Friday, October 1. 2010
Porkalicious: My People: Click through for picturs of a new spice rack my brother built. Handy, nice use of space, looks like it'll hold forty average-sized jars, and that it's already close to capacity. I've seen carpentry plans for shelves like this, but I'm already tight for space between the countertop and cabinets, so I never thought it'd work that well. Still, a clever idea, especially if you have the space -- and their kitchen is about twice the size of mine.
Scroll to the bottom and you'll see the spice rack I built. It holds 80 jars, of which about 70 are currently in use. Still haven't moved everything in, but I buy bulk spices and load it up when I need something. The three handles to the right are attached to pull-out units, each with three shelves. I keep flour, sugar, oils, vinegars, soy sauce, nuts, coffee, some cereal, and more spices back there. Range is barely visible to the right, countertop and sink to the foreground. Not much countertop space there, but the handle visible pulls out an extension covered in black laminate.
Main thing I need is something better for holding cooking tools like spatulas and forks and flippers. I have an idea for building a rack where the paper towel holder is now.
Tuesday, June 8. 2010
Matthew Yglesias: When Did Fried Chicken Get So Hard? Well, pace Yglesias, I did come from a family that served pan-fried chicken two or three times a week, and where relatives on both sides served fried chicken more often than not. It was invariably served with gravy, often on bread or biscuits rather than mashed potatoes (which I loathed), usually with green beans and/or corn. I learned to make it from my mother, although I never quite got her method of cutting the chicken up. (Instead I came up with my own, which splits the back into four pieces after separating the limbs, then goes Chinese on the breast, dicing it up into eight pieces for smaller shares and more surface area, but the wishbone gets lost or butchered in the process.) As for frying it, all we ever did was dredge it in flour, salt, and black pepper, then fry it in some fat, browning it good at first then covering the pan and letting it steam until done. Pull the chicken out, add some flour to the drippings, mash together until smooth, add a lot of milk, bring to a boil to thicken, season with salt and pepper, and you're done. I never had precise measurements on the flour and milk. Mom never cooked with pepper, which took something away, but she may have made up for it with salt. Later on she reduced the fat to chicken trimmings in a non-stick skillet. I usually use a little vegetable oil, certainly less than a quarter inch.
I've never actually seen this recipe in a cookbook, although it seemed universal as I was growing up. Chicken skin is moist enough to hold the flour without the aid of milk (which we used for fried round steak) or egg (which we used for baked pork chops, but more often we fried them naked). You can add more herbs and spices, but just because Colonel Sanders needs them doesn't mean we did. You can vary the fat: I think vegetable shortening was my mother's original choice -- she probably grew up using lard, but I can't recall anyone in my family using it. I've used bacon grease and duck fat, and they sure don't hurt, and when I make dishes like cacciatore -- which is basically fried chicken in a shallot-mushroom-tomato sauce -- I use olive oil, which would probably be good, if not authentic, on its own. These days I only make fried chicken when I'm feeling really nostalgic. It isn't hard, but it does take a little more than an hour. Ruth Reichl has a buttermilk recipe I should try some time just for reference, but I doubt if it will improve upon my memories.
Sunday, March 1. 2009
Got the following letter from a Bart Smith, presumably a Wichita resident, in response to my Wichita Eats post. Smith makes some suggestions, mostly new to me, and raises a question about lox.
The Vietnamese restaurant on Pawnee is Pho Hot, just east of I-135 (2409 E Pawnee). I tried it again last week; wasn't very pleased, but in fairness I have yet to bring myself to order the noodle soups that everyone else in the restaurant orders.
I've eaten at Sweet Basil a couple of times. It's certainly not bad, but it's not that great either. I suppose one could argue that I've been jaded by living in New York and working next door to a very fine Italian restaurant there, but thus far I prefer Carrabba's and the late Macaroni Grill.
Regarding lox: you can pick that up at almost any Dillon's. I prefer the oak smoked farm-raised atlantic to the brighter sockeye, even though a chemical assay of the former might be disturbing. These come in 4 oz. packages, about $5 each. The higher-end Dillons have some more expensive packages that are somewhat nicer. I prefer Scottish style, which is dry-salted and smoked with oak. Traditional lox -- the kind that's so hard to find any more -- has been cured in a wet brine, leaving it very salty. More common nova lox is less salty, and there are other variations, such as Scottish. It's also possible to find gravlax, which is cured in salt, sugar, and dill -- basically a Swedish innovation. One brand I particularly like is Ducktrap, but I haven't found it in any stores in Wichita.
On the other hand, the important thing is the salt cure, not the cold smoke. The latter adds a bit of flavor but is hard to do without cooking the fish. The salt cure, on the other hand, could hardly be easier: take two pounds of fresh salmon filets; sprinkle with three tablespoons of coarse kosher salt; wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 12 hours, turning occasionally to redistribute the juices. Wash the salt off. If the fish is too salty, soak it in cold water (or multiple washes of cold water) until you get the salt right. You can then use it like lox. It will keep in the refrigerator wrapped up for a week or more. The fresher the fish, the better, of course, but I've gotten good results every time I've tried.
Tuesday, January 20. 2009
My niece Rachel Hull put out a RFC for input to a post she intends to do for our favorite food blog, Porkalicious, on choice spots to eat in Wichita. She lists her own as: Artichoke [pub food], Jack's [a burger stand across the street from North High], Saigon [Vietnamese], Beacon [don't know], Connie's [Mexican], N&J's [Lebanese], and "the Mexican popsicle guy." She lives in DC, so her list is a bit dated -- Jack's burned down a year ago, but may come back under new management -- and (shall we say?) nostalgic. She welcomes info on bakeries and shops, and suggests avoiding non-local chains (while professing love for Schlotzky's and Jason's Deli). My response, more a quick brain dump than a considered analysis:
Sunday, November 23. 2008
Haven't written much the last few days, and I'm likely to soft-pedal the politics for the next few weeks -- unless, of course, the lame duck decides to strut his stuff. The transition is boring, the post-election analysis even more so, and the propagandizing borders on the ridiculous. I trust that Obama will do pretty much what he wants, and that predictions from certain quarters that he will opt for socialism are downright foolish. The only interesting thing about Clinton as Secretary of State is that it would signify that she understands that she's never going to be able to run for president again, and perhaps more importantly that she understands that it's no big deal. After running such a pissy campaign, she came out of the convention gracefully, and has been a Mensch ever since. (Of course, once she starts hiring people like Richard Holbrooke I'm likely to have second thoughts here.) I can't even get worked up about Gates, although that hasn't been in the news much lately -- does that mean the deal is done or dead?
The New York Times continued to beat its war drums today. They followed up on last week's "A Military for a Dangerous World" editorial with six letters -- five even more hawkish than the editorial, the other mildly demuring that European countries, after having experienced WWII firsthand, no longer go in for such nonsense. Then they recruited a bunch of "experts" to offer advice on how best to salvage the empire in Iraq and Afghanistan: Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmad Chalabi, Frederick Kagan, Anthony Cordesman, Peter Mansoor, Linda Robinson, and token dissenter Rory Stewart. If Ike Eisenhower were still around, he'd be warning us about the threats to democracy of the military-industrial-New York Times complex.
We've started another round of home improvement work, which is taking a lot of my time, disrupting my life in many ways -- not least of which is that I'm having to get up way too early, without managing to make any compensatory adjustments at the end of the day. Three big projects on the house: 1) cover the remaining wood outside the house with vinyl siding; 2) rebuild the electrical system, replacing the service entrance, panel, and as much of the really old wiring as possible; 3) remodelling the kitchen. The first two will mostly be done by contractors. The siding people have been working for a little over a week, and should be done in 2-3 days. I'm meeting with the electrician tomorrow, and will try to get that scheduled over the next couple of weeks. The kitchen work will mostly be done by a friend and I, so no doubt will be the biggest, slowest, and ugliest of the projects. We do have a good general plan, but still need to make detailed drawings, select (above all else) a range, make some decisions on cabinets, flooring, etc. I figure it'll probably take two months, although I've already procrastinated that much. Nothing gets done until you get started.
Meanwhile, the old kitchen is still somewhat functional. I tried making Chinese on Friday, and it turned out pretty well. The final menu was:
I used to jot more about personal things like this down in my online notebook, but that gave way as the blog became more ambitious politically -- sensitivity, no doubt, to the common charge that blogs are little more than personal indulgences. I've long figured my website to be more of a public filing system, where I keep stores of data of personal interest to myself, and make it publicly available on the off chance that others may find some of it useful. The recipe section is a good example. I started it to make it easier to look up some things, like my mother's chicken and dumplings recipe. Occasionally, I mentioned dinners in my notebook, and the recipe section grew to document them. At some point over the last couple of years, I wearied of the old format, so started to work up a new one, which should make it easier to index by cuisine, source, and ingredients. But I didn't make much progress, so one thing this dinner reminded me of was that unfinished work.
The links above are in the new format -- two were updated from the old format, the others new additions. Aside from the yams, they're all dishes I've made before: the green beans dozens of times; the crabs, scallops, and rice close to a dozen times. While the recipes are the most useful info for me, at some point I should write more on how I pick these things, and how the dinner comes together. Cooking Chinese is typically a lot of prep work, followed by a short but feverish fire drill, leaving a huge pile of pans and prep plates and bowls. For this particular meal: aside from the ham (which started first and cooked pretty much all day) and the cake (done conveniently the night before), everything else took 5-6 hours of prep, followed by about 30 minutes of stir fry. Four dishes made use of the deep fryer, but they were all in the prep stages, and that was all cleaned up and out of the way before the real action took place.
Chinese is pretty easy to cook once you:
The scallops dish is a good example. The fresh water chestnuts required a trip to Thai Binh, by far the largest Vietnamese grocery here -- a stop at the more convenient Broadway Market didn't produce them. My pantry has all the Chinese staples -- wine, soy sauce (thin and dark), several kinds of vinegars and sugars (although the palm sugar turned out to be petrified), spices, bean sauces, dried things, etc. -- so I rarely have to think about them. But I don't have dried orange peel, so just picked up a fresh one, cut the peel off thin with a vegetable peeler early, and set it out to air dry. Marinaded the scallops the night before. A few hours before the dinner, I velveted them in water, put them in a bowl. Peeled and chopped the water chesnuts, put them in a bowl. I deep fried the spinach, put it on a paper towel. Piled all the aromatics (garlic, ginger, scallions, 3 dried chili peppers) on a small plate. Mixed the sauce in a little cup, and the sauce thickener (cornstarch and chicken stock) in another. None of those steps were big, and only the water chestnuts were ugly. I could take breaks to check mail and switch CDs and what not. Then, about the time the guests arrived, all I had to do was finish the dish: heat up the pan, swirl some oil, dump the aromatics in, stir, add the sauce and water chestnuts, stir, add the scallops and thickener, stir a bit more, scrape the whole thing into a dish, garnish with the spinach. Took less than 3 minutes to finish a spectacular dish.
Aside from the ham, only the eggplant took as much as 10 minutes on the range -- much of it covered, so I could fry the rice at the same time. The crabs were even easier: just dust them in cornstarch, brown them, and dump the pre-mixed sauce (including cornstarch to thicken) on top, swirl around, and serve (garnished with a bit of cilantro). The ham is the other kind of easy: something you put in the pot and just let cook, basting it once in a while, as much to catch a better whiff of the spices as anything else.
Friday, March 28. 2008
I just posted an updated recipe page on something called Eretz Israel Cake. Joan Nathan published the recipe in her cookbook, The Foods of Israel Today. I've made it three times now, and the latest was possibly the best cake I've ever made. The ingredients include marzipan, dates, and lots of oranges -- touted as the taste of the land of Israel. Of course, under a different twist of history it could just as well be Land of Palestine Cake.
I made it for a potluck dinner we had to discuss Sandy Tolan's remarkable book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East. Seemed like an appropriate thing to bring.
I've long had a section on the website here with a collection of recipes, mostly cribbed from cookbooks with minor annotations. One reason is just that it gives me easy recourse to look up old favorite recipes, especially when I'm travelling and don't have access to the usual cookbooks. But I've only updated the cache occasionally, and right now it's in limbo between two designs and indexing schemes. A lot of things should be there but aren't, but if you rummage around you'll find some very good recipes -- mostly international (Spanish, Turkish, Indian, and Chinese are staples here) plus a few down home favorites (like my mother's chicken and dumplings).
I also have a website section for books -- another longterm, slow-evolving project, although I've been giving it a lot more attention lately. The link above to The Lemon Tree puts you there. I originally started collecting comments I had written on books I've read, but that soon evolved into collecting quotes (with or without annotation). Most of these have been posted at one point or another in the blog, but they're more accessible in the books section. The page on The Lemon Tree should give you a pretty broad sense of the book.
The books section currently lists 35 books on Israel. I've read two-thirds of them (plus a few others, some showing up in other categories). A couple more are on my shelf, and a few more are books that I've written something about based on a review (e.g., Dennis Ross, who is very, very low on my reading priority list). Tolan's book is especially good for how it personalizes the conflict, but also for the extreme rigor of its writing. Avi Shlaim's The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arabs is probably the best general history up to 1998 or so, but it misses the Barak-Sharon destruction of the Oslo Peace Process. Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions has a lot of insight into the politics of perpetual war in Israel, although subsequent events have overtaken him as well. I don't think anyone has taken full account of how morally corrosive the Bush administration, with W's dead certain faith in the clarifying power of force, could have been to Israel. (The news today from Iraq, along with Bush's musings on the need to confront outlaws, are one more instance of this mindset.)
At some point I should add cookbooks to the books section, and cross-reference the recipes. Nathan's cookbook is rife with Israeli propaganda, as well as Israeli glosses on mostly middle eastern recipes, plus a few specialties of Arik Sharon's wife. Still, the Eretz Israel cake is a wonder. Like Bashir and Dahlia's lemon tree, it's something we all can savor.
Thursday, October 25. 2007
Made birthday dinner tonight. I don't recall clearly when this tradition started -- sometime in the mid-'90s, although I must have missed a year or two along the way. The early ones were meant to give me a chance to explore interesting cuisines in some depth, usually with a dozen or more dishes. This one was just based on the recollection that I hadn't had mariscada in green sauce in quite some time. That's a Spanish dish, so it was tempting to pile on the tapas. I usually fix potatoes with it -- fried is what I'm used to in restaurants, but I usually slice them thin like chips and roast them. I wound up fixing rice instead -- felt like it would be easier than fried and better than roasted. Originally thought I'd fix green beans as a side vegetable, but they looked awful, so I picked up some asparagus and mushrooms, figuring I'd find a recipe. Thought I'd have a chopped or mixed salad, but didn't get to either. Did find a jar of piquillo peppers, a chunk of rather tough chorizo, and some manchego cheese, so tried to work them in. The recipes come from Penelope Casas, mostly from Delicioso! The only new ones for me were the asparagus and mushrooms. Menu looked like this:
I'm way behind in updating my recipes section, but half or so of these recipes are posted already.
Wednesday, August 15. 2007
I cooked dinner on Sunday. My niece, Rachel Hull, was in town, so we got together what we could find of the family. I had been browsing cookbooks a few days before, and a Moroccan chicken and olives tagine caught my eye, so it was on my mind when the dinner opportunity came up. I thought I'd serve it with couscous and a salad. I wound up with a bit more: a carrot salad, an eggplant salad, a quickie shrimp dish. Wasn't too hard, and came out exceptionally well. (Of course, it did help that I already had harissa and preserved lemons in the frig.) I was pleased enough that I finally spent some time retooling my recipe section (see here), adding the new recipes. The new setup should be easier to maintain and to add to, better for indexing (e.g., by ingredient). Still have some work to do there, plus a lot of old stuff to migrate forward, but it felt good to do some programming.
We also took some pictures. I'm not much on website pictures, but I figured that would fit the style of my nephew Mike's blog, so I asked Rachel to take the pictures and my recipes and put them all together in a post. The boiling pot picture is actually just the sauce for the chicken as I was trying to reduce it. The salade niçoise leftovers got piled on top of good bread for pan bagnat.