Archive for June, 2009

One Step Closer to a Full Dozen

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Walking downtown today, I noticed a familiar logo in the window of the storefront next door to the Harris Theater (on Liberty, near the corner of Wood/ across the street from Strawberry Way): Dozen Bakeshop is preparing to open a third location.

It’s going to be retail only, with no baking done on site.  Andrew reports that there are still a few details to be worked out, but that they plan to open mid-July.

The Earl Didn’t Invent It (Duh).

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

The standard story for the origin of the sandwich goes something like this:

“In 1762, an English Noble named John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was on a gambling spree when he got hungry.  He didn’t want to fold his hand, so he instructed a servant to place a piece of roast beef between two slices of bread.  He could eat with one hand and play with the other.  Thus the birth of what today is the most popular meal in the western world” (Brown, Alton. I’m Just Here for the Food. New York: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2002. p 72).

While Mr. Brown’s book is incredibly informative and I heartily recommend to anyone who wants to understand more about the mechanics of cooking and transference of heat to food, on this topic, he’s just plain wrong.

Anyone who wants the skinny on the real origin of sandwiches should track down a copy of the Summer 2004 issue of Gastronomica, in which Mark Morton divulges the true story behind sandwiches: they have been a common peasant food since quite possibly the dawn of bread; they just lacked a clever name to refer to them and were known simply as “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese.”

As evidence, Mr. Morton provides an exhaustive review of old literature and the number of times the phrases appeared thusly vs. the scant number of times the words were reversed to “meat and bread” or “cheese and bread” and concludes that the phrasing refers to what is a natural meal, especially for those who don’t have the luxury of always being able to sit and dine.  yet somehow, one rich guy eats the same thing in the company of his peers (who if they were paying any attention probably would have noticed their servants dining in a similar manner) and the whole concept gets named after him.

And really, that’s just a view of the western world of cooking.  What about all the folks in the new world who were making flatbreads out of maize and using them to wrap up other foods?  A) these were types of sandwiches that existed well before 1762 and B) the breads got named in Spanish as tortillas, not in the native language of the Aztecs who were making them.  Once again, the language by which we know a phenomenon has little to do with those who invented the item.

But then again, we all know that there’s nothing new about classism.

Sweet Omelette For Summer

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Happy summer!  I hope everyone is making the most of the season and getting fresh foods from local farmers.  If you’re in Pittsburgh, there are farmers’ markets options around the city, every day but Sunday.  This interactive map from the Post-Gazette can help you locate an option convenient for you.  If you can, visit a couple options so you can increase your range of options–not all markets have the same vendors!

Last week, I was lucky enough to be hosted by PASA to cook at Farmers at Phipps, the Wednesday market at Phipps Conservatory in Oakland.

I won’t be at the farmers’ market this week, but will return on July 1, so please come out and support your farmers if you can.  I’ll be on hand to give tips on using ingredients you might not be totally familiar with, and samples of whatever I can concoct from the ingredients the farmers have on hand (the mystery basket: I won’t know what’s in it until it’s presented to me).

Last week, I made several different dishes with the ingredients that were on hand, but this was perhaps my favorite: a sweet rhubarb and goat cheese omelette.

Don’t let the ingredients scare you—there was one guy who stopped by the tent to see what I was cooking.  When he heard, he started walking away.  “That’s way too cultured for me,” he said, “I don’t know that I’d like it.”

“I can’t guarantee you you’ll like it,” I agreed.  “But I can guarantee that if you don’t taste it, you’ll never know if you like it or not.”  He tasted.  He liked it.  Maybe you will too.  But, feel free to substitute flavors.  I used rhubarb because that’s what was available.  But we’re in raspberry season by now, with blackberries and blueberries to follow.  Either of those would make great substitutions for rhubarb though they would need to be cooked much less.  If you don’t have goat cheese, cream cheese would work.  But a local goat cheese would make it that much better.

One ingredient you shouldn’t compromise on is eggs.  There are so many more local egg options I’ve seen on the market today as compared with even three or four years ago.  What had been an item on the fringe is starting to seem a little more mainstream, which is a great development.  Get some local eggs, your taste buds will thank you for it.

Sweet Rhubarb and Goat Cheese Omelette

* 1 stalk fresh rhubarb, diced to approximately 1/4-inch pieces

* 2 local eggs

* brown sugar, to taste

* vanilla (optional)

* 1-2 tablespoons goat cheese

* oil or butter to cook in

Get two pans hot: one a cast iron or non-stick pan for creating the omelette, the other a good saute pan for cooking the rhubarb.

Saute the rhubarb in a small amount of oil or butter.  As it softens, add a sprinkle of brown sugar—maybe a couple of teaspoons or so.

Beat the eggs lightly with a very small pinch of salt, just a touch of brown sugar, and about 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, if you’re using it.  Add oil or butter to the omelette pan and let the fat get hot.  Pour the eggs around the bottom of the pan in a thin layer.  As the omelette approaches doneness, add the rubarb filling and dot the surface with goat cheese.  As the egg just barely reaches the point where it is set, roll the omelette out of the pan onto a plate.  Garnish with fresh berries if desired and serve immediately.

Variations: If using fresh berries, add the sugar into the butter or oil, and then add about half of the berries you intend for the omelette.  The juice they release will combine with the sugar and prevent it from turning into hard candy in the bottom of your pan.  When adding this filling to the omelette, add in the other half of the berries and let them heat up with the omelette (if using strawberries, cut large berries in 1/2 or 1/4).

Mint Lemonade

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Freshly made lemonade is always better than the stuff from a bottle in my book. Here’s a simple yet tasty variation on the theme.

* A fistful of fresh mint (don’t be shy)
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 cup water
* 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 8-12 lemons, depending on the size)
* 3-4 cups ice water

Combine the sugar and the 1 cup of water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the mint (washed), stems and all. Let the mint steep in the simple syrup for at least 20 minutes to half an hour, or longer if you have the time.

I made my syrup a day before I needed it and let the mint steep for about three hours as the syrup cooled to room temp, but if you’re in more of a hurry, the shorter time span should do fine. If you are doing the quick version, though, refrigerate the steeped syrup or stir it over an ice bath to chill it to room temperature before proceeding to the next step.

Strain the mint leaves out of the syrup as you pour it into a pitcher large enough to hold the finished lemonade. Stir in the lemon juice and ice water. Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated. Garnish each glass with a spring of mint and a slice of lemon, if desired.

Worst. Sandwich. Ever.

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

I often have people ask me to identify the best dish I ever made.  Never have I had anyone ask me the worst.  Too bad, because it’s a much easier question to answer.  By far the worst thing I ever made was a peanut butter, bacon, and toasted garlic sandwich.  It was terrible.

I know what you’re thinking—it sounds terrible, I should have been able to know it would be bad without going through the agony of eating it.  But, I lured myself into thinking it might be good: I like peanut butter and bacon sandwiches; I like bacon and toasted garlic together; why not unite all three?

As it turns out, sometimes the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

So, what’s the worst meal/ dish you ever created?