Sunday, September 28, 2008
Have you ever gotten to a party location only to find there is not a single car in the parking lot? You check the time. Yup, that is the right time. You check the location. Yup, right spot. You then check the date, today is the 27th right? And, then you call your husband who confirms that you are nuts. Well, that happened to me today. I set aside the weekend to make and post my crackers, thinking Sunday was the 27th & posting date. Sorry Shelly and Natalie --it was great challenge for ease and future usability, I am just a ditz.
I followed the recipe, Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice exactly (it happens sometimes.) The recipe was so easy we made two batches throughout the month. We even used some lavash to weave a dip bowl (backed in a large cupcake mould during baking.)
As part of the challenge, we were asked to make a vegan dip. We make many, many vegan dips here, as we are always trying to eat lower on the food chain at home. I decided to go back to our old stand-by as it is something Belle would eat no matter what mood she was in--fava bean hummous.
My husband decided went for a fruity opposition; dried figs, almonds, and balsamic. It was fantastic against a Spanish red.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
On a warm September afternoon, we had our friends over to experience 10 courses inspired by works of art. And for the bounty we provided, our friends, all from the underpaid arts underclass of Cleveland, were asked to commemorate each course with a sketch or photograph.
A Spanish monk made me do it: The Planning
A few months ago, I stood in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts memorized by Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon painted by Juan Sanchez Cotan, a painter and Carthusian monk. The vegetables and food were so realistic and immediate I had to override an irrational desire to reach into the painting. Why were these items together? Could they be composed into a single dish? This incipient idea for a recipe blossomed into extravagancy thanks to a sort of dare by Foodbuzz, who planned to feature 24 fantastic food events around the world on the last weekend of summer (winter in the summer hemisphere)
The planning began with the free-for-all period, scouring the oeuvres of our favorite artists. After which, there was the lobbyist phase, where each of us pitched menu choices and associated artists. When reason and feasibility returned, the menu finally began to take shape. Some pieces were vetoed for sheer impossibility, making individual boxes of tea and ginger flavored sweets for each guest as an interstitial. Other items were dismissed for their unseasonal nature; we haven’t seen quince at the market and so Cotan was out.
As with everything we eat, our goal was to remain seasonal and to use as much of our Ohio produce as we could. Clearly there were imported items (spices, figs, rice), but the backbone of the meal remained the produced of Northeast Ohio.
Finally, thanks to Maybelle’s Dad, the menu involved some level of practicality—items were often nixed for their difficulty of preparation; many items were chosen because their flavor improved when created the day before.
“I will astonish the world with an apple”
After the Protestant Reformation, the Dutch cultural ethos of reverence, piety and humility infused with a healthy helping of conspicuous consumption resulted in a thriving market for paintings of food. Job Berckheyde’s Baker, with his crusty breads and trees of pretzels, seemed an apt herald for things to come and was the seed for the first course, pretzels and ginger zinger cocktails (1). The heady cocktail was planned and mixed by the sommelier for the evening, my friend C, as guests rested in our impromptu garden seating area upon the lawn. With the ample aid from the prosecco and vodka in the cocktail, guests were asked to assign themselves one of the four classical temperaments: sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, and choleric. Menu cards were passed out to be festooned throughout the meal.
No one item was more central to the European diet until the 20th century than bread even serving as tableware for banquets. We built these trenchers, day-old bread that served as plates, into our plan for the meal as they afforded us a break in plateware for the meal service and a chance to run a load of dishes. Our trenchers were made using Wild Yeast’s Olive Oil Wafers as a guide; though our wafers were flavored with fennel and kalamata olives.
When this project came about Maybelle’s Dad and I both felt that meat would need to take a backseat to the lovely bounty of our CSA and farmer’s market for monetary and sustainability reasons. And in reality, the amount of meat consumed by the average first world consumer far outstrips that consumed by the average Renaissance individual. So, in the fourth course, we decided to feed our guest’s humors with 12 different vegetable selections. There was a Greek concept, reborn in the humanist Renaissance, that there were four essential make-ups (melancholic, sanguine, choleric and phlegmatic); and to keep your personality in check, you would need to medicate with foods that counteract the negative elements of your internal composition. For the Renaissance hostess this meant that you would often need as many dishes per diner for each course, so for a 5 course meal, each course might have 20 dishes. In case multiplication is not your strong suit, the math results in hours and hours of labor.
While the fourth course was somewhat light, it had many complex and even competing flavors (as most individuals chose to eat beyond their humor.) For the interstitial course, we focused on an astringent. Tea scenes, often hosted in the Pleasure quarters of Tokyo, are classic elements in 18th and 19th century Japanese orints. In that increasing urban culture, steeped (sencha) tea, poetry games, and listening to the samimasen were part of cultured, urbane society. Today in Tokyo, perfecting cha soba (matcha buckwheat noodles) requires apprenticeship with a noodle-making master. Our sencha soba raviolo were in no way perfection but their cool rounded grassy tone topped with crispy daikon did strike the right note. Again, plateware was somewhat creative; balsa wood replaced the more tradition basketry box; and guests were encouraged to roll up the nori sheet and make a tea noodle handroll (5)
Banqueting in Asia invariably involves rice. In the Islamic courts of Medieval India, biryani, layers of fragrant fruited rice and curry would be baked and served warm. There are legends of the storied feasts where every manner of creature was consumed, but for the historian, there is also some about of fact. One of the Sultans (kings) had a cookery book with full illustrations published; subsequently, the Nimat Nama is a wonderful tool about what sorts of foods the royals ate. Though this course is Indian in flavor, the real impetus ended up being a Spanish painting. The great Spanish painter Murillo created a haunting portrait of a poor boy seated in a solitary corner eating tiny shrimp. That picture in its quiet loneliness kept returning to my consciousness, and finally I decided I would use shrimp instead of fowl as the meat in the Biryani. Our version separated the curried rice and shrimp to allow the dinners (with their varied dietary concerns) to reconstruct a small layered biryani on their plates.(6)
In an effort to puncture the food lethargy that would inevitably set in at this point in the meal and create a break before the final courses. The next palate cleanser was fairly biting—pear sorbet with candied ginger letters (7). Pop artists often used words and letters in ironic and interesting juxtapositions in their arts. While Claes Oldenburg's Alphabet in the Form of a Popsicle is a lithograph, it is so sensual and tactile you can taste it. Our goal was to recreate this look and the irony of words in edible form; achieved here using letter fondant cutters and candied ginger. As guests ate their tablespoon of pear/ fresh ginger sorbet, they attempted to create words from their letters.
In our overly food rich society, it is no surprise that contemporary artists continue to use food as a central motif. The Chinese artist Li Jin displays an unending banquet with skewers preparing to be placed within a hotpot. Rather than literally recreate his dish, we took three visual elements to inspire brochettes—duck with plums, coke bottle ham, and merguez and Ohio maple syrup (8). These were served with lovely little potatoes, simply roasted and salted. While there were some protestations at the onset of the course of supposed overfilling of our guests, the meat platters returned to the kitchen completely empty.
Due to our amateur’s zeal, the portioning was definitely off during the courses, and by the simple salad seemed to be more torture than a palate cleanser. There had been dreams that we would all happily create salad faces (9) a la the enigmatic paintings of Arcimboldo, but alcohol consumption, overeating, and sundown all prevented such things. While the designated drivers in the bunch seemed to have fun making faces, most others happily conversed as they pushed the mixed greens around their plate or enjoyed only a virtual salad.
In the very beginning of this process, the first image I had in my mind was of surrealist Rene Magritte’s apples. The apple, that stuff of Edenic damnation and Johnny Appleseed all-Americanness, was something that engaged artists. Cezanne dreamed of astonishing the art world with his depictions of the fruit. But for my money, it is Magritte with his apples as a faces with bowler hats and his apples that are not which engaged me. Magritte’s art is about the real and the fake overlapping and convoluting not unlike our menu altogether. Ceci n’est pas un tart, n’est-ce pas? Our apple tarts were served with pistachio kulfi, sugar, and edible paper (10). As the sun had long since set on our happy group, they were eaten by candle light with very strong coffee and much good humor.
Conclusion: "Art is what you can get away with."
At the onset of yesterday, it seemed to be a once in a lifetime insanity to create a tasting menu as a homecook and an amateur at that. But, in the end, when you invite your friends, plan carefully, and make sure to salt everything, good results were truly possible. The event was just that garden party we desired. Our guests were an ideal audience, convivial companions who had already loved art and were resolute in their love of food. They were game to draw and photograph the meal and amenable to all of the insanity to which we subjected them.
Thanks to all my friends who joined us and helped supply drinks for each course, M for helping with the menu, C for the wine selections, my boss for letting me take a few hours off this week, my mom for watching the baby, Clement for help with the wines, L and A and all the guests for helping with the clean up, and to Foodbuzz for the impetus.
Art Object: Job Berckheyde, The Baker, about 1681, Oil on canvas, Worcester Art Museum
Paired with wheat beer and ginger cocktails
Spicy Fig Samosas upon Carrot Raita paired with
Fava Bean and heirloom tomato Panzanella
Art Object: Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Figs and Bread, 1760s, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Paired with Trimbach Riesling
White Bean Gazpacho with Flagolet Salad
Art Objects: Giovanna Garzoni, A Dish of Broad Beans, 1600 & Annibale Carracci, The Beaneater, Oil on canvas, Galleria Colonna, Rome
Pairing:Huber Hugo Gruner Veltliner
Carrot and Walnut Salad
Roasted and Dried Beet Salad
Red Lentil and Fennel Salad
Watermelon and Feta Salad
Pesto Beans En Papillote
Roasted Pepper Rolatinis
Roasted Buttered Squash
Art Objects: many, many...
Pairing: A to Z Oregon Pinot Gris
Tea House Handrolls (Sencha Soba Sheets with Daikon Salad in Nori)
Art Object: Katsukawa Shunchô, Women at a Tea House by an Iris Pond, Japanese, Edo period, Boston Museum of Fine Art & Woman Eating Soba Noodles, Japanese, Late Meiji era, Boston Museum of Fine Art
Pairing: water and a deep breath
Deconstructed Shrimp Biryani
Art Object: Nimat-Nâma, c. 1510, Collection of India Office Library & Estaban Murillo, The Young Beggar, Oil on canvas, Musee du Louvre, Paris
Pairing: Cloudline Pinot Noir
Pear and Ginger Sorbet with Candied Ginger
Art Object: Claes Oldenburg, Alphabet in the form of an Ice Cream Bar, 1970, Lithograph. Kresge Art Museum.
Pairing: Lunetta Prosecco
Trio of Meat Brochettes: Soda-candied Ham, Smoked Duck with Plums, Turkey Merguez with Ohio Maple Syrup
Art Object: Li Jin, A Feast, 2001, Ink on paper. Seattle Art Museum.
Pairing: with Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend Red Zinfandel
Make you own Salad Face
Art Object: Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Summer. 1573. Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris, France
Apple Tarts with Pistachio Kulfi
Art Object: René Magritte. This is Not an Apple. 1964. Oil on panel. 142 x 100 cm. Private collection.
Pairing: coffee or chai
Before the Eating Art project, I had never really thought about why there were figs in so many paintings, mostly because I don't think of figs. It is not something that appears in Cleveland grocery stores very regularly; and definitely not at farmers markets (that I have seen). But, when I bought some last week for this project, after ripping one fresh fig open, I tasted that sweet but complex flesh and I gained a world of understanding.
For those painters of still life with figs, I can only imagine how very rare those sweet luscious pillows were exceedingly previous. Afterall, even with refrigeration, they mold so quickly. Of course, no fear of mold here because I used dried.
Sautee until oils release
1 scant T cumin
2 t coriander
1 t ginger powder
1 T fresh grated ginger
Simmer on medium until tender
3 large carrots, grated
2 small onions, diced extremely finely
8 dried figs, diced very finely
salt and white pepper, to taste
Cool the mixture
1 stick butter
Butter together 3-4 sheets filo. Cut into 12 rectangles. Put a tiny dollop of the filling in and then seal the edges with butter.
Bake at 375 for about 8 minutes, until golden brown.
Serve with raita
1 cup yoghurt
1/4 cup grated carrots
In a small skillet add oil
3 curry leaves
1 T cumin
Finish with fresh coriander leaves
Friday, September 19, 2008
While I love autumn, I always get wistful for the warm long days of summer. Eating bushels of tomatoes is a one way to hold onto the warmth, but for me summer is about fruit. Pies, jams, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, salad, curry, kimchi all get made with fruit. But, at the end of summer, I also turn to alcohol. That came out wrong...nevermind. I have been making infused vodkas.
The latest was red currant vodka. I was in an infusing phase a while ago. The last of these was red currant vodka which only takes fresh red currants, vodka, and time. The result was only vaguely curranty--so ended up not being the best use of those lovelies, but alas.
I used this vodka to make a Blackberry Tammy Collins following White on Rice Couple's Tom Collins as a guide. These were delicious and addictive. And as it is Friday, have a couple with dinner tonight. I might.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I have always believed whenever you are too full of yourself and your abilities life has a way of taking you down a notch and bringing you into balance. This evening was a classic example of this.
Let me tell you a little story:
Tonight, I decided to work through lunch so that I could get home and make a nice dinner for the babe. In the quietude that I experienced when I returned home (as Belle was at the sitter's house), I decided I would make crepes. The batter is fast. Of course, I forgot that you need let this batter rest for about 30 minutes.
Switch to 40 minutes later...
Having situated Belle with crayons and the giant pad of paper, I turned half my attention to turning out lovely crepes. They were turning out perfectly. Dinner would be done quickly and we could turn our attention to playing with my old TRON figures. I looked over with wonderment at the joy Belle was experiencing drawing with crayons, and then turned back to making a few more crepes.
Looking back with joy at my sweet daughter, I watched as she grabbed a bag of cherry tomatoes (fresh from the CSA). Then we began to reenact a silent movie--me running, her running, tomatoes popping, me pleading, her laughing, me scolding, her crying.
On a happy note, the herb crepes, filled with garlic sauteed veggies (potatoes, zucchini and green beans) were a big hit with mom and baby.
Now, I have to finish cleaning the tomato seeds from the woodwork.
Mix until smooth:
1 & 2 T cup flour
1 1/3 cups milk
pinch of salt
Let sit covered 40 minutes
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Exhaustion has really begun to set in. Why you ask? As I am a foodbuzz secret operative of sorts, I am bound by God and country and a girl named Ryan to say no more. Of course, they would be happy (I assume) with a little tease.
And, since I haven't posted any real food in days, here is the pie that I made to avoid work and my television addicition. I took lovely, lovely local apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar to make a decorative pie. I call it my "I heart Apple Pie Apple pie." It will be my breakfast tomorrow.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Amaranth ain’t no lady; she is one spicy leafy vegetable. Actually, that isn’t true either (more later). Pigweed, as it is also known more derisively, can be considered a weed. But, beauty and tasty are in the eye of the beholder/ eater. So for many the world over, amaranth is a fantastic vegetable. The seeds, stems and leaves of this plant are edible.
After writing my post about my pasta with amaranth, cranberry beans and radishes, I thought I might attempt to learn more about the vegetable. My deep internet research indicates that amaranth is grown as a foodstuff particularly in Africa and the Americas. The grain is a particularly important staple as it is a vegetal protein (a la quinoa). I have used the grain, though yet mastered it. But in the hands of more masterful people, it is delicious.
As a leaf vegetable, amaranth is used in India, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. It is fairly mild and reminiscent of spinach--except for that it is beautifully striped with pink. Apparently some varieties can be used to make dye. But, it is very useful for its fast growth as a crop and high nutrition. According to that source of all sources, Wikipedia, it is full of stuff to make you grow like vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, and folate, and dietary minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. However, it can also high in nitrites (as my husband says the ham of the vegetable world), and as such should not be used to say make baby food. Obviously it is hard to test for nitrites in the home kitchen, so I just made this for my husband and I for lunch.
As with so many pinkish colors in foodstuffs, the pink is mostly fugitive when cooked except in the stems which remained a lovely pink. So expect that, but the stems remain a pretty pink.
All this said what do you do when you buy amaranth leaves as an impulse buy? I remembered reading somewhere that it was used in Tamil cooking. As I said recently, Indian food is vast. So, Amaranth was not part of my families tradition, but thankfully there were plenty of recipes online. Each paired amaranth with toor daal. Jugalbandi had some great recipes for this pairing. So, I boiled 1 cup toor dal with a large bag of cleaned and destemmed amaranth leaves then added ground ginger, a bit of fennel seed, paprika, and chilli pepper. Then, thinking sliced sweet potatoes from the Korean store and carrots. Finally, a squeeze of lime. It was delicious.
This entry is also my submission to Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Gretchen from Canela & Comino and originated by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen.