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Jesse A

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  1. I'll be in Turin with two friends in late October for Slow Food's Terra Madre conference, and we have a few days to travel beforehand. I'm wondering if anyone can recommend a nice agriturismo in Piedmont, maybe in the Langhe? We're grad students and thus on a budget, so are looking for authenticity and good food but not luxury. We don't need a place with a swimming pool, tv, internet, etc. Ideal would be simple accomodations (and thus inexpensive!) with good, traditional food. We'd love somewhere that is a working farm first and an inn second. Last year, I stayed at Agriturismo Serafina on the Amalfi coast and it was wonderful - 50 euro per day for room plus breakfast and dinner; the place was operated by a family that had farmed the land for six generations, and everything we were served - meat, oil, wine, fruit, vegetables - was grown or produced on the premises. So, any recommendations?
  2. I just picked up 3 whole striped bass, about 1 1/3 lbs each. I'm planning on stuffing or topping them with a mixture of toasted almonds, black olives, orange zest, fennel and saffron. So, what's the best cooking method for these fish? Roasted? At what temp, and should I wrap them in foil to keep moist or leave them uncovered to crisp the skin? Should I stuff them w/ the aromatics, or chop/mix them with olive oil to make a sauce to spoon on after cooking? Cook the fennel first or leave it raw?
  3. I just put up my first batch of preserved Meyers in quite some time - last batch was probably 2 years ago. After three or four days, I noticed that pressure was building inside the jar, pushing the "clicker" button on the lid upwards. I unscrewed the lid slightly to release the pressure, and a brief fizz of small bubbles came to the surface. They're on day 12 now, and they're continuing to gas up like that - every time I unscrew the lid to release the pressure, the gas builds up again within 4 days or so. Did I screw up? Are my lemons okay, or should I toss them and start again? I think they smell okay... although as I said, it's been quite a while, so I don't remember exactly how they should smell.
  4. In about three weeks I'll be moving to Rio de Janeiro for about a year. After living in the Bay Area most of my life, I'll be leaving our mediterranean climate for the tropics, and I need to learn how to cook with a whole new set of ingredients and pantry staples. I'm an experienced home cook, but my cooking really relies on the amazing fresh produce and meat that's available here in the Bay Area; also, my pantry is typically stocked with high-quality imported olive oil, anchovies, wine vinegars, whole spices, plus a lot of asian cooking staples like oyster sauce, fish sauce, curry pastes, tamarind pulp, palm sugar, etc. I imagine that I could find most of this stuff in Rio if I really searched, but it would probably be pretty pricey. I'd love to learn to cook great, interesting food using the local bounty in Rio. Where do I start? Can anyone recommend a good Brazilian cookbook or website that will help kick-start my inspiration for cooking with the palette of flavors available in Brazil? By the way, I speak portuguese, so a portuguese-language cookbook would be okay, although I'd probably have to learn a lot of cooking jargon. 'Brigado!
  5. It's the method given in a Vietnamese cookbook for use in savory dishes. I'm don't really have any experience with caramel-making, but I suppose there isn't really a difference. You'll have to pardon my ignorance. I'm going to try again tonight -- I'm going to try make sure that there are no sugar granules stuck to the side before I start, and I'll add a tablespoon of honey or corn syrup. Wish me luck!
  6. I attempted to make Vietnamese caramel syrup (for use in savory dishes) from a recipe in a Vietnamese cookbook, and it was a total disaster. Hopefully someone can explain what happened and how to do it right. The recipe says to put 1/4 cup of water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil without stirring over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes, until the mixture is a deep brown and the bubbles become sluggish. Well, after 10-15 minutes the mixture was nowhere near brown. Maybe a slight golden tinge, but no more. So I kept simmering. After maybe 20 minutes, small clumps of crystals began to form, and at 25 minutes, the entire bubbling surface of the mixture was covered with crystallized clumps (still nowhere near a caramel brown color). I figured I should just procede with the recipe as instructed, removing the pan from the heat and slowly pouring in 1/4 cup hot water, then returning to the heat and stirring constantly over med-high heat until the caramel is dissolved. That's what the recipe said, anyway. I whisked for a few minutes as the mixture thickened up considerably, although the clumps of crystals never really fully dissolved. After five minutes or so, I added one teaspoon lemon juice (as instructed by the recipe) and took the pan off the heat to cool. Within a couple minutes, the entire mixture had seized up into a rock-hard block in the bottom of the saucepan that I had to pry out using a metal spatula as a chisel. Any ideas on what happened and how to do it right next time?
  7. For those of us without access to prepared/nixtamalized posole or enough time to do it ourselves, what's the volume conversion from dried to canned hominy? For example, if a recipe calls for 2 cups of prepared dried hominy, how much of the canned stuff would I use?
  8. I just returned from a fantastic week in Oaxaca (Go there now! There are no tourists and the city is tranquil and beaufitul). One of our favorite tastes of the city was the aromatic and spicy black bean puree used with tlayudas, quesadillas, huevos, and just about anything else. Does anyone know how to make this bean paste? I'm guessing it includes onion, garlic, herbs (maybe hoja de aguacate?), and perhaps dried chiles -- maybe the smoky pasilla de Oaxaca (I brought a ton of these back with me)? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
  9. Jesse A

    Oaxaca Dining

    It seems that things have calmed down, so we've changed our plans and the girlfriend and I will be going to Oaxaca in mid-January. There's a lot of overwhelming information about eating in Oaxaca out there, so can anyone provide (or point me towards) a simple, straightforward guide to the best eats in Oaxaca? We'll have about four days in the city, and our main interest is rustic, traditional food, although we'd certainly try some "nueva cocina" (if that's the right term) if folks think it's worth doing. Street food as well. To give a sense of our budget... US$20-30 per person (not incl. drinks) for a meal would definitely be a splurge, although we could do it once or twice during the trip. So, break it down -- where do we need to eat, and what do we need to try?
  10. Just got this cookbook for Hanukkah and I couldn't find a thread on it, so I thought I'd start one for folks to discuss their favorite recipes and experiences cooking through this classic tome. I started out last night with penne in tuna sauce with tomatoes. Utterly simple and delicious, although 12 ounces of imported tuna packed in olive oil cost a whopping $20. Minced garlic, olive oil and canned tomatoes simmered for 25 minutes or so, then stir in tuna, a pat of butter, and black pepper. Toss with pasta and a bit of chopped parsley. Somehow, the butter and olive oil emulsify with the tomatoes to create a silky, creamy vehicle to bind the tuna with the pasta. Far greater than the sum of its parts. Alongside the pasta, we had broccoli sauteed with garlic and parsley. All in all, a ridiculously quick, easy, and delicious weeknight dinner. So, where to go from here? I know the ragu and the chicken with two lemons have been discussed at length; but what are some other gems in this book?
  11. This sounds right up my alley. Can you elaborate on the shallot vinaigrette? Is this just vinaigrette with finely diced shallots in it? ← Yup. I finely dice shallots, macerate them in the vinegar with salt and pepper for 10 or 15 minutes, whisk in olive oil, and drizzle over the toasts. I tend to make the vinaigrette a little on the sharp side since the avocados are so buttery. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.
  12. When I get absolutely perfect avocados from Will Brokaw at the Berkeley Farmer's Market, this is what I do: Slice avocado thinly, but not too thinly. Toast or grill slices of good country bread (I use Acme Levain). Arrance avocado slices on top. Drizzle with just enough balsamic (or sherry) shallot vinaigrette. Garnish with cilantro. Or parsley, or whatever appropriate herbs are on hand. This is far, far greater than the sum of its parts, with the crunchy bread, the rich avocado, the sharp bite of the vinaigrette, and the little bits of shalloty sweetness. Maybe my favorite summer snack. I think I got this idea from a cookbook at some point, but I have no idea where.
  13. That would be an adverse result. What was I thinking? I'll try it in the 5 1/2 quart LC. My main worry is that with the same amount of meat and liquid in a smaller pot, the braising liquid would be too high. Am I right to guess that I don't want liquid more than halfway up the meat? Edited to add: Can anyone recommend a good side dish/salad/accompaniment from the slow med book to go with the lamb shanks? Something that requires minimal last-minute preparation would be great.
  14. I've been slowly cooking my way through this book since I got it as a hannukah gift. We got some gorgeous asparagus last week from our wonderful CSA, Full Belly Farm, and made the pan-grilled asparagus and oyster mushrooms with pancetta/garlic puree. First of all, lightly charring the asparagus on a hot iron skillet gave it a delicious, smoky, grilled taste. As an apartment resident with no outdoor space, this is a great "grilling" technique to have in the arsenal. The finished dish was delicious -- the pancetta/garlic puree gave the mushrooms an incredibly rich, unctous quality. I do have a few questions for the rest of you. First, I have a good amount of this pancetta/garlic puree left in the fridge. Ms. Wolfert recommends using to flavor soups and beans. I'm making a bean soup tonight with some beautiful cranberry beans that have been sitting in the cupboard for a while -- seems like a good opportunity to use up this delicious stuff. However, won't the puree, which is basically cooked garlic pureed with raw pancetta and rendered duck fat, break when I add it to the bean soup? Will the duck and pancetta fat end up floating on the surface of the soup? Also, should I add it early in cooking to flavor the beans, or stir it in at the end? Will the salt in the puree make the beans tough if I add it too early? Also, I'm planning on making the fall-apart lamb shanks for my mom's birthday next week (she appreciates great food and loves lamb, but is too intimidated to cook it herself). The recipe recommends in a 7-quart enameled cast iron casserole. I have access to two 5 1/2 qt. LC french ovens, but nothing bigger. Would it work to put half the lamb in each casserole and braise them side by side? Also, the recipe serves six, but there are only three of us. Perhaps I could halve the recipe? I know that can often have mixed results for more involved, complex, multi-part recipes like this one. Any advice?
  15. Jesse A

    Coconut Milk

    Chaokoh is great - lots of thick coconut cream floating on top of the water, which is necessary for making curries (you first fry the curry paste in the cream, then add the water.) Chaodoc, in my experience, is a terrible product. The cans I've tried have been greasy/oily, and homogenized, making it impossible to separate the coconut cream. It also lacks the strong, rich coconut cream of Chaokoh and other good brands. I've found that Mae Ploy (larger 19 oz cans) is the creamiest of all, so I tend to use it for desserts and other dishes where I want a very rich, creamy coconut sauce.
  16. Spring is finally rolling here in Northern California after a record-breaking cold and wet March to mid April. This week we got wild mustard, asparagus, tokyo turnips, spinach, and a few gorgeous spring onions. The spring onions are quite large - maybe two inches in diameter at the base, and a beautiful, deep purple near the roots. So, how are pristine, large spring onions best enjoyed? Chopped small and used raw, like scallions? Sliced and cooked in the place of mature onions? How can I make the best use of these fellas?
  17. I made a very similar dish just last week from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook - raw asparagus, shaved in long strips on a mandoline, in lemon vinaigrette with shaved reggiano. Prepared this way, the raq asparagus had a wonderfully fresh, crisp taste - very "asparagusy" but certainly not overpowering or tough.
  18. My favorite eggplant dish is baingan bhartha (spelling may vary) - smoky Indian curried eggplant. Blacken the eggplant's skin all over (over coals is best, but a gas burner or broiler will do). Let them steam in their skins until cool enough to handle, then peel and chop the flesh. Fry a paste of onion, garlic and ginger until nice and darkened, add spices, then the eggplant, and stew until the mixture thickens and the eggplant cooks into a puree. Finish with garam masala and a squeeze of lemon. The key is the initial roasting of the eggplants to get a deep, smoky background flavor to support the spices. Yum.
  19. This weekend, I seasoned my new carbon-steel round-bottom wok using Kasma Loha-unchit's method. I seasoned it on the stovetop using palm oil (sold as "organic vegetable shortening") at Kasma's recommendation, because it doesn't turn gummy at high temperatures like polyunsaturated vegetable oils. I heated up the wok, brushed a coating of oil over the surface, and tilted the wok, subjecting each part to intense heat to burn on the oil. I intermittently used a paper towel to spread the oil around whenever it started beading up. It worked great for the most part - I got a deep, even, red seasoning after about forty five minutes, then cooked a meal, then seasoned it again, getting a beautiful black patina after another half hour or so. However, as I seasoned the last areas during the second round, some of the black seasoning near the center of the wok began to "bulge" a tiny bit, and then flaked off when I brushed it with the paper towel, leaving the bare steel exposed. I re-seasoned that area, but as I did so, it started flaking off in another spot. This keeps happening - as soon as I finish re-seasoning a bare spot, the coating starts to flake somewhere else, always in the bottom third of the wok, never up around the sides. What is going on? Do I just need to stop stressing and do some serious stir-frying?
  20. Jesse A

    Tomato Puree

    While we're on the subject, I recently got Madhur Jaffrey's "Invitation to Indian Cooking" -- the original edition from the 70s or 80s. Many dishes include several tablespoons of "tomato sauce." What does she mean by this? I'm sure she doesn't want me to add canned Italian tomato sauce. Is it a dated term referring to tomato paste or puree?
  21. Great advice! (See below) My question: do all these guidelines (especially regarding pre-salting the meat and browning) apply to poultry? Here is the summary I made as the week went along: POTS – An enameled cast iron (ECI) Dutch oven is best. However, avoid LeCreuset, which is overpriced and has phenolic handles that deteriorate in heat (or get old, metal-handle ones on eBay). Staub is just as good (maybe even a bit heavier) and has metal handles. A matte black surface seems to work best. ECI cooks faster than other materials. It's not easy to clean, so brown the meat in a sauté pan and deglaze the pan thoroughly into the cooking vessel. – Copper works very well, but ECI holds, transfers and evens out the heat better. – Calphalon Professional Nonstick II Anodized Aluminum is almost as good as ECI, has a glass lid and metal handles, produces a good fond and is easy to clean. The best choice overall, and works well on a stovetop braise. – unglazed clay works well, and the result seems to improve more on subsequent days. – Corningware (ceramic without metal) gives good results but is slow. – heavy metal meatloaf pans, very well sealed with foil, are OK for small batches but must be airtight – not as good as ECI, so make a full recipe and keep it for later days, when it’s better anyway. – Stainless steel clad aluminum is next, Pyrex is poor, and a foil tray is dreadful (and very slow). - Do NOT use unclad aluminum, which is very reactive, even without acidic ingredients such as tomatoes. SEALING Sealing the lid keeps the liquid from evaporating and enhances the cooking. The ancient method is to apply a flour/water dough between lid and vessel. Lifting the lid breaks the seal, so you have to know your oven perfectly. The modern method is to put a double layer of aluminum foil between lid and vessel. Lifting is easy, and the seal is almost as perfect. Parchment paper may also work. MEAT Tough, fatty cuts are essential, since the connective tissue breaks down and enriches the sauce. Bones are helpful. Short ribs or flanken (boneless short ribs) are good, and shin and oxtail are even better, with more gelatin. Shoulder and breast of lamb are good. Starting with frozen meat is just as good as thawing. SALTING From André Guillot, a famous French chef: lightly salt the meat the minute you bring it home. You will hardly need to salt later, and you’ll use half as much salt as you would normally. Lightly salted meat will tenderize and mature in flavor when stored overnight in the refrigerator. After salting, coat the meat lightly with grape-seed oil, which will keep it from drying out; Some blood will run out, but this is insignificant. BROWNING A non-non-stick pan on the stovetop is best, since non-stick prevents formation of fond. Cast iron is perfect. Under the broiler is hard to control and can dry the meat out. Unbrowned produces good results, but a different, soft texture on the bottom. The part above the liquid line is identical, browned or not. For large cuts (e.g., brisket), skip the browning and uncover for the last 1/2 hour. LIQUID Wine alone is too strong, especially when reduced. Worth using perhaps 1:3 with stock? The solution is to deglaze the browning pan with wine. Water is weak and blah. Stock is by far the best, made even better by adding demi-glace. Covering the meat leaches out the browning and creates a boiled color and taste. Standard advice is halfway up the side of the meat, but just 1/2" is even better and gives more tender results. Beer might be OK. Mirepoix (carrot/onion/celery) dilutes the flavor and makes the sauce taste like stock. If you must, toss some in during the sauce reduction process. If you use stock as the braising liquid, they’re already in it. The alternate Tom Colicchio (Grammercy Tavern) stovetop method: when you have LOTS of stock, skip browning, pour stock almost to the top and cook uncovered on the stovetop, turning every ½ hour to keep drying one side while moistening the other. STOVETOP VS. OVEN A heavy pot with a tight seal gives excellent results on the stovetop. With the Calphalon glass top, it’s much easier to monitor and handle, too. However, steady heat, coming from all sides in the oven, as in ECI, is perhaps a little bit better COOKING TEMPERATURE Low heat (200) results in a little less shrinkage, but no difference in flavor. It’s not worth the much longer cooking time (5 hours still not enough for heavy pork ribs). Preheat the oven to 325. After 1/2 hour, if the liquid is more than barely trembling, turn it down to 300 or 275. Thus reduces the sauce better and increases caramelization. However, 300 is necessary to melt the collagen and get a proper braise. CLARIFYING THE SAUCE From Paula Wolfert. Strain the sauce, pressing down on all the solids with the back of a spoon; cool the entire sauce down; remove all the fat that rises; put the remaining liquid (scum and clear) in a small wide saucepan; and set over heat to bring to a boil. Now, shove the saucepan half off the heat and cook at a slow boil, skimming off all the scum-like solids that rise to the top on the cool side of the liquid for about 10 minutes, or until reduced enough to coat a spoon lightly. PROCEDURE 1. Brown the meat well. with a small amount of oil, 1 to 1-1/2 min. on each side. A plain cast iron pan works better for this than E/CI or non-stick. 2. Don’t pack the vessel too tight – 1" between pieces and between the meat and the side. 3. Use only a little liquid. The standard is halfway up the side of the meat, but even better is ½" deep. 4. Cook very slowly in the oven. 5. Don't cook the meat to mush. A fork should go in easily and release easily but grip the meat slightly, and the fork holes shouldn’t stay open. For short ribs, 2 hours is about right. 6. Refrigerate, skim the fat and eat the next day. REHEATING Always better the next day, and there are significant improvements on the following day. Reheat uncovered at 275 in a shallow, ovenproof serving dish, to deepen the flavor. Turn once while reheating. ←
  22. Jeffrey Steingarten discusses making the Ritz mock apple pie in one of his books, and if memory serves, he said it tasted quite a bit like apple pie. The implication was that the dominant flavors of apple pie are cinnamon and nutmeg rather than apples themselves.
  23. Ah, Charmaine Solomon. My girlfriend's parents gave us a copy and we use it religiously. Their decades-old copy has been so loved that the pages are a deep yellow (from age or turmeric?) spine has completely disintegrated -- the pages are held together between the covers with rubber bands. You can pick the best recipes by the quantity of sauce splotches on the page.
  24. This sounds like great advice. One question -- why the oval Le Creuset rather than the standard French Oven?
  25. Thanks for all the great advice so far -- now I'll try to be a bit more specific to my budget and needs. Budget-wise, I could probably splurge on a LC french oven, but other than that, I'm thinking more like $20-30 a piece on average (could be a few pricier pieces and a few cheaper ones, as long as it averages out). As I said, I already have a huge cast-iron skillet and a stockpot. I'll be cooking for two, but would like the capacity to occasionally cook for six or so (having friends over, having leftovers, etc.). We tend to cook Italian pastas and bean dishes, dishes with simple pan sauces, Indian and Thai curries, stir-fries (should be fun on our wimpy electric range), simmered chicken or fish dishes, etc. I expect my cooking to branch out quite a bit now that I'm free the extremely limited campus grocery store. The girlfriend is a non-beef-and-porkitarian. Thanks again to everyone who's taken the time to give me advice here.
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