Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy New Year!

Zola: This story & recipe comes to us from my friend and very faithful reader, Jamie. Because we're doing some traveling right now, I want to make sure you get this before New Years actually arrives, in case you want to try it yourselves.

Jamie: I'm so excited--I actually have recipes to send to you--straight-up Americana, not very worldly, and you might not ever want to actually try them--but they are from my family and perfect for this time of year. My grandparents always had a New Years Day open house party (odd--I know--not sure how or why that got started)--circa early 50's through the late 70's, that all of my cousins would go to. My grandmother was a character--she went to Washington University in St. Louis and got a degree in language arts--I think she could speak Latin, French, and Spanish--and when she graduated she went to Miss Hickey's secretarial school--she wanted to be an "international secretary". She ended up married and a housewife (and did not ever work for 007)--but she was always sarcastic and fun. She was a good cook, but I get the impression there was also quite a bit of jello and other new novel recipes of the time. Anyway, I digress. Among other foods, they always served milk punch and onion sandwiches at the New Years Day open house. Most people find the sound of either off-putting, and the combo doubly worse. They're super simple and quite tasty.

Onion Sandwiches
-Red Onion (~2)
-Mayonnaise (only Hellmanns (east of the rockies)/Best (west of the Rockies))
-Rye bread party bread loaf thing (you know--the mini-sized breads that are about 2"x2"?)
-Red wine vinegar

Slice the onions really thinly and soak in red wine vinegar for at least 2 hours. Put mayonnaise on two slices of the bread and then add the thinly sliced onions. Don't add too many onions--one layer is plenty, and shake off excess vinegar before putting on the bread slices.

Milk Punch
-6 oz. rum
-16 oz. brandy
-16 TBS. sugar
-1gallon milk

I think milk punch is a southern thing--so maybe this started with my cousins from Mississippi. But--nobody in Missouri ever made it. Mix it all together, keep it chilled, sprinkle the top with nutmeg.

Zola: Guy & I get back into town on New Years Day but always attend an annual January 2nd party, so I'll make these for that event and post pictures and comments at that time. Ironically, this is going to be a bit of a coup as our hostess for the January 2nd party does not eat onions. Not any type of onion. I've run through the list with her. Leeks? No. Scallions? No. I even think shallots are out. But there will be enough onion eaters to make it okay, I'm sure. Despite her aversion to onions, she heartily supports Food Chains and will certainly will be game for Milk Punch. Which sounds pretty good to me.

And while I'm talking about faithful readers and hearty supporters, as this year comes to a close, we want to thank you for sticking with us. And, of course, we want to send a very special thank you to all of you who have shared your stories and food with us this past year. We--quite literally--could not have done this without you and have learned more than you know from you. As Guy mentioned, we still have more stories to in our queue that we need to cook up, so Food Chains is going to keep going in '09. We wish you & yours all the best in the coming year--and hope to hear from more of you. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Grandma Vera’s World War II Fruit Cake

Zola: If you know me at all, you know that I am always completely unprepared for Christmas. I never send out Christmas cards, I usually find myself shopping for presents on Christmas eve, hell, this year--uh, yesterday--I had a moment when I thought, "holy crap, we don't have any food in the fridge. what are we going to eat tomorrow?! all the stores will be closed!" My brain then proceeded to argue with itself around the pros and cons of going shopping for xmas dinner and me and Guy just finding someplace that would serve us dinner after he got off work. For the record, shopping-for-dinner-brain won but only because of this interminable snow that won't seem to stop is making it hard to get anywhere. Otherwise, going-down-to-Chinatown-for-dinner-brain would have definitely won. So it is precisely for these reasons that I am today--Christmas day--making Betha's fruitcake.

Betha: I hesitated to send in a story about fruit cake, a confection that seems to have fallen from favor other than as the object of much ridicule. However, the preparation of my Grandma Vera’s fruit cake recipe is a ritual I conduct every year in early December. It is still cherished by my family, especially by my sister and brother-in law; indeed, it is the only gift to them that I know will not end up in the Goodwill box the day after Christmas.

Grandma Vera was a wonderful cook, the kind who is experimental and who builds upon tradition without being confined by it. I don’t know where she got her recipe for the fruit cake, but I’m sure that she modified it according to her tastes—a characteristic I have certainly inherited from her. The legend goes that she sent a Christmas package, which included her freshly-baked fruit cake, to her son Graham, who was in the navy, fighting on the South Pacific front in World War II. In that era, everybody’s mom baked fruit cake and many of the sailors’ care packages contained variations on the theme. Grandma Vera’s cakes were voted the best of breed by all the men in Graham’s unit.

Here is the original recipe, with annotations:

Prepare the pans: Grease tins (small bread pans); line with waxed paper and grease again. This recipe makes 4 cakes approx. 3 ½” X 5 ½” X 2 ½”. I have some wonderful old steel tins made in England, most likely just for this purpose.

4 ½ pounds of mixed candied fruit: Place in a large bowl and sprinkle a bit of the flour (below) to coat. I still use 1 pound of the standard pre-mixed candied fruit, but for the rest of the amount, I buy a variety of dried, un-sulphured fruits and cut them into little bits. This year, I used papaya, pineapple, dates, sour cherries, and strawberries. Because the fruit is dry and not candied, I skip the sprinkling of flour and marinate the mix overnight in 2-3 T of brandy or whiskey.

1 cup butter
1 ½ cup sugar
4 eggs Blend butter, sugar & eggs until light and airy.

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves Mix dry ingredients together. I use allspice instead of cloves—a personal preference.

½ cup grape juice

Add the grape juice and flour mix alternately to the butter-sugar-egg blend. I use organic frozen concentrate and mix it double strength.
Fill the greased tins ¾ full.

Bake: Start in a cold oven. Bring the temperature up to 250◦ during the first hour. Total baking time is 2 ½ hours.

Cool pans on rack. Remove cakes and carefully peel away the waxed paper.
Package the cakes: Wrap each cake in a square of cheese cloth as if it were a present. With a pastry brush, bathe all sides of the cloth-covered cake in alcohol.* Allow to dry for a few hours before wrapping in a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of foil. My family has eaten the fruit cake six months later and found it still to be quite palatable.

*a note about the alcohol: It is traditional to use brandy. Since my funds were always limited, I used cheap brandy for years until my brother-in-law recommended that I spend just a tad more to buy Jamieson’s Irish Whiskey—a compromise less offensive to his tastes and reasonable for my budget. Maybe one of these years, I’ll splurge on some really good brandy.

Zola: So my cake is in the oven right now. Guy and I are heading down to my parents tomorrow. I'll take it down there and let you know how it turns out. A quick note about some changes I made: you'll notice I only had a standard bread loaf pan (9x5)--I halved Betha's recipe and it fit well in there. It's also a teflon pan, so I didn't bother with the waxed paper, but did grease the pan. A little extra butter never done me wrong. Finally, I happen to be quite allergic to cherries (a terrible affliction that hit me in my late 20's) and most of those candied fruit blends have cherries in them, so I took Betha's advice, channeled Grandma Vera and let myself be swayed by the spirit of experimentation. I used dried mangos (??? I know. It's totally anti-fruitcake and if I had it to do over, I would have grabbed dates), dried cranberries, turkish apricots, currants, candied lemon, and candied ginger. I also used--are you sitting down for this?--pomegranate juice instead of grape juice. It is clearly christmas craziness over here. I blame it on the Jamieson's. 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ladurée Macarons

Deb: When I was living in Paris, I was introduced to a delightful little perfect Parisian treat. I miss Paris, I miss my Parisian friends, and I miss my Parisian treat.

The person who introduced me to the sweet perfect morsel of joie is neither Parisian, nor French. He's a man I lervingly call Mister Scottsies, a dear friend who visited Paris from San Francisco. I have learned a great deal about the foods of the world from him, and he has been absolutely influential in my own discovery of and love for food and cooking.

I love Mister Scottsies' pure and endless curiosity about food (and his healthy lack of snobbery in general). I get such a kick out of the lengths he'll go to experience it (he has traveled 1.5 hours by bus for bread). Mister Scottsies has inspired and fully encouraged my enthusiasm for food excursions. (Which entails a commitment so deep you'll travel insane distances, via multiple modes of transportation, to find a delicious authentic tasty snack that you've read or heard about somewhere.) We once nearly willfully sacrificed our lives and bodies for BBQ in South Carolina – the gift of fear saved us – somewhere out of that menacing, fenced-in, isolated roadhouse we heard "dueling banjos" and we backed away; though, I gotta say, I still wonder how the 'que tasted. Did we choose wrong? I mean, how far is too far? Is there a foodie version of Fight Club out there in the world?

Anyway, being a poor grad student in Paris, I could not join Mister Scottsies for his 100 Euro lunch at L'Arpège (where he ate a sweet dessert made of tomatoes, if memory serves -- but wait, that's not my treat!), but I did join him for long metro + bus + walking excursions around town in search of regional delights.

One day, Mister Scottsies asked me where I go for Parisian Macarons. I say, " mean those beige coconut things? I thought they were Italian." I don't remember much after that, because he immediately threw me out my 5th story window to the sidewalk below, scraped me up, dragged me by my hair to the Metro, yanked me up some stairs and along some long narrow winding streets, and finally plopped me in front of a magical shop window of eternal glory (do all French websites play music at you?), through which I saw neat little rows of alluring and colorful round things, so pretty and elegant I felt the need to tidy my hair and correct my posture before entering.

We bought a selection of flavors. I remember chocolate, lemon, coffee, pistachio (my favorite), and raspberry because I had to have a pink one. And I took a bite. My macaron was bright and sophisticated but modest and subtle, unexpected but comforting. And cheerful, almost playful. I think you simultaneously experience macarons as a kid and as an adult. I'm pretty sure we had macarons every day while he was in town, and I can't count the times I went back afterwards.

Zola and Guy, I can't find Parisian macarons in Seattle. They used to make them at Essential, but the big version (not in a Texasized way, you can find them in Paris, too), and it just seems ungainly to me, like they were created for Gerard Dépardieu and his giant hands. I want the small delicate ones. I have thought about making them myself, and I find this a bit intimidating. I mean, how do you get that perfectly crisp exterior with that unique soft chewiness and subtle deliciousness that makes me flip out? So...Zola, you've got a gift for the pastries...can you try it out for me? And then maybe I'll have the courage to give it shot? Sometimes I just visit the Ladurée website and just stare at the pictures, like I'm looking at an album of old friends. I'm not kidding.

Zola: Dear Deb,

Christmas has come early for you, my fair Francophile friend. Apparently, there's some place in West Seattle called Bakery Nouveau that makes the macarons (and I also hear the dude has won awards for his baguettes, so as soon as the Seattle roads are safe from treacherous snow, I'm on my way to check it out.) My other present to you is that I found a recipe for Ladurée Chocolate Macarons. Someone on the old internets machine translated the recipe. It's hard to tell if they don't know anything about baking or if they're *such* a baker that they left out all the key instructions because it's just so second nature, but not to worry. I did some research and I'm going to pull it all together for you. Please note that I'm sticking with using the weights instead of converting to cups. You get better accuracy for baking and you can buy a little scale for cheap in the weight loss department at your local drug store--and there's something satisfyingly ironic about that.

For the cookies:
275 grams powdered sugar
140 grams powdered almonds (I recommend toasting some slivered almonds then, once cool, "powder" them in your food processor)
4 egg whites
pinch salt
25 grams cocoa powder

mix your sugar, almonds and cocoa together. beat your egg whites and salt into stiff peaks. Gently fold your sugar mix into the whites. To do this, start at the center of the bowl and fold the mixture up, towards the edge of the bowl. Keep repeating this process, turning the bowl so that you're slowly spinning the bowl in a circle and incorporating all the sugar mix. The goal is to incorporate everything without deflating your whites completely. Now, the recipe says to put your mix in a piping bag to squeeze out little macarons onto parchment paper (I'd get about 4 cookie sheets prepared in advance to do this). I also tried a couple using just a spoon--you know, spooning out the batter and that seemed to work just as well so do as you wish. At some point, you'll need to get your oven heated to 350 F (or 180 C), but here's the secret to this recipe:

LET YOUR LITTLE RAW MACARON CIRCLES REST FOR TWO HOURS. I read somewhere you could wait between 1-2 hours--the one hour macarons (while still delicious) had that "cracked" look on the top (see picture below). The two hour macarons raised up perfectly flat and pretty like the ones you see on the Ladurée website. That first picture is my perfect little macarons--they are so pretty! I'm rather impressed with myself.

During your two hours, you can make and cool your ganache:
325 grams bitter chocolate (I used 2/3 bitter + 1/3 mexican chocolate)
300 grams heavy cream
75 grams unsalted butter
pinch salt

I should mention that, baking recipes often do not call for salt, and this recipe is no exception. I ALWAYS bake with unsalted butter and ALWAYS throw in a pinch of salt. Salt gives sweet a necessary base note--using unsalted butter and the adding your own allows you to control that better.

Put all the ganache ingredients in a heavy bottom pan on medium to medium high heat and stir until your chocolate and butter are melted and completely incorporated. Refrigerate until thick enough to spread easily. You can also make your ganache a week or two in advance and store in the fridge. Just let it sit out to come back to room temperature before spreading.

Bake your macarons for 11-12 minutes at 350 F. Let them cool and peel off the parchment paper. Spread a thick layer of ganache onto one macaron, then sandwich another onto the top. Voila!

oh, and FYI--Deb is *not* kidding. This may be the best "cookie". Ever. They are also really impressive for holiday giving; however decidedly difficult to give.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Sandwich of Earthly Delight!

Guy: The central market in Sao Paulo has been chronicled on this blog previously, and it is with trepidation that I hasten my return there. I know we have some outstanding, outstanding recipes' from a number of our good readers, I know our mission is to bring into the fold as many of your stories, memories and recipe's as possible, I know the end of the year approaches! So, let us say that all contributions will be published, and to do this Zola and I will extend the Food Chains beyond our stated one year goal. We did fall prey to the pressures of our "other lives" there in the early fall and missed a number of week of posting, so the new plan is that the blog will continue into '09 until all contributions are honored.

Now back to the Sao Paulo market. Many wondrous things exist in this place. Fresh produce of every description, all number of stores selling Cachaca, olive oils, pimentos and candies fruits. To report the cornucopia here, would require a post in the pages so let cut right to the chase. There a a few things the market is known for in terms of fast food output. The emblematic item in this regard, the one that most people will mention first when conversation of the market arises is the Mortadella sandwiches. Bourdain is taken straight to the market to down one of these behemoths on his arrival in Sao Paulo, in "No Reservations". My friend and business associate Andre made it plain that a Mortadella sandwich at the Sao Paulo market is a truly authentic item in the Paulista's food consciousness.
Essentially it's a very simple item, it's art and beauty is contained within the conception of the morsel, a broad powerful brushstroke of a sandwich that in it simplicity and the atmosphere it is served in, becomes a transcendental event. My humble and paltry attempt to recreate it (although delicious and toothsome in it's own right) did not live up to the experience of downing one of these with an ice cold beer and good friends in the market itself!

For what it's worth here is my interpretation of the Sao Paulo Mortadella sandwich. The ingredients are simple. Mortadella and lots of it!
Fresh, light, crusty french bread, and olive oil. For my mortadella I when to Remo Borrachini's on Ranier Ave. and bought a half pound for one sandwich. You must understand the Sao Paulo sandwiches are of epic proportions, my single half pounder was adequate, yet undernourished compared to the portly originals (see if you can guess who's is who's from the pictures). For the bread I used a Vietnamese baguette, and I had some oil left from shopping at the market itself. Production is simple, on a hot pan (or plate at the market) lightly saute the motadella in some oil. Stuff the grilled mortadella in the bread. Enjoy the juicy, greasy, dripping simplicity!

The monkey picture is from Rio's botanical garden and appears here purely for fun!

Monday, November 24, 2008

D'Isney mange les Lentilles.

Guy: Friends and fellow gastronaughts, this is for me, a heart warming story and recipe from my dear friend Georgia. Both the Lentil burgers and her story bring waves of revery flooding back. Ah....the good times remembered, like handcuffing Martin to the fridge, or dressing up in drag and frightening drunken callers. Well I remember the punk rock days, no money, some beer and lots of friends! We prepared Georgia's signature dish and were lucky to have our dapper friend and avid foodchains reader Bill Disney over to enjoy the results (hence the title). Bill's burger got the full Aussie treatment, with a fried egg and beetroot (that's pickled beets for our U.S. readers), and he declared it "Good". Please note the recipe below provides enough burgers to fuel a small Hippy Punk army (Note to self, must mobilize a small Hippy Punk army fueled on lentil burgers and subvert the dominant paradigm!) so this one will work for a large number of guests. So with out further ado, HERE'S GEORGIA!

Georgia: I'll start this off by saying that Guy and I go way back. WAY back. I first met Guy when I was 18 or 19 years old, and had just moved back to Perth from a short stint living in Melbourne. I just turned 42 in August. Guy was living with a bunch of other guys just up the road from me in East Perth. One of those guys became my boyfriend and I remember spending many hilarious days and nights in that ramshackle house.
Those were heady days. I was still a punk but was moving away from the bondage pants and spiky hair phase, settling into a more introspective phase that included some political motivation, Black Flag and hair crimpers. We were all on the dole and spent our time enjoying life for the most part, which included going to see bands (a lot), drinking beer (a lot) and staying up all night (most of the time). I had some part time work that subsidised my income a little bit, and before too long, the Lord St guys (as I will coin them as a collective) made frequent appearances at my house when they were hungry. And I fed them primarily with one of my most famous recipes, for which I'm still renown – my lentil burgers.
At this house, and subsequent houses once we moved on from that place, we'd make sure that my makeshift barbeque was set up in the back yard somewhere. This involved a steel plate approx 1 ½ cm thick placed atop two stacks of bricks, giving enough room for a good fire to be made underneath. When the BBQ wasn't appropriate (ie when it rained), a cast iron frying pan sufficed very nicely.
During the height of my lentil burger fame, I was asked by Squasha, who ran The Wizbah (great live music venue in Perth in the 1980's) if I would like to make burgers to be given away for free on Sunday nights. I had free reign in the huge commercial kitchen, drinking as much alcohol as I could consume on the house. Squasha decided giving away my burgers for free would be a great drawcard for Sunday evening gigs.
By my 23rd birthday, we were living in a great house on Cambridge St in West Leederville which had a big back yard. The BBQ was placed in the top corner, and people would just show up on Sunday afternoons and I'd have a big mix made up ready to go. Those were some of the best days I remember – just hanging out with your friends, making good, simple food, listening to great music, and it was all so free, easy and casual.
Now for the recipe. The recipe for my lentil burgers is as fluid as you can probably make it. If you have some great fresh vegies available, use them. Quantities can vary greatly too, I have always played it pretty much by ear.

About 300 grams brown lentils, soaked overnight
1 large carrot, finely grated
1 large potato, finely grated
1 large brown onion finely chopped (these three things should always form the basis of your mix)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons of plain flour
large bunch of English spinach, finely chopped (can use frozen if you like)
150 grams mushrooms (field are very good and tasty but not overpowering) finely chopped
1 medium knob fresh ginger, grated
1 cup flat leaf parsley, loosely packed then finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds
½ teaspoon paprika
Some ground chilli flakes/powder to taste
Good pinch of salt
Lots of fresh ground black pepper
Any other spices you particularly like – anything that will add the flavours you like

Put the lentils on to boil and cook til tender but not falling apart.
Grate the potato and squeeze out all the excess moisture. Add all the grated/chopped veges together into one big bowl, stir in the eggs, flour and spices. Mix thoroughly.
Place about two tablespoons of the mix together into the pan/onto the hot plate and shape into a pattie, cook fairly slowly to reduce the moisture content. Flip and when browned well on both sides, serve on a lovely toasted bun or piece of good bread (sour dough would be great). Add condiments to taste. Simple. Healthy. Delicious.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ruby's Effervescent Peach Cobbler

Zola: This story is so touching; it really needs no introduction. I will say that I made the peach cobbler at the end of summer, choosing only the best peaches to honor this dish in the way it deserves.

Cyre: I have had a difficult time trying to describe this cobbler of my frankly...I've never had anything even close to it and have given up hope that I ever will. Ruby was a house parent at the Hutton Settlement, a children's home located in The Spokane Valley. She was also the BEST COOK EVER!!!
There were 4 cottages on campus, 2 for girls and 2 for boys. Ruby almost always worked in the boys cottages, but on very rare occasion we were delighted to have her cooking for us! My very favorite recipe of hers, is indeed her Peach Cobbler.
It stood 4-5 inches tall! Stretchy, chewy and white like unbaked bread dough! It magically sputtering in our mouths with the explosion of tiny effervescent bubbles! When I first tried it, I thought it uncooked! But I sure wasn't gonna tell Ruby that! It was AMAZING! The peaches and syrup sank deep into the dough making it even gooey-er!!! I honestly don't remember the crumbly topping as indeed it was all about the huge mouthfuls of sparkling dough. She always served it with fresh whipped cream and let us eat to our hearts desire. Ruby was not a woman of many words...but managed to make every one of us feel very special, and very loved with her cooking. Talk about a good memory!

Zola: For the biscuit topping, I used a recipe with baking soda to try to get that 'effervescent' quality. I almost think, to really recreate this, one should make a lot more biscuit so you could really lay it on.
For the biscuits:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), frozen
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream

For the peach filling:

Get enough peaches to fill your pie pan, remove the skin
add white & brown sugar to taste
add flour (when you can *just* taste the flour, that's enough to act as a thickening agent)
I like to add a little lemon juice & cinnamon but that's up to you
sprinkle the top with small butter pieces before putting your biscuit topping on
brush your biscuit top with cream & sprinkle with sugar

Bake at about 375 until the peach juice is thick and bubbling up under your biscuit topping & the topping is brown. Say a special thanks to all the Ruby's of the world!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bacalhau e todo bem!

Yes indeed Portuguese salt cod and everything is good! For many years now Zola and I have traveled and enjoyed the wonder that is salt cod in a number of preparations, in a number of countries. A magnificent fillet with white bean casserole in Barcelonetta,  Barcelona. Brandade du Morue in our favorite french bistro in Seattle (Le Pichet). Acorda (pronounced Ashorja) and other Bacalhau delights in Lisbon. And finally many various preparation (pastels, fritters, stews and croquettes) in the food menagerie that is Brazil.  Long has been the passing time from the first tasting to the fateful day last week when finally Bacalhau was discovered at PFI grocery in Seattle's international district! And indeed purchased by this very writer. 

Having just returned from an invigorating trip to Brazil, Zola and my interest in preparing our own bacalhau was rekindled, and what follows is two recipes The first is borrowed from Anthony Bourdains "Les Halles Cookbook", it's a french bistro standard/classic called Brandade Du Morue.
 Essentially a baked dip of salt cod served in its baking apparatus, a ramekin. As the preparation of salt cod is an undertaking in it's own right, I took the opportunity to double-up if you will, using half the cod prepared to make a Brazilian lunch counter mainstay, Bolinhos de bacalhau, literally "little balls of salt cod". These are essentially small croquettes of  potato and salt cod, deep fried and served through out the day as a snack. I'll begin with the Brandade as that was how the Cod was prepared, the left over was used to make the Bolinhos. 

First things first, salt cod is a 24 hour preparation. The fillets will come frozen in the USA due to this country's bug phobia and strict quarantine laws. The whole idea of Bacalhau is so that Portuguese fisherman in the north sea could preserve their catch centuries before the invention of refrigeration. I digress, essentially you treat your frozen fillet the same, place in cold tap water for 24 hours, changing the tap water every hour for the first few hours. We let ours sit overnight and did a couple of changes the next morning and everything was fine. It's fine to taste your uncooked bacalhau along the way to see if it's too salty. 

One pound of cod was enough for both dishes. The initial cooking of the cod was used for both dishes. Bring a 1/2 cup of full cream to the boil with 4 crushed cloves of garlic and a bouquet garni (that's 2 sprig of Thyme, 1 sprig of flat parsley and a bay leaf tied up in a cheese cloth parcel). At the boil, add the fish (1/2 lb) and reduce heat to a simmer, poach the cod like this for 6 minutes, it should be a little flaky by this point, so retrieve from the pot with a slotted spoon. The Bouquet and the garlic stay in as you continue to reduce the cream at a boil for 10 minutes. Set the cod aside.

 After the reduction, fish out (ha, ha!) the Bouquet and the garlic, combine the reduced cream with 1/2 cup EV olive oil. Add this liquid to the cod that you have mushed up with your fingers (hmmm, cod finger smells). Slowly mix the liquid and cod with a wooden spoon. Add in some cracked black pepper (and maybe some salt if you de-salted your cod too aggressively). Stir in 2 sprigs of chopped parsley, portion out into a couple of mid sized ramekins top with bread crumbs, and head for the oven. Our method, bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes, finish under a low broil until bread crumbs are brown. Serve with sliced french bread. Swoon with delight!

Now the Bolinhos! You've still got a 1/2 pound of cod if you did a whole pound. An option would be to poach the cod in a cup of water with the same herb preparation, if you were doing separate dishes. For the bolinhos make two dry cups of mashed potato (use a russet it's good and starchy). Shred the cod with your fingers, stir into the mash potatoes with some chopped flat parsley, some cracked pepper and salt if needed. I had quite a few of these while in Brazil and salty was the apparent preferred savour. 
Now the trick is to roll the balls into 2 inch diameter spheres, roll them in some bread crumbs and deep fry 
until golden brown. We endorse the Cuisine Art mini deep fryer in the Maddison household.  Serve to friends as we did at a suitable festive occasion. Ours went down a treat at a joyous party celebration of Barack Obama's monumental election. It's true they go great with champagne!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Updates & Apologies

Hi everyone. I know we've essentially fallen off the radar. Things have been a little hectic in the Maddison household. We've been doing quite a bit of traveling and I'm finishing up a big grant application. We've received some great stories and recipes and we'll be back online *very soon*. In the meantime, I wanted to share some crappy footage of an amazing meal I had in South Africa. Enjoy!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Patatas a la Riojana

Zola: Maybe a little over a year ago, I found myself in one of those terrible not-for-credit Spanish classes. If you've ever taken such a class, you know what I'm talking about. You've got the dude who is struggling to understand the concept of masculine/feminine nouns AND the chic that spent two years in Argentina and just wants to "brush up" in the same room. It's ugly. Much to my relief, my friends, Lauren & Garth, were in there, too; getting ready for their honeymoon in Spain. Here's their story. Might I just say that this recipe TASTED like Spain. It filled our little place with the SMELL of Spain. Thank you for that.

Lauren: You had just posted a plea for more contributions, which my husband Garth and I had both read, and he was opening a bottle of Rioja wine as I sliced chorizo and lamented, "I need to write something for Zola, but I just can't think of what. I wasn't really paying attention to food when I lived in Belgium; it would be great if we could send her something that we ate when we went to Spain, but ..." and then I dropped my knife and he dropped the corkscrew and we stared at each other, and then at the cookbook on the shelf -- we had already memorized the recipe; it's quite easy -- and laughed hard about how long we had overlooked this totally obvious story.

We took a vacation to Spain right after our wedding. We wanted to go somewhere neither of us had ever been, and we wanted to go somewhere with good food. We found it! We had reservations for an apartment for a week in Barcelona (which we found with your help, Zola! Thanks!), and then we had tickets to fly out of Paris several days after that, and nothing else planned for sure. After our week in Barcelona, we spent a day taking the train across the country up to Bilbao. We spent 3 nights there and then several more days in San Sebastian/Donostia before heading to Paris for 2 nights and coming back home. Bilbao was our least favorite time of the trip. It was colder than Barcelona, and somewhat rainy; I got a bit of a cold, and we were cranky, and other than the Guggenheim and some small local museums, we didn't really find that much to do.

We had heard that the restaurant at the Guggenheim was good, but unfortunately we got there just a few minutes after they closed for lunch. We wanted to go to the museum but first we really needed to eat, as it was like 2pm and I was blood-sugar-crashy. We bickered all the way back towards town from the museum, and then we bickered about the first restaurant we came to, looking at their menú del día on the chalkboard, until we realized it sounded fabulous and we were super hungry anyway.

I chose the roasted quarter chicken and fries, I believe, which was great, and a completely non-memorable starter. Garth's starter, however, was this warm, salty, just-the-right-amount-of-spicy, nourishing potato stew with chorizo. We made note of its name on the chalkboard -- patatas a la Riojana -- Potatoes, Rioja style. I googled extensively when we got back, but didn't find much that looked like what we had had, until I remembered that we have paper cookbooks, too,
such as The Basque Table, by Teresa Barrenechea. I leafed through it hopefully, and sure enough, page 90: Potato and Chorizo Stew, Rioja-style, or, patatas a la Riojana.

The recipe we use now is somewhat simplified from that described in the book, but it still tastes fabulous.

You need:

Some good olive oil
A large onion, or two small, chopped
Two hard Spanish chorizo*, removed from casing and diced -- in Seattle we buy ours at De Laurenti in Pike Place Market; for this recipe we use 1 spicy (red string) and 1 mild (white string)
Some potatoes, chopped -- the recipe in the book calls for 2.5 pounds of russets, but we just use ... whatever. For this evening's batch, we used 3 pounds, 2.2 ounces of reds ( that we harvested from the garden last week.
Hot paprika
Salt to taste (you might not need any)

Feel free to play around with the ratios to make more or less potatoey, or oniony, or meaty.

* Distinct from ground chorizo, as in South America (that's my understanding of the geographical distinction, anyway) -- Spanish chorizo is firm like a salami or similar.

Heat olive oil in a good, large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add onion and saute until soft. Add chopped chorizo and brown briefly. Add the chopped potatoes, and water to cover. Use wine (preferably Basque, like a Rioja) in place of a cup or two of water if you like, but no need to use stock; the chorizo will add plenty of flavor. Add slightly less water if you want a thicker dish, or more if you want it soupier. You can also reduce it further or get more potato starch by smashing them, if you want a thicker stew. Also, add the paprika, cayenne if you want more spicy, and salt if you need it. (It's best to add salt after you have let it simmer, though, since the liquid will concentrate as it evaporates and you might end up making it too salty if you add it before then.)

Simmer until potatoes are done.

Serve with a good crusty baguette or other bread to soak up the delicious juice.

This will last you several dinners; by the end of the pot, the liquid will have thickened a lot with the starch from the potatoes. It changes from soup to stew as it progresses, which I like a great deal.

Don't forget to drink the rest of the wine you opened to add to the stew!

Zola: Pictures coming soon! I need to put one of those beep-y key finder trackers on my effin' USB plug.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Say cheese!

Zola: On a fairly regular basis I like to remind Guy that when we retire, I will need my own cheese cave. I like the idea of being old and tending to my cheeses (preferably in Spain or Portugal), and of course, enjoying them often with a glass of wine. I was talking about this with my friend Rachel and she came up with a rather novel idea--that we start our cheese education right now. So we started simple, with some fresh mozzerella. We took the recipe from the Cheese Queen's website.

Her recipe is great, and she provides step by step instructions with pictures--so I can't add much to her great work (Cheese Queen rocks!) There is definitely some practice involved. While our cheese was good, it wasn't what I expected--much harder than mozzerella should be (we got a little over-zealous with our kneading) so I found myself this morning thinking about when I could make it again and perfect it. We both had the sensation of falling down a cheesey rabbit hole. It's a whole other world to explore and I'm already thinking about all the equipment I need to get and what I want to make next. Here's our photo journal of the day. On top of being a great culinary companion, I discovered that Rachel is an amazing photographer.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

French Comfort Food: Chicken Fricassee

Zola: Sorry about my little outburst. But it's true. We really do need you to submit your stories so we can keep this project going through the end of the year. Mary Beth came through for us--in spades.

Mary Beth: I’m an American mutt. Ethnically, I’m German, French-Canadian, Irish, Norwegian, American Indian (two tribes) and Scottish. In that order. Needless to say, the food I grew up with was as mixed a bag as my heritage.

My mother is half French and brought the Norwegian heritage to the dance, so meals were either marvelous French peasant fare or American Norwegian: Stuff Covered in Cream of Mushroom Soup. There was one dish in particular that remains my favorite comfort food: Chicken Fricassee.

I’m the oldest of five, so I was helping Mom in the kitchen from a fairly young age. I learned to cook Chicken Fricassee when I was in my early teens. It wasn’t until years later, when I fashioned myself as a bit of a gourmet cook, when I fully realized what I was doing when I cooked this dish.

You see, one of the steps in the creation was to take the nice crusty bits from the bottom of the pan, add water, and create a roux. I had no idea that’s what I was doing. It’s just how I was taught. So one evening, as I was making Chicken Fricassee for dinner at my folks’ house, I paused, startled, as I realized what I was doing.

I asked my Mom, “Where did you get this recipe?”
“From my Mother,” she replied.
“And where did SHE get it?” I asked.
“From her mother,” Mom said.

Holy Cow. My great-grandmother, Marisa Desoutel Dubruiel, was about as French as it gets. Born in Canada, she immigrated to the Minneapolis area in the early part of the 20th century. Her family had immigrated to Canada from France in the mid-1700’s. This was a recipe that had been handed down from my French ancestors, to comfort me on those hard days when you need a hug. (My husband knows I’ve had a hard day when he comes home to Chicken Fricassee.)

Chicken Fricassee
• Chicken, cut up .
• Flour
• Butter
• Onion (or two or three) thickly sliced
• Bay leaves
• Chicken broth
• Milk/half & half/cream

The original recipe calls for bone-in chicken, which yields the best sauce. On days when I don’t have much time, I use boneless chicken breasts as they cook faster. This works best with a heavy cast iron pan - my Le Creuset French oven works beautifully.

Melt butter in the pan. Flour the chicken and sauté until lightly browned; remove to a plate. Add broth and a dash of flour to the crusty bits at the bottom of the pan and deglaze, forming a roux. Add a bit more broth to create a sauce, then layer onions and chicken into the pan. Add a few bay leaves and some milk (or half & half, or heavy cream if you’re feeling particularly decadent.) Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender and the sauce is thickened, about 45-60 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes and a crusty bread to soak up all the sauce.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We need yer stories!

Zola: So do you see the worry in my comic strip eyes? We need your stories, plain and simple. If we're going to keep the foodchains blog going through the end of the year, you have to submit your story about food. Okay, I just looked at our stats and--how cool is this?--people from 30 countries around the world are checking out our site. Cool, right? It's only one person here in Macedonia and one person there in Peru, but too me, that is super cool and really the whole point of this blog... the way we're all connected by food. But we're running out of stories. So c'mon people! As the kids say, "Represent!" Send us a story, an anecdote, a whatever --we'll post your words and try our best to cook your food.

We've got peeps in: US, Canada, Australia, UK, Spain, South Korea, Germany, Panama, Columbia, Netherlands, Argentina, Macedonia, Brazil, Malaysia, Italy, Bulgaria, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Czech Republic, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Peru, Finland, Israel, Philippines, Egypt, France, Guam, and New Zealand.

You've read my stories and clearly I'm not setting the literary bar very high. For christ's sake, we're not asking for Joyce or anything here -- just send your food stories to! We're stoked to hear from you. Oh, and we'll send you a bacon bumper sticker from the Bacon Council of Seattle, if that kind of thing appeals to you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New World Food Order

Guy: So Zola's previous post "Vision Quest..." inspired me to try a dish I happened upon in Mexico City when I was there on a rock mission a couple of years back. It was actually the masa cake gorditas that inspired me. 2 winters ago, Mudhoney were lucky enough to open up for Pearl Jam on a number of South and Central American dates, the final one being at the Armadillo dome in Mexico City. PJ were very accommodating and kind to us, and in fact allowed us to tape this show on their recording system. It later became Mudhoney's Live Mud live in Mexico city album.

Whilst on this trip, Mark, my friend Jim and I took a trip to the Presidential palace on our day off. The palace is located next to an Aztec ruin and a magnificent basilica. The palace itself contains the epic fresco mural by Diego Rivera that depicts the history of the Mexican nation. The whole central plaza is awash with street vendors of all kinds. Of course my favorites were the food vendors. Undeterred by Mark and Jim's fearful warnings about the street food, I ploughed into some blue corn gorditas topped with Nopales and Queso Fresca. Nopales is cactus, a local staple in the Mexico city area. The dish is often referred to as nopalitos, the diminutive for cactus. Zola's gorditas reminded me of this dish, so I was off to our local Carniceria for some Nopales and Chicharron. Our local carniceria is located where Boren hits Rainier Ave. It's an unassuming little front that opens on to a large and well stocked Mexican market. The friendly and helpful manager provided a few tips as he whipped out 5 large fresh nopales leaves from his walk -in. 
So, here's how it's done. The gorditas are essentially Zola's previous recipe with a little extra salt and a couple of large pinches of sugar, no further explanation needed. 
The black beans were made with 1 can of black beans, 1 small can of Salsa Verde Picante and some onion powder. Stew this in a pot until hot and add 6 to 8 one inch pieces of chicharron seco (porn rinds)(Zola: I think it's safe to assume Guy intended to write pork rinds but I'm enjoying the typo too much to correct it). Stew until the texture of the pork rinds are soft. 
Now for the Nopales. Mine were bought de-spiked but if yours are not, get those spikes off or your in for an 'Arrowing meal! The raw nopales are very easy to slice with a sharp knife, I did mine in 1/4 inch strips as I remembered from Mexico city. Next stew them at a low boil with some garlic and salt in a shallow pot of water, for about 15 to 20 minutes. You can check them from time to time, their texture when ready should be that of a firm perfectly cooked green bean.  Next drain the Nopalitos, chop some more fresh garlic and add to a pan with some olive oil on a medium high heat. saute the cactus for a short time till it is well coated in olive oil.
The next stage is the plating, I topped our rather substantial gorditas half and half with bean and nopales. Then added some queso fresca on top. best method is to gouge and scape the cheese of the block with a fork. The plate is then garnished with tomatoes and avocados. 
There  you have new foods from the new world! Don't forget to locate your local carniceria for your authentic ingredients, Bon Provecho.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vision Quest v. Dream Haters

Zola: Every once in a while my brain actually cooperates with me. And every once in a very great while, it actually does something nice for me--like give me an awesome, completely escapist fantasy dream. Last week, said brain delivered the goods. Now I know that there are a lot of people in the world who really hate it when people launch into their dreams. Fair enough. But I think all you dream-haters out there will even appreciate this one. Plus it was (mercifully for you, sadly for me) short. Here's what the old brain kicked out: I'm sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee with Anthony Bourdain, AKA: my new boss. See? So great already, right? We're in this cool old late '50's cafe--very Canter's-eque--and he starts to explain what my job is. It's something to do with project managing things on location/researching restaurants, food histories, etc. Anthony is like, "so... I'm really excited to have you join our team." And of course--because it's a dream--I'm super casual and say, "yeah, let's talk a little more about what exactly you're imagining will be involved." but the subtext is obviously: "yeah dude, of course you are. I'm about to manage the shit out of these programs." Now let's be absolutely clear about this: I am never cool like this; not even in my dreams. This dream is very quickly moving further up on the greatest-dream-ever-o-meter.  So my new boss, Anthony, says, "Let's go get some food and we can talk more about it." We hit the road and just begin to start talking more about what he needs me to do when he abruptly pulls the car over as he says, "this place has an amazing dish." We walk in and, because I'm with Bourdain, the dish is served to us immediately. It is a small, deep gordita/masa patty with a poached egg and two slices of perfectly cooked steak on the top. A vision.

When I went to cook this, I realized the hardest part of this dish would be the timing. Nothing in it takes very long to do, and everything is actually rather time sensitive. I decided to add some collard greens with bacon because a) it seemed like the dish needed something green, b) it seemed to suit the flavor of the dish and c) our neighbor just gave us a ton of bacon for watching her cat (maybe she's seen the bacon bumper stickers? cats like bacon? I'm not sure I get the connection but I'm not complaining). So here's what I did and in the order I did it, to make this dream a reality.

Start by cleaning the greens. Or in my case, get Guy to clean and cut the kale before you get home from work. I chopped some bacon and peeled some garlic, and set that on a low heat to start cooking. While that was going, I started on my masa dough.
Here's the recipe I followed for gorditas:
1 3/4 c. masa flour
1/4 c. flour
pinch salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. + 2T water
2T vegetable shortening
They say to mix masa and water and add other ingredients. Next time I make gorditas, I'll mix my dry ingredients, LARD (what was I thinking? vegetable shortening. puh-lease.) and then the water. I would also add more salt than a pinch, maybe some sugar and definitely some pepper.
Knead, knead knead. Shape into little happy gordita shapes (ovals about 1/4" thick) and start cooking one up on a griddle. FYI the first time you do this recipe, be sure to make a little test buddy so you see how it cooks, if it's falling apart, etc.

As soon as you've got your gorditas going, put your frying pan on with butter for your steak; put your greens in your bacon & garlic on a medium heat with a little water and cover; and get a pot of water with 2 T of white vinegar coming up to a boil.

Get your steak pan hot and start frying that puppy up. Once it's cooked with a nice dark sear and pink inside, wrap it up in foil, pour extra butter/meat drippings on it and let it rest.

Don't forget to flip your gorditas! And check your greens. Don't let them get brown. Add a little vinegar to greens for some brightness because you've got a motherload of rich, salty goodness coming your way.

Once your gorditas are done, take the lid off your boiling water and let the water come back down to a simmer. Carefully drop your eggs in the water. Slice your steak. Plate gordita, pull out egg, and place sliced steak. Toss and plate greens.

Voila! I would serve this again, but maybe for a hangover breakfast. Which would explain why my new boss Anthony liked it so much.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Half a Sheep

Zola: Hard to believe, but yesterday was our 10 year wedding anniversary so I needed a very special celebratory meal. I'd been saving Laurent's tale of marriage and meat for just such an occasion.

Laurent: Patricia was busy working on a weekend, while I was relaxing at home by myself enjoying a few beers on a lazy and hot summer afternoon. Suddenly, the doorbell rang.

My father in law announced himself,

"Laurent... are you home? It's Ricardo, your father-in-law..."

I should mention that I was recently married and had only been living in Brazil less than half a year. My Portuguese was still a bit rough.

"Ricardo, ah... eh ... come on up" I responded and hit the intercom button opening the door.

A minute or so later their was a knock on the door. I had started to say hello, but stopped mid-sentence a bit taken back. My father-in-law was standing at the door holding a large plastic bag containing a bloody carcass.

Without missing a beat, Ricardo said, "We were in the countryside at a friend's farm and bough a sheep, I thought that you may want half of it and had it cut in two."

He extended the bag to me for me to take it. I grabbed the bag and exclaimed "Of course!" and almost dropped the bloody bag still slippery and moist. I quickly asked if he wanted a beer or a shot of rum, but he gracefully declined. Ricardo excused himself, saying that people were waiting for him in the car downstairs and he had to get going. He gave me an awkward hug and left me with a half a sheep in a bloody bag.

The carcass was still warm, fresh from the slaughter. With the sweltering summer afternoon not expected to cool off soon, I had to refrigerate the meat quickly. I tried to stuff the carcass into the refrigerator with the idea of dealing with it later it would not fit. Even after removing all the shelves the half sheep was already too stiff to curl and too large to close the door. I realized that I would have to divide the carcass into smaller parts if I hoped to refrigerate it.

I had never butchered any thing bigger than a duck or a large trout into edible parts. A little intimidated, I took off my shirt, put on an apron and started to hone a couple kitchen knives against the back of a plate. While I was sharpening the knives, I scoured my mind on how to best go about butchering the sheep. With no answers ready in mind, I open another beer and cleaned the stainless steel sink. The sink, I reasoned would be the best place to put the half-carcass, while I was working on cutting it into smaller pieces.

Carefully I took the sheep out of the bag and slid it into the sink. While doing this, I succeeded in splattering myself with the blood and liquid that had been in the bottom of the bag. My white apron was already getting dirty and I had not even begun to cut. Looking at the half sheep inside the sink, decided to first separate the legs; creating three manageable pieces instead of one large slippery section.

Slowly, but surely over the course of the next few hours I managed to detach the two legs and butterfly them. While the foreleg was easy to remove, the hind leg presented a greater challenge. Finally, with a fell swoop of the ten inch chef knife I managed to detach both the hind leg and the tip of my index finger.

The blood on my apron and arms was now a mixture of mine and the sheep's. I quickly went dripping to the bathroom in search of a band aid and first aid supplies. Rummaging through the bathroom cupboards, I did not find a single band aid or any rubbing alcohol. I found some feminine sanitary napkins and reasoned that they were designed for absorbency. Quickly, I wrapped one around my finger and held it in place with my uninjured hand. After searching some more for some tape and a disinfectant, I found a roll of black electric tape and a bottle of cachaca, strong Brazilian cane spirits. After disinfecting my finger with the cachaca and securing the menstrual pad to my finger, I took a big swig from the bottle and got back to work.

Ding dong rang the door bell. Without thinking of my appearance and still holding the knife I ran to open the door.

Patricia screamed. With the half a sheep, a couple bottles of beer and less the tip of a finger, time had passed and she had already returned from work. Standing in my shorts with only an apron on, reeking of cachaca, wielding a large kitchen knife and dripping blood with a menstrual pad wrapped around my finger, I must have been a frightening sight. After reassuring my wife that she had not married a psychopath, I explained the situation to her and finished butchering the mutton.

The only way to thank the generous gift of a half a sheep was to make a feast. I decided that we needed to invite as many people as could fit into our small fifth floor apartment so I had Patricia call up her father and invite him to dinner.

My wife's father, Ricardo, is the only Lebanese born son of a large Lebanese family, who settled in Sao Paulo in the 1950's. The family legend is rich and the Lebanese roots run deep especially in the kitchen. As a nod to their Arabic heritage I decided to use the mutton to make Moroccan Rice a recipe that I had encountered while living in Paris and managed to hobble together recipe researching online.

The recipe is as follows:


2 cups of nuts (pine nuts, almonds or/and walnuts)
One leg of mutton hacked to pieces and ground with fat

2 cups of Uncle Ben's or parboiled rice

1 cup of raisins and or dried fruit such as apricots or even cherries

2 teaspoons of Cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Make stock
Use bones, onions, and assorted greens to make meat & vegetable stock
If Lazy use beef stock cubes

Make rice
Use stock to make rice normally
Include cardamon in rice if available
Include dried fruit in rice towards end

Meat (while rice is cooking)
Chop nuts
Fry nuts until golden in one cup of oil.
Drain nuts and retain oil.
Place nuts on paper towel to remove excess oil
fry spices in oil
Add ground meat and stir
Continue cooking until well separated
Salt to taste

Take half of meat and mix with rice
make sure rice/meat combination fluffy
Serve in large dish
Top with remaining meat and with fried nuts

Serve with sides of arabic salad, cucumbers, onion, tomato, Baba Ghanoush, humus, arabic (greek) style yogurt,

Zola: I didn't buy half a sheep, but I did run down to the butcher's to get a leg of lamb (which is huge, by the way). The meal was amazing. I stuck with the lamb, rice, and salad, threw in a couple of stuffed grape leaves--but I also made my own harissa to make these olives that I get down at my favorite cafe in Seattle, Cafe Presse. Make the harissa paste then pour in the entire contents of two bottles of nicoise olives.

Harissa paste:
13 oz bag of dried chili pods
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of ground coriander
1/2 cup of ground cumin
1/3 cup salt
2/3 cup olive oil

Using scissors, cut off stems, take out seeds, and cut up the chili pods and put them in a bowl of hot water to soak. Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend.

Well deserved cheater dessert of chocolate gelato, fresh raspberries, and an almond florentine finished everything off.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Love me like a reptile!

Guy: The title of this posting, borrowed by Motorhead, is influenced by the combination of rock and roll and reptiles, specifically Alligator. As you may have guessed by Zola's posting last week, I have been out for the first 3 weeks of June on an east coast and southern tour as Mudhoney were out promoting our new album "The Lucky Ones".  As it happens, we were very lucky indeed. Not only did we survive 18 shows in 18 days, hard work for the 40 plus rock and roll set, but we ate like kings. I'm not talking about the sort of toothsome offerings to be found at White Castle, or Chic Fil A (I kid you not, our Garmin could find the nearest Chic at will, and I loved it for that), but we had a couple of sensational restaurant experiences that provide the background for the dish appearing this week. 

About day 6 of our tour we rolled into Columbus OH. I will not regale you with the tale of the tiny, moldy, not entirely open, un-usable bathroomed club we played, but will point you in the direction of Alanas Cafe.  It is well worth your while to seek out Alana's excellent restaurant next time your in Columbus. So as it turns out Alana's husband and sommelier Kevin is a huge Mudhoney fan, and the two were kind enough to invite us for an excellent tasting menu before our gig. Alana's menu features local produce incorporated into an inventive French/Asian fusion style. Standouts from the dinner were the vietnamese lettuce wraps, the goat casserole and the skate wing all blew my mind. All other dishes and the wine were outstanding. The inspiration for todays dish was a conversation we had with Alana after dinner. She had worked for many years in New Orleans in Emeril's original restaurant. I was fascinated by the idea of eating 'gator, and after my chat with Alana I knew this was my goal down south. My first attempt in Pensacola, FL was not very successful. A deep fried egg roll with a butt load of smokey bacon that made the Alligator in the roll undetectable. So it was on to Noor-lenz for another stunning meal at the restaurant par excellence Cochon.  I ordered mainly for the apps menu here, but my band brothers were kind enough to let me try all of their entrees. Stand outs were the Whole deep friend soft shell crab and the house speciality the Cochon pork shoulder. One of my apps became the side dish tonight. The original was a Crawfish and green tomato casserole baked in a ramekin, my version  was with prawn flesh and yellow vine tomato. But it was at Cochon that I finally got to have my real gator experience. Deep fried nuggets, a'la calamari fritos. It does not taste like chicken but was white meat. It's its own thing, one must try it to know it, suffice to say all at the table enjoyed it.

So to the Alligator de jour. As it is hard to get Alligator in Seattle, I brought back 2 cans of Dales wild west Alligator cajun style. Available in any tourist trap in the French quarter. I asked around and apparently locals will serve this stuff over rice with red beans on the side. 
So there is not much to this recipe. Boil rice add tumeric or saffron to make it yellow. Heat the tinned 'gator and poor over rice. 
My red beans were done in chicken stock, with chopped celery and onions. Spices are the classic cajun spice combo of Cayenne, black and white pepper and thyme. Slow cocked for a couple of hours. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vanilla Slice

Zola: I know, I know. I've been a complete slacker lately, but trust me--this one is worth the wait. Okay, so Guy has been on the road for the last few weeks and I wanted to make something really special for him when he got home. I usually try to make a nice, simple home cooked meal after he's been on tour, because I know there's been a lot crappy fast food, as well as some really good but rich dining experiences (for example, he finally got to go to Cochon in New Orleans--that place is amazing). I had my roast chicken, stuffed with lemons, garlic and thyme, some salad, a nice baguette; but I wanted something that said, "Welcome Home!!" Which made me start thinking, "what says welcome home to an expat?" Well, nothing says comfort like a dessert and I needed something very Australian. Enter Bryony. Bryony is a very dear, old friend of Guy's from Perth. I've only had the pleasure of meeting her once (ironically, in Perth, although she's been living in Philly for quite some time). Bryony and her posse showed me that I needed something that made Guy feel like this:

[sonofabitch. i've been messing around with this video all week and I can't get it to load. Here's the
link to the video]
Bryony (and her posse):

Vanilla Slice:

2 bought puff pastry sheets
1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, split
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup custard powder
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
3 cups whipping cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
Powdered sugar, to dust

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a 9" square pan with aluminium foil or plastic wrap, so that the foil/wrap comes up over the sides (this allows you to lift out the slice). You can use a slightly bigger pan, like I did, but your VS won't end up as thick.

Bake pastry sheets as directed and replace any guilt over being a former pastry chef that has given in to using store-bought pastry sheets with the sheer pleasure of not having to do anything but thaw and bake, then convince yourself that the Vanilla Slice Australian kids grow up on is decidedly NOT made from hand rolled pastry.
Set pastry (and any lingering guilt) aside to cool. Once cool, place 1 pastry sheet, cooked-side up, in bottom of pan. (You may need to trim it slightly to fit.)
Place milk in a pan over medium heat. Scrape in vanilla seeds and add bean too. Warm gently, then set aside for 10 minutes.
Place cornstarch, custard powder and sugar in a pan. Strain milk, discarding bean, into pan with cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Add cream, then return to heat, stirring constantly, over low heat until the mixture thickens and boils. Now here's the thing: that is crap load of cornstarch you've got in there. When this thing starts to come together, you'll know it--it changes quite suddenly from being a liquid to becoming like pudding. IMMEDIATELY, take the pan off the heat (especially if you're cooking on an electric element). Keep stirring all the while--the residual heat of you pan will keep cooking the custard and you don't want to overcook it. Add butter, stirring well to combine, and whisk in egg yolks, one at a time, until smooth. Pour into pastry-lined pan and set aside to cool slightly before placing other piece of pastry, cooked-side up, on top. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove from pan, cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar. OR if you want to get really technical, you would make icing from powdered sugar and add some food dye to make it pink and spread that on the top. Eat with your hands and watch video again one more time for good measure.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Latvian Bacon Pirags

Zola: This recipe is lovely--simple and comforting and just what the doctor ordered when your home is a construction zone. Latest apartment news: my ceiling has gone missing!

Georgia: My mother came to Australia as a refugee from Latvia some time after World War II. Whilst technically she was born en route to Australia (in a barn no less, in the middle of winter somewhere in rural Germany), she’s a Latvian chick through and through. My grandparents lived a good life in Latvia, as both worked (and meet) as solicitors in Riga, and as the son and daughter in law of the President of Latvia (1930 – 1936). Obviously they didn’t want to leave their beloved home land, and in fleeing as quickly as they did, left primarily without possessions and keepsakes to make a quick exit from the Russian tanks rolling into the city. They became separated from each other and only met up again several months later in Germany, before being confined in a German refugee camp for several years. On release, they by chance stepped onto a ship bound for Australia and the rest is history.

My mum has spent her life trying not to be Latvian – in the 50’s, Australia had a high proportion of migrants and refugees from Europe. Mum was picked on and called a wog by the other kids in school, and spent her early school years wishing that Nana would make her a vegemite sandwich instead of a salami one for lunch.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and grew up with all things Latvian instilled in me, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I actually gave my heritage much thought! In 2006 I was lucky enough to go to a reunion of the descendants of my great-great-grandmother. Over 100 relatives from quite literally all over the world met in Riga and until then, I had no idea any of these people existed. I instantly realised just how Latvian I actually am – everything just felt right. It was incredibly humbling and moving, and my biggest regret is that my grandfather was no longer around to share the experience with me as he died the year before.

Whilst there, I had one main “must do” mission – to find out how good the local Pirags were compared to my Nana’s. Whenever I visited Nana, pretty much without fail, she’d ask if I’d like some Pirags and would whip a small bag of them out of the freezer and warm them for me. I would also help her make them on occasion; the smell of the sweet-ish dough rising in the kitchen is one that I still remember many years on. It wasn’t until Nana had to go into a nursing home that any of us thought to ask for her recipe, since Nana couldn’t make them for us any more. She turned 98 in January. And no – none of the ones I tried in Latvia came close to Nan’s.

Here is her recipe. Make sure you pronounce words where appropriate with an eastern European accent.

Nana’s Pirags (makes approximately 3 dozen)

450-500g plain flour (3 1/2-4c.)
250ml milk or water (little over a cup)
25g fresh yeast (or a 7g sachet of dry yeast)
75g butter (3/4 stick)
25g sugar (2 Tbsp)
5g salt (heaping tsp)
2 peckets bacon (Nana’s pronunciation, my poetic license), aprox 500 grams
Onion powder
White pepper (ground)

[Zola: this conversion site rocks:]

Mix yeast with a little bit of sugar, flour and a bit of warm water or milk (30-35 degrees centigrade), sift some flour onto yeast and keep in warm place for 10-15 minutes to rise.

Sift flour into a bowl together with the salt.

Put all of the salt, remaining sugar and butter into milk and warm.

Dice bacon finely, sprinkle with onion powder and white pepper, cook until warmed (do not over cook).

Put milk and yeast into flour and mix. (Keep mix quite damp). Mix first with spoon and then by hand. Sift some flour on top when mixed (enough to cover) and let sit for approximately 30 minutes in a warm place. Cover heavily with cloth to keep warm.

The rest is from memory…

Dust table with flour. Knead and roll dough then cut into circles with a glass. Place a spoon of bacon mix onto middle. Fold dough circle over, pinch edges and roll by hand to desired size. Form into crescent shape and place on baking tray (with seam on the bottom), brush with milk.

Put into a hot oven at around 180 degrees C and cook until you can smell the aroma that only one of Nan’s bacon rolls can emit (and until nicely browned on top).

My memory of Nan’s bacon rolls were that they were a little dusty from flour when cooked. I remember this being a nice thing so perhaps be liberal with dusting flour when rolling and not too liberal with the milk.