Archive for January 2010
I am in love with salty ume, those puckery, pink Japanese pickled plums. We picked up a big vat of them for cheap at Anzen Hiroshi’s, an old-school Japanese market in Portland. I can’t stop eating them out of the jar. Too bad two plums (actually closer to our apricots) have about 40 percent of your daily recommended sodium intake.
Umeboshi (the plums pickled and dyed red by shiso, or purple Japanese basil) lends itself to sushi. So sushi we made, with the ume paste spread atop the brown rice. Per a newer Moosewood cookbook’s suggestion, I also added some umeboshi vingear along with the standard rice vinegar and mirin to the sushi rice. This salty, umami condiment is worth springing for, for any dishes that need a little oomph. We piled on avocado, spinach and scallions and then rolled the maki up. With leftover rice, I made spicy tuna rolls, with high-quality chunk light tuna mixed up with mayo and Sriacha sauce.
Then today my friend Tony prepared another sushi feast for lunch, with that ume we purchased together. He molded rice triangles, which I fondly remember from Japanese quick-marts, topped with ume, avocado and kiwi slices. Tropical fruits like kiwi and mango make nice sushi toppings. Who knew that kiwi grew in Oregon and into November? It stores well through the winter so I could pick some up at the farmer’s market Saturday.
And I haven’t even gotten to shiso, that green Japanese herb I’ve hardly experienced. It’s also known as beefstake and perilla, as you’ll see it labeled on Japanese packaged goods. You say potato, I say potato. Ume and fresh shiso strips pair well together in maki rolls. A salad dressing of ume and fresh shiso is also tempting. You can find green and purple shiso fresh at Asian markets, like An Dong in Portland (wish I’d sprang for it when we were there!). Look for it here soon.
I’ve developed this irrepressible urge to forage, though my horse chestnut encounter did leave me a bit chastened. I’m also craving garden-fresh greens in the gray of winter, which has been quite balmy of late here, with young weeds and early crocuses starting to blossom.
We’ve had clumps of this clover-like weed erupting in bare non-grassy areas all over the garden. They’re easy to pull, with shallow roots, never much bothering me before. But it turns out these clumps–Little Western Bittercress–are edible! Suddenly, those ubiquitous weeds become less pesky. Thanks to the writings of fellow food blogger (and Master Gardener) Culinaria Eugenius, I was finally able to identify this spicy-sweet greenery. This Oregon State site made me even more confident that I’d identified it correctly. Bittercress: what a marvelous little plant, a peppery, mustardy, watercress-like Brassica relative. Tiny micro-greens that look and taste just like ones chefs pay a fortune for, an otherwise nuisance growing for free.
I wonder to what degree our tastes can guide us in discerning what weeds are o.k. to eat. The bittercress felt right, radish crisp. Dandelion, on the other hand, is so bitter I would assume it poisonous if I didn’t know otherwise. But its tannic flavor mellows with fat and blander flavors, like potatoes or a mild cheese. The greens were stunning in this pizza with fontina cheese. And Mark Bittman recommends them in his Green Mashed Potatoes, which Culinaria Eugenius also recommended. I whipped up a batch, but didn’t use enough olive oil or have enough greens: they should match the potatoes in a 50-50 ratio. But I think I’ll save my little bittercress for salads. I want to enjoy this fresh from the garden foraged find raw.
But of course we’d want a hunter’s spare wild duck, I said, as visions of the seared red breast, with a crisp layer of fat, danced in my head. But this was not your standard Long Island duck. This was a small wild one (maybe a wigeon), feathers and all. Apparently the breast is the only part worth cooking and rather than pluck each feather, you’re just advised to pull off the feathered skin in one piece, like a glove (I hear you do rabbits the same way). This was the duck Dan had smoked on his fly-out here that so enchanted me.
We tried to cut it up, though something wasn’t right. The breast seemed to have started to decay, with some sort of necrosis. I heard you were supposed to gut game right away, so perhaps the intact insides contributed to the problem? I flipped out. Granted, we had the hairy waterfowl in the fridge a day or two before tackling it, so maybe that was the problem? It felt ominous to have the feathered friend in the fridge. Why did this bother me when I handled (with assistance, of course) the turkey at Afton Field Farm with no problem?
I feel guilty we failed. It was a tiny bird, but it especially feels bad to waste food when people are starving and scrambling to survive in Haiti. In fact, just thinking and writing about food has felt vacuous and out-of-touch this week with all that suffering there. And of course, the situation was dire there far before this tragedy. But it’s not until catastrophe forces a neglected nation into the news that we remember those people subsisting on dirt and less than $2 a day. I keep thinking of the Haitian Women’s Program folks I befriended in Flatbush while reporting on HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean community. We’ve made our donations to Doctors Without Borders and Portland-based Mercy Corps. Shouldn’t we do more? We’re at least trying to be thankful for each precious meal.
Told you the gluten-free thing wouldn’t last. This weekend, I indulged in yeasty bread, Block 15 beer (including a sweet-tart, heady, Belgian-style “Cherry Quad,” with 11 percent alcohol) and homemade pasta from Chef Intaba. She had scraps from her manicotti shells she couldn’t use, which made perfect eggy and soft, makeshift lasagna sheets. Though they didn’t hold their shape or get those crispy edges, they still made an easy Swiss Chard Lasagna, perhaps my favorite vegetarian lasagna recipe. Blanching imparts the chard with a sweetness, while it still stands up more sturdy than spinach, with none of the bitter taste of other greens.
Definitely feel a bit more distress in the belly as it tries to digest wheat again. I hope avoiding gluten doesn’t make it even more painful for the body to break down once you resume consumption. You know, how vegetarians throw-up upon eating meat after years of abstention. Everything in moderation–the middle path–that’s me.
A wise person once said, “I’d be dead without bread,” and normally I’d have to agree. Except I’ve basically gone without bread (and other wheat products) for more than a week now. This has not been easy. I’m about as omnivorous as they come. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for me to name a food I don’t like. Tongue, Brussels sprouts, turnips, chopped liver, you name it: bring them on. Well, maybe I don’t love tripe.
Nor have I ever really dieted. I would rather exercise more than go without. But my sister has been nagging me for a year now to give up gluten for a week. She doesn’t have celiac disease, but she’s had more energy, been less irritable and more sated after a meal when she goes wheat-free. Apparently, going without gluten improves attention span and counteracts ADHD, traits of which I’ve been known to exhibit. So I finally agreed to take the plunge while visiting Elaine in Atlanta.
A week and a half in, I do feel less bloated and a bit sharper, but that’s probably because I’m eating fewer food-coma inducing carbs. I may be starting to shed some holiday weight (but that could be the additional Pilates and Bollywood dancing classes I’m taking). Lack of gluten does seem to change things gastro-intestinally, for the better. And when I violated the diet to have a store sample of bread, a few sips of beer and French onion soup with a little flour in it, I did feel a bit light-headed.
Not sure how much longer I’ll continue the experiment, but it’s nice to have this baseline. I’m really craving baked goods and more than anything, beer. Hard cider and the gluten-free stuff don’t cut it (I drank both this week). The pasta wasn’t half-bad, though. And I love quinoa. We made a lovely quinoa with shitake mushrooms and leeks risotto from the Flying Apron’s Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking Book I gave Elaine. I might try to do gluten-lite. It is nice to have something to force you not to eat the bread at the restaurant. Once you have a bite, it’s hard to stop.
Greasy fried sweet-and-sour Chinese dishes have never appealed to me. The closest I get is repeat ordering our beloved sesame tempeh at our local China Delight (though even that was too battered and heavy last time we brought some in). So I don’t know why Ivy Manning’s Sweet-and-Sour Tofu recipe intrigued me. Some perverse fascination with the 50s housewife-type ingredients–ketchup, distilled white vinegar, canned pineapple, ground ginger instead of fresh?
But there’s something so fun and addictive about this easy recipe. And Manning’s recipe, with its bell peppers, pineapple juice instead of syrup, and only lightly fried nuggets, is infinitely healthier than take-out, not to mention you won’t have to worry about MSG. We’ve made it twice now. Let’s just say it’s a winner with my husband, known to still have the appetite and tastes of a 10-year-boy. Instead of reconstituting Asian store fried tofu cubes I use more healthful soy-marinated (but still fried) ones from our First Alternative Co-op (10 percent off as today was member day). The sweet-and-sour sauce lacquers but doesn’t inundate the chewy, spongy squares.
I had been dying to eat fresh Dungeness crab ever since featuring the local delicacy (not to mention Oregon’s state crustacean) on our December KBOO Food Show. Sure, nothing beats cracking crab on the Newport waterfront. But we’re only an hour away and can get them almost as fresh at our neighborhood seafood market, Harry and Annette’s Fresh Fish. They even cook up fresh crab for customers everyday.
I probably still prefer the unadulterated sweet flesh, simply dipped in salted, drawn butter with a splash of lemon. But this Cioppino-Style Roasted Crab in the current issue of Bon Appetit looked delicious and easy enough. It helped that Harry also cleaned and quartered the crab for me. Oh, if only I still had the clam broth on hand from last May’s digging expedition. Cracking the crab (and trying not to make a mess) as we ate was the only trouble with this dish. We just dumped the leftover meat in the spicy tomato broth, rather than assemble the leftovers into crab cakes, as Bon Appetit suggested. The stew’s a gussied up take on ole’ Maryland Crab soup. In fact, I now prefer Dungeness to the Chesapeake’s Blue crab.
We served the cioppino with the recommended Lemon-Parsley Pasta, albeit a surprisingly edible gluten-free kind (more on that in another post!). We tried Bionaturae macaroni shells; Elaine, was that the kind you recommended?
The stew was great, but we’ve both now had our seafood, at least crab, fill for a while. Oysters, however, are still calling to me.