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.