Monday, June 27, 2011

Keeping it Real: Do you care if it's "authentic"?

Google search: authentic cuisine

Insert "...'s" in front of each web site's Google link:
  • Authentic Recipes, Food, Drinks and Travel
  • Natural Authentic Indian Cuisine
  • Authentic Mexican Food
  • Authentic Russian Recipes, Cuisine and Cooking
  • Authentic Thai Cuisine
  • Authentic Italian Cuisine
  • Authentic Greek Cuisine
...and on and on, for about 50,000 pages (just an estimate) of restaurants, recipes and articles.

What is "authentic cuisine" once you have left the country of origin? Hell, once you have left the region in the country of origin, the neighborhood in the region of the country of origin, or the grandmother's house in the neighborhood of the region of the country of origin you're totally out of the context of "authentic". Not to mention points in history. Or "terrior". It's not just the ingredients but where they were grown that counts towards "authentic".

"Escoffier didn't add it." Alex Guarnaschelli (here) doesn't render an opinion, but in this context, her sauce speaks for itself.

Michael Bauer (here) believes the "not authentic" card is played is when the dish when, "...the one we deem as “authentic” is the one that is most familiar or appeals to us."

Recently I read a blog entry about Vichyssoise which included the statement that it was an American invention. I hadn't thought about Vichyssoise as not being a French dish (and I'm definitely not a food history scholar). It's named after a city, but then again so is a Niçoise salad and about a million other dishes. Zipping immediately to  Wikipedia, (...where I am reminded of the day I told my much younger-than-now nephew that information found on the internet was not necessarily factual and he looked at me like I was a complete idiot) and looked it up. According to Wikipedia (and a couple of other sources), Louis Diat, in 1917, presented Vichyssoise on the menu at the Ritz Carlton in New York. He is quoted as saying, "In the summer of 1917, when I had been at the Ritz seven years, I reflected upon the potato and leek soup of my childhood which my mother and grandmother used to make. I recalled how during the summer my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk and how delicious it was. I resolved to make something of the sort for the patrons of the Ritz." He called it, "Crème Vichyssoise Glacée".

It also notes that Jules Gouffe published a similar soup (although served hot) in a cookbook in 1869. Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1806) personally presented a potato to Louis XVI as an example (in a contest, yet) of "vegetables that can replace those currently used" based on his time as a prisoner of war in Dresden. Louis made him wait 14 years before he was granted permission to grow potatoes (longer than Parmentier was a prisoner of war). Parmentier worked hard to prove to the powers that be that potatoes were a great way to feed large numbers of people (as well as a source of nourishment to cure dysenteric patients) when many in France believed that the potato caused leprosy or was suitable only as hog food. He also started soup kitchens to feed the poor. Interesting guy - he has a Facebook page (natch) here that links to his Wikipedia page.

Did hot potato leek soup become authentic when the recipe was published? If you don't find and follow Jules Gouffe's recipe to the letter, are you an unworthy sham?

I have no problem with fusion cuisine (although the phrase makes me shudder a little), deconstructed classics, ethnically-eclectic menus, high-tech preparations and I don't care if you include the word "authentic" in the name or description of your restaurant. It's so ubiquitous as to be pretty meaningless anyway unless you have the balls to back it up with documentation down to the nonna, γιαγιά, abuela or grand-mère's name who made it - and even then, what if nonna was a crappy cook? If I am looking for the origins or a recipe, I won't take yours at face value, I'll do some research and if I think my modifications will taste better, I'll make them.

Even if Escoffier came back from the dead to personally tattoo "Authentic" on your ass, your food has to be honest and good. That is all that matters.

Saturday Breakfast: Potato and Sausage Hash Topped with an Egg

...or "Put a Bird (Egg) on It"

Really, there's no egg theme here, nothing to look at, eh? - even though this is my second post in a row with an egg-topped dish. There will be more egg-topped food upcoming (Uovo in Purgatorio) but not right away.

Last Friday night we made chicken breasts stuffed with pancetta/tarragon chicken sausage, mushrooms, leeks, garlic and thyme. With some of the mixture left over it seemed like a good time to revisit breakfast hash on Saturday.

Yeah, the rolled-up stuffed chicken breasts were delicious, but we were cooking up a storm with no time for pictures. I'm not holding out on you. I wouldn't do that to the few people I know who read this plus the two people I don't know. Next time we'll document it.

Recipe: Potato and Sausage Hash Topped with an Egg

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Olive Oil-Fried Egg with a Balsamic Glaze on Arugula

I saw a picture of this dish along with a reference that it was on the brunch menu at Foreign Cinema restaurant in San Francisco. The dish looked delicious! I've never eaten brunch there but have had a few very good and (one in particular) very memorable dinners there. Shortly after I saw the picture, I made the egg, sans arugula (delicious!) and declared it a winner preparation but wanted to see what it tasted like with delicate, bitter greens. I really love the taste of the greens combined with the egg yolk and the (very) slight sweetness of the balsamic glaze. You can use arugula, endive, cress or young dandelion greens or something less bitter like butter lettuce or mache torn in small pieces if you're not a fan, as I am, of the aforementioned greens.

This can be served solo, on top of the greens or on a piece of grilled or toasted bread - or on a slice of grilled toasted bread topped with the greens... I've seen variations that include mushrooms as well. How runny I like my eggs depends somewhat on what accompanies them. For this dish I like them just barely over. It works best when the yolk is somewhere between completely runny and somewhat runny - it's up to you.

Like any quick-cooked egg dish, it should be served immediately so it's good to have the greens ready (not too far in advance) and on the plate when the egg is ready. Reducing the balsamic vinegar takes just seconds. Make sure you wipe out the skillet thoroughly to mitigate the splatter - there will likely be some balsamic splatter no matter how careful you are.

If you're using delicate greens here are a couple of tips that apply to this - or any other similar preparation. To clean them, after picking off the thicker stems, submerge the greens in very cold water and VERY gently swish them around. Dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner.

One of the best ways to dress them is a 'broken' (not emulsified) vinaigrette where the greens are tossed with the oil before the vinegar is added. In this case, right before you start cooking the eggs,  wash and dry your hands thoroughly and then place the greens in a large enough bowl so that they are not crowded.

Pour 1/2 to a scant 1 teaspoon of olive oil in the palm of one (impeccably clean) hand, rub your hands together and then use them to gently toss the greens and distribute the oil on the leaves. Add a little more at a time if you think you need it. Season with a pinch of salt.

Note - it took me far too long to learn - and remember - the difference between a skillet and a sauté pan, and if you don't know you can find out here

Recipe: Olive Oil-Fried Egg with a Balsamic Glaze on Arugula

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sautéed Summer Squash Julienne with Garlic, Hot Pepper Flakes, Lemon and Shaved Parmagiana

Summer squash season makes me sad. Mostly because there are mounds and mounds of BEAUTIFUL shapes and colors of summer squash all over the place. Why am I sad amidst such a bounty?

Because I mostly hate summer squash. I don't mind it raw, diced up in a salad, diced small and sautéed in a smoking hot pan for a blink of an eye or (duh!) zucchini bread. It's when it is in chunks and cooked until it's soft and watery (I blame the seeds) that I start to hate it. A lot. I loved "Ratatouille" but do not like the dish. [Note: based on this recipe, the previous sentence is no longer true.]

A few weeks ago I saw Jacques Pépin make a yellow and green zucchini 'spaghetti'. He cut off each side - down to but not including the seed cores, julienned the planks and sautéed those fast, in a hot pan. I would trust Jacques Pépin with my very life so I thought I'd give it a shot. Now, I don't like wasting food. I use my produce scraps for stock that I will either use immediately or freeze and the only time the scraps go into the compost bin is when the freezer door becomes difficult to close. I save the heels of hard cheese to thrown into soups and stews. I use the water in which I cooked the chickpeas to cook the barley, and then I throw my onion/leek, carrot and celery produce scraps in that to make a broth.

Throwing the seedy cores of a couple of zucchinis into the compost bin? Zero guilt.

I didn't cut my own julienne, I used a Messermeister julienne-ing thingy. Worked like a charm. There are other small tools out there that are advertised as doing the same but this is the only one I've used and I'm happy with it and yes, my mandoline still scares me a little which is why I didn't use that. The Messermeister cut really beautiful, delicate julienne - and it's easier to clean up than the mandoline.

The ones I cut by hand were a little more like linguine but I think would have been just fine. Thinking after the fact, if I had hand-cut them, I might have cut thin slices, down to the core on each side, stacked those and then cut the strips - resulting in a more consistent julienne. The process using the peeler was very, very fast.
Messermeister julienne-ing thingy (left) and hand-cut julienne (right)
 Will I make it again? Absolutely. Next time I'll pan-roast some cherry tomatoes too. I think it would taste great hot or at room temperature. Top with shrimp? Tofu? Yes and yes. This has possibilities.

Recipe: Sautéed Summer Squash Julienne with Garlic, Pepper Flakes, Lemon and Shaved Parmagiana

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Saturday Breakfast: A Tasty (Dutch) Baby - the Seattle Treat

Why did so many Seattle breakfast places serve Dutch Babies (do they still?) and why did I cook them so regularly when I lived there? I really didn't know until I looked it up for this post. A couple of  weeks ago I suggested that my CPIC Lynn (cooking partner in -delicious- crime) and I make one for Saturday breakfast. Well, yesterday Lynn did the cooking using a recipe from Gourmet  that I found on the Epicurious site, and we garnished our servings with the boysenberries and tayberries that I'd purchased earlier that morning at the market.

Back in the late 1800's Victor Manca, a restauranteur from Utah, moved to Seattle and opened a family-run restaurant (Manca's Cafe) that was in business until 1952. He introduced the Dutch Baby dish within a few years of its opening and it was even trademarked in 1942. Victor Manca's great granddaughter recounts the history of the cafe here.
2nd Avenue & Cherry Street (Seattle, WA) c. 1902-1903. Manca's Cafe is shown at the far left. Door sign (to the left) reads, "Ladies Private Dining Room" and the sign next to the cafe name on the top reads, "Oysters, Steaks & Chops". The original image is here. The current view of 2nd Avenue & Cherry Street (via Google Maps/Street View) is here.

I don't think the original recipe exists but it's more or less a sweet version of Yorkshire pudding and similar to the German Apfelpfannkuchen. Dutch Babies are a delicious, crispy and custard-y delivery system for fresh fruit but a dash of maple or fruit syrup is certainly called for if you don't have fruit.

Recipe: Dutch Baby with Powdered Sugar, Lemon Juice and Berries

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Friday Dinner: Barbecued Country-Style Boneless Pork Ribs + Al Bergez's Sauce

I wrapped-up some of the warmed-up leftovers and sauce in a slightly crisped 4" corn tortilla for lunch.

(Another catch-up post) Back in early May, I was (as I am quite frequently) at my best friend and cooking partner-in-crime's (a/k/a Lynn) house for dinner. We barbecued country-style boneless pork ribs. No biggie, except... EXCEPT... we were done before dark - which is a giant improvement and the ribs were especially good. Her method for prepping the pork resulted in very, very good barbecue.

I acquired one of these for each of us earlier this year. Many a night we have barbecued well after dark, with one of us holding a flashlight. The ones I bought were through, but you can get your own here. They are fantastic. The light can be adjusted so that (in our case) what you're cooking, or checking on is brightly lit and you have both hands free.

...and no, there shall be no pictures.

One note - it's a really bright light and you need to be careful not to temporarily blind your cooking partner by looking up too quickly.

She made, not for the first time, a very good sauce, by way of Mike's friend Al Bergez. It's on the vinegar-y/tangy side (which we all like). I'm pretty happy with any kind of sauce or mop, except the mayonnaise-based sauces which I find to be kinda nasty. This sauce isn't hot (but it could be made hotter) or too sweet.

We had a problem keeping a consistent temperature - definitely user error. Sometimes our barbecue temperature control mojo is very strong - but not that night. Our overall karma came through like gangbusters though because when we were going to take the pork off to finish it in the oven, we found that it was done perfectly. This recipe/method requires some time before you fire up the coals (or turn on the gas) and I'm convinced it that the pork was even better than usual because of the order in which Lynn prepared it prior to grilling it.

Recipe: Barbecued Country Style Boneless Pork Ribs + Al Bergez's Sauce

(Nearly) Last Minute Pozole Rojo Con Pollo

Back when I made these pan-seared chicken breasts, I saw the recipe on SFGATE for Nopalito's Posole Rojo. I made the adobo part of the dish and stuck it in the fridge thinking I'd use the leftover chicken for some posole on Cinco de Mayo. You can make this (nearly) at the last minute if you make the main components in advance: the meat, hominy and adobo can all be cooked in advance and refrigerated for a short period. If you do that, the bulk of the work you'll have to do is to assemble the posole components and prep the garnishes. This dish is wonderful.

Along came Thursday morning, May 5 - Cinco de Mayo and I hadn't cooked the hominy. No, not the canned hominy. I never understood why (generally) I didn't like dishes like posole, or others that included canned hominy -- and canned was the only hominy I knew about. I liked the corn-y taste and the texture but there was some off-flavor that I couldn't identify that ruined (for me) whatever dish it was in. One morning at the market, I stopped by Rancho Gordo's stand (I have a lot to say about beans and about Steve Sando and Rancho Gordo, but that will be another post) and there was a bag of dried hominy (White Corn Posole/Hominy). I thought that I couldn't hate it more than canned hominy so I took it home and stared at it for a while trying to figure out what I'd make.

Ultimately I used it in a bean dish (that I cannot quite reproduce as I cooked it, damn it, because it was delicious) that I adapted from Heidi Swanson (who adapted it from a Nopa recipe by Laurence Jossel). I combined Christmas limas, some chickpeas and the dried hominy from Rancho Gordo. I cooked the hominy in advance and when it was tender took one and ate it hoping that I would like it (it smells pretty freaking amazing while it's cooking)...

Yes, yes and YES! It tastes intensely corny and has a chewy-tender texture. This is good stuff. Also it's important to cook them until (as I refer to it) they 'bloom', kind of like the way that popcorn opens up. I was thrilled that I could love something I'd previously given up on. I'm pretty sure it was mostly the canned taste. If you have to use canned hominy, I recommend that you rinse and drain it very thoroughly. 

So, back to the last minute Cinco de Mayo posole and the hominy I hadn't cooked. It was a busy work day (I was working from home) and I didn't have any time to tend anything in the kitchen so I dumped them in the slow cooker with a lot of water and a thin-sliced medium onion, set it on high and went back to work checking on them every couple of hours. I don't know how long it took, but by 4:00 pm, I had beautiful hominy ready for my posole. At that point I had a little time and cooked-down the left-over hominy water and reduced it in a sauce pan on the stove - I used this as part of the liquid in the posole, but it's not necessary.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Tayberry Cornbread

I saw a recipe for Blueberry Cornbread in the weekly newsletter from CUESA (the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture) - the folks who make the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market happen - and bookmarked it immediately.

Odd, because 99% of my cooking is savory and I tend to avoid having desserts around unless I'm going to distribute all but a serving to others. I'm no saint, and I'm very well acquainted with my weaknesses - but this dish spoke to me. I like that it does not have much sugar and there was something about that juicy, bubbly fruit nestled in the  cornbread that I could not resist.

...and I had tayberries that weren't getting any younger. Tayberries are a cross between a logan berry (itself a cross between a blackberry and a red raspberry) and a black raspberry, developed in Scotland in 1979. It is a very fragile berry when ripe and I've never seen them in the grocery store. The taste is a bit more wine-y and a lot more subtle than a raspberry and I absolutely love them. They make a fantastic jam - even a little sugar makes the already lovely flavor intensify exponentially.  Normally, I buy them in smaller quantities and just eat them (my default mode for summer fruits).

I purchased them on Saturday and by Sunday I knew I'd have to either make something, eat them all or risk them developing mold - even in the refrigerator stored in as shallow a layer as possible to keep them from being crushed.

One note: I used the cornmeal that I had in the pantry - a coarse grind that is better suited to a hearty polenta than to this cornbread. I will use a fine grind the next time. I think it affected my batter and cooking time (it took about 12 more minutes to cook than the recipe specified).

Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries - any juicy berry will do the trick if you don't have access to tayberries. And definitely cook it in a cast iron skillet if you have one - I love the way the crust turns out. If not, a Pyrex 8" square casserole will do the trick.

Oh - I used twice the amount of berries called for - very smart move on my part.
The remainder are wrapped tightly as individual servings in the freezer but I ate every last speck of the serving I had. I think this dish would make a great base for a shortcake-type dessert. A square split horizontally would not be perfect due to the clumps of berries but who cares about perfection when it's topped with more tayberries lightly sugared and just slightly macerated under a dollop of whipped cream and more berries?

Recipe: Tayberry Cornbread

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tunip and Beet Soup - Pink Food! With Bacon!

...taken with my cell phone - the battery contact problem well known to Canon for years before I bought my Powershot got me.

I am so far behind with posts it's not funny.  Very soon, we'll be celebrating Cinco de Mayo with a Posole post - see? In the mean time, since we've been having a (very) cool, cloudy and rainy spring (for us - I don't want to hear any bitchin' from the NW or wherever your weather's crappy, okay?) a root vegetable soup seemed like a good idea.

I made this soup because I had a bunch of leftover beet scraps from my failed baked beet chip experiment. Failed because while I have awesome knife skills (it's true), I am not (yet) a human mandoline able to cut identical, perfect even slices and the chips were either leathery (too thick), too crispy (too thin - read: burned on the edges) or uneven (leathery on one side, burned on the other). I also had the scraps from three turnips I cubed and roasted - in total about 3/4 cup of leftover diced beets and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of diced turnip. What to do? Make soup.

Oh - I think the golden turnips are referred to as rutabagas. The purple and white turnips are, turnips.

I like beets, but a huge bowl of exclusively beet soup can be a little overwhelming as much as I admire the earthy taste. The turnips do a nice job of mellowing that out a little. Oh and I garnished it with bacon and two of the too-leathery but perfectly good tasting beet chips.  This is very simple but it was very satisfying.

Recipe: Turnip and Beet Soup Garnished with Bacon