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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Ajo Blanco Recipe

I recently revisited a recipe from the very early days of Cooking with Amy. To say it was flawed would be an understatement. It was tremendously humbling to try to follow my own directions. I've gone back and revised the recipe, especially the techniques and the dreadful photo. On a hot day, nothing is more elegantly refreshing than this lovely and very easy to make soup. American versions fussy it up with shrimp and extra ingredients and all I can say is, "leave well enough alone!" The beauty of this soup is its simplicity. I hope you enjoy it! Ajo Blanco About 4 appetizer servings or two main dish servings Ingredients 3/4 cup blanched almonds, slivered or sliced 1-2 cloves garlic peeled 2 Tablespoon sherry vinegar 1/2 cup white seedless grapes 2 pieces day old French or Italian bread; crust removed 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 2 cups water; very cold, plus 1/2 cup Salt to taste Extra grapes sliced in half; for garnish Instructions Soak the brea...
Friday, August 29, 2003

Doctoring Mixes

I've tried to understand why I love mixes so much and I think it comes down to one thing:magic. There is a magical quality to cooking, like being in a chemistry lab where you mix a few things together and voila! you end up with something else. I know that mostly things made from mixes don't taste as good as made from scratch, but still they appeal. My personal take on mixes is to doctor them. I guess people have been doctoring cake mixes for a long, long time. There is even a series of cookbooks by "the cake mix doctor". She has a web site too where you can try a few recipes before you commit to buying a book. Cakes can be tough to make. Inaccurate oven temperature can spell disaster, and measuring ingredients with measuring cups instead of weighing can also throw things off. But cake mixes are foolproof by design. I once experimented and made a chocolate cake from a mix, adding Kahlua and some shaved Mexican chocolate and it was quite a hit. Using a cake mix you...
Wednesday, August 27, 2003

No Clean Up Cook Book

So I have this idea for a cookbook. There is a gimmick because if you look on any cookbook shelf you will quickly discover, the "great" cookbooks have all been written. Now it's all about Toast, or Duck or Blender recipes. Honestly, I kid you not, I saw a cookbook devoted to toast the other day. And it wasn't on the clearance table, well, not yet anyway. In my household I do the cooking 99% of the time. And that's fine with me especially because early on Lee decided to do all the washing up. Not just the dishes, but the pots and pans, and even the appliances and counter tops get a good wiping down most nights of the week. On occasion the kitchen floor gets washed too. Needless to say when I cook something that uses less than 3 pots and pans and an equal number of bowls, I have made someone very, very happy. Which brings me to my cookbook idea: "The No Clean Up Cook Book" In it I would have recipes for things that use one pot or pan or less. So...
Monday, August 25, 2003

Apricots on the NIle and Food Memoires

I've been reading a number of food oriented books lately. I think the one that got me started was Apricots on the Nile--A memoir with recipes by Colette Rossant. A travelogue, a coming of age story and a recipe book all in one; the author deftly weaves the story of her family, and her memories of growing up in France and Egypt with the sensual pleasures of eating and cooking. It's a wonderful slim volume that quickly pulls you in, perfect for a vacation read. The next two books I read were courtesy of my sister-in-law Lori and I would recommend them both as well. Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table by Ruth Reichl and the sequel Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table. The books are very similar to Rossant's book in format, only they take place mainly in the US and cover a much longer time span. Respectively they are much weightier tomes as well. The books have really gotten me thinking about my own memories. Not that I'm inspired to write my m...
Saturday, August 23, 2003

Salmorejo Cordobes:Recipe

If I said "cold Spanish soup" would you think of the liquid salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions--Gazpacho? Two years ago when Lee and I were in Andalucia we encountered two other fantastic cold Spanish soups that are easy to make and wonderfully refreshing when the weather gets hot. Technically you could call them both Gazpacho--one is a "White Gazpacho" and the other a Cordoban Gazpacho. The first soup is perfect for those days that are so hot you barely even feel hungry. It's sometimes called "White Gazpacho" but the real name is Ajo Blanco. It's a cool pureed almond soup with garlic and grapes in it. Very unusual sounding but quite delicious just the same. You must have white grapes to make it. The other soup, Salmorejo is a tomato soup sometimes called Salmorejo Cordobes. It's made from tomatoes, green pepper, bread, oil, vinegar, and garlic and traditionally served in an earthenware bowl, topped with a garnish of hard boiled eggs ...
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Foreman Grilled Panini Recipe

Panini are hot. And I don't just mean hot as in "toasted-sandwich-don't-burn-your-fingers" hot I mean trendy hot. How do I know? Well for one thing the Target ad in the Sunday Chronicle featured a panini press for sale. Also this past week NY Metro did a story on Mario Batali on a "NY panini-bar crawl" and the same article lists a dozen panini restaurants in and around NY. And if that's not all, McDonald's has announced it is opening up a new gourmet concept restaurant called Chef Mac's in New Orleans that will serve Louisiana shrimp, po-boys, muffulettas, barbecue chicken, as well as--do I have to say it? Panini. So what is a panino anyway? If you look up the term you'll find it refers to a type of bread or roll. But in Italy a panino is a sandwich (panini is plural). A flat toasted crispy sandwich. I watched Sara Moulton on the Food Network show Cooking Live demonstate one way these sandwiches are made. She took a baguette and sliced i...
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Oven Baked S'mores Recipe

S'mores. Did you know you can make them in the oven? I admit from the outset I saw this on the Food Network recently and have had it in my mind to make them ever since. I believe s'more are to many Americans what madeleines were to Proust, the trigger that unleashes a tide of childhood memories. For me those memories are of spending evenings around a campfire, summer camp, and summer in general. Making s'mores in the oven is great way to relive the best of your childhood (skipping over scraped knees, bullies and homework). How to do it: Oven Baked S'mores Ingredients Graham crackers Mini marshmallows Chocolate bar Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Split graham crackers into 2 halves. Put the crackers on a parchment or Silpat lined cookie sheet and on top of each square place about 9-12 mini-marshmallows. Place in hot oven until toasty. Remove and place a couple squares of a really good chocolate bar on top of marshmallow (I used Droste 72% bittersweet). The...
Monday, August 18, 2003

Craigslist Food Forum

Craigslist Food Forum. Ok. I know I've mentioned it before but you don't even have to read the posts, just the titles of the posts to enjoy the humor and camaraderie. Here is an example of why I keep reading: Is it Hor'deourves or Hor'dourves? < need_help_spelling > 08/18 15:51 . . . Hors d'oeuvres < kimo > 08/18 15:52 . . . Hors D'oeuvres < dxb > 08/18 15:53 . . . . . . thank you kimo and dxb < need_help_spelling > 08/18 15:59 . . . . . . Aw Heck - Lets call em appetizers < Nothing_Fancy_Schmancy > 08/18 16:06 . . . . . . . . . Where's the fun in that?? < neighhhhhhhhh > 08/18 16:09 . . . Its Whores Doors < doorsssss > 08/18 15:56 . . . . . . horse doovers? < like-road-apples > 08/18 15:59 . . . . . . . . . I thought it was horse devers < laini > 08/18 16:02 Of course there is the requisite grouch or "troll" who tries to stir things up by posting complaints about people using the w...
Sunday, August 17, 2003

Ferry Building Marketplace:Shopping

I have now taken two trips to the Ferry Building Marketplace at the foot of Market street. It is still a work in progress. Going now really only gives you a sneak peek at what it will be like when it's completed. By completed I mean "once all the tenants have moved in". Much like Faneuil Hall or Pike Place Market, it has been designed to serve as a showcase for the fresh food provisioners of Northern California with produce, meat, cheese, bread, wine, olive oil and specialty products like kitchenware, books, coffee and tea. First off the building is almost breathtakingly beautiful. Inside is a dramatic indoor street called the Nave. There are dozens of shops that line the "street" of the Nave, also two market halls where there will be restaurants and cafes, and open air arcades outside facing the city. On the flip side there are plazas that face the bay and attach to the ferry terminal. This is the best description I could find from the web site: "hist...
Friday, August 15, 2003

Mezzaluna:Equipment

Mezzaluna. Isn't that a pretty word? I know a copywriter who liked the word so much that he named his marketing and web business mezza-luna. Remember the scene in Gregory's Girl where the hero is infatuated with a girl who studies Italian and so to get her attention he walks around saying "bella bella bella"? I studied the Italian language more for the way it sounds than anything else. Mezzaluna means half moon and in Italian cooking it refers to two different things. Either foods that have a half moon shape, like certain cookies or stuffed ravioli-style pasta or a curved steel chopping blade, also in the shape of a half moon. A mezzaluna is a terrific tool for chopping fresh herbs and also nuts. It's a tool I have quickly grown to love. If you use it with a chopping bowl rather than a cutting board there is a harmony to the rocking motion of blade against the round surface of the bowl. All part of the dance of the kitchen....
Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Salmon

Let's take a moment to extoll the virtues of salmon. Salmon is the most beautiful color when raw and almost as gorgeous when cooked. It's good hot or cold. It's good smoked or raw or poached or baked or sauteed. According to a famous trendy dermatologist, eating it regularly is supposed to prevent wrinkles. All that, and it actually tastes good. As long as you don't overcook it, that is. Salmon can be like a blank canvas, it works with so many different kinds of sauces or marinades. This week I took a look in the fridge and found olives and basil. I had a nice ripe tomato and a bright shiny lemon. I diced the olives, squeezed the seeds and juice out of the tomato and diced it as well. Tore the basil leaves. Added some olive oil and the zest of a lemon. When I tasted it I felt something was missing so I carefully removed the pith, then chopped the lemon in as well. The resulting concasse was summery, earthy and refreshing at the same time. Perfect on top of...you ...
Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Basic Crepes Recipe

Crepes are popular all over the world. They are great for just about any meal at all, or even a snack. I've eaten them on the street in France, but also in Asia. In Holland they serve them in proper restaurants for lunch or dinner but never for breakfast. Here in Japantown, there is a shop where you can watch crepes being made in a storefront window. People are mesmerized. It's the same in Thailand with street vendors selling "roti" another type of crepe. There is a big round flat cooking surface and the batter in ladled out onto it, a wooden spreader is used to get the batter thin enough and to cover the surface perfectly. In a matter of seconds it is flipped then flipped again, then filled and served. Popular fillings seem to include cheese or an egg or bananas or chocolate. Because chocolate and bananas are a bit decadent for breakfast we had our crepes filled with peaches and yogurt this morning. It took me a long time to get a crepe recipe just right, bu...
Saturday, August 09, 2003

Skipping a meal

Yesterday I skipped dinner. This might not seem like big news to some, but in my world it's worth writing home about. The reason is, as it usually is, all in the timing. Lee had to fast for a medical test and I was fasting out of solidarity. Or laziness. I'm not quite sure anymore. In any case we didn't have our first meal until about 3pm which meant that neither of us would be hungry again until 8 or 9 at the earliest. At 9 o'clock just as the almost full moon rose in the sky, Bjork came on stage at pier 30/32 and Lee and I were watching. If you've never seen her live, I urge you to experience it once in your life. It's like watching an elf come straight out of the forest to perform for you. Or a fairy. Or a pixie. Or an extraterrestrial being. She is pure magic. Her look, her movements, her dancing, her singing are all unique, creative and beguiling. At the concert Bjork performed a lot of music from her latest album Vespertine. As Bjork herself says,...
Friday, August 08, 2003

Thai kitchen disaster!

Disaster strikes. Sometimes things do go terribly wrong in the kitchen. I started out simply looking for a recipe for Thai peanut sauce online. I usually just mix peanut butter and coconut milk and add some soy sauce, fish sauce and brown sugar to taste. This time, having no peanut butter on hand I thought I'd try making it with dry roasted peanuts in the food processor. Big mistake! Even though I was following a recipe that sounded good, it came out simply horrid. Horrid actually does not do it justice. It was grainy, pale, thin, and tasteless. No amount of doctoring seemed to help. Then as I was piling more things onto the butcher-block island than I should have, I knocked over and smashed into bits my only covered Corningware casserole dish. I was disheartened but unwilling to admit defeat. Lee generously offered to go the store and get some peanut butter. And I have to say that was the turning point. With enough peanut butter and more flavorings, soy, sugar, etc. the sauce w...
Thursday, August 07, 2003

Organic Produce Delivery

Yesterday I got my monthly delivery from Farm Fresh to You, organic produce delivery. I started this a couple of years ago when Webvan went out of business and I was seriously going through withdrawl pains. As much as I enjoy shopping for fresh produce I LOVED having Webvan bring me what I wanted because of the convenience and the super quality. The box that comes from the farm is really a lot of fun for an adventuresome cook. The produce is seasonal, farm-fresh and you get varieties of produce that you might not find in the store. And also items you might not normally buy, so the challenge is on to figure out what to cook.... This months box included: Grapes Cantaloupes Cherry tomatoes Heirloom tomatoes Peaches Tomatillos (huge ones) a big sweet onion Cilantro Cucumbers Chard The heirloom tomatoes do not look ripe to me so I plan on making Fried Green Tomatoes. This is a Southern dish and is quite delicious, however it may sound strange if this is the first you&#...
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

All About Smoked Paprika

Have you ever seen a product with the initials DOC or "denomination of origin" on the label and wondered what it was all about? I first encountered it when I was living it Italy, learning about wine. Countries in Europe set up regulatory bodies to insure the quality of certain products coming from specific regions. Champagne may be the most familiar wine with a denomination of origin designation but so are wines like Chianti (on Chianti look for the DOC paper label around the top of the bottle). Words like "champagne" and even "cava" are only allowed to be used by manufacturers who abide by certain conditions. My sister Jeanne just sent me a spice that I was not only unfamiliar with, but also is DOC regulated--smoked paprika. Smoked paprika is the world's first pepper spice with a denomination of origin status. When you think of paprika you probably think of Hungary and dishes like goulash and deviled eggs. But smoked paprika is from from La Vera i...
Sunday, August 03, 2003

What to do with Spinach

The curse of Costco. Anyone who has shopped there knows what I am talking about. Simply put, you can't help but buy WAY too much. I know, I know, you save money purchasing larger quantities, that's the whole point of shopping at Costco. But when there are only two people in your household, you have to question the logic in buying 2.5 pounds of spinach in one go. Being able to purchase fresh spinach that's pre-washed is the real draw. In addition to the fact that it's FRESH SPINACH. So much better than frozen and truth be told I even like frozen spinach. Spinach salad is very good, the spinach acts as a neutral "base" that lends itself to all sorts of fruits, cheeses and other toppings (did someone say bacon?) I can barely think of a fruit that doesn't compliment spinach in a salad; apples, oranges, figs, rapberries, strawberries, cranberries, o.k., maybe bananas don't work. Search for spinach salad recipes sometime and you'll see what I mean abo...
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Aloha Festival

Today is the Aloha Festival in San Francisco out in the Presidio. That means mellow Hawaiian music, enchanting dance performances and most importantly, if you ask me--plate lunches. Hawaii has a tradition of serving up a lunch that consists of a scoop or two of rice, a 1-part-mayonnaise-2-parts-macaroni salad an optional serving of poi and some kind of meat, chicken or fish. It could be hibachi grilled teriyaki, kahlua pig, lomi lomi salmon, chicken long rice, lau lau or any number of other specialities that are so popular in Hawaii. Why the plate lunch is so addictive I am hard pressed to explain. Hawaiian food is a beguiling blend of Japanese, Chinese, Pacific Islander and Philipino cuisines. It seems to take the best of each and using local ingredients come up with dishes that are unique and mouth wateringly delicious. For a tropical place, baking also seems to be a popular pastime and there are wonderful bakeries all through the islands selling delicacies such as tropical f...