Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cookbook #53: Baking In America

Adapted from Cookbook #53: Baking In America  (2002)

Recipe:  Irish Whiskey Fruitcake with Spiced Walnuts and Pecans

"It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: 'It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.'"--Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory

While this is my last entry for 2010, I will hold off on the musings and reflections until the first week of 2011.  In the mean time, it's fruitcake weather, no matter where you are.

Fruitcake is one of those recipes that gets a bad rap.  Yes, it's heavy.  Yes, it is chock-full of nuts and fruit.  Yes, it has a shelf life longer than some small electronics.  But people, it's made with whiskey.

It is traditional to serve this loaf around the holidays, and I thought it a perfect way to end the year.

Known for its longevity, fruitcake holds its own.  In fact, fruitcake was tucked into pharaohs' tombs--no everyday fare, this was food that could make the transition to the afterlife.  Further, fruitcake may well have been the go-to road food for Roman soldiers and eventually Crusaders because the cake held up during long treks.  Those secretly sinful Victorians discovered that soaking fruit in alcohol was a way to preserve perishable fruit either on the road or, more likely and rather decadently, at home.  Thus, fruitcake has that distinct taste of dried fruit sugar and whiskey, brandy or rum, and it generally has only enough cake batter to hold the fruit and nuts together (why sully the fruit with flour?).  Then it is baked slowly at a low temperature, and after cooking, usually covered in a cheesecloth moistened with liquor or brandy and tightly wrapped in foil.  Stored in this manner, your fruitcake has tremendous staying power and, providing it is occasionally remoistened, can be kept for years.  This, of course, assumes you don't eat all of it during the months of December and January.  Which I plan to do.

Only about a quarter of the fruit in the whiskey.  No worries, I added the other three quarters.

Draining the fruit three days later.

Further, I plan to serve a bit of it on our annual New Year's Day Feast, which is another little tradition around here.  We serve cioppino and good wine, and we sit around with the husband's family toasting in the New Year.  This year, there will be no better capper than slice of fruitcake.  In fact, one story on the history of fruitcake suggests that the fruitcake is often a harbinger of good fortune.  In the 1700s, Europeans would harvest nuts, make a fruitcake (or two) and then save them for the following year.  The previous year's fruitcake was consumed, marking one successful harvest with another.  I like this idea of handing one year--and fruitcake--off to the other.  Let's hope that 2011 can be as auspicious as 2010.

Anyhow, when embracing "fruitcake weather" and making your own New Year's dessert, feel free to use any dried fruits on hand, but never, at least according to this cookbook, add candied fruits.  The process of boiling the fruits in syrup and then drying them added to then rolling them in more sugar only leads to more syrupy heaviness, and let's face it, fruitcake is heavy enough.  Go with unsweetened dried fruits.  You'll never miss the syrup.

Should fruitcake be on your list of menu items, you do need to plan in advance. Now some enthusiasts won't touch fruitcake unless it has been aged for a year (or two or three).  As I mentioned, should you wish to age yours that long, you should tightly wrap the loaf in alcohol-soaked cheesecloth and then aluminum foil.  Every few months, you should unwrap this little goody, drizzle (read: soak) it in whiskey, and then rewrap tightly.  I have had this one in the fridge for a week, and people, I am physically incapable of having fruitcake taunting me in my house for a whole year.  (Perhaps, I should have made two.)  Even if you don't plan to stash your liquor-laden loaf for a year or two, you still must plan accordingly.  The fruit must be soaked in whiskey for at least 24 hours but up to three days is recommended, and the cake should age in the refrigerator for at least a couple of days before eating.  A week is recommended, but a month is even better.

Finally, Happy New Year.  And next we meet again, there will be some redecorating and renaming happening.  However, in the meantime, I raise my glass of champagne and my slice of fruitcake in your direction.  May the passing on of this cake recipe usher in a good year filled with the glories of fruitcake weather for you.  Cheers!

1 large loaf cake, 16 servings

8 ounces (12-14 dates) pitted Medjool dates, quartered
8 ounces Black Mission figs, stems removed, halved
8 ounces dried apricots, halved
8 ounces dried sour cherries
[I used whatever I had on hand--pears, apricots, figs, dates, raisins, cherries, cranberries--I just ensured I had 32 ounces of it]
2 cups Irish Whiskey

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 generous cup walnut halves or large pieces
1 generous cup pecan halves or large pieces

*To make a tablespoon of your own pumpkin pie spice, mix in a small bowl the following ground spices:
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves

Cake Batter
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Finely grates zest of one orange
1 whole nutmeg, grated (2 to 2-1/2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1.  For the fruit, combine the fruits and whiskey in a 2-quart jar with a screw top or a 1-gallon zip-top bag.  Let stand at room temperature for at east 24 hours, preferably 2 to 3 days, turning the jar or bag several times a day.

2.  For the nuts, melt the butter in a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and salt.  Cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes until aromatic.  Add the nuts and continue to cook, stirring, for another 3 to 5 minutes, until they are coated; watch closely so they don't burn.  Remove from the heat and set aside, stirring occasionally, until completely cool.  The nuts can be stored airtight at room temperature for up to a week.

3.  Turn the fruits and liquor into a large wire strainer set over a bowl and set aside for 1 to 2 hours to drain well.  (You'll have about 1/2 cup syrupy liquor:  mix with white wine (about 2 teaspoons per glass--for a delicious aperitif))

4.  Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Butter a nonstick loaf pan or coat with cooking spray.  Dust the inside of the pan all over with flour, knock out the excess, and set aside.

5.   For the batter, in a large bowl, beat the butter and salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.  Gradually beat in the sugar a few tablespoons at a time, then beat for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the vanilla and orange zest and beat for 1 minute.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each.  Scrape the bowl and the beaters as necessary.

6.  On low speed, add the nutmeg and then the flour, beating only until incorporated.  Using a rubber spatula, stir the drained fruits into the batter in 2 or 3 additions, mixing thoroughly.  Add the nuts and stir them in well.  The batter will be very thick.  Place the batter a little at a time in the prepared pan, pressing each addition tightly with the spatula to remove air pockets.  Bang the pan on the countertop to settle the batter further, and smooth the top with the spatula.  [Serious business:  BANG the pan!  Not many recipes get this physical.]

7.  Bake for 2 to 2 1/4 hours until the cake is golden brown and springs back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Lay a piece of foil loosely on top of the cake during the last 30 minutes to prevent it from over browning.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 3 minutes.  Run a thin-bladed sharp knife all around the cake to release it, and cover the cake with a wire rack.  Invert the cake, carefully lift off the pan, and cool the cake completely upside down.

8.  Wrap the cake securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving.  To serve, use a sharp serrated knife and cut the cake, bottom side up, into thin slices.  The cake keeps well in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks, or you can freeze it for up to 6 months.  [Or you can wrap this puppy in alcohol-soaked cheesecloth as detailed in the blog entry and keep this loaf for years to come!]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cookbook #52: Simply Tuscan

Adapted from Cookbook #52:  Simply Tuscan  (2000)

Recipe: Sweet and Sour Wild Boar with Chestnut Gnocchi

I made roast beast.

Normally on Christmas Eve, we have "morsels and sauces"--my favorite way to eat (little bits of this, little bits of that, usually pâté, grapes, cornichons, salami, cheese, crackers).  But we're saving that for Christmas Day dinner.   Instead, last night we had boar.

We're coming to the close of the year, and I have saved two very wintery foods for the end.  Page 210 of this Tuscan regional cookbook by Pino Luongo  is entitled "A Quintessential Winter Menu," calling for a buffet that serves 12 (!) of Braised Quail with Caramelized Shallots with Soft Polenta, Garganelli with Truffle-Scented Fondue, Sweet and Sour Wild Boar with Chestnut Gnocchi, and Marta's Grandmother's Apple Roll.  Well, well, well.  All of that sounds transcendent, but I didn't need to feed 12.  I needed to feed four--so I chose just one recipe.  While the quail is technically the closest recipe to page 210, I wanted to branch out even bigger to cook something I would never just pick up on a weeknight.  Boar.  You can substitute buffalo or lamb if boar is unavailable.  And boar is quite tricky to find.  But find it we did!  Thank you, Golden Gate Meats.

The recipe is actually quite simple, but it does take about two hours (after marinating it for 24 hours in a bottle of red wine).  I got the beast simmering with the carrots, celery, and onions and the wine.  Then I began making the gnocchi.   I couldn't find any chestnut flour (seriously, I looked everywhere--the Bowl, Whole Foods, an Italian specialty store, an Italian deli and supermarket.  Nothing.), so I substituted sweet potato flour.  Chestnut flour is sweet and gluten-free, both qualities I wanted to replicate in the substitution.  The "00" proof flour is high gluten, so adding more flour seemed to me a bad idea as it would add more weight.  The substitution turned out fantastic.

After I made the gnocchi, I made the sweet and sour sauce for the boar.  In fact, the sweet and sour sauce added to the unsweetened chocolate made this sauce absolutely fantastic--sweet, rich, and thick. At this point, I just let the sauce simmer for awhile--there was no rush (and a puzzle to be done).  At go time,  I tossed the gnocchi in the salted boiling water, and the husband made the butter and sage sauce for the gnocchi--which is the easiest sauce in the world.  First you brown the butter and then crisp the sage leaves.  That's it.  And it is so decadent and wonderful.

For dinner we had the husband's parents (one set) over for a very low key affair.  Puzzles worked on, dinner around the living room table, lots of Christmas music.  What was it... the most ordinary moments are often the most profound?  After a week of Christmas-themed activities (a turn around the carousel in Tilden Park, ice skating at the Embarcadero center, gospel Christmas music with Kim Nalley), it was wonderful to sit with good wine, good beast, and family beside the lit tree. (On a side note, this year, we named the tree Susan and discovered I am allergic to tree (leaf) molds and we're taking her down a little early.  Bah.).  Later, I fell asleep on the couch while the husband watched It's a Wonderful Life.


I also want to give a little shout out to the Wine Mine.  We go there regularly now to pick up good, inexpensive, every day wines.  They have $1 tastings on Saturdays from 2-5 (now, that fits my budget), and they're within walking distance! The guys there are always helpful and are always spot on with their recommendations.  I admit, I chose this wine because I liked the name (Klinker Brick).  But the best part is that when I picked the bottle up, I was helpfully (and I believe jokingly) cautioned that I should save it for a night we have boar, because it is big.  Little did they know, I saved it for the night when we actually had boar.  While big, it was fantastic--you could easily serve it with any meat--it's spicy and jammy. 

Finally, we purchased this lovely, little cookbook for the sole reason that we wanted a Cappellacci di Zucca recipe.  Cappellacci (a hooded pasta stuffed with butternut squash and crumbled almond cookies and drizzled with brown butter and sage) is quite simply the classic pasta dish of Ferrara, Italy, where we spent a weekend in 2003.  Allow me a diversion with highlights from the weekend:  Heat.  Gelatto.  Mosquito bites.  Alabaster windows.  The University of Ferrara (where the husband gave his first professional talk).  A flag competition in the square.  The courtyard deck (where we sipped wine and ate cappellacci with one of the biology professors while a woman upstairs sang Eastern European pop songs).   [The cappellacci (on p. 160-1) are amazing--and I vow to one day write about them more here.  Lord knows I will get an abundance of squash in the CSA box.]

In sum, all of this is fantastic.  We have one more--festive-themed--entry left in this little project.  And now (seeing as it's about 6:30 in the morning on Christmas Day), it's time to have another cup of tea beside Susan, watching the parts of It's a Wonderful Life that I slept through.  In 30 minutes (a far more reasonable time), I will wake the husband.  Happy Christmas, indeed!
Serves 4

Sweet and Sour Boar
For the Boar
2 pounds boar meat, cut into 1-inch cubes (you may substitute buffalo or lamb)
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
1 bouquet garni*
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 cup beef or vegetable broth, as needed
14 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tablespoons water

*To make a bouquet garni, wrap the following in cheesecloth:
2 bay leaves
a sprig of fresh thyme
2 whole cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

For the Sweet and Sour Sauce
2/3 cup sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Make the Boar
1.  Marinate the meat overnight in the red wine with the bouquet garni.  The next day, lift the meat out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and pat it dry with paper towels.  Reserve the marinade.

2.  In a large casserole over medium-low heat, warm half of the olive oil.  Add the chopped vegetables and let them sweat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile warm the remaining olive oil in a skillet over high heat.  Add the meat and sear it on all sides.

4.  Add the seared meat to the vegetables and season with salt and pepper.  Add the reserved marinade, including the bouquet garni, and the sour cherries to the casserole, turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil.  When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer until the meat is tender, about 90 minutes.

5.  After 90 minutes, dissolve the cocoa in the water and add it to the casserole.  There should be a lot of juice from the meat.  If it's not juicy, add some broth to keep it moist.

 Make the Sweet and Sour Sauce
1.  In a skillet over low heat, simmer the sugar, garlic, and bay leaves, along with the water until the sugar liquefies, about 3 minutes.

2.  When the sugar is golden, add the wed wine vinegar.  The sugar will harden and stick to the bottom of the pan.  Keep on simmering over very low heat until the sugar melts again.  Stir this mixture into the casserole and let it simmer for 15 minutes more. 

Chestnut Gnocchi
2 pounds Idaho potatoes
1 1/2 cups "00" flour or use all purpose flour*
5 ounces chestnut flour [Again, I substituted sweet potato flour]
2 eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt and Pepper
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 leaves fresh sage

*"00" flour is high-gluten, and it proofs the gnocchi well.

1.  In a pot of salted water, boil the potatoes until they are fork tender, about 10 to 12 minutes, then peel them and pass them through a ricer or mash them.  [I baked them instead.  The drier the potato the better the gnocchi.  Then I tossed them in the food processor.]

2.  On a clean work surface, mound the mashed potatoes and make a well in the center.  Place all the remaining ingredients, except the butter and sage, int he well.  Mix it together until it forms a homogeneous dough.  Knead the dough until it is smooth.  If it is sticky add a little more flour.  [Again, I used the food processor.  Pulse as few times as possible--the less handling, the lighter the gnocchi.]

3.  Divide the dough into 4 portions and roll each portion into a 1/2-inch-wide log.  Cut the log into 1-inch pieces.  (Luongo recommends a dough scraper to do this).  Place the gnocchi on a floured tray as you cut them.

4.  Cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water until they float, about 3-4 minutes, then lift them out gently with a slotted spoon.

5.  While the gnocchi are cooking, melt the butter in a saute pan over low heat.  Add the sage.  Toss the cooked and drained gnocchi with the sage butter.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cookbook #51: Chez Panisse Vegetables

Adapted from Cookbook #51:  Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996)

Recipe: Grilled Cèpes

This cookbook is another Alice Waters must have.  It will come in especially handy next year, I imagine, as I prepare to shift this website over to my new project.  New project, you wonder.  In an effort to expand my culinary horizons, each week in 2011, I will cook whatever arrives in our CSA box.  I have loved cooking page 210 from every cookbook I own.  I admit it, I like the surprise each week, but I don’t want to just go to page 211 in 2011.  In part because many of the recipes I cooked on page 210 extend onto page 211.  Instead, come January, I am going to cook whatever shows up on my doorstep in our weekly CSA box.  Even if it's eight pounds of Napa Cabbage.  That has happened.  More about this project at the end of this year.  I am not quite done with the Page 210 project, and I don't want to get too far ahead of myself here.  I still have two more cookbooks (I realize this brings me to 53 cookbooks, but I started during a half week, and I want to finish out the year).  Boar, people. I am making boar (if we can find it). Stay tuned.  Anyway, I imagine when I am cooking my way through the box, I will want to call on the divine Ms. W. for inspirational ways to cook what's local and seasonal.  She is the queen bee of this kind of cooking.

Cèpes are simply porcinis, which are hard to find right now in the grocery stores.  However, given the amount of rain that we have had, we do have an abundance of other fantastic wild mushrooms, so we trundled on over to the Monterey Market and picked up some mushrooms.  I expect my mycologist friends to identify these.  Go ahead. 

In the mean time, here is a website to answer all your burning questions about cèpes.

But let's get down to business with this recipe.  It's December, and we live in California.  So we grilled.  Yes, it was pitch black at 6 p.m., but there we were, flashlight in hand and mushrooms on the grill.  And it was pretty grand.

I actually have very little to say about this simple recipe except that you should do this, any time of the year (use your broiler if grilling is not an option right now--and with the ten days of rain forecasted for us, I am glad we got the grilling done earlier this week) and with any type of large, firm mushroom.  The mushrooms we had were very woodsy (it was like licking a pine forest floor) and the smoke from the grill made this absolutely fantastic.  I was out of shallots, so I used leeks which I quickly sauteed first, and they were darned delightful.  We squeezed some lemon on top, which brightened up the savoriness of the leeks and parsley.  In sum, yum.  Make these next time you need a simple side dish.


Depends on how many mushrooms you get.  (So, this recipe is entirely in paragraph form in the book, so it doesn't come with any amounts.)

Cèpes (Porcinis)--or any other wild mushroom
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Lemon Juice
Olive Oil

1.  Trim fresh mushrooms, cutting away any dirt or pine needles embedded at the base, and brush or wipe the caps and stems clean.  Cut them into 1/4-inch-thick slices.  Brush them with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides.

2.  Chop parsley leaves and shallots and mix them together.

3.  Grill the mushrooms over a low fire for about 4 minutes on each side.  They should be golden brown and softened through.  Arrange the mushrooms on a warm platter. Squeeze lemon juice over them, sprinkle with the parsley and shallot mixture, drizzle generously with olive oil, and serve.  Or omit the parsley and shallots and serve the grilled mushrooms on a bed of arugula leaves.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cookbook #50: Local Flavors

Adapted from Cookbook #50: Local Flavors  (2002)      
I ordered this book used from amazon; thus, no dust jacket.

Recipe:  Parsnip Galette with Greens      

Prior to this evening, my only experience with parsnips was Christmas Eve in Wales in 1994.   I had saved six months of paychecks from the pizza joint where I was flipping pies, and I purchased my first trans-Atlantic flight to visit my then boyfriend who was studying at the University of Swansea.  On Day One of a three-week trip, he broke up with me.  I told him that this was a poor decision on his part, as I planned to spend the next twenty days in Wales and he was going to show me around.

That winter of 1994, I was a vegetarian (as I have mentioned ad nauseam
in this blog).  The now ex-boyfriend's family was Welsh, and that Christmas Eve, we spent the day with his cousins in Swansea and then, I think, with an aunt and uncle in the remote town of Llanelli.  The aunt didn't know what to do with the vegetarian, so she made me a pile of mashed root vegetables.   Seriously, the mound of mashed parsnips, rutabagas, and potatoes was mind boggling--she tried to artfully arrange them in a plate-encompassing tricolor of pale, paler, palest.  I am sure she was as confused as I was when she placed the platter in front of me.


My dear Midwestern mother had taught me that as a guest you finish everything on your plate, so I hefted bite after bite of mashed, unsalted vegetable.  I am quite sure I had some rather histrionic thoughts about the injustices of vegetarianism in the Western British Isles and about the wrongs I would still endure for the ex-boyfriend in order to be polite.  In my mind, it was all very John Hughes.  I am also sure I mentally blamed the parsnips.  However, looking back, I understand that the parsnips were innocent;  they were shearly a matter of quantity rather than quality.  Further, I can only imagine this poor family must have been astonished by the prodigious amount of the tuber I could tuck away.  It was not a good situation for anyone.  That said, the ex-boyfriend made it up to me with a subsequent trip to Kidwelly Castle.  All in all, I think it was a fair trade: mound of parsnips for a 13th century Norman castle that featured prominently in the Fetchez la Vache scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The tuber...


All of this leads me to tonight's galette.  I was wary of the parsnip, as it has been a full 16 years since  our last acquaintance.  I peeled this tan tuber and then I grated it to the core as instructed.  I mixed it with two bunches of very tasty kale and some Parmesan cheese, and then I tossed in a full half cup of herbs and another half cup of walnuts (which I forgot to toast, but I think that no one noticed--I know I didn't).  I stirred around my two eggs and flour.  All in all, Deborah Madison did not steer me wrong with this galette.  It was as tasty as it was virtuous.  The parsnip and I have made a satisfying peace.

Kale during the boil...
Post boil kale... it cooks down quite a bit.

Of course, having Ms. Madison as the peace broker certainly makes such a diplomatic relationship possible.  She writes with a grace and sensitivity on her own blog about the relationship between humans and the earth, particularly in regards to vegetarianism.  Never scolding, she invites us to become vegetarian at best or to at least embrace some vegetarian tenants in our every day, omnivore cooking.  A student of the San Francisco Zen Center, Greens, and Chez Panisse, Madison packed her knives and apron and headed to Santa Fe twenty years ago, where she is co-director of the Monte del Sol Edible Kitchen Garden.  This cookbook itself is her homage to eating mindfully and locally from your farmers market.  Arranged by category (Roots and Tubers, Vining Fruits and Vegetables, Herbs and Alliums), Madison's cookbook chronicles over 100 farmers markets across the US and gives tips, stories, photographs, and recipes that are often seasonally if not regionally relevant.

Sage, oregano and rosemary
Walnuts, up close

I do think, however, next time I make this little galette, I will add more eggs.  I would like the grated parsnip and the chopped kale to hold together a little bit better as the current level of eggs seems a weak binder at best.  Perhaps two to three more eggs?  More of a frittata than a galette?  That's where I am leaning at least.  While this was clearly a tasty concoction to be enjoyed again, some tweaking might be in order.  

The concoction...
I dotted the top with a little butter... because a little butter can't hurt.

So, let this be a lesson to us all--Wales is worth exploring even if one has to exchange one giant vegetable mound for a castle, hearts are almost always mended with time and certainly some travel, and
parsnips are quite tasty when blended with herbs and eggs under the tutelage of Deborah Madison.


  1 large galette, serving 2

1/2 pound (2-3) parsnips
Salt and Pepper
  4 cups mixed cooking greens (tatsoi, red mustard, green mustard, kale, collards, chard--you name it)
  2 eggs [Perhaps, 2-3 more eggs would make this bind together a little better; more frittata, less galette]
  1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh sage, chopped [I used sage, rosemary and oregano]
  1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  Olive oil

  1. Heat a large pot of water for the greens.  While it's heating, peel the parsnips, then grate them lightly, stopping when you get to the core, which will be visible.  You should have about 2 cups.  Set aside.

  2.  When the water comes to a boil, add salt, plunge in the greens, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Taste to be sure.  Drain, press out much of the moisture, then chop coarsely. [In retrospect, I would actually destem the greens first; then throw in the boiling water.]

  3.  Beat the eggs, then whisk in the flour and 1 teaspoon salt.  Stir in the parsnips, greens, and cheese.  Season with pepper.  

4.  Melt the butter in an 8-inch nonstick skillet.  Add the sage and walnuts and cook, stirring frequently until they smell toasty and good, after just a few minutes.  Add them to the parsnip mixture.

5.  Wipe the skillet and add enough oil to coat lightly.  When hot, add the parsnip mixture and pat it evenly into the pan.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until golden, about 5 minutes.  Slide the galette onto a plate.  Place the skillet over it, and grasping both plat and skillet, flip them over.  Cook the second side until golden and crisp, then slide the galette onto a counter, cut into pieces, and serve.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cookbook #49: Thai Food

Adapted from Cookbook #49:  Thai Food  (2002)

Recipe: Lon Pla Raa (Fermented Fish Relish)

I am a little in awe of this cookbook.  David Thompson, an Australian chef and restaurateur, lived for several years in Bangkok, and his expertise in the food, city, and culture is abundantly clear in this tome.  There has been some bruhaha about Thompson, a foreigner, suggesting that he was reviving Thai cuisine; such a statement perhaps needs context.  He's certainly bringing it to Western kitchens, and well, Westerners for the most part like their ethnic cuisines digested by someone else--the French got Julia, the Moroccans got Claudia, the Mexicans got Diana.  Thompson is merely in a long line of chefs who are passionate about a cuisine that is not from their native homes.  And I cannot fault him for that.

Instead, I will take advantage of it, and for a hefty 688 pages Thompson wants to ensure you learn a thing or two about the origins of the food.  In fact, the opening chapters are devoted to the history of Thailand, the influence of Buddhism on all aspects of the culture, and an overview of each region of the country.  He devotes a full 19 pages to a discussion of rice, just before launching into a glossary of Thai foods that may be unfamiliar to the Western cook and intricate details about those that are more recognizable.  So, while Thompson is not native-Thai, he certainly knows his stuff.  By the way, the book weighs in at a solid four pounds eight ounces on my kitchen scale.

I was going to use the eggplant, but changed my mind.  The green mango was divine, however.
Thompson isn't for the faint-hearted, and some might even look askance at the beginning-Thai cook using Thompson as a first foray into the cuisine, but I am not afraid of a little galangal. By all means, I don't consider myself any sort of expert at Thai food, but I do love to eat it, and this book makes the cooking of it almost obsessive compulsive.  However, if you're the owner of the only Michelin-star-rated Thai food restaurant in all of Europe (nahm), then you're going to ensure you do it right.  Even for the novice.  So take Thompson's hand; he knows where to lead you.

Ginger on the left, galangal on the right
Thompson insists on authentic ingredients, but he does tell you what you can substitute if need be.  Luckily, I have a couple of great grocers in the area who carry most of what I need, and the husband and I planted our own kaffir lime tree just so we could be sure to have kaffir limes at a moment's notice.  I suppose that there are a multitude of other things we should probably be better prepared for--the eventuality of a devastating earthquake, retirement--however, lime leaves at your fingertips seemed most pressing, indeed.

Okay, let's get down to business here.  Lon means to simmer or stew normally in coconut cream.  Nearly always lon is made with a fermented, salted or pickled ingredient--from fermented yellow beans to cured pork to even ants' eggs.  This one is made from the more readily available and presumably palatable pla raa (or fish sauce).  Here's a good little article on fish sauce in the Bangkok Post that I couldn't resist.  Thompson suggests that the lon dishes date from the 13th century when the Thai entered the regions where coconuts were grown, thus making them a northern Thai dish.

Thompson suggests serving this particular lon with strong-tasting raw vegetables (rose apple, cucumber, green mango, green beans, apple eggplants), boiled vegetables (particularly bamboo shoots and apple eggplants), steamed shrimp, grilled fish, fish cakes, or deep-fried pork. I went the route of raw veggies (cucumber, green mango, and green beans), bamboo shoots, and steamed shrimp with a side of rice.  In all,  we found the lon a bit salty.  Okay, a lot salty.  I wonder if perhaps a more seasoned chef would have chosen a different brand of fish sauce, for the one we used was a little, umm, intense.  I suspect this was a case not of Thompson leading me astray but of my Western taste buds not being ready for the power-pack punch that is lon.  But if you love salty, fishy, sour goodness, this is the recipe for you.

2-3 cups

2 cups fermented fish sauce (nahm pla raa)
2 cups coconut cream
1 tablespoon sugar (palm sugar preferred)
6 ounces freshwater fish--catfish, trout, salmon--coarsely minced
2 tablespoon shredded galangal
3 tablespoons finely sliced lemongrass
2 tablespoons coarsely sliced red shallot
1 tablespoon shredded kaffir lime zest
2 tablespoons shredded ginger (grachai, wild ginger, preferred)
2 tablespoons lime juice (kaffir or regular)

extra sugar, salt, or fish sauce to taste
extra coconut cream to taste

2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded

1. Bring fermented fish sauce and coconut cream to a boil.  Simmer and reduce until quite thick.  Add the tablespoon of sugar and the minced fish.  Stir in galangal to lime juice.

2.  Season with additional sugar, fish sauce, or coconut cream to taste.  Occasionally, a pinch of salt is recommended to ensure you don't use too much fish sauce and overwhelm the coconut cream.   Serve with shredded lime leaves.