Friday, December 26, 2014

Neriage Noodle

I have been dreaming about this technique for a long time. With clay it's fairly simple. You roll out sheets of different colors, make a few layers of each color, one on top of the other. Roll up everything, then cut them into rounds and put all the pieces together side by side and roll out again. The same thing ought to work with pasta dough. And it did. The two doughs are made with juiced beets and juiced broccoli rabe. QUITE the mess. First time I've actually used the beast of a juicer in my house that looks like a rocket engine. The noodles didn't come out so much Father Christmas as King Crimson, but it does look cool. I then cut these strips into noodles and as you can see the color faded a lot. But they are multicolor psychedelic. And I'm hoping they really taste like beet and rabe. So the key to keeping these for a while, since they're just white flour and vegetable juice: precook and then dehydrate in nests. If you just dry them, they are really brittle. Which is of course why semolina replaces regular wheat in commercial dried noodles. At least in Italy. The real question is what kind of soup can I put these in? Crab maybe?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Homemade Instant Ramen

 The machine was calling to me today. So:

Yes, these were freshly made and crank cut semolina noodles, boiled and then dehydrated. That's dehydrated zucchini on the left, dehydrated cured and smoked turkey in the center and turkey stock cooked down to syrup, smeared on a plastic mat and also dehydrated.

I hoping it will all just come back together in boiling water. We shall find out tomorrow.

I'm also thinking of other vegetable ingredients. Carrots and celery definitely. Maybe tomato powder, lime juice, and why not fish sauce? The whole shebang should be dried and truly instant.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Candy Noodle Soup

This came to me in a dream. Noodles made of marzipan. A broth of Mexican chocolate with a little booze for sheen, piped in with a turkey baster. Garnished with sprinkles, candied citron and peppermint bark. It comes together rather well. Sort of tastes like Mozart Kugeln.

Noodle Soup Forward!

A Friend on Facebook called this....

Faux Pho 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lamb Broth with Root Vegs and Soba

I particularly liked this one because it breaks down the rigid borders between soup and stew. It's made with a lamb shoulder chop, carrots, parsnips and celery. It was cooked slowly so the broth stayed clear. Then served on soba noodles. So the final effect is exactly the slurpable soup aesthetically, but the flavors say Irish stew, without the potato of course.

I think doing this again I would add some seaweed to further undefine it. The briny flavor really goes well with lamb. Maybe even just some furikake sprinkled on top.

The bowl is another favorite of mine, made years ago, in New York. Super Mud Pottery when I was first apprenticing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I don't think these are supposed to go in soup in the Valtellina, but they are seriously dense earthy buckwheat noodles. They're in a beefy broth with shreds of cabbage, a few mushrooms and then as a nod to their Japanese cousins, just a dab of red miso in the soup. I couldn't resist a little parmigiano before eating. It's really does work.

I'm also guessing that soba noodles would work in the same context, though with more Northern Italian flavors. Maybe even a dash of tomato paste.

I love mixing and matching flavors in noodle soups. New combinations are coming to me every morning.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pinking Shears Noodle

I know what you're thinking, but no, the shape is supposed to be cowry shells. How to do it actually came to me in a dream. I saw an image of my dad's pinking shears. He designed clothes in NY's Garment District and had a bevy of frightening sewing tools. The pinking shears were these thick brutish blades made of solid steel with black handles. I tried some craft scissors which weren't strong enough to handle dough. And this morning bought some fiskars and they worked perfectly, cut cleanly, right into boiling water. Here they're in a vegetable broth with some scallions, that's all. Most of them I just froze because I'm coming to realize that making noodles every morning for breakfast is ridiculous. So we'll see how they do in the freezer. Pop out a little container of stock, a ziplock of noodles and some fresh vegetables. Easy peasy. We shall see.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Tale of Two Stocks

I amazes me that with very similar ingredients one can make two completely and utterly different stocks. This is an interesting lesson in technique. The first stock here was made with turkey necks and giblets. I roasted them in the oven for a few hours with carrots, onions, celery. Then put everything plus the scrapings from the pan into a small stock pot, barely covered with water, and into the oven for about 16 hours at 275 degrees. I love the way this comes out, really dark with deep flavors and very clear. No fat at all.

The soup shown here is just stock with some shiitake mushrooms thrown in, noodles, of course, and some parsley. It's a super intense turkey flavor and actually with a little more reduction and thickening of flour it made a great gravy. But the bones in the necks didn't create any gelatinous thickening.
This second stock was made with the leftover carcass of the turkey, with wings, skin and a lot of bones, not much meat left. It was boiled for about 6 hours on the stove top with a lot of water in the same pot with carrots, onions, celery, etc. You would think they might turn our similar? This was milky like a bone broth, with a very intense flavor but tasting more like roast turkey than a stock base. And when chilled it solidified completely, so I could take the fat off the top. In the soup it was sticky and mouth-filling, and as you can see cabbage, tomatoes and parsley, similar noodles too. But very murky and thick.

The collagen in the skin here I think made all the difference. I don't prefer one over the other, but am nonetheless surprised that the part of the turkey used and the method of cooking makes such a tremendous difference in the final taste and consistency.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving 17 courses

 I never mess with Thanksgiving, but this year decided to do many tiny courses served in unusual vessels. They're mostly riffs on traditional dishes so I don't think anything tasted odd. And now I don't remember the order! Thankfully great friends were there cooking with me to fill in many of the courses as well. Here are just a few of them. First is a green bean souffle in shot-sized timbales. Sprinkled with sumac.

Then came a crab soup with really long fresh wheat noodles. I couldn't pass up a chance to do a noodle soup! A little sour with lime. Chewy slurpable noodles made with the Atlas roller.

 These are yucca and malanga fries served in tiny Chinese food take out boxes I found at a restaurant supply shop. I have a ton of these left to do something with. Any ideas?

I think somewhere around here there was a tiny gumbo soup with a single okra in it.

There was also a lovely sour lemon granita palate cleanser.
 This is stuffing with celery, onion, sage, bacon in tiny jelly jars. They were reheated in the oven, and actually exploded when open. The first few dealt some serious blisters. Let cook for a few minutes and aim away is the lesson learned.

There was also a raw carrot puree soup served in a red cello cup shot about here as well. Actually several raw veggie dishes.
 Here a single one of my kabocha squash raviolo in a tiny Asian bowl with spoon. It's seasoned with sesame and white soy sauce. Plus a little cilantro. After I had taken a bite of it, of course. I think I may prefer this version to the usual lemon butter sauce and capers. The squash has to cook down slowly in a pot for hours until a thick paste, then put into rolled sheets of dough.
 A mashed potato ball seasoned with homemade dehydrated tomato pickle chip shards, furikake and parsley. I guess my mind is fixated on Asia lately.

Not pictured was the turkey, also on tiny plates and sauced with a dark stock cooked overnight and a gorgeously thick and sweet mole. Together they were really exquisite. Cranberry sauce too, naturally.
And cupcake sized pecan pie. There were actually many tiny desserts all served at once, so maybe it was only 12 courses with 17 dishes. Which ever, it was all lovely and great fun. Over three hours at the table I think. Everyone brought little courses as well. Now I just need to recover from the whole thing!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Noodle Soup Saga

I've been really into noodle soup lately if you haven't noticed. I have to write a book about it, and so I've started systematically recording every version I cook for breakfast. Some are simple, some extraordinarily complex and time consuming. This week I decided to just change little things in the basic recipe to see if I could taste the subtle differences. It's not something I've ever done before: cooking the same basic dish every day. As you can imagine, the differences are vast, just one ingredient different makes all the world of difference.

This week began with beef broth, buckwheat soba and a dollop of leftover lamb chili that was laced with pho flavors. Then on Tuesday was a quick ramen in chicken broth with coconut, tomato, lime and sriracha. I actually had a packet of instant ramen and just threw away the chemical packet. Still, very quick. Wednesday was a gorgeous mung bean, chicken broth and again tomato, lime, sriracha, cabbage, scallions. Nothing like the one the day before. Then Thursday was fish stock, rice cellophane noodles, lemon, parsley, carrots and cabbage. It's amazing how switching lemon for lime and parsley for cilantro changes the entire dish. Saturday there was almost nothing left in the house, but wheat noodles, chicken stock, and much like the day before, but with a hit of fermented salgam suyu, changed everything. Sour and beet/red carrot-flavored.

Today was the killer. An 18 hour stock cooked overnight on low in the oven. Mostly duck necks and vegetable ends. With arrowroot starch vermicelli. I never knew there was such a thing! Some shiitake mushrooms, cilantro, leftover chicken breast. It was slick with meatiness. No chili or acid, since I just wanted the stock to shine through. This bore no relationship to versions I made earlier in the week. Do you think there's the making of a whole book here? I'd say so!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

M/S Bjørnvag - Floating Restaurant

I don't think I've ever written a restaurant review, but this one was so out of the ordinary, I can't help myself. It is indeed a tiny restaurant on a boat, the M/S Bjørnvag in Trondheim, Norway. Despite this sunny picture, it was dark at about 5:00. All of 10 people were served a kind of Nordic Kaiseki meal. Two people in the kitchen, the owner/chef and a helper. The whole thing took about 4 or 5 hours. And there was a LOT of beer/wine/aquavit through it all too.

There were 9 courses in all. First a pile of tørrfisk, which was perfectly fitting (shredded stockfish, dried but not salted) some seaweed flakes and crispy fried fish skin, the I swear tasted like pork rinds. Then stockfish in another guise, cooked with a kind of chili oil. Third was a bread made from beer lees, spent barley and a little packet of steamed trout that the owner caught with cubed vegs. The fourth course was the most interesting, a wedge of Greenland seal on pumpkin. I can't really describe the flavor, not fishy at all, but in texture a little grainy and chewy like grass-fed beef. I would eat it any day of the week if I could.

Potatoes with trumpet chanterelles stood on their own as a course. And trust me if you have never had potatoes in Scandinavia, it's worth the trip. The sixth was a rolled leg of kid with orange sauce, roasted vegetables and everything seasoned with pine shoots. Remarkable combination of flavors. Seven was little blood pancakes with wedges of cured pig fat. Eighth was a plate of charcuterie and cheeses: bellota, lamb sausage, tetilla, goat, and a blood and kidney sausage that was very tasty. Apple tart with black currant sauce from the chef's mom's yard to end. And of course aquavit.

Each was a tiny course and it was spread out so well that you never tired of anything, and each course enticed the palate to continue. Every course followed the other nicely too, the cured meat and cheese definitely went better toward the end than beginning. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world in winter, this place is highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Food Studies San Francisco University of the Pacific

Well, This has been about a decade in the making. But it is happening in the fall 2015. And I need students!!

So please click on the facebook page  

visit the university website and get anyone you know to apply!

Send any inquiries directly to me


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Noodle Soup Book

Yesterday when I got to work, I had several important meetings, exams to grade, writing assignments to work on, but the obsession took hold of me. Noodle soups must become a book. Thank you anonymous commentator you requested it here! So I spent a few hours writing a proposal and sent it off to my agent. Fingers crossed.

The plan is to go global with it. The Asian family of soups is easily recognized. And so are the Italian. Oh tortellini in brodo. What you see here is actually leftover spaghetti soup. I mean it was spaghetti in sauce and I just added some broth. Really phenomenal with fresh tomatoes and parsley thrown in. Then of course there's chicken noodle soup and all its eastern European cousins. Spaetzele too I guess. Fideo soup in Spain.

But the question I have is what other cultures can be represented here? Are there whole other families of noodle soups I don't know of? I plan to exclude proper dumplings, but maybe I shouldn't. Are there South American, African noodle soups? Or from anywhere else?  There must be!    

Sunday, October 19, 2014

1000 Mornings of Noodle Soup

For reasons I cannot explain, I think I am going to embark on an odyssey of noodle soup every morning for 1000 days' breakfast. For the past 20 years I have eaten cold cuts, cheese, olives, toast, tomatoes, pickles, a kind of deconstructed sandwich. For a decade before that it was exclusively pancakes - which led to the dopiest little book I've ever written and the one that always gets mentioned first when I am introduced. Be careful what you write is all I can say.

Anyway, time to move on. Noodle soup calls. It all started in Boston this past summer when I had a beautiful kitchen in a highrise dorm for a few weeks and not a single utensil or vessel. I bought a tiny cheap pot and had noodle soup for breakfast. Not ramen in miso, but a kind of Vietnamese rice noodle spicy red soup, not pho, but something like it. It was SO good for breakfast.

Since then I've been making stock, freezing it, making noodles or buying them dried and fresh, just to get a sense of the range of flavors. And the world of noodle soup is ridiculously immense. But trust me, cilantro, lime, fish sauce, a chopped tomato and a shot of sriracha makes anything taste good. So this is my next batch. It's a pho base, with beef neck, ribs, lamb bones, and a lot of duck necks that were bought for like 3 dollars a big bag. I think I'm going to make a fish stock too to keep around - the lobster shell stock I made this past week was incredible.

My first shot at using alkali (koon chun potassium carbonate and sodium bi-carbonate) was not a complete failure, but the dough couldn't be pulled. Or even rolled out on a board. I used bread flour and some wheat gluten, assuming that really high gluten was what I needed. Nope. The crank roller turned it into flat noodles which are ok, but not yellow, slippery or properly chewy. I NEED a good recipe!! These are edible but not worth wrestling with. I'll work on it. In the meantime, I will have a great intense home made stock in the morning that will last a couple of weeks. And a range of noodles to throw in, rice, mung bean, buckwheat, etc. I am SO excited!!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cooking A Sephardic Dinner

A handful of people came last week to cook with me a Sephardic meal. Surprisingly all 7 of us stuffed into the kitchen quite well together, flour flying everywhere. I tried to do things from memory rather than follow historic recipes, and I think we wandered a bit into Turkish food, but that's where my grandmother's family was from. Of course there was raki. There were also yaprak - stuffed grape leaves (using those from my grapes which were old and tough, oh well) and great bourekas with spinach and feta, hummus and babaganouj, flat breads, and some fabulous kifteh made with hand chopped lamb and leeks. I love those. Baby artichokes were great too.

But this is the dish that sticks out in my mind. A sea bass actually from Turkey. I scaled and gutted him (THANK YOU PODESTO'S FOR CARRYING WHOLE FISH!) Lightly dusted with flour and fried in olive oil. Along with it onions were fried and golden raisins. A dash of cinnamon and then a good splash of white wine vinegar. It should marinate a few hours. My grandmother called it pesce in vinagra, though you might recognize it as escabeche.

Now what relationship this might have to the Medieval Baghdadi al-Sikbaj or to Peruvian ceviche, let alone to Tempura or English Fish and Chips, I wont speculate. But apparently they are all distant cousins.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Food in Time and Place

How nice! Look what just appeared on my desk. It's book #22. Coedited with Paul Freedman and Joyce E. Chaplin.

It includes great chapters by Gene Anderson, Jessica B Harris, Charles Perry, Jeff Pilcher, Amy Bentley, Frederick Douglass Opie, Krishnendu Ray, Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Amy Trubek, Fabio Parasecoli, Peter Scholliers among others!

I'm really pleased with how this turned out. UC PRESS ROCKS! And so does the AHA for official sponsorship. I take it as formal recognition of the field of food history. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cooking With BU Students Live

Latest update on the cooking as food history pedagogy: I went to Boston and got to cook with everyone in person this weekend. Most of the students I've never met. Those who live far away and a few others couldn't make it, but otherwise a nice dozen. I decided we would cook some 13th century Yuan Dynasty recipes, a selection of which is in my reader under the title Yin-Shan Cheng-Yao. The whole is in A Soup for the Qan, which has just come out in a new edition. What really attracted me to the recipes is the influence I've looked at often from medieval Baghdad going west to Europe, but this one goes east, under Mongol Rule, to China. So ingredients like mastic, chickpeas and saffron appear.

Most of them were pretty good, one recipe for chicken morsels with (handmade) vermicelli was spectacular, and sharp with szechuan pepper corns. A lamb and mastic soup was ok, probably would have been very good with more concentrated stock and the lamb cooked longer. Steamed poppy seed buns left a little to be desired for, but I think tweeking could make them great. Weirdest of all though was  a carp soup. It was clearly a pain to clean as you can see here. The stock turned out gray and the fish tasted muddy. Maybe it was just this fish, but I'm really hoping the students wont be scared into thinking people in the past had no idea what they were doing. I myself am wondering about carp.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Online Food History Class #3 Apicius

Hic est Patina Zomoteganona. That just means a plate of sauce in a frying pan, or something like that, made of any sort of fish. I've never cooked it before, but I think among Apicius' best.

Here's a really loose translation. Raw fish in a pan (this is wild salmon), add oil, liquamen (fish sauce), cooked down wine, and a bundle of fresh coriander and leek. Cook, then pound pepper, lovage, oregano, the cooked down bundle in a mortar, and pour in cooking liquid then (keep pounding) and pour back in the pan. Let fish cook through, add an egg and stir to temper, until thickened, sprinkle with pepper and serve.

The combination of flavors are exquisite. Whoever actually wrote this recipe knew exactly what he or she was doing.

Unfortunately adobe connect did not work at home, maybe my old computer or crappy connection. Shame with such great material the technology totally failed. On an off and after an hour or so I quit. But the fish tastes great. Try it!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cooking Therapy

Just as there are professional disciplines of Music Therapy and Dance Therapy, is there also such a thing as Cooking Therapy? Well if not, there should be. So if you find yourself alone and depressed, here's what to do.

First pour yourself a big martini with your favorite olive. Two olives. Then look in the fridge and cabinets and contrive to make the most difficult dish you can with whatever is at hand, a recipe you have never done before. First a pair of turkey thighs I cured a two weeks ago called out to me. I pan roasted them. The effect is almost exactly like ham. This was cooled and diced finely.

Then I found some sweet potato flour (camote) from Peru, which I thought might make a fetching noodle. Well it did indeed. I rolled it out and made ravioli stuffed with the turkey, about 3 or 4 inches across. And then I fried it in the strained turkey fat, so really nice and crispy, like a pot sticker, but quite sweet and delicate. Chopped tomato and a little cilantro on the side. I like the American theme. Does it work as therapy? I don't know. But it tastes good and is a really good distraction.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stock for Pho

Every 6 months or so, I try to stuff something into my over-packed freezer and it just wont fit. In desperation I start pulling things out. I'd say a good third are bags of bones I tucked away with the best of intentions. As long as you perform this purgative ritual, you will not be disappointed. For me there are other freezer rites to observe: paying homage to Herman the eel is among them. He's been in there for about a decade and I don't have the heart to toss him.

Well, when you collect your bones, mine were an assortment of beef oddments, pig shoulder, lamb neck, chicken backs and wings, and a left over turkey carcass, toss them into the pot and cover with water. I also took the opportunity to clean the fridge of limp carrots, half a leek, some red onion, a sad bulb of fennel, celery tops, parsley stalks, mature dill and so forth.

And then I went even further and emptied the upper spice cabinet where I found star anise, coriander, long pepper, cloves, juniper, cardamom. You can tell where I'm going with this: PHO! After just a couple of hours the kitchen smells like heaven. So this is what angels eat. I'll give it maybe 10 hours at a gentle simmer, strain it tonight and have it for breakfast tomorrow with noodles and fresh vegetables.

 This is the soup the next morning. Quite nice without fussy straining. I also tasted it here before garnishing. The veggies, lime and a small hit of sriracha of course makes it, in my opinion.

UPDATE: Plan so far working. A pint or so of stock, leftover meat, some vegetables and noodles, for breakfast. Should last a week or more, as I slowly defrost the containers of stock through the week. Let me tell you, spicy and sour in the morning is a real pick me up at 5 AM!

Another Update: I think the combo I like best is tomatoes, lime, chicken, chilies, shredded carrots and a few shiitake. It does really make a great breakfast.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Food History: An Experiment in Online Pedagogy

Yesterday I began a long term experiment in teaching food history. It is not only online with recorded lectures, which I've done three or four times before, but now includes a live google hangout meeting every Monday night for the semester. During this time, up to three hours, we will cook recipes from historic cookbooks. Students are organized into teams for cooking in one designated kitchen.The students buy ingredients, interpret the recipes, and so forth, on their own. Most recipes, I think, will come from the reader for the course.

Organizing the groups was difficult, as was dealing with students as far ranged as Paris and Utah. And as I feared, over 9 groups was not possible so one team never got on until one team went off. Worst of all, the google hangout is designed to pick up sound and broadcasts whoever happens to be talking. Now, when everyone starts to chop and pots begin to clang, there is not only cacaphony, but it switches speaker every second or two. It was like John Cage composing for kitchen on computer. I had to make a sign, backwards of course, to say PLEASE MUTE.

Despite these odd disconnects, I think this worked quite well. And nearly everyone said what they cooked tasted good. These were recipes 3,500 years old. The oldest on earth. Cuneiform. We tried as hard as possible to follow the vague directions, and we thank Laura Kelley for glossing many terms that are not translated in Bottero, which has grave shortcomings for cooks. But on the whole, there was nothing odd at all. In fact I think we all learned something about flavor and technique. Most recipes were described as broth. I think a bad translation from Akkadian to French to English. But there are no measurements, so who knows? Mine looks more like a stew.

It's a lamb stew with crushed leek, onion, garlic. And fat, plus flour. Just boiled nothing browned first. Yoghurt (maybe, or sour milk) added at the end. It thickened beautifully. And actually it tasted better after cooking 40 minutes, not after simmering a couple of hours, when I had dinner later. I always thought you couldn't cook yoghurt long, but it was fine.

Most importantly, I think every team liked what they cooked. None were right or wrong per se, but very different interpretations of the recipes. Some were thin soups, some thick black sauces on meat. Which is right, who knows? Maybe none, maybe all. But we all now have an idea of what people liked millennia ago.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why I Eat Crap

When people see me stuff potato chips in my mouth, get excited about cheap candy or hear that I'm into ramen noodles, they seem so disappointed. As if I would only ever eat the finest fresh local sustainable ethical hand made food. Well, I do that often, but sometimes, especially dinner alone, the situation calls for crap. Despite what it looks like, this is crap.

We all know David Chang put ramen on the map again. I frankly missed it. And I never tasted ramen in college. Really. So I never really knew what was going on. But I do now. At any good Asian grocery you can find hundreds of different ramen noodle varieties. This was Indonesian Mi Goreng. I swear. About a dollar. But as long as you have time why not garnish? All in the garnish, right?

So this was shallots, mushrooms, red bell pepper, green jalapenos, red carrots and shrimp all sauteed in coconut oil. Then the noodles boiled in a broth based on shrimp shells and peelings. All mixed together, hit with cilantro and crushed peanuts. Oh and I used all 5 flavoring packets this came with. Really. That's why it's still crap. But it DOES taste great.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Melanzane sulla Microonda

If you know me, you will know that I shy away from most modern mechanical devices, in the kitchen at least. I think they almost always sacrifice flavor for speed. Short cuts, just as in walking, prevent you from savoring the process of cooking, which is arguably the best part of the entire gastronomic experience. I think the analogy applies to most things in life that are good. Why would you want to rush through them?

This is the exception that proves the rule, because I do believe it actually tastes better in the microwave. A conventional oven seems to make it tough and dry if cooked too long. Grilling likewise, though nothing to scoff at. But I offer you Eggplant in the Microwave.

Peel one medium eggplant and slice it into very thin rounds. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a clay casserole, sprinkle a little salt and oregano and arrange the slices overlapping a bit. Drizzle more oil, salt and oregano on top. Microwave for 20 minutes. If you like it mushy, cover the casserole. Plastic wrap is ok. This was cooked uncovered, which leaves them a little firmer and slightly chewy. If you are feeling extravagant, add some tomato sauce and mozzarella too and reheat. Or sprinkle some buttered breadcrumbs on top. Or for another flavor profile entirely some za'atar and pomegranate syrup. It even, I promise you, works with soy and sesame oil. Eggplant is sort of like the blank canvas of the vegetable world, adapting so easily to any set of flavors. And if you just happen to be in a hurry, this is a quickie, but really good.

Monday, August 4, 2014


I have been thinking lately about the way our memory distorts the past, leaving out some details, highlighting others in odd ways. I suppose this process is meant to protect us from negative experiences and maximize the positive. But it can't be that simple. Sometimes there are things we desperately want to remember but just can't. And conversely there are things we recall for no good reason. Case in point I was in Mendocino yesterday and remembered a completely mediocre meal I had over 15 years ago in a restaurant as we passed it.

Sensory stimuli are recorded in our memory the same way and with the same capricious results. I have vivid olfactory hallucinations, I guess you'd call them, that occur randomly. But for the life of me, I can't remember what these are supposed to taste like. They're roskas. A kind of sweet eggy roll, sort of like challah. My grandmother Julia made these, and I haven't had them since 1977, probably earlier. I know the word, and you can even find recipes, mostly Hispanic, which makes sense. She was Sephardic.

This recipe is in her hand. My sister and I baked them as best we could a few weeks ago in London. I have no qualms about lack of measurements or precise directions. I prefer it in fact. I know how to make bread, so it was no big deal. But when they came out, I have to say, I not only have no recollection of what they were supposed to taste like, but they were fairly unspectacular. I thought the story would be about recovering a long lost recipe, that tasted exactly as it did when I was 13. We may very well have pulled it off to perfection, but the truth is, I can't remember. If there were only a way to record taste the way you can words.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pickled Grapes

Finally! This has been an ongoing battle for over a dozen years, which heretofore I have been losing. Every year I see these tiny lovely champagne table grapes dangling way above the rooftop, maybe 20 feet beyond the trellis, taunting me from their lofty vine supports. Then the birds get them all. I've taste a few, but they're impossible to pick. But not after an ample dose of gin and a little pluck. Somehow I scrambled up and just picked them. Maybe 5 pounds, on one vine, which isn't so bad. Scratched a bit. I ate a lot.

But how can I possibly resist messing with them now? So these are pickled. NOT in vinegar, nor a quick refrigerator marinade. They are in brine. I know this exists out there in the world, though I was very hard pressed to find out anything about it. So I am winging it, as usual. Just lovely sweet little grapes in brine. We wait and see what happens. I am VERY excited.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bull Whip Kelp Pickles

I was cavorting in a kayak yesterday in the Monterey Bay and happened to drift into raft of kindly otters, one of whom was generous enough to offer me a 7 foot length of bullwhip kelp. I thanked him profusely, complimented him on his finely kempt coat and promised I would put the estimable sea vegetable to the best possible use. I have eaten exquisite pickled kelp before, but I admit, I have never made it. I have serious doubts that it could be fermented, so I made a sweet vinegar pickle, much like the one I tasted years ago. Soaked a bit then sliced in rounds and spears. They are rather fetching. I will let you know how they fare after a week or two, but I suspect a little salty, a little sweet, a little sour, a little spicy and a whole lot of fishy sea krauty crunch. Can there possibly be a superior confluence of flavors to tickle the taste buds?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014


In 2025 the streets of New York City had become so deplorably crowded that the city planners had decided to implement new technologies designed to drastically reduce motorized traffic. Their goals were twofold, both to minimize carbon emissions and to force people to walk rather than rely on cars, cabs and busses. This would both clear the streets and complement the mayor’s new fitness initiatives.

The largest obstacles, as they envisioned them, were how the sidewalks could handle the added foot traffic, how they could keep pedestrians moving quickly to their destinations and how a navigation device could be employed for people who had increasingly forgotten how to get around on foot. They decided that using a GPS device on a phone would be inexpensive and easy, but ultimately would cause people to bump into each other, or worse, wander into traffic while their heads were staring at their phones.  Spoken directions would only be worse since there would be a cacaphony of voices in the street, leading to confusion. In fact they ruled out most current electronic technologies, all of which depend on an inadequate interface. Think of the absurdity of a complex brain communicating through a keyboard invented in the 19th century. They wanted something much more primal, tapping into the instinctual drives of the human brain, the hard-wired tracking instinct. They decided to rely on smell.

The device, called the Olfactigation Module, was pretty simple: two small jets were positioned on each forearm, about the size of a wrist watch. A global mapping system gathered information based on current location and desired destination. It then set a clear and rational path and guided each individual by means of a very precisely coded smell. A thin stream of colored gas basically set a lane for each individual to follow. Each person had a particular smell engineered to communicate directly to their neural cortex, unique to that individual. No two smells were alike. Essentially each person just walked, stayed in lane and followed their nose.

The complexity of the system was that no one would even have to worry about bumping into others, or even wait for traffic lights. Those would be abolished. The city, being sanitized of car fumes, now became the perfect spot for a smell-based navigation system. Even smoking was banned outright. The system would direct each person, setting the pace, direction, marking the turns clearly. The gas dissipated a second after each person walked past it, so there was little possibility of aromatic overload or pheromone confusion. The really brilliant part was that you were directed not to a street address, but an exact spot within a couple of inches. Every single space in the city was given a precisely mapped point. So you could end up at the cracker aisle in a particular grocery store, in your dentist’s chair for an appointment, then back at your desk without every thinking about where you were going. Without every worrying about bumping into anyone on the way somewhere.

The system also recorded the whereabouts of everyone in the city, so you could find out, for example, that the person you planned to meet is six blocks away and will arrive in precisely 10 minutes. Eventually they also realized that there are slower and faster people, so they designed different lanes, and even some very fast lanes so people could run wherever they liked. No one had to worry about traffic and eventually the street surfaces were one by one closed to cars and became wide pedestrian lanes. Of course people sometimes needed to go across town, so the Olfactigation system led them onto the subway lines, which were now free as well as part of the system, so you never had to worry about how to get anywhere, your own individual navigatrix would lead your every step, right onto the subway car, planning any switches and taking you right your destination. People really loved it.

The only real trouble were a group of people who came to be called “flaneurs”  - those who really don’t know where they want to go, and prefer to wander, intentionally bumping into people, or even meeting people they don’t know. They started in the park where there was open space and lanes were harder to control. They defied the Mayor’s directives by shutting off their spray modules, smelling things they weren’t supposed to and dropping into little grocery stores where the scent of spices was so thick that the navigation system was thrown off. Kaluystan’s Spice shop was a regular haunt. People were known to walk aimlessly from the upper west side, into Zabar’s or Fairway to smell cheese, and then trek all the way past Korea Town to smell kimchi, then past what used to be Balducci’s in the village, down to China Town, where the scents were irresistible, funky, rotting, fishy. Any place like this wrought havoc on the system and had people walking in circles. That’s exactly what the flaneurs wanted.

Interestingly, the movement grew so popular that there were pushers on the street hawking spice bags, which people would hold up to their noses so they could take time to wander. There were radical flaneurs who lit piles of myrrh or swung incense burners and chanted in the streets. This threw off all the pedestrians, who were suddenly impossible to track, ended up in little crowded barbershops by mistake, or found themselves discovering little restaurants they never knew existed. Within a few years, the city had on its hands a full blown revolution in smell. Work came to a virtual standstill since no one could remember how to get to work. And the city once again stunk to high heaven. But no one was smelling their own track, they were following other people. Many even tossed away the underarm deodorant the city had made mandatory.

Eventually, a giant cloud of body aroma hovered over the city and then slowly but surely, they let back the buses. Then the cabs. Then people started smoking in the streets again. The street vendors returned with their dirty water hot dogs and candied peanuts. The shawarma could be smelled a block away. So could the stale urine seeping up from the subway grates. The city in all its glorious stench had returned. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Blog?

I realized this morning that I have been writing this blog for 8 years. That went quickly! It started as a place to randomly rant, then morphed into a think pad for two cookbooks (The Lost Art of Real Cooking and The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home.) All the material that went in those was taken down of course. I'm not sure what it is now, but there are still some things about blogging that perplex me.

First I wonder how and why most of the traffic gets to me. Is it completely random? If you google beef bungs, my image comes up first. A dubious distinction, I know! I also just noticed it's listed in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. (OK Andy Smith is a friend). Then I spotted it being discussed recently in this article I was reading:

There's really no reason for me to write any more, apart from fun. I've never put ads on it or monetized it. Sometimes I direct traffic here via facebook, but I'm wondering why, if I could just post directly to face book? The part that baffles me though, is people almost never leave comments, which is fine. But there is actually a ton of traffic. About 200-300 hits every day. And then last Monday, for reasons I can't explain, 600 people stopped by, even though I was away and posted nothing. Most visitors come via google.

Maybe I should be doing something more with this?? If you have an opinion one way or another, please do let me know. I get no feedback here. Should it be more scholarly? Should I focus on historic cooking? It does seem a bit scattered now. I literally write whatever pops into my head, as the last post bears witness. Any and all opinions are welcome.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Food History Reader: Primary Sources

Here's #20. It was a really long slog, especially given all the copyright issues. Some great selections had to go, but in the end I really like it. Will be great to use in class!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sixteenth Century Crespe

You are looking at the surface of a 16th century crespe. More like a funnel cake than a modern crepe, and I would not have believed the recipe had I not cooked it. A pound of butter clarified, then a batter of egg whites, white wine and cake flour. Drizzled into the fat through a funnel. Sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. They are indeed crisp! 

I made these last night for our annual history bash for graduating seniors. In fact everything I made came from the Livre fort excellent de cuysine, which I translated with Tim Tomasik, and just arrived in print the other day. I also made a frumenty (cooked wheat berries), a hochepot of chicken, prunes, dates, currants and spices, a magnificent sole pie which seems to have been the hit, a slowly braised rabbit cooked in a clay pipkin, which I thought was fabulous, and a spinach dariole which fascinatingly was made with cooked spinach, bread crumbs, egg yolks (no whites) and rosewater.Once again it all proves my theory that you must trust historic cookbooks and not mess with them. Actually if it weren't such a big crowd I would have cooked it all in the hearth. But I DID get to use my new oven!!

Here's the book:  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stuff I Thought I Would NOT Like

You know I like to make everything myself. But sometimes you just end up buying stuff, or even having it sent to you. None of this did I expect to like. In fact the pickles, NOT lactofermented I thought I would hate. But they are unbelievably tasty. Sweet, sour, spicy and really crunchy. Addictive. The wasabi tempura nori crackers are like crack. I've never tasted anything like it. Forget any snack food you ever thought you couldn't resist. They should sell this stuff in big bags. And this weird funky fish sauce, smells like XXXX with an oak finish. What the hell? It was 27 bucks on amazon, and a drizzle into a cooked dish is insane. Aged in bourbon barrels. It's magic. I'm going to make chili crabs in a few minutes, with shallot, cilantro, chili and a glug of this stuff. I think I will probably faint. And YES, I have nibbling on all three today!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

şalgam suyu

I will readily admit, when I become obsessed with something, I can think of little else. This enchanting drink (yes) I had never heard of until I was told to ask for it at a Turkish Restaurant in NY last week. Imagine something sort of like pickle juice: salty, sour, spicy, deeply vegetal, the lactobomb! Criswell predicts it will replace kombucha for hipsters. There are no directions online in English, but I figured out pretty much how to do it from a Turkish video. It is also a yeast ferment, so I'm thinking it contains a little alcohol too. The key is to tie up in a little muslin bag some stale sourdough bread, some dried chickpeas and some bulghur wheat. Then add black carrots, if you can find them, or orange. Some beets gave these batches color. Also turnip. And salt. A touch of raw sugar. Then some green chilies, I used serranos. In one jar I put fennel and ginger for kicks. It's actually not done, it should take 2 weeks, but I opened the jar on the left, which sent up violent bubbles and tasted it, and WOW, it is already magnificent. A fermented cold borscht in a way. I have read that it is traditional to drink with some raki on the side. So THAT is what I'm doing right now. Well pastis, but close enough. Now I think the experiments will commence. Why not parsnip, the finest root on earth?

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Fun Radio Interview in Melbourne

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


This curious flying saucer shaped pie has been familiar to me all my life, but by the name Jaffle, it is entirely new. This is but one of many diverting things I learned in Australia last week. Moreover, they are not filled with ham and cheese, but rather baked beans or spaghetti from a can. The idea is so vile I love it. There are also pies everywhere, meat pies, sold in the 7-11, which are also everywhere. And to make sure it's completely ruined, they dump it into pea soup, for a pie floater. Sounds like something that belongs in the toilet bowl. That's where vegemite belongs too if you ask me.

Tim Tam was also entirely new to me. Vaguely akin to Kit Kat, but better. I was instructed to bite off both ends and sip port through it. Now this really worked. But of everything I tasted, and there really was a lot of fabulous food down under, the anzac biscuit is just gorgeous. Oats, coconut, golden syrup. It's a cookie, but so crisp and lovely. We need them here, trust me.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Home Made Spam

Do you have to ask why anyone would want to make spam at home from scratch? It was the sheer challenge, and the opportunity to make it as laborious as possible. And of course better than the original. This was pork shoulder finely chopped with about 20% fat, salt, instacure #1, herbs, a little sugar. Put into this jar early November last year. Then left in the fridge until today. You ask why? I wanted to see if it would slowly ferment at such low temperatures. I think it did. Smelled lovely when I opened it. Then resealed, cooked in a big stockpot of simmering water and left to cool. I think once cool the gelatinous broth you see here will solidify. Then I'll let it slurp out, slice it into rounds and fry them. Maybe serve on a bun. Though I am thinking onagiri would be really nice filled with a lump of homemade spam inside and furikake flakes. I have leftover rice. Yes, definitely.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why a Capon?

If you look at old recipes, especially those from the Renaissance, the preferred domestic fowl above all others is capon. I've always wondered, why not just a nice young chicken? The sort that we seem to like today? Well I think I finally figured it out this weekend. I suspected it was a flavor thing, sure. But it's actually even more a texture thing. Look at how wonderfully stringy that is. It shreds into a light kind of floss. I removed the breast and legs for roasting and put the rest in a pot for about 9 hours to gently simmer with vegetables for a brodo. The meat left on the bones was pure white, delicate, almost aethereal. Exactly the sort of whiteness you'd want in a blancmanger or the like. Even this dark meat is really light in texture, and I'm guessing this is why it was considered easier to digest than a chicken. It's also really moist and flavorful. Just a little pan drippings is all it needed. So is it worth it to find a capon? Absolutely.  

Here's an easy recipe to try from the Liber de coquina:

Capones et gallinas elixa et, positis speciebus et herbis odoriferis in mortario tere et etiam vitella ovorim et cum brodio distempera. Postea, insimul bulliantur quosque brodium sit gravatum.

Capons or chickens poach, and add spices and aromatic herbs, pound in a mortar and then egg yolks and temper with some broth. Next, boil briefly until the broth is thick.

The spices to use here would be cinnamon, sugar, maybe some nutmeg and herbs, parsley and maybe thyme. In the end you'll have a very interesting thick sauce. And remember to eat with your fingers.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sweete Pies of Veale

For the IACP Conference in Chicago I'll be talking about coffins, as described in cookbooks and Shakespeare. Funeral Baked Meates, served as leftovers in Hamlet. We will be tasting too. The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchen (1588) has a lovely recipe. The crust is hand raised. The proportions of filling seemed so perverse to me, that I had to test it. The crust is perfect:

To Make Paste, and to raise Coffins:  Take fine flower, and lay it on a boord, and take a certaine of yolkes of Egges as your quantities of flower is, then take a certaine of Butter and water, and boil them together, but ye must take heed ye put not too many yolks of Egges, for if you doe, it will make it drie and not pleasant in eating: and you must take heed ye put not in too much Butter for if you do, it will make it so fine and so short that you cannot raise. And this paste is good to raise all manner of Coffins.

To Make sweete pies of Veale:  Take Veale and perboyle it verie tender, then chop it small, then take twise as much beef suet and chop it small, then minse both them together, then put Corrans and minced Dates to them, then season your flesh after this manner. Take Pepper, salt, and Saffron, Cloves Mace, Synamon, Ginger, and Sugar, and season your flesh with each of these a quantitie, and mingle them together.

What does this mean? For a small pie that will serve 4, take 1/4 lb of veal shoulder. Braise it until tender and chop finely. Then take 1/2 pound of suet, chop finely by hand, add 1/4 lb of mixed dates chopped and currants. Throw in about a half cup sugar, a lot of cinnamon, other spices. Chill. Then take 2 cups of flour on a board, add an egg yolk, stir about. Boil 1/2 stick butter and 1/2 cup water, and mix it in. This will make a perfect malleable dough to raise your coffin by hand. I didn't use a rolling pin. Well, you can see that. Let it cool and no, you don't slice it. You break it and spoon out, with a 16th c. spoon like this. Set your table like this too.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Brandy 3 months

I think this is pretty much ready. Three months or so does sound far too quick, but given the small 3 liter barrel and large surface area contact, I think this might be enough. I also think it strikes a nice balance between fruit, which is still discernible (it was a zin) and alcohol (which has tamed down a bit, though I'm not sure why) and an intense butterscotch and caramel nose from the oak. I think any longer and the latter would completely overpower everything else and become cloying. Also a touch of vanillin sweetness. Very nice.

So let's say here she is. Brandy. Made entirely by hand in the 6 foot radius of my kitchen. Grapes courtesy of Elke and Kieran since mine were all eaten by a big fat rat this season. Really.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Turkey: The Gateway Cure

I know it seems oddly uncharacteristic, but I will admit, I really like deli turkey. Especially for breakfast. All the animals line up for a taste too, every morning. And it's so expensive. Around 10 dollars a pound. So last week I noticed that my grocer was getting rid of leftover turkey breast for about 1.50 a pound. Just baked, it is not something I would eat willingly, except maybe on Thanksgiving after the dark meat is gone. Dry, boring, blech. But cured, it's really quite fetching. And I realized this might be just the sort of thing for people who want to get started curing meat but aren't ready yet to deal with dry aging pork. It couldn't be simpler:
Get a half turkey breast, which will weigh about 5 pounds. Put it in a thick 2 gallon ziplock bag. Add 4 tablespoons sea salt. 3 tablespooons sugar and 1 teaspoon instacure #1 (pink salt). Add however much seasoning you like. I used thyme and a little oregano. Then rub it all over, and throw in the fridge for a week. Turn it every day. Normally I would smoke it at this point, but this time, I wanted something simpler. Just take the bag and put it directly into a pot of cold water, covered. Ramp up until it comes to a gentle simmer. Then lower the heat way down and let it sit in the hot water for about 45-50 minutes. Then let it cool at room temperature, and put back in the fridge. In the morning slice it as thinly as you can. It will be firm and much easier to slice than baked turkey. Don't panic, it will be a little pink. And it will not be dry. Perfect for sandwiches. Dogs and cats love it too!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Homemade Squirty Cheese

You may rightfully ask what could possess me to assay squirty cheese (aka easy cheese) at home, when the whole point is obviously convenience. I think it was the challenge. The Gods willed me to do it: a bag of sodium citrate arrived in the mail and I found a whipped cream dispenser replete with gas cartridges - I have no idea where it came from!

Here's how to. Heat a bottle of beer in a pot - a light beer, not too hoppy or it will overwhelm the cheese. Add a scant tablespoon of sodium citrate, a teaspoon of mustard powder, a teaspoon of raw sugar and 1/2 pound of finely grated cheese. I used good aged gouda. (That's why you should make it at home!) Let it melt, stirring all the time until smooth. Then pour this into two 8 ounce jars and keep shaking to keep emulsified. Chill in a bowl of ice water.

Then put one jarful into a whipped cream machine, and chill thoroughly. Keep testing until the cheese mixture is just the right consistency. Gently depress the nozzle on the canister or you will have cheese sprayed all over the kitchen, as I did. Eventually it will be just right, and squirty. I think a light white wine would probably work even better than beer. A touch of kirschwasser too. OK, next time it's Gruyere!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ned Ludd His Oven

I was truly warming up to modern kitchen technology, about to embrace the newfangled. And then my oven stopped working a few weeks ago. I have had a love-hate relationship with it since day one. I bought the oven because it fit the space in the counter and because there is no hood, it had to be a downdraft, which means Jennair. The stove top is actually quite good, serious flames, broad burners with decent control. As long as you don't turn the downdraft vent on, it works. The oven beneath, which I will readily admit I rode very hard, even abused, is less respectable. But it too did well, fitted with baking stones, even putting up with my chucking ice inside to make steam. Though the oven light did crack as a result. Still, it did an OK job baking. It even got hotter than the 550 degree limit.

It's the stupid little control panel, basically a clock radio, that is total crap. After maybe a year it would beep erratically, telling me to remove the meat probe. Trust me, I have never inserted my meat probe anywhere near it. I never did learn to program it, mostly because I don't want timers or bells and whistles. Actually the best oven I've ever owned, "flameboy" was discarded on the sidewalk by a friend and I took it home. It had nothing more than dials. Who needs to program an oven?? I should have kept flameboy when we moved about 15 years ago.

Anyway, this oven actually replaced the one that was already in the house, so it's only 5 or 6 years old. Then, out of nowhere, the computer panel stops working. The Sears repair man arrived, and he looked like something out of Mad Max with cyber attachments on his body. He diagnosed it and tells me that to replace the clock radio will cost 600 bucks. Might as well buy a whole new oven, for the same price. Even though everything else on it works fine. All I need it a knob! I hate this disposable culture of ours.

Then suddenly it starts working again. Wonder of Wonders! I used it all day on New Year's Eve. Baking pizzas, various hors d'oeuvres. I thought, ok, just another little touchy spell but everything's back in order.

No such luck. Yesterday the beast started not just beeping erratically, but wildly, maniacally. Trying to start itself on its own volition. BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP. Danger Will Robinson! Open the pod door Hal. The thing was truly possessed. I tried pulling it out and unplugging it. Impossible. Tried cajoling it. Tried necromancy. The beeping was driving me mad! Only one thing remained to be done. And let me tell you it was among the most satisfying of two seconds, taking the blunt end of a huge axe right to the little goddamned clock radio face and bashing it in with one swing. Beeping stopped instantly. The oven is dead. Long Live Ned Ludd!

So for the moment I shall be either using the toaster oven or will have to fire up the wood oven outside. Does anyone have any recommendations for a replacement? I'm seriously thinking of getting a vintage stove with nothing more than knobs. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Aged Eggnog

One of the most common questions I am asked about extreme food preservation is "aren't you afraid of being poisoned?" I shrug it off. You know if something has gone bad, and sometimes it does. Throw it out.

But I will admit, sometimes I do scare myself. Case in point: this eggnog I put up around Thanksgiving over a year ago. It's basically just rum, raw eggs, cream, nutmeg, sugar. Left on the shelf. Many others have tried doing this but they always put it in the fridge. Why? Doesn't that defeat the point of a historic recipe experiment?

Then again, maybe people in the past understood something I haven't noticed. Agh. My usual tactic for overcoming that fear? Get really soused at a party and have daring people who will eat anything. That happened at a New Year's Party. Maybe 5 or 6 people willingly tried a spoonful. The verdict. Very boozy, but quite tasty. More like a pudding. I think a bit of milk would make it a drinkable nog, and less potent. But I like it just as is. And chalk one up for trusting old preservation techniques. Now to figure out exactly what I added!