Wednesday, September 5

It's Still Us

A few months before my brother was born, our father dreamed that he would be named Will. But when he was born, Will looked nothing like the baby in the dream.

So Will became "little tyke." It was just a nickname at first, while our parents agonized over a real name, but as the days and then months passed, "little tyke" took on a frightening ring of finality. Finally, our parents settled on Elijah Sparrowhawk, and that became Will's name. At least for a while, though some people still called him "little tyke."

Then, when Will was about 3 or 4 years old, he began to look more and more like the boy in our father's dream. Our parents told him the story, and it didn't take long for Will to decide to change his name. It did take a while for people to adjust (by then they'd switched from "little tyke" to "Eli") but eventually Will's real name took. Now I can't imagine calling him anything else.

I hope our new name takes too. I named Dinner Party without consulting Will, but over the last two months, the blog has taken on life and become something belonging very much to both of us. Will never much liked the name, and we were both dissatisfied that our name and our address didn't match ( had already been taken). As we gained momentum and visitors, we felt that if we wanted to change, we should do it now, in our babyhood, before our name had become inextricably bound with our personality. It also seemed a good time to toddle over to WordPress, where we would have plenty of room to grow into anything we might want to become.

So come and visit us over at Last Crumb. And then visit us again. Bookmark us, link to us, and otherwise make us part of your life because we plan to be there for a long time. And please make as many comments as you can - we weren't able to migrate those!

By the way, we also want to thank all of you who have looked in on us, shared us with others, and generally helped us take our first steps into the world. We know how many food blogs are out there, and we're moved and flattered to be among all of you.

So thanks, and see you soon over at Last Crumb!

Monday, August 27

Heirloom Tomato Ketchup

We're brimming with heirloom tomatoes from our farm CSA box, but somehow none of my usual uses for tomatoes have seemed appealing lately. The tomatoes this year have been so good that they mostly beg to be eaten straight - sliced with a bit of sea salt and good olive oil, or layered into a caprese salad with basil and fresh mozzarella. But there are only so many fresh tomatoes we can eat, and I came home tonight to find a couple handsome heirlooms on the verge of decline. It seemed a good night to try and put together a real ketchup.

Commercial ketchup, like commercial mayonnaise, bears little resemblance to the real thing. Raised like everyone else on the supermarket formula consisting mostly of high-fructose corn syrup, tomato paste and celery powder, it never occurred to me that ketchup could be anything more than a fast food side. But a little breakfast joint on our old neighborhood happened to have a fantastic homemade variety, and I've been meaning to make a batch ever since.

This recipe lends itself well to experimentation - all of the spices can be adjusted to taste, and many others would be worth playing with. For a spicier sauce, add a few (or many) dashes of hot sauce. It also turns out a delightful golden orange color if you use a mix of different colored tomatoes.

-- Heirloom Tomato Ketchup

*2 tbs olive oil
*1 medium onion, finely diced
*1 red jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
*4 cloves garlic
*3 lbs assorted heirloom tomatoes, peeled and seeded
*1/3 cup + 3 tbs apple cider vinegar
*2 tbs dark brown sugar
*1 cup water
*1 tsp cardamom
*1 star anise
*1 tsp celery seed
*1/2 tsp cloves
*1 tsp cinnamon
*2 tsp smoked paprika
*1 tsp chili powder
*2 tsp salt
*freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. In a non-reactive sauce pan, sauté the onion and jalapeño in the olive oil until golden and very soft, about 20 minutes. When the pan starts to dry out, add 1/2 cup of the water. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in tomatoes, 1/3 cup vinegar, and the sugar.

2. Place the cardamom, star anise, celery seed, and cloves in a spice bag, or tie in a bit of cheesecloth, and add to the tomato mixture. Add the cinnamon, smoked paprika, chili powder and salt and stir well.

3. Cook the ketchup until thick but not completely dry, about 2-3 hours. Adjust seasoning to taste and transfer to a blender. Puree until very smooth. You may need to add the other 1/2 cup water if the ketchup is too thick. Pour in the additional 3 tbs vinegar (or to taste) and pulse to combine. Transfer to sterile jars and refrigerate, or process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner. Homemade ketchup should last about 2 months in the refrigerator.

Yields 2 small jars.

Tuesday, August 21

Strawberry Balsamic Jam

We ate well on our recent visit to south Florida (Key Lime Pie tasting notes and recipe coming soon!), but the trip still left us craving California food. It's not that the food there is bad, but the food here really is fantastic. Even the burrito we shared in the airport terminal when we landed in Oakland tasted amazingly good.

I have been meaning to post this recipe for a while now but kept putting it off. I didn't take pictures when I initially made it, and thereafter was more interested in eating the jam than in photographing it. Also, I wasn't sure how it would go over, but it has turned out to be quite popular, even with my mom who claims to hate balsamic vinegar. The balsamic isn't easy to identify, but it gives the jam a complex, earthy flavor that's addictive.

One of my favorite early summer salads is simply fresh strawberries tossed with balsamic vinegar. Sometimes I use salad greens, but when I want to be really decadent, I go without. I was inspired to try a similar jam weeks ago when I spotted a crate of luscious looking organic strawberries at the farmers market and knew that 1) I had to have them, and 2) I would not be able to use them all right away.

Don't cut down on the sugar, as that's what preserves the fruit and thickens the jam. That said, the one change I might make next time would be to use pectin, as it was a bit sad seeing all those fresh strawberries get cooked away while I waited for the mixture to thicken. You can reduce thickening time by using a wide, shallow pan and cooking the jam in small batches to hasten evaporation.

-- Strawberry Balsamic Jam

*2.2 lbs strawberries, washed, tops removed
*4 3/4 cups sugar
*3 tbsp lemon juice
*4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1. Place the strawberries and sugar in a non-reactive saucepan. Stir to combine, then cover and stand for a few hours.

2. Add the lemon juice and balsamic vinegar and bring to the boil. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes until setting point is reached.

3. Allow to stand for 10 minutes and pour into sterilised jars. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner. For more detailed instructions on canning, download these step by step canning instructions from the National Center for Home Food Preparation.

Thursday, August 16

The Best Green Salsa!

I've finally done it! I've successfully reverse engineered Taqueria El Favorito's (fresh) green salsa, the best salsa I've ever encountered in all my travels. Now let me tell you, I've eaten Mexican food in Mexico, Portugal (please don't even ask), France (same goes for here), Italy (and here), Venezuela, Arizona, New Mexico, and in hundreds of places across California, and I've decided that the best (fresh) green salsa comes right out of my own hometown, Santa Rosa, CA, at Taqueria El Favorito (formerly El Farolito).

I must admit that I've never been to Texas, save the airports, and I've never tried Ninfa's Green Sauce now made famous by the Houston Chronicle and the Homesick Texan who swears it's the best, but I can tell you that the recipe shown below will be much more robust in the garlic and cilantro areas, and it will keep looking fresh longer because it has lime juice which slows down the oxidation process.

Now let me explain why I keep putting (fresh) in front of green salsa. It's because I don't want to step on my brother in law's toes. Andy is already famous for his green salsa, but his is the cooked version, and it's the best damned cooked version I've ever tasted. It was a big hit during the cocktail hour at my recent wedding. Unfortunately he'll only divulge what's in it, not how much of what's in it, is in it. I can only hope that one day he'll come clean and share the secret recipe.

Back to my salsa! Where was I? Oh yes, I just wanted to let you know that my wife Mary loves this salsa so much, that today after finishing off the last of the tortilla chips, she began to eat the salsa on soda crackers. I, on the other hand, went straight for a spoon.

--The Best (Fresh) Green Salsa

*1 pound of 1" size tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered
*1 bunch fresh cilantro (about 2 ounces by weight after trimming the stems), rinsed, and roughly chopped
*2 1/2 limes, squeezed
*9 cloves of garlic
*1 small white onion, chopped
*2 good size green jalapeno peppers (makes a medium spicy salsa), stemmed, and chopped
*2 avocados, sliced
*1 1/2 cups water depending on the viscosity desired
*1/2 tsp. cumin (or to taste)
*2 1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
*1/2 tsp. black pepper (or to taste)


1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender, except for the cumin, salt, and black pepper.

2. Blend until a smooth texture is achieved.

3. Add spices and mix thoroughly.

4. Adjust spice levels to your liking.

5. After numbing your taste buds doing too much quality control, insist that your spouse or a good friend keep testing it to see if it tastes like the real McCoy.

6. Continue this until they feel ill.

7. If they come back for more the following day, or later that night, you know you've got the real deal.

8. This recipe yields a little under a quart of salsa. Refrigerate what you don't eat right away.

Monday, August 13

The Coconut Cocktail

My sister Rose has just informed me that my honeymoon is over, and it's time to get back to the grindstone. It's true, I've been slacking on my blogging duties lately, but I've had other things on my mind. Planning a wedding for 125 guests is no easy feat, but in the end it turned out to be the best party I've ever thrown. It wouldn't have been possible though, without all of my dear sister's help and support. Thank you Rose!

Even before this whole wedding thing got out of control, I've been wanting to post about a new drink I've concocted. It's very simple in concept, but amazingly delicious and refreshing in flavor. When I first tasted this drink I couldn't believe the subtle flavors of banana and vanilla that seemingly came out of nowhere. Let me give you a little background about how this drink came to be.

In the past, one of my favorite things about going out to Thai food was always the sweet and spicy Thai iced tea. I just couldn't get enough of the stuff, but when I moved down to Long Beach and started seeing fresh young coconuts offered on the menu, the iced tea moved into second place. Now I go out to Thai food just because I'm craving these coconuts. When you order one, the waiter cuts a square in the top of the chilled nut, and presents it to you with a straw, and a spoon to gouge out the insides once you finish drinking the refreshing juice. According to Wikipedia, the water contained in the young coconut has been successfully used as liquid in intravenous therapy in emergency situations due to its sterility, pH, mineral, and sugar content. In other words, it's the perfect antidote to a hangover in it's ability to rehydrate the human body. This fact led me to the next logical question: why not mix it with alcohol for a hangover-proof drink?

The other day, while a few friends were over and several drinks had already been passed around, I started to feel a little creative. I'd recently purchased a box of six fresh, young coconuts from my local Asian market with the idea of saving money on eating out. I'd chilled two of them in the refrigerator for future use, and suddenly I felt that their time had come. I took out my beautiful Wusthof chefs knife (the heaviest knife I could find) and began to chop at the tops of the nuts with much bravado. I quickly realized that I'd not yet mastered Zen and the Art of Coconut Opening. Please see my once fine piece of cutlery on the right with damaged blade. After a little research and practice I can now say I'm a master. My advice is this: go out and get yourself a cheap cleaver at the Asian market(I paid $5). Put the coconut on a firm, sturdy surface. Take the cleaver in your good hand, wind up, and make four decisive chops on the top of the nut in the shape of a square. With a little practice, and some luck, you too will be able to impress your friends with the art of Coconut Kung Fu.

At last, here is the recipe you've been waiting for:

--The Coconut Cocktail

*One well chilled fresh young coconut with the top removed in a neat square. (If you don't have access to young coconuts at your local Asian market or health food store you can order them by mail from Amazon or RawGuru (organic Hawaiian), but you will pay dearly)
*1 1/2 Ounces Whaler's Original Dark Rum. (Available at Trader Joe's or here)
*1 dash Angostura Bitters
*1 straw

1. Remove or drink enough water from the coconut to accommodate the rum.

2. Pour in the rum and add the bitters.

3. Serve with a straw and add tropical garnishes if you're feeling festive.

4. Enjoy, and don't forget to eat out the young coconut flesh with a spoon when you're finished drinking.

Monday, August 6

Lavender Shortbread and a Wedding

Well, my brother is now married and off for a week-long backpacking honeymoon. I have to admit, I felt a little lonely last night. We've been in constant contact for a month straight, and now that it's all over, I miss everyone. I am attempting to rest up before Andy and I head out to visit his family in Florida on Thursday. At that point the second round of wedding madness will begin, with an engagement party for us and a barrage of questions about date and location sure to follow.

Meanwhile, I am still gathering together the wealth of memories, impressions and ideas from the weekend. I think the last three days passed almost as quickly for me as they did for the bride and groom, but along the way I reconnected with some very old and dear friends. The ceremony itself was wonderful and personal, with friends and family offering readings and music. The reception featured a fantastic live swing band and Will and Mary were out on the dance floor the whole night.

The lavender shortbread was a big hit at the tea party shower. It went great with all of the teas and felt very festive and romantic. I first came across and tested a less traditional recipe that left me with delicate, pale, fine grained cookies that threatened to disintegrate at the first touch. Andy preferred them, but I wanted something a little heartier, so I ended up just folding a heaping teaspoon of lavender into a classic shortbread recipe - with excellent results.

-- Lavender Shortbread

*1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
*1/4 cup rice flour or corn starch
*2/3 cup sugar
*16 tbs (0r 2 sticks) unsalted butter
*1/4 tsp salt
*1 tsp lavender flowers
*1 tbs turbinado sugar

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Line a 9 inch spring-form pan with parchment and set aside.

2. Process the sugar for about 30 seconds in a food processor then add the flours and salt and mix until combined. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and stir into the flour, then mix for several minutes until the dough is pale yellow and has formed damp crumbs. Stir in lavender flowers.

3. Press the mixture into the pan and sprinkle with turbinado sugar, then place shortbread in the oven. Immediately reduce the temperature to 300 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.

4. Remove shortbread from oven and score, dividing into 16 pieces. Use a skewer or the tines of a fork to make a decorative pattern on the cookies. Return shortbread to the oven and continue baking for another 40 minutes. Cut the finished cookies into wedges. Wrap well and store for up to a week.

Wednesday, August 1

Orange-Anise Biscotti

This recipe for Orange-Anise Biscotti was adapted from The New Best Recipe. Biscotti are amazingly easy to the make, remarkably healthy, and can last a month or more when made without butter (as in this recipe). They are twice baked - once in loaves, then as cookies - giving them their crispy texture and long life. Unlike most cookies, they actually improve after a few days.

-- Orange-Anise Biscotti
*2 cups all purpose flour
*1 tsp baking powder
*1/4 tsp salt
*1 cup sugar
*2 large eggs
*1/4 tsp vanilla
*1/2 tsp orange extract
*1 tbs anise seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Whisk together the eggs and the sugar until well blended, then add the vanilla, orange extract and anise seeds.

2. Blend dry ingredients together in a small bowl and then fold into the liquids. Mix until just combined. The dough will feel very sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour.

3. Divide the dough into to equal balls and shape them into logs on a parchment covered baking sheet. They should be about 2 inches wide and 13 inches long.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, until the edges are browned and the top begins to crack. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice the loaves diagonally into slices about 3/8 of an inch thick. Distribute the cookies on the baking sheet cut side down.

5. Lower the oven temperature to 325 and bake for another 15 minutes until the cookies are crispy throughout. They will continue to harden as they cool.

Tuesday, July 31

Tea For Twenty, a Menu

Will and his amazing fiancée, Mary, are getting married this weekend, so please forgive us for the dearth of posts this week. That said, my mom and I are hosting a shower for Mary and, determined not to suffer any less stress than they are, I decided to make most of the tea treats by hand. Here is the menu I'll be working to produce over the next two days, with recipes and photos to follow:

Tea For Twenty
Orange Anise Biscotti
Lavender Shortbread
Cucumber and Garlic Butter Tea Sandwiches
Humus and Watercress Tea Sandwiches
Deviled Eggs
Crumpets (purchased - though if anyone has a good recipe, I'd love to try making them sometime)
Fresh Cultured Butter
Strawberry-Balsamic Jam
Fresh Fruit Skewers with Cheese and Honeycomb
Chocolate Truffles

Black Tea (my home blend of Darjeeling and Earl Grey)
Marrakesh Mint Tea with fresh Spearmint from Samovar Tea Lounge
Organic Orange Ginger Tea from Samovar Tea Lounge

Wednesday, July 25

Freshly Made Butter

This is perhaps the easiest recipe I could post, but it is so simple and miraculous and delicious that you will no doubt make it again and again. Just dump plenty of heavy cream into a mixer or food processor and beat until the butter and the "butter milk" begin to separate. Or you could do what we did as kids - shake the cream in a well sealed mason jar until it is transformed.

I was inspired to make this after finding a story about homemade butter in the New York Times a few weeks ago. It instantly transported me to early childhood and as I started up the food processor, I was already in the living room of our our family friends, the kids taking turns shaking the butter jar while the grown-ups sang old folk and blues tunes to the banjo and the tambourine. Yes, this really did happen, and by that time the 70s may already have passed. At any rate, I can see no reason to ever purchase butter again.

Make plenty. You can fold the extra in parchment paper or plastic wrap and store it in sealed bags in the freezer. You'll use it.

-- Fresh Butter

*4-8 cups heavy whipping cream
* salt

1. Whip or shake the cream until the butter and the "butter milk" separate.

2. Strain everything through a cheesecloth, reserving the liquid, and kneed the butter until the excess moisture is removed and the butter is dense and creamy. If desired, add a little good salt to taste.

Monday, July 23

Nam Plah Prik Kee Noo or "fish sauce with chilies"

Ever since I moved to Long Beach, CA, home to over 50,000 Cambodian immigrants and said to be the second largest Cambodian community in the world after Phnom Penh, I've had easy access to some of the tastiest and most authentic Cambodian and Thai food in the US. In fact, some of these restaurants are so authentic that they even give you a spoon to eat with, just like in the old country.

Try Sophy's Fine Thai and Cambodian Cuisine if you live in the area, and I promise you won't be disappointed. My favorite dishes are the Chan Pu (a spicy fried noodle dish with green onions and real crab), the Thai green curry, and the Tom Kha Gai (Thai coconut soup). None of these would be complete however, without the addition of some nam plah prik or fish sauce with Thai chilies, available by special request. The waitress always laughs at me when I ask for this condiment, and claims that I'm the only white guy that has ever wanted it. Personally, I think nam plah prik kee noo is to Thai food, as bitters are to a cocktail. In other words, this condiment greatly enhances the flavor of just about any Thai dish, and I can't do without it. Here is the recipe:

--Nam Plah Prik Kee Noo:

* 6 Tbs. Thai fish sauce (nam plah, น้ำปลา)
* 5 Tbs. fresh lime or orange juice
* 2 large cloves garlic chopped finely
* 1 Shallot cut lengthwise and sliced very thinly (optional)
* 8 fresh Thai bird's eye chili peppers (prik kee noo, พริกขี้หนู, literally "mouse shit chili"), stems removed and sliced into very thin rounds

1. Combine everything in a small bowl and keep refrigerated. Wash your hands with cold water after cutting the chilies, and before using the bathroom. I learned the hard way.

Friday, July 20

Homemade Bitters, Part 2

The bitters materials arrived a week ago Thursday, but other projects kept me from launching the experiment until this Wednesday night. I had fun jarring, labeling, and tasting all of the different components. Then I measured out the ingredient and assembled the mixes. It took only a few minutes - I just tossed everything together and shook it up, in one case toasting the spices first.

I cut down the amounts by quite a lot, using about 1 - 1.5 cups rye whiskey and an equal reduction in spices for each recipe. I used Rittenhouse, but I think any 100 proof rye would work fine. If you can't find 100 proof, just use a little less water at the end. Bitters recipes are still experiments, and ingredients can be varied to taste. The first recipe, for aromatic bitters, comes from Robert Hess, a well know spirits writer. The second, from "The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics" (Chronicle Books, 2006) by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz.

-- House Bitters

*8 cups rye
*3 tsp gentian
*1 cup chopped ginger
*16 sticks cinnamon
*1/4 cup whole cloves
*8 whole star anis
*6 Tbs cardamon pods

1. Place all ingredients, except for the sugar and water, into a large mason jar and seal. Store for 2 weeks, shaking the jar once a day.

2. Strain the liquids/solids mixture through cheesecloth. Squeeze hard to extract as much juice into the reserved liquid as possible. Place the dry ingredients into a saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

3. Allow to cool completely, then pour the water and solid mixture into another mason jar. Store for 1 week, shaking the jar once a day.

4. Strain the water mixture through cheesecloth. Discard the solid ingredients, and add the water to the previously reserved alcohol.

5. Put the sugar into a small non-stick skillet and stirring constantly over a medium-high heat, allow the sugar to melt and then turn to a rich brown color.
Quickly remove from heat and allow the melted sugar to cool for a couple of minutes.

6. With the sugar still slightly warm, pour it into the water and alcohol mixture. It will probably crystallize at this point, but with continued stirring it will eventually dissolve.

7. Allow this mixture to rest for a couple of days, then skim off anything that rises to the surface, and gently pour (or siphon) the clear liquid from the top into another container, trying to avoid as much of the sediment on the bottom as possible.

8. Measure the amount of liquid you now have, and add half that same amount of water.

-- Dr. Schwartz's Cherry-Vanilla Bitters
Makes 6 cups

*2 teaspoons quassia
*2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
*1 1/2 teaspoons anise seed
*Pinch gentian
*Pinch cassia
*1 teaspoon grated ginger
*3 cups 100-proof rye, preferably Rittenhouse
*5 vanilla beans
*1/2 cup cherry bark
*3 cups water

1. Toast quassia, cardamom, anise, gentian and cassia in a dry frying pan over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant. Cool and transfer to a sterile mason jar. Add the ginger and rye, screw on the cap, shake well and store in a cool, dark place. Agitate once a day for one week. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth and transfer to a clean jar. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

2. Cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and add them to the rye mixture along with the cherry bark. Seal and store again, shaking once a day, for another two weeks. Strain the rye through cheesecloth and transfer liquid to clean mason jar (do not throw out the cherry and vanilla mash). Cover and set aside for a couple of weeks. (No need to agitate.)

3. Take the cherry-vanilla mash remaining in the jar and transfer to a medium saucepan. Add the 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. While the mixture is simmering, smash the vanilla beans against the sides of the pot with a muddler or wooden spoon. Cool completely and transfer to a clean jar. Store in a cool, dark place for another 2 weeks, agitating once daily.

4. Strain this mixture through several layers of cheesecloth, as many times as is necessary to remove all sediment from the vanilla beans. Finally, combine the liquid with the reserved rye mixture and transfer to an empty bitters bottle.

Friday, July 13

Spicy Red Pepper Jam

This time of year in California, the farmers markets are overflowing with every imaginable kind of produce. It's best to keep me away because my acquisitive nature takes over and I want to buy everything - everything. This also happens in art museums, but while I cannot afford to buy art, I can buy pretty much as much produce as I want. So yesterday afternoon I faced a pleasant quandary: what to do with three plus pounds of assorted red peppers?

I've been fascinated by the idea of canning for a while now and the perfect inspiration came with a post about a fabulous looking Chipotle Chile Jam here: Becks & Posh: Served on a Pretty Nasty Plate.... This also meant I got to buy various canning supplies at Sur La Table and a giant 14" stainless steel stock pot from the restaurant supply store.

The recipe linked to in the above post wasn't quite what I had in mind, so I found a very basic version online and then modified it to suit my fancy, adding chipotle peppers, red pepper flakes, red bell peppers, and a little bit of brown sugar. I bet it would be excellent with garlic as well.

I've always been a bit skittish about canning, mostly because I'd never done it on my own (my mom used to can apricots, and I still remember the luscious, golden, tangy-sweet fruit we would open in winter; the satisfying pop as we snapped the lid away from the jar). But this was easy. On of my jars didn't form a seal (I'm not sure if the top wasn't clean, or I didn't tighten the lid enough, or I filled the jar too full, or what) but I just put that one the the refrigerator to eat right away! The rest look lovely.

The recipe yields about 5 cups jam, enough to fill as many 1 cup jars, but I would probably make a double batch next time. It goes great with cheeses and smoked tofu, in salad dressings, and, I imagine, with meats. Because I didn't use pectin, the jam won't be as thick as some others. Mine is more like a thick relish.

-- Spicy Red Pepper Jam
* 3 lbs various fresh red peppers (mix bell peppers and hot peppers to taste)
* 1/2 cup cider vinegar

* 2 small lemons, quartered
* 2-3 canned chipotle peppers

* 1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
* 3 cups sugar (I swapped out 1/2 cup of the white sugar
for brown)

1. Dice the peppers (I used a food processor) and place them over medium heat with the lemons, chipotle peppers, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the peppers are soft, about 30 minutes.

2. Remove the lemon pieces and stir in the sugar. Boil another 10 minutes or more. Jam is ready when a scoop poured onto a cold plate will congeal after a few m
inutes in the freezer (this is called a sheeting test).

3. Pour into sterile canning jars and process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

The National Center for Home Food Preparation has an excellent PDF of step by step canning instructions.

Tuesday, July 10

Unglamorous and Unignorable

Perhaps the most important piece of national legislation this year is also one of the least glamorous. Yet the Farm Bill, which is up for renewal this month, profoundly influence what and how we eat in the United States.

The bill, which is renewed and updated only every 5 years, covers things like farm subsidies and nutritional programs (like food stamps). But while it provides hundreds of millions per year for farming of the corn and soybeans that will become high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and animal feed, driving down the price of junk food and driving up obesity and diabetes, it provides no support to grow fruits and vegetables, which have increased in price by 40% in the last 5 years.

In fact, the last bill directed just $3 million per year total toward research into organic agriculture, while it supplied $2.95 million per year to a single giant cotton farm. As the laws currently stand, organic farmers cannot even buy crop insurance to protect themselves against a poor growing season. Recent stories in the San Francisco Chronicle (find it here) and the New York Times (find it here) provide more information.

One simple way to help is to sign the internet petition at left, sponsored by Environmental Working Group, one of the leaders in Farm Bill reform. They plan to submit it to the House of Representatives on July 15th.

Thursday, July 5

Rye Cocktails

A few years ago, when I first started ordering rye whiskeys, the bartender would, as often as not, pull out a dusty bottle of Old Overholt. More often than not, he or she would bear a quizzical and concerned look as if to say "do you know what you're asking for?" Rye was seen as something for that alcoholic old man one sees perched at the corner of every dive bar in America.

But thanks to the growing trend in favor of artisan spirits and quality cocktails, ryes are finding new popularity - and a new generation of appreciators. Many good bars and restaurants in San Francisco now feature a list of interesting small batch ryes. For a good introduction to these whiskeys and for tasting notes on many of the best examples, I highly recommend Eric Asimov's article in the New York Times, published last November.

In general, ryes tend to be lighter and spicier than bourbons and work well in place of bourbon in most recipes (I particularly like a rye Old Fashioned). Two classic cocktails, however, were originally made with rye, and I prefer them that way. Even better, they both call for bitters!

-- The Manhattan
*2 ounce rye whiskey
*1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
*1 dash Angostura bitters

1. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill shaker with ice.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass.

3. Garnish with a fresh cherry that has been soaked in brandy or whiskey. You can also add a lemon twist.

-- The Sazerac
*1 sugar cube
*3 - 4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
*2 ounces rye whiskey
*1/4 teaspoon anise liqueur
(the drink was originally made with Absinthe, but Herbsaint, a New Orleans brand, is now traditional. You can also use Pernod, Absente, or another pastis)
*Strip of lemon peel

1. In a cocktail shaker, moisten the sugar cube with just enough water to saturate it, then crush. Add a hand full of ice, then add the whiskey and bitters. Stir or shake gently for about 30 seconds or until the drink is cold.

2. Add the Herbsaint to an old fashioned glass and swirl it around to coat the sides and bottom of the glass. Discard the excess.

3. Strain drink into the Herbsaint coated glass and twist the lemon peel over it. Rub the twist over the rim of the glass, then add as garnish.

Tuesday, July 3

Bitters, Part I

Much to the chagrin of our parents, Will and I have also come to love classic cocktails. OK, so maybe we loved them a bit too well in our early 20s, but I like to think that early enthusiasm has developed into a healthy connoisseurship. But aside from the usual bitters examples - Jagermeister, Fernet Branca, Angostura - I was completely unaware of the history and importance of bitters. Before and during prohibition, dozens of varieties were available in the U.S., but once the drinking ban was lifted, most bitters companies turned to the more profitable business of distilling whiskey and gin.

In addition to being a necessary element in classic drinks like the Manhattan, the Champagne Cocktail, and the Old Fashioned, bitters add an unidentifiable pep to almost any cocktail. They also function as both an aperitif and a digestive and, mixed with ginger ale or soda water, work wonders to settle an upset stomach.

Though less common today, a number of traditional recipes still exist, a fact that recently drove me to Tenzing Momo, an online apothecary and tarot card dispensary based in Seattle, WA. From them I purchased gentian, wild cherry bark, quassia, and cassia. I'm still not sure what most of these ingredients are, but I'm fairly certain that I purchased them legally. I plan to concoct a traditional aromatic bitters, and a less traditional cherry vanilla bitters developed by Jeff Hollinger here in San Francisco. Bitters can be created using any number of high proof alcohols, but both my recipes call for 100 proof rye whiskey.

The concoctions will take several weeks to brew, so this will be the first of three entries on the subject. In the meantime, I'll be posting additional notes on rye whiskeys and cocktails.

7/8/07 Update: Will recently located another online source for herbs. They carry all of the ingredients I needed for my bitters recipes and many other interesting items - including wormwood (is there absinthe in my future?)! Best of all, their products are organic, wild harvested, or grown without chemicals. This will be my future source for herbal ingredients. The company is called Mountain Rose Herbs and you can find them online here.

Sunday, July 1

Brother Will's Quince Jam Experiment

Making jam at home used to be commonplace, but the practice is in quick decline. Most people have forgotten the skills of their grandparent's generation, and have gotten used to buying everything rather than making it themselves. I think this is mainly due to the convenience factor. It used to be that people made things like jam, bread, and pickles themselves because it was a way to save money, but now I think the inspiration has shifted to the quality of the final product. This is true, at least for me.

I had never really given much thought to jam making myself until a recent visit to a friend's house down in San Diego. My girlfriend and I sat out on her back patio for breakfast, and ate toast with the most delicious homemade jam we had ever encountered. It was made from the yellow guavas that hung on the tree not far from where we were sitting, and I found myself eating it out of the jar with a spoon. My friend's mother, an Italian immigrant, had come to visit her daughter from Chicago and couldn't stand to see the fruit lying on the ground going to waste. She gathered up the fruit, and with her daughter's help, whipped up a large batch of the preserves in a single afternoon.

This was inspiring to me! I have always been a sucker for chemistry experiments, and I thought this one sounded doable. I looked around at various markets trying to locate some Mexican guavas, but my search yielded no fruit. What I did find though, were some fragrant yellow quinces almost (but not quite) too ripe for jam making, which begged to be rescued from a small bin at the Asian market down the street from where I live in Long Beach, CA. I took them home, and began my adventure into the world of jam making.

Warning to men: you may not hear the end of it if you develop a reputation for making preserves. My girlfriend loves to tell people how I stayed up almost all night cooking up a big pot 'o marmalade. I try to defend myself by explaining that I work on motorcycles during daylight hours.

I would venture to guess that the quince is the #1 under-appreciated fruit in the United States. It's name is rarely mentioned, and when it does come up, it's not always in a positive context. In an episode of The Simpsons, "Who Shot Mr. Burns, Part 1", Mr. Burns and Waylon Smithers end up eating an entire box of chocolates in one sitting, leaving behind and discarding only one piece: the sour quince log.

This negative bias against the quince is unfortunate because it is really a great fruit with a truly royal pedigree. Visit this site for a little history lesson on the life of the quince.

To me, it seems like alchemy the way these boring, tasteless fruit turn into the epitome of fruitiness after long and slow cooking. The word "marmalade", which most people are familiar with, originally meant quince jam, and derives from the Portuguese word for this fruit: marmelo. Give the quince a chance, and you might not regret it.

The following recipe is my variation of Betty Goldensohn's Quince Jam recipe found here.

-- Quince Jam
1. Wash and cut up eight (8) unpeeled firm green quinces into pieces about half the size of dice (I used a cheese grater on some, and diced the rest). Avoid yellow quinces which are overripe for this jam (they will work in a pinch, but use a little less sugar). Throw away core with seeds (don't eat the seeds as they are poisonous). Measure total amount of raw quince with a cook's scale.

2. Into a sturdy saucepan, add 1 1/2 parts quince to 1/2 part sugar by weight. I used piloncillo, a raw Mexican sugar with a high molasses content that comes in the shape of a cone, and is much more flavorful than white sugar. It almost tastes like maple syrup to me. You can also add a Tablespoon of lemon juice for each 4 pounds of quince to make it a little more tart.

3. Add 1/3 cup (2.5 ounces by weight) of water to the pot for each cup (6 3/4 ounces by weight) of sugar. Stir. Bring to boil and quickly turn down to low heat. You want a continuous low bubbling boil. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Add a few tablespoons of water along the way if liquid gets very thick before turning red.

4. Cook down until quince turns deep red. This can take up to 2 hours. Resulting hot red liquid will be thicker than water but thinner than honey at this point. Perfect. It's done.

5. Ladle jam (still hot) into sterilized jars and follow standard canning procedures. I used Gulfwax to seal my jars after boiling them in water for about 10 minutes. Just read the instructions on the box of wax. Try this jam on toast, or as a condiment, like chutney with meats and poultry.

Note: Do not give away jars to people who do not love quince unless you have plenty, and would like to enlighten them.

Until next time,


When my brother, Will, and I were still small, my mother and father rigged up a grain mill attached to a bicycle so that they could grind fresh wholegrain flour on demand. That level of dedication may have blossomed in Northern California in the 1970s and died out there in the same decade, but somehow my brother and I grew up with a healthy respect for good food. And though we'll go to almost any length to produce it, we also love to find a fantastic, quick preparation for, say, pickles.

This is from Mark Bittman of the New York Times. Once the pickles have reached the desired sourness, they can be kept indefinitely in the refrigerator. After a day or two on the counter top, you'll begin to see small bubbles seeping up, a sign that the cucumbers are fermenting properly. It will probably take 3-4 days for them to become pickles (rather than the 24-48 hours Bittman suggests).

-- Kosher Pickles: The Right Way
* 1/2 cup kosher
* 1 cup boiling water

* 2 pounds small Kirby cucumbers, washed, and cut into halves or quarters

* 5 cloves or more garlic, peeled and smashed

* 1 large bunch dill, if desired, fresh and with flowers OR 2 tablespoons dried dill and 1 teaspoon dill seeds, OR a
tablespoon of coriander seeds

1. In a large bowl, combine the salt and boiling water; stir to dissolve the salt. Add a handful of ice cubes to cool down the mixture, then add all remaining ingredients.

2. Add cold water to cover. Use a plate slightly smaller than the diameter of the bowl and a small weight to hold the cucumbers under the water. Keep at room temperature.

3. Begin sampling the cucumbers after 2 hours if they a
re quartered, 4 hours if they are halved. In either case, it will probably take from 12 to 24 hours, or even 48 hours, for them to taste "pickly" enough to suit your taste. When they are, refrigerate them, still in the brine. The pickles will continue to ferment as they sit, more quickly at room temperature, more slowly in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 30 pickle quarters.