Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cornbread turkey pot pie

Here are some of our Thanksgiving leftovers. I wish I were still eating this.

For the cornbread crust:
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup AP flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour (this was experimental as we were all out of regular flour, and I loved the extra flavor the wheat flour brought to the crust)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

For the turkey and vegetable part underneath the crust:
about a cup of shredded dark meat turkey (or whatever you like--this would work great with leftover chicken too)
1 tbs butter
1 rib celery, diced
about 1/2 cup frozen peas
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
leftover turkey gravy (optional)
1 cup turkey stock (or whatever you have) to supplement the gravy
2 tsp corn starch
1 tbs Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
salt, black and cayenne pepper to taste

To make the cornbread crust: Preheat oven to 400. Combine the dry ingredients in a big bowl, combine the wet ingredients in a small bowl, dump the wet into the dry and mix just to combine.

To make the turkey and vegetable part underneath the crust: Heat up a big pan and melt the butter. Add the mushrooms, celery, and onions and stir well, sweating over medium heat until the vegetables have softened. Add the peas and the turkey and wait for them to warm up, then the gravy and stock and mix well. Stir the cornstarch into an equal quantity of stock or water, then pour this slurry into the pan and bring to a boil. Taste for seasoning. Add the wine or sherry and kill the heat.

Pour the turkey-veggie mixture into a 9-inch pie dish or a similar-size gratin dish. Top with the cornmeal mixture, spreading it to the edges of the pan. (If there's some leftover--I had some leftover--bake yourself a corn muffin or two.)

Bake for 25 minutes. The crust part is done when a toothpick comes out clean. Wait 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

Fish fight

Israel has more serious problems than its gefilte fish controversy (via Jewlicious) but at least this one is funny:
As it turns out, gefilte fish is subjected to specific regulations. According to the relevant standard (number 841 for those who care) for preserving fish, applicable to carp preserved in gefilte fish sauce, each piece is supposed to be made of carp alone.

But importers claim that in reality, the standard is not being applied to local producers and is only being enforced against them. “It turns out that the stuffed fish pieces suffer from serious discrimination in Israel,” a statement by the importers said.
In the Jewlicious comments someone accuses the report of smelling fishy, asserting that gefilte fish is always a mixture of more than one kind of fish. Perhaps this person lives in a Manischewitz-free zone? Around here you can always find jars of "all whitefish" GF. I suppose a pedant might say that the "all whitefish" stuff isn't really GF just as a cocktail snob might insist that a vodka Martini isn't a Martini. I'd hate to be that kind of person. (I'm guessing that the quotation from the importers is translated from Hebrew and that the reporter turned "gefilte" into "stuffed," which is the literal--but not the correct--meaning.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Vinegar roundup

How many vinegars does one three-person household need? Ours needs nine. Here's the current roster, in alpha order so none feels unloved, each with a typical use:

-apple cider vinegar (cole slaw)
-balsamic vinegar (caramelized onions)
-black vinegar (short ribs)
-cognac vinegar (I'm not really sure what to do with this one, actually, and I don't remember how we came into it)
-distilled white vinegar (poached eggs)
-red wine vinegar (tuna and white bean salad)
-rice wine vinegar (potsticker dipping sauce)
-sherry vinegar (vinaigrette)
-white wine vinegar (potato salad)

I'm always meaning to get some malt vinegar but it never quite makes it onto my shopping list. If I ever get around to frying fish in batter I'll get some for sure to make an even ten. Otherwise, I don't want for vinegar.

Is there any reason to practice restraint when it comes to vinegar? It practically never goes bad. And is there any reason to spend a lot of money on vinegar? I don't think so. With the exception of real balsamic, which I've never tasted and which isn't really treated like vinegar in Italian cooking, one can get very good vinegar for relatively little. The old saying goes that it takes three cooks to make a vinaigrette: a spendthrift for the oil, a miser for the vinegar, and a wizard for the salt. I think this means you're supposed to use restraint when adding vinegar, not that you're supposed to be cheap, but this still supports my general point. The yuppies spending $14 for a half-liter bottle of vinegar at Williams-Sonoma are chumps, but you probably knew that already.

My favorite of them all is sherry vinegar. If I had to give up all but one this would be my choice. It makes excellent vinaigrette, following the recipe here, and is perfect in beurre blanc. My second choice would be red wine vinegar.

Like many of my favorite things to eat, vinegar is the antithesis of fresh and local. Most of the vinegar I have is old and imported. And delicious.

(I usually dress salad in vinaigrette but occasionally I do have a taste for gloopy dressing out of a plastic jar. The two we always have in the fridge are Kraft Thousand Island and Hidden Valley Ranch. Not low-fat. These are best poured onto iceberg leaves and sprinkled with Bac-O's. Uh huh, come on, you want it.)

Sunday, November 27, 2005


An old Jewish joke:

A Martian lands on Earth. Naturally he is hungry after a long journey. He spots a deli on the corner and finds a seat at the counter where he chooses the first item on the menu, a bowl of mazto ball soup. When the waiter sets the soup in front of him the Martian tries the strange dish and likes it very much. "Delicious," he says. "What do they do with the rest of the matzo?" Ba-dum-bum.

The Manischewitz Matzo Meal Matzo Balls recipe:
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Manischewitz Matzo Meal
1 tsp salt, if desired
2 tbs soup stock or water

This is printed on the matzo meal container but the matzo balls are way better if you use schmaltz instead of vegetable oil. I used the fat I spooned off the top of the turkey juices Thursday. Of course soup stock is better than water and I do desire salt but schmaltz is the most important thing. (The matzo balls in the picture were made from the Manischewitz recipe increased by half.)

You combine all of these ingredients together and refrigerate. Manischewitz says refrigerate 15 minutes; I say at least 45. Then you shape into balls and simmer in salted water for about 45 minutes. They puff up considerably, so start smallish. It's also important to handle them very gently. Mine are on the big side. If made ahead of time they keep best in soup.

I have tasted many a matzo ball and have seldom encountered one I didn't like. Some are dense sinkers, others are airy floaters, all are fine with me. Mine fall somewhere in between. As with all traditional foods, homemade matzo ball soup is better.

Matzo balls are best eaten in a bowl of homemade chicken soup with a few small pieces of cooked carrot and celery. My mother adds quite a lot of dill, which is nice. It's also nice, though hardly necessary, to have small pieces of chicken in your soup. Since matzo ball soup is often the first or second course of an elaborate meal such as a Passover seder, you don't want to overdo it with portion sizes, so figure on one average-size matzo ball per diner and have extras on hand for gluttons who, with feigned reluctance, accept your offer of a second helping.

Matzo, by the way, rhymes with lotsa. Ain't vowels funny?

Tags: , (What are these? Just something I'm trying. Give them a click if you're really curious.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Turkeys, etc.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Here's what I'm up to on this Thanksgiving Day:

Listening to Shout Out Louds.

Watching bits of a parade and a football game on television.

Roasting a turkey and some chestnut stuffing.

Eating lox and H&H bagels (brought by Little Sister from NYC) for lunch.

Reading the glossy ad inserts that came with today's Journal-Sentinel but not so much reading the Journal-Sentinel.

Staying home with the napping youngster and cooking while the others are out seeing Rent, which I would like to see.

Reading blogs about Thanksgiving popcorn balls, flickr's Thanksgiving picture rated highest for interestingness, and Canadian versus American Thanksgivings.

Looking forward to watching the rest of last night's Veronica Mars.

Wishing my parents' flight from Toronto this morning hadn't been cancelled. Can't wait to see you tomorrow, folks.


Since this is a day for thanks, today I'll thank you. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Ruth M. Siems, Inventor of Stuffing, Dies at 74. Inventor of stuffing? Well, Stove Top stuffing. Even obits sometimes get fanciful headlines at the Times.

Retro food: Eggs in aspic

In the beginning I said I would never cook anything just for the blog. It doesn't really work that way, though. When you write about food just about every day, every morsel that you eat or cook could be a topic and every decision about what to buy at the store and what to make for dinner becomes a choice not only of what to eat but also of what to write. So when I decided to make calzones the other day, it occurred to me that I had not yet blogged about calzones and this made me all the more eager to make them.

(I suppose now I should tell you that I made them with a recipe of pizza dough, a pound of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well, two beaten eggs, half a pound of ricotta, about a quarter cup of grated parmesan, a half cup of grated mozzarella. a few strokes of grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper. This makes two calzones. I brush the outside with an eggwash made with one beaten egg, a little cold water, and a pinch each of salt and sugar. They bake at 375 for half an hour and are nice with some homemade tomato sauce on the side.)

Until now, I don't think I have made anything I would have been really unlikely to make without a blog in which to discuss it. Part of my interest in making aspic is that I think it's an odd food and I want to explore it, get to know it, uncover its mystery. This is more interesting, I think, if I have someone with whom to share my discoveries. Thanks for being that someone.

I approach retro food in good faith. I don't see outmoded cuisine as a product of horrendous taste which has been cast off after decades of progress. Our food is not naturally better than the foods of the past. It's easy to see today's über-fresh, hyper-multiculti food ethic as an advance past the atrocious jello mold salads and béchamel-rich casseroles of yesteryear. And of course there have been plenty of embarrassments over the years that no one should try to recreate. But the trendy foods of today sometimes seem odd and nasty to me now and who knows what people will think in a few decades? (Here are some foods of today that I think are all wrong: sandwich wraps, fat-free and artificially-sweetened yogurt, instant individual-serving packages of soup, veggie burgers, supermarket sushi, energy elixers, Starbucks 900-calorie drinks, meatnormous omelette sandwiches, and of course the ubiquitous boneless-skinless chicken breasts.)

I see retro food as dishes worth getting to know in spite of their status as fashion victims. A few weeks ago I made and wrote about Chicken a la King and said, "It tasted like cafeteria food. I loved it." I was hoping to love it and I did. I'm not going to make anything that I expect to taste like crap just because it might look cool or sound funny. I don't think it's clever to poke fun at the taste of old times without also appreciating what was good and interesting about it.

Eggs in aspic, oeufs en gelée, are a bygone first course or buffet food. I chose to make them before I noticed that they're the dish Julie Powell considers the lowest moment in her year with Mastering the Art. (She notes that her "cats like aspic just fine.") I sense that when people peruse decades-old illustrated cookbooks, it's the photos of aspics and jellies that most make them wince. Clearly the point of aspic is to look impressive but it can also look ridiculous and it's always worse to look ridiculous when you're trying to impress.

The fish on the cover of this book, where I got my eggs in aspic recipe, looks appetizing to me but I fear to many today the idea of making a fish-shaped mold containing fish is the stuff of parody. Did someone actually eat that?

Aspic is savory jello. It's not hard to make but it does time time. Some stocks are high enough in gelatin to be solid at room temp. A stock made with veal knuckles is naturally gelatinous. (That's how JP did it and perhaps that explains her bad experience.) But mine was not so blessed, so I added the contents of one envelope of powdered gelatin to my clarified stock (clarified to make a pretty aspic) which had been heated with one chopped shallot and a teaspoon of dried tarragon and left to steep and cool down as the flavors infused. (I did strain it before adding the gelatin.) So this required making stock, clarifying stock, reheating stock with aromatics and waiting for it to cool, then warming with the gelatin and cooling again. For those scoring at home that's four cycles of heating and cooling. I will concede that no one, myself included, really has time for this.

I poached my eggs in water just short of covering them. This was not on purpose, really, but it had the effect of leaving the top part of the yolk a nice yellow instead of filmed with white. And this made my aspic all the more attractive. The cookbook didn't say whether to leave the yolks runny or cook them through and I wasn't sure about the idea of cold, runny yolks. But then, Mrs. Latte came to my rescue. She describes the oeufs at Chez Georges in Paris as runny-yolked, so I was determined to leave mine loose.

When I had cold eggs and cold liquid, I poured a quarter inch of the stock into each of my four ramekins, then chilled both the ramekins and the aspic for about an hour. The aspic in the ramekins was now set, and the rest was thick and syrupy. I put a neatly trimmed egg in the center of each of the ramekins and covered it with aspic. The recipe calls for first decorating the top with tarragon or watercress leaves but I didn't have any of these and wasn't about to spend needlessly on decorative herbage. (Funny, the time I spent on this hardly seems worth worrying about and yet I won't let a frivolous $2 slip through my fingers.)

When I unmolded the first egg, after dipping the ramekin in warm water and running a knife around the edge, I was stunned by its elegance. Then I started to eat it, with buttered bread to mop up the runny part, and while pleasantly surprised by the cold yolk I was instantly disappointed that neither the effort required to make this nor the attractiveness of the presentation was in proportion to the meager pleasure offered by the food qua food. I would prefer a warm poached egg on a buttered English muffin, which takes all of five minutes to make, to a cold poached egg in a tarragon aspic. But I'm quite thrilled that I made this little oddity in my very own kitchen even if I don't intend to do such a thing ever again.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Googlebird

"The Google Story," by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed, describes the lava lamps, AstroTurf, beach volleyball, celebrity-caliber fried chicken and touch-pad-controlled toilets that have given Google's cloistered Googleplex campus in Mountain View, Calif., its much-vaunted Peter Pan atmosphere.
Whoa, Janet Maslin! That's waaaaaay too much sentence for me. I will leave the toilets aside and forgive the awkwardness of "Googleplex campus." But are we really supposed to know what the fuck "celebrity-caliber fried chicken" is? If chicken really were measured in calibers, what would a Hilary Duff bird rate? Juicier than a Liberace? Fresher than a Rosie O'Donnell?

(If you really want to know, here's the answer, a recipe they call "Chicken a la The King" over at the Googleplex.)

15 lbs., frozen solid; Thanksgiving minus 67 hrs.

The fastest way to defrost anything is to submerge it in ice water.

The campus in winter

This fountain is pretty in the summer.

This is the building in which I teach. It's a typical 60's-era concrete university "hall." Ugly as all hell. Not a single window in the place opens and there's only one working elevator. Every time I look at it I'm glad I spend six days a week elsewhere. (I like teaching; it's the architecture I can't stand.)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

In preparation

Yesterday I clarified my stock. This is a chore I had never before attempted. I added two beaten egg yolks and two crushed eggshells to about five cups of cold stock and stirred well over low heat for about fifteen minutes. This is what it looked like when it came just short of the boil. The proteins in the egg attract the particles of itsy-bitsy stuff, so small they can't be strained out, and all of this rises to top in a prodigious layer of scum. I strained through cheesecloth and the result was a mighty clear liquid.

Here are eggs poaching in a skillet. For the longest time I was afraid to poach eggs. I couldn't picture what would happen when I dropped an egg into hot water. I wondered whether the eggs would end up like egg drop soup or something. It turns out the whites do a nice job of holding on to themselves and the yolk. The fresher the egg the nicer the shape say the experts. They also say to add vinegar to the water, advice I always follow; apparently salt works too. These eggs spread out more than is perhaps ideal, but if you want them pretty you can just trim the whites to make the egg a circle. It really doesn't take much longer to poach eggs than it does to fry them and it doesn't take much water, only an inch or two. (A whole post about poaching eggs: here.)

While we're on the subject, have I mentioned how much I love eggs? I have never met an egg I didn't love. When I make them it's a struggle to decide what cooking method to use. They're all so good. And different. It's amazing how different from one another a baked, boiled, fried, and poached egg can be. And scrambled, my god. They're the best, slowly stirred with lots of butter and cream over low heat until the eggs hold together in that moment when they're just becoming solid. (A bit of tarragon is nice with this.) And we must not forget the Chinese dim sum egg custard tart, the eggiest tasting egg dish I've ever tasted. The very essence of egg in a bite-size pastry shell. And you know what I really, really can't stand? When foodie elitists tell me that I must try the eggs in Italy with yolks a vivid golden brown or the ones from free range chickens or the freshest ones I can find on the farm. I grant that all of these might be delicious, but I resent the implication that the ones the rest of us buy at the supermarket are not.

Ah, so why was I clarifying stock and poaching eggs? Tell you later.

Friday, November 18, 2005

"Chinese" chicken soup

Like everything else Chinese that comes out of my kitchen, this soup is inauthentic. But the ingredients and the spirit of the dish are, I think, more Chinese than any other style of cooking.

I defatted, strained, and simmered some of yesterday's stock and added salt, pepper, soy sauce, and michiu (rice wine). I added some bean thread noodles, broken into pieces that would fit in my spoon, and cooked them for about ten minutes. I just happened to have bean threads but any noodle would do: rice noodles, wheat noodles, buckwheat noodles, potato starch noodles, even Italian pasta or Manischewitz soup noodles. They're all basically the same. And I sliced a scallion on the bias and shredded up some leftover chicken and threw these in just to warm them up. The final step was to beat an egg and drizzle it into the hot liquid. If the soup had been properly boiling when I put in the egg it would have scrambled quickly into little pieces, but at just a simmer it did something more like thickening.

I might as well add that I put some MSG in the soup too, just a couple of pinches. Its effect was imperceptible, but then it's the sort of thing you might notice only in its absence. I'm pleased to say that now, an hour or so later, I'm still here to tell you about it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

In my stockpot

I cleaned out the freezer in preparation for Thanksgiving and decided to make stock out of some of the things I found: a few pork neckbones and a couple of chicken backs and necks. The pork-chicken combination suggests Chinese soup to me, so I added only onion, carrot, and ginger. Chinese stocks tend toward the simple. The place now smells nice this afternoon (my desk is right off the kitchen) and it's so cold outside that the very thought of hot soup is helping.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Keep your backlash off my turkey

Today every daily in America published its annual turkey article. Just like last year and every year before it, everyone agrees that a regular turkey cooked in the oldskool fashion won't do. Conventional wisdom says that turkey is dry, tasteless, and mandatory. But the point of Thanksgiving is that everyone in America eats the same dinner and since this just happens to be turkey, you better just shut up and eat it.

Poor turkey gets no respect. Well I'll go on the record: I love turkey. I love the white meat and the dark meat. I love it all year round. I order it in restaurants (the cheap diner-type places that serve it) and eat it in sandwiches. One time I braised some drumsticks in barbecue sauce. Fantastic. So I object to these stories' assumption that without the intervention of newspaper food sections turkey is liable to make a regrettable meal.

Until this year, brining has been the turkey story. The way to save your turkey is to soak it in salt water so that the flesh absorbs moisture and seasoning. This works really nicely but requires a large vessel in which to soak a large bird and a cold place in which to do this. Sounds like a hassle. Fun once or twice, perhaps, but not a long-term solution. So this year brining is out, proclaims the NYT ("The Pilgrims Didn't Brine"):
I have brined many times. Even with a mediocre, overcooked bird, the process makes the meat well seasoned and juicier.

But this year I didn't want to wrestle with plastic garbage bags and coolers and bags of ice. I wanted simple.
The alternative? Here's the LAT:
In the last five years, brining has been Step 1 of Thanksgiving preparations because steeping the bird in a spiced mixture of salt, sugar and water truly does transform even the driest meat into a juicy-tasty sensation. But heritage turkeys have inherent flavor that brining would subvert.
A "heritage" turkey sounds nice but more than 99% of the turkey eaters next week aren't chowing down on one. We sure aren't. Around here we are hosting our second Thanksgiving and our bird will be kosher to please the kosher side of the family. Kosher poultry is the most delicious kind I've eaten so I'm definitely not complaining. A kosher turkey shouldn't be brined; it has already been salted to keep it kosher.

But when it comes to mass market (non-kosher) birds, I'm all for brining. My standard ratio is 1/3 cup table salt (not coarse salt) to a quart of water. I would brine a turkey for 12 or 14 hours, putting it in at night and rescuing it the following morning. My ideal modification to the traditional way of cooking turkey would be to cut it up and prepare the white and dark meat separately, the breasts and wings roasted and the leg quarters braised or smoked/barbecued, but I wouldn't do that for Thanksgiving. I don't usually respect tradition for its own sake, but there's a je ne sais quoi about roasting a big bird whole, a Norman Rockwell quality that I would rather not defy. That's what we're doing a week from tomorrow. I'm pretty excited.

(One more thing: the little fella's favorite song is Old Macdonald and my favorite part of when he "sings" it is when on Old Macdonald's farm he had a turkey, and I ask the little fella what sound a turkey makes, and he answers, "Gobble gobble!" but without pronouncing the L's clearly.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fried rice #3

Previous installments introduced innovations in fried rice. Today's lunch was the culmination: in goes the SPAM.

After advertising my SPAMmy intentions a few weeks ago, my father called to try to talk me down off the ledge. It's not like I was contemplating a vacation in Tehran or a vote for Pat Buchanan, but SPAM seems to have a way of striking fear in Jews all the same. Sorry Dad, I just had to do it.

SPAM has its share of detractors. Is any other food so identified with white trash culture? Recent usage of "spam" to refer to junk e-mail isn't helping SPAM's cause any. It's not really good food, I'll grant you, but it's also not deserving of such widespread fear and loathing. Until recently I was ignorant of SPAM's charms, so I did some poking around and came up with some delectable porky factoids:

-SPAM is a portmanteau word combining "spiced" and "ham." It should always be spelled in all caps.

-Hormel Foods introduced SPAM in 1937. According to Hormel, SPAM "became America's favorite luncheon meat almost immediately." ("Luncheon meat" is a fantastic phrase. Why not just lunch? Is it because a luncheon is something special? Isn't it great that something so not special goes by a name that's all about trying to make it seem really special?)

-SPAM has its own home page, with links to a fan club, SPAMmobile info, something about Spamalot (the Bway musical), that kind of stuff.

-SPAM is something like a national food of Hawaii. (Hawaiians also love mayonnaise. I big-red-heart Hawaiians.)

-SPAM inspires its own cooking contests.

-Even crazier, there's the annual SPAM sculpture contest.

-SPAM is made of pork, water, salt, sugar, starch, and sodium nitrate, which preserves its pink color. Sausages aren't much different in principle. Not to mention gefilte fish. If it's canned meat you don't like, consider that canned duck and goose confit are ubiquitous in French gourmet shops, ditto canned crabmeat in upscale American fish markets. Canning is a way of preserving food and the world is a better place for it.

Well, all of this SPAMtastic SPAM stuff is making my SPAM fried rice seem ho-hum, but it's mine so here it is.

I diced up the SPAM and fried it in a hot pan until it browned and crisped up. I also cooked some diced carrots, peas, shallots, garlic, ginger, and egg (cooked as an underdone omelette ahead of time and hacked into tiny pieces with the side of my spatula). I used shallot instead of my usual scallions. Shallots are always delicious and it's not often you see them paired with SPAM.

After adding the rice I sprinkled what I thought was black pepper into the pan but it turned out to be cardamom. I tried to remove the pieces of rice the cardamom had hit but I wasn't entirely successful. So I ended up making cardamom-SPAM fried rice; the hint of exotic spice worked well, actually, and I wouldn't hesitate to add some in the future. I seasoned with kecap manis this time (instead of the alternative, a mix of dark and light soy), and since kecap manis has a bit of spice in it perhaps it complemented the cardamom.

E had a dilemma. She was hungry and the food in the pan smelled good but she wasn't too keen on SPAM. Laziness won the day and she shared the fried rice with me. She found the cardamom to be weirder than the canned, processed meat.

I was nervous taking the first bite. I eat pork all the time but this still had a trace of taboo about it. Once I had tasted and swallowed the first pieces, though, it seemed like a lot of fuss over nothing. It's just meat, after all.

I liked it. SPAM is saltier than most bacon, which is fine with me, and almost as greasy. It has a softer texture than I was expecting, more like meatloaf than cooked sausage. It browned really quickly and nicely in the pan, which pleased me. And it just livened up the dish. I'm all for SPAM in my fried rice.

Sideways wine club

The club is organized into Jack's favorites, Maya's favoties, and Miles' pinots. Which are you, a Jack, a Maya, or a Miles? Me? I'm sticking with the Sid & Nancy smack club, thanks very much. (This one's for the mopester.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Palatability will decline before edibility vanishes"

Wired reports that researchers at BYU found that "20-year-old dried milk and 28-year-old rolled oats [are] still perfectly edible." Coming so hot on the heels of the noodles of antiquity, we clearly have a trend on our hands. I feel like I'm a little bit in on it.

The doors

I spend part of my time teaching at a place of higher learning. These are some of the doors along the corridor where I have my office.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


While I was away from the blog accomplishing many important non-bloggy tasks, I accumulated some experiences I would have shared with you had I been here. So:

-Belgian-style ale is a good thing to drink. A dear friend from upstate New York the Central-Leatherstocking region of New York State came to visit and introduced us to Ommegang, the pride of Cooperstown. (Follow the link, you won't be disappointed: it has a video demo of how to pour. You're looking for some vigorous head. Doesn't that sound good?) The one we had was spicy, fruity, bitter, and very alcoholic. It's my beverage discovery of the year for sure. (Yes, there are lots of great Wisconsin beers too. Like Spotted Cow.)

-I'm now hooked on Everwood. Damn television.

-Search terms: poop star spaghetti dishwasher-safe. You'd hate to have to wash your poop star spaghetti by hand.

-E microwaved some sweet potatoes in a plastic dish to feed the little man. They were pretty fresh, maybe just a day or two old. When they came out of the microwave they smelled strongly of tobacco smoke. Huh?

-Pastafazool with Italian sausage. I ate too much of it.

-I seem unable to take the shell off a hard-cooked egg without mangling the white. Is there a trick or are my fingers just not dainty enough to be gentle?

-The design of this Italian cookbook won me over instantly.

-I bought some MSG the other day. Next I will work up the courage to actually put it in some food. Yes, to actually put. Problem?

I missed the blog. Glad to be back.

The ice cream project: cardamom ice cream

Cardamom is a bit more complicated than some spices. Its papery green or black pods are pretty but the good stuff, little black seeds, come hidden inside. Gathering enough of the seeds to grind and use in recipes is a bit of a chore, so I keep both the pods and the powder in the spice collection.

Descriptions in Penzey's and The Spice House's catalogues are vague. Neither will pin cardamom down by comparing it with other herbs and spices. This is one of their standby techniques for describing products: caraway is related to cumin; paprika is a chile; anise, star anise, and fennel all taste somewhat alike. Waverly Root calls cardamom gingery, which seems wrong to me, but apparently the plants are related. I shall sniff one than the other and see if they have anything in common. One moment while I try.

Yikes! Don't try that by sticking your nose into the dried ginger and inhaling hard--I just took in a noseful and now my nostrils are ruined for the cardamom.

Cardamom is in its own universe. To me it smells sweet, floral, and citrusy (when my nose if functional of course), with less depth than cloves or cumin but more brightness. I think its scent is closest to coriander, which I also think of as bright and citrusy. Cardamom goes in everything from coffee cake to Cincinnati chili to South Asian curry. And it's surely the South Asians who first put it in ice cream, or kulfi as theirs is called.

I began by steeping cardamom in cream. I used a generous quarter tablespoon of ground cardamom and four green pods, crushed to expose the seeds within. After warming these in 1.5 cups of half and half to just a simmer, I turned the heat off and left it alone forty-five minutes while we watched Veronica Mars. (Aaron Echolls, what a character. Nice to see him again.) I whisked vanilla sugar (4.5 oz) with four egg yolks, tempered, cooked, strained, added a cup of heavy cream. Chilled, churned, served (with some French cheese coffee cake from the gourmet market). It would be great atop the espresso brownies I'm going to bake one of these days.

The flavor of cardamom is exotic but not at all strange. Since you can't get cardamom ice cream at very many American markets, this one is another good reason for making your own. My dining companions and I thought it was pretty great.

My other ice creams:

  • Egg ice cream

  • Black sesame ice cream

  • Green chile mint ice cream

  • Rice ice cream

  • Sour cream anise ice cream

  • Caramel ice cream

  • Apples and honey ice cream

  • Watermelon sour cream sherbet

  • Mojito cream cheese ice cream

  • Peach frozen yogurt

  • Oatmeal raisin ice cream

  • Mango cream cheese ice cream

  • Mocha ice cream

  • Berry buttermilk sherbet

  • Gingersnap ice cream
  • Monday, November 07, 2005

    !@#$%^&*() Kabbalah

    Little sister again.

    Ever since I graduated from college in '03 and made the unconventional decision to devote myself to full-time Jewish text study for what was supposed to be one year but turned into three, I have had to answer people's totally infuriating questions about this choice. Some of the most annoying ones come from our parents' friends at our synagogue in Toronto, most of whom are psychiatrists. There's one guy in particular who always suggests- with bits of pickled herring flying out of his mouth- that maybe it would be a good idea for me to find a place to study that would give me a graduate degree at the end, which my program doesn't. And he always suggests it as though he thinks he's the first genius to think up that idea, as though it wasn't something I struggle with and feel guilty about on a daily basis.

    But the absolute worst encounter I face with astonishing frequency goes something like this:
    Little Sister: I go to a women's yeshiva.
    Asshole: What do you learn there?
    LS: Torah, Talmud and Jewish Law.
    A (nearly exploding with excitement): You mean like kabbalah??!!

    No, asshole. We don't study kabbalah. I mean, what my classmates do on their own time is their business, but it is not included in our curriculum. And even if we were to throw in some kabbalistic content, it would be authentic and would therefore bear zero resemblance to the crap Modonna spews.

    I got particularly worked up over this last week, when the Today Show did a special on mysterious religions and devoted one morning to Kabbalah. In their little intro, Matt (who I usually have a big crush on) said something to the effect of "....kabbalah, which- would you believe??- has its roots in acient Jewish mysticism," and I was like, you asshole, Kabbalah IS ancient Jewish mysticism. It's like saying that Green Eggs and Ham has its roots Dr. Seuss' writings. Then they showed clips of Madonna and Roseanne explaining Kabbalah. Which could lead me to one of my other gripes: why we now turn to celebrities to offer information/insight on world events, like in that other classic Matt moment involving another adherent of a wacko non-religion.

    Here is my Kabbalah-related outrage of the week. Maybe this will be an ongoing series on Haverchuk.

    On the Kabbalah Center's website, there's a menu with the heading "History Makers," with the following drop-down list: "Adam, Avraham, Moses, Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai, Moses De Leon, Rabbi Isaac Luria, Avraham Azulay, Rav Ashlag, Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, Rav Berg, Karen Berg." Rav Berg and Karen Berg founded the Kabbalah Center. I don't know how big a role the notion of modesty plays in Kabbalistic thought, but authentic Kabbalah is deeply entrenched in Jewish values, and humility is one of the most important ones. An earlier figure on their list of history makers, Moses, is celebrated as having been the most humble of all men. It seems that quality didn't make its way down to the tenth and eleventh people on the list. Another fundamental Jewish concept is that we owe our teachers great respect, particularly the ones from centuries ago. The fact that the Bergs included themselves on a list of rabbinic leaders, not to mention biblical forefathers, is an act of unbelievable arrogance.

    I'm going to go scan the letters of God's divine names which are too holy to utter and contemplate how to mend some broken vessels in preparation for the Messiah's arrival.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Substitute blogger

    Little sister here again.

    Since the beginning of the school year, I've been spending my mornings in a 2nd- and 3rd- grade classroom. Getting to know the students has been the highlight of an otherwise annoying experience. 7- and 8-year-olds are extremely cute. They have a few adorable tendencies that they are going to outgrow very soon. These qualities are particularly endearing because it's clear that they won't have them much longer.

    1. They love playing with their velcro. They just can't get enough.

    2. They still think their parents are the absolute authority on everything. Two girls were having an intense argument about a detail in the text we were learning. Red faces, the whole bit. After a while one of them yelled "but my FATHER told me!!!" with absolute conviction, and was shocked that the other kid wasn't moved by her declaration.

    3. They have no sense of time. (Granted, neither does our mother, but it's cuter in the kids.) The effects of this pop up all over the place. They'll say they spent an hour on their homework and they truly believe they did but it's clear to us that they probably spent more like 11 minutes. They have even more trouble with things like centuries. Last week one of them said that people used to think the earth was flat but Columbus knew it was round so he tried to prove it by sailing to America but they still didn't believe him so they sent rocket ships up into space and then they got it. Then another one asked which came first, Columbus or rocket ships.

    4. They are still sufficiently self-absorbed that they're not really aware that their peers might be evaluating or judging them. (Although most of their peers are sufficiently self-absorbed that they haven't started evaluating or judging others.) This causes them to do very cute things that they'll be too self-conscious to do in a few years. For example: a kid walked in one morning and a song she liked was playing. So she just started dancing. Arms flailing, jumping across the room. It was priceless.

    Did I just turn this into one of those workplace blogs that get people fired? It wouldn't be the worst thing...


    I'm back but only long enough to tell you that you are now reading the blog of the week. Thanks for your votes. See you soon.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005


    Serendipity struck this afternoon. I went to the freezer and took out the sour cream anise ice cream to see what was left. There were about four spoonfuls and I put the container in the microwave for 15 seconds to soften its contents. About two hours later I returned to the microwave for some other reason and found the forgotten ice cream. Amazingly, it had held its shape when it melted and tasted like a mousse rather than like what I was expecting, which was ice cream soup. This reminded me of the Harriet Miers chocolate mousse I was going to make and haven't gotten around to whipping up. Has any word come of what GWB and Alito were eating the other night?

    The funny searches keep coming and I keep copying-and-pasting them into a sticky note on my desktop. Here are some favorites:
    -Novelty bathtub soap dish
    -Veronica Mars chicken pox (huh? Veronica hasn't had it)
    -How to starch polo collar (if you're still wondering, you spread mashed potatoes all over the collar and then sear it in a cast iron skillet in some hot oil, like a potato-crusted filet of salmon. It's delicious, especially if your polo collar is fresh, local, and organic)
    -Who sings "I don't give a damn about my reputation" (this searcher found his or her answer, thank heavens)
    -Julie Powell bad writer (could it be Julie herself wondering who out there's been dissing her?)
    -salt&pepper porn (took me a second to figure out what they were really after)
    -"buy a phd"
    -killer kugel

    The Blog of the Week contest is almost up, so if you haven't done so already, vote for Haverchuk.

    I'm going on a minor hiatus from blogging for the next little while. I won't disappear completely, though, and my highly skilled understudy, Little Sister, will be here to keep you well fed.

    When I'm back: more retro food (7-UP pancakes anyone?), television watching, leftover chicken, big hunks of meat, and ice cream of course.


    One of the waiters longs to be the host of a quiz show.

    "Any questions about the menu?" he asked some friends of mine. When they said no, he challenged them.

    "Really?" they recalled his saying. "O.K.: what are cèpes?" Cèpes were listed on the menu at Thor as accompaniments to grilled beef tenderloin, and they are mushrooms, as my friends delightedly told him.
    (Gotta love NYT style. Does anyone else spell "ok" like that?)

    Tuesday, November 01, 2005


    Back at the new Public Market today with the little fella. Went to pick up tortillas for some fish tacos. Here's what I saw.

    Tasteless cheese encased in wax shaped like a cow, a barn and silo, a map of the state. You see these all over Wisconsin. If you come here looking for cheese, please stay away from the cutesy stuff.

    Red celery at the organic produce vendor's stand. I had never seen this before.

    Primal cuts of meat dry aging 25-30 days. These are cut into steaks and sell for between $20-$25/lb. I bet it's worth it.

    These churros are for sale at the Mexican grocery stand El Rey (purveyor of excellent fresh corn tortillas), a local chain. It has the biggest and most impressive space in the new market and I don't like it because they don't sell much local stuff. Their produce is the conventional supermarket crap shipped from afar and must of the rest of what they're selling is Goya and La Preferida products in cans, though they do have fresh salsas, cheeses, and chips. The churros tasted pretty bad, like they had been fried in old oil a long time ago. The kid sucked the sugar off the surface of his and left the rest for me. Thanks.

    I'm still eager to try the fish, poultry, soups, pastries, etc., at the other vendors' stands. The building is welcoming and, according to the woman who sold me a cup of coffee, business has been brisk. But it still feels very new and the other patrons, like me, seemed still to be getting their bearings. The Milwaukee Public Market could become a great local institution. I hope so.

    The fish tacos

    I don't know what fish tacos taste like in Baja or anywhere else other than a couple of Mexican restaurants in Wisconsin and my own kitchen. But these are worth making often, so here they are. There are lots of little steps but none are really that difficult or annoying and the finished product is worth a little bit of sweat.

    The array:
    Corn tortillas; I buy them but if you make them, great
    Shredded green cabbage
    Lime aioli, the key to the whole dish
    Breaded, pan-fried fish (I've made fish tacos with whitefish, catfish, lake trout, tilapia, cod, mahi, and perhaps some others I don't remember)
    Mexican rice (blanco, verde, or rojo; tonight I made rojo)
    Fresh lime wedges

    To make this splendid aioli, I whisked together an egg yolk, the juice of half a lime, some salt, a small clove of garlic minced into a paste, and about a teaspoon of mustard. Then I slowly drizzled in vegetable oil while whisking constantly until it looked like mayonnaise. About halfway through, I added the juice of the other half a lime since it wasn't a very big lime. When it was nice and thick, I tasted for seasoning and added some finely ground white pepper--white so that no black flecks spoil the pale color. After whipping this up today and scraping it into this little bowl, I licked the spatula clean.

    To make the rice, I heated up some lard in a skillet and then fried a cup of raw jasmine rice in it for a few minutes until some of the grains turned ivory white. Then I added a puree of two peeled plum tomatoes, half a white onion, and a clove of garlic, to which I added enough homemade stock to make a cup and a half. I brought this to a boil, checked for seasoning (adding salt after rice is cooked is no good), covered, and transferred to a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. I let it rest for five more before lifting the lid, fluffing with a fork, and serving it. This is arroz rojo, the red rice you get at Mexican restaurants only better. It might sound wrong to make it with Thai rice, but it's actually very right.

    To heat up the tortillas, I spread them out on a baking sheet and covered them with a wet kitchen towel. Then I put them in the oven next to the rice, where they steamed from the towel's moisture for about five minutes. When I took them out, I wrapped them in the hot towel and put them in a basket, where they stayed warm until it was time to eat them.

    And to make the fish, I cut up some tilapia fillets into strips that would fit in a tortilla. I seasoned them each with salt, white pepper, and cayenne, and dredged them in flour. Then I dipped the floured fillets in egg beaten with water and then in panko breadcrumbs. And I fried them in peanut oil in a nonstick pan. They took not much more than five minutes. Thai rice, Japanese breadcrumbs. It all works great.

    To assemble and eat these fish tacos, you spread some aioli on a tortilla, place a piece of fish on it, and top it off with shredded cabbage. Then you squeeze some lime on top, fold it up like a slice of New York pizza, and stuff it in your mouth. I also like some aioli on the plate for dipping.