Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fried Okra

I stole this recipe from a friend of a friend on Facebook; I haven't tried it yet myself:

"Fried okra method: fill a large bowl with cold water and then add 1/4 cup of salt. if it's a very large bowl, add 1/2 a cup of salt. yes, it's a lot of salt, but trust me, it's important. slice your fresh okra and add to the salt water. let sit for at least 30 minutes. drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. it will be a slimy, but that's ok. heat your oil. when it's hot, take a portion of the okra and toss in yellow cornmeal. you can put the cornmeal in a large ziploc bag and toss in the okra and shake to coat. it won't have a thick coating of cornmeal and that's ok. shake off excess cornmeal. fry okra until it starts to turn golden. remove okra from oil and drain on paper towels. repeat with remaining okra. try it. you won't do fried okra any other way. :)"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Yum Yum Noodle Bar, Woodstock (Restaurant review)

Friday night we ventured out to the newest restaurant in Woodstock (New York) - the Yum Yum Noodle Bar - at the recommendation of a friend. By "we" I mean myself, my grandmother, and my son. I'm not sure why someone would recommend this restaurant to a 99-year-old woman - it was crowded, loud, and with a very slow kitchen. But we enjoyed the food very much, so overall we were glad we went.

We got there around 6 p.m. and the place was packed; we had to wait 20 minutes or so for a table. I was surprised to find such a crowd that early, but the place only has three tables, plus about a dozen or so bar stools. The restaurant opens at 4:30 (they do not serve lunch), and I guess if you want to beat the rush you have to get there pretty well ahead of the 6 p.m. "dinner hour." If I were to visit this restaurant again I would definitely not go on a Friday night! Since the place is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it's pretty hard to avoid going on a weekend. This phenomenon could be due to the restaurant being so new - I believe it just opened on July 23 - but the enormous demand may continue apace, at least until the tourist season dies down.

Yum Yum Noodle Bar is easy on the pocketbook; a "bowl" (noodles plus protein, veggies, nori and a boiled egg, Japanese style) costs $10 and provides an interesting and satisfying meal for an adult. You get your choice of noodles, choice of broth, and choice of protein; Grandma and I both went for the grilled salmon in our noodle soups, which was delicious.

There are also various "plates" available; we tried the Miso-Cured Grilled Salmon, which was outstanding; and, on the friend's recommendation, the Pork & Watermelon Salad, which I thought was good but Grandma thought was just weird. It consisted of pieces of grilled pork served with diced watermelon and diced green papaya on a large bed of fresh mixed greens.

No alcohol is served, but I loved the Strawberry Mint Lemonade (a beverage which is rather trendy here in Woodstock this summer -- I saw them being sold at the farmer's market a few weeks ago too).

The wait staff were super nice and friendly. The food, as I already mentioned, was quite delicious -- though I can't understand why a children's Bento box of tofu satay would include a fairly spicy satay sauce.

Do try YumYum Noodle Bar, but try to avoid the crowds if you can.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, Santa Monica (Restaurant review)

One of the highest claims I can make for a food, or a restaurant, is that I could eat it / eat there every day. Euphoria Loves RAWvolution is one of those places; not only would I love to eat there every day, but I would love to eat there three times a day, every day.

This restaurant, which looks unremarkable from the outside - except for its rather remarkable name - stands literally two blocks away from my former apartment in Santa Monica. I left that apartment in 2002, and the restaurant didn't open until 2006, I believe. When I discovered it in 2008, I couldn't believe the cosmic irony that had divided me from this potentially life-changing eatery; surely if there is a restaurant equivalent of a soulmate, this one is mine.

The name doesn't say it all, but the slogans on the outside of the building do. Facing Main Street is the name of the restaurant, Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, and underneath that, the slogan "Conscious Food for Conscious People." Around the corner, on the north side of the building, it says "Raw, Organic, Vegan Cuisine," and underneath that, "Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Everyday." Never mind the fact that it should be "Every Day" (two words) instead of the adjective "Everyday" (one word). These people are not academics, they are new-agey alternative food folks.

By now you're probably thinking, geeze, how pretentious! Only in California! I admit, I was dubious at first too. But I went in and tried the food, and I was hooked. I wanted to try everything on the menu. I wanted to be a regular at the juice and smoothie bar, despite the fact that it takes 10 minutes for them to make a single drink. (Hey, have you ever tried opening a coconut to make a smoothie? It's not easy!

The wait staff when I was a regular (2008) were very friendly folks. I recall discussing one of the ingredients in the energy drink mixture (I don't recall what it was); the waitress told me lots of anecdotes about people who had it every day and how much better they felt. She said, and I clearly remember this quote, "If you drink it every day you'll feel ridiculously happy." Wow. What a claim to make. But she was so sincere, and her sincerity so charming, that it made me like her and the restaurant a whole lot -- and to dismiss my own skepticism about the "new-agey-ness" of it all.

As I write this blog entry, it has been almost two years since I last dined at this my favorite establishment (Sept. 2008). At the time I took notes on the food, and had a copy of the menu in hand, all with the intention of blogging about it back then. I never did, and now the notes and the menu are vague memories. The menu is not even online. So I can't comment on too many specific items here, I'm sorry to say, but I'll do my best to give you an idea of what you can expect -- and the raw food movement, in brief (or what I know of it).

You can check out the Wikipedia entry on "Raw foodism (or rawism)" and you will get this definition: "a lifestyle promoting the consumption of uncooked, unprocessed, and often organic foods as a large percentage of the diet." You will learn that there are several different approaches, including raw veganism, raw vegetarianism, raw omnivorous diets, and (rarely, I believe) those who promote a 100% raw animal foods diet. (I could possibly do this if I got to eat sashimi three times a day, but would I be denied wasabi and soy sauce?)

The raw food movement has been around for a very long time; the first time I became aware of it was sometime in the mid-1990s, when my best friend and I met a man in the produce department of the grocery store who was advocating a raw food diet. He had some kind of a house in Santa Monica where people gathered weekly for some kind of raw food meal, which he invited us to, but we never went. I did eventually buy a cookbook on raw food, which I have used very little. By the way, the chef-owner of Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, Matt Amsden, also has a cookbook out, with some of his amazing recipes; it's called RAWvolution: Gourmet Living Cuisine.

As I understand it, the main benefit of eating raw foods is that they still have all the enzyms that go into making the food good for you and easier to digest. Cooking kills these enzymes, and so cooked food is much less beneficial.

The food at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution is largely based on the flesh of young Thai coconuts, as well as other nuts. Their almond milk is unbelievably delicious (NOT like the stuff you buy in boxes at the health food store). Most patrons at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution order a young coconut to drink with their meal. The restaurant staff open the coconut, and serve it to you with a straw and a spoon. You drink the juice (or coconut water), then eat the soft, creamy coconut meat by scraping it out of the empty coconut.

I love most of the food at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, but the desserts are just WAY too rich for me; I can handle one or two bites, but to eat an entire parfait made from coconut meat and goji berries, you must get something like 2,000 calories. The desserts are sweetened with agave syrup, which claims to be the only "raw" plant-derived sweetener. According to Wikipedia, raw agave syrup "is produced at temperatures below 118 degrees Farhenheit (48 degrees Centigrade) to protect the natural enzymes." If you peruse the Euphoria Loves RAWvolution menu, you will discover many items that are "dried" instead of cooked -- raw breads and crackers that have been heated with this very low heat, not much higher than the human body temperature. The idea that these can still be considered "raw" seems to be like the work of lawyers trying to use loopholes to get around certain limitations. Agave syrup, by the way, is quite concentrated -- it's much sweeter than honey, for example.

Some of the dishes they serve are so amazing, you can't believe that they are created from raw foods. Others are less successful; some foods (like most cruciferous veggies) just aren't meant to be eaten raw, in my opinion. I had dinner there one night with my best friend and her boyfriend, we shared this enormous "sampler" plate, and all had a bit of intestinal discomfort afterwards. But most of the food there does agree with me. One thing I recall is the "hummus," which is made from pureed zucchini (peeled, so that it still has a hummus-y color). Their foods have lots of raw garlic.

What got me thinking about this restaurant so much this summer is that I'm spending the summer in Woodstock, New York, and the local health food store is stocking these young Thai coconuts on a regular basis. In honor of the coconuts, I will leave you with one recipe from Euphoria Loves RAWvolution:

Coconut Mint Smoothie

You will need 2 young Thai coconuts, a large handful (or two) of fresh mint, and raw agave syrup.

Open the two coconuts. Pour the juice of one coconut into the blender. (You can save the juice of the second coconut to drink on another occasion.) Use a spoon to scrape the coconut meat from the two coconuts into the blender. Sweeten with a little agave syrup, to taste, and blend at high speed until the mint is thoroughly blended into the coconut juice.

Sweet and Sour Okra (Kutchhi Bhindi)

If you live in Missouri, you have the great opportunity to buy tons and tons of locally grown okra during mid- to late summer. I didn't come to appreciate this great Southern vegetable until I moved to Mid-MO, but now I'm absolutely crazy about it, thanks in large part to this recipe. I got this recipe from Sandy Camargo several years back, and I believe she originally got it from one of Madhur Jaffrey's many cookbooks. (On Jaffrey currently has 33 individual titles available!)

Be sure to pick the smallest okras you can find, as the larger ones tend to get woody and less pleasant to eat. I usually just serve this with brown rice for a simple family meal, but it can also be combined with other Indian dishes for a larger and fancier meal. You can also add chicken or tofu to the recipe for protein.

Serves 4-6

Spice Mix -- Blend into a paste in blender:

7 cloves garlic, peeled
1 whole, dried hot chili
2 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground turmeric
3 T. water

Lemon Juice Mixture - Combine in a bowl:

1 t. salt
1 t. sugar
4 t. lemon juice
4 T. water

Other Ingredients:
4 T. vegetable oil
1 t. whole cumin seeds
14 oz. okra, trimmed and cut into 3/4" slices [n.b. If the okra are small you don't need to slice them]

Heat oil in 9” skillet over medium flame. Add whole cumin. When they sizzle, turn heat down a bit and add spice mix. Stir and fry about one minute. Add okra and lemon juice mixture. Stir to mix and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover tightly and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes or until okra are tender. If your okra takes longer to cook, you might need to add a little more water.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Moosewood House Dressing -- Creamy Spinach Basil

My Aunt Ruth sent me this recipe to share with readers of my blog; it was provided to her by Laura Branca of Moosewood, Inc. I haven't tried the recipe myself yet, but look forward to doing so.

Yields 2 1/4 cups
Time: 5-10 minutes

1 cup canola or other vegetable oil
3 tablespoons cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons mild honey
1/4 cup rinsed spinach leaves, packed
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
pinch of ground black pepper
1 cup milk or buttermilk

In a blender, combine the oil, vinegar or lemon juice, honey, spinach, basil, mustard, salt, and pepper and puree until smooth. With the blender still running, gradually add the milk or buttermilk in a thin stream — the dressing will become thick and creamy. As soon as the dressing thickens, stop the blender or the oil may separate, causing the dressing to become thin.

Moosewood House Dressing will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. If it separates, shake well before serving.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Comments Policy

After receiving numerous comments in Chinese, I am announcing a new policy of not publishing any comments that are not in English. I apologize if this policy offends those who want to post comments in another language, but I don't understand why someone reading an English-language blog cannot post comments in English. Again, I'm sorry if this new policy offends you, but I am afraid to allow my blog to become a vehicle for content that I might object to.

Mesa Mexicana

Mesa Mexicana is one of many cookbooks by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, owners of the Border Grill in Santa Monica (where I have eaten more times than I can remember), also known as television’s “Two Hot Tamales.” They also briefly hosted KCRW’s “Good Food,” which I listened to religiously on Saturday mornings. (They left radio when they made it to television, and “Good Food” got a new host, Evan Kleinman.)

I bought this cookbook at least two years ago, but this week made my first foray into cooking Mexican cuisine (other than the standard American-style burritos, enchiladas and huevos rancheros we make all the time). This was a lot of work, and also a lot of fun. I should add that I was also motivated by having some delicious homemade salsa made for me by a grad student (I won it in the EGSA auction), which made me think, why don’t I make my own salsa? It can’t be that hard – and it isn’t.

My immersion into Mexican cooking, in which I spent about four days this week (maybe 20 hours total?) taught me a lot about ingredients and preparation. The most enlightening was making all the salsas and sauces that went into this rather elaborate four-course meal; the salsas are delicious because of the use of fresh ingredients, deriving flavors in part from roasting (without fat) and complex combinations of ingredients. For that reason most of these salsas and sauces are surprisingly low in calories while at the same time quite rich and flavorful.

Here’s a list of the items I prepared; asterisks indicate the recipes I will provide below:

Salsas and sauces:
Roasted tomato salsa
Chipotle salsa
*Tomatillo salsa
(my favorite of the salsas)
Roasted tomatillo salsa
Achiote sauce
Roasted pepper and achiote sauce
Achiote citrus marinade
(for the chicken that went into the Guatemalan tamales)

*Roasted achiote citrus chicken
Pickled chipotles (I did not serve this! I put it aside for future preparations.)

*Creamy rajas (served on corn tortillas, which I did NOT make myself!
Chiles rellenos
Cheese and green chile tamales
Guatemalan tamales
(these contain the roasted chicken)
Fried plantains
Braised fennel with mustard greens


Kahlúa Chip Ice Cream (I didn’t serve this because my freezer isn’t cold enough! It was a bust, but in fact the recipe itself is absolutely delicious. I just need a colder freezer. I'm going to see if I can get Sparky's to make this recipe.)

In the process of making this meal, I learned a lot about roasting vegetables, chiefly peppers. I roasted more than 30 large peppers (24 poblanos and 8 red bell peppers); I also roasted tomatillos, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and garlic for the two roasted salsas. The cookbook gave some confusing instructions; for the roasted tomato salsa it said to roast (broil) the vegetables for 15 minutes. But the salsa ended up not having enough roasted flavor, and I realized that 15 minutes wasn’t long enough. In the front of the cookbook it says to roast them “until everything but the garlic is totally blackened.” This took a lot longer than 15 minutes in my oven.

Not only is it possible to under-roast the peppers, it’s also easy to over-roast them, which happened on my last batch of roasting, when I kind of forgot about them for a while. When that happens, and you try to peel them, it turns out there’s really no flesh left.

Working with achiote paste, a Yucatecan ingredient, was interesting; the cookbook says it “should always be cooked first to remove any chalkiness.” However, it does not explain how you should cook it, and in the recipes asking for achiote paste, instructions on cooking it ahead of time are not included. What I did was pan-fry it (without oil) for 5 minutes or so, then could use it in recipes.

The other “new” (to me) ingredient I used was Mexican crema, which was just a garnish which I served with the fried plantains. This stuff is delicious! It’s sweeter than sour cream, and has a similar consistency, maybe a little more liquidy.

Then there are the three Mexican cheeses that are described in the cookbook as Manchego, Anejo (also known as Cotija), and Panela. At my local Mexican market, none of the cheeses use the name Manchego or Panela. Instead they have Queso Enchilado, a dry crumbling cheese which I used for Panela, and Queso Chihuahua, a melting cheese for quesadillas, which I used for Manchego. (Note: I was just at Hy-Vee today and discovered they do have the Mexican Manchego, as well as a couple others not seen at the Mexican Market – Queso Fresco and Oaxacano. See notes and links at the end of this post.)

Here are Mary Sue and Susan’s comments on Manchego: “There are two kinds of manchego used in Mexican cooking – and neither is the high-priced Spanish variety sold in upscale cheese shops. There is a hard variety (called viejo) and a soft, semifirm, golden one that is an excellent melter. The soft one is used most often for cooking. Monterey Jack or muenster can be substituted.”

As for peppers, I made the chile rellenos with poblanos, and also used dried chipotles (for the chipotle salsa) and fresh jalapeños. I’m looking forward to trying some of the recipes that use other chiles, such as fresh anchos.

The biggest challenge for me was making the masa for tamales, and I’m not sure that I will attempt this again soon. The directions in the cookbook were not adequate for me, I think I will need someone who knows what they’re doing to show me how to mix it up. Nonetheless, these two tamale recipes were quite good, and unusual, because they mix different flavorings into the masa itself, not just for the filling. For the cheese and green chile tamales they mix in a puree of roasted poblanos with tomatillo salsa. The recipe asked for three packages of dried corn husks, but one package was more than adequate.

The Guatemalan tamales have achiote sauce mixed into the masa; these were a real showpiece, because they are stuffed with an unusual combination of roasted chicken, raisins, green olives, and achiote sauce. They were so delicious, but I have to say that the achiote sauce, as well as the roasted red pepper and achiote sauce served on them, are both WAY too salty. The next time I would omit the salt altogether.

As a former vegetarian, I sheepishly admit that I used lard for the masa in both tamale recipes. This was my first time cooking with lard, and I didn't use vegetable shortening because I think Crisco might be even more objectionable than lard. I would be interested in finding out how other people make tamales with "healthy" fats -- is it even possible?

The roasted achiote citrus chicken that went into the tamales is a fantastic recipe in itself, and it was almost a shame to stuff it into the tamales where its amazing flavor was lost among all the other strong flavors. I roasted the chicken thighs early in the day, and there were enough so that my husband and I could have just the roasted chicken and rice for lunch as a sort of preview of the dinner. The next time I would serve the chicken like this, all on its own, because it’s quite flavorful this way.

Fried plantains – one of my favorite dishes to order at Oaxacan restaurants – I had no idea they were this easy to make. Literally you just slice them up and fry them in butter. Oh my god, these were amazing. When buying plantains look for blackened skin, which means the starch has turned to sugar.

The most successful dish might have been the chiles rellenos; people were impressed with how light they were. The roasted poblanos are stuffed with a combination of three cheeses, then rolled in flour, then dipped in eggs. After frying on the stove top for a few minutes, you bake them for 10 minutes or so until the cheese is melted. I would definitely make these again, but experiment with different kinds of stuffing. The presentation of this dish is elegant – you pour roasted tomato salsa on one side of the plate, roasted tomatillo salsa on the other, with the chile relleno in the center, then serve with crema. You end up with red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag.

By the way, I made this meal for six people, but it could easily have served twelve! It’s a lot of food, and very filling.

Tomatillo Salsa
We all LOVED the fresh flavors in this recipe, plus it takes no time at all to prepare.

1 pound tomatillos, husked, washed, and cut into quarters
2 to 4 large jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded if desired and roughly chopped [I used 2, and did not remove the seeds]
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 medium onion, cut in half
2 bunches cilantro, stems and leaves
2 teaspoons salt [I think I used less than 1 teaspoon, as this sounds way too salty for me]

Place the tomatillos, jalapeños and water in a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade. Puree just until chunky. Then add the remaining ingredients and puree about 2 minutes more, or until no large chunks remain. This salsa keeps in the refrigerator, in a covered container, about 3 days.
Makes 3 1/2 cups.

Roasted Achiote Citrus Marinade for Chicken
Makes 1 1/2 cups, enough for 1 roasting chicken or 1 1/2 pounds chicken legs and thighs. (I did the latter, since I was roasting the chicken to be put into tamales.)

2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup achiote paste [see my notes about achiote paste, above]
2 to 3 jalapeño chiles, stemmed and seeded if desired
7 garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. salt [I used less than this, and I think it would be okay to omit the salt altogether]
1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves

Combine 1/3 cup of the orange juice, the achiote paste, jalapeños, garlic, peppercorns and salt in a blender or food processor. Puree until the peppercorns are completely crushed. Add the cilantro and the remaining 1/3 cup orange juice and puree until smooth.

Marinate 1 1/2 pounds chicken legs and thighs at least 1 hour or as long as overnight. Bake in a roasting pan or baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the meat easily pulls away from the bone. Eat eat, yum yum! (I served this for lunch with rice.)

If using for tacos or tamales, allow chicken to cool, then shred with forks.

Creamy Rajas
When I discovered that this recipe was in the cookbook, I was in heaven. I used to eat amazing tacos de rajas at the Superica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, and they were incredible; I’ve never seen them served anywhere else. The ones at Superica were much spicier than this mild version, so I may try varying this recipe in the future for more heat.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, halved and cut into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise
4 medium red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and julienned
4 medium poblano or pasilla chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and julienned
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup grated manchego or Monterey Jack cheese
2/3 cup grated Cotija, Romano or Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions with the salt and pepper until they begin to wilt and brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the julienned red peppers and chiles. Pour in the heavy cream, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook 4 minutes or until the cream begins to thicken. Stir in the grated cheeses and remove from the heat. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Mary Sue and Susan write, “These rajas, a traditional accompaniment to carne asada, are meaty roasted pepper strips, coated with cream and cheeses to tame the heat of the chiles. They are delicious with grilled meats, potatoes and eggs or just wrapped in corn tortillas.” The tacos de rajas at Superica are creamy rajas served on soft, warm corn tortillas.

The sangrita recipe deserves to be included here because it’s so unusual. They serve this at the Border Grill in Santa Monica as a chaser whenever you order tequila (and maybe some other beverages, I seem to recall). It’s a non-alcoholic citrus drink, but because of the cayenne pepper has a real kick. People at our dinner party loved this! We had it with sipping tequila after the meal.

2 1/4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
5 Tbsp. grenadine syrup
1 generous tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process, or whisk in a bowl until blended. Refrigerate. Serve cold in shot glasses with corresponding shots of tequila. Makes 18 shots.

This mixture keeps in the refrigerator for about five days.

Notes and Links:

Border Grill, 1445 4th Street, Santa Monica, California; 310-451-1655

La Super-Rica Taqueria, 622 North Milpas Street, Santa Barbara, California, 805-963-4940

In Columbia, Missouri:

Los Tres Hermanos is the grocery store I used; it’s very easy to miss. It’s located in a strip mall at 1206 W. Business Loop 70, across the street from the cemetery and before you get to All Creatures Animal Hospital. In the strip mall it does not even have a sign, but there are posters on the window in Spanish advertising services like wiring money and phone cards. This is where I went to buy achiote paste and Mexican cheese and crema. Phone number is 573-817-2858, but both times I called on Wednesday they did not answer, even though they were open.

In my brief experience, Hy-Vee has a better selection of Mexican cheese (though prices aren’t as good as at Los Tres Hermanos). I haven’t tried World Harvest yet for any of these ingredients, unfortunately it's too far away to be convenient for me.

Schnuck’s on Forum has a better selection of produce (peppers and tomatillos) than Hy-Vee. Gerbes’ selection is pretty good too; this is where I found the banana leaves for my Guatemalan tamales.

Aldi's, on the Business Loop, is also a good place to find some Mexican ingredients, especially masa and Mexican cheeses.

What's Next?
On the menu tonight: Enchiladas Frescas and Ancho Chile Salsa. Looking forward to it!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pure vegan delight, made with coconut milk but just as rich as ice cream:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Moscow Mule

(from Williams-Sonoma Taste, Summer 2002)

It's time for spring / summer beverages, and the Moscow Mule is one of my favorites. Williams-Sonoma Taste was a short-lived magazine, possibly just one issue, but it was good. The following recipe makes 1 drink.

1 1/2 oz. vodka
juice of 1/2 a lime
6-8 oz. ginger beer or ginger ale
lime slice

Place ice cubes in a highball glass; pour vodka and lime juice over them. Fill with the ginger beer; stir, and add lime slice.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Black Peppercorns

How many of you can boast that you buy black peppercorns in 9-ounce containers? Same size as the typical grated Parmesan cheese container. Kudos to my husband for finding them in this quantity; boy do we ever go through these things.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dinner in Woodstock: A Tribute to My Grandmother

Since my subject is the old-timey menu served up today by my 98-year-old grandmother, I’m using the word “dinner” in the old-fashioned sense of the midday meal. My grandmother, Mescal Hornbeck, who will turn 99 in June, honored my visit with a highly genteel and refined luncheon with four of her closest friends, plus the fiancé of one of the ladies. The theme of the menu was food from her childhood, and so we had Oyster Stew and Indian Pudding. Those members of the party who were over 60 – three of our guests, as well as Mescal herself – recognized right away just what she was trying to do here, saying they hadn’t had either of these dishes in ages.

Grandma Mescal was born in 1911 in West Shokan, a rural outpost in upstate New York. She has lived in New York most of her life, except for a period spent in Lexington, Kentucky, for my grandfather’s career. (That’s how I come to have a family from Kentucky and a family from New York.) Bemoaning the demise of oyster stew in popularity, she says that oyster stew used to be “the big thing” served at “all the restaurants all around the country.” When I suggested that perhaps it was a northeastern thing, she said, “You wouldn’t know, you’re too young to remember.” (This is one thing I love about my grandmother, she always reminds me how young I am!)

Indian pudding, well, maybe it has a more PC name nowadays, but I’ve never tasted it before by this or any other name. It was tasty, and reminded me of my great-grandmother’s puddings I used to have as a child.

Grandma Mescal talks a lot about how different things are from when she was growing up, which is endlessly fascinating. It’s remarkable that she has such detailed memories of so many of her past experiences. She tells me that “a woman 50 years ago wouldn’t have been caught half dead” serving string beans dry scattered around on a plate and only half cooked; veggies were cooked until they were "DONE - not mushy" and served in their juices, and you often had a sauce with them, based on milk being added to the cooking juices to bring out the flavor. “A lot of things tasted better then than they do now,” according to Grandma; there’s no denying that cooking styles and tastes have changed considerably.

After dinner I served a bowl of my candied walnuts that I had made for Mescal, and her friends honored me by saying I had inherited my grandmother's love of cooking. Thank goodness for good genes.

Grandma Mescal’s Oyster Stew

Quantities are determined by the number of people dining. Start with at least 5 oysters per person (6 or 7 per person on average), and the oysters have to be FRESH! Get them shucked specially for you. Grandma thinks the ones that come pre-shucked in the market (which are much cheaper) aren’t worth spit.

Cook the oysters and their juice in the top of a hot double boiler, cooking them just until the edges get a little crinkly – not very long.

Meanwhile heat your milk – about two ladles full per person – and add a chunk of butter and some salt and pepper. For the milk you can use whole milk, two percent, half-and-half, or whatever you like.

Then pour the oysters into the milk and get it warm, but you MUST be sure you DON’T BOIL THE OYSTERS! There’s nothing worse than overcooked oysters.

That’s all there is to it!

Indian Pudding

Mix 5 Tablespoons stone-ground corn meal to 1 quart of cold milk; scald the milk, then cook in the top of a double boiler 20 minutes. Then add 2 Tablespoons of butter, 5 oz. molasses, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 eggs well beaten. Turn into buttered pudding dish [she used a glass loaf pan] and pour 1 cup cold milk over mixture.

Bake 1 hour in moderate 350 degree oven. Delicious served with vanilla ice cream. Servings: 8.

(The recipe called for a cup of molasses, but Mescal thought this was way too much; she used just over half a cup and it had a very nice flavor.)