Monday, 19 December 2011

Mi Pueblo & Meyer Lemons

Lunch time and a visit to Mi Pueblo Food Centre in Seaside, a stone’s throw from KK’s parental residence.  We have been before and KK has been dreaming of going back for lunch.  It is a lovely store, bright, clean, cheerful and full of excellent things to eat and pleasant, smiling, bilingual people.  Which is great for me, since I speak no Spanish.

Lunch called – it fairly bellowed. We passed the case full of pork – pork scratchings, deep fried slices of belly pork, carnitas (I love carnitas), pigs ears, snout and cheek. Soups, salsas, beans, tamales, horchata, jamaica, mango drink, burritos, tacos, sopes…and we ate: deep fried pork belly, a tamale, BGK had a sope with bean, carnitas, lettuce, crema and queso fresco – lovely; KK & I shared tacos de carnitas served with a clear hot red salsa & lengua with a green salsa. 
Tacos - the tongue ones are at the back

The red salsa fairly blows your head off.  We drank jamaica made with hibiscus which reminds me of living in Africa where we made it in bottles set in the sun and BGK had horchata. The very cute child next to us threw her horchata all over the table and floor which didn’t seem to faze anyone.  Then we shopped.  We bought limes because they are so much cheaper in Mexican stores, and then I smelt the guavas, only some were pink but all were fragrant, so we bought some of those, and avocados and beautiful, plump ginger root (see below). 
                         very, very hairy chayote

cones of raw sugar, tamarind, cinnamon bark & hibiscus flowers for tea

Veg & pinatas

 We remembered the walnut yogurt from the summer - oh, this yogurt is a poem of a yogurt and due to indiscriminate experimentation we have discovered that it is excellent as frozen dessert.  
Yogurts: walnut, mango, strawberry, coffee; and crema 

This is definitely something to try making in France with our own walnuts and local honey.  We looked at the meat which is all cut very thin except for all the odd bits of offal which are in chunks.  I find it fascinating to see such a great meat counter, so many different cuts and types of meat that are unavailable in “main-stream” markets.  Chicken feet packaged with hearts and livers – presumably for soup.  Oh and look at the fish!  

Tequila galore, new kinds of Mexican chocolate – in powder form and happy smiling people.  

Then we went to megaland – what a contrast! After much unneeded sampling of products we weren't going to buy (we bought one, so we fail), at the check out a woman behind us had an enormous package of beautiful Meyer lemons, so I ran to the back of the store – it was a long way (my exercise for the day) but my feet were like wings in a good cause and I arrived back at the check out in the nick of time bearing fragrant, golden fruits.  I expect that some of you are wondering why the fuss about Meyer lemons? The Meyer lemon is a roundish, thin, smooth-skinned and very fragrant, less acidic lemon.  It's not very large but it is very yellow. According to Wiki, Citrus × meyeri is perhaps a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or orange and was introduced to the US in 1908 by Meyer an agricultural explorer and employee of the USDA. I think lemon curd would be delicious made with this. Of course, lemon curd is almost always delicious, since it is mostly made of butter.

Two plans so far: make ice cream using the method I used for Thanksgiving Pumpkin ice cream (more later) and candied Meyer lemon peel for Florentines (in honour of RI who is not here to eat them but spoke eulogistically of the ones I made for Thanksgiving in a  Proustian mode, evoking bygone days in Oxford).  

Also, I have to report that Meyer lemon juice makes a very good cocktail when combined with ginger syrup, ice and gin – the Kelly Kick we are calling it – or, as this evening – combined with other left over citrus lurking around – a tangerine, half a pink grapefruit – truly delightful.  

Dinner was simple: fresh crab. And white wine. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Travelling with & for Food

  Eastern Sierras with plane engine
We arrived in Oakland, California for our winter visit to the West Coast having outdone ourselves.  No, really - I believe I've already bragged about the travel sandwiches that KK makes for me that make fellow passengers drool with envy, but this was different. The previous evening we grilled a side of wild caught salmon and ate it with Carolina Gold Rice, wilted spicy greens from the garden and an improvised and wholly delicious sorrel sauce  – sorrel from the garden, loads of butter, some wine from the box left over from BGK’s visit last winter and the yolk of a freshly laid egg of the white hen. Thanks, white hen.  So we mixed our leftover salmon with a very little mayonnaise and took with us slices of home-made bread, arugula & mustard greens from the garden and jolly tangerines. It was all delicious and so much nicer than airport food, which in any case, we wouldn’t have had time to purchase, as we made our flight with barely five minutes to spare - luckily it was only two gates away, barely far enough to get out of breath. 

So, back to Oakland.  KK had already requested a food pilgrimage  to the Nordic House on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley ( to buy Scandewegian food for Christmas. It's a proper store - i.e. smallish, with wooden floors and shelves and everything visible from one place.  Christmas decorations, books, candles that only smell of candle and specifically specific cooking tools.  

Aebleskiver pan for Danish pancakes
  Fattigmann cutter (???) for cookies
our Danish wedding cake was like this

As well as a vast panoply of implements for cutting and slicing cheese.  In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blomquist goes to stay on the island and looking through the drawers in the kitchen of the cabin, notices the absence of cheese slicer. This is of major cultural importance - we live in a house with four cheese slicers (and spare cheese wires) and hardly ever eat Danish cheese. The French house has no cheese slicers. There was a lot of pickled fish - mostly of the herring variety (delicious looking smoked eel), cured & fresh sausages and many kinds of extremely buttery cheeses. I remembered eating Samso as a child in Welwyn Garden City and so BGK kindly bought some for me but there were also a dozen varieties of Havarti, Gouda, Danbo aged and with caraway, Esrom (another mystery cheese from childhood) and creamy blue cheeses, some in tubes (!). We left, not quite weighed down but with the essentials – leverpostej (liver paté) & medisterpolse   (Danish pork sausage) – the anchors of a well-behaved Danish cold table.  Asier was new to me  - pickled cucumbers to be eaten with leverpostej. I have tasted it. There were delicious looking biscuits & chocolates, marzipan and licorice in many forms, but we resisted the lure.  Except for the essential palaeg chokolade - thin tablets of dark (or milk if you must) chocolate especially designed to be eaten on buttered bread. We Frenchies like to eat dark chocolate on buttered bread and the Dutch eat chocolate sprinkles on bread, but it was a revelation to me that someone actually deliberately designed chocolate for bread. And it's good and you can't find it just anywhere (it doesn't even appear on the website). In Munich airport I was thrilled to discover a German equivalent - a little thicker but still perfekt. As you can see, the packet is still intact!    

KK then mentioned that on a previous visit to the Nordic House,  AK had taken him to an ice cream shop which he remembered quite fondly, so he nipped back into the store and asked for directions. Sure enough, it was just around the corner and we hied ourselves thither for dessert. 

ICI – 2948 College Avenue, Berkeley – their slogan is “Ici – ice-cream made here” – so full points for punnishness.  It’s a small store front on a street with interesting small shops and eateries, including a shop selling beautiful wool and silk clothing from Nepal and Burma – fabulous.  But I digress….we ate: Meyer Lemon ice cream – deliciously creamy and fragrant;  Pear and Quince sorbet – pretty in pink and slightly grainy – excellent flavour;  Chilli, Cashew and Coconut Ice cream – not overwhelmingly coconutty (a plus in my book) with the chewiness of slightly toasted cashews and a point of chilli; Pistachio and Sour Cherry ice cream -  looked so good I tasted it twice despite my pistachio problem, with a depth of pistachio flavour and the tartness of the cherries to help lift the flavour; and Coconut Sweet Rice  – light and pleasant. They make their own cones but we did not have a cone – not even one between us, which we regret. They were selling (rather expensive) ginger snap and Meyer Lemon ice cream sandwiches – what a good idea!  Regret those. And we did fall for an impulse buy of passionfruit marshmallows – guess whether they were good? In fact, marshmallows are not something to which I am culturally habituated, but a real, proper marshmallow made from the mallow and delicately flavoured with passion fruit which is a flavour I cannot resist is not bad. Their menu says that they make ice cream bonbons - bite-sized squares of ice cream dipped in chocolate - quelle bonne idée! I feel a dessert party coming on.

On the following day we went to .... that's a story for tomorrow but it does involve food and especially Meyer Lemons - bon appétit

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Repas de chasse

This post is for Jonathan who has been dedicated in his mostly fruitless  checking for new posts (I am ashamed) and Kate, whose (shameless) flattery stimulated my conscience and kicked my arse into gear.

There is only one hunting club in the village now, as the perversely named Amis de la Nature have ceased and desisted. Every year, the surviving club hosts a fund-raising meal - we don't know what they are raising funds for - maybe we don't want to know - but we do know that they raise quite a lot. This year, the weather was clement, neither too hot nor too cold and there were over 50 of us, half of whom were not French. If I remember rightly, the cost of this princely repast was €15.00. The company was good, the meal incredibly long and the chairs uncomfortable as usual; they are chairs from the old school with pointy metal legs that sink into the ground unevenly and at odd times, so that you list or fall over backwards, even without the aid of alcohol.  The daughter and I have an advantage; our house is only a few hundred yards away, so we can go and rest horizontally at intervals, and use our own loo.
Naturally, we start with apéritif - whisky, pernod, pineau or rosé with something nasty in it. I should own up right now: the patch of grass under my chair got damper as the afternoon wore on and not as a result of my incontinence. The rosé apéritif was revolting. Only my opinion. I think they put grapefruit syrup in it. Why? I should have stuck to pineau. Still, there was no lack of wine later on.

Alan trieschabrol
First up  - potage, without which no meal is complete. Tomato and vermicelli made by the kind and warm Michèle, wife of a hunt club officer and meat cremator. At this point in the meal it is crucial not to eat too much - leave off the bread (from Gérald the Baker) and resist taking seconds of soup - really! Traditionally, in the south of France, men save the broth of their last bowlful. pour some red wine into the soup, slosh it round and then drink the concoction straight from the bowl, often straining it through their moustaches. This is called chabrol and is pretty tasty.

Then a very nice surprise - the "fish" course turned out to be this nicely arranged platter of poached salmon, mayonnaise, tomato, salad and a very good piece of rabbit terrine. Yum. This served with a rosé which quickly ended up anointing the grass under the table. It’s not that I’m a wine snob, but I do have limits. The rosé clearly tipped the balance. At this point we are all feeling very cheerful and not at all over stuffed. We view the world and our companions with equanimity. Then came my downfall - the civet. I love civet - it can be made with venison, hare, rabbit - I really don't care. It is dark and unctuous and savourful. It is tender and tasty. It falls in poetic shreds on its pieces of garlic-rubbed bread. And I have seconds because it is so good and even though I know better - actually, I am hoist with my own knowing better, because I think that the grilled meat to come may not be very good. As it turns out I am wrong. Oh woe! I know that it doesn't look much - but trust me...
Lovely civet, oh civet my love...
Civet may or may not be made by cooking the meat in the blood of the animal - what it really is, is a dark, slow-cooked stew, with red wine, herbs and spices. Originally it was a meat dish cooked with chives or green onions - some sort of oniony thing, anyway. This civet, also made by Michèle, who later told me that she thought there was too much food (quelle idée!), was delicious and I wanted to take it home to look after it and make sure that it wasn't ill-treated but no one would let me. Then there was a pause for consideration while they brought around tombola tickets for sale and consternation as we watched the huntsmen begin to light the fire for the next course. At this point it was after 2pm and I went to lie down for a bit and wonder idly why the fire hadn’t been lit before. 
Then I drank some more wine, sauntered around and took some more photos and messed about with the new video app I had loaded that very morning.

Hot, hot hot...

Man, meat & fire

Part of the reason they weren’t bothered about the fire was that it was incredibly fierce and hot and they put the grill right on top of it, so it took about 5 seconds for the meat to cook. 
The meat didn’t look at all appetizing in its marinade of olive oil, herbs, spices, wine and etc., in which it had been sitting for 2 whole days. But it was delicious and tender. The piece I had was perfectly cooked – yes, just one piece. Even the blacksmith only had thirds this year – last year he had sevenths but he says the pieces were much smaller then. Served with beans, of course, cooked with pig rind, by Michèle.

Paulus tempts Roger with more grilled meat
Kate affects to ignore grilled meat

Beans, bread, wine - happiness
At some point in the proceedings the prizes were drawn for the tombola but it’s all a bit of a protein induced coma from this point on.  The General did a bilingual monologue, teasing and cajoling winners and losers. And there was much hilarity. I didn’t eat the cheese or the enormous portion of apple tart but I did have coffee and Armagnac, the latter served with a very heavy hand and I know that I was not alone in irrigating the ground under the table with horizontal lubricant. It was after 4pm before we heaved our way down the road and lay supine in calorified attitudes. And we did not eat an evening meal...I'm still not sorry I ate so much civet but I am sorry that there isn't any in my freezer.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Too much food, too little time to write

2011 – First week – On 1st January at 1.30 a.m. I groaned into bed and said to KK: “I don’t want to eat anymore.” Right.  Well, last week KK was in Texas and I was at home with a relatively empty fridge into which I barely glanced for the next 5 days of light snacking & no cooking (apart from cooking beans because otherwise they would revert to green ooze and trying some delicious, locally cured bacon). Now, after two days “snowed in” together in South Carolina, cooking and eating has resumed. I have also resumed my resolution, begun after Thanksgiving, to use at least one thing from freezer or store cupboard every day. We store and collect food as if our lives depended on it. Which luckily for us they don’t, at least not at present. The large freezer is full which doesn’t prevent me from buying more stuff to go in it, however hard I think I won’t. For example, last week our local healthy supermarket (Earthfare had a coupon for a “free” (with a $5 purchase) pound of skinless chicken breast (a thing I never normally buy, except to make Martha Stewart’s root and bean soup – I know!). So obviously I spent more than $5 and the chicken breast is in the freezer. Anyway, snowfall in this household leads to alcoholic beverages made with snow. When we lived in Northern Arizona we invented the Snogarita (ugly name – fabulous drink, sometimes leads to snogging) and we made snow bread. So on Monday, we had snogaritas before lunch and dinner (only one each) and I made snow bread which turned out well considering how wet the dough was; the crumb is aerated and perfect and the flavour well-developed. Damp dough in part caused by having to use ordinary all-purpose flour as I didn’t have enough bread flour.
 I failed to take the weather warnings seriously and thus didn’t run out to buy milk, eggs and bread, or indeed bread flour. Have I mentioned how much I like King Arthur flours? 
 Lunch was a low fat Porc à la Moutarde which didn’t suffer at all from being low fat, made with dried mushrooms since I hadn’t run out to buy mushrooms either. I wasn’t thinking about food then. Served with freshly made pasta and green beans. Today for lunch, we ate a delicious lasagna with salad and thereby hangs a food tale.

Pasta Sunday
I spent Sunday afternoon with CH in her lovely orange kitchen happily making pasta. She had made a vat of ragù bolognese the day before, so we spent a few hours nattering, drinking tea, kneading, rolling, cutting and making a sloppy mess on the kitchen floor. The result was three large lasagnas and four modest servings of tagliatelle. Then we retired to the sitting room to drink red wine and eat bread dipped in olive oil and dukkah – an Egyptian mix of toasted nuts and seeds which is delicious. As CH said, it provides all the necessary salt and fat of a good apéritif snack. It apparently can be made with almonds or chickpeas but seems invariably to contain sesame seeds, hazelnuts, coriander and cumin seeds, salt & pepper. Seems like a good mixture to add to many dishes – grilled meats, pasta, salads…

Back to lunch today - after the lasagna was cooked, I decided to use some of the parsnips lurking at the back of the veg drawer – we tend to curate parsnips as they are sometimes difficult to obtain in the US and in France, come to that. I found a recipe on the invaluable BBC food website – - fantastically useful site – for a roasted spiced parsnip soup (see below for recipe). I have made curried parsnip soups before but never a roasted one. The principle would work for any vegetable soup I expect – butternut squash, for example, would be delicious. Pretty good and I still have a reserved pack of parsnips in the fridge to make braised root vegetables later in the week along with the lovely beetroot lurking in the pantry. At least I would do that, but it seems we won’t be eating together just the two of us for at least the next 5 days, except at breakfast. Oh well, at least they keep. Also – the roasted parsnips were delicious before souping – could be happily eaten as they were.

Then I was struck by a fit of forethought – this was also linked to rummaging in the veg drawer 
whilst getting out saladings to accompany the delicious lasagna.  For some time, (weeks? months??) there has been a bag of fantastic root ginger in there – we use pieces regularly – but I bought a huge amount somewhere because it was beautiful, crisp and tender and aromatic. On a recent trip to New Orleans (about which more, later), we went to a great little bar called Tonique thus named because the owner makes his own tonic water using Cinchona bark – really! It makes a fabulous G&T – slightly pink from the bark and not at all sweet. We had to go there because KK had heard about this phenomenon – he did not himself imbibe the G&T but had other delicious cocktails – and my second cocktail, because all this was very exciting, was a Tru Kick made with organic Tru gin, lemon juice, lime juice, Fee Brother’s peach bitters and ginger simple syrup. So with my forethought, I made a ginger simple syrup with black peppercorns. I ½ cup water, I cup sugar, lots of peeled and chopped ginger and 1 ½ teaspoons of black peppercorns. Simmer the lot until you have reached the appropriate pungency – would be fantastic on vanilla ice cream, or chocolate ice cream, or... We have saved the aromatics for another go around. So that’s the evening cocktail, also made with snow and with Fee Brother’s grapefruit bitters instead of peach because that‘s what we have and they were kindly purveyed by AK all the way from Portland (but are apparently available on Amazon! Whatever next?), and laced with Dutch Ivanabitch gin provided by the daughter’s generous father-in-law who also provided some Catdaddy moonshine - (more on that later too). The son-in-law says it’s not moonshine if it’s not drunk out of a Mason jar and I am inclined to agree with him, since I think that real moonshine probably tastes as though you shouldn’t drink it at all if you know what’s good for you, and this tastes amazing – in a good way. In fact, the Bitch Kick was almost perfect – for two fairly serious drinks, juice of one each of lemon & lime topped up with ginger syrup to your taste – and you have to taste it as you go (no, really!), a measure of gin, dash or two of bitters (I tried it with and without, and it was better with bitters but you must be careful not to overdo it – the bitters tie the flavours together somehow) and fill up the glass with snow, or add three or four ice cubes. Might be my perfect cocktail – a little sour, a little spicy and gin – what could be better?

After our delicious lunch, I decided that cake was indicated. KK was delegated to choose some sort of baked good from my new cookery book given to me for Christmas by the lovely daughter – The Great British Book of Baking­ – which is the book of the programme and contest The Great British Bake-Off – thank you BBC – what a lovely programme, all good food and nice people who liked one another and cried when other people didn’t make it to the next round. People you’d like to invite for tea. The book contains 150 recipes all of which we’d like to try. Which is remarkable in a cookery book, I find. Anyway, KK chose Lemon Drizzle Cake. And it is delicious. It behaved as described and we could find nothing that we thought should be changed. Texture was light and uniform, it came out of the tin in a gentlemanly fashion, the glaze penetrated just the right amount and the bottom was slightly crispy. Isn’t it pretty? Recipe below… Also it will serve as our dessert tomorrow when we dine in impromptu fashion with foodie friends – KK suggests a little vanilla ice cream to go with it. I thought blueberries might go well – a few blueberries soaked in lemon infused vodka?? We’ll see… Today has been a good food day – supper, after the Bitch Kick we will eat spicy parsnip soup, snow bread and cheese. We are lucky.

Lemon Drizzle Cake
Start doing this 2 hours before you might want to eat cake.
Get milk, eggs and butter out of fridge - have a cup of tea or something - wait a while
Heat oven now!

Oven at 180C/350F/GM4
20cm/8” spring form or other deep round cake tin/pan, greased and lined with greaseproof/parchment paper
Scales/Cup measure
Spoon measure
Zester – do invest in a microplane grater – you will love it once you have mastered not grating your fingers – massively useful and efficient
Oven glove

AND for the cake
Unsalted butter 200g/2 sticks very soft
Caster sugar 250g/1 cup (take granulated sugar and put it in a blender or coffee mill till fine)
Eggs – 3,  beaten @ room temperature
Lemons - 2, finely grated zest
Self rising flour - 250g/2 ¾ cup
Baking powder - ½ teaspoon
Milk – 100ml/less than ½ cup @ room temp.

The oven is already heating, no? Put all cake ingredients into your mixer bowl, sifting in flour and baking powder and adding milk last of all. Mix till smooth. Put in tin which you have greased using the butter wrapper (go on, fish it out of the bin). Bake till brown & firm – test with toothpick – about 50 minutes depending on your oven. Meanwhile, mix topping ingredients, stir to dissolve sugar.

AND for the topping
Caster sugar 100g/½ cup
Lemons – 2, juice  (see above)
Lemon – 1, finely grated zest (the juice from this one can go in your Bitch Kick!)

As soon as cake is cooked, stand it on a cooling rack and prick all over with toothpick, then quickly spoon topping over. Leave to cool completely before removing from tin.
Now, I forgot the paper and decided to take it out of the tin before I put the sticky stuff on. It popped out beautifully and cooled down more rapidly, so we could eat it sooner.  
Time for tea!

Spiced roasted parsnip soup

Hot oven
Chopping board
Can opener
Oven proof dish – flat
Pan for the soup
Oven glove
Parsnips – 600g/1 ½ lbs, in small cubes – don’t bother peeling
Onion – 1 medium, cut in 8
Tomatoes, 2 plum tinned – cut up
Coriander & Cumin seed – 2T each
Mustard seed – 1T
Turmeric powder – 1T
Olive oil - 2T
Water - 1.2l/5 cups
Marigold stock powder – 4 t  

Cut up as many parsnips as you have into pieces a little larger than a sugar cube, add the onion & tomatoes; mix them all together in some sort of oven proof receptacle, sprinkle with spices and olive oil; swish it around till it’s all evenly coated and shove it in a reasonably hot oven until the roots are browned and soft. Then you add stock (or in this case, water and Marigold bouillon powder – love that Marigold ) and liquidize using your preferred tool till you get the texture and consistency you prefer. Add toasted cumin to serve if you like and some sour cream which it probably doesn’t need.

Porc à la moutarde
I could be irritatingly facetious and say: "Cook it like rabbit in mustard" but now I've got that off my chest:

Chopping board
Medium heavy bottomed pan
Frying pan for sautéing fresh mushrooms or small pan for boiling dried mushroom 
Pork -  2 shoulder chops gave enough for three or four, chopped in bite-sized pieces 
Shallots - 2, finely chopped 
Olive oil
White wine
Mushrooms, fresh, as many as you like - chopped and sautéd; or dried, 1 T rehydrated in boiling water - DO NOT DISCARD THE WATER
Mustard - 2 T, Dijon (natch!) 
Salt if necessary
Cream - 1or 2 T - crème fraîche or sour cream or double cream

Sauté shallots in olive oil on low heat - do not brown. Add a small glass of white wine and simmer till liquid has evaporated. Remove. Sauté pork in a little olive oil till brown. Add a glass of white wine and the shallots. Cook for a while on a low heat. Add a large tablespoon of mustard. Add liquid when necessary - you need to always have liquid because you want sauce at the end. Cook for about 20 minutes till meat is tender. Turn off heat. Taste. Add mustard and salt if necessary. The sauce should taste slightly, but not overwhelmingly of mustard. Add the cream but don't overdo it. Strive for balance! Serve with pasta - preferably fresh pasta that you made the day before with a friend! And something green.

Useful website
 converts weights & measures using actual food stuffs from metric & Imperial to Cups and tsps etc.