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Posts Tagged ‘Laurie Colwin’

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I ate goat for lunch today.

Those from tropical cultures find this about as unusual as your basic American would find eating a burger from Five Guys. This particular goat came from a homey Filipino restaurant. Mixed with some of my roasted vegetables it was fatty, rich, meaty, and lip-smacking. The first goat I ever ate was a few years ago in a tiny Mexican restaurant.* It was just as delicious and I never forgot it.

Exotic food can be daunting, granted. The late food writer Laurie Colwin said she would never eat fish eyeballs, and I’m right with her. I’ll add to that the Filipino delicacy balut, a duck embryo eaten directly from the shell.** This is not a criticism of this traditional food, mind you; I just know what I can manage and what I can’t.

But I do want to push my luck as much as I can, not just because there is a world of magnificent food out there (and there is), and not just because sharing brings us all closer together (and like smiles, or music, food can do that), but because it’s important to pull the rug out from underneath ourselves sometimes.

(It’s also fascinating not just to see what people eat, but how they eat. I recently read about a native of Guam who happily munches right through baked chicken—bones and all. My Filipino friend Teresa loves picking at fish bones, slurping every tasty morsel from them, while her brother picks out the choicest pieces of cartilage to chew on. I’m a nibbler myself. Isn’t it reassuring to think that despite Louis Vuitton handbags and Tru-Green manicured lawns and eyebrow threading treatments that humans still, miraculously, maintain vestiges of our primitive selves? Could anyone plausibly argue that food doesn’t taste better when we get good and sticky-fingered with it? Sticky-faced?)

How much poorer I would be had I not found that little Mexican grocery store almost-restaurant, where the ladies sliced fresh limes behind the counter and grinned at this porcelain-white girl and her Japanese buddy licking our fingers over goat and tripa in homemade soft tacos. Or pulled over on the scrubby road just outside Gainesville, Florida to try spicy crocodile jerky. Or tasted Teresa’s mom’s wonderful monggo (traditional Filipino mung bean soup, complete with little shrimp heads). I love it; I love it all.

*’Restaurant’ might be pushing it, actually; it was in the back of a narrow little Mexican grocery store, and you had to go through the store to get there. The joint wasn’t much bigger than a box of Froot Loops, and I don’t even think it has a name. But they sure knew what they were doing.

**Man, if the goat didn’t drive my mom to the edge, that sure did.

 

 

 

 

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Pyrex bowl from the late ’60s-early ’70s. Bought it from a vintage Pyrex vendor (both were vintage) under a very crowded 8×8 booth in Ocean Grove, NJ.

Title flagrantly swiped from food writer Laurie Colwin, God rest her salt- and butter-loving soul. She and I, kitchen sisters, subscribe to the doctrine of secondhand utensils. Think of it this way: They’ve lasted this long. How many neon-green kitchen toys at Bed, Bath & Beyond can go up against a Pyrex pan from the fifties?

Everything below is practical, long-lasting, and has a story to boot. I need as much resilience and soul as I can get in my kitchen.

Here, thus, is a family album of the kitchen equipment that I bought used, was given used, or just plain found. I will always cook this way.

First: Copper pans bought for $10 (total!)* from a parking lot tag sale in Asbury Park in 2011. The seller said she bought them in France, which may or may not be true. But they have never failed me, so the French can be proud either way.

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One of many German aluminum springform pans that I inherited when I took over making Easter bread. They are at least 45 years old, probably older, and live above my refrigerator with my Christmas china.

Vintage springform study

Two of several glass votives and a baking pan I bought at an estate sale in nearby Oakhurst, NJ, in 2010. I went into the living room, decorated straight out of The Dick Van Dyke Show, and found four long folding tables covered with vintage glass—regular, ornately cut, and Pyrex. The pan is several decades old but has no scarring. The votives I use for occasional imbibing and frequent desserting.

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Clockwise: What look like milk glass bowls, bought from a house sale in Bradley Beach, NJ. Wildly useful as prep bowls, mini snack bowls for chocolate buttons or grapes, or for a quick sip of milk. The lauan box I found at my aunt’s next door neighbor’s yard sale, in the town where I grew up. It nicely corrals my measuring cups, spoons, and a tiny spatula. The aluminum spatula has a very slim blade, and slips ever so cleanly under s’mores and brownies. I bought it in Oakhurst, at my realtor’s yard sale.

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Both from sales in my hometown. The white dish, one of two, I use as often for food styling as I do for sandwiches. If you’ve seen one of my photos of something tasty on a white dish, you’ve already met. The top dish, also one of two, is not much bigger than a saucer. It is my teatime dish—just the right size for a cookie or muffin. It belonged to my favorite aunt and her family. When I went to their garage sale, my cousins just started handing me things. This dish reminds me of the ’70s—a really good time growing up with them. One of my cousins laughed and said his mom probably bought the set from Foodtown for $1.95. And he’s probably right, but I don’t care.

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Farberware hand mixer, I think from the ’80s, that I bought circa 2006. Still going strong. From Oakhurst again (wow…that’s really the spot, isn’t it?), at my ex-boyfriend’s sister’s garage sale, $5.

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Can’t remember the yard sale for the box grater, but I like it because it’s a little smaller than typical. The salad bowls (which I use for everything) I got from my hometown as well. They’re teak and were made in Thailand. The muffin tins are from Wanamassa, NJ, and are an ideal example of something you can always find for sale on someone’s lawn. They last forever, are nearly indestructible, and thus are downright silly to buy new. I think I paid $.50 for four 6-cuppers.

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Some of my wooden-handled corn holders, purchased for something like $1.00 for a handful wrapped in a rubber band. One I accidentally rinsed down the sink—another sound argument against spending too much. The wooden bowl I bought from a yard sale in Allenhurst, NJ. The seller told me she bought it in Vermont many years ago and it was handmade, so she wouldn’t let me haggle down for the split in the side. It’s my foraging and bread-rising bowl.

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Rolling pin, which very likely has seen more decades than I. Pulled it out of a bin filled with cookie cutters at the Red Bank Antique Center.

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Massive hand carved wooden spoon, a recent hand-me-down from a friend. Still have to use it. I put a penny next to it for scale. Look at the size of it! For stirring soup, stuffing, or anything with eye of newt.

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‘Special Gelatin 50% Strength’ three-paneled vintage wooden box from the antiques store downtown. I load it with potatoes, onions, and garlic. The cashier asked what I was going to use it for and got a bang out of the answer.

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And lastly: a brick I nicked from the property of an abandoned 17th-century farmhouse near me. I think the original homeowners would be proud to hear it’s my low-tech panini maker.

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Most tales that include cold-cured marinated brisket evoke joy and good will. Not so this.

I mean I made sure the story wrapped up on a good note, but there was the cost which whirled away down the potty, don’t think that didn’t hurt, and the time I’d spent each night giving the meat its massage of spices and salt. If I knew what I did wrong I’d just kick myself and learn and be done with it, but I don’t know what I did wrong. And what really got me bummed was missing out on the flavor that Laurie swooned over.

I know, I always get ahead of myself.

Let’s make like Julie Andrews and start at the very beginning: years ago I became enthralled by a recipe for Spiced Beef, a traditional Christmastime treat in the UK, in More Home Cooking. The book was written by Laurie Colwin, who passed away suddenly some 20 years ago, who I’ve never met, and yet miss like a best bud. We’re cut from the same cloth, as two of the 11 people on Planet Earth who champion English recipes. Hers was Elizabeth David’s version. I saw a recipe for Spiced Beef again in a vintage collection of UK recipes I bought at a used book sale. And there was a version of it on Nigella’s site, and another on boston.com. This looked Promising.

Laurie’s recipe made too much (it feeds 8-10), so I went with the recipe in my vintage cookbook instead. Whole Foods kindly sold me 3 lbs. of lean brisket, and I snatched up black peppercorns (1 tablespoon), whole allspice (1 tablespoon), dried juniper berries (1/4 cup), dark brown sugar (1/4 cup), and coarse salt (1/4 cup). It was a combo I had never tasted, and it sounded wild. Laurie called it magnificent. Game on.

The recipe said I was to coat the meat with the brown sugar, place it in a casserole dish, cover it, and let it sit in the fridge for two days. Then I was to crush the spices and salt, then scatter and press a tablespoon of it into the meat every day for 12 days. This dry rub would act as a preservative to seal in freshness*.

I followed the recipe to the letter. I’m a good listener. Okay, one thing—I finished in 11 days and not 12 because the rub ran out. But I coddled that meat like a flat pink newborn. I also took three more precautions:

1) To be sure it would keep four weeks after cooking, as it said it would, I called a butcher for a professional opinion. Went straight to the top—Lobel’s, NYC, five generations. Evan Lobel, who I saw a few years ago on television talking beef with Martha Stewart, picked up. I read the recipe to him and he disagreed with the longevity, thinking it would keep 10 days, tops. I found another opinion online that said 4-5 days. Fine, we’ll polish it off in a week.

2) I had a feeling my oven thermometer was slowly going on the fritz, so I replaced it.** I was right.

3) I set the pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, all the way in the back where it’s coldest.

Yesterday was cooking day. You take some or all of the spices off, drain off the liquid in the casserole dish, put the meat back in, add 3/4 cup of cold water to the dish, and cover it. Then you cook it on the middle rack of the oven for 3.5 hours at 275 degrees F. This is how it looked just before cooking time. I swear I sang little songs to it.

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Can you tell anything’s wrong? Me neither.

After a half hour, I could smell it. That’s when I started to worry, and that’s when it started and ended—right there with my nose. It wasn’t horrible, just…off. I went through all of the question marks in my head.

Will it smell better once it’s finished cooking? Does it smell this way because it’s coated with sugar and a mix of spices I’ve never cooked before? Should I taste it?*** Do I lose my mind now, or wait until I have the meat nicely settling on a cooking rack?

I didn’t even throw it away immediately. Almost went through the last steps of weighing the meat under a board and letting it press down overnight. With as much as I pampered this brisket, it felt like it should be interred, maybe with chanting and a few carefully chosen words, not just tossed away. I put it in a Hefty freezer bag first, which isn’t the same as interment after a soak in myrrh, but decent.

Reliving this has been less than enjoyable. For you, too, right? Let’s bring on the holiday cheer.

I am a stage tech in my down time, and we learn to be problem solvers. If we don’t, we can at the very least foul up the show; and at the very most, get hurt or hurt someone else.**** And yesterday, after it hit me that the meat was gone, I was in a state: I’d eaten half a 72% blueberry-chocolate bar to drown my sorrows, so I was hopping. Plus I have a very big problem, in general, with failing *entirely*; if I fail at something, I want either to fix it or to wring the best out of it, and that’s on me to make happen. So I thought about it.

Replacing the brisket and starting over entirely without the benefit of knowing what went wrong—obviously that was out. I knew I wanted to taste what I should have tasted, that strange primitive combination of flavors with meat. THAT I could do, in a different way.

Night had fallen and it was still raining—had been all day. I put on my coat and turned my collar to the cold and damp. Then I went to the store and bought fresh ground turkey.

When I got home, I formed three patties and into them pressed 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Then I covered the pan and set it on the cold shelf of the fridge to soak overnight.

This morning with my mortar and pestle I crushed 1 teaspoon each of juniper berries, whole allspice, black peppercorns, and salt, pressed it into the patties, and set them back in the fridge for an hour. I sliced a wedge of seeded semolina bread for a roll, which is about as English as baklava, but so what, and I tossed some potatoes from the organic farm with some fresh horseradish from my friend Peggy, who grows it for Passover and always ends up with a yard full. Nigella said the beef goes well with horseradish potatoes.

Then I cooked everything, and then I ate everything, and it was freaking spectacular. I’m not even BSing you to make up for the lurid saga above. I got to taste those flavors. Serious happiness. And tomorrow’s and Tuesday’s burgers will probably be even better because they’ll have had a chance to marinate in the spices more.

Yes, I am going to try Spiced Beef again sometime. And if any readers out there have made it and have pinpointed where I screwed up, speak right up and help a girl out.

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*I sound like a Gladware commercial.

**My oven’s 25 degrees off. The joy of cooking, indeed.

***This was the toughest to resist. You will be glad to hear I did not taste it.

****Or God forbid, hurt the set.

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laurie colwin, novelist and food writer, refused to buy bakeware anywhere but at garage sales. she had a wit so dry you could towel off with it, she was not above eating an entire pan of anything by herself, and she hated fussy food. laurie was also a fan of english food. this invites giggles and eye-rolling from one’s friends, which, if nothing else, makes you stoic. my kind of chick. RIP, and I wish I could have met her. I can picture the two of us shamelessly downing a pan of roasted red peppers with garlic and oil.

jane and michael stern, formerly of Gourmet, presently of Saveur, wrote a column called road food. it took us readers with them as they crisscrossed the continent, finding rinky-dink holes in the wall that served incomparable food, usually home-style cooking. at their recommendation I ate off-the-bone tender chicken and dumplings in the backwoods of new york state, dense ice cream made from jersey cow’s milk at woodside farm in delaware (they called the vanilla ‘maximum moo’), and the lightest, crispiest fried fish sandwich served in a brown paper lunch bag at coleman’s fish market in west virginia. the owner didn’t believe in tartar sauce, saying it distracted from the flavor of the fish. I didn’t argue with him, and I am glad.

woodside farm's creamery wall.

I’ve always been a serious cook, eater and writer, but these three writers are my framework and the horizon I shoot for when I write. honest, fresh, clever–I hope I come close to what they have done.

on to publications.

Gourmet. I’ve moved a lot, and I always schlep my collection with me (1997-2007). the magazine was always wonderful, if a bit tweedy, but in recent years it has evolved into something great. now online only, it’s much more quirky and readable than it was in my parents’ day. they had a subscription for forty years (!) and I grew up eating Gourmet recipes.

Gourmet home runs: moroccan chickpea soup; salmon with wasabi and soy sauces; easiest thanksgiving turkey; zeppoles with orange zest (a childhood favorite).

Living. Martha’s…um…fastidious, and in my eyes, sometimes unnecessarily so (only light brown sugar! always strain the sauce!). but her staff is enormously talented, especially with sweets. I keep my collection of old Living magazines right alongside my Gourmets and have never made a Living recipe that I didn’t love…even if I always use dark brown sugar and don’t strain sauces.

Living home runs: homemade s’mores; cinnamon-rum ice cream; chocolate cinnamon babka.

martha's s'more. digging how the marshmallow kind of oozes down over the chocolate.

Joy of Cooking (1997 edition). mine has a cracked binding and the pages are loose in the yeast bread section. great stuff, basics and otherwise. this is the go-to for every comfort food and classic your little heart can think of, as well as the place to learn method. when I brought home local clams and didn’t have the slightest idea of how to cook them, this is what I turned to.

JOC home runs: hot cross buns; really gooey, sticky, dark gingerbread.

who and what do you read? curious.

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