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Posts Tagged ‘flour’

I love lemons and I love old recipes. Recently, after a long hiatus that involved too much hither and yonning all over the state, I got on Google maps and actually found my kitchen again. The above and below are testament to what can be done while exhausted and needing to be comforted.

My friend Rachel loves to bring me little treats when she visits, and last September she brought me a copy of Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book (1942). I don’t mind relaying that I can do without their recipe for Boiled Asparagus, and don’t understand the preoccupation of the day with suspending almost anything in gelatin. But most of the recipes are true blue, and many more look really incredible; to my modern mind, the authors show a wonderful audacity with ingredients and flavors, and I really, really envy how common oysters, black walnuts, and persimmons were back then. Whew.

But a few days ago I was in the mood for lemons, certainly because it’s spring and they’re in season, and also likely because I was run down and in need of a smack of citrus. This was a treat: Called Delicate Lemon Pudding, it combines lemon juice and zest, sugar, milk, egg yolks, egg whites beat to stiff peaks, butter, and a little bit of flour to hold it all together. It gets poured into a baking dish, set in a bain-marie, and baked. Then it goes into the fridge to chill up.

I made this during last week’s heat wave and told my friends I imagined people in the ’40s pulling it out of the icebox on a sultry day. Did it myself. When you dip into it, the pudding has an appealing way of being dry and tender on top (that’s the browned meringue), frothy in the middle, and sweet and milky underneath, almost like a lemon milkshake. Next time I’ll use less sugar and more lemon juice and zest, but it was a really lovely win.

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I found muscatel raisins after eight tries. Statistics show* most people give up on muscatels after two or three.

It’s not that I have a personal thing against Thompsons, the garden-variety dark raisins we all know. But an Irish reader gave me an old Christmastime recipe (‘Raisin Cake from the Blasket Islands’) that calls for a half-pound of muscatels, and I’ve never used them or even tasted them before. I wanted to honor the recipe, as well as the recipe writer, who gets a virtual kiss for translating archaic measurements like ‘a small knob of butter’ and ‘3 mugfuls of flour’ into modern measurements.

Muscatels are double or triple the size of Thompsons, and they tend to be described as ‘big and meaty.’ This was appealing. And I like trying new things, learning new things. This conviction is compelling enough that I called all over the county and into New York City looking for these raisins.

I found them in my own town—if you can believe it—walking a couple of blocks in sideways rain, in a tiny store frequented by our Middle Eastern residents. The place had big cans of coconut milk, pita bread (they call it ‘Syrian bread’), and delectable staples like kibbe and sanbusak. The clear plastic container, labeled Rasins, cost $3 for over a pound. And man alive, they’re big and meaty.

When I made the cake, I plumped up the raisins even more in a festive trifecta of warm water, my homemade vanilla extract, and my newly distilled crab apple schnapps. There they are above, luxuriating in their boozy Jacuzzi.

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Rare mid-recipe action shot, which I avoid because I am very messy in the kitchen. Note the tight view.

Then a steam roll of ideas clicked together like IKEA end table joints when they actually fit, and the first came to me when I was nosing around the store. I was surrounded by unusual and exotic ingredients, so I got to thinking about techniques, and dishes, and cultures, and thought how wildly cool it is that there are so many different ways to live. Isn’t it the best kind of insane that if I decided tomorrow that I wanted to cook with whole coriander seeds, I could? That all I have to do is sniff it, learn how other cultures use it, and do what they do (and, bonus round, eventually end up experimenting with it until I discover something new)? That all I have to do is be curious about it in order to learn about it, and in doing so, my life gets a little bigger? That I can choose this?

…Then a friend posted about personal integrity via arbitrary food preferences, and I thought about how much I love differences of opinion** because Miss Sociology Nerd always finds it fascinating, expansive. (As I write this, another friend asked if I wanted to go out for Filipino food next week. How exciting is that? I get to taste flavors I’ve never tasted before!)

…Then I got to thinking about the socio-political atrocities in the news lately, and how much I believe it’s based on narrow-minded thinking that inevitably leads to narrow-minded acting.

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Just took it out of the oven, and it smells like a very buttery soda bread. And then I put it back in because the center sunk pitifully. I cut into it and it was all goopy. Nice. My tester lies like a tourist on a beach towel.

And here’s what I came up with: The problem is that insidious narrow-minded thinking. And it’s deliberate. Why in the name of the earth, heavens, and all assorted cherubim would we choose to make our lives smaller rather than bigger?

It’s a broader topic than one blog can tackle, much less a food blog, and I’m sure there’s more than one culprit. But if we want to discuss one of them:

I can remember a time in my own life when I made a point to make my life smaller, too. It was when I was really sick, stress sick from old crap that had been piling up unresolved for too long, and really, really terrified. My health was so erratic from day to day that I wanted routine and predictability in every other aspect of life. After about seven years I was pretty much clear of it, and wanted adventure on both a micro and micro scale.***

If my story sounds familiar and you have a sneaking suspicion it’s at least part of what’s keeping you from a big life, please take this as an emphatic nudge. It’s new-leaf time. We need to shake off the crap that we end up wearing for years on end, like Miss Havisham in her old wedding dress, worn every single day since she was stood up at the altar decades earlier. Old crap can’t be wished away; would that it could. And a mantra like ‘serenity now’—yeah, that doesn’t work. Here’s what does.

1) Tell the truth. Now tell the rest.

2) Spread it all out on the table, every little bit.

3) Get a coach to help you sift through it. Discuss, discern, discard.

4) Mourn whatever needs mourning. Then take off the damn dress.

The cake is out of the oven for the second time and I’m having a slice at tea time. Can’t wait to taste the difference between these raisins and Thompsons, as well as the difference between a cooked cake and one that has a center like lava.

Wishing you a life as big and meaty as a muscatel raisin.

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*Exhaustively researched by someone other than me. It’s possible.

**As long as—and this is a big as long as—they’re delivered respectfully and don’t attack anyone.

***We’d gone to Disney World every year and suddenly I wanted to go to the French Polynesia. Macro.

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I’m writing this with the taste of the above incredible dish still in my mouth, which, as decisions go, isn’t a half bad one.

The name and recipe are an adaptation of the much-beloved English dish, Toad-in-the-Hole. It was generously offered to me for my cooking project by Mike Batho, an English breadmaker*.

My also much-beloved Cooking of the British Isles (1969) says the dish was created as a way to use up meat left on the joint from Sunday dinner. Today, though, it’s usually enjoyed with sausages plopped into the center of Yorkshire pudding batter.

Huh? says the average American layman. Right, imagine a popover, that eggy, addictively yummy half roll, half souffle. Now imagine it saturated in rosemary oil and meat drippings so it crackles when you bite into it, making the staunchest vegetarian want to pounce face first into the pan like a manic Shih-Tzu. There it is.

A word about the sausages: I wanted a plain sausage for this. It’s not as easy to find in the contemporary U.S. as you might think. Not that there’s anything wrong with Sun-dried Tomato or Mild Italian or Apple Chardonnay—okay, fine, there’s something wrong with that last one—but I wanted to taste this in a traditional way. So I went with all-natural, local breakfast sausages, seasoned only with salt and pepper. Totally didn’t fail me.

And a note: bake this in a big enough pan. I used a pie dish, which made the oil pool up and drizzle into the oven in an unappetizing manner. (You’d think I would have remembered the events of this debacle. Didn’t). If you, too, are more charmed by your yellow Le Creuset ceramic pie dish than by practicality, set a rimmed cookie sheet underneath it.

The dish comes together very quickly. The batter takes about 5 minutes, then it goes into the fridge to relax. Once you’re ready to cook, it takes about 20 minutes.

Mike’s comments are in parentheses; mine are in brackets.

For the Yorkshire pudding mix I used approximately 200g {1 cup} of plain flour, 200ml {about a cup} milk (I used semi) and 4 large free range eggs. Whisk everything together until smooth, & season with salt & pepper. I made the batter a good few hours in advance as it benefits from sitting in the fridge a while. You can make it the night before if you like.

In a small saucepan, heat a mixture of olive & sunflower oils & add a few sprigs of rosemary*. You want about an inch of oil in a small milk pan. When the rosemary has become crisp and has infused the oil, turn off the heat & let it stand until you’re ready to cook.

Heat the oven to 200g {about 400 degrees F}. Place your sausages in the bottom of a large, shallow ovenproof dish. Allow them to colour in the oven for about 15 minutes. Add your rosemary oil to the dish & return to the oven until smoking hot. Pour over your batter and cook for 20 – 25 minutes or until it’s puffed up & golden. Don’t open the oven for at least 20 minutes or you might have a disastrous collapsed pud.

Serve with whatever veggies you like. {Sauteed mushrooms for me.} We had ours with a huge mound of colcannon & red onion gravy. {Though I would not quibble with this.} Bleeding marvellous it was too.

*

Here in the States we’d call this oeuvre something like freaking amazing, but I am an Anglophile, so I’d have to echo Mike’s review.

And just to gild the pud with bacon drippings or however the saying goes, I read Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett), classic English novel, while eating this classic English dish.

Cheers, Mike!

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*Mike Batho

Manchester, England

breadstead.co.uk/test-2/

**I went to the store to buy this, and by went to the store I mean I walked six blocks to my old apartment where I planted herbs out front 15 years ago, and plucked a sprig. The next recipe that calls for oregano will have the same outcome.

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Warm marshmallow frosting for Devil Dog cupcakes. Random. Not in the post. Whatever.

I’ve gotten the impression, after talking to people about food and and reading a lot about food (which is what I do in my spare time when I’m not eating), that many people avoid cooking for two reasons. It’s because they’re either lacking proper information, proper equipment, or both.

Here, then, a list. Above all, please keep in mind the helpful words of the late and much-lamented Douglas Adams: Don’t Panic. You’re not supposed to loathe cooking. My goal here is to make the kitchen more approachable. This stuff you can do.

1. Get over your fear of freezing. I was taught that freezing any food besides uncooked meat ruins it. Freezer burn was a yucky reality in days of yore, and everything else from the freezer had a weird taste. Pretty sure most of this was due to poor-quality storage containers. But today you can safely freeze almost anything as long as you make sure it’s a) completely cooled and b) use plastic freezer zip-close bags. Make sure the box says ‘freezer’ on it. Slice up your fresh babka or bagels, squeeze the air out of the bag, close it and chuck it in the freezer. In the morning, take a slice out of the bag and set it on a plate.* Then go blow-dry your hair and find your shoes. By the time you’ve done that, your breakfast will be ready to eat. It will taste the same as the day you baked or bought it.

2) Repurpose utensils. I use my kitchen scissors to snip scallions and pieces of bell pepper; I smush up apples into applesauce with a potato masher; I whisk with a fork. Don’t buy any utensil that has just one purpose (garlic press, ice cream cookie sandwich mold). You’ll use it once, then it will clog up your drawers. Go low tech and open up the format with how you use your utensils.

3) Buy three good-quality knives and give away the rest. This is huge. I’m convinced that a lot of people who think they’re no good at cooking or get frustrated just at the thought of it aren’t using decent equipment. Knives are first on that list. You need a paring knife (to cut small stuff that you can’t snip with your scissors), a chef’s knife (to chop big stuff, herbs, or chicken) and a serrated knife (for slicing bread, tomatoes, and chopping chocolate or nuts). Knives should be somewhat heavy and the handle should not be made out of crap plastic. Be sure that the metal of the knife extends right down through the handle for good balance. If your knife is flimsy, you’ll be fighting with it to chop, it’s going to break by Thursday, and what’s more, it’s dangerous.

4) Unless you’re serving a cake to company and are excessively precise, ignore recipes that tell you to both butter and flour the pan. Wow. Okay, that one’s done.

5) If you’re a novice cook and want to have people over, go with simple, straightforward recipes. Novices tend to make pheasant under glass and petit fours with spun sugar, usually with nose-dive results. They want to impress their friends. Their friends, on the other hand, want to eat. Ask around for recipes that are tried and true, pace yourself, and read the recipe all the way through before starting so you know what ingredients and utensils you need. Make brownies for dessert.

What did I leave out?

*If you’re lucky enough to have a radiator, put the plate on it. I have a cookie sheet on top of my kitchen radiator for just this purpose. Me efficient.

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I do love me a hot cross bun. The kind from the store are okay, but homemade ones are a totally different animal. A very cozy, awesome, affectionate animal. My recipe is from The Joy of Cooking*. It’s a milk bread spiced up with cinnamon and nutmeg and sweetened with a handful of raisins**.

Hot cross buns are very easy to make. I baked them one morning this past week—a wildly hectic week, quite frankly—and didn’t sweat it. Simple, fun, great payoff, kids (especially the little ‘uns) adore cooking…it got me to wondering why more people don’t bake them at home. I think part of it is yeast anxiety. True? Maybe we perceive ordinary things like sugar and eggs and flour as controllable. But we think of yeast as something with a mind of its own. It’s not the case. To an extent, every ingredient on Earth as well as several on Jupiter has a mind of its own. The way to work well with ingredients is to understand them. Don’t frazzle; just know that if you add a little sugar and warm water to yeast, it will grow and make a bread. That’s really it.

Here’s butter melting in a heavy pan. Lovely way to begin anything.

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Added dry ingredients and stirred with a fork until it becomes, below, what some recipes call ‘shaggy’. Post gratuitous Scooby-Doo references in the comments below.

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Once it came together, I added the raisins and kneaded it for a while until it became smooth and stretchy. Then I covered it with a dishtowel (with a piece of parchment underneath to keep it from sticking) and set it on my radiator (which was warm, but not hot, that day). Here’s how it looked after it rose.

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I punched it down (the English call it ‘knocking it down’) and let it rise again. Dumped it out onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and pondered for an inordinate amount of time whether I wanted to make just one BIG bun. It’s tempting, right?

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Enjoys walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and fantasies of world domination.

But nah.

Cut the dough into buns and brushed them with just milk. I was out of eggs, so I couldn’t make an egg wash (which is one egg mixed with milk or cream, to make the tops Saint-Tropez tan).

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Plain milk worked fine.

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I icing’ed one with powdered sugar that had a little milk stirred in and made a cross to salute tradition.

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And then I decorated the rest differently since I’m agnostic. Either way, they taste the same: fantastic.

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*The book’s 15 years old and the binding’s split and duct taped. Good thing we don’t all go to seed so early in life.

** I think it needs two handfuls, but that’s me.

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Hot sourdough bread with butter.

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Same slice. I just couldn’t decide which was the purtier.

So maybe it’s because I went from making a 12-ingredient* fruitcake over Christmas to drizzling Baileys into snow last week that’s really making me appreciate the value of simplicity. Or maybe it’s because I’m an editor as well as a writer, and stripping the superfluous out of everything from copy to my Facebook friends list to food ingredients appeals to me. Or—this is probably it—it’s that the simpler the ingredients and prep, the more satisfying the dish.

People usually assume that since I’m a food writer I put all of my focus on fancy restaurants, but to be honest, the opposite is true: I don’t care about fine dining. I care about ingredients. Choose the best ingredients and don’t mess with them too much. Why should you? They already had big plans to speak for themselves.

Years ago Dr. Andrew Weil said his idea of the ultimate dessert was good-quality dark chocolate along  with fruit, in season (this matters) and perfectly ripe. It’s both healthy and heavenly.

For a real challenge along those lines, for a week (or more) keep recipe ingredients down to the bare minimum—three to five, tops. Pared down just to the essence of themselves, offered in the best possible light with the matchmaking** of your two sweet hands, and people start to call you a good cook. It’s nutty.

The shots here are bloody good memories of mine. Every component of every dish is of good quality and consequently didn’t fail me. And none have more than five ingredients.

I’d continue, but I don’t want to shoot my premise in the foot.***

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Just-picked organic strawberries and cream.

Mozzarella in carrozza: a cheese sandwich dipped in egg, dredged in flour, and butter-fried.

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Organic figs I picked, then dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel.

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Scotch Woodcock: toast smeared with butter and anchovy paste, then topped with very softly cooked scrambled eggs and a couple whole fishie cuties.

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Lemon curd: lemon zest, juice, sugar and eggs, plus a little pat of butter.

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Gianduja (homemade Nutella): dark chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, sugar, cream and butter.

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Popovers: all-purpose flour, eggs, milk, butter and salt.

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A pineapple kebob-like thing I came up with: fresh cut pineapple doused in Malibu rum and dusted with sweetened shredded coconut.

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Another invention of mine: mulberries picked from the tree outside my balcony and cooked down into a jam with sugar, several hefty splashes of Petite Syrah, and ground cardamom.

*And it would have been 13 but I couldn’t find candied angelica.

**I couldn’t think of this word. I could only think of ‘shiddoch’. True story. So I Googled that to get me to the English word. The nine remaining drops of my sanity are going to fall out of my ears one of these days.

***I also mix metaphors the way good things come to those who take the bull by the horns.

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Last fall Charles Luce, one of my LinkedIn colleagues and owner of Luce’s Gluten-Free Artisan Bread, asked if I would review one of his bread mixes. I don’t typically use this forum for reviews, but was happy to in this case, one, because Charles has taught me so much about mushroom foraging (another of his skills) and I’m grateful; and two, because I am a carb girl, and thus open to any new horizons in a carb-like capacity. On his site Charles says ‘great bread is everyone’s birthright,’ and I bow to those words; they’re true, with no exaggeration at all. While I am not on a gluten-free diet, I was curious to find out what a homemade gluten-free bread would be like, in both taste and texture. And yes, I had a degree or two of skepticism.

The sourdough mix arrived in a paper pouch with bench flour, parchment cut in precisely the size needed for the loaf, and a baking bag. It also came with remarkably detailed instructions on how to bake and enjoy the bread, down to how many strokes are needed to stir the dough. It’s very easy. I followed the instructions to the letter, slid the dough into the baking bag and into the oven it went. It was a cute little loaf, not the big San Francisco kind. But right for dinner or a few sandwiches.

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Or toasted with butter.

Out of the oven it came once it was nutty brown, and I waited for it to cool (both per the instructions). I pulled it apart; I wanted to see what kind of crumb I was dealing with. The crumb was no different than any other sourdough. I took a bite without any topping on it; I wanted to see what kind of flavor I was dealing with. And again, it was simply sourdough—just honest, crusty, tangy sourdough. I wrote to Charles that night and told him if it were served to me at a restaurant and no one told me otherwise, I would never have known it was gluten free—a really pleasant surprise.

I sliced it up and froze the remainder, taking it out piece by piece when I was hungry, dolling it up with salmon salad, or butter, or goat cheese/hot pepper jelly. The bread became somewhat crumbly once defrosted; it might serve you best, as it did me, toasted.

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With fresh goat cheese and habanero jelly from another reader who owns Two Mile Creek Enterprises. That’s another review.

I’ve reviewed many products and restaurants, and it’s odd for me to endorse a product entirely. I guess there’s a first time for everything. Nice work, Charles.

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Christmas stollen.

On a bit of a Dickens kick right now, especially with that marginally famous Christmas book he wrote about the clashing of spirits and humans, light and dark, and plenty and impoverished.

To compare, I’m thinking of last Christmas, when Hurricane Sandy had just taken away possessions, houses, electric, gas, water and a sense of security and left behind a lot of numb. We learned what was a luxury and what wasn’t, and we learned it pretty quick. Since no gas stations had power either, all of us were worried about driving and running out of gas. Instead, those of us who still had homes stayed in them, froze, mourned, and climbed the walls a lot. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what it felt like to get gas, finally. I remember driving away feeling like someone had handed me a million dollars. For filling up my gas tank!

It’s not always the big, or cliche, or obvious things that foster a sense of abundance. Here are the Cadillacs in my own dreams.

1) Special foods. You knew I was going here, and I can’t think of a worthier co-pilot than Dickens. His descriptions of holiday foods in Stave Three, mugged up by the Ghost of Christmas Present, are nothing short of glorious. And poignant: his father was jailed for unpaid debts, and he himself was deep into debt, and hungry, when he wrote the book. Those who know hunger describe food in mesmerizing detail, and those who used to be hungry never forget what it feels like. This was Dickens; and here he chooses words that, when spoken aloud, give the reader’s mouth a workout and make it water.* Try it:

Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.

It’s also striking, and essential, to note that when Dickens later illustrates the Cratchits’ Christmas meal, he gives just as much heart to writing it as he does the above. They had very little—their pudding was the size of a musket ball and had to feed seven. Do they complain? No—they’re thrilled. And they feel genuinely full, and genuinely grateful, after the meal. His point: Appreciating abundance is about perspective.

Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle. These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done.

As for me, I have crystallized ginger standing by for gingerbread, Saigon cinnamon for my mom’s sour cream coffee cake, and nearly a dozen Meyer lemons in the fridge about to become lemon curd, a religious conversion if there ever was one. I also bought organic chicken legs for a song this week at Trader Joe’s. Americans have never gone for dark meat the way the rest of the world has, and I’m grateful to get the spoils.

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Meyers.

Since I’m on a happy roll, right now my freezer contains four kinds of flour, my own tomato sauce, my mom’s cranberry bread, my sister’s cuccidati, the remnants of my fruitcake, and three bottles of my homemade Limoncello. I am very wealthy squirrel.

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Cinnamon-chocolate sour cream cake.

2) Quiet. Today my fire alarm started chirping, loudly, indicating it had a low battery. Very no big deal, except for the fact that my ceilings are 9′ high, and even with my stepladder trying to reach it was a bad joke. No ladders in the basement. Plan B had me moving my mid-century dining room table into the hallway, stacking the Chicago Manual of Style, Home Comforts, and Little Women on it, and standing on them. I pulled it down, then became horrified when it kept chirping. Messages to my building manager came to nothing, and by afternoon I was wondering whether sleeping in the car would really be as uncomfortable as it sounded. Then it occurred to me that the chirping might be coming from my CO detector. It was. I yanked out the batteries and promptly took a nap. Wrapped myself in swaddling clothes—okay, a throw blanket from Target—and drank in the abundance of quiet like a hot buttered rum.

3) The beauty in everywhere. This Navajo blessing will sink in, whether you’re inhaling the salt air at the beach or if you’re alone in a park that’s all stark winter gorgeousness. But the crazy thing is it will sink in no matter where you are. It just takes a clear eye and an open heart.

Really—give it a whirl right now, no matter where you’re reading this. Take in the details, the stuff you didn’t notice before, and let yourself fill up.

With beauty before me I walk/With beauty behind me I walk/With beauty above me I walk/With beauty around me I walk.

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I took the below shot awhile back, in a nearby park. The air was very still and cold, and although I was in the middle of such vastness, it wasn’t intimidating; it was comfortable, and filling.

I love this ancient sycamore against the miles beyond it.

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And then there’s another kind of tree, and view. It’s a lot smaller, but it does the job of filling me up pretty well, too.

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*This is a literary device that has a name, and since I’m a couple of decades out of college I can’t remember what it’s called. Please tell me if you know. Yes, I tried Google. It can be overrated.

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I’ve always been fascinated by things that make no sense on paper. Like meeting someone and feeling an immediate and inexplicable connection. Or one day feeling absolutely compelled to go to Mexico.* Or this: A week or so ago I picked corn—off a cornstalk, that is—for the first time. And I loved it, just as much as I loved digging for potatoes.** Which was especially great because I’d been wanting to make a recipe I’d accepted for my year-long cooking project, one from a friend who was raised in Ohio and now lives in Maryland.

I’ve never had corn fritters before, let alone made them, but I figured using local, organic corn I’d picked that afternoon could hardly foul up the recipe.

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Not as high as an elephant’s eye. But maybe a well-fed hippo’s.

I’d read that to test of an ear of corn for ripeness you’re supposed to peel back a little of the husk and pierce an end kernel with a fingernail. If corn juice squirts out, you’re apparently good. Here’s a simpler method: If the ear’s fat, it’s ready.

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Really beautiful, and I didn’t see any children. Bonus.

When I got home I set about the less-than-enjoyable task of stripping the kernels by standing ears upright in a bowl and scraping them down with a chef’s knife. This is a task that at the very least means searching for 92 errant wet kernels that have ricocheted out of the bowl, and at the very worst means assassinating your bowl by impalement. The first happens every single time, the second not yet. I need a better idea. Send ’em if you have ’em.

I’ve never cooked with lard, although I’m not afraid to. It has a murky reputation—people have the idea that it’s horrible for you—but it actually has less saturated fat than butter. Finding it isn’t as easy to come by in suburban New Jersey as you’d think. Kidding. But I’ve read that New Jersey was once comparable to Parma when it came to pig production, and specifically fine hams. Would that it were still the case.

Not today. And I found just one variety, but it was so processed that it didn’t need to be refrigerated, which grossed me out considerably. Finally I went with a pat of butter. And it was good, but I’m not giving up on finding decent lard. The flavor’s got to be outrageous.

This recipe does not call for salt. I put a pinch in the batter and liked it, but as we say in publishing, this is purely a style issue. Add it or don’t. On the whole, the recipe is wonderfully Midwestern, reflective of the many Midwesterners I am proud to call friends—straightforward, unfussy, honest and utterly free of pretension. These fritters are not meant to impress. They are simply meant to taste good, which, quite frankly, matters a whole bunch.

And if you get the opportunity to pick your corn off the stalk…please put on your boots and jump at the chance. There’s nothing like it.

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Corn Fritters

6 ears corn kernels, cut fine (I mashed a few with a potato masher and left a few whole because I like texture. Again, a style issue.)

1/2 c all-purpose flour

1/2 c milk

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

1 tbsp lard

Mix, drop by half-cupfuls into hot fat, and fry. Flip when browned. Serve hot. (Medium low heat will work to cook the inside; meanwhile the outside will brown up all pretty pretty.)

Jo Grundy

Sykesville, MD

Thanks, Jobo!

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*The first has happened to me. The second happened to my uncle, decades ago. He went down the church steps with his family one Sunday and casually said, ‘I think I’ll go to Mexico today.’ And he WENT. That was the kind of guy he was.

**Silverton Farms in Toms River, NJ allows customers to pick almost anything, which is insanely cool. I asked the young student who works there if any other customers dig for potatoes besides me, and shocker, she barely blinked: ‘No, just you.’

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Whenever I tell people I’m a food writer they always assume I have Food Network standards, or that I’m a gourmet cook. And God knows I hate to be a buzzkill, but here I go.

Re: the first allegation—while the Food Network does hire some decent people, they also have no problem bringing on hacks who can decorate, or swear, or mug like rock stars, but not, you know, cook. In too many cases, shock value is what goes; the food, let alone the quality of it, is almost incidental.

Re: the second—that’s very nice of you, but still no. I’m actually way more boring than that. All I really care about is quality ingredients, prepared in a simple way that shows off how awesome they are. Ta dah. As opposed to the chef wrecking them as a sacrifice to his own ego. Can I please just eat without you handing me your resume with every bite?

Serenity now.

The following review isn’t for chain restaurants. They’re not about quality cooking; they’re about sticking to a formula. It’s for the independents that have gotten off track, or are new to the business, about to open a burger place called Berger’s Burgers Burgers and Burgers, and muse, ‘Wouldn’t a sushi bar look JUST FABOO in that back corner?’

Well—happy to help—it wouldn’t. And segues right into my first point.

1) For the love of all that is righteous, pick a cuisine. One.

Have you ever been to an Irish restaurant in the US that didn’t feature veggie fajitas on their menu along with shepherd’s pie?* Me neither. Restaurants and trying to please everyone are as cliche a pair as Rogaine and a Corvette. Be known for doing what you said you’d do, and doing it very well. I know a sock hop joint in South Jersey that’s known for their grilled cheese sandwiches (thepopshopusa.com. Count ’em—30 kinds of grilled cheese. Looky above for the one I got, the Haddon.). They’re freaking amazing at it, as evidenced by the happy customers who stand on line to get in without complaint.

2) Don’t throw flavors around like you trained at Chez Panisse.

Sometimes restaurants know how to combine unexpected flavors, and the results are successful. Other times it’s as if the kitchen staff wrote down every conceivable flavor on the planet, and some on Jupiter, tacked them to a wall, and then everybody did a shot, then started winging darts at the flavors.

‘Woo hoo—we’ve got two new flavors for our fish tacos! Let’s see…we’ve got…cilantro! And……..huh. Nutter Butter Swirl.’

Other times it’s clear they’re just cleaning out the fridge. That’s when they add ‘vinaigrette’ to throw us off the trail. Genius move.

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You forgot the applesauce and the bottom of the Hellmann’s jar.

3) Quit mailing it in.

Tomatoes. It’s high season. Buy local ones, for crying out loud. They’ll cost more than the pink ones that taste like wet tube socks, but people will remember how intensely flavored the tomatoes on your sandwiches were. They’ll be further impressed that you source locally (people do want to hear this today) and will be back, begging for it. Go ahead and charge more. We’ll pay it because it’s worth it. Promise.

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Juicy, runny, and worth licking off your arms.

Then there was the time last month when a bunch of us went out after a show. I asked the server what was on tap for dessert. My friend Tom started laughing and said, ‘You just want to see a dessert menu so you can mock it.’

But I’m hoping it’s good. I am! I’m genuinely rooting for you, hoping there’s somebody in the kitchen who’s making something yummy from scratch. I would be thrilled to order it, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at times with wonderful treats in restaurants. (That’s homemade Italian ricotta cheesecake below, from Portofino in Tinton Falls. Best I have ever eaten, anywhere. And it came just as you see it, with the lightest ever powdered-sugar snowfall.)

But oh yeah, I’ll cheerfully mock the dessert menu if I sense everything they offer is frozen, and/or was borne of a paper pouch, and/or otherwise tastes like it’s full of fake and acrimony. And wouldn’t they kind of deserve it?

Can we all agree that cake mixes uniformly blow? The real thing is chocolate, butter, sugar, flour and eggs. A five-year-old can swing that. $9 for something they shook out of a box is a fat no.

If your brownie’s essentially a little square of lab ingredients, I don’t care that on top of it you recreated the left wall of Taylor Swift’s walk-in closet in royal icing. Get the brownie right first.**

Whenever I order dessert out I always ask for it without all of the glitterati. This inevitably makes the server a little twitchy. With a big smile she assures me that the toppings are scrumptious. I am resolute. Then she scampers off to tell the kitchen her customer wants to see what the Toll House pie looks like in its birthday suit. They’ll panic, and, collectively twitchy now, they’ll press their little noses up against the kitchen door’s windows to inhale in short gasps as they watch me eat it. And maybe they’re inspired to mix together some butter and sugar.

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*By the way, authentic shepherd’s pie is made with lamb. No shepherds in it. Just sheep. (Made with chopped beef it’s called cottage pie. No cottages in it. Cows.)

**I wrote about this in my bora bora post when I said restaurants hand you a dessert covered with goo, betting you’ll be too impressed by this quaking, amorphous blob to notice they’re stiffing you and giggling about it in the kitchen. Hasn’t changed yet, and stoicism is such hard work on my part. Get with it, people.

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