfranchised, and alone, especially after some research on the interwebs revealed a real lack of meat-based liqueurs. It would be up to me to blaze the trail.

Monday, August 21, 2006

How to throw a room party

Just in time for this year's Worldcon, Making Light's Teresa Nielsen Hayden has posted a wonderful treatise on hosting large room parties at SF conventions. I've hosted a few room parties in my time, and her recommendations are spot on.

I especially like her inclusion of "very small, shallow, insecure paper plates" on the Universal Party Essentials list. Seems like an odd thing to include, but she explains it perfectly:

Very small insecure paper plates will enable your guests to load up a handful of cookies or veggie bits and carry them off to wherever they're conversing, but won't encourage malfeasants to carry off a half-pound of chocolates when they leave.
Another amusing bit:
When you're dealing with non-fans, the purpose of fancy exotic fruits is to decorate fruit-and-cheese platters so people can feel swankier while eating the same seedless green grapes they always eat. If you lay on the same spread for fans, the exotic stuff will get eaten. And discussed.
On the issue of closing the party and cleaning up, she has this to say:
It's fairly effective to make a cheerful announcement that anyone who's still around after the cutoff time is volunteering for the cleanup crew. If they go, that's good. If they stay, that's even better.
I must add to that one addendum, which is that if your party goes late enough, I have found saying "We can't go to breakfast until the room is clean" to be an excellent motivator to get those lingering diehards to pitch in. Finding somewhere to eat breakfast at 7 am on a Sunday morning in downtown Philadelphia turned out to be the harder problem, in fact.

Do click through and check out the rest of her post, if you haven't already. The comment section on Making Light is always lively and informative, and this post is no exception!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The fight is on for foie gras in Chicago

In April of this year, the Chicago City Council voted to ban the sale of foie gras within the city limits. One wonders that the City Council didn't have more pressing issues to think about, but "The fact that there are these other issues that are crying out for attention doesn't mean that we can't take a bit of time and address this issue as well," said Alderman Joe Moore, sponsor of the ordinance.

The ban was originally set to go into effect in June, but the wording of the ordinance was so poor that it needed to be rewritten to avoid numerous loopholes. The Whereas section of the ordinance references the results of a (rather biased) Zogby poll and outspoken foie gras adversary and Chicago chef Charlie Trotter among its justifications. But of course, the primary reason cited for the ban is to prevent the unethical treatment of animals.

Foie gras, for those who may be unfamiliar, is the fattened liver of a duck or goose. It is produced by a period of forced feeding prior to slaughter. The forced feeding is, of course, at the heart of the controversy. Advocotes say that geese and ducks in the wild naturally will gorge themselves on food prior to migration periods, that the esophagus of the goose or duck is tough to enable it to do things like swallow entire fish, and that birds on foie gras farms can be observed happily waddling to the trough to be force fed. Here's a link to the Sonoma Foie Gras page describing their foie gras production process.

Opponents, on the other hand, claim that foie gras birds suffer high rates of pre-slaugher mortality because of ruptured esophaguses and suffocation and that birds have literally exploded from the volume of force food.

I eat foie gras and enjoy it. In fact, it makes my eyes glaze over and I swoon a little. It's incredibly rich and unctuous and utterly decadent. I've read about the major foie gras producers in the US, and am comfortable with their animal husbandry practices. Especially in comparison to the way most meat is raised in the United States, through factory farming.

I've known for some time that factory farming was objectionable, but it wasn't until I read Peter Kaminski's Pig Perfect that I understood what is really involved, and became even more committed to buying my meat from the most humane suppliers I can find. But I understand that in the end, they are still raising and slaughtering animals for me to eat. And as an omnivore near the top of the food chain, I'm okay with that.

So my first reaction to hearing the news from Chicago was to think "if they're so concerned about animal cruelty, why aren't they looking in the issues around factory farming?" Ten billion chickens every year are raised in factory farms every year, compared to some much smaller number of ducks being raised for foie gras. If you want to make a difference in the lives of poultry, why not target the big picture?

But of course, taking away people's 99 cent chicken nuggets would generate a lot more opposition than banning a food that most people have never eaten. Although from that perspective, I have to give the Chicago City Council credit for their recent proposal to ban the use of trans-fats - if they're going to try to control what city residents eat, that's certainly a ban that would have more far reaching effects.

The real issue, expressed really well in this NY Times article, is why the City is so driven to "manage residents lives in mundane ways." Whatever happened to personal responsibility and personal choice? I'm making an educated choice to eat foie gras - how many people can say that about their factory farmed bacon?

Consumers and chefs in Chicago and around the country have protested or spoken out in various ways. There's a petition. Several chefs in Chicago joined together for a "Foie Gras Dinner and Freedom of Choice Fundraiser." Chef Graham Elliot Bowles at The Avenues featured a tasting menu with foie gras in every course. And now, there's a lawsuit.

Next week, the Illinois Restaurant Association, an ad-hoc group known as "Chicago Chefs for Choice" and the major foie gras producers that make up the newly formed Artisan Farmers Association will join forces to challenge a foie gras ban poised to take effect next Wednesday.

"The argument is that this [ban] violates interstate commerce and the city is usurping the federal government's power by banning a product that's federally approved for shipment across state lines," said a source familiar with the lawsuit.


"What's at stake is the ability of adults to order legal products, the production of which has been overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, when they choose to dine out in Chicago," said Chris Robling, a spokesman for the Artisan Farmers Association.
I'm glad there's an organized and active opposition to the ban. The Chicago Council decision has opened the way for other localities to enact similar bans - Philadelphia has introduced similar legislation. A successful lawsuit against the ban would help to shut down similiar "copycats." Legislation like this isn't good for restaurants and it isn't good for diners.

Lots of other people have written great stuff on this issue. Here's a couple of links, and searching "Chicago Foie Gras Ban" on Technorati generates pages and pages.
eGullet thread
The Slippery Slope of Foie Gras

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Peanut Butter and Bacon Truffles


I'm finding the recipe strangely enticing.

And while we're talking about strange things to do with bacon, anybody up for a bacon martini?

"Blind" Ordering

Over on eGullet, Rich has started a thread about blind ordering in restaurants.

Recently I've taken to ordering "on the blind" in restaurants that don't offer a tasting menu or when I'm not in the mood for a tasting menu. And it has worked well every time to date.

I look at the menu and select two or three items from the appetizers and entrees. I then ask the server to select one of those choices for me, but don't tell. I want to be surprised.

It creates a little excitement and gives an opportunity for the server to be a little creative - seems they relish the empowerment.
I've certainly asked for recommendations from a server before, but I don't think I've ever let one make the decision for me. I think I've even tried a couple times, but with servers who didn't "relish the empowerment" and pushed the decision back to me. Perhaps worth another try. Could be especially helpful for those times when I just can't decide!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Art of Eating

The Art of Eating is a quarterly publication by Edward Behr, and it is my favorite food periodical. There are recipes in it, although I've never actually made one. And there are restaurant reviews, sort of. But mostly it's just a deeply contemplative look at food. Each issue has feature article that looks closely at a particular food or place. One recent issue included an in-depth look at Comte cheese - how and where it's made, the people who make it, what you can do with it. The next issue (pictured here) was all about the wines and winemakers of the Jura region where Comte is made. Earlier this year, the feature article was a near poetic ode to the Olympia Oyster. And recent "place" themed issues have talked about restaurants and food producers in Montreal and Beaujolais.

The feature articles are generally quite dense - this isn't a magazine to read while your mind is really somewhere else. It requires - and rewards - concentration and focus.

Each issue also contains a handful of briefer articles, and usually a number of book reviews for both cookbooks and other writing about food. At $39/year for a 4-issue subscription, it's not cheap, but I find myself resubscribing every year anyway.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Cooking Seasonally - Blueberry-Corn Relish

We're nearing the end of what's been a great blueberry season here in Michigan. On my last few visits to the Farmer's Market, blueberries have been hard to find and more expensive. So I'm really glad I tried this recipe last week, when both corn and blueberries were in great form.

This is one of those magical recipes where a small number of simple ingredients combine to make something that's way more than the sum of the parts. Blueberries and corn might seem like an unlikely combination, but it's not only way better than you'd expect, it's really good!

Blueberry-Corn Relish
4 ears of corn, as freshly picked as possible
1 pint blueberries
a handful of basil
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp champagne vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the corn off the ears and blanch in boiling water for just 1 minute. Shock in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain well.

Rinse blueberries and drain well.

Cut basil into a thin chiffonade. You want quite a bit of basil for this recipe, so you get a little bit in every bite.

Combine dressing ingredients and toss with the corn, blueberries and basil. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary. If possible, let stand for about a half hour before serving to marry the flavors.
I served this (along with a peach-tomato salsa) as a topping for baked tilapia. But it would be excellent as a simple summer side.

(Thanks to pontormo on eGullet for the recipe!)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Red Haven Peaches

I've never really paid much attention to peach varieties. Apples, I knew. Macintosh, sweet and tart and good for sauce and pies (if you like your pies mushy). Granny Smiths, tart and green, good for pies that you didn't want mushy. Red Delicious - the opposite of its name, and to be avoided at all costs.

But peaches were those hard fuzzy balls I bought in the grocery store for my husband. Or so I thought until last summer, when I discovered Red Haven peaches at my local Farmer's Market last year. Red Haven peaches are everything you want a peach to be. Firm on the outside, sweet and pungent and dripping-down-your-chin juicy on the inside. Luscious peaches.

I tried some other peaches from my Farmer's Market earlier this year, expecting them to be just as good, by virtue of being fresh and local and picked when they were ripe. But that's when I learned that varieties matter for peaches just as much as they do for apples. And I've been holding out for the Red Havens ever since.

While excellent for eating out of hand, Red Haven peaches are also good grilled, especially with a little balsalmic vinegar brushed on them first. It's a tasty way to use up the heat that's left in the coals when you've finished grilling the rest of your dinner. Serve with vanilla ice cream for an especially decadent treat.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Spice Cabinet: Smoked Paprika

The first in a series of posts exploring my spice cabinet.

Growing up, paprika was a tasteless red powder we sprinkled on top of deviled eggs and all manner of mayonaise-based salads. Once I started cooking on my own, I stopped sprinkling it on those, and didn't pay it much attention otherwise.

Lately, I've started stumbling across a lot of recipes calling for smoked paprika. It seems to be one of the current darlings of the culinary world. And with good reason! All the flavor that was missing from those flavorless red sprinkles from my childhood is contained in this little can.

Whereas the best known regular paprika mostly comes from Hungary, smoked paprika (aka pimentón) comes from Spain. Clotilde at the excellent foodblog Chocolate & Zucchini has written a great history, so I'll just quote a little bit here.

Pimentón is made from pimientos that are grown locally, and then slowly dried over an oakwood fire. The process lasts for ten to fifteen days, during which the peppers are constantly hand-turned, until they are completely dried and infused with smoke flavors. They are then transferred to a manufacture where the stem and seeds are discarded, and the flesh is ground to a super-fine, brick-red powder.

It comes in three varieties - sweet, bittersweet, and hot - although I've only tried the sweet and hot so far. This stuff is amazing. Smoky and fragrant and pungent, with a beautiful color. The hot paprika gave my Cajun rice just the right amount of kick. I've mixed the sweet version with dijon mustard and butter and spread it under the skin of a butterflied chicken cooked on the grill, and it was outstanding. It was a key ingredient in the chorizo butter that I made yesterday, both as an ingredient in the butter and as a flavoring in the chorizo itself.

You can use smoked paprika in any recipe that calls for the regular kind, and I can't see a reason not to. Perhaps I've just never had good Hungarian paprika before (quite likely, in fact), but right now, this is definitely occupying the go-to position in my spice rack!

Spice Encyclopedia link about paprika in general and smoked paprika in particular.

Butter is exactly what steak needs

Dinner Saturday: grilled steak with chorizo butter with heirloom tomato, arugula and bread salad.

The chorizo butter is a tasty mixture of butter, dry-cured imported Spanish chorizo, roasted red peppers, parsley, garlic and smoked sweet paprika, combined in the food processor then formed into a log and chilled. We cut it into disks and used them to top the steaks we grilled. Butter on steak - now that's decadent! Tasty, and all pretty and orange-red and speckled. I still have half a log in the fridge to do something else with - I think it would be great on fish or chicken as well - maybe even more so, as they have greater need of a flavor boost than a good dry-aged steak does.

For the salad, I bought five different kinds of heirloom tomatoes at the market - red ones and yellow ones and "black" ones. They got chopped up with some scallions, and mixed with a dressing of dry vermouth, ground coriander, lemon zest, salt and olive oil. I brushed thick slices of day old Zingerman's rustic Italian bread with olive oil and grilled them, then rubbed them with a cut garlic clove and tore them into chunks. The bread and tomato mixture got tossed together with some arugula, torn basil leaves and toasted pine nuts, and c'est fini! I love bread salads - the bread soaks up all the yummy juices from the other ingredients, and it's lovely.

Looking on the wine rack for something to serve, I came across a bottle of 2000 Bordeaux (2000 Chateau Roland La Garde Prestige Premieres Cotes de Blaye FR) that I picked up in a mixed case some time ago. Nothing says Bordeaux like a hunk of dead cow, so that's what I served. Quite the enjoyable wine, and I must admit to a slight overindulgence and some tipsiness. I had been thinking to serve something Italian, concerned that with a salad as the side dish, I'd need a somewhat acid wine to match. But the salad is actually quite nice that way from a pairing perspective - since the dressing is made with vermouth rather than vinegar, the acidity in the salad comes only from the tomatoes themselves, making it quite wine friendly.

Dessert was a couple of storebought gelatos our dinner guests brought - a hazelnut chocolate and a dulce de leche. Both were very tasty.