Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Asian Style Root Vegetables

At the time of year when root veggies are the only remains of local produce, a Mark Bittman article,  Notes from the Underground in the New York Times, especially the recipe for Mixed-Root-Vegetable Saute, caught my eye.  It was not so much the recipe, fish sauce is one of my least favorite things, as the idea of root vegetables Asian-style that was of interest.  Last night using sesame chili oil instead of chili powder, adding ginger, shitake mushrooms and omitting the fish sauce, I made what I hope will be one of many variations of Asian Style Root Vegetables.

I've recently been thinking about bean sprouts.  When cruising we used to have a sprout "garden" on the boat, substituting sprouts for greens which, before the emergence of farmer's markets, were hard to come by along the coast. What a good winter veggie to grow on a sunny window sill.  Bean sprouts added with the scallion greens would be a great addition to this dish.  Next time.

(1) Separate into white and green ends:

1 bunch scallions

Thinly slice the white part and keeping separate, coarsely chop the green part on the diagonal into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices.

(2) In a medium wok, heat (oil first) over medium-high heat and cook  until tender and slightly browned:

1 T sesame chili oil
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Scallions - white ends

(3) Then add:

2 carrotts, julienne (Bittman grates the veggies)
1 medium sweet potato (~10 oz), julienne
1 parsnip, julienne

(4) Stir constantly for about 5 minutes until vegetables become slightly soft and then add:

1 T grated ginger
~6 shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
Juice from 1/2 lime

(5) Continue stirring for another 3 minutes then add

Scallions - green ends
(Bean sprouts - see note in introduction)
If desired (I did not use) tamari sauce to taste

Continue stirring and cooking for another few minutes until the vegetables are soft but not mushy.

Serve garnished with lime wedges and

Cucumber slices (optional)

Top with a drizzle of sesame chili oil, and/or serve oil and tamari sauce as an accompaniment.

This would also be very good (more protein too) topped with crushed toasted peanuts. (Note to self: hide the peanuts next time so Ed doesn't polish off for a midnight snack.)

Ummm.... I'm looking at the photo.  Dinner was very tasty but the chef did not do a great job with the julienne, or thin slicing all of the white ends of the scallions. Maybe I'll follow Marks Bittman's lead and try grating the root veggies next time.

Reviewed 7/11/2017

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Granada

Still catching up on fall travel posts.  This time, Granada, where Ed and I spent several days in September.  Ed worked, I was the tourist.  This was my third time to Granada. My first, in April 2002 with Alexandra was a 24 hour stop to see the Alhambra in cold pouring rain, far from ideal viewing conditions.  My second, with Ed last year, again a quick stop enroute from La Calahorra to Jaen, and an even quicker tour of the monument since our original tickets were voided by a general strike.  This was my first opportunity to really see the city and I did my homework accordingly.  We stayed at Room Mate Leo, a rather hip hotel I found in Small Inns of Spain.  The room was small but well designed (ask for an upper floor) with access to a roof terrace with views of the city and Alhambra, photo at left (pricier rooms have their own view/balcony).  The staff was very helpful and recommended an excellent restaurant, Ruta del Azafran (azafran = saffron) for our first night.

Ruta del Azafran is a contemporary, well designed restaurant in the Albayzin; both the outdoor terrace and the inside dining area have views of the Alhambra (photo at left is taken from the Alhambra).  We shared a paella and a very nice wine, Blancas Nobles from Barranco Oscuro.  The paella, though more creamy (risotto-like) than most I have had was very good with a minimum of unshelled seafood and a lot of shelled clams and chunks of fish mixed in the rice.  We liked the restaurant well enough to go there again after our trip to the Alpujarras on our last night in Granada .  That night Ed had a lamb cous cous and I had turban bass stuffed with zucchini and prawns with crispy wild rice and lemon foam, both very good.  Serving the stuffed fillet on edge and the fried wild rice was a take-away but I'm not yet into making foams.

Our second night in Granada was consumed by Ed's conference and on our third night,  we tried  Bar Poe  which came highly recommended on a guide I had on my Kindle.  Neither Ed nor I are huge fans of tapas bars; smoke, noise and the typical lack of translated menus being the chief reasons.  As of January 1, 2011 smoking is not permitted in Spanish bars and restaurants :-) and I read that this bar is run by an English couple so we decided to give it a try.  We ended up sitting right at the bar and chatting with one of the owners Matthew Poe.

Unlike most taps bars the selection of tapas is very limited and very eclectic rather than tipico/regional.  We especially enjoyed the Portuguese style salt cod (photo above left), the Chicken in coconut sauce with polenta (photo left), Brazilian blackbean and pork stew and Chicken in spicy Thai sauce.  Perhaps due to the early week-night hour (~9) the bar was full but not crowded or noisy and we enjoyed the food, wine and our conversation with Matt. A huge amount of tapas came with our reasonably priced bottle of wine so this was both a fun, delicious and economical evening.

The culinary highlight our our stay in Granada was dinner at La Oliva. Since the excellent reviews in TripAdvisor advised making reservations, I called a few weeks ahead of time,  spoke with the owner Francisco Lillo, and reserved the only night available during our stay. La Oliva is not a restaurant per say but rather a very good gourmet store featuring olive oil,  wine and other local artisan food items.  Francisco, delights up to eight people for a tasting lunch or dinner several days a week, sharing not only Andalucian ingredients but the stories behind them.  The night we, along with a collegue and his daughter, arrived, there were already four people seated at the other table.  Francisco greeted me warmly with a big hug saying, "You must be Priscilla!" This was the beginning of an incredible evening. For the next three plus hours we felt like Francisco's invited guests as we took a culinary journey around Andalucia.

We started with three kinds of olive oil served with bread, salt and water; no wine yet as Fransisco wanted us to savor the different oils which he presented from different regions of Andulucia.  Then came many small courses, representing the region and the season: olives, almonds, Iberian ham, canapes with toppings of green olives and eggplant, truffels and creamy cheese, and black olives and sundried tomatoes, cheeses, asparagus, tomatoes and basil and other seasonal vegetables, fish and pork dishes accompanied by special sauces, olive oil and olive oil mayonnaise.  


Many of these products are sold at La Oliva, and most of their producers are well known to Francisco, "I have sat at the farmer's kitchen table",  he would tell us beginning his description, the source and production, of the food on the plate he had just placed on our table. Following his story, the patient teacher answered our questions


Most selections we shared off a common plate though some, like one of our favorites, hake in saffron sauce, photo left, were served individually. Francisco served over a dozen courses accompanied by a selection of regional wines. With the help of one assistant, he does all the preparation and serving himself, yet has ample time to discuss the farms and artisans producing the food he has prepared.  Amazingly,  Francisco has no real kitchen and cooked the hake and saffron sauce, the pork in garlic sauce, the asparagus... on a single  propane camp burner.




Finally, Francisco excused himself to "go across the street to get your dessert." He returned with chocolate gelato which he served with a drizzle of Basilippo Aromas Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Oranges from Seville.  Awesome. I purchased  two bottles and am enjoying the first over Stoneyfield Farm non-fat frozen chocolate yogurt and also on vanilla frozen yogurt served with Orange Olive Oil Poppy Seed Cake or Almond Olive Oil Cake.  

Over three hours after our 7 pm arrival, we finished our conversation with Francisco, thanked him profusely and said our good-byes.  (We also paid him the flat all inclusive 30 euros per head and purchased some wine and olive oil). We left, in his own modest words, "the only a shopkeeper" pondering his success and wondering how to accommodate the cascading requests for reservations while still preserving the intimate experience for both himself and his guests.


So what to do to work off all the calories while Ed attended the conference?  Lots of walking. I walked all around the Albayzin taking in the view of the Sierra Nevada and the Alhambra from Mirador San Nicholas and savoring Calle Caldereria Nueva, lined with North African shops and tea houses.  I had made reservations for two different days for the Alhambra, a quick tour with Ed and a rain-check, longer tour opportunity for me.  The unseasonably hot sunny weather (in the eighties) made the water features of the Alhambra particularly sensuous.

The Escalera del Agua, a staircase on the grounds of the Generalife with water flowing down the "rails" (photo of a landing, above left), the water channel along the access road to the Alhambra entry as well as the numerous fountains (Patio de la Acequia, at left) gave reason for a refreshing pause.  Having just finished Washington Irving's The Alhambra, I lingered at the Jardin de Lindaraja and the Torre de las Infantas.


Serendipitously. I came across an exhibit,   M. C. Escher: Infinite Universes at The Palace of Charles V, located there in part because the geometry of the Alhambra mosaics and carvings had a great influence on Esher when he visited in 1922 and again in 1936. Love his statement "Mi ombra es un juego, pero un juega muy serio." The larger part of the exhibit was housed in the Parque de las Sciencias  and I enjoyed that exhibit as well as a quick run through parts of this large museum of science. I stopped to view a two case exhibit "In Memory Of..." containing old computer chips and hardware - most produced and discarded since Alex and Chris were born. The extensive grounds also have interesting displays including good wind and solar energy exhibits.

In the old city,  I toured the Cathedral and then the  Capilla Real, the mausoleum (yes, one can view the lead caskets) of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando. In the latter, I found the fusion of church and state, monarch and saint fascinating.   At the end of the day I just loved wandering through the streets, enjoying the spice stalls near the cathedral and looking at the smooth stone paving that is so typical in this part of Spain.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chickpeas and Spinach

Serves 4

There are lots of recipes for chickpeas and spinach; I sometimes make Chana Masala (Spicy Chickpeas and Spinach), and as part of a collection of "Recipes for the Semi-Vegan" in the December 29 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Mark Bittman has yet another recipe for this combination, a recipe very similar but not quite as complex as the one, "Garbanzos con espinacas" that caught my eye in Moro:The Cookbook . Compared with Bittman's, the Moro recipe includes saffron and fresh oregano, uses red wine vinegar instead of sherry, and starts with bread cubes rather bread crumbs .  The Moro recipe is very good, my guess is that if the spinach is not overcooked, the Bittman one would be good too.

The Moro recipe calls for 500 g of spinach; first try I used 352 g which seemed like a lot of spinach before it cooked down. The chickpea spinach ratio was okay but would have been better with the requisite amount of spinach.  The saffron is a luxury, use it if you have it and want to, but the smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton), sweet (dulce) or hot (picante), is a must. Before being ground the peppers are dried over oak fires to impart a distinctive smoky quality. I use the Safinter brand which is available at Whole Foods.

I cooked a vegetarian dinner for guests last week using this as a main course preceded by Beet Soup with Cumin and followed by Almond Olive Oil Cake.  All totaled, about one quarter of a cup of olive oil per person but no animal fat/butter.  To reduce my company time in the kitchen, I made the bread paste early. Making the bread paste is by far the most time consuming part of this recipe; if I were halving this recipe to serve two, I would make a full recipe of the bread paste and reserve half for future (within a week) use. Alternatively, as Bittman does, use bread crumbs prepared in large batches.

 I  now save a step and cook the chickpeas and paste first and then add the (uncooked) spinach and oil and cook until the spinach is wilted.  If using less oil or the spinach is quite dry and bread paste sticks to the pan, I add a little water to loosen the paste.

While I can understand the Moro recipe (cook spinach and set aside) I do not understand the Bittman recipe where the spinach is cooked to the wilting point then the chickpeas are added and cooked for five more minutes.

FINALLY THE RECIPE:

Soak overnight with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda

200g [7 oz] chickpeas

Drain the dried, soaked chickpeas  in a colander, rinse under cold water, then place in a large saucepan. Fill with 2 liters cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, skimming off any scum as it builds up and cook for 1-2 hours until the chickpeas are soft and tender. Remove from heat, pour off excess liquid until level with chickpeas, and season with salt and pepper and set aside. OR USE [as I did] two 14 oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed with cold water.

[I skip this pre-cook and add raw apinach to warm chickpea mix.] Place a large saucepan [I used a wok] over medium heat and add 3 T olive oil, when oil is hot add

500g [17.5 oz] spinach with a pinch of salt [I omit salt]

Remove when leaves are just tender, drain in a colander and set aside.



Bread Paste
In a frying pan [to save pans, use larger wok for this and subsequent steps] heat:

3 T olive oil, when it is hot add
75 g [2.6 oz] white bread, crusts removed, cut into small cubes

Fry the bread for about 5 minutes until bread is golden brown all over, then add:

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 t cumin seeds
1 small bunch fresh oregano, roughly chopped [I used 14 g with stems, 10 g after stems removed]
1 small dried red chilli, crumbled [I removed seeds before crumbling]

Cook for 1 more minute until the garlic is nutty brown. Transfer to a mortar and pestle* or food processor along with

1 1/2 T good-quality red wine vinegar (like Cabernet Sauvignon)

Mash to a paste.

Assemble Dish
Return the bread mixture to the pan [assumes one starts with a large enough pan] and add the drained chickpeas and

A good pinch of saffron (60 strands) that has been infused in 4 T boiling water for at least 10 minutes

Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot, then season with salt and pepper.  If the consistency is a little thick then add some water.  Add the spinach and cook until it too is again hot [or if spinach is added raw, until it is wilted] and served sprinkled with [I mixed in 1/2 t then just put a tiny additional dusting on top]

1/2 t sweet smoked Spanish paprika

*  April 2012: I made a half recipe of this last week and instead of using a food processor to make the paste, I let the bread cool and dry until it was "crunchy", then used a wooden pestle to make the paste.  A tiny bit more time to crush, but a much quicker clean-up.







Reviewed 7/11/2017

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

JANUARY


Much of our December seemed unseasonably warm, and January so far seems to have continued the same pattern.  It was warm enough to have a picnic on our deck on New Year's Day.  Almost two weeks later, it is still relatively warm and sunny, just one dusting of snow. The larger ponds are still open and the smaller ponds are just skimming over with ice.  Not good in the long term.

But, we have indeed turned the corner (and we can enjoy this knowing it is not caused by our actions), the days are now getting longer!



"WHAT DO YOU EAT IN JANUARY?" is the title of Chapter 18 of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in the Life of Food.  If you can afford it and are not on a locavore quest like the Kingsolver family, the answer is "Anything you want."  The markets are not only full of berries from California and South America but blueberries are "on special - only $3.99" (externalities not included) for a half-pint box. Asparagus?  Sure. The produce section does not reflect the season outside. I still buy lettuce and spinach and Florida citrus, but otherwise try to stay as local as possible.

Locally, however, the selection is getting limited. The "our own" produce at one of the few local farms still open is pretty much limited to potatoes and squash. I pick out the smallest of the German butterball potatoes, parboil then dry and coat with olive oil.  Roasted on the grill or in a hot frying pan, they are delicious. A few cranberries and local apples (think Cranberry-Apple Crisp) are still available as is cider. I use some potatoes along with the corn I froze last summer to make New England Corn Chowder and along with the chili I froze last fall, Corn and Green Chili Chowder.  The cider and onions pair to make Cider Onion Soup while roasted squash garnishes the Mushroom Risotto. I dip into the freezer for Pesto, for blueberries (the small Maine ones purchased last summer for about five dollars a quart) to make Blueberry Cobbler and for strawberries I froze last summer to garnish Chipolte Chocolate - Olive Oil Cake.  These berries bring a bit of summer to the winter table.

I've never been a fan of winter tomatoes, but now there is more reason  to opt for canned ones this time of year.  Also, after a few years of mindlessly buying the chicken and vegetable stock now so ubiquitous in the markets in stacks of 32 ounce boxes, I'm buying bullion (actually "Better Than Bullion", small jar in photo at left) and adding my own water. An 8 ounce jar makes 256 ounces or 9 and 1/2 quarts (or the equivalent of 9 and 1/2  32 ounce boxes) of stock.  Cubes would be even lighter; may try those next.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Beet Soup with Cumin

This recipe is based on "Beetroot soup with black cumin" from Sam and Sam Clark's, Moro:The Cookbook. I used regular cumin because I could not find any black (the cookbook advises, "this is a rare variety of cumin that has more of an aromatic nutty flavor than normal cumin; the seeds are finer and more curled in shape. It is usually found in Indian/Bengali shops under the name of 'kala jeerd'"*) I followed the recipe and finely diced the beets and potatoes, but I think this was unnecessarily time consuming. Next time I am going to cut the veggies in medium chunks and cook a bit longer than if diced.


In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat

4 T olive oil

Add

1/2 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced [I used 155 g/`5.5 oz]

And cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onion turns golden.


Add:
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 rounded teaspoon black cumin or normal cumin seeds**

Cook for two more minutes then add:
750g [26.4 oz] raw beetroot, peeled and finely diced [I would chop in medium chunks - wear gloves!]
1 large potato, finely diced [I used 260g/~9oz - I would chop in medium chunks]


Pour in 1.25 liters of cold water bring to a gentle simmer and cook until soft, about 15 minutes [or longer if vegetables are cut in bigger chunks]. Place the vegetables and the cooking liquid in batches in a food processor*** and blend until smooth. Return to the pan and add:

3 T good-quality red wine vinegar
Half of a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped [I used 5 T curly parsley medium-fine chop]
Salt and pepper to taste


Place in bowls and top with

100g [3.5 oz - I used 6 oz] Greek yoghurt, thinned with a little milk [I used Stoneyfield Farm non-fat yogurt and did not thin] seasoned with 1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste and salt

Chopped parsley
An extra drizzle of olive oil





* Moro:The Cookbook , page 72

** I could not figure out if this meant 1 rounded table teaspoon or 1 rounded measuring t spoon. I assumed the latter since I figured it would be difficult to level these seeds. I find it a bit frustrating that in many cases, in this recipe and others, the authors are so precise on one hand (760g of beets) and vague on the other (one large potato, a small bunch of parsley).


*** April 2013: Just made this with an immersion blender (see Cool Tools 3). Wow! The prep time is shorter and the clean-up much easier. A good spring/summer option is to serve cold garnished with yogurt/parsley/orange zest.








Reviewed 7/9/2017

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Alpujarras

Last week I did a  Moro-inspired dinner for friends.  I was about to post the recipes, when I decided I should first finish this post, started several months ago, which led me to this regional cooking.




Las Alpujarras, a 70 km long jumble of valleys, lies below the southern flank of the Sierra Nevada. This area is comprised of arid hillsides split by deep ravines and valleys and  white-washed villages set beside streams and surrounded by gardens and olive, almond and chestnut trees. This region has an infinite number of good walking routes which link the over three dozen villages and connect with trails leading into the Sierra Nevadas. It was to Las Alpujarras that the last Muslim ruler of Granada, Muhammad XII, better known as King Boabdil, was banished (1492) after surrendering his kingdom to Isabella I of Castile, who with her husband Ferdinand II of Argonwere were known as los Reyes Catolicos.  For a history and flavor of the region check out Gerald Brenan's South From Granada and Chris Stewart's Driving Over Lemons


In September 2010, Ed and I arrived in Granada to find we could not visit the Alhambra as planned due to a general strike.  Instead, we drove through Langaron and Orgiva to Capileira where we had our first taste, albeit brief, of walking in the (western) Alpujarra. Then last September Ed and I spent six days hiking, or "walking", as the British in these parts would say, in the eastern Alpujarra. We had first planned to divide our time between two regions of Spain but after reading reviews of Las Chimeneas and having several e-mail exchanges with one of the owners, Emma Illsley, we decided to spend the whole time at Las Chimeneas and were very happy we did.  This delightful bed and breakfast (with optional dinner restaurant) is perched at the edge of the beautiful mountain village of Mairena.  From our room's balcony we could look out over an expansive landscape and over half a dozen other villages the lights of which twinkled at night  like discrete constellations.

The Trip Advisor reviews are right on.  Emma and/or her husband and co-owner David dropped by our breakfast table each morning to offer hiking suggestions and be sure we had the maps we needed; the staff was very helpful too.  The Ilsleys are British ex-pats and most of their staff is English which made communication easy for Ed and me. Their marveleous chef, Soledad is native to the region and the food she presented reflected its culinary history. Breakfasts as advised were simple and dinner, infused with a regional/Moorish influence, very good, especially the first courses and desserts . The Sam Clarks, the owner-chefs at Moro occasionally conductcooking workshops at Las Chimeneas and their influence is apparent in the menu. The visit inspired me check out a couple of the Clark's Cookbooks, Moro, The Cookbook and Casa Moro.

The menu is small but changes daily, usually 3 selections each of 3 courses, and during our stay there were good vegetarian options every night. Our favorites included: (starter) Cold Almond and Garlic Soup and Savory Pancakes with Spinach Filling (photo above left); (main) Rabbit with a Carrot and Honey Sauce, Stuffed Eggplant (photo above left), and Chicken with Sundried Tomatoes and Peppers. 


The desserts were exceptional and usually accompanied by a couple of the incredibly good house grown and preserved brandied cherries; our favorites included Custard with Bread (photo at left), Moorish Noodle Pudding, Almond Tart, Almond Creme Carmel, and Fig Cake with Chocolate Sauce. We also enjoyed local wines from the Veleta Vineyard in Ugijar.

We did two kinds of "walking"/hiking. The first in the Sierra Nevadas from Puerto de la Ragua; one day on Chullo (west of the pass) and one day on Sanjauanero (east of the pass). This fufilled a quest Ed started a year ago when we headed for Puerto de a Ragua from La Calahorra. The road approaching the pass from this direction (single lane, no guard rails, long drops and fast-moving on-coming trucks) is much worse than the south approach. About two thirds of the way up, I had enough and insisted we bail. The hiking is pretty dry and barren with some low vegetation and sheep and goats.

The other walking we did was from village to village often along the many waterways which are used to irrigate almond, olive and fruit trees. The paths while dry and dusty (we were there in unusually warm, 80+ degrees F, fall weather), were often bordered by olive, almond or chestnut groves. The almonds and chestnuts are almost completely exported, but we were told it was okay to help ourselves to figs from the random fig trees along the paths as most of these drop and rot. Since Emma and David provide guests with an excellent map and guide to the National Park Sierra Nevada and keep an extensive notebook with local trail guides, I will not go into detail but give short descriptions of the local walks we did. On the afternoon of our arrival we did a short walk down the hill from Las Chimeneas to "The Finca" where David and Emma have fruit trees. Other local walks included: 

(1) A day walk (stopping to take lots of photos) from Mairena through Jubar, home to one of the oldest churches in the area, along a waterway and through chestnut trees then back down the other side of the valley to the village of Laroles. We had tapas at the Old El Paso Bar and then followed the GR7 back to Mairena

(2) A day walk from Mairena along the old camino real to the village of Nechite and then on Valor.We had tapas at a bar in Valor then retraced our steps, with some variations, to Mairena. Again this walk was up one deep valley and back the other side. Between Nechite and Mairena we crossed one small river/waterfall which we understand is not easily passable during a rainy season. Some guests opt instead to do a one way walk starting at Yegen. David drops them at Yegen and they walk to Valor then Nechite, ending at Mairena.

(3) A morning walk along the "Picena Circuit", along waterways into into a deep canyon. At the head of the canyon we found a suspension bridge across the river and an old electric station. I lost my footing and had an unintended plunge in a small pool; given the heat of the day, being totally drenched actually felt good. For lunch we stopped for tapas at the local bar in Mairena. The barkeep/owner presented us with a marvelous tapas which in addition to local pork on a roll included olives and black tomatoes from his own garden. He also offered us hard boiled eggs "from his own chickens." In the afternoon we did the Walk of the "Piedras Pintadas" and another piece of the Jubar waterway walk.


April 2014: Alex, travelling in Spain with Dan and Henry (our first grandchild!), asked me for more detail about the "tapas place" since Henry doesn't do so well with "sit down dinners." I have no idea if this bar still exists, but photo at left should help any visitor find it. Too bad the black tomatoes probably won't be in season yet.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Tale of Two Woks

On a day off, years ago when I was in Indonesia for work, I was walking down a street in Denpasar with some colleagues. We passed a hardware store that had cast iron woks in the window.  It was quickly determined that if I did not already have a cast iron wok (I did not), I should take this opportunity and purchase one immediately. Next thing I knew I was half the world away from home, the proud owner of a 5 pound, 13 inch diameter cast iron wok. Despite early misgivings about this impulsive purchase, I did manage to get the wok back to Massachusetts, and it has been one of my kitchen favorites ever since.  When Christopher recently talked about getting a wok that did not have a teflon finish so that he did not have to worry about high temperatures, I set out to find him a wok similar to my own.  In my limited search to date, the best I could find was a cast iron wok from the Wok Shop in San Francisco.  I suspect there are equal or better sources in New York but have not had the opportunity to check them out. When Chris opened this Christmas package, I think he was totally underwhelmed; the wok was a dull military gray and very light weight (at ~2 1/2 pounds, about half the weight of mine).

We followed the Wok Shop's instructions for seasoning:  first scrubbing the wok very well in hot soapy water to remove the protective oil, then drying it and lightly coating it, inside and out, with peanut oil and placing it in a hot (425 degrees F) oven for 20 minutes.  Despite the fan, the kitchen became quite smokey; we closed the interior kitchen doors and opened the exterior door for the duration. When we removed the wok from the oven it was beginning to look a bit more promising.  The next step suggested by the Wok Shop is to preheat the wok and 1 tsp cooking oil, then stir fry pungent veggies, e. g.  onions, ginger, green onions, garlic, or especially chives,  until the veggies are burned, and then toss them out.  This should remove any potentially metallic taste. We used peanut oil and a huge handful of  chopped chives and grated ginger.  My range's high power burner made the wok especially hot and we successfully charred all the chives and ginger. The wok was getting character, maybe even wok hay; Christopher seemed more enthusiastic.


Chris took his wok back to Brooklyn and the first night home cooked some steak and broccoli and reported: "i'm becoming a wok junkie with my 'gold standard wok' --- it came out very well --- it is nice being able to heat a wok really hot before putting meat in without worrying about teflon" The next night he tried tofu, broccoli, carrots and water chestnuts and again reported "it was really good"; he also noted "i measured the wok to be like 450F during the tofu cooking i don't know if you're allowed to go that hot with teflon".


Although I offered to get Chris a large wok for dinner parties, he correctly pointed out that two smaller (13-14 inch) woks would work much more efficiently on his stove than one large one.  



THE WOK RING


While we were getting ready to season the wok, Christopher took Barbara Tropp's The Art of Chinese Cooking, a book he had given me many years ago, off my bookshelf and began reading about seasoning.  In the process he also discovered that the ideal position for a dual-diameter wok ring is wide side up. Makes perfect sense as it permits a greater spread of heat to the wok.  Often the burner configuration requires the ring be placed narrow side up, but it works perfectly fine on my range the preferred way, yet all these years.... Should have read the intro and not gone directly to the recipes.

ACCESSORIES

A wok brush/cleaning whisk is a plus, I had one for many years and got a new one this year. I've also used a brass skimmer for many years.  I got these two accessories for Chris along with some black iron wok utensils. The latter were a huge mistake. Though cool, if primitive, looking, it's a case of metal on metal (what is flaking off?) and the metal on metal contact noise is terrible. Wood utensils and a silicon spatula are much preferable.

Photo at top left shows new wok, seasoned and on a wok ring in proper position, and, at right, my 30 plus year old Indonesian wok.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Spicy Gingerbread

Recently when travelling in Colorado, Ed ordered Warm Apples and Gingerbread with Calvados Sabayon. Not a fan of gingerbread myself, I never realized Ed liked gingerbread. Later that week, as house guests in Boulder, we were served a gingerbread that even I liked.  I found the recipe in Molly Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest and decided to makes this for the Christmas holiday instead of the Molasses Cookies/Gingersnaps, which have not been terribly popular in recent years.  I pretty much followed the recipe but used 6 T of olive oil in lieu of butter or canola oil.




Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square pan.


In a small skillet melt:


6 T butter or canola oil [I used 6 T olive oil]


Add and saute together over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until fragrant:


3 T grated fresh ginger


Combine in  a small mixing bowl, and beat at high speed with an electric mixer for 2 to 3 minutes:


1/2 c light-colored honey
1/2 c light [I used dark] molasses



Add the ginger mixture and beat for one minute more.  Whisk in:


3/4 c firm yogurt
1 egg [I used 1/4 c "egg product"]


Beat at high speed for an additional minute then set aside.  Sift* into a large mixing bowl:


2 c [8.1 oz] flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t dry mustard
1/2 t ground cloves or allspice [I used ground cloves]
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t [ground] nutmeg


Make a well in the center and pour in the wet mixture.  Mix with a few decisive strokes until throughly combined.


Spread into the prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until the top surface is springy to the touch [and a small skewer or broom straw inserted into the middle of the gingerbread comes out clean].  Cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.  Good with vanilla or ginger frozen yogurt or ice cream or whipped cream.


* This time around I put all this stuff through my sifter and then had to clean the sifter. Not easy. Decided the better option is to weigh the flour to get sifted flour equivalent, then just add the spices which aren't "lumpy" anyway.

Reviewed 5/11/17