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!