Trying to "eat light" this week. Not like that. Like this: a combination of the prune confit recipe I've been talking about and some Epicurious lentil salad recipe. Surprisingly good, since 1) this is very healthy eating, and 2) I basically just crashed these two recipes into each other. Even J the PB liked it.


du puy lentil salad with feta, mint, and prune + shallot confit.


300 gr pitted prunes
300 gr shallots, peeled, left whole
3 tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled
a little water
2 handfuls almonds, toasted

1 cup du puy lentils
water to cover by 1 inch
4 tbsp wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp olive oil

2 handfuls field greens
2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
2 tbsp feta, crumbled

Full instructions to follow.

For confit, brown shallots in olive oil for 5 minutes or so. Add prunes, garlic, and 2 tbsp water. Simmer at lowest heat possible until prunes fall apart, adding 1 or 2 tbsp water as necessary to prevent sticking, burning, etc. This should take an hour or so. Add almonds and cook for 5 more minutes.

Serves 2.


UPDATE: Slightly less light? Prune confit on buttered toast. I see a future chock full of prune confit. Chomp.




I do wish I'd had my camera with me last night b/c our talented dinner host made the cutest little flatbreads, with perfect griddle marks and everything. So with a nicely spicy mixture of ground beef, pine nuts and hummus, we had these warm little clouds of flatness as the delivery mechanism.

This is the kind of thing that periodically makes me wish I had the patience/discipline/skill to work with flour...I think they call that baking, don't they. I guess that's why I haven't yet purchased the Koekje book pictured above. It's a beautifully designed book from two of The Netherlands' most respected patissiers....aw, heck just read Julia's post about it.


Oh, right: hibernation. I'm spending the weekend indoors hopefully, even though that doesn't sound like any fun at all at the moment. It's Double Headphone Time again. Which usually means pretty boring eating, but I'll see what I can do.


putting cradle to bed.

Actual conversation snippet from this morning:

MARA is eating a piece of toast. Mara makes excellent toast, maybe the best toast I've ever had. The only problem with it is that one slice of it contains more butter than I normally eat in a day.

Mara: Chomp. Crunch crunch crunch.
Mara: Chee-yomp. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
Mara: What?
Me: Why does butter have to be bad for you?
Mara: It is? Chomp. Crunch crunch crunch...


The Cradle of Flavor cookers at eGullet have just about finished the entire book, quite a feat. I only cooked a handful of the recipes, but I'm slotted to cook the final (food) recipe in the book this week. Here's the gist of the recipe:


purple rice pudding with salted coconut milk.


1 cup black sticky rice (mine was labeled Thai Glutinous Rice)
6 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Wash rice through 3 changes of water. Add water and sugar to rice, stir to combine, bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 1 hour to the consistency of a thick pudding.

Elsewhere, combine coconut milk with salt in a small bowl and set aside at room temperature.

Spoon warm rice into bowls and drizzle with coconut milk. Mara preferred this amount of coconut milk:

While I preferred this amount:

Not really a "drizzle" anymore at that point, is it?

This whole recipe was pretty good, but the salted coconut milk by itself is pretty amazing. I put it back in the fridge after our little pudding experiment was over, and now it's like salted coconut ice cream. Chomp.


putty pwoblems.

"Theresa in Green Bay, WI has a pair of cats that used to meow outside her bedroom door at 5 in the morning waiting to be fed. She discovered that her cats hate the sound of recorders – the musical instrument that sound almost like whistles. She kept one by her bed, and when her cats started meowing in the morning, she played a few notes. Boy did they run! It only took about four days to stop the problem, and she never even had to get out of bed!"


The cats are out of control. They're spending their days locked in the throes of some indecipherable power struggle with each other, each of them striving to stake claim to higher and higher ground, to increasingly comic effect. But somehow they manage to find something to agree upon every morning at 5am: their unquenchable desire to communicate to us something as-yet-untranslatable. We feed them. They still meow. We chase them around a little, they still meow. We curse them. Meow. On and off until 8am or so. Meow. Meow. Meow.

They've always done this, but in the other apartment we could keep them out of the bedroom. Now we can't, and well, no one seems very happy about it. Our situation isn't as bad as some I've read about (every morning from 3am to 6am would suck), but it is every morning, usually around 5 or 6, which for this half-insomniac family is far too early. Guess we'll have to put them down. Kidding. What I meant to say was: guess who's going to be playing recorder duets in the mornings.

UPDATE: This morning, no meowing. We tried several techniques yesterday, and one of them worked apparently. 1) Very little food during the day, and a large-size meal (half a handful) right before bed. 2) A little playing before bedtime. 3) Fan next to head of bed where the crier-on-duty normally stands. 4) Recorders next to bed, ready to be played.



cupboard's bare.

You really start eating differently after your at-home inventory dips below a certain level. Due to a busy pre-Easter week we kind of forgot to do grocery shopping before the holiday weekend. This is not a huge deal, since we live 30 seconds away from the one grocery store in town you know will be open.

But we also just didn't feel like going to the store. We were working on complicated things, it was snowing, etc. So after a few days of this, there's no fresh food in the house (especially with the size of our refrigerators...think college dorm) and you begin rummaging through cupboards.

And turning up things like spicy Moroccan sardines, which I just put on a piece of toasted bread with butter, fresh mint, and a little lemon, these are great. I know that sardines are a divisive foodstuff, and frankly I've had some sardines that just about ended my relationship with them. But if you can find a brand you like and trust, they can be some dang good eatin'.

Why just look at this tasty specimen here. This is what you get when you open a tin of Tagine sardines and dump it into a cute little plate.

Yes, those are chile peppers and mandolined carrots and onions in there as well. Then you toast some bread, toss the fishies onto it, tear off a couple of fresh mint leaves and add them, squeeze a little lemon on there, and if you're not planning on leaving the house, add some raw onion. And then bite the heck out of it.


I also found some chickpea flour when I was rummaging around. With which you make socca/farinata (pictured at the top of this post) like we did last night. Recipe from the VDuck archives here, and guess what: I still need a new pizza pan.



dunkin', punkin', whatnot.

Felt like my body probably needed some of that orange vegetable goodness, so I roasted a big piece of squash from the Turkish guys, which ended up as a soup. Again, with a touch of smoked chiles. I can't stop!

Recipe-wise, we got us a couple of loose ends, so to speak. This is the pork marinade I used Wednesday night, and is one of the general Southwestern pork tools that I used to use all the time and they still seem to work.


pork marinade.


1/2 cup unrefined sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1 crushed bay leaf
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano, toasted and ground
1/2 tsp allspice
4 cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 cups of water

Combine ingredients, add pork, marinate overnight. Discard marinade.




For Clare's 40th birthday party last night, the dress code was "unbecoming". Mara won the Best Dressed prize.

So, alright, yes, I know the next question is, what did I wear? I found out last night that, truly, no good deed goes unpunished. I didn't make it to the party until just after midnight because I'd been supporting our friends at BvB by showing up for their CD release party at the BIMhuis. So, logistically, I couldn't really do the whole costume thing, could I.

Clare, however, being the fun girl that she is, had a policy of "No Costume? No Problem. We'll Dress You." And oh, did I suffer. If only I could find a picture of that. Oh, well. Here's a rather unbecoming picture of Clare instead that will hopefully teach her not to pick on a blogger.



vegetable corner with jimmy the peanut.

It's snowing here.

As I may have mentioned, Jimmy the Peanut has a hard time finding vegetables that she likes to eat, so when we latch onto a preparation that works for her, it's worth jotting down. Tonight we had our failsafe salmon and Molly Stevens' braised endive, plus the following recipe which we've been making quite regularly. This is based on Tom Colicchio's suggestions in the Craft book.


sugar snap peas.


250 grams sugar snap peas
1 tsp orange zest, minced (optional)
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp butter
salt and pepper

Heat the chicken broth to a boil in a wok or deepish saucepan. Add the peas and orange zest and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost gone, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the butter and black pepper and saute for another 2-3 minutes, until peas are still bright green but tooth-tender. Adjust for salt and serve.

Serves 2.



No more yankie my wankie. Last night was a Scrabble evening with the lovely and talented P-Wo. I had intended to make us some real "man food" with wild animals and booze and other caveman/cowboy accoutrements, but I couldn't turn up any ostrich or buffalo given my restricted range of motion yesterday (I was just hungover and didn't feel like straying far from home).

So instead we get something only slightly less manly: pork tenderloin. This set of flavors is another Mark Miller-based concept, which bridges some seemingly unlikely ingredients very handily...this was one of the best meals I've made in a while.

Thus, I'll go into some detail. The first component is a mushroom and parmesan risotto based on Mara's baked risotto discussed earlier. You basically use red wine instead of white wine, and a little rosemary instead of the sage. And mushroom stock if you've got it.

The sauce for the pork is a tomatillo and smoked chile sauce. I know it seems like we've been hitting the chipotle note a bit too often lately, but when used in small amounts it truly remains a mysterious support element and doesn't wear out its welcome.

The tomatillo itself (photo above stolen from Wikipedia) is a fruit not seen very often in European grocery stores, it's an ancient Mayan/Aztec character whose distribution is mostly limited to the southern USA and Mexico. Its flavor is quite tart and doesn't seem like an obvious match for mushrooms, but I think that the rosemary in the risotto and chipotle in the sauce tie all of this together.

Where did my tomatillos come from? Tjin's down in De Pijp has bottles of Herdez' Salsa Verde for non-extortionate prices. The salsa verde is is basically a bottled tomatillo sauce, to which I add (per 1 cup of bottled sauce): 1 clove of garlic, 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, 1/4 cup fresh coriander, and the juice of 1 lime. Puree these things, and that's the European tomatillo-chipotle sauce I used last night. It's really good.

The pork itself was marinated for a couple of hours in my lazy version of Mr. Miller's all-purpose Pork Marinade. The white stuff on it is shaved goat cheese (not cheese from a shaved goat). BTW, this photo is today's version, the pork was not as well-done last night as it looks here.

I hereby give you: southwestern pork tenderloin in tomatillo-smoked chile sauce with mushroom risotto. Leftovers.


mushroom risotto with parmesan and rosemary


1 cup chopped, sauteed mushrooms of your choice

(I used regular old cremini mushrooms here and it worked fine, but you could also go as exotic as you wanted to)

2 tbsp olive oil
3 shallots, or one small red onion, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups mushroom or vegetable stock
1 tsp dried rosemary leaves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

up to 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano (we also use pecorino romano sometimes)

Heat oven to 190°C.

In a medium ovenproof saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add rice, and stir until grains are shiny and well coated with oil, about 2 minutes more. Add wine, and continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add stock, rosemary, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Cover saucepan; transfer to oven. Bake until almost all of the stock is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese. Replace back in oven.

After 6-8 minutes, remove from oven and serve immediately, topped with grated cheese.

Serves 4 normal people or 2 cavemen.



jackie joyner-kersee.

Wollo's comfortable, chocolate frosting
Your socks hangin' out, yours is talkin'
Rock so steadily, son, I'm stir crazy
Sport my old Force MD furs in the 80s
Nat Turners wit' burners, Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Taught y'all niggas how to rap, reimburse me
Rothsdale's, ruby red sales, Bloomingdale blocks
Ox tails chopped up in Caribbean spots

-Wu-Tang Clan


Massive hurdle #1 has been hurdled: just did my first "all-guitar" gig in a million years last night (meaning I didn't have any electronics to hide behind), and it went just fine. If you are a local and you weren't invited, don't fret...you weren't alone. I didn't invite anyone or tell anyone b/c I was really just nervous enough as it was.

BTW, here's an MP3 of that Wu-Tang track (Ghostface's verse above is halfway through or so). Beware: bad language and meanness therein, plus an excellent RZA beat and Method Man threatening to "put on my gasoline boots and walk through hell". I like Wikipedia's description of Wu-Tang's vibe as "surreal aggression".

Lastly, I'll be performing some sort of manly ostrich dish tonight as part of our Midweek Scrabble Throwdown. I'm thinking chiles.




Left side: tomato sauce, bacon, roasted red pepper, mushrooms, shrimp (well, not yet), feta, basil. Right side: mozzarella, tomato sauce, pecorino.


quick pizza dough

2 to 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 package fast-acting yeast
1 1/2 tsp unrefined sugar
1/4 cup peanut or olive oil
1 tsp salt

In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup of flour, yeast, sugar, and 2/3 cup hot water. Stir in the oil, 1 1/4 cups of the remaining flour, and the salt and blend the mixture until it forms a dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface, incorporating as much of the remaining 1/4 cup flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic.

Let rise and bake with toppings at 230C for 15-18 minutes.


easy red sauce. So for each can of tomatoes you use, you use: 1 small glug of red wine, 1 clove of garlic, 1 bay leaf, 1 glug of olive oil, 1 grind of black pepper and 1 pinch of salt or smoked salt. And maybe 1 pinch of smoked paprika if you feel spicy. Oh and 1 tsp of sugar towards the end. So this is the amount I normally make.

2 cans cheap canned whole tomatoes
2 glugs of decent red wine
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 small bay leaves
2 glugs good olive oil
2 tsp unrefined sugar

Put everything except the sugar in a saucepan on the lowest heat possible. Let it cook until the tomatoes fall apart, this usually takes 60-90 minutes for the Dirk's tomatoes. After 45 minutes add the sugar, and after 15 more minutes start tasting for salt and sugar levels.



new miscellany.

Right. I shouldn't feel bad about this...even good blogs have posts like this.


Saw No Country for Old Men again, this time at The Movies (pictured above). I really love The Movies. The interior is crazily retro and Shining-evocative in its carpeted spookiness, plus it has a ambitious/traditional full-service bar and restaurant inside. And, like all Dutch movie theatres, you can drink beer while you watch Javier Bardem's hair win Academy Awards.

It's odd watching a dialect/colloquialism-heavy movie with a non-native-language audience. In Phoenix, the entire theater chuckled 10 or 15 times at Tommy Lee Jones's dialogue...this time, I don't think there was a single group snicker, and that bummed me a little because it's a pretty wry movie.


Bought more wild Alaskan salmon yesterday, tried another variation of a Chris Schlesinger recipe that is superficially quite similar to the last recipe we did, but the spices are more uppity. Mara thought they were a little too uppity, so I've reduced the amounts of those spices even further than I had originally.


braised wild salmon with cumin, chipotle and citrus.


2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp paprika
4 wild salmon filets @ 150 grams each
2 shallots, diced
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 minced chipotle chile
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup raisins
2 tbsp toasted, crushed hazelnuts

Directions forthcoming, but here's the standard VDuck caveman-style plating: unidentifiable protein under carelessly cut-and-strewn fresh herbs. I swear this isn't a chicken breast.


Speaking of cavemen, what are the chances that this show would actually be funny? Very extremely small. And yet, we in Europe, who see American TV programs long after they've died and gone to TV Heaven, have watched said show more than once and snickered guiltily.

Funny that it was "critically savaged", according to Wikipedia. TV critics are known for their awesome senses of humor, so there must be a "disconnect" somewheres. I myself would like to see the pilot episode that was declared "too edgy"...




stay pruned.

I'd posted this post once and then changed my mind, which now I'm doing again.

Because I stumbled onto a (to me, at least) weirdly successful flavor combo today: zucchini, prunes, and hazelnuts. Maybe not so weird: I'm sure a Sicilian has done something like this before.

But it reminded me that I'd been wanting to combine my increasing enjoyment of prunes with my love of cooking things for a long time and calling them confits. Thus, this space will soonishly be occupied by a recipe for...prune confit.

I didn't think of this myself. There are a couple of recipes that are tugging at my kitchen puppet strings, but I can only find one of them at the moment: the Prune and Shallot Confit described here. The French Laundry serves one, but I ain't seen a recipe for it. Stay tuned.


lang leve vis.

Picked up this petite volume the other day (for the low low price of 9.95). It's a better-than-average pamphlet slash cookbook designed to raise awareness about the current state of overfishing and in the process also provide some upscale fish recipes from Dutch "top chefs".

The whole topic of sustainable fishing and aquaculture is frankly full of dissonant logic for me, choosing carefully which species of fish should be killed today so that other species' populations may recover enough to potentially be guiltlessly killed again at some point in the future. And the title of the book is "Long Live Fish!", which I guess they mean figuratively, not literally, because the book is full of really rather crafty and beautiful photos (some of which must be Photoshopped) of apparently non-living fish.

Anyway, yada yada, that's my problem, not yours. The fact is: I eat fish, and I'd like to do so in a way that allows everyone to continue to do so for a long time, and essentially that's what the concept and book are about. The recipes therein are very modern French/European in their approach, stopping just short of the molecular gastronomy realm: there is a foam or two, a little sous-vide here and there, but everything pretty much looks like what it is...there are no trout pillows or scallop lollipops (though there is in fact a horseradish marshmallow now that I think of it).

It's hard to imagine regularly cooking most of the recipes in their entirety: sauteed crayfish with confit of Belgian endive in a mild curry vinaigrette with thinly sliced Granny Smith apple is a just a shade fussy for a weeknight meal. But I'll very likely try the endive confit piece very soon, and most of the recipes have at least one idea in them I'd like to 'speriment with: Dover sole in smoked butter with oysters, sweet and sour leeks and a lemongrass sauce is intriguing, but I'll probably test the smoked butter idea first with something simple.

Overall, it's a nicely designed book (in Dutch), with a helpful one-page guide to buying "green" fish inside (which you can download here), and completely worth picking up if you're a seafood eater who makes choosing your victims carefully a priority.


In this vein, so to speak, I picked up some frozen Alaskan wild salmon (one of the "green" fish) at the Dirk today. It just can't be any good at this price, 3.99 euro for 750 grams (1.65 lbs). I'm going to use the chipotle vinaigrette recipe I posted here and see what happens.

LATER: Let's just say it: PREPARE YOURSELVES FOR A PICTURE OF OVERCOOKED SALMON. The fish was totally edible (though it looked more than a little rough) and this was an excellent way to prepare it. I overcooked pretty thoroughly because, well...I often do this when I get fish from somewhere other than a fishmonger, call it superstition. And I made a couple of substitutions: basil for the cilantro specified in the recipe, and I used coconut vinegar because I didn't have any cider vinegar. It sounded like the right thing to do.

The next time I make this, which will be soon, I'll serve it with a dollop of basil or chive mayonnaise on the side, and team it up with buttered corn and/or potatoes. Muy pleasant. And cheap.


File Under Entertaining: Hezbollah Tofu takes on Anthony Bourdain's (slightly exaggerated for comedic effect, just maybe?) anti-veganism by veganizing Bourdain recipes. Got to give them respect for expertly dissing an expert disser, though after only three recipes I'm starting to want to hear a broader range of insults beyond "asshat". That's just me.



...as well as my nuts (repost).

This is going to be a reposting of a rather old bit (April 2005) that deals unironically with Nut Health. I'm going to re-tweak the writing and generally trick it out with photos from our 2001 Sicilian vacation during Carnevale. Right now the writing is still 2005-style.

A word about the chickens. We went to Sicily in 2001 immediately after Mara's life-changing run-in with the exotic and deadly Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It seemed that some relaxing islandy sun might be a good antidote for sleepless weeks in the hospital, plasmapheresis, and nerve conduction studies (where basically they electrocute you "just a little" to see if your nerves are still working).

When we arrived, we (duh) found out it was Carnevale, which meant parades, costumes, and general drunken revelry. 2001 was also the year that "mad cow disease" was dominating the media, and in response to this a certain faction of the Taormina celebrants had dressed up as chickens, in drag of course. On several floats, there were crossdressing chickens cooking actual chicken and throwing it into the crowd:

It was yet another example of that wonderful Italian tendency toward serving tasty food where you least expect it: bus stations, hospitals, and yes, parades.

Throughout the cooking process, the chefs had been taking long pulls from a suspicious-looking bottle of what must have been Boogie Juice, because it wasn't long before the chickens began boogeying down unstoppably. They also had their eye on Mara, and soon she was in their clutches. And me with no chicken repellent.


Riiiiight, time for a Nut Roundup. During my most successful "weight management interludes", nuts have been my primary dessert substitute and snack. Turns out, though, that not all nuts are equally beneficial to the rest of your body. There are some well-known standouts from a health perspective, the point of this post was to look at my faves and see how good or bad they are.

ALMONDS. Good news! In 2003, the FDA added almonds to the list of "tree nuts that may help reduce the risk of heart disease." I'll quote from the link above, from Western Farm Press:

"A clinical trial conducted at the University of Toronto found that women and men who ate about one ounce (a handful) of almonds each day lowered their LDL cholesterol by 4.4 percent from baseline. The study showed an even greater decrease of 9.4 percent in LDL cholesterol in those who ate about two handfuls of almonds a day, indicating that almonds' effect increases with increased consumption."

Great news. One ounce of almonds = 24 almonds = 164 calories. Time to bust out the ricciarelli. They don't even look that bad for you.

PINE NUTS. You'd think that this study/statement above from the FDA would include pine nuts. Well, when the FDA mentioned tree nuts, they added that they were disqualifying four kinds of nuts ‑ Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashew nuts and some varieties of pine nuts because they exceed healthy saturated fat levels.

Thus, an occasional treat. And that should render this slice of pure uncut dopamine even more occasional.

PISTACHIOS. Ah, Sicily. In Taormina (pictured above), after stumbling down the nearly vertical hill from our hotel into the center of town, I was wandering around comparing bakeries, and finally settled on one with an array of nut-bombarded cookies in the window. Pistachio, pignoli, and almond, studded with tooth-defying amounts of sugared nuts...we went back for seconds within the hour.

Well, this is coming from the California Pistachio Commission, but in light of everything we've already uncovered, we can assume that the word "nuts" in the text can apply to "pistachio" as well (they thought we wouldn't notice that they don't actually use the word pistachio?). Verdict: as healthy as almonds, and one of the lowest-oil-content nuts.1 oz. pistachios = 47 kernels = 158 cal.

HAZELNUTS. A very European nut, one that I liked in America when I came across it (mostly in Frangelico or European chocolate), but I didn't begin truly jonesing for filberts until we lived in Italy and they were everywhere. My most indelible hazelnut experience came from a street vendor in Bologna who was selling warm, fresh hazelnut brittle. When i say fresh, I mean that not only was the brittle fresh--you couldn't hold it upright because it would ooze/droop over--but the hazelnuts were extremely fresh as well, not these gnarled, dry things you sometimes come across. Totally perfetto.
Also: here's a nice little paper from Univ. of Arizona with some cholesterol-lowering tips.
So hazelnuts...they're as good for you as almonds are. Here's the Hazelnut Commission's promotional info. Not that this is the info that I'm basing my results on...the hazelnut details are already covered in the FDA links for almonds and pistachios.
1 oz. hazelnuts = 178 calories. pretty high in fat.
CONCLUSION. Good: walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios. Baddish: pine, macadamia, cashew, Brazil. Neither: The peanut. As far as I can tell, there's no non-partisan document that says that peanuts lower anything beyond what any monounsaturated fat would do. They're just extra fat. So, if you feel like a nut, it'd be wiser to go with something that actually does you some good.


take me to haarlem(merstraat).

God, when I come up with a post title like that, it's a definite sign that I should not be writing right now. But I really am quite busy at the moment, so we have to take what we can get in terms of inspiration.

Speaking of inspiration, I needed some yesterday. So I spent a little extra time on the Haarlemmerstraat on my way home from the gym. These seem like dialectically opposed forces, don't they, the gym and Haarlemmerstraat. Fear not: I haven't touched any of this stuff since I bought it.

Well, OK, I had a few crumbs of this:

Which I got at a croissanterie called Jerusalem on the Haarlemmerstraat. It's a Middle Eastern or North African semolina cake called haresa or basboosa (recipe here), and it's part of the great Middle Eastern tradition of taking a cakey dessert and then soaking it in rose-scented sugar or honey water. And then eating it. BTW, I can't recommend Jerusalem for anything but sweets (they do falafel and shoarma as well)...not b/c it's bad, I just haven't tried it.

And the Valrhona above is from Unlimited Delicious, which is really one of my favorite places to shop. The staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and they really seem to love what they sell. Which maybe isn't so surprising.

About the chocolate: this is probably the best chocolate bar I've ever tasted. It's kind of like the difference between the house wine and an "actual wine" at a European cafe: instead of just tasting "wine", or "chocolate", all of the sudden you want to start using adjectives like "supple", "vibrant", and "woody".

Just like with wine, this has to do primarily with careful selection of inputs (beans) from specific growing regions and a painstaking manufacturing process designed to emphasize the best qualities of the beans. Wikipedia says that as of 2008, "Valrhona is currently the only company in the world that produces vintage chocolate made from beans of a single year's harvest from a specific plantation." I don't think this is true anymore, if it ever was: it looks like Michel Cluizel has been doing single origin cacao bars for a couple of years now. BTW, The Nibble has some seriously deep articles and reviews about this stuff if you're interested.

The big, big bar pictured above (more than half a pound) is made from beans grown on a single plantation in northwestern Madagascar. It's still here after 4 days, though we're down to the "L".



american beauty.

"I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout Camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves, from the maple trees that lined our street. Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper. And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird. And Janie... and Janie.

And... Carolyn. I guess I could be really pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."

-Lester Burnham




Shit, man. There are few things as sobering as being reminded that the Internets can break. I haven't been able to post lately b/c Google keeps giving me some wack excuse about a "502 Server Error". I thought we were past that shit. Isn't the internet supposed to be in that awesome "always on" state that BillG used to be proselytizin' about?

It matters not. Sorry about the general lack of activity here, I've been busy, off marveling at how old we're all getting, another sobering area of investigation. Today's evidence came in the form of a middle-aged Sherilyn Fenn starring in an extremely American TV movie with Gary Cole (although I just re-read this and imagined Gary Coleman instead, which I think would've made for a better movie) about an 80s' metal band that reunites for a big paycheck. The problem here is that Sherilyn Fenn is not ever supposed to get any older than she was in Twin Peaks.


Eating like a bastard again, so this week we once again see me try to flip the switch on the Lil' K-Pon Spring Reduction program. Must...succeed.

Right now I've got four pieces o' chicken breast in the fridge that need something done to them. I'm thinking of stuffing them, that's usually the only way to get Miss Mara to eat one. My first inclination is to check Mark Miller's Indian Market menus (listed in the back of the Indian Market Cookbook) for inspiration. For example, he's got a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and corn with a wild mushroom sauce that looks pretty good...and another stuffed with ham, fontina, and sage with a smoked tomato sauce. Anyway...I let you know what happen.

UPDATE: Of course I didn't do any of the above. I made a thoroughly disappointing Orange-Mustard Chicken and a vastly more interesting Lemon Chicken with Goat Cheese and Smoked Eggplant, both inspired by things in the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook. The latter was worth refining, basically chicken marinated in garlic, lemon, and thyme and put under the broiler with goat cheese on top, served over a sauce of smoked, pureed eggplant and yogurt.



tale of two kitties.

For lunch, sometimes we just go our separate ways, like Steve Perry and Journey. Below, Mara's sautéed spinach sandwich: sauté a big handful of spinach in a little olive oil, apply some salt and pepper, throw in a minced garlic clove, stir for 30 seconds, and put it on two buttered slices of multigrain bread. This is very good.

For me and Mačka, smoked salmon, fresh spinach, horseradish, and a little mayo and lemon juice, on pumpkinseed toast. You can't really tell from these pictures how tenacious she was about getting her share of this, but yes that is salmon dangling from her mouth below.


through the nose.

I seem to have opened up a Pandora's Box the other day when I looked at the Coyote Cafe cookbook. A Pandora's Box, but you know...without releasing all the evils of mankind.

In fact, I opened another Pandora's Box just now by reading a little bit about Pandora's Box. Did you know that it contained hope? I'd forgotten that grim little detail.

Good one. Anyway, my point is that there's plenty of interesting stuff in the Coyote Cafe book. For one thing, I wish that I had any aptitude or facility with baking at all, because some of the sweet stuff looks nummy: the White Chocolate Buttermilk Tart is where I would start, I think, there's a Rhubarb-Anise Crisp that might be alright, and an Almond Polenta Pound Cake as well...

But I guess I'm just going to list some targets that I may or may not ever get around to trying. It is interesting how much my tastes and skills have changed since I spent any time with this book: lots of things that I routinely skimmed past are now catching my eye. Beef with Smoked Oysters, for example, I'm sure used to gross me out, but now it sounds pretty tasty: you make a sauce out of beef stock, cumin, thyme, garlic, and pureed oysters (you strain it before serving). Then you wrap bacon around the steaks, cook 'em, then serve with the sauce and garnish with pico de gallo.

More about the fish recipes in a bit. I've got a bunch o' catfish sitting here and something needs to be done with them. How 'bout an almond-cornmeal crust and a smoked chile sauce...

UPDATE: In reality, I did a more Louisiana meets New Mexico thing: just rubbed catfish with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, garlic powder, walnut oil, a little adobo from the chipotle can, and celery salt. Then baked them for 15 minutes or so.



avoid notes.

I just treated myself to a game of "Poop or Hairball" in the kitchen. No, I'm not talking about this picture above, I'm talking about that awesome feeling of waking up groggy and disoriented, scratching a bit, stumbling to the coffeemaker, fumbling around a bit, getting the brew going, standing around waiting for it to finish, finally pouring a cup, smelling it, saying "ahhhh", then turning to leave so you can go enjoy your coffee, and immediately stepping in something cold and wet and gross on the floor. Fortunately, today's winner was Hairball.

It's not a game we have to play very often, thankfully, and it's almost always Hairball. But still, there's that moment where you're not sure. Anyway, I eventually recovered, and as a tribute to the cats, I wanted to eat something that looked like a hairball for breakfast and the resulting food was something really unexpectedly good. It started out as this:

Which is a typically expensive Tampopo purchase. It's "Vegetarian Beef Jerky" made from dehydrated mushrooms, star anise, and chili. That's what the picture at the top of the post is as well. For some reason, the French description of what it is says that it's "chili cheese of vegetarian soy", I think, of which it is exactly one of those things.

Eating it straight from the bag is not something I can wholeheartedly recommend: it's really salty and chewy, which I guess also describes non-vegetarian jerky, but this is chewy in a "not for children under 3" kind of way.

That's right, it tastes like you're eating toys. But if you rehydrate it, it's much less freaky. I did our standard breakfast bulgur this morning (a little butter and soy sauce) and put about a cup of this stuff in there. When I came back 3o minutes later, the mushrooms had soaked up all of the liquid and the saltiness had been defused/diffused. The result was quite addictive eating that Mara wouldn't have liked at all. She's one of The Texture People.

And BTW, I'm pretty sure Poop and Hairball are two avoid notes in food writing. Learn from my mistakes.


Speaking of things to avoid, I just found the Marine Conservation Society's updated lists of fish to avoid buying and fish that I should be buying. I haven't been doing too badly other than the salmon and marlin. And tuna. I'll try to do better. At least pangafilet is not on the list.