You can hear my appearance on A TASTE OF THE PAST, which aired live on August 19, on Heritage Radio’s website here.
August 23, 2010 Puffballs!
I forgot that the public schools were beginning today, so I when I went to drive the dog to our usual park near a school, there were no parking places. I kept on driving into Rock Creek Park, and walked the dog along a grassy path that borders the creek. There was a fairy ring of puffball mushrooms (Vase puffballs, Calvatia cyathiformis) that were firm, just right for cooking. The largest was 6 inches across its widest point. I picked them up, brought them home, then went to several mushroom guides to be sure that I wasn’t getting ready to poison myself. Let me emphasize here that unless you are absolutely sure of the identity of a wild mushroom — or any food from the wild, for that matter — that you should not eat it.
The puffballs are, fortunately, fairly easy to distinguish.You want fairly young mushrooms that are completely white throughout, with a spongey but firm texture, not unlike tofu. Slice the puffball vertically through the center to make sure there are no incipient gills or caps. Some deadly amanitas can look like puffballs, though once you slice into them, there’s nothing quite like the pure white interior of a young puffball. I peeled the mushrooms and sliced them, and simply sautéed some slices in butter and served them alongside scrambled eggs seasoned with a little truffle salt. A heavenly late breakfast. Tonight I’ll grill the remaining slices alongside other vegetables from friends’ gardens.
August 16, 2010 After a relaxing weekend on the Eastern Shore of Maryland
We had a lovely weekend on the shore, with perfect weather. And though we came home relaxed, I realized that we had actually done a lot of canning — slow-roasted tomates, figs, and pepper relish. We ate fresh blackberries, figs, peaches, and melons from our friends’ gardens. On Saturday night I grilled quail with trombetta squash and eggplant.
For the tomato recipe, see “Gilson’s Tomatoes” on February 5, 2008.They are pictured with pepper relish to the right.
There’s no recipe for the grilling: simply wash and dry your quail, season with salt and pepper, and add a little olive oil to keep them from sticking. I salt the eggplant and let it drain, then paint both the eggplant and the squash with oil just before placing them on the grill alongside the quail. The quail are done when their flesh becomes springy. Pull a leg away from the body and it should still be moist, but with clear flowing juices at the hip joint. Quail shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes on a hot grill.
I canned figs again, this time adding some lemon slices to the jar. There’s always some of the syrup left over, so I can it as well. It’s indescribably delicious on pancakes, waffles, and French toast.
For recipes, see August 18 of 2008.
The pepper relish was thrown together almost as an afterthought, using the Ball Blue Book as a guide. (It’s truly an indispensable resource). No one had been eating our friends’ copious banana peppers because they were too hot, so we made a relish by combining equal parts of chopped peppers and onions with some sugar, salt, and vinegar. We covered the chopped vegetables with boiling water and let it sit twice (once for 5 minutes and again for 10 minutes). I sprinkled the vegetables with a good tablespoon of whole mustard seeds, then chopped several cloves of garlic with salt, add added some ground allspice, cloves, and a bay leaf to the garlic and placed it in a tea ball and lowered it into the vinegar and sugar to simmer for 15 minutes. I then added the vegetables, simmered for another 10 minutes, packed the relish into sterilized jars, and processed for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.
I’m no fan of hot weather, but I LOVE THE BOUNTY OF THE SUMMER GARDEN!!!
August 12, 2010 On Penmanship and Food Trucks
In a recent Zester Daily article, Deborah Madison praised the hand-written recipe, the hand-written note, and handwriting in general. My grandfather once told me that the death of penmanship was the beginning of chaos. I have a few pages from his uncle’s spelling primer from the 1870s glued into one of the thirty journals I’ve kept over the years. His script slants to the left and is scribed in royal blue, still one of the traditional ink colors; his signature, practiced several times, is in violet. He practiced penning his relatives’ names and addresses, perhaps in preparation for addressing envelopes: L. B. Williams Esq, Adamsville, Tennessee; W. F. Williams; P F Winingham. This was in Crumps Landing, Tennessee, a tiny settlement that was the site of the Battle of Shiloh, one of the major combats of the Western Theater of the Civil War. It was also the home of both sides of my mother’s family, who somehow managed to become doctors and merchants and pharmacists and bankers in this isolated rural community. Deborah’s article immediately brought to mind the quiet strength of my maternal ancestors. Amazingly, I was able to go directly to the very journal holding those notes, because I was reminded of the time — 1973 — when my grandmother died and I became the heir of those precious pages.
Yesterday I crossed the Potomac into Virginia (a state where I do not like to spend money because they have some of the most heinous anti-gay laws and politicians in the country) to sample some of the fare being served — and praised (see here and here, for example) — from food trucks, which are gaining popularity throughout America’s urban landscape in this time of economic woes. A friend and I sampled several sandwiches at Rebel Heroes, a Cuban-Vietnamese vendor of spicy banh mi and their own “rebels,” including the incredibly delicious “Macho Meatball,” simply one of the best sandwiches I’ve had anywhere lately.
Today’s food trucks are offering up exciting choices, much better food than you were able to find just a few years ago from the tired old “dirty water dog” vendors. In the Washington area, you are now able to sample fries and milkshakes (FryCaptain), Indian food (Fojol Bros), Cupcakes (Curbside Cupcakes), Pizza (DC Slices), and any number of Latin American foods, such as the delicious tacos — both breakfast and lunch — from District Taco. Most of the vendors post their menus and current locations on both Twitter and Facebook, as well as on their own sites. Osiris Hoil (pictured at left and below, right) came here with his family from a village outside Merida, in Yucatán, and his roast pork benefits from dry rubs and elegant sauces. His salsa verde de tomatillo is one of the freshest I’ve tasted.
I arrived late; it was nearly 2 pm and he was sold out of nearly everything. But the pork itself was moist, with a slightly charred exterior, and the vegetable topping I chose — onions and peppers, with a squirt of his own habanero sauce — perfectly complemented the meat. District Taco serves both breakfast and lunch tacos, and it was especially good to see Osiris himself sit down and enjoy his own taco for lunch as he closed up his shiny stainless steel cart and loaded the rig up into his bright yellow van. They’ve now opened a permanent spot as well in the former Restaurant Vero spot on Lee Highway. I’ll be checking it out as well. I’ve long been a fan of Mexican food, but I’ve never found authentic Yucatecan fare in the States. I can’t wait to have their turkey dishes as well as cochinita pibil, which Osiris promises they will be serving.
August 7, 2010 Peach Leather
I had dinner out with friends last night, so when I walked into my kitchen this morning, I was a bit surprised to hear the oven beeping. It had turned itself off. I had forgotten that I was making peach leather, which is one of the simplest recipes on earth. I don’t often make it, but since Mikel is out of town I’ve had dinner plans outside the house four nights running, and the peaches sitting on the counter were going to go soft on me if I didn’t use them. Normally I just eat peaches standing over the sink, the juice dripping down my arms, but this is such as easy way to preserve them — and it’s delicious — that I couldn’t resist making this old Charleston favorite. There’s a recipe in The Carolina Housewife from 1847, but mine is easier. There follows what I wrote in Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking. Yesterday, I used a silicone mat-lined baking sheet. No oil on the pan. No sugar or honey added. The preparation took no time at all. You’ll also note that I simply rolled the pieces up (see photo to the left, and photos of the process, below) and placed them in a half-pint jar.
One of my fondest memories of Charleston is of visiting her confectioners when I was a child. Never a lover of many candies, I have always been a fool, though, for dried fruit. Peach leather is one of the easiest sweets to make, and it lasts a long time, or until your friends, both young and old, find your jar. This is an excellent recipe to share with a child.
5 or 6 peaches
sugar or honey, optional
oil or a silicone baking mat
Drop the peaches in boiling water and leave them for two minutes. This will make them easy to peel and will set the color. Remove them from the water, peel them, halve them, remove the stones, and purée them in the bowl of a food processor, a blender, or a food mill. Taste the purée and sweeten to your taste, remembering that the sweetness will be concentrated when the peaches are dried. For 2-1/2 cups of purée, which will fill an average cookie sheet, a tablespoon or two of honey is usually plenty.
Brush a cookie sheet lightly with oil (or line it with a silicone mat) then pour the purée on the sheet, so that it is evenly distributed. Place the cookie sheet in an oven preheated to the lowest temperature (140o -170o), and leave until the purée is no longer tacky to the touch, and is soft and pliable. It may take as long as 24 hours.
Roll it up while it is still warm, then cut the leather into three- and four-inch strips, and wrap each snack in plastic wrap. You may sprinkly the leathr with sugar or ground nuts or shredded coconut before rolling it up if you like, or you may add spices to the purée before you dry it; but I prefer the pure flavor of ripe peaches.
August 2, 2010 5000 Meals with Mikey
Last week Mikel and I celebrated our 17th anniversary. We opened the remarkable bottle of L. Aubry Sablé Rosé 2004 that my sister Sue had had delivered to our hotel room in New York when we got legally married back in April. I’ve waxed poetic about the Aubry brothers’ elegant wines on this blog before, but I was blown away by their vintage “sanded rosé,” which, for reasons inexplicable to me, many reviewers do not like. The wine is made in a 17th-century style and lacks dosage, or the jolt of sugar that sweetens most bubblies. This steely, strawberry-like sparkler is bone dry and was the perfect beginning for an evening at Marcel’s, Robert Wiedmaier’s upscale restaurant downtown, where we feasted on his elegant oysters poached in sauvignon blanc and topped with wasabi roe and served with Ruinart champagne. Mikel chose crawfish and I, sable fish served with watermelon, with which they poured Burgundy. I seem to have forgotten Mikel’s third course, before the cheese, but I had the rabbit terrine, for which the Gigondas — one of our favorite wines — was a perfect match. Mikel and I don’t generally eat off each other’s plates in restaurants — or at home, for that matter. In fact, we rarely eat out — why would we?! — and I figure in our 17 years together that I have prepared and we have eaten together at least 5000 meals — that’s not even one per day. But 17 years is definitely worth celebrating and I highly recommend a meal at Marcel’s if you’re in the mood to splurge. The recent Zagat’s guide for DC has it rated as the #1 restaurant in the area, nudging The Inn at Little Washington down to the sophomore spot. The charming and witty Head Captain, Jonathan Crayne, is an absolute delight and will guide you through the menu if you need help. We watched one table poring over the menu for at least 45 minutes before they ordered. This is fine dining at its finest. One caveat: if you are going to let the exceptional sommelier Moez Ben Achour choose your wines for you, perhaps you should forgo the bottle of bubbly at home BEFORE going to the restaurant!
Obviously, having had 5000 meals with Mikel, I’m going to repeat myself sometimes in the kitchen. I’m no chef and some things — like most of the incredible fruits and vegetables of summer — are best enjoyed simply as they are. Is there anything better than a perfectly ripe slice of tomato perhaps with a pinch of salt and a fresh grinding of pepper, or eating a fresh peach over the sink, or the first cantaloupe of the season? I have 20 basil plants and we eat pesto at least once every couple of weeks in the summer. Tonight I’ll crisp the confit duck legs that I pulled from the crock this morning and serve them with salad greens and potatoes cooked in the duck fat, and perhaps some wax beans from my friends’ garden alongside. But I’ve written about all those dishes on this blog before. I’m always astounded at how quickly the time passes. Three years ago, our dear friend Dana Downs was visiting and she bought us a pot with an orchid cactus — epiphyllum — leaf stuff in it. I had noticed photos of similar flat-leaved plants in Facebook photos on our friend Angel Dean’s page. She told me the leaves would grow and grow and that the dramatic night-blooming plant would blossom in in three years. Sure enough, like clockwork, the plant is getting ready to bloom. Where did the three years go?
The eggplant salad I wrote about last summer (see September 1, 2009) I couldn’t resist repeating last night after our chef friend Maurice Dumas dropped off these gorgeous white eggplants. Instead of adding sugar to balsamic vinegar, however, I used a splash of oxymeli that our friend Patrick Triano brought us from Greece. Hippocrates wrote about oxymeli in 400 BC; Pliny the Elder gave a recipe in the first century AD. It’s strong, old wine vinegar sweetened with honey, seasoned with sea salt, and diluted with water. It was perfect.
And then yesterday I made a small — 7-1/2″ — cherry tart with the last of the sour cherries from LAST summer, to take to a friend’s house for dinner. I’ve published several versions of this recipe, but here’s a reduced, improved version to make this small tart, to feed 6. If you have leftovers, it’s great for breakfast. You will need a pint of cherries. If you can’t find sour cherries, buy a can of “pie cherries.”
Small Sour Cherry Tart
1 stick unsalted butter, cold
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice plus some lemon zest
1-1/8 cup flour, plus flour for dusting your work space
1/4 cup sugar
tiny pinch of salt
1 pint pitted sour cherries, drained
Preheat the oven to 350o. Cut 7 tablespoons of the butter into pieces and with some of the remaining butter, grease a small ( 7 ot 8 inches) tart pan. Set the remaining butter aside. Beat the egg well and pour half of it into a measuring cup. Set the remaining beaten egg aside. Add the lemon juice and zest to the beaten egg in the measuring cup.
Add the flour, sugar, and salt to the work bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is evenly incorporated. Work in short pulses so that the blades do not heat up and render the butter soft. Beat the egg and lemon juice well together, turn on the processor, and pour the egg mixture into the processor while it is running. The dough will come together in a ball on to pof the blades. Immediately turn off the processor and place the dough on a lightly floured cold surface. Cut off 1/3 of the dough and place it on a piece of wax paper. Roll out the remaining dough to a circle a little larger than the tart pat and gently place it down in the pan. Turn any overlapping down down into just inside the rim and trim the excess dough sticking up by pressing the ball of your hands down on the rim to cut off the excess. Add the excess to the dough on the wax paper.. Using your fingertips, gently pinch the edges of the tart dough against the outer rim so that it rises up a little above the rim. Shape the excess dough into a disk, wrap it in the wax paper, place it on the prepared tart dough, and place in the refrigerator to chill.
Remove the prepared tart pan from the refrigerator, but leave the wrapped excess dough in it. Line the tart with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights (I use beans). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, turn up the oven to 425o.
Remove the remaining dough from the refrigerator, roll it out to a circle slightly larger than the tart pan, and cut it into about 10 strips. Prick the bottom of the tart dough in several places with a fork. Beat the remaining 1/2 egg again and paint the bottom of the tart dough with it.
Fill the tart with the drained cherries, then add some of the juice, but do not cover the cherries. Make a lattice top with the strips of dough and dot in between the openings with little pieces of the leftover butter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until medium brown. If the edges are browning before the top, rig an aluminum foil barrier for the edges. If the tart is bubbling and still not brown, you can carefully run it under the broiler if you want. Place the cooked tart on top of something such as a large tomato can, so that the rim can fall off (see photo, above). Paint, if desired, with a glaze made by melting apricot preserves with a little water or white wine, and straining it.