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eG Foodblog: Abra - I take food personally!

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#61 sequim

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 08:49 AM

A big Yum. :wub:

What is Fiori di Sicilia? I love cakes soaked in syrup and I have tons of rosemary, so I'd love to try something like this.

What did you guys have to drink? I couldn't read the label on the wine...

#62 Jensen

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 08:54 AM

Oh my! I wish I'd been there too.

What a wonderful meal!!!

#63 Toliver

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 08:59 AM

So all in all it was a fun afternoon of cooking, and a lovely evening of eating.  Wish you'd all been here!

Thanks to your wonderful blog and great photos, we were!
I am green with envy over your beautiful herb garden. :wub:

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'
Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”
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#64 Abra

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 09:00 AM

Fiori di Sicilia is a fantastic flavoring that, so far as know, is only available from King Arthur Flour. It's been described as a cross between orange and vanilla, or as Creamsicle-flavored, and it adds an indefinable floral note to sweets that's quite addictive. I'd add a link, but their website seems to be down at the moment - it's www.kingarthurflour.com.

We drank a Liparita Chardonnay. I am normally an ABC wine drinker (Anything But Chardonnay), but this one is made by the brother of a friend, who gave me some, as well as some of their very nice Cab. It's got a little oak, which I normally do not want to taste in a white wine, but with the smoky flavors of last night's dinner is was quite nice. And the acidity was just right for the mellow oilive oil and bean concoction.

#65 kulebyaka

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 01:09 PM

Goodness, Abra, I wish your blog could go on and on. This is my idea of real food. You really should write a book; I'd be the first to request a signed copy. You're so enthusiastic and creative - but that's been apparent since I first "met' you on COOKS.

Passing thought: Do you ever use lovage? I have a huge ungainly plant in my herb garden which started out last summer as a pathetic little thing. I've had to cut it back, as it was almost my height (5' 5"). Anyway, the leaves do have that ùber-celery flavor, and I hear that the stems can be used as straws for Bloody Marys! I also understand that it's used in Knorr flavor bases. I wonder whether one can just snip up a leaf or two into a dish, or whether IYO it's just too overpowering.

#66 Abra

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 01:22 PM

I'm way behind on a ton of food projects, so I'll share my housekeeping efforts with all of you.

First, I have two packages of sourdough starter that have been lurking in the back of my freezer since August 2001! I've taken them out and will see if they can be revived. One is the Nancy Silverton grape starter, and the other we call cyber-starter, because it's been passed around between various online friends (via the mail, before the mails were suspect). The cyber-starter is milk-based, and makes a less-sour, fluffier sort of bread than the grape starter, which is my favorite..

While it's thawing I'm making blueberry-lavender jam with the last of the blueberries and this lavender:

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I'm an old-fashioned jam maker: equal amounts of sugar and fruit, and nothing else, although I do include the lavender in this case.

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While the jam gets going, we have lunch

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The Weight Watchers among us should breathe a sigh of relief - for me it's leftover turkey, a little beans and tuna from last night, and a big bowl of tomatoes. The burger is for my husband, who had half of his breakfast spirited out from under his nose by our sheepdog Riley, 95 pounds of eternal hunger and creativity. Oh, and about those blueberries in the photo...it was wishful thinking that the jam would finish my blueberry life for the summer. These are still left, and I need to make something else with them today, before it's totally too late.

And then I also had a bowl of slightly over-the-hill lychees. If you haven't seen them fresh before, those brown pod/ball thingies in the photo is what they look like before you peel them.

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The jam is still cooking, an hour and a half later. Should be done soon. The jars are sterilizing in the oven, and I'm trying to think of what to do with those blueberries.

I adore lovage! I love it best snipped into salads, but I also put the leaves on sandwiches, and just eat it plain, as a breath-freshener. Thanks for the compliment. I've been having so much fun doing this that I too wish it could go on - can't figure out how to get to be a highly-paid blogger, though.

#67 Foodie-Girl

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 01:29 PM

You must keep it going, Abra...Such great reading and pictures!!!

#68 sequim

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 01:59 PM

Looking back at your photos of the herb planters, I noticed that the plants are rather small (especially the sage), considering how large herb plants can get. Did you just plant them this year? I started my herbs in containers but then they just started outgrowing things and when I set them free in the garden, they had a big growth spurt!

Now, what do you do with angelica and marjoram? I've never heard of angelica, but I have some marjoram plants. I don't know what to do with it although I heard of it as a kind of oregano. In fact, I can't tell it apart from my oregano - I'm always wondering which is which... :sad:

You've inspired me Abra! Next week I'm going to do your cornmeal cakes for my dinner with my friend. We get together every couple weeks for our "gourmet" cooking dinners. We will switch on who makes the main dish and who does the starter and dessert. So, I have to hustle myself out into the blackberry patches tonight... I'm also considering your grilled stuffed tomatoes for a starter course.

Damn, what do I need cookbooks for, I've got eGullet! :laugh:

#69 Abra

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 02:11 PM

Most of those herbs are in their third year, but I keep them cut back because it's already more than I can use. Marjoram is a wonderful herb for vegetables, especially corn. It's mellower than oregano, with less bite. I just planted the angelica and haven't used it yet. I've seen several recipes where the candied stems are used in desserts, and also some liqueur recipes call for it. I'm not sure if the plant will get big enough to use this year or not, but I seem to have enough projects on hand at the moment without it.

For example, I did a turkey on the Weber about a week ago, and now I need to make broth with the carcass, plus those dratted blueberries, and then the vinegar mother, and the sourdough starter...and believe it or not, I even have other things that need doing. This blog is really pointing up how crummy I am on follow-through. Now that you see how much I've let get piled up, my inner Martha is shrinking in mortification.

Off to get that jam into jars and the turkey bones into the pot. Good thing I don't have to work this week!

#70 Toliver

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 02:12 PM

Oh, and about those blueberries in the photo...it was wishful thinking that the jam would finish my blueberry life for the summer.  These are still left, and I need to make something else with them today, before it's totally too late.

Perhaps this thread on the Pastry & Baking forum might give you some ideas.

edited to add: If all else fails, I like jgarner53's suggestion of freezing them. Imagine blueberry muffins in the middle of winter made from your frozen summer stash. :wub:

Edited by Toliver, 17 August 2004 - 02:16 PM.


“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'
Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”
– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”


#71 Rusa

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 02:45 PM

As another Washingtonian, I definitely do not consider the blackberry a noxious weed. I think we're lucky to have berries in such profusion. The other day I went to my local video store in West Seattle and picked myself a container of them, enough to make a fresh cobbler just from the vines in the alleyway.

When I lived in Portland, I was thrilled by all the "free" food right outside my door. I found the best blackberries (I'd call them marionberries, they were so big and sweet) behind the gas station up the block. Apples, plums, pie cherries, and bing cherries grew in my backyard. Acres of abandoned strawberry fields with a large variety of different artisan berries a few miles down the road (long gone, covered with condos).

Now I live in starvation land (Denver, Colorado). I can find the odd crabapple :raz:

Edited by Rusa, 17 August 2004 - 02:48 PM.


#72 sequim

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 03:00 PM

Washington is Berryland. :biggrin: I spent many years in Utah and that was devoid of berries as well. However, I did raise killer peaches in my backyard. You can't do that on the wet side of the Cascades. When I came here, I was overwhelmed by the native foods like berries and then oysters, shrimp and clams. It was heaven for a food lover.

#73 Abra

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 03:29 PM

Ok, the jam is done.

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You can see how much it cooked down.

I'll use these for little holiday gifts.

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Then to get the turkey taken care of. I've had enough of long, slow simmering for one day, so this baby's going into the pressure cooker with some onions, carrots, fennel stalks, and a sprig of thyme. I love my pressure cooker!

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Now, the final moment of blueberry madness. I already have at least 10-12 pounds frozen for winter muffins, so I decided to try something that would actually be useful to my business, if it works. Unfortunately, we won't find out during the life of this blog, but I see no reason in the world why it wouldn't be just fine.

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I mixed the berries with sugar and a little cornstarch, then made a soft cobbler dough.

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I set the dough atop the berries, gave it a dusting of Demerara sugar, wrapped it up tight, and popped it into the freezer. Has anyone done this before? How long will it need to bake when frozen? This would be a really great little personal chef thing, to be able to leave people a nice cobbler they could bake "fresh" for themselves.

Now for a little break, then to roust out my husband for vinegar mother assistance. It'll go better with two people, one whose hands aren't all goopy who can hold the camera.

#74 judiu

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 03:35 PM

Abra, I've living in a hotel room for almost a week now, with nothing but a fridge and a microwave. You're killing me, woman! :biggrin: I damn near ate my monitor looking at the gorgeous basil! Incrediblly beautiful stuff, all of it! Thanks for sharing!
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#75 jgarner53

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 04:00 PM

Abra, did you make Nancy Silverton's starter yourself? While I haven't made it, I've seen her demonstrate it (aahh, the internet!). How does the bread turn out? If you keep the starter in the fridge, how often do you have to feed it?

Since you've got it frozen, what are you doing to revive it and get it going again?
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#76 Abra

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 05:18 PM

I did make the starter myself, a number of years ago. It's fun to make - a real science project. It's a great starter, makes a superior bread, and it keeps in the fridge for years. It's dormant in the fridge, so you only feed it when you want to use it. Supposedly you should also just feed it occasionally, if you're not using it much. It seems to keep in the freezer, too, since I'm starting to see a few bubbles. To revive it you feed it flour and water, or milk, in the case of the cyber-starter.

Edited by Abra, 17 August 2004 - 05:19 PM.


#77 Abra

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Posted 17 August 2004 - 09:03 PM

Multi-tasking like mad, I prepare dinner before tackling the mother project.

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Here we see the turkey broth cooling, veggies that I'm sauteeing for the humans, and ground beef that I'm sauteeing for, ulp, the dog. Yes, folks, our dog has a personal chef, and he really loves it! I cook some meat for him a couple of times a week, as a change from dog food, even though I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it.

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I combine the sauteed veggies with ground turkey breast, start the burgers on the stovetop, and finish them under the broiler. It's a WW thing to do, add veggies to any possible dish. In this case they really help the meat keep from being hopelessly dry.

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Dinner is served. I'd rather have some Cabrales on my salad than a bun for my burger, so I do. That's a very WW thing too - since all foods are "legal", we're always choosing between favorites. Those are red onions pickled in red wine vinegar. When you have so much vinegar, you have to use it a lot.

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I eat most of my turkey burger wrapped in basil leaves with a bit of pickled onion. The flavors are very wow.

Ok, now for the vinegar.

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This is our vinaigrier, a vinegar-making pot that we brought back from Provence a few years ago. It used to have a nifty wooden spigot embedded in a cork. In fact, it used to have two of them. But the acidity ate them away so that they leaked, and lately it's just had this cork, which, as you'll see, presents access problems. That's cheesecloth under the lid. The little fruit flies are mad for this stuff, and you have to fight them off.

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I pull the cork and right away the vinegar starts to go all over the place. Some even goes into the measuring cup I have in the sink to catch it.

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I pour the captured vinegar into my vinegar bottle. If I'd realized that I would be so visible in these pictures I would have put some real clothes on and combed my hair. Try to ignore me.

Now for the scary parts.

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I start to remove the layer upon layer of mother from the pot and gently squeeze out the vinegar. I don't do this every time we need vinegar, but this time we have to get the vinaigrier completely empty, because my ingenious husband thinks he has found an alternative to the nuisance cork.

If you're easily grossed out, just scroll down fast.

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All the mother is out of the pot. It's quite appalling looking, isn't it? Just like a placenta, which is probably why it's called a mother.

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The new spigot fits, and is installed, and I feed the mother some fresh wine, to help her revive after the trauma of being squeezed.

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My husband has a great idea - I put some of the excess mother into jars, label them "Courtesy of Rolling Bay Gourmet", and take them down to the special wine store. The owner can give them to foodie customers, and I'll type up a little instruction card to go with it. Vinegar mother is a lot like Friendship Cake - you have to keep pushing it on everyone you know, or just use it as drain cleaner.

And last, here's how the sourdough starters are doing this evening.

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On the left is the milk-based cyber starter, the grape starter is on the right. They both appear to have some mild interest in coming back to life. If anything, the cyber starter looks a little more alert, but time will tell. I'll let them rest overnight in the sink, in case they go nuts, and I'll feed them again in the morning.

Edited by Abra, 17 August 2004 - 09:04 PM.


#78 jackal10

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 01:03 AM

I'll swap some of my sourdough starter for your vinegar mother - PM me if interested...

#79 Abra

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 07:41 AM

Believe me, I'd give vinegar mother to anyone who's interested! No trade required! It's getting it to people who are not in Seattle that's the problem. It needs oxygen, so it can't be shut up tightly for long periods, it smells like vinegar, and it sloshes around because it has to stay in liquid. It seems like the Post Office would take a dim view of it.

#80 tejon

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 08:24 AM

What is the consistancy of the mother most like - is it hard and rubbery, or delicate? Do you use the same mother for all types of wine (red, white, etc.), or does the mother grow accustomed to a particular ingredient like sourdough starter?
Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

#81 Abra

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 08:33 AM

The mother is slippery and flexible, just as I'd imagine a placenta to be. It's a lot like clotted blood, in fact. This is a red wine mother, and only makes red wine vinegar. I did try to use some to make white wine vinegar once, but it always stayed pink. That said, I have certainly been known to feed it some white wine on occasion, with no ill effects.

And speaking of sourdough starters, mine are looking feeble. It's time to feed them again and see if they'll perk up, but amazingly, I'm out of flour. So now I have to run out to the store, and this time I will remember to take the camera.

#82 Toliver

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 09:11 AM

I am utterly fascinated by the whole vinegar/mother affair. Now I am wondering if Alton Brown has tackled this sci-fi experiment-in-a-bottle on his show.
Between you and andiesenji I'd love to see a condiment class (vinegar, mustard, ketchup, chutney, etc) in the eGCI. But I know how busy you are.
Thanks for taking the time to post the pictures!

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'
Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”
– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”


#83 tejon

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 10:04 AM

And speaking of sourdough starters, mine are looking feeble. It's time to feed them again and see if they'll perk up, but amazingly, I'm out of flour.


I hope they spring back to life nicely once given a few feedings. When I've used frozen starter it took a few feeding cycles for things to start really going again. I found using a much smaller amount of starter to the flour and water seemed to help.

I'd also love a condiment class! I have made mustard and chutney with mixed results (the mustard was dissappointing, chutney was/is heavenly) and would enjoy more information.
Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

#84 Abra

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 12:21 PM

Would you believe that I found myself in the store again, with no camera? I must have blog-brain. Anyway, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

I've been having a kind of honey-do morning, making treats for my husband.

He loves chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream, so I created an ice cream for him that tastes like chocolate chip cookies.

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Basically it's a French vanilla custard, but made with brown sugar, and then with toasted pecans and mini chocolate chips added. The custard needs to chill for a couple of hours before I freeze the ice cream.

And then, various breakfast treats that he loves, both based on puff pastry. Since we're not in the pastry forum I can admit to using frozen puff pastry, just like 99% of you do, I'll bet. And I can't get an all-butter one here on the island, so I use Pepperidge Farm.

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These are almond puffs. Rolled out puff pastry coated with a marzipan goo (I use the filling from the Pain d'Amandes recipe in The Village Baker's Wife),

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then dusted with lightly toasted sliced almonds and some Demerara sugar.

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The other sheet of puff pastry gets a little roll-out, then a bit of almond goo and a pain au chocolat stick. I know, pain au chocolat doesn't have almond goo in it, really, but hey, it's good this way!

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Here they are, done in a jiffy and smelling great.

A group of friends is taking me out to lunch for my birthday - the birthday that never ends, seemingly. On the way home I'll pick up my CSA basket and we'll see what's for dinner.

On Wednesdays I don't know in advance what we'll be having, since it largely depends on what my beloved farmer Rebecca brings me. But I know there'll be salmon, and I think I'll grill it on a cedar plank, since that's a very Northwest thing that you might be interested in seeing. And vegetables. And ice cream.

Edited by Abra, 18 August 2004 - 12:26 PM.


#85 cheeseandchocolate

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 12:28 PM

Ok, I'm asking the dreaded stupid question: what *is* a vinegar mother? :huh:
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#86 sequim

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 12:35 PM

Oh god, it's hard to read this blog before I've eaten lunch. :sad:

Why do you use demerara sugar?

Also, and maybe others will be asking this, but what is CSA? Sounds like not just organic veggie drop but fish too?

Can't wait to see dinner!

#87 bloviatrix

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 01:09 PM

Mmmm, those pastries look good. Your husband is a lucky man.
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#88 TheFoodTutor

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 03:15 PM

I am really enjoying your blog, Abra, and your home-based business is inspiring me to add onto my current business, so that I can offer personal cheffing as well as home cooking classes.

My biggest challenge has been effective advertising, and business seems to come in spurts, with long lulls between requests for classes.

Has the association been a big help in procuring clients? How long did it take to build a good customer base? Do you advertise other than on your van?

By the way, I'd love to fly out there and take some berries and mother off your hands. Wonderful stuff.

#89 Abra

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 04:18 PM

I like Demerara sugar because it's in big crunchy crystals that stay that way when baked. I think it's a nice finishing touch to rustic baked foods.

CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. I get my veggies from Persephone Farm, and I pay for them in advance in the Fall. You are essentially an investor in the farm, paying the farmer upfront to grow stuff, which you get when it's in season. There will be salmon as a part of our CSA later in the year, but for tonight, it's from the fish counter. I got a lot of nice stuff in my basket today - if the camera's recharged, I'll show you the loot.

Whereas I would have said that the vinegar mother is a mat of bacteria and yeasts, Googling it produced this little tidbit " "Mother" is actually cellulose (a natural carbohydrate which is the fiber in foods such as celery and lettuce) produced by the harmless vinegar bacteria." It grows as a mat that sort of floats on top of the forming vinegar. But as you saw in the pictures, squeezing it gently gets lot of vinegar out of the mat itself. You add new wine on top, and more layers form from the top of the vinaigrier, so that the furthest-down mat is the oldest.

Personal Chefs Network helps you to get clients in the sense that when people do a web search for a personal chef, the PCN website pops up. Every member has a little free web page on the PCN site, and there's a geographic locator as well. I personally haven't gotten any clients that way, but many members report that they have. I think most people find that it takes about a year to get known in your community for what you do. Personal cheffing is also new enough as a business that you have to do education with each person that contacts you. Besides my van and my website, I'm in the Yellow Pages, and I talk about my business whenever and to whomever seems appropriate.

#90 Abra

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Posted 18 August 2004 - 09:32 PM

First off, I want to show you a couple of yummy afternoon snacks.

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Gorgeous and sweet island-grown figs

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and no, those are not crystallized cat turds! That's the Thai chili-tamarind candy, which I find utterly addictive, and the amazing glass-like seeds that you have to spit out.

I get lots of great-looking stuff today when I picked up my basket

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Corn, a tomato, squash, onions, beans, cucumbers, broccoli, and flowers.


My last blog dinner is so....me. I mix all sorts of foods and traditions together - please, I mean no offense to your favorite ethnic foods. I just like to combine, and I'm sorry if purists cringe. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and pan-Asian is in my blood.

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The Alaska sockeye salmon is placed on a cedar plank, salted and peppered, then painted with a sauce of maple syrup, tamarind concentrate, and Thai chili sauce with soybean oil (more about that later.)

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The huge sweet onion and the broccoli get sauteed with a little Shao Xing wine, nuoc mam, and ketjap manis, while the corn parboils in the background.

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I finish the corn on the grill while the salmon is cooking.

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The salmon is done and looks perfect. The bottles in the background are the things I used in the dinner. If you can read the Thai, or just recognize the sauce, please tell me the name of the Thai sauce, in Thai. I use it a lot, and it really bugs me not to know how to pronounce its name.

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We sit down to our last blog dinner. Beer is great with all these assertive flavors.

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The chocolate chip cookie ice cream while it's fresh and soft

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and after an hour or so in the freezer.

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A tired but happy blogger bids farewell. It's been a privilege and a pleasure to share my life with you all this week.


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And Riley thanks his personal chef for a week of custom meals.

Edited by Abra, 19 August 2004 - 07:25 AM.






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