Friday, July 22, 2011

Against the Grain

Cloud bank rolling inland - I-280 N to San Francisco
Let's talk habits. Wait, no. That's not quite strong enough for what I'm getting at. Let's talk about those ingrained behaviors, beliefs, and instincts that reside somewhere near the very core of our being. We don't even notice them half the time. Or at least we don't notice them right up until the moment when something steps into our comfort zone and asks us to do something that feels distinctly, excruciatingly, against the grain.

Case in point: I am a very frugal person. Often to extremes. I mean, is it really necessary to debate the pros and cons of an $8 book on Amazon for three weeks before deciding, ultimately, not to buy it? I'll spend money when it's needed or justified, sometimes takes me a while to get to that point (see previous sentence). 

And now I'm writing this cookbook that requires, you know, that I cook. With ingredients. Using equipment. And with other books to use as reference. All of which need to be purchased. I don't have the luxury of debating the merits of a particular cooking pot for three weeks because I need it now. And I can't waffle about buying those sour cherries because they're only in season for another week. 

Even worse is when I realize that I don't actually have the option of not buying the cherries. Even if my internal barometer is telling me they're too expensive, I know I have to buy them because this book that I'm working on really needs a recipe or two with sour cherries. You'd think that would be justification enough to satisfy this Inner Scrimper and Saver, but alas, it is not. Even as I was signing the credit card receipt for eight pounds of sour cherries, my shoulders were hunched and my stomach was knotted. What if I mess up the recipe? What if all these cherries end up being wasted? Do I really need this many pounds? Do I need more? Am I wasting money?

It just goes against the grain, pure and simple. I've gotten so used to pinching pennies over the years that it's hard to open my fist and relax. To trust myself that I'm not making a mistake. That I'm looking for the best deals and making sure I buy what I need and saving my receipts for tax season. I'm not being frivolous. I'm not being irresponsible. These are things I have to repeat to myself again and again. And once more for good measure.

Also yes, I'm going to make mistakes. I'm going to have batches of wine that turn to vinegar or a super awesome idea for a beer that ends up totally bombing. In one sense, those mistakes will feel like money wasted; but in another sense, it's all part of the process. 

But my need for perfection and fear of failure are really a subject for another post. And another day's lesson in patience. Now how's about some cherries?

Eight pounds of sour cherries. Word.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Trust in Salad. And Also Husbands.

Last week, the creative wellspring for Awesome-Yet-Quick Dinner Ideas had run dry. I half-heartedly clicked through the recipes saved in my browser and thumbed a few cookbooks. Nothing. Not a single recipe caught my eye or made me interested in picking up a knife.

Finally, I grabbed the copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's newest cookbook River Cottage Every Day from the pile on my desk and plunked it down in front of Scott.

"Pick," I said. "Anything. Just pick a recipe for us to eat this week. Please."

Dear husband that he is, he did. And wowzers did he pick well.

This cookbook River Cottage Every Day is one of the best to grace my kitchen in a very long while. It's fun and playful (cartoon doodles all over the pages of pirates, catapulting strawberries, and the like take care of that), and the food is simple and appealing. But best of all, it's not boring. All the flavors are familiar - earthy grains, fresh spring peas, braised beef, tart rhubarb - but Fearnley-Whittingstall makes every dish seem somehow more. He's magical, I think.

Scott picked this recipe for Tabula Kisir, a sort of reverse tabbouleh with more vegetables and a zesty tomato sauce. At first, I was dismayed. Of all the fabulous recipes in this book, he picked tabbouleh? But on second glance, I saw the toasted walnuts that get tossed with parsley, mint, and dill - the trifecta of summertime herbs. I saw the intriguing sauce of lemon juice and tomato paste blended with cumin and paprika. I saw that we could stuff the salad into fresh pita bread.

And then Scott innocently offered the coup de resistance: we could top everything off with a few hard-boiled eggs.

Turns out I should trust both my husband and Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall. They obviously know what they're talking about.
My Notes on the Recipe:

Instead of the bulgur, I substituted the same amount of barley in this recipe. This is because I love barley to bits...and also maybe because I had no bulgur and didn't want to go to the store. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly. It's a lot of chopping, but then the salad itself comes together quickly.

I am in love with that combination of parsley, mint, and dill. They're all such strong herbs individually that I was worried they'd just end up a muddled mess when thrown together. Again, I should just trust Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The parsley and dill got along together like best buds, accentuating each other's best features. The mint is surprisingly subdued and adds just the right perky note of sweetness every now and then.

For dinner, we stuffed the salad inside fresh-made pitas (get the recipe on The Kitchn HERE) along with the hard-boiled eggs. After we ran out of pita, we ate it with a slice of bread alongside.

Tabula Kisir
From River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Serves 4-6

1 cup bulgur wheat
1/3 cup walnuts
12 ounces ripe tomatoes
3 to 4 green onions, top green part discarded
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

For the dressing:
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons canola or extra-virgin olive oil

To serve:
Pita bread and/or Little Gem or romain lettuce

Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl, pour over 3/4 cup boiling water, stir, and then cover and leave for 20 minutes. The bulgur should retain some bite at this stage. (For barley, I usually boil it like pasta in a large a mount of salted water and strain it when tender to the bite.)

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Mix together hte lemon juice, tomato paste, pepper flakes, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper, then whisk in the oil. Pour the dressing over the warm bulgur (or barley!) and stir well. Let cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F. Put the walnuts in a pie pan and toast in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

Meanwhile, core, seed, and dice the tomatoes. Slice the green onions finely, and cut the peppers into dice.

Once the bulgur is cool, combine it with the tomatoes, peppers, green onions, walnuts, and herbs. Let stand for at least 20 minutes so the flavors can mingle, then taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, and/or pepper flakes if you like. Serve with pita bread and/or lettuce leaves.

(Recipe Copyright (c) 2009 by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, published by Ten Speed Press)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

This Week at The Kitchn!

  • Calzones! Make them for dinner tonight or freeze them for later.
  • Keep your eye out for manufacturing cream. This stuff boasts more butterfat than heavy cream and makes the thickest, longest-lasting, and luscious whipped cream around.
  • Could it be? Is Crystal a better hot sauce than Tabasco?
  • Eggplant wraps and strawberry granita on the menu for this week.
  • This Watermelon Wheat Beer from San Francisco's 21's Amendment Brewery is a little on the unusual side, but surprisingly refreshing as a late-afternoon quaff.

What have you been up to this week?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's Officially Official: TRUE BREWS Is Going To Be A Book!

Blueberry-orange wine, strawberry wine, and blackberry wine, all ready to get their ferment on.
I have been sitting on this for a few weeks now, bouncing and giddy and crazy-impatient to shout my news from the rooftops. I'm writing a book, y'all! Ten Speed Press took a gander at my proposal for a cookbook devoted to all things brewing and decided they liked what they saw. I've signed on with them to write "TRUE BREWS: Your Guide to Brewing Naturally Fermented Sodas, Beers, and Wine at Home."

Yup, this book is not only about how to brew beer (the fermented libation nearest and dearest to my heart), but also about brewing soda, kombucha, kefir, cider, mead, beer, sake, and fruit wines. And if you can think of another fermented beverage to throw in there, I'm totally game.

Saying that I'm excited is putting is extremely mildly. And not only am I excited to work my way through all these awesome brews, but I'm over the moon about working with Ten Speed. I have admired their cookbooks for years now. The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook were among some of the first on my shelf when I started my cooking journey after college. Every volume they publish is so lush and engaging, filled with recipes and pictures that carry me into the kitchen and keep me there.

The chance to work with them seems like a dream. And the fact that my editor and the other folks at Ten Speed are just as excited to get their brew on as I am makes the whole experience even awesomer.
There's lots more on its way in the coming months. Lots more stories and pictures and brewing tales, and more than likely, a few brewing woes. I have a year to develop all these recipes and get them ship-shape for publishing.

My aim to is to develop one-gallon recipes for all of these brews and use the same basic set of equipment for each. This amount can be easily made and stored in the tiniest of tiny city apartments, but it still makes enough delicious beverage to be worth doing. I also think that smaller batches are more conducive to fun experiments!

These three buckets hold my first attempts at wine making: a strawberry wine, a blueberry-orange, and a blackberry (though I'm actually using olallieberries from the market last week. Shhh...don't tell.). So far, they are doing a great job of making my kitchen smell funky-fresh with their carbonated burpings. Fun times!
I'll be sharing my brewing adventures here on the blog, on Twitter, and on my Facebook page. I'd love to have you along for the ride, and I welcome your input at all times.

And when it comes time to taste-test, I trust I'll have a few volunteers, yes?!

P.S. For those of you curious about the status of my memoir about learning how to brew beer: When all the dust settled over last few weeks, I decided to concentrate my energy on TRUE BREWS and put the memoir on the back burner. It's definitely still there, simmering away, and will have its own time to shine in due course.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

This Week at The Kitchn!

• Delicious mixed-fruit jam made from leftover pie filling.

• A gal's spice cupboard can really tell you a lot.

• Sometimes I feel like making my own just more trouble than its worth. You?

• I could seriously eat awesome side dishes like these and nothing else at a barbecue.

• Can't wait to make some snazzy paletas from Fany Gerson's new book.

Loganberries! I'm totally addicted.

• Good to know: ripe avocados can be stored in the fridge, apparently indefinitely.

• Toasty oats, layers of whipped cream, fresh fruit? Gotta try Scottish cranachan soon.

• I'm thinking a fizzy fruity farmhouse saison to go with a summer salad.

• Confession: I ate half of this Sweet Potato, Ricotta and Arugula Flatbread "appetizer" for my dinner last night. And I'm about to eat the other half tonight.

• Nothing can make me get rid of my beloved old and battered baking sheet.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ask Away! Have a Really Good Pulled Pork Recipe?

Say hello to Cheater's Pulled Pork. So good! (reviewed on The Kitchn)
From my lovely mother-in-law: Hey Emma, one of my friends is asking for a really simple pulled pork recipe. Any suggestions?

Glad you asked! In fact, I do have a really simple pork recipe. And doubly in fact, it's my most favorite pulled pork recipe ever. This is owing to the fact that it makes the best, most tenderest, and most flavorful pulled pork I have ever had the pleasure to put in my mouth.

I can't claim credit though. That goes to Mindy Merrell and R. B. Quinn, their book Cheater BBQ, and The Splendid Table radioshow for bringing the recipe to my attention in the first place. Here it is:

There are two secrets to this recipe. One is the use of a slow-cooker, which allows the tough pork butt (or shoulder) to slowly and gently cook into fork-tender perfection. The other is the addition of liquid smoke.

Now, friends, liquid smoke is not as scary as it sounds. It's really just smoke (real actual smoke) that's been distilled with water. It's legit. No artificial hocus pocus here. And it gives this cheater's pulled pork that infused smoky essence as if it has been sitting in a smoker for eight hours instead of just chillin' in the slow-cooker.

That's it! I love this recipe to porky little bits and have made it a great many times over the years, always to much critical acclaim. By the by, this slow-cooker method works equally well for cooking goat, beef, or lamb. Since I'm not always in the mood to taste camp fire, I sometimes leave out the liquid smoke and sub in some chicken or beef broth instead. Excellent stuff!

Go forth, friends. Go forth and pull.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

This Week at The Kitchn!

Want to help the Louisiana Seafood Industry? Eat Louisiana seafood.
• A wrap-up of my New Orleans trip and why I think Louisiana seafood is top-notch.

• I just realized that I haven't bought a loaf of store-bought bread in almost five years.

• The Arnold Palmer may just become my drink of choice this summer.

• Unless this pale ale from Kona Brewing Company wins instead.

• But then there's frozen lemonade as well. Ack! Too many choices!

Frozen Lemonade!
• I thought my old roomie was a little crazy for slicing bread before freezing. Turns out she's super smart!

• It's a quandary: what to eat before working out?

• Cookies are my personal picnic snack of choice. Here are ten recipes on my list.

• Awesome series from my newest best friend Dan Delaney: "What's This Food?!"

• Annoying to store, but these travel containers are super-handy in your time of need.

• Ever had Chinese long beans before?

• I could seriously eat oysters all day long. Here's how to shuck 'em.

• Counter-intuitive though it may be, a sharper knife is actually less safer. Butchers know best.

• Pies are on the brain
A sharp knife is a friend indeed.