Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Belated Book Enthusiasm: John Thorne

I meant to post this on September 25, but forgot to copy it from facebook.

All of John Thorne's books are good. I'm finally settling down with "Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite" which actually came out last year but I gave away my copy as a present. New copy showed up today. Hard to stop reading and actually cook dinner!

Thorne writes about food in ways that bring little gasps and smiles of recognition to any true food lover. He truly loves things that taste good, whether highbrow or lowbrow. He has a gift of sharing the sensation he's enjoyed. Choosing a recipe by appetite, slicing an onion, frying an egg, even doctoring canned tamales with shredded cheese and pricey Austrian pumpkinseed oil: all grist for his mill. And the tiny essay "Five Month Old Croissant" made me laugh out loud.

Here is a sample of what I love about Thorne, comparing soup to a bright spring morning: "When Matt and I began to eat the minestrone, we kept wondering what the spinach, the zucchini, the parsley, the potato, etcetera, did for the dish; perhaps some of these components could be left out. But gradually we came to understand that each did do something, even if we couldn't easily put our finger on it...pause and pay attention and a quiet pleasure unfolds, one that has a depth to which you were previously oblivious, a harmony composed of many now identifiable parts...the main goal of the cook is to let all the parts shine through."

This minestrone recipe is about technique as much as ingredients, like nearly every dish Thorne dissects and analyzes. Days after reading the chapter, I went and made a pretty good minestrone out of the leftover vegs in the fridge. It wasn't quite his recipe, but now I've made it my own, which is the whole point of his cookery exercises.

And I can particularly relate to this passage, having once been a recipe hoarder:

" would have found a single file folder containing, say, twenty or thirty recipes for French onion soup. I didn't collect these because I thought that one day I'd hold a cook-off to discover which one was best. No, like a teenage boy who covers his bedroom wall with photographs of Christina Aguilera, I just couldn't have too many glimpses of the same desirable object."

He goes on and on about spaghetti with simple savory toppings, such as anchovies, olives and capers. Similar to a dish I used to make but forgot about. Now I've rediscovered it for weekend lunches. Spouse heartily approves, since I seem to have a blind spot about cooking weekend lunches.

The recipes are nice, but I also read Thorne for the same reasons I read Oliver Sacks or Stephen Jay Gould. I learn something and enjoy the intellectual exercise, but I enjoy the words for themselves too. Damn good writing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Canadice Grapes and Shishito Peppers

Love love love Union Square Greenmarket. Today was a gorgeous blue sky sunny cool autumn day, and I enjoyed roaming even the abbreviated Friday market with all its odd goodies. Friday and Wednesday in fact host many farms that are a bit smaller and funkier than the Saturday crowd. Lots more organic/semi-organic produce, and oddball varieties.

Many stands offer Concord grapes and various other lambrusca varieties. I'm a wuss and I like seedless grapes best, and a few years ago I fell in love with Canadice grapes. They're only available for a few weeks starting in September, and only a few stands offer them. They are AWESOME. They taste like sweet juicy spicy mildly grape-flavored candies. The skins are a tiny bit tough but stuff enough in your mouth and you hardly notice. I ate a whole bunch on the bus going home. Spouse ate another bunch waiting for dinner. The bunches are small and very tightly packed, so this is not as indulgent as it sounds. And, y'know, grapes!

Shishito peppers are wholly new to me. I found them at a stand offering lots of other Asian veggie varieties. They look a bit like skinny, dark green pepperoncini. The helpful written sign said they should be seared in hot oil and eaten sprinkled with salt. Folks on line seem to agree. I will try these. I love roasted green peppers more than red peppers, especially in salad, so I'll probably like them. But I cooked gumbo tonight, so maybe tomorrow.

UPDATE: Shishito peppers are fantastic! And super easy. Just heat a little olive oil in a nonstick frying pan, and toss in the washed peppers, stems and all. When they start to brown on one side, shake them up. Turn them and shake them until evenly browned and tender, almost like regular roasted peppers. Sprinkle with salt. Eat while still warm. The clump of seeds is a bit hot, as one would expect, but entirely edible. VERY good eaten with sharp sheep cheese and a crisp Moscato or NZ Suavignon Blanc.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

NYC Craft Beer Awesomeness #1

So it's been Craft Beer Week in New York City this week, and by Saturday we had utterly failed to actually visit any good bars and drink any awesome craft beers. Fortunately our good friend the Uber Queen of Beer celebrated her birthday this week -- how entirely appropriate -- and Saturday a great number of us ended up at Rattle and Hum. This wonderful establishment was at first rather over-crowded with um, Washington Huskies fans?!? when we arrived, but once they were satisfied with the outcome of the game they mostly departed and had only drunk up some of the craft offerings (I was rather disappointed the Allagash White was gone, but o well, I've had it before).

Now Craft Beer Week means no commonplace big-brewery offerings: no Guinness, no Hoegaarden, not even Sam Adams! The lovely things on tap included -- o be still my heart! -- 20 count 'em 20 -- CASKS of OMG awesome things...alas I hardly tasted any tho. I am just not an IPA fan, and most of the casks seemed to contain IPAs. However in between the loud party camaraderie, I managed to order and cadge and taste a total of eight beverages mostly new to me.

Ommegang 3 Philosophers: had this once before in the big Ommegang bottle. Tastes very different on draft. Belgian-style like all the brewery's offerings, it's a sweet, rich dark Quad (that is, even darker than Dubbel or Tripel). The nose is wholly familiar to dark Belgian brews. It's still and calm on the tongue, with plentiful caramel notes. Syrupy and crisp at the same time. Lovely stuff. Best as a finisher, not a starter...practically a dessert.

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous: this American Strong Ale (per the menu) is as powerful as any Stone stuff I've had...but not as good as Stone Arrogant Bastard. O well! There's a powerful bitter grapefruity Cascade hop aroma. The Cascade assault faded as the beer warmed up (it was served a bit too cold), so we could appreciate the smoky, rich caramel flavors, especially in the finish.

Stone Smoked Porter: I didn't expect to like this...not a fan of smoked beers...but even chilled this was powerful and tasty, rich and smoky without being too overwhelming. However I just prefer smoky charred flavors on steak rather than beer.

Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold: Nice! Very traditional Belgian pale ale. Not really a standout in the growing field of American-Belgians. But quite pleasant, smooth, drinkable. Comparable to Palm or lighter Chimay. I think I missed the orange and spice notes alas, in the heat of the guzzle.

Schmaltz Coney Island Sword Swallower: I love every beer I've had from these guys. This "strong lager" made with 8 hops and 4 malts perhaps does not quite live up to the expectation of such a complicated recipe. It's pleasant enough, made in IPA style. Frankly, I was getting a bit buzzed by the time this appeared, and I gulped it down without thinking too much about it...that probably says it all.

Captain Lawrence Sour: "Golden ale with Cabernet grapes still in the barrel." Well what the hell! I had to try this casker. How could I not?!? Well. Um. That'll teach me to be recklessly adventurous...not that I'm about to take up base jumping...but this stuff. Wow. The smell, not the bouquet, hit me like super-cheap wine that was out uncorked for a couple days. Not to denigrate cheap wine, I drink plenty of it. So the Cheap sweet wine with hops added. Sour and sweet at the same time. Um. I'm glad I had the fairly innocuous Sword Swallower before this. Spouse and I managed to finish it, as Spouse generally finishes his beers. I am not so thorough and decorous.

Allagash Interlude: Ahh! This was the stuff craft brewing dreams are made of!! Billed as an "American Wild Ale" which I took to mean Belgian-lambic style. Yes! Though the brewery's description sounds a bit different from that method, the results are quite similar. Really more gueze-like even. So! The color is bright orangey, cloudy. The strong nose is musty and sour but invitingly so, if you like lambics. The flavor...bold, bright, fruity, cidery, delicious for sipping not slurping. Knowing how it's made, I can't wait to try it again in calmer surroundings. Because by now the party was quite lively, and we'd eaten and drunk a fair amount. I will note, the Interlude actually went quite nicely with both birthday cakes.

Sixpoint Otis Oatmeal Stout: The OTHER Brooklyn brewery, I've quite liked most of their brews I've had. There wasn't anything outstanding about this stout, it's fairly typical of this style but I liked it better than Heartland's as it is less smoky and coffee-like. Really, it's more like a porter than a stout. But I'm not complaining. The sips I cadged were tasty and a fine finish for a busy evening.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Rock Lives!

Still reading up on 60s pop music of England and America. The old record company rationale for leaving hit singles off of pop albums was based on simple marketing. Since a majority of a band or singer's fans wanted the hit singles and fewer would buy the albums, they figured having all-new material on the album was a nice "thank you" to the even more eager fans, not sticking them with a 33-1/3 dupe of material they already owned as a 45. That eventually changed when many acts no longer focused on hit singles, but even today there are "album versions" of some radio singles. Sometimes those versions are just padded out dance numbers, but now and then add something new.
So everything old is new again. The album isn't dead, but fans have gone back to an older mode of buying and listening to music. The digital download is just the modern equivalent of the 45 (the CD single having been a non-starter). Groups that have high-quality thematic material and particularly eager (or perhaps indulgent) fans still sell albums.
Or at least they'd sell them if fucking pirates didn't rip them off constantly.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Corn Chowder Fu...The Next Generation

Made an even heartier version of my basic corn-tomato soup this week. Took the basic recipe and added canned pinto beans and 1 bunch of chard, shredded (including the cleaned stems which are quite tasty if added about 5 minutes sooner than the greens) and, for extra flavor, a heaping spoonful of home-made basil-parsley pesto. We ate this with cheese and bread as usual.

Then I got fancy with the leftovers. The next night I added chopped Al Fresco All Natural chicken sausage and made a heartier soup that way. It was good.

The final installment, there being not much left, took another tack. I sauteed 1/2 lb pork sausage and added the remaining soup, minus the broth (it went down the sink...). I whirled 2 fist-sized pieces of fresh baguette and a couple ounces white cheddar in the food processor. I stuck 2 cleaned halves of an acorn squash and 2 hollowed-out red peppers in the oven to pre-cook at 400 degrees (oiled and salted) about 10 minutes. I combined the sausage/soup and the bread/cheese, mixed in an egg and some extra oregano and thyme, and pushed the mixture into the squash halves and peppers. Baked them 40 minutes at 375. Cooked some broccoli rabe in olive oil. All good...the squash, fresh from the greenmarket, was awesome meaty tasty wonderful, the stuffing bold and chewy. But we still have leftovers. Spouse will take them to work for lunch.

Oyster Bay Suavignon Blanc 2008

I've had the shock of my wine-drinking life! Thanks to spouse, we've made a thrilling discovery. He's been doing household paperwork and decided his thirst required a nice crisp white wine. (No remarks. He's macho as they come, but he's got a lotta depth. And he'll drink pretty much anything as long as it tastes good...lager, stout, suav blanc, zinfandel, rum, scotch, you get the idea.) Fortunately I had one chilling in the fridge: Oyster Bay Suavignon Blanc 2008, from New Zealand. I figured I'd save it for a nice dinner of fish and veggies, or chicken, or salad.

I had different plans for tonight's dinner: I had a couple bottles of beer chilling too. Because dinner was spicy black beans with sun-dried tomato chicken sausage, served with a polenta casserole.* Spicy black beans with Suavignon Blanc?!? Horrors! The wine could never withstand such an assault! Never!

Well, duh. Spouse was entirely right. The wine was delicious with the food. Better than even a lighter less tannic red wine would have been. Better than a Riesling or Gewurtztraminer? Dunno. Maybe. This is a rich, complex Suav Blanc: fruity, dry, flinty, but also spicy, nearly as aggressive as an unoaked Chardonnay. Sipping it alone it's just plain delicious. I'm impressed.

*Spicy black beans: saute chopped onion, chopped red pepper, chopped zucchini, sliced chicken sausage (Al Fresco All Natural brand, from the supermarket); add 1 can black beans, 1 chopped beefsteak tomato, 1 ear corn sliced off the cob; add spices salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme, Penzey's Chili 9000 blend. Cook about 20 minutes total.
Polenta casserole (based on a 1997 Food & Wine Magazine recipe): chop & saute (in grapeseed oil) 1 small onion, 1 small red pepper, 1 yellow or green zucchini; cool slightly. Beat 2 eggs with 1-1/2 cup milk; add 3/4 cup cornmeal/polenta, 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, salt, 1 tsp dry thyme. Combine with cooled veg. Pour into casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Makes 4-5 servings.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Any hope for this poor ugly flower?

Orchid people get very excited when a first-bloom seedling turns out even half-decent. Good color, good shape, good substance, these are all signs of hope for the next flowerings to be even better, when the plant is stronger and hitting its stride. Now and then a first-bloomer is so good you hope the next time it might even be award-quality.

Orchid people buy hybrid seedlings rather than clones because it's exciting to be the first on your block to see the results from a good hybrid. Sometimes all we ever see from a hybrid cross is one clone, maybe two, that hits the mass market because the original grower decided to bloom out the seedlings and pick the best early bloomers for themselves. Sometimes only a few plants from a cross are any good, and they never get cloned at all; we see them in the award pages, and none others.

If you have little space to spare on growing up unbloomed seedlings that may or may not turn out to be to your liking, then buying mature plants in flower, or mericlones of known quality, makes perfect sense. If you like the thrill of the chase, then compots and seedlings and near-blooming-size plants are right for you.

Well, you pays your money and you takes your chances. Way back in December I bought a bunch of cute baby mini catts from Carter & Holmes. One has bloomed! (Lc Mini Purple "Tamiami-4n" x Slc Precious Katie) surprised me, I had no idea it was even in bud and one day as I was watering the bottom shelf there was a bright purple flower!

Um...except that's the flower pictured above. It is a few days past its prime, the petals are wilting a bit, but overall even in its prime...bleah. The lip is nice and round, but the petals are dire, and the sepals...where the hell are the sepals?!? The two lower sepals are mere nubbins!

I am soft-hearted, and I will not discard the poor mite just yet. It's obviously an eager bloomer. I'll repot it when a new growth appears, and try and be more vigilant with water & food, and see if the next flowering is any improvement. After that...

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Corn Chowder Fu is Unstoppable

I love making meals that aren't based on recipes, just techniques. Summer tomato-corn chowder is a perfect example. I failed to record the source of the original recipe, but it was so simple I fell in love with it and I made it over and over again every summer for the past 10 years.

Basic Tomato-Corn Soup
Makes 4 servings

Chop about 1 cup yellow onion, 1/2 cup of sweet red pepper, mince a clove of garlic, saute in 2 tbsp olive oil with salt and pepper. Chop 1 or 2 zucchini into dice (depends how much you like zucchini), add to the pot. Chop about 3 fist-sized beefsteak tomatoes, coarsely, and add to the pot before the zucchini is quite cooked. Slice the kernels from 3-4 ears of corn (depending on size); bicolor or yellow corn is best, being more flavorful. Add to the pot. The mixture is likely a bit thick, even though the tomatoes are yielding their juice, so add water til it looks "soupy" to your liking. Add seasonings at this point: more salt and pepper, and whatever fresh summer herbs you like...basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, diced scallions, whatever quantity suits your taste. Cover and cook over very low heat about 10 minutes.

Serve with crusty dunkable bread, and plenty of sharp white cheddar cheese. Hot sauce optional. Chilled rose, vinho verde, suavignon blanc or reisling go great with this.

Tomato-Corn-Fish Chowder
Makes 4 servings
My lazy-ass version of boulliabaise. Make the above recipe but make several additions: finely chopped fresh fennel bulb to taste; fish and/or seafood; and instead of water use white wine, clam juice or mild fish stock.

The fish can be any firm white fish that won't fall apart into mushy bits: cod, scrod, halibut, hake, rockfish, tilapia, catfish, baja, snapper, grouper...see, anything! Oily fish like bluefish or salmon aren't to my taste, but you can try. Be my guest. Cut the fillets in bite-size pieces, keeping in mind that some pieces will flake apart, and add them to the pot so they get cooked no more than 10 minutes. Small shrimp, cut-up squid and whole live mussels are also very good additions. They need only about 5 minutes cooking.

Feel free to season this version liberally with pepper and herbs. Add a splash of dry white wine if you didn't use fish stock or clam juice. A splash of Pernod or other anise liqueur just before the tomatoes go in, will add to that mock-bouilliabaise sensation.

Serve with crusty bread. Hot sauces are optional, but we really like Outerbridge Sherry Peppers Sauce with this -- the real stuff from Bermuda. We might have to take another cruise there to stock up again. White or rose wine, or Belgian or German-style wit (white or wheat) beer are excellent accompaniment.

Indian Tomato-Corn-Lentil Chowder
Makes 4 servings

This takes the whole concept to a new level. It's slightly more complicated, but in the end just as flexible to adjust to your tastes.

After the onion, garlic and red pepper are sauteeing in a neutral oil (like grapeseed), add a tablespoon of yellow or black whole mustard seeds. Stir well. Add at least a teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and (horrors!) commercial curry powder you like. Cayenne pepper or fresh hot peppers are optional. Add the zucchini and the tomatoes. Immediately add 1 cup of cleaned rinsed red split lentils, and at least 1 cup of water. The red lentils need at least 15 minutes to become soft. Add the corn as they're softening. Add chopped spinach, or purslane, if available. Also add a generous cup of chopped coriander/cilantro before turning off the heat.

Serve with crusty bread or naan, plenty of thick strained yogurt, and chilled lager or pilsener. Riesling or Gewurtztraminer are also good.

Purslane is easy to find in the Union Square Greenmarket in summer, especially on Saturdays. It's commonly used in Turkish and Indian cooking as a green vegetable, and a lovely person I know from Ravelry who owns a farm also adds it to salads. It adds quite a nutritional punch to this soup, making it a real one-bowl meal.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Easy Peachy Pie

Peaches and nectarines might be my favorite fruit. After tristar-hybrid strawberries. And really ripe juicy raspberries. I love peaches all ripe and juicy, slurpy, just peeled and eaten right off the pit...preferably leaning over the sink. Or cut up and mixed with strawberries and raspberries. White peaches and nectarines are best eaten raw. Their light flowery flavor doesn't survive cooking. I have some white donut peaches waiting to be devoured tomorrow, when they're going to be even more tender and drippy.

This week I got a half dozen nice peaches from the greenmarket...and a slight disappointment. While California peaches have been intense and spicy this year, the local ones are kind of insipid. Too much rain? Not enough sun?

I made 2 peach pies so far this summer, mixing the fruit with others. 1st pie was Peach-Apricot-Blueberry. The apricots were tart and gave the peaches a lovely boost. The blueberries were just cos I had some and feared the pie wouldn't be full enough. Oops, it overflowed. No harm done, just a bit extra of browned juices on one side. 2nd pie was Peach-Raspberry-Blackberry, to boost the local fruit.

While I happen to prefer double-crust cherry pie, I like strusel toppings best on apple, peach and mixed berry pies. My fave recipe for peach pie topping came from Cooking Light of all places. Super-easy. I've changed it a bit.

Eyeball the 9-inch frozen pie-crust you've got handy (I use Whole Foods organic crusts). Line it with foil and pie weights (that is, dried beans over a year old that won't cook well anyway), bake 10 minutes at 425 deg. Remove from oven, remove foil & weights, cool a few minutes. Lower oven to 375 deg.

While that's baking, peel & slice enough peaches to fill the crust. Use an old pie tin as a bowl if eyeballing is not your specialty. If you don't have enough peaches, include whatever juicy summer berries, apricots or plums are handy. Mix this fruit with about 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup minute tapioca (less if you prefer a runnier pie), some salt, and a good teaspoon of good vanilla extract. Cinnamon is good too. Let this sit about 10 minutes so the tapioca can expand.

Topping: melt 2 tbsp butter in a glass bowl in the microwave. Add 1/3 cup rolled oats, 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup flaked sweetened coconut, dash salt. Mix well (get those lumps outta the sugar), so the entire mixture is buttery.

Pour the filling into the crust. Spoon the strusel topping evenly all over the top, especially around the edges where juices are likeliest to escape. Pop the pie in the oven for about 1 hour. Check towards the end to make sure it's not burning round the edges.

You really should put a foil-lined baking sheet under the pie, or at least under the rack. Or just a foil sheet on the oven rack. Something to catch all the juices that might spill out.

When everything looks toasty and done, let pie cool completely before cutting. This might take hours. Be patient. Serve with vanilla ice cream...or dulce de leche ice cream...or Haagen Dasz Hawaiian Honey Sweet Cream ice get the idea.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Long Long Longwood Days

I'm happy to have been to the Southeast Pennsylvania Orchid Society show at Longwood Gardens this year. Having heard such wonderful things about it, I can only say they were true, but still hardly prepared me for the reality. Longwood's massive conservatory complex is impressive enough on it's own unique scale. Adding the gorgeous orchids of the SEPOS participants was porcini and red wine gravy. Icing on the Martha Stewart wedding cake. Beauty writ large as sunshiny vistas of perfect lawns and masses of color, and writ small as perfect Dockrillas and Pleurothallids.

Thursday setup was overcast and [we] only began after 1pm, we left at about 7pm, stopped at Friendlys for dinner, and thanks to rain and slightly slowed traffic on the NJ Tpike didn't roll back into New York City til pretty late...reached my front door at 11:30pm. Hit Facebook, my email, uploaded pictures, and finally got to bed 1am. Up again at 5:15am, out the door by 5:35am for bagels at H&H on 2nd Ave, into a cab, and over to the west side to await my ride. I have never ever got across town in only 5 minutes before. 1 minute from 79th & 2nd to 79th and 5th!! The five of us arrived in timely fashion: parked at exactly 8:30am, as intended! The 2 folks clerking went off to work. The rest of us went shopping. O god did we go shopping. Eventually we made it to the show...left at a reasonable time mid-afternoon...I got home 7pm, ready for a sashimi delivery dinner.

Having taken well over 1000 digital pix and still going through them, I took a break today from culling and naming them and finally tucked my new babies into their new home. Only 12, not as bad as it could have been. Paphs and mini phals and a few choice species. Can't make sense of them yet...have too much to do after so many days burning out on orchids...will photograph them and list them eventually.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day Blog Post!

I'm grateful to my parents for many things, but foremost might be that they never once told me there was something, anything I could not do just because I'm a girl. They might've been horrified if I took up football or skydiving or international banking, but it wouldn't have been because "girls don't do that." ("Sane people don't do that" would be more like it.) Dad was an engineer, he worked for the telephone company for years and knew how to climb telephone poles -- still could at 62 and how cool was that??! -- and spent WWII and the Korean War in the Signal Corps. Mom was artistic, wanted to paint and loved to sew, but she also could take apart radios and wield power drills.

So I took after both parents, and ended up a graphic designer using Adobe PageMaker and InDesign and Photoshop. I was pretty good at math, in 10th and 11th grade, and by then I'd heard of in college, in 1980, I took my first computer programming class even though I'd already declared an art major. PL-C. Piece of cake! Assembler was a bit less cakey...and I stumbled blindly through Fortran hating every minute of it. No more programming classes. Painting and printmaking, much better. I still liked computers though. I admired a college screenwriting teacher who admitted she wrote several novels so she could afford a computer and printer in order to write more novels. (Is that tech-ie? Maybe...)

So I learned to use word processors, and bought my first (Radio Shack) PC (no hard drive) in 1986. Bought my next one (30 mb hard drive) in 1987. Cruel irony had me doing both DBase IV programming and PageMaker classes for a job. And even crueller irony that in a corporate role as a graphic designer/business communications guru I now and then ended up using my old nemesis Fortran on the VAX system to gather data. Irony complete when I, a designer on PCs, married a man who programmed on Macs. I'm writing this blog entry on my 7th lifetime owned computer.

But all this is everyday stuff. I'm just a geeky, nerdy female human who is not scared of math or technology, and make use of computers my everyday life. I admire everyone of my generation, and older, who has done this, same as I admire everyone who incorporates art in their everyday lives (by playing music or drawing or writing or taking pictures or dancing, whatever moves them).

I'm dedicating this (uh, mostly autobiographical) Ada Lovelace Day blog post to ladies of my personal acquaintance: Dr Margaret McMahon (rocket scientist) and Lori Bechtold (aircraft engineer). Fellow alumni of Hunter College High School, class of 78/79. We bonded over a mutual love of science fiction. They do stuff I can barely wrap my brain around, and they do it well, and I am extremely glad we live in a world where they and other women like them were encouraged and able to make the most of their talents and interests. You rock.

And also honorable mention to Barbara Krasnoff, who writes so well about techie-computer matters and makes it accessable to many other people over the years. And who also entered my life through interest in science fiction. And, Happy Birthday, Barbara!

May all of us be so fortunate as to find their bliss and follow it.

More Orchidy Goodness

Never did rant on about the orchids I picked up at the very nice Deep Cut Orchid Show in February. I figure since I'm heading to the SEPOS Orchid Show at Longwood Gardens this week, I might as well take stock...

Goodaleara Eurostar (above) is pretty much my Ideal Notion of an Under-Lights Friendly Oncidium Alliance Hybrid. Shortish spikes, 2 spikes per growth, abundant flowers, short leaves, and extremely compact growth habit. 7 spikes in a 3-inch pot! Damn! The whole plant is only about 1 foot tall.

Paphiopedilum (Stone Lovely x In-Charm White) is pretty awesome. I've seen few In Charm hybrids I haven't coveted. Love love love the perfect egg-shaped greeny pouch! Love those spotty petals! And it's got slightly mottled leaves, with multiple growths, so here's hoping it's a piece of cake to keep going.

Also got a Phal Mini Mark of large size and vigorious spike from Parkside, I've been wanting one for years and just never did. Glad I waited. Got Maxillaria sanguinea, which is not complaining since shedding a few old leaves the first 2 weeks of captivity. No new growths yet.

Also got an interesting small hybrid Odcdm Bob Burr "Yellow Cat". Strange parentage: one half its tree is straightforward old-fashioned Odontoglossum breeding, with a shot of Oncidium crispum for seasoning, while the other half is Odcdm Tiger Butter + Odm. harryanum, one of the funkier and prettier Odontoglossum species. (Tiger Butter also boasts Onc. crispum as an ancestor, same generation.) The buds are quite yellow with a few brown/red spots, and growling nicely.

Two phals I got last year bit the dust. Boo. Worse, they suffered the same horrible top-down leaf death my older batches of phals used to succumb to. I fear for the babies on the other shelves. I'm trying to keep them happy and well-sprayed with water and soap. I'm also not going to buy any more phals this year until I'm sure the contagion is contained.

The Oeniella polystachys that I got from Cal-orchid in January bloomed a few weeks ago, and they were incredible. 5 flowers the size of chocolate chips filled the entire living room with a haunting fragrance similar to carnations.

Fishy Experiments

We tried fresh sturgeon last week. That is, I saw fresh sturgeon fillets at the fish counter at Agata & Valentinas, and decided it was high time I finally gave it a go. Being told the texture was dense and firm, similar to Chilean sea bass, and that it takes well to broiling, grilling, sauteing or roasting, I went with sauteing.

The first time I cook a "new" type of fish I try to keep it as simple as possible, so we can really taste the fish itself and not just the seasoning. So I used butter/olive oil as the cooking fat, and used only salt and pepper on the fish. The fillet was about 3/4 inch thick, and cooked up in the usual amount of time, less than 10 minutes.

As warned, the skin was rubbery and not appealing to eat. The flesh itself was not flaky, cooked texture very similar to tuna, firm and meaty. And it tasted a bit like tuna too, like yellowfin steaks cooked well done. Interesting. But no compusion for a repeat.

Then we tried Alaskan black cod fillet, which also was abundant in the fish dept. I know I cooked it at least once or twice before but couldn't remember the results, which probably says much. This is the fish that Japanese restaurants (Nobu first, I think) marinate in miso before grilling. I did the minimal-seasoning thing again, in butter/oil again, but I added a dash of Penzey's Sunny Paris seasoning. The skin and flesh both browned nicely. The flesh was amazingly light on the tongue, like sole or turbot, and quite tasty. I'll use less oil next time...

Local wine store's March sales include Notro 2007 Torrontes, a lovely white wine from Argentina. The label boasts pairing with salads, light fish dishes, and spicy Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. They're right! Excellent with all the white fishes we've been eating. And with sushi too. REALLY good with sushi.

Please note: Penzeys Spices ROCK. I miss Ariana's Caravan being the spice merchant of Grand Central's food market, but Penzey's is totally cool too. I have never in my life used pre-blended seasonings other than Herbs de Provence or curry powder, feeling they were somehow cheating. And yes, pre-mixed curry powder is not subtle and I really only use it on a few vegs like buttered corn, when I'm too lazy to make my own mix for a small quantity. But Sunny Paris is completely addictive, utterly delicious, and I never would've thought of it myself. Contains purple shallots, chives, green peppercorn, basil, tarragon, chervil, bay leaf and dill weed. Smells a bit sharp in the bottle, but once it hits the warmth of the pan it transforms and blossoms into come-hither yumminess perfect on fish, chicken, veggies, mashed potatoes and eggs. The price is pretty steep but a little goes a long way. Entirely worth it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Orchids Galore

The Carter & Holmes minicatts have all settled in nicely, though I still haven't found ideal spots for a couple of them. They're all making new roots and new growths, even the 2 dug-ups whose roots were a bit sparse and I had to pot in sphagnum moss. They like the moss. Whew. I stopped using sphagnum moss years ago for anything but sickly plants, but I might re-think that and start using it for minis again.

A few of us went to Silva Orchids in January for their open house, and as usual found some nifty things. Paph (argus x niveum) has 2 big healthy growths. I'm such a sucker for paph primaries. Paph (Pinocchio x armeniacum) is a real honey, not the best shape in the world but great color and it lasts a long time. (see above) I also got Coelogyne mossiae even though I'll probably kill it even before summer begins. Guest vendor Cal-Orchid had brilliant offerings, and I picked up a fantastic Oeniella polystachys in spike, and a robust Leptotes bicolor in bud.

And then, the Deep Cut Orchid Show and all its vendors and splendors...I'm still wondering just where everything will end up, but I'm very pleased with the goodies I scored.

Uber Queen of Leftovers!

A typical meal can become not just 1 but 2 levels of leftover goodness! Observe:

Dinner ,#1. Lamb burgers: 2 lbs ground lamb, 1 slice soft bread, thyme, oregano, black pepper, salt. Form 4 patties per lb of meat. Cook in a very thin film of olive oil: don't turn them until the cooked part comes halfway up the sides. Then flip. 5 minutes later, flip back. 5 minutes later, flip back. Both sides should be very brown and crusty. The pan will be full of fat and juices. Turn off heat, remove burgers to a clean dish to sit 5 minutes. (Same as all cooked pieces of meat.)

Serve with rice or mashed potatoes, ketchup, and lots of veggies on the side (asparagus, broccoli, corn, whatever). 2 burgers per person is plenty. It's not a good idea calorie-wise to spoon the brown crusty pan juices over the starch, but it does taste wonderful.

Dinner, #2. Lamb burger hash: In olive oil, saute a chopped onion, some diced butternut squash and 1/2 bunch asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces. Frozen corn is good to add too. When nearing done-ness, add finely shredded Tuscan black kale and 1/2 cup slivered sun-dried tomatoes. Add leftover lamb burgers cut into bite-size pieces. Add a little water if the pan seems dry. Cover and let cook till the veggies are all tender. Serve with rice or potatoes or noodles.

Lunch, #3. Lamb burger bean hash: If you have more than 1 cup left of the hash, then put it in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil, and as it heats add 1 can drained/rinsed cannelini beans. Add leftover rice if you've got it. Cover and let cook till thoroughly heated. If you didn't add rice, serve over rice or couscous or whatever you've got.

I have made "hash" out of roast beef, corned beef, roast chicken, roast turkey, roast lamb, veal burgers, lamb burgers, and cooked salmon. General principles? Don't overcook the already cooked meat. Cut the vegs in nice small even pieces, and add them to the pan in some sort of order -- fastest cooking go in last. Diced potatoes are the foundation of most traditional beef hashes, but I'd rather spoon a potato-free hash over mashies.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Easy Fish Soup

Low-fat, extremely tasty, relatively cheap to make...what's not to like?

For 4 people:
Saute 1 chopped large onion, 1 chopped small fennel bulb, in olive oil, until translucent.
Add a generous spoonful of minced garlic.
Add 2 regular cans petite diced tomatoes (organic plz - Muir Glen or Del Monte)
Add 2 small bottles clam juice (I'm lucky to get a no-preservatives brand), or 2 cups fish stock
Add generous spoonful each fresh or dried thyme and oregano. Grind a lot of pepper too.
(Salt optional, unless it's low-sodium tomatoes)
Add: 1 can white beans, or 1 cup frozen baby limas
Add: several handfuls of baby spinach
Simmer about 5 minutes to get flavors blended.
Add: 1 lb mixed white fish fillets & steaks, deboned & skinned, cut into bite-size pieces (I've used hake, baja, blackfish, halibut...whatever's cheap is fine, and frozen is ok).
I also like to add a few shrimp for flavor too, no shells, cut in bite-size bits. Squid are great, cut into bite-size bits. Clams or mussels too. As many as you like per person.
SIMMER until the fish are all cooked through, and tender, about 7 minutes.
Optional: chopped red pepper, chopped celery to taste. That becomes more gumbo-like.

Serve with firm crusty dunkable bread, and Outerbridge Bermudan Sherry Peppers Sauce.
Also a nice dry white wine, like a Suavignon Blanc, or La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Luberon Blanc, or Sancerre...or else a wheat beer like Hoegaarten.

I promise you it's really good.

More 2008 Music, and 2009 Too

Finally did more listening to more albums...

David Byrne & Brian Eno "Everything that Happens will Happen Today": "Rei Momo" and "Uh-Oh" were terrific, but this might be Byrne's best solo album. Not coincidentally, it sounds the most like the last couple of Talking Heads albums. Catchy melodies, great arrangements, everything you'd hope for from a Byrne-Eno project.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds "Dig Lazarus Dig": I'm not the only listener who thinks Cave has finally made a commercial-sounding album. And I really like it. I would worry if Cave ever created an easy-to-listen-to record, and this comes close on a few tracks, but his lyrics are as edgy and amusing as ever. So whew.

Derek Trucks Band "Already Free": My new favorite album! My god this is good stuff. Super-sophisticated Allmans-flavored rock, virtuoso guitar and soulful manly singing, great songs...the radio track, Dylan cover "Down in the Flood", is just a taste of what awaits. Their earlier album "Songlines" was more experimental with world-music flavors and I'd love to hear more of that from this band, but I'm quite satisfied as is.

Bulbophyllum Confusion

I'm sometimes sorry I'm such a sucker for species orchids. And bulbophyllums.
This charming plant above, that I have nurtured and coddled for at least seven years, has been all along mis-labelled. It claimed to be Bulbo. curtisii "Pololei" but it wasn't. After my struggle with the newer plant I got that turned out to be Bulbo. corolliferum (but is still called Cirrhopetalum curtisii in Siegerist's book), it was clear that this older plant and the newer are two quite different things. "Pololei" would appear to in fact be Bulbophyllum lepidum, also very common in cultivation. Except that Bulbo. lepidum is no longer that, it is now Cirrhopetalum flabellovernis, or was, if you want to look at it from the perspective of that name being the older one by 34 years or so.
All fine and well! But I have one other elder plant in this pool: a Bulbophyllum makoyanum that had failed to flower for the past five years out of six. It looks just like "Pololei" vegetatively. As I hadn't photographed the flower six years ago, I forgot what it looked like, except that it was yellow and daisy-shaped. I was entirely satisfied it was the plant as labelled. Silly me.

Responding well to improved care -- lots more water, and a boost closer to the light source -- my supposed B. makoyanum has flowered again. As I remembered, it's yellow and daisy-shaped. But it's not B. makoyanum. The flowers are too short. They're not rolled. What I've in fact got is another Cirrhopetalum flabellovernis, a yellow-er form than my other plant.


Well, I'll keep both. They're cute. I like them. But I seriously, seriously have to repot both too. They have never been repotted. I hate repotting bulbophyllums. I am going to use very shallow pots and fill them with bark and sphagnum moss and hope for the best...tomorrow.