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.