Megnut

A traditional New England dessert

I'm a big fan of traditional New England food and the other night while out to dinner with my parents in Boston, we shared Indian Pudding for dessert. I'd forgotten how delicious it was! So I poked around and found this Indian Pudding recipe on Epicurious from James Beard. While I hate to question Mr. Beard's judgment, I have to report that after making this recipe, I found it too molassesy (as did some others as reported on the site). If you want to make an old-fashioned New England classic, I recommend this recipe, but reduce the amount of molasses. I plan to use 1/3 cup (rather than 1/2) and 1/2 teaspoon of ginger the next time I make this. The next time will be very soon, because even with the molassesyness, it's still delicious, just a bit too sweet for my taste.

Yummy diners from the Sterns

Jane and Michael Stern, who write a monthly column for Gourmet about road food have a list of America's Top Ten Diners at Epicurious.com. Sadly, there is nothing in New York City (if only the Jones Diner hadn't been torn down!). They do recommend Wasp's Snack Bar in Woodstock, VT, which I happened to drive by just the either day! I noticed it (it was closed) and thought, "Huh, that place looks pretty cool." I will have to go back for sure.

Maple Roast Chicken

3 - 3 1/2 lb. free-range chicken*
3/4 c. real maple syrup†
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon peanut oil
Kosher or coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper

OPTIONAL ROASTED VEGETABLE ACCOMPANIMENT
6 small white boiling onions, peeled
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
8 small white potatoes, scrubbed but left whole with skins on

* I think free-range is really the only way to go because the birds have more flavor. And as my acupuncturist once told me, they have better "energy" because they lived happy lives, hanging around outdoors as chickens should, not all cooped up, unable to move. That gives them bad energy, and you don't want to eat meat with bad energy, do you?

† I am partial to Vermont maple syrup, but as long as you get the authentic stuff, and non of that phony corn syrup with maple flavoring, I'll be happy.

The falliest yummiest sandwich

Because I am an insanely obsessive person, when I find some kind of food item or dish that I love, I eat it nearly non-stop until I am sick of it. For evidence, one need only look back to the summer of 2003: I ate bread salad for nearly every meal. I am currently addicted to grilled cheese and apple sandwiches. I got the idea from Martha Stewart Living (September? October?) and have implemented it to perfection, if I may say so.

I start with Klinger's Bread Company Sliced VT Maple Oat Walnut bread. I butter both sides with unsalted butter and place one slice, butter side down, in a skillet over medium-low heat. Then I layer on 1/8" slices of Shelburne Farms two-year farmhouse cheddar cheese until the bread is covered. I place thin slices of Champlain Orchards Macoun apples† over the cheese, and top with the second slice of bread. Once the bread is browned and crispy, I flip* it and cook until the other side is browned and crispy too, and the cheese is melted. Plate, slice and enjoy!

† At first I was using Macintosh apples, but these tend to soften too much -- and lose some flavor -- while cooking. I prefer the nice crunch and sweetness of the Macoun in the sandwich.

* Careful when you flip, the apples try to slide out, so I place my hand on top and hold the sandwich together while I slide the spatula underneath, and gently turn the it over.

The reading of a(nother) chef book

The Seasoning of a Chef: My Journey from Diner to Ducasse and Beyond Ever a fan of the "real world" cooking tale or memoir, I picked up The Seasoning of a Chef: My Journey from Diner to Ducasse and Beyond by Doug Psaltis and (his brother) Michael Psaltis. Boy did I not realize what I was getting into! The book itself explores Chef Psaltis' impressive journey from his grandfather's diner to working at some of the most expensive and elegant restaurants in the United States and France, without ever attending culinary school. Having no formal culinary training myself, I was eager to hear how he had done it.

The book has some wonderful moments. I found the early chapter about working at the diner especially moving and vivid. As the book continued though, I was disappointed in the writing. Moments and stories that could have been exciting seemed a bit dull, as if the personality of the kitchen had been stripped out. Professional kitchens are energized places, filled with commotion and passion and strange characters, but not a lot of that is revealed in Cheg Psaltis' book. He comes off as a driven and rather severe person, and the writing suffers somewhat from those same qualities. I wished the passion he claims for cooking were more evident in the way he told his story.

The one real issue I had with the book was the chapter entitled, "Cooking by the Book." He and another chef "Alex" are selected to "run the kitchen of Peter's restaurant." For some reason at this point, Chef Psaltis stops naming names. Throughout the entire book, he reveals the names of restaurants he works at and the names of the chefs he works with. I was familiar with many of those names, and for those with which I wasn't, I assumed the chef was using real names. And then this chapter: "Peter" is not the chef/owner's name. And the restaurant's name is never mentioned. I found this troubling, as he was very critical of "Peter" and the restaurant. It seemed disingenuous to use a pseudonym in only one instance, and raised questions about the validity of other sections of the book. Why openly criticize Thomas Keller at the end but hide behind "Peter" in the middle of the book? Who was "Peter" anyway?

After finishing, I set about to do a little research, curious about "Peter" and public reaction to the book. Hours later, bleary-eyed from reading too much online, I discovered how controversial this little biography seems to be. Chefs that had blurbed the book have recanted (Jacques Pépin and Mario Batali!), there were allusions that Chef Psaltis did something or something happened at the French Laundry, for which he may have been fired, then an admittance by the chef the he slapped someone while working at the Laundry, etc. etc. etc. It turns out the "Peter" is Dan Barber, and the restaurant that Chef Psaltis helped open was Blue Hill, one of my favorites in New York City.(Again maybe not, "Alex" who is really an Alex, Alex Ureña, said recently in a phone conversation with the New York Times that Chef Psaltis was hired two weeks after the restaurant opened!) So much controversy! What to do? Who to believe?

Do I recommend the book? Yeah, if you like cooking and are curious about what it's like to work at some of the best places, and work really hard to pursue your passion. And if you're really into the industry and want all the gossip and back story speculation, you can check out this New York Times article from October 5, 2005 by Gina Bellafante Kitchen Ruckus: A Chef's Memoir and this very long (13 pages!) eGullet thread Doug Psaltis, The Seasoning of a Chef. The eGullet thread has comments from Michael Ruhlman, Anthony Bourdain, and even Doug Psaltis himself. And of course, all this sets the stage for what may inspire the most critical reviews yet: Country. Chef Psaltis is on the verge of launching Country with Geoffrey Zakarian. Serving modern European-American fare, the 120-room cafe is supposed to open this week, and a formal dining room will follow later this fall. More at New York magazine's Food Openings & Buzz - Week of Oct. 10, 2005 And they say there's no such thing as bad publicity, I guess we'll find out soon enough!

A roundtable discussion on eGullet

Recently there was a discussion over on eGullet about The Future of Dining: An eG Roundtable, Clark Wolf, Michael Ruhlman, Steven Shaw. There's a bunch of follow-up discussion topics derived from the roundtable as well that look interesting. I really need to spend more time over at eGullet, I think I could be learning a lot!

A bounty of autumnal flavors

Fall has always been my favorite season, food-wise, and now that the leaves are really changing and the temperature's dropped a bit, I've been cooking up a storm! Squash soup, mushroom soup, salads with apples and walnuts, salads with roasted mushrooms, salad dressings with walnut oil and cider vinegar, etc.

Last night, I made a maple roast chicken with yummy maple roasted vegetables. Instead of basting my roast in melted butter, as I usually do, I added maple syrup to the butter and basted with the combo. I filled the bottom of my roasting pan with small white potatoes, chopped sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips, and whole little white onions. I poured some butter/maple over the top of the veggies, and then as the chicken roasted, the basting liquid and juices pooled to coat the veggies further. The result? Sweet maply goodness! Accompanied by a baby arugula and watercress salad with walnuts and McIntosh apple slices, dressed in the aforementioned walnut oil and cider vinegar (with a splash of maple syrup) vinaigrette, it was a bounty of fall on the plate.

And of course there are my breakfasts of oatmeal with cinnamon, apples, and craisins, which I didn't even mention! Oh fall, how I love you so, with your cool crisp days and your yummy yummy foods!

UPDATE: I posted the recipe for maple roast chicken.

Looking for cheese and leaves

Good stuff in In a Land of Leaves, Seeking Cheese about tasting artisanal cheeses while viewing the foliage in Vermont. I'd been hoping to visit a nearby farm that makes an amazing goat cheese here in NH. Now I think I may add a VT farm or two and do some serious cheese exploration.

Why you shouldn't print your own photos

From the New York Times: Why Do-It-Yourself Photo Printing Doesn't Add Up.

Despite the ceaseless efforts of manufacturers to convince consumers that printing at home is fast, convenient and a whole lot of fun, the evidence shows that many people are tuning out the marketing.

Looks like it's cheaper to get your photos printed elsewhere than to do it yourself. And probably a lot less hassle. My printer has been a problem ever since it decided to recalibrate itself. It won't line up all the colors properly. Professionally printed prints for half the price sounds like an easier solution to me.

How long for the popular food?

An intrepid reporter from New York magazine hits some popular food spots in Manhattan and reports back with Will Wait for Food. Is it worth it to wait 25 minutes and 3 seconds on a Saturday night for a cupcake from the Magnolia Bakery? According to author Rob Patronite, "Not if it were the last cupcake on Earth." What about 37 minutes and 8 seconds for a Shake Shack burger? "An emphatic yes." So now you know.

Tony in the Times

Nice shortish profile of Anthony Bourdain in yesterday's New York Times: Forget Star Chef; Think Professional Eater. It seems he's no longer behind the stove at his New York restaurant Les Halles and is pretty much full-time traveling the world, eating and drinking local foods and beverages, for the television program "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" on the Travel Channel. Professional eater! Now that's a job I could get into!

Fifty years of Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was published fifty years ago yesterday, and there's an interesting article in the New York Times, Forever Young, about its history. I hadn't realized Nabokov struggled to get it published, though of course that makes sense. Anyway, an interesting look at one of my favorite books.

A facility for language?

Something has happened to my language skills and by something I mean they've begun a precipitous decline. Occasionally I use a similar, but incorrect, word when speaking, e.g once I used "disposed" instead of "deposed" to refer to a Latin American leader, an error which, at the time, I attributed to the fact that I lived in Mexico and rarely spoke English. But now this mixing-up seems to be worsening! And fast!

Yesterday while walking with a friend and discussing some serious blisters on my baby toe, I joked that it would fall off and I'd "regurgitate" a new one. Today when I was asked for permission to use one of my photos on Flickr, I mentioned to Jason that I'd allow it, but only if I got "retribution."

Regurgitate, regenerate. Retribution, attribution. What's the difference, really? By this time tomorrow, I might not be making any sense whatsoever when I speak.

The cupcake battle

Who knew all this about my favorite cupcakes? The history behind the Magnolia Bakery and its off-spring is detailed in NY Metro in The Sticky Tale of Buttercup vs. Little Cupcake. Regardless, I still love Magnolia's cups. My favorite is chocolate frosting on yellow cake. Soooo good!

Easy tucking for fall

Katerina jean from Thirteen DenimIt's like those jackets that come with built-in shirts, only it's built-in socks for your jeans! Yes, that's right, no more bagging or cramming or scrunching your jeans into your [insert hip type of boot you wear] boots. Check out Stocking Stuffer: built-in socks for girls who tuck where Thirteen Denim's sock jean is Item of the Week.

These ingenious jeans from Thirteen Denim feature a built-in sock that eliminates baggy knees, bunched fabric, and--worst of all--broken zippers. The line comes in several fits and washes, and two different sock lengths for different boot heights. Everything you need, in other words, to keep on tuckin'.

Check out the collection online at thirteendenim.com. Now what would really be cool would be to wear those jeans without knee-high boots, like say with a pair of ballet flats. Knickers meets leg warmers! Trends collide!

Why the Beatles still rock

An interesting article in the New York Times, Why This Band Plays On, examines the continued popularity of the Beatles after all these years.

But fun on the level that the Beatles managed to achieve - at least in those days - implied more than a collective, thrilling scream. We remember the Beatles for their music and spectacle, but we celebrate them because, when they stood before their American audiences in 1964 and 1965, we witnessed the social and cultural power that a pop group and its audience could create and share. From there, I guess, you measure how much we've learned, or how much we've lost.

The Beatles broke up before I was even born, yet from the time I was little I've been a huge Beatles fan. In fifth grade some girls asked me in the locker room what my favorite song was and I remember telling them, "Either 'Ob-la-di Ob-la-da' or 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'," torn as I was between my first love for early Beatles and my then-developing love for their later work. The girls scoffed and said something about old music not counting. Apparently I was supposed to like some song by Rick Springfield or something. Take that fifth grade girls! I don't see your precious Rick Springfield being mentioned in the Times these days!

Enjoying Elizabeth David

Ages ago my mother gave me Is There a Nutmeg in the House? Essays on Practical Cooking with more than 150 RecipesIs There a Nutmeg in the House?: Essays on Practical Cooking with more than 150 Recipes by Elizabeth David. I read some of it, and then put it down. The other day I picked it up again, and am enjoying it as much as I did the first time (I don't know why I ever put it down, frankly.) Her bold opinionated writing about food is refreshing and enjoyable and most interesting to me, it feels modern.

Though some of the writings in this collection date to the sixties and seventies, her opinions on whether one can substitute a bouillon cube when a recipe for stock ("Well, will a bouillon cube 'do'? Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it will do nothing."), the excessive gadgetry of a "dream kitchen" ("And too much equipment is if anything worse than too little. I don't a bit covet the exotic gear dangling from hooks, the riot of clanking ironmongery, the armouries of knives, or the serried rank of sauté pans and all other carefully chosen symbols of culinary activity I see in so many photographs of chic kitchens."), and the "ogres of factory farming...and all those who push the just acceptable at the expense of the best," sound like they could have been written today.

Great food writing is a joy to read. Great food writing that stands the test of time is all the more impressive, especially considering the trials and trends of the culinary arts on both sides of the Atlantic. But Elizabeth David is there to remind us that great food is simply great ingredients that don't get all muddled up in the kitchen. And for that, I thank her.

A delicious what? A slump?

The blackberries are still growing along my road and after two batches of jam and one blackberry and peach tart, I was looking for something easier to do with the quart of berries my cousin and I picked yesterday. A quick search over at Epicurious yielded this delightful recipe for a Blackberry Slump, which is basically cooked berries with a slab of cake on top. Not the neatest or fanciest dessert but it was easy and tasty. Later we were discussing the other slumps one could make and agreed that an apple and cranberry slump, with cinnamon added to the batter, could be a delightful fall dessert. I'm adding slumps to my repertoire of homey yummy goodness to make.

Oh the yummy langoustine

A delicious article on langoustines from R.W. Apple in the New York Times makes me yearn to board the next jet to France for a trip to eat these yummy little crustaceans, Lobster's Little Cousin, and Its Envy.

What, you may well ask, is a langoustine? Shellfish nomenclature is a vexed matter, and nowhere more so than where langoustines are concerned. More later on the technicalities; for now, suffice it to say that they are slim, pink, thin-shelled relatives of lobsters, with bodies 3 to 10 inches long and skinny claws. (The claws are often as long as the bodies.) At its best the meat is heavenly, more subtle in flavor and delicate in texture than that of their huskier cousins from Maine.

Though not the same, the article reminds me of the smaller little lobsters I ate in Anguilla a few years ago. I think they called them langoustines actually, but they were larger than the creatures Mr. Apple muses about in this article. Either way, I want langoustines in my belly right now, even if they're not breakfast food!

Interview with Ruth Reichl

Amazon also has an interview with Ruth Reichl on their site, Behind the Scenes at the Times: An Interview with Ruth Reichl in which she talks about writing Garlic and Sapphires, working at Gourmet and what makes good food writing. I only wish it were longer!

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