Archive for the ‘ingredients’ Category


June is a good time to make raspberry vinegar, June or July, when raspberries are at their berriest.  We get raspberries year round these days, and that makes me happy, but I still like to eat as many of them as I can in June and July.

So you take a clean bottle with a stopper and you push raspberries in till the bottle is almost full.  You want a combination of whole berries, berries pulled in half, and crushed berries — sort of a time-release raspberry spansule.

Then you pour in some decent white wine vinegar.  Don’t you hate it when recipes say things like that?  “Decent white wine vinegar.”  How can you tell whether it’s decent?  Open the bottle, put your thumb over the top, turn the bottle upside down, right the bottle again, and lick your thumb.  Sourness and maybe even a tiny bit of fruitiness?  Decent.  Metal or mildew or dust or rot?  Use it to wash windows.  I can buy decent white wine vinegar at my regular old supermarket; I hope you can too.

At any rate, you then pour in your (decent) white wine vinegar, put the stopper in, and turn the bottle this way and that till there are no air bubbles left in the raspberries.  Treat the bottle as you do an open pickle jar; if you keep opened pickle jars in the refrigerator, keep the raspberry vinegar there too.

At first the mixture will be ridiculously incarnadine, like berry blood on fire.  Then in a while the berries will fade to a very Goth purplish-grey.  Don’t be sad, that means the vinegar is ready to use.

Use for what? 

To revive pale-tasting fruit. 

You can find thousands of recipes that use raspberry vinegar in salad dressings and sauces and stews, but I don’t make any of them.  I save my raspberry vinegar for fruit that needs a boost — for plums that aren’t plummy enough, peaches too far removed from their home in the Central Valley, strawberries that taste more white than red, tomatoes (remember, tomatoes are fruit too) a day too many off the vine.  Lemon juice is tremendous, of course, but raspberry vinegar is subtler.  You never need more than a quarter of a teaspoonful, more often several drops.  (Pure cane sugar also helps.  So does salt, even less salt than raspberry vinegar, just a few grains.)

When the year comes round to June again, I drain the last of my raspberry vinegar into a glass, crushing the faded grey raspberries to extract the last goodness from them, add as much simple syrup as I have vinegar (simple syrup is one part sugar dissolved in one part water), and top the mixture with sparkling water.  This drink is called raspberry shrub, and Mark doesn’t like it, so I have it all to myself.  And then I start in with another year’s worth of raspberry vinegar.


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M-C:  Oh, Margaret, it was so much fun talking with Darwin on the phone.  Sometimes I can’t quite understand him, which I’m sure I would be able to if I were there, but when I can’t see what he’s talking about I get a little lost.

MB:  Oh, he loves talking with you too.  You know, if there’s any remaining confusion, I can always help you figure it out.

M-C:  Well, for instance he was telling me you “made mushrooms,” or something that sounded like that, but I know it couldn’t be right because you hate mushrooms.  Maybe that was it?  He said hate and I thought he said made.

MB:  I know it’s weird, but what he said was true.  I actually did make mushrooms!
M-C:  What?  Mushrooms?  You’ve changed your mind about mushrooms?

MB:  Well, the first time I picked up our book of the month, Sauce, I saw the recipe for the mushroom sauce in there.  I thought to myself that I should make it, because it would make J so happy if I did.  But it’s mushrooms, and I do, I HATE mushrooms, so I put it out of my mind.  But every single time I picked up the book to flip through it, this was the recipe I kept coming back to.
M-C:  A recipe for mushroom sauce was calling to you?  You make it sound like a quasi-mystical experience.

MB:  I just knew that I had to make it.  Even if I ended up hating it I had to try!
M-C:  And how was it?

MB:  It was fantastic.  It’s very important that I be clear about why I hate mushrooms.  It’s entirely textural.  I love the taste of them, but the texture is the part that I can’t stand.  The picture of this recipe in the book shows the final result of a sauce with big slices of mushrooms.  I made the sauce and then, at the very end, took my immersion blender to itand turned it into mush.
M-C:  Brilliant!

MB:  Totally.  I served it over pasta and chicken and broccoli.  It was fantastically delicious and I got to enjoy all the flavor of mushrooms without any textural issues.

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It was inevitable that working on a book about sauces — our cookbook of the month, Sonja Lee’s Sauce — would lead to an excess of eggwhites.  Mayonnaise, hollandaise, bearnaise, all the custard sauces, wow.  Eggyolks galore; leftover eggwhites galore.

Aha, angelfood cake.  Two birds with one stone, using up eggwhites plus skipping ahead on the Shirley project.  I’d never made an angelfood cake before and I don’t remember ever buying one, but I must have eaten one at some point because the angelfood cake from Shirley’s Bakewise was familiar.  A relentless, uninflected sweetness and a strange texture, both dry and bready.  Not my favorite cake, but pretty good toasted and served with cut and sugared fresh fruit.

Too bad we didn’t flat-out adore it, because I foresee many another eggwhite in my future.

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Read All About It


In a story in the New York Times of April 29th, we learn that meat scientists studied 39 muscles that usually get ground up into hamburger, looking for tasty and cookable cuts.

“At the 74-store QFC chain in the Pacific Northwest,” says the Times, “managers are eager to sell the new cuts, but they’ve taken naming matters into their own hands.”

QFC?  That’s the grocery store a block and a half from my house.

“Oscar Blaser,” the Times goes on, “the senior director of meat and seafood for the chain, put one of the new cuts — the boneless country-style beef chuck ribs — in his meat cases a couple of months ago …  Mr. Blaser thought the new name just didn’t work.  So he christened them bistro braising strips, which builds the cooking method into the name.”

Bistro braising strips?  G. and N. are coming to supper; let’s try braising some bistro braising strips.  Bacon and olive oil, a little flour, mushrooms, salt, pepper, grated fresh ginger.  Start it on the stove top, then move it to a 325 degree oven, let it blurble away merrily for an hour, skim the fat off, serve with crusty bread.

Bistro braising strips.  Or boneless country-style beef chuck ribs, as the case may be.  They’re new.  They’re good.  And they’re in the news.

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Galangal, or What Is That Thing?


It’s pronounced gah-LAHN-guhl.

It’s a cousin of ginger, and it’s used in Southeast Asian and North African cooking (also, I’m told, Indian cooking, but I don’t know that from my own experience).  Ground and dried, it’s sometimes called Laos powder.

For North African cooking, I grate it and let it dry slightly.  For Southeast Asian, I use it fresh.

Left out on the counter, it will usually go moldy at the extremities, but all you have to do is cut out the bad ends and move in closer to the central trunk.  Refrigeration just makes it mold faster.

It has a heavenly floral scent.  (If anyone knows of one, I would cheerfully use a galangal perfume.)

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Pronounced TEM-pay, like temp-pay, remuneration for a temporary worker, without the double P.  Noun, a fermented soybean substance that comes from … Indonesia.  For some reason I had never realized that tempeh was Indonesian.

Nor, to tell you the truth, had I ever figured out what to do with it (any more than I had figured out it wasn’t pronounced as it’s spelled).  Several of my hippie-dippie cookbooks describe it as having almost a meat flavor, which to me signifies that they haven’t eaten meat recently enough.  I’ve cooked with tempeh maybe a dozen times without feeling I had the hang of it.

So I was delighted to see several tempeh recipes in our cookbook of the month, Sri Owen’s The Indonesian Kitchen.  The first one I tried was tempeh rendang, tempeh cooked in a thick sauce of coconut milk flavored with shallots, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, and hot chiles.



No, hmm. 

But I’m not giving up.  You know me, I’m not giving up, there are two other recipes to try, tempeh bacem and tempeh kemul.  I may figure this out yet.

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Sometimes people who write cookbooks … sometimes — how do I put this? Sometimes they tell lies.

Their intentions are good. They know if they make a recipe seem too inconvenient we’ll never make it, we readers who are short of time and technique, who have a thousand other things on our minds. We’ll look at a recipe that asks us to do something difficult or time-consuming, and we will not try it. Won’t.

Take beans. “The day before you want to serve the dish,” the cookbook writer says, and the reader’s eyes slide off the page. So they lie, the cookbook authors. They say, “Use dried or canned beans.” They say “Canned beans are also acceptable.” They say, “Or, in an emergency, use canned beans.” What they do not say is that dried beans require nothing more than minor foresight and that canned beans are a pale shadow of dried beans. They lie. They say it’s OK to use canned beans. And those of us who love dried beans recognize the lie.

Why, then, was I taken in by Andrew Carmellini, the author of Urban Italian, our cookbook of the month, when he calls, on page 232, for canned chickpeas? The recipe is for spinach with crispy chickpeas. It’s there in black and white: “1 15-ounce can chickpeas.” Why did I believe him?

Well, for one thing, he doesn’t seem like somebody who is trying to protect readers from recipes that require long preparation times. His duck meatballs with cherries takes six hours. His squash tortelloni takes two days. His citrus tiramisu takes two hours. How much harder would it be for him to tell a reader to start dried chickpeas a day early?

Second, he seems like somebody who knows his beans. On page 74, he writes, “I think that fagioli del babi (dialect for ‘frog’s beans’) are the best-tasting Italian beans you can get in America. Mine come from the Cascina del Cornale co-op outside Alba.” I mean, he certainly doesn’t sound like somebody who’s indifferent to beany glories.

Third, I had never fried chickpeas before — read about it, but for some reason just never did it. So what did I know? Maybe frying them magically makes canned beans OK.

But fourth, I have to admit, I had just found a can of chickpeas among the deepest, darkest recesses of my pantry. I stopped using canned chickpeas when I tasted dried the first time in Puglia. It was in fact those dried chickpeas, the very ones, that started me on my love affair with dried beans. So the can would have to be, um, fifteen years old? Something like that. And I hate to waste food. I’m the kind of cook who will walk halfway across the kitchen to add a sixteenth of a rosemary leaf to the soup.

So. If you’ve never tasted a dried chickpea, those crispy fried canned chickpeas might seem OK, but they would surely never seem more than OK. Whereas the dried ones, which I used the second time I made the dish, are a delightful, complicated texture, crackle-crunch-chomp. Try baby chickpeas (kala chana and green chana, available from Kalustyan’s); they cook faster than the big ones, and they don’t need to be skinned.

Come on, give them a try. I would never lie to you.

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