Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ruddy Duck or Good Things in Small Packages

 The strangest thing happened this morning. I was walking the dogs and my next door neighbor, who I don't know much at all, said, hey want a duck? He had just shot a brace and gave me one. A ruddy duck, so it seems. A diver. He didn't know much about how to clean or cook them. And I just happened to have Hank Shaw's new book Duck Duck Goose on my desk. So I lent it to him. And then wrote to Hank to confirm how it might be cooked. His advice was basically "roll the dice." So I did.

Let me also hasten to add, I have plucked and gutted ducks before. But this girl was so small and soft. Softer than Maxie, who was the softest cat on earth. So it was disconcerting, more so than usual. It took SO long. And then of course I had to share the liver and giblets with the beasts.So I opted to pan roast in duck fat that I had on hand. And then deglaze with zin. I wanted to use port, but this was just sweet enough. Not much else. Salt and Pepper.

She was so sweet and succulent, the flesh as dark as beef. And literally four bites and then a few little nibbles around the legs and the rest. She was so tiny.

And what they say, good things come in small packages, is quite true.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Lemon Jerky

This is exactly that: Lemon Jerky. Not slices of lemon dehydrated, which have their own charms. It's six Meyer lemons from my tree picked last year and just left on the shelf, in a warm dry place. Clearly oxidized. Then the peels, hard as shells, and seeds are removed, as well as the membranes. It's not dry, but rather feathery chewy wisps, extremely sour. With a flavor rather more complex than lemon. I'm thinking of cooking it with chicken. Moroccan spices maybe too. Well, who knows?

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Once you have made wine or eau de vie, and after you have pressed out your must, you'll have a lot of skins and seeds. Just add some water and the yeast and remaining sugars will get the whole thing started again. After about two weeks you'll have this interesting slightly sour, lightly alcoholic, grape-flavored drink. If you cap it will even get a little fizzy. Think something between wine, soda and vinegar. It's really fetching. and might even become a little more clear after a few weeks. But it's really pleasant cold. As it is now!!

In Italy this is called aquarello. And it's what you use to make grappa. If this is about 5% alcohol, I think you would get maybe a few cups of white alcohol. But I think the traditional way to drink it is best. After a long time outside in the cold, when you're hot and sweaty and thirsty in December.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Utnapishtim the Sourdough Starter

I have not had a starter around for a few months after the summer heat and broken air conditioner, and probably chlorine in the water killed my last one. Let alone a lot of trips. His name is Utnapishtim, only because I was reading a Western Civ paper on Gilgamesh today. It took about two weeks on the counter top, fairly cold in the kitchen. Just flour and water, fed every day. And this dough was raised in about 12 hours which is perfect. Nicely done guys. The bacteria and yeast that is. Cant wait to taste it in the morning.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How to Make Brandy #3

 Once your must is fermented after two weeks, strain it through cheese cloth. Then put the wine in your still, and seal the joints with rye dough. Fill the chamber holding the "snake" with ice. Heat to 90 degrees Celsius. Then watch the clear liquid pour out. About 20 quarts of must gave 15
liters of wine, minus pomace, and in three 3 liter runs of the still, 1.5 liters of clear alcohol. So it was probably 10-12%. It's VERY strong now, I don't know what percentage, but more than 40%. And tastes like the grapes. Then put it in your well soaked barrel. Wait at least a year. Maybe more. That slow enough?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ketchup Chips

These do look a little prosaic. Dehydrated tomato slices, right? Well, a little more. For those of you who like the flavor of ketchup, and might use it more often, if it didn't make bread soggy. These are seasoned with the same flavor profile as ketchup. The key it turns out is a little brown sugar and some clove. They are actually quite fetching just on their own, rather tart. I sliced them paper thin and completely utterly dessicated them, so they're crunchy. I just put a few on a turkey sandwich. Delightful. They could also be powdered and sprinkled on a salad, or anywhere you might want that flavor but not the goop of ketchup.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fall Awakening

When the ginkgos shed their lacy yellow fans, one might be tempted to succumb to melancholy. But the kitchen tells me otherwise, this is the season of birth and renewal. Here in The Valley, when the first rains drench the parched soil, the bacteria and molds awaken from their secret crevices and sweep through the house. Anything on the counter will ferment in a few days. There is the tub of must bubbling furiously and reeking of alcohol. A ginger bug dances lightly in a glass jar to make ginger beer. Green apple juice is doing its own thing, I'm not sure yet what. There is a new sourdough starter, just 4 days old and already piquant, waiting for an appropriate name. We tend to take our cues from the trees who go so obviously dormant. But pay attention to the little creatures, at least here they are happy and buzzing after a long dry summer.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Brandy #2

Within a few days of the crush, the must will begin to bubble and will give off a faint aroma of wine. It smells absolutely luscious at this point. Feel free to taste it now too. But don't forget to push down the cap twice a day. This is all the skins and pits which rise up to the top. I just pushed it down and mixed it in. The skins will give color, tannins and flavor to the must, so you want to leave them on for the whole two weeks. Though of course the color will be gone once it's distilled, the aroma and flavor of the grapes will come through in the end. As long as you don't distill it many times and strip it of all flavor!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How to Make Brandy

In the next few posts I will explain how to make brandy. You must start with grapes. Doy. Pick them off the stems and nasty bits. This took a few hours without machines. 20 quarts. But do leave the grapes whole on the skins and pits, for flavor. This is where ALL the flavor happens. Thanks to Elke who gave them to me from her backyard! I think they're ZIN. Very sweet. Shriveled a bit. Late harvest, right? So next I will crush them by hand NOW and let them ferment naturally with wild yeast. Whatever is already there. Push the bubbly top down a few times a day. Then take to the still. That's next in a few weeks. This is so exciting. And I have more grapes. Maybe I'll take them to class tomorrow to let them do it all. Is there any reason not to do this yourself? Even if you have to find some grapes elsewhere? The only investment is a still. Next time. Same Bat Channel!

Friday, November 8, 2013

History of Alcohol Class

So I have been writing about food for about 25 years, and teaching food history about a dozen or so. And somehow I've always been able avoid thinking about consuming whatever I'm writing about. A survival strategy. In fact I've so successfully managed to separate food at work from hunger that I never eat lunch. Just breakfast and 12 hours later dinner.
But for some reason the history of alcohol class I'm writing now is completely different. After writing about some spirit for a more than a whole day, then talking about it, there is nothing I want more than to drink it. Wednesday was cognac. Monday was whiskey. YES, and I had to have them all. Monday with be absinthe. You can see what I was doing today! Am I really that impressionable, or just a garden variety dipsomaniac? I don't even like vodka. Really. No flavor or aroma. It's just watered down grain alcohol. What's the point? So what could have possessed me to buy this? The passages from Tolstoy and Bulgakov. Listening to the folk song about Stenka Razin who got drunk and drowned his new Persian bride, and dredging up my freshman year's worth of Russian. And you know what, I still don't like it, but it must be consumed. хорошо?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Whatever is in the Fridge Challenge

Sometimes you have no choice but cook whatever the hell is in the house. Freezer, extraneous bits from the back of the cabinet, odds and ends refrigerated. This was polenta and fresh corn blended into a blini with egg and milk. Then shrimp in coconut oil, only because there was nothing else. Then leftover tomato I put up a few weeks ago made into a quick sauce. Some cilantro. It all went surprisingly well together. Maybe this is the way to cook, being constrained by whatever is around.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Acorn Cookies

I think if anyone tasted this out of the blue, the flavor would immediately say: dark chocolate. Even with eyes closed these taste chocolatey. But there's not a drop. It's basically just an ordinary cookie. White and brown sugar, two sticks of butter, cinnamon, vanilla, two eggs, baking powder. Maybe 3 or 4 cups acorn flour. As I've mentioned, we had a bumper crop this year. These are from Victory Park about 100 paces from my house. Just dried and ground in the blender. Needed no leeching. The cookies are SO crunchy. I think cookies need to be, a soft cookie is an abomination in my mind. These might be a little over the top, but they really did turn out lovely. The batch in there now includes the black walnuts I collected a few weeks ago, that took me hours to smash with a hammer on the driveway and pick out of the shells. Talk about slow! At least I didn't pound the acorns by hand this time.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scylla and Charybdis: Olives

This year's olive harvest was rather nice.  *Yes, my two little trees are named Scylla and Charybdis, because I planted them a little too close on a slope, so picking is somewhat treacherous. Last year almost the entire harvest was devoted to my mad attempt to press oil by hand. Warning: it can not be done. So this year I tried various cures. They have to be picked before they fully ripen or the bugs get them, though oddly that wasn't the case last year when I had some black salt cured olives too. Well, some were cured as I always do: just brine. Takes a year and a few changes of brine every few months. But they stay firm and vegetal. Far right is one tree's early harvest. The other I slashed, soaked in water and brined in Spanish fashion, which is the quickest way to do it. But the grand new experiment was using lye. LET me tell you; scary stuff. And not easy to find, try hardware stores but not Home Despot. Oh, and Red Devil is now apparently called Rooto. Evil warnings still appear on the label. The proportions in the cure were given to me by Megan Brown (see The Cult of Prepasteurian Food Preservation group on Facebook). I doubled her formula using 2 gallons of water and 8 tbs of lye at 70 degrees F. It covered the olives. After 12 hours I drained and repeated. USE GLOVES!! And goggles. Then rinse for 3-5 days with water draining and rerinsing 3 times a day. I was gone the past few days so it was more like a week. Then it went into strong brine. In one quart jar I added lemon peel, spices and chilies for kicks. They already taste good. A little soft, and I do prefer a bit of crunch, but still, so far a real success. Thanks Megan and everyone else in the Cult for the inspiration.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Urban Forage

The term urban foraging means many different things. To some, it's anything in a city that overhangs a public street, whoever owns the tree. To others it means dumpster diving. In Stockton, it means finding public spaces where there are things most people don't think of as food. And get them before the critters do. (Though leave some for them too.) This was a bumper year for acorns and I took maybe 50 pounds of huge beauties just down the street at Victory Park. And this day's forage was for black walnut. A huge bag. I'm still not sure how to open them. But along the way there were some nice olives off March Lane. Some Carob on Rosemary Lane. Some walnuts on the levee before you get to I-5. They were so good roasted with cinnamon and sugar. And a few bitter almonds, with which I like to tempt fate. Fall really is nut season. And how nice, one of these days my little book on NUTS will come out in Reaktion's Edible series. I wrote it a couple of years ago now. GRRR. That's my squirrel impersonation.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Funky Dust Pickle Powder

Who could have ever guessed that I would get turned on by machines? Not for their own sake of course, but to manipulate traditional foods in new ways. I had this idea the other day: what would happen if you took lacto-fermented pickles, shaved them thin and put them in a dehydrator? Then crush them up into a powder to use as seasoning. It is delicious beyond all expectations. This is two of my cucumber pickles made in late July, super sour, no garlic a little chili. They yielded about a tablespoon of this funky dust. It's intriguing, not overly salty, but sour, spicy, slightly sweet. My first instinct would be to put it on a mango, but sprinkled on a burger would be a little more conventional. There's also a batch of bright yellow fermented sweet corn dehydrated that is even more intriguing, very sweet, sour and salty. Again, I'm thinking relish, but even just a pinch on a salad, sandwich, or maybe in the batter for fried chicken. Next experiment is beets, okra, radish - just what I happen to have around. Any other ideas?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Boy Meets Atlas

I knew there would come a day when my younger son Mookie would figure out that I haven't exactly been telling him the whole truth and nothing but the truth about pasta. He got very good at rolling out dough by hand in most shapes, including a very decent lasagne. But somehow he figured out that there is a machine on the shelf. And a wooden board that slides out from under the counter, onto which a hand cranked pasta machine fits perfectly, as the Gods of dough ordained. It took him just a few minutes to figure out how to work it and he rolled out these sheets of such exquisite delicacy and grace, that when they went into a simple round cassola with fresh tomato sauce, a little ricotta and mozzarella, he even tempted his mother the raw vegan into a hefty serving. This was not my doing, but look at it. It IS in fact as good as lasagne can possibly get. I told him next time we make the cheeses too. Only way to go from there is grow the wheat and tomatoes and milk the cow. I am there. Can there be anything better than this for dinner?

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Some of you will say, OH, that looks so ugly. Yes it does. Some will say, oh quite gloppy, dark and terrifying. Well sure it is. But if you have your own 12 hour stock on hand, are you just going to add butter and drizzle it on a piece of bland naked meat? I say no. I say brown some oxtails and let it braise as low as long as you can with aromatic vegetables. The effect is not unlike osso bucco, but the depth of flavor is so intense and pure, that it shoots straight into you brain. There MUST be a very strong jammy zin to go with this. And if you have dogs, give them the bones. I have never seen anything better defining contentment as this.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Aspic or Mellow Meat Jello

The word itself has little to recommend it. Ass Pick. Asp Ick. A-Spic. And the thing itself, in all honesty, has even less appeal. But I had to do it. This was after a 12 hour stock making session, reduction late into the night, and a bourbon-fueled facebook conversation with the most lovely people. It kept me stoked. Pigs feet and every imaginable body part emptied from the freezer. Enough skin to solidify liquid nitrogen. And then there it is. I should have clarified it more. The top is less translucent than it ought to be. The meaty bits a little less generous than they could have been. And it's actually quite mellow. None of the acidic bite of good head cheese. Just a mellow meat jello. I had a few slices so far. NOW what the hell do I do with it??

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pickle Weights

Pickle Crocks have suddenly made an appearance in your average kitchenwares shop. I really like the ones with two separate lids, one to keep the contents under the brine, the other to create a water seal. It was actually fairly easy to make. But it then occured to me, why don't they sell just the weights? For use with an ordinary quart-sized glass Ball jar? So I threw about a dozen of these. If anyone would like to try one out, the small weight with the holes in it shown here, let me know and I'll send you one. I'd love to hear what people think of them. Ken

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Verjuice At Last?!

For many years I have wondered how medieval recipes could call for verjuice as a year-round pantry staple. The season for immature grapes from which you can get any amount of juice is maybe 3 weeks or so, right about now. Moreover, and far more importantly, once you squeeze them, they begin to oxidize and if you try to keep it any length of time, they inevitably grow mold. This happens in the fridge too. So last week I was at Acquiesce winery in Lodi, and they were thinning the vines and I asked if I could take some cut clusters. Two big shopping bags, nearly enough to fill my huge stockpot. Crushed by hand and left - here's the key - to FERMENT. There's enough sugar in them to maybe get 5-10 percent alcohol. It smells magnificent. And is wonderfully sour. So I am expecting, as often happens with historical cooking experiments, that if you really do exactly what would have been done in the past, it should work. In this case the alcohol should make it shelf stable. In the meantime there are some recipes in the Livre fort excellent de cuysine I simply must try. I should be done with my half of the translation by the end of the week. To be published by Prospect Books.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dehydrated Grape Leaves

You might not know it, but I have long been harboring the fantasy of inventing an entirely new food. Every time I think I've come up with something, someone says, oh it's been done. I don't think this one has. The past few days I've been playing with the dehydrator. I love kale. Really. So I tried beet leaves. Lovely. But someone suggested sorrel. I don't have any but  do have grape leaves. Why not? Sour, olive oil, salt. Then a crunchy delicate snack or garnish. I WISH I could edit this but blogspot is REALLY MISBEHAVING and after three tries this is coming out uncooked. But you get the idea. Dehydrated grape leaves with a flavor like in cooked dolmas, but dry and crunchy. If someone steals this idea, I will come and get you. Unless it's already patented. Just my luck.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


I'm pretty sure this is not the traditional way to make trahanas. Though they probably taste much the same. If you have patience, I would exhort you to try this. Take good Greek yoghurt. about a cup. Mix in bread flour and a few pinches of salt to make a stiff dough. Then go outside and roll out little nubbins, exactly as you would boogers, onto a dish towel. It takes a long time, but look how beautiful they are! Leave in the sun for at least a day or two. Boil up and just sprinkle on olive oil and salt. They have a light pleasant sourness, and are chewy. The traditional way is to make flat disks, dried in the sun, break them up and dry again, and then boil them, but these are so much prettier. Like little pine nuts I think.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Object Fetishism

The theme of this year's Oxford Symposium, held a few weeks ago, was Material Culture. It has gotten me thinking deeply about the tools in my kitchen, particularly those on which I absolutely depend. There are a few without which no kitchen could function: knives, spoons, spatulas, I'd add tongs. My grater too. None of these are trophy items. I don't own a single big very expensive knife, though I do have a lot of them. I think of them as tools, nothing more. But then I realized that my most prominent kitchen drawer, above the cutlery, holds these right up front. Why? One corkscrew would do perfectly fine. I actively use all 15 of these, and that's not counting the rabbit, and 6 or 7 other kinds of corskscrew I own but almost never use. So the question is why I fetishize these objects. I think it's because I can tell you exactly where each one came from. I have explicit memories associated with them. And of course my favorites have the most interesting stories. I emphatically don't collect them - especially since corkscrews haven't been allowed in carry on luggage for the past decade. But I'm still wondering why this particular object, apart from the fact that I use them every day? Are there objects any of you hold as dear, and if so, why?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The FIRST tomato recipes 1692-4

It is difficult to fathom the vast gulf separating home cooking from large scale food preparation. Every now and then I offer a lecture/demo/tasting that requires cooking on an extraordinary scale and I am always astonished and exhausted afterwards. The gig is downtown Stockfish, at the Cesar Chavez Library, tomorrow (Monday) at 6:30. DO come, it's free. I'm talking about Antonio Latini's Lo Scalco alla Moderna (1692-4) and cooking three recipes. One of which is among the first three recipes ever printed for tomatoes. It's a minestra alla molignane - or a kind of eggplant stew with squash, onions, tomatoes, spices and oil. That's about it. Oh and verjus. Normally I would sautee the eggplant and onions, add the tomatoes and parsley, etc. And let it cook for half an hour or so. It's sort of an intriguingly spiced ratatouille or version of caponata. But this version is 11 big eggplants, sauteed in 11 separate batches, then a pile of onions browned, then then a big bag of tomatoes and then zucchine cut up and it is now in oven for a few hours. It will be great at room temperature tomorrow, for a crowd estimated at about 50. But this took like 2 1/2 hours just in prep work. HOW do people cook in a restaurant?? I think everyone should try something on this scale just to appreciate the labor involved.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Smoked Chickums

When it gets really hot, and we're pushing about 106 here today, most people forgo cooking altogether, which I understand. But I still think cooking outside is a viable option. Not the last minute BBQ, but something close. If you spatch a chicken and just set it to smoke for a couple of hours, do it way ahead, it takes on a lovely hue. The seasoning is just salt, pepper and thyme. This is over oak. Then just chill it, and when dinner comes around you have something ready to go. Shred it, with a little lime and chili on a tortilla or good sturdy roll. Or a dribble of soy and sesame on top of cold noodles. This is good stuff.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kurobuta, Berkshire Lomo?

I don't know why I found something labeled kurobuta in my local Italian grocery. Nor do I mind that it's actually a Berkshire pig, isn't it? I didn't ask who raised it, what its name was, whether it was massaged, fed beer, given daily trips to the park to play fetch or was lovingly kissed my a young girl named Missy. But I think he must have been. It is a loin but with some other part there, beyond the white stripe. All the better. The loin part as you can see is pink and soft and the other dark and chewy. Quite sweet with a pronounced bacterial sourness.  Here's how to do it: Take a thick 5 or 6 inch piece of loin and parts proximate. Spinkle happily with salt, distress with instacure #2, the slightest pinch. Then pepper, mustard seed, juniper crushed, whatever you like. Bay too. Put in a ziplock and seal and refrigerate for a week, turning every day. Then tie up and hang naked somewhere cool, breezy and 55 degrees for a month. Next to bastirma seems to have been fortuitious, because there is a faint aroma of fenugreek. Slicing proved tricky. The first cut is the deepest. So these pictured here were a bit thick. I put it on the manual slicer and they shredded a bit but are thin, light and aethereal. So glad I had my pal Kristine here by chance to eat it with me!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pickled Black Walnut

If you live in Stockfish CA, you probably know the levee along the Calaveras River that runs through the University. I was riding my bike for an eye exam a few weeks ago and passed the stand of walnuts before you get to the I-5 underpass. Did you realize that one set is English, a.k.a. Persian Walnuts and the other Black Walnuts? I know you can pickle the former, but the latter? Well, here's a shot.

First I have to confess, if you look at my recipe for pickled walnuts in the Lost Arts, I think I left out something that might be important. I just poked them with holes and went right into the pickle. They were good, but I think the proper way to do it is to brine for a week, change the water and brine for another, then leave them out until they turn black (which is what you see here) and then go into the pickle. This one was half brine, half vinegar with extraneous spices and some sugar. It should be good. The only thing I'm wondering is if the shells inside will be edible. I passed a knife through, as you can see here, but certainly not as soft as regular walnuts. I also did a batch of those, and poked with pins. THIS time with rubber gloves on! I'll share the after photos in a couple of months, when the weather gets cooler.

UPDATE: The regular walnuts I did are perfect. In the black walnuts, the shells are a bit hard, but the rest is edible. Well, look at the English walnuts. They smell a bit like Coca Cola!  But very pleasantly salty, sour and savory. These would go perfectly with a hunk of cheddar and a pint of bitter.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pasta Making Workshop

On Tuesday I'm conducting a pasta making workshop among the Tracians (that's the Tracy Public Library). DO come along if you're free. As a teaser, here are some hand-made tortelloni with chard from the market, ricotta, parmigiano, and a healthy dose of nutmeg.

Basically you just roll out a dough of all purpose flour, one egg and water. Put a dollop filling inside. That's made with two bunches of chard cooked down with a little olive oil until dry, mixed with half a container of ricotta and gratings of good parmigiano and nutmeg. Boil these a few minutes and just lace with butter. There's enough flavor inside to make your mouth very happy. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Flanken with String Beans

I have been channeling my ancestors lately. Well, my grandmother, whose cooking genes I inherited, ultimately from Smyrna. I was writing an entry on Sephardic cooking for an encylopedia this past week and pulled a community cookbook from the 70s off my own shelf, never realizing that there was a handwritten recipe tucked in there, written by my grandmother. It was not for this dish, but my cousin mentioned this one and so I had to do it. I have no idea how it was done. I took 6 cross cut nubbins of short rib with bones, browned in a lot of olive oil, 5 or 6 chopped tomatoes, and string beans. Just cooked gently for 2 or 3 hours. Some white wine. I STILL haven't eaten it. Long story, but it's better the second day right? How about the third? Well I tasted it, and it is magnificent.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Snake Eggs

Among the assorted oddities that find their way into my neighbors' stomachs while we attend our annual hootenany, this one bears some critical consideration. The snake, a rattler, was chased up by the hounds, captured by Paul, our resident herpetologist, who after a stimulating lecture on the sex life of snakes, handed the beheaded beast to me to clean and cook. Snake itself is not terribly unusual tasting, on the contrary rather mild. This is why the simplest of cooking methods works best. But look closely at what else I found inside. They are eggs. Rattlers bear live young, so these are soft undeveloped eggs. They look like beans. They cook like fresh beans, and perversely enough they are starchy like a bean. If you had handed me one to eat I would have guessed a long and gently cooked Phaseolus. I guess egg yolks are starchy too. Now if commercial sales of rattler becomes a practical reality, I will be able to recommend a real nose to tail approach to crotalophagia, everything but the rattle, as they say.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Apicius and the Conditum Paradoxum

This is a recipe I normally fiddle with excessively. I just call it conditum paradoxum or psychic love wine and throw in whatever strikes my fancy. But this time a Roman Banquet demands that I follow the directions as scrupulously as possible, and yes it does measure in scruples! Nothing about it makes sense, honestly. Too much honey, an odd concatenation of flavors. Look in the pot, there's pepper, saffron, bay leaves and the flecks on top are mastic. So far so good. Golden hued. But then the directions get a little unclear. Do we throw in a lump of charcoal or filter through it?
 The charcoal does indeed remove the flecks of mastic magically. As well as the dates and toasted date pits. But it also makes that lovely golden color a strangely blackish yellow that looks like dirty dish water after cleaning a roasting pan of chicken. Is this what the author intended? More importantly can this be served to modern people, used to drinking limpid pellucid white wine? Maybe there's a reason Romans drank from black glazed pottery cups?

Then the taste. It IS very sweet. But the hints of pepper, smokiness of charcoal and resiny undertones actually work quite nicely. Maybe it will settle in a few hours. You definitely would not want to swill this stuff, but it makes a rather fetching dessert wine. Here's my literal translation:

Put 15 pounds of honey into a bronze vessel along with 4 cups of wine, so in cooking the honey and wine mix. On a small fire of dry twigs heat the vessel, stirring with a stick while it cooks. If it starts to boil, sprinkle in some wine, or remove from the fire so it settles. When it cools, heat again a second or third time, then it is finally removed from the fireplace. Skim it the day after, then add 4 ounces of crushed pepper, 3 scruples of mastic, a dram each of bay leaf and saffron, 5 toasted date pits, and the dates themselves softened in wine, the same kind used before, then ground up smooth. When all this is prepared, add in 14 bottles of fine wine, strain through charcoal.

(Two sextarii in the original text is about a liter or a little over 4 cups, a fourth more than in a standard US bottle. 36 cups is about 10.5 liters or 14 standard wine bottles. Since few people are likely to make this on such a massive scale, use roughly one jar of honey to start per bottle of wine added in the end. The mastic can be purchased in a Greek grocery store, it is a resin of the lentisk tree and should be ground up before using. The text says merely leaves, which may be bay leaves, which work very nicely. It is also not clear if the wine is filtered at the end or if charcoal is merely placed in, though the former seems more likely.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Not Exactly Lomo

I wish I could tell you what this is. I don't think it's loin. A long strip of shoulder maybe? It was just salted with a bit of cure and stuffed into a casing, hung and forgotten about for about four months. Hard as a rock. Mummified. Petrified. Needs to be shaved basically. But the flavor is so interesting and it can indeed be chewed. Buster confers.

What made me think of this was a lovely cured elk loin I tasted in Banff the other day. Much softer and smokey. In future I'll have to be just a little more impatient, huh?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Smoked Pig Assortment

IS there anything better than lounging around all day in the hammock while some gorgeous wads of pig smoke leisurely through the afternoon? With a glass of ouzo, a faithful hound and a boy for conversation? Well, yes, an impromptu party and people to eat it!Here is a big old slab of bacon, a mite salty, but so nicely different from rashers. Then some sausages with allspice and orange peel. For no particular reason. And a shoulder roast that was butterflied several times until paper thin and rerolled, cured for only a few hours and smoked the rest. It worked fine too. The trick is a cure for a week, a cold smoke for about 3 or 4 hours is enough, then on the barbecue to cook through. Of course I'm also smoked myself. Oh, and I taste rather good.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Food: A Cultural Culinary History

Folks, My food history course is now for sale on DVD from the Great Courses company. 36 episodes from prehistoric times to the present. There's a cool overview right here:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunshine in a Jar

I want to know why we don't get spring here in Stockfish, CA. We skip immediately to summer, later this week it will be in the upper 90s. So this seems appropriate enough. Slice oranges as thin as you can with a knife or mandoline. These are blood oranges and navels. Then dehydrate them thoroughly either in a machine or on your roof. These are machined, about 48 hours. Then heat a bottle of cheap chardonnay, add a pound of sugar to make a syrup. Throw in a few cloves and cassia buds. Fill jar with orange slices and pour over syrup. Let sit a few months until mid summer. Take out a single slice and lay it on top of a glass of ice cold gin. Pour over tonic if you must. Sunshine!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

High Tech Eggplant

Lest anyone accuse me of being unflinching in my Luddite proclivities, I think the recent IACP conference has nudged me into an oddly experimentalist (dare I say modernist?) direction. I have nothing against science per se. But honestly, I'm not into electric gadgets mostly because food tastes better using old tried and true processes. I'm not sure this does taste better, but it was fun. OK, so take an eggplant, and peel it with your baby blue kyocera peeler. Works like a charm. Then take out your mandoline (thanks Oxo folks) and slice the thinnest possible rounds. Salt lightly. Then put it into a serious MOFO dehydrator for a whole day. I bought that bitch. (NOT for myself). When it comes out, you have whisps of crispy eggplant. I was thinking I like the bitter liquid, so why salt and pour it off? Then drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and grate a raw tomato (without skin) on top. Season with pepper and oregano. And nuke it for a minute. So not really cooked. It's really spicy and lovely. Today I added some lemon juice and a little water to make it more tender and really cooked it. It sure looks like eggplant parmigiano, no? There's no cheese, but still quite nice, and not mushy, which is what happens when you just slice and nuke eggplants. OK, I am embracing the technology.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What is Comfort Food Anyway?

Pardon my absence folks, I was at the Renaissance Society Conference in San Diego, then the IACP in San Francisco (my panel with Sandor Katz, Maxime Bilet and Anne McBride on High Tech and Low Tech in the Kitchen went wonderfully). And then I was talking in Sonoma. But a day in between gigs I had an intriguing conversation with my freshmen food seminar, related directly to the dish you see here. One student's research project was on comfort food. I thought I knew what that term meant and we might, with some simple surveying, be able to figure out if there are differences among men and women, people of different backgrounds or ages, or something to make sense of the concept. At least we could decide that there are some basic flavors, textures, nostaglic dishes that work to comfort the tired, weary, stressed - such as I have been from travel. Absolutely NOT. Answers included soup and mashed potatoes, which I expected. But also sausages. (I can see that!) chocolate, ice cream and even cool water. Some students said spicy, others sweet. The answers were so random in fact that I am beginning to doubt the concept has any validity whatsoever.

All I know is that this dish here works as comfort food for my younger son. And me too incidentally. It's ordinary polenta, with butter and parmiggiano. And he's lately been turned on to shrimp. They're breaded in whole wheat panko (that they gave us at the IACP) and fried in coconut oil. They were absolutely succulent. A conceptual nod to shrimp and grits, but not in the least similar. You know, I think just cooking at home is a comfort after travelling for a week. OK So the question is What IS Comfort Food to You?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spice Literacy

UPDATE: Here is everything in a pot with a bottle of white wine. I think it ill be good. Sure is beautiful. Nouveau Conditum Paradoxum.

To illustrate how to administer a taste test and develop some statistically significant data to my food policy class, I emptied out the spice drawer the other day and had them sniff and taste a wide variety of spices. Admittedly some were pretty obscure, and I anticipated that a few spices no one would get. Medieval cassia buds I don't think anyone would recognize nowadays, though the taste should be familiar, even to 18 year olds.

The hypothesis I was testing was whether US born students would have less experience using or seeing whole spices than foreign born students, of which I have a lot in this class. It's not exactly a question of deskiling since few have a lot of experience in the kitchen, but merely familiarity with ingredients and what they look like whole. Or at the very least smell and taste recognition, since many of these they definitely would have eaten before.

There were 18 students and 25 spices. The average number of correct answers in the class was 3. The highest score was 7 and the lowest 1. Not surprisingly 14 (77.7%) recognized a pepper corn. And 16 (88.8%) recognized a cinnamon stick. It was true cinnamon, incidentally. But the numbers fall off dramatically after that. Only 9 (50%) could recognize (by taste and sight) chili flakes, even though they came out of a pizzeria packet. 3 (16.6%) identified cloves. 2 (11%) knew star anise, though they were broken, so maybe that threw people off. 2 knew fennel seeds. And only one person in the class (5.5%) could name one of the following: juniper, bay leaf, Sichuan pepper. None one could identify vanilla, which really surprised me, or mustard seeds, or coriander, cardamom or saffron. Or even nutmeg.

Obviously we were dealing with much too small a statistical sample to be significant, but the highest scores were indeed from foreign-born students. Expectedly, the Chinese students recognized things more common there, like star anise, Sichuan Pepper corns and chili, and one got 5 correct, a Student born in Mexico recognized the highest number (7), with a few names in Spanish, but that's fine. The Korean students and an Indian student scored about the same as everyone else. But not suprisingly, American students did the worst on this. I'm not sure what it proves beyond inexperience in the kitchen, which I knew was the case, but even inexperience with flavors and knowing what they look like. They were all surprised when I told them the long shriveled black thing was vanilla; they could recognize the smell but not name it. Remarkable huh?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Matzoh Balls

In the event that I have generated confusion, the image below is gefilte fish being poached. Apart from the shape, they look scarcely different from matzoh balls. Regarding which I must admit I have always been an ardent advocate of dense cannonballs and I think I even included a recipe for them in The Lost Arts. But I think I might actually be going over to the other camp to join the denizens of the light, aethereal and fluffy. Yesterday I was about to mix up a batch as I do customarily and I thought why do I always make maztoh balls like this? Last year they were literally leaden and took a week to digest. Time to try something new. I readily confess I had no bloody idea what I was doing here, moreover I violated a cardinal rule of the holiday as you will see. If like me you don't mind breaking rules to get something done, do try these. Start with a good pot of chicken stock. Then mix a cup of matzoh meal with 2 tablespoons melted duck fat, 3 eggs, a sprinkle of salt, a teaspoon of baking powder, and about a quarter cup of Sierra Nevada. (I know, illicit, but tastes so much better than seltzer). Add more meal until they are barely rollable. Make walnut sized balls and drop one by one into simmering stock. They will rise. After about 30 minutes add in chopped parsnip, carrots, celery and onion and a generous amount of fresh dill. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes. The matzoh balls will be huge, poufy like clouds and delicate in flavor. If you must play by the book, use bubbly water. I can't wait to try this exact same recipe with good homemade breadcrumbs next week. OH just imagine beef broth and stout in the dumplings, with a hint of allspice. I might need to do this now and just forget the bread of affliction.   

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Gefilte Fish and Matzoh Balls

If like me you have already begun preparing for Passover tomorrow night, please take this earnest advice. You must begin with Slim Gaillard. Play it loud. Then get yourself two pounds of white fleshed fish. I like cod, but carp is even better. It must be fresh. Obliterate with your knife into a fine paste. Add a handful of matzoh meal, an egg white, some salt. Keep it simple. Poach these in a simple fish stock, maybe with some dill, a sliced shallot, and carrot. Strain the fume before poaching your quenelles. After about 15 minutes on the barest simmer remove them to a capacious glass jar, reduce the stock and pour over the fish and refrigerate until tomorrow. Serve with horseradish of course, and for true officionados, the gelatinous goo, i.e. bugger snots, that happily form if you've used fish bones in your stock. I only eat this once a year. Why not more frequently? I wish I knew.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I think this may be an entirely novel way to make corned beef. I've been playing around with clay lately, variations on beggar's chicken, with pork and other meats wrapped in lotus leaves, then clay. I didn't think lotus would taste right here, so this was just parchment paper, after the brisket luxuriated a full two weeks to cure in the fridge. Then the paper parcel was wrapped in white clay and baked at 350 for about 5 hours. Left to rest for another day in the fridge to firm up, then sliced on my new manual crank German slicer. They are rather fetching wouldn't you say? Paired with a tart week old sauerkraut, on a sour 100% rye made with a brand new starter and some Russian dressing. Pretty damned good. The bacteria are very happy that it's gotten warm here. I'll be eating this myself for a week, at least. Anyone up for a sandwich out there?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Publish a Food Book: Part One, The Right House

There are several different types of publishers, but increasingly the boundaries are becoming less distinct, so a trade press might do a popular encyclopedia, an academic press might do a book on gastronomy, and reference publishers are increasingly doing anything. But in general the markets still hold true, though electronic publishing may make all this obsolete in coming years. Some publishers simply do not fit into these neat categories, such as small private presses that may publish anything they think they can sell. Also note, publishers routinely buy up other publishers, so often one will be an imprint of another house, or a list may be completely subsumed as Berg has been by Bloomsbury.

Every type of publisher requires a formal proposal to get started. This should include an “elevator talk” introduction as a hook and at least several paragraphs of description, why this book is important, and why it will sell. Why it should be published right now? Keep in mind, it is always about profit for a publisher, they wouldn’t be in business if they thought otherwise. Usually a detailed chapter synopsis and sample are required and always a projection of the targeted audience, competition and what makes this book different. I also usually tell people do this only if you have to. Writing a book can be an immense joy but it is also a remarkably long tedious and at times insufferable process, especially when you get to proofreading and indexing. Research and writing is the fun part, but by no means the whole process. Let alone marketing, which increasingly will depend on you. To get started it is important to know the different kinds of publishers and to choose the right house:

1. Academic Press

Audience: Primarily to academics and college libraries but also foodies increasingly
Examples: University of California Press, Columbia, Oxford, Illinois, Chicago, Toronto, plus those like Berg, Ashgate, Routledge, etc.
Type: Monographs, specialized studies, essay collections and sometimes pedagogical works like handbooks, readers, historic reprints, reference works.
Process: Write proposal and usually a sample chapter and submit directly to acquisitions editor who then sends it out for anonymous peer review. Approval by an editorial board may also be required, sometimes after presentation of the completed work. The completed work will be sent for peer review. This may take several months and reviewers may request revisions, sometimes extensive. The reviewers can also reject it. Advantage is expert feedback, but the long wait, narrow market and generally small print runs and minimal royalties means one does this mostly for professional reasons. But such books rarely go out of print and sometimes they sell well. Remember also you must never submit this type of book to several publishers at the same time.
Royalties: There is almost never an advance, royalties are minimal and paid out after publication. For monographs around 8% is typical and given high price, you may make a few thousand dollars. Most authors do this for promotion and tenure rather than profit.

2. Trade Press

Audience: Primarily to General Public, via bookstores and amazon
Examples: Penguin, Simon and Shuster, Northpoint, Ten Speed, Clarkson Potter, Random House, Scribner’s, Ballantine, St. Martin’s, Rodale, Reaktion
Type: General Food Writing, Cookbooks and Food Issues books, Guidebooks, Memoirs
Process: These almost always require an agent, which itself can be difficult to secure. Agent submits and negotiates with publishers and takes a cut of royalties. Contracts may come with an advance, and editor usually provides feedback directly. Advantage is large print run, competitive pricing and sometimes good marketing. Profit is the primary motive here, but few food writers can make a full time living this way. Some authors hustle their books themselves with speaking engagements, but the formal book tour is a rare thing nowadays except for celebrities.
Royalties: An advance for a well known author can be above $20,000. Those that sell well may even earn royalties after the advance is “paid out.” New authors are usually offered considerably less.

3. Reference/Textbook Publishers

Audience: Primarily to Library Market and Students
Examples: ABC-CLIO/Greenwood, AltaMira, Sage, Springer, Thomson/Wordsworth
Type: Reference Works, Encyclopedias, Textbooks, Books within Food Series, but increasingly all types of food books.
Process: Write proposal and submit to acquisitions editor or series editor hired by the publisher. Rarely peer reviewed, though often must pass a library board. Both editors offer feedback. Limited market and small print runs mean smaller royalties, but generally easier to break into than academic or trade presses. Expensive books mean limited audience as well.
Royalties: Quite small, though sometimes an advance of a thousand dollars or so can be arranged. Profit is not the motive, usually professional prestige and notoriety. Contributors to encyclopedias sometimes receive nominal payment by contract, or a copy of the work, though sometimes neither.

4. Specialty Presses

Audience: Foodies, Culinary Historians, Academics
Examples: Prospect, Southover, Applewood
Type: Historic Reprints, General Food Writing, Sometimes Cookbooks, Conference Proceedings
Process: Write directly to publisher with ideas, which are approved or rejected quickly. Sometimes this is exactly the place for books that seem to fit nowhere else.
Royalties: Normally minimal.

5. Self Publication

A few people manage to get away with this, putting up their own money, hiring a designer and photographer, doing all the marketing themselves. The advantage is you keep all the profit. But you also have to be willing and able to do everything yourself.

There are also ways to do this easily with self publishing programs and companies that specialize in this. Community cookbooks are the most common, but increasingly other types as well. The advantage is you keep a significant part of the profits. The disadvantage is it is very hard to sell such books, even with electronic distribution, kindle, and the like. Do this only if you must see your book in print and really don’t care if many people read it. There are even academic quasi-self published outfits like Mellen. Few people take them seriously, because it is assumed you simply couldn’t get a publisher. This is not, however, always the case. And sometimes excellent books are self published. A better way to get exposure, is a good website or blog and simply forget about paper.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saint Cyril Cocktail

I have been playing around with almond milk lately for my forthcoming book on nuts. Things like nogs, gin fizzes, anything that needs a milky touch. This one I think is the best, at least for this season. Take one shot frozen vodka, one shot almond milk, a half shot of mastic liqueur (it is very sweet) and just a drop each of rose water and St. Germain. Amaretto would probably be better, honestly. Shake with ice and strain into a glass. You simply must make your own almond milk - just raw peeled almonds pounded or processed with very hot water, left over night and strained and squeezed out through a cloth. It is absolutely delicious. The drink is named for Saint Cyril, Greek apostle to the Slavs.