Archive for August, 2009

Boiling beauties

I’m glad I experienced the bagel boom of the ’90s. You know: When bagel shops with their 32 flavors exploded onto the scene, sort of like the abundant cupcake bakeries of today (although, if I have to read about yet another cupcake-crafting phenom who left investment banking to make bank with their entrepreneurial flair for frosting, I’ll plotz).

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Nowadays, of course, bagels are pretty much verboten. Even though we’re over our carb-fear affliction (at least the more reasonable among us are — you, with the sirloin, put that steak knife away and go toast something), shop bagels remain the size of small children’s heads.

During the ’90s, of course, this was not a dangerous thing, calorically speaking. I was young and newly vegetarian and so considered bagels a core food group. And my then-raring metabolism was more than happy to oblige.

This day and age — well, if I’m using phrases like “this day and age,” I’m probably not young enough to metabolize a regular bagel. Unless I make the bagels myself.

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It’s part of why we cook and bake, right? We take things we normally wouldn’t feel good about consuming and make them fit more realistically into our efforts toward mindful eating; we take things that might otherwise be indulgences and make them nutritious.

Bagels, for me, fall into that category. Made in my kitchen, they can meet my oh-so-demanding specifications, a) that they be whole grain, through and through, b) that they be about the size of a small child’s kneecap, not head, and c) that they have the crisp-chewy texture and malty taste of a bagel — not a hole-in-the-middle squishy roll.

Naturally I used Peter Reinhart’s recipe. Find it here.

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Pick a patch of purslane

My husband to me: “Hey, you know that weed you like to eat that you wrote about?”

Me: “You mean purslane?”

Brian: “Would you know it if you saw it? I think it’s growing in our front yard. The rabbits [wild, but cute, visitors] have been eating it.”

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And so it is: Purslane! It’s moved on in, taken for its own a tiny patch of dirt, uninvited but totally welcome — in my front yard. It picked me!

I have my very own Portulaca oleracea! [sigh]

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Tomato snob

I don’t know tomatoes. I suppose I know them enough. I eat them and love them and know not to buy them in January, when their bright waxy redness is a little too Stepford.

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But I don’t know tomatoes, at least the be-all-end-all heirlooms. I have no academic knowledge informing me of the distinctions between Mortgage Lifters and Cherokee Purples, between White Wonders and Green Zebras. I’m not a hands-in-dirt kind of person (I have yet, as a card-carrying adult, to grow a single vegetable), the type who might be handy at identifying Brandywines or Black Krims. (And what might those of esteemed tomato knowledge be called anyway? Tomateys [following the pattern of ‘wineys’]? Tom Snobs? They’re out there, self-importantly tomato-name dropping.)

I may be ignorant, but I’m blissfully buying these tomatoes anyway. The girls and I wandered head-on into a great jumble of heirlooms in giant cardboard bins at the market the other day. Of course we stocked up, making our selections based on this quirk or that lump, this variegation or that dottiness. We bought more than we thought we could eat, because how could we choose? This petite yellow pointy one or this weighty burgundy one?

And, even though we don’t know the names of what we’re eating, we’re being rewarded for our dauntless sampling of these tomatoes in all their ornamental and flavor diversity.

The remarkable thing, the thing I can’t stop marveling over? Each tomato tastes different, and none taste just plain ‘tomato.’ One had a rich, winey taste. Another was almost beefy, if that’s possible. One had a definite sour punctuation.

So although names have poetic and practical place, who cares what these tomatoes are called when they taste so good? I’m not about to stop dripping tomato slush down my chin to check my heirloom tomato flashcards.

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Home slice

Just discovered: Life can be easier. Really.

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It will cost you, just not as much as you might think. I thought it would be wildly expensive, an extravagance I could do without. And so I made a sort-of martyr of myself anytime I wanted to, you know, slice potatoes.

Or julienne carrots. Or any of those prep tasks that require the precision of a trained chef or engineer or at the very least someone who actually cares whether all the cucumber slices are paper thin. (Me, I’m good if maybe a third of my cucumber slices are as flimsy as the recipe requires. In my house, who’s gonna complain about thick-ish cucumber slices on little tea sandwiches? We are not that evolved yet.)

As I’ve not yet mastered the knife skills necessary for paper-thin anything, I caved and bought a tool. I try to steer clear of kitchen tools that promise much but then just contribute to life’s clutter. (Similarly, I try to steer clear of people who do the same thing.) But a mandoline has always been the object of my kitchen-tool coveting, even though I tried to do the quasi-philosophical thing and go without.

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Besides, mandolines, in my shopping experience, tend to be pricey. They can be cool-espresso-machine pricey. “It”-hair-dryer pricey. Even pretty-clutch-from-ShopBop-I-must-have-you-for-Fall pricey.

Except for this one — the Benriner Japanese Mandoline Slicer (yes, all you language people, we’ve got some serious redundant phrasing going on there). I first saw it on Michael Ruhlman’s blog, and then kept running into it everywhere, as though it were saying, pick me! At around $23, how could I not?

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Top this (salad)

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Like anyone who loves to cook, I’m an enthusiastic proponent of a well put-together salad. A good one’s all about the right balance of crunchy and creamy, earthy and sweet — and that’s just for starters. Even what goes on top of the salad doesn’t need to be a scattered afterthought.

Check out my latest salad-related article published at one of my favorite food-related sites, Culinate.com, for some fun salad topping ideas. Happy salad days, to you!

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Chicks dig it

[Books: Chicks and Salsa & Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery]

Monday on NPR’s Fresh Air, Michael Pollan raised a scary point: the one-day possibility that cooking dinner may go the way of axing and plucking a chicken for dinner.

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He was talking about how we’ve gone from a people who cook to one that watches cooking happen on television; how cooking has gone from active daily ritual to fascination, from survival skill to sporting entertainment on shows like the Food Network’s Iron Chef and Chopped. (Download and listen, or check out his New York Times Magazine cover story on the subject.)

What Pollan didn’t broach was whether or not there’s any possibility of chickens doing the actual cooking — a concept that’s been entertaining us around here recently. That’s the [wink] subversive element in Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds. Quinn found the book at the library, but I was the one who insisted we bring it home. This kid’s book follows a farm full of industrious animals who, bored with the usual farm feed (can you blame them?), ransack the garden for tomatoes and cilantro and scallions, then cook their way through a week or so of Southwestern standbys.

Except for an unsavory appearance by some mysteriously available nacho-cheese sauce, the book is a fiesta of fresh, homegrown produce and real acts of cooking. The salsa is roasted, the chiles chopped (recipes are even included in the back, encouraging readers to not just read about the dishes, but to actually produce them). And when those chiles run out, the rooster that started it all turns his cooking attention to French cuisine.

Anglo-French cuisine is the subject of Rose Carrarini’s Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery (in Paris’s 9th). This is one of those scrapbook-style cookbooks (the trend of which can probably be used as evidence that we’re in an era of “Just look, don’t cook” ). Still, it’s a book that’s gratifying to both settle down with and to cook from. Truthfully, the book is more recipe than open letter, more tip and technique than light bio.

The photos have a being-there quality (and, oh, how I want to be there!), from the snapshot of the aloof bread-supplier to the caught-on-camera flour-dusted pastry kitchen.

And maybe I am part of a dying minority of people who cook, but those visuals that entertain (the lump of scone dough on a counter, the geometric angles of a perfect vegetable tart), also serve to inspire. I may start on the couch, watching or reading or gawking, but I’ll finish in my own kitchen, and there will be flour dust everywhere. (But no bloody chickens.)

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