Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rainy Day Snails #12 & 35

In which I resume my occasional series of reviews of out-of-print cookbooks:

California Artists Cookbook

California Artists Cookbook
produced by Chotsie Blank and Ann Seymour
for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
(Abbeville Press, 1982).

I bought this because I wanted to see the Wayne Thiebauds in it. I've loved his work since I first encountered it at the Wadsworth Atheneum as a tiny kid on field trips. Although the images in this book are not of high quality (they scan nicer than they are in print) they're still fun to look at.

Wayne Thiebaud. Cakes and a Counter. 1962.
Wayne Thiebaud, Cakes and a Counter, 1963.

At the time of publication this one was apparently in Thiebaud's own collection, but now it's at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Wayne Thiebaud. Three Strawberry Shakes. 1964.
Wayne Thiebaud, Three Strawberry Shakes, 1964. Contributed to the book courtesy Charles Campbell Gallery, San Francisco.

Wayne Thiebaud. Plate of Hors d'oeuvres. 1963.
Wayne Thiebaud, Plate of Hors d'oeuvres, 1963. Contributed to the book courtesy Charles Campbell Gallery, San Francisco.

There's lots of other great art in the book. This painting by Paul Wonner is probably my favorite:

Paul Wonner. Dutch Still-life with Stuffed Birds and Chocolates. 1981.

Paul Wonner, Dutch Still-life with Stuffed Birds and Chocolates, 1981. Contributed to the book courtesy John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco.

The carnivorous among you (and a certain portion of the anti-carnivorous?) may prefer Marianne Boers's still-life with Safeway meats:

Marianne Boers. Safeway Meats. 1973.
Marianne Boers, Safeway Meats, 1973. Contributed to the book courtesy John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco.

Her "Royal Baking Powder" (which is not in the book) is a similar work of supermarket photorealism but dark and metallic rather than pastel and fleshy.

There are also over 200 recipes, and they are far more interesting than the type usually found in let's-collect-recipes-from-friends cookbooks. I didn't spot any that appeared to have been lifted from the back of a bag or the side of a can, and a great many of them are inventive and unusual. You are not likely to be served painter Penelope Fried's preparation of mangoes for reflective moments, for example, by anyone but Penelope Fried:

click here to enlarge the recipe and start being reflective

I flagged quite a few recipes I wanted to try. Painter Rooney O'Neill's recipe for penne strascicate appealed to me right away because of its simplicity and reliance on well-chosen ingredients. I also liked her admonition not to serve grated cheese with the dish; it's a sign that the recipe did in fact come from a good, strict Italian cook who is confident in their way with pasta and won't stand for any interference with the flavors they intend it to have.

click here to enlarge the recipe, though you won't be able to see down the painter's blouse

penne strascicate

I am happy to report that the recipe is indeed a keeper; the acidic canned plum tomatoes and the crème fraîche come together beautifully. I used only 1/4 cup of olive oil because I thought any more than that would just end up in little puddles around the edges of the pan. I was also a little concerned the tomatoes wouldn't break down enough while the sauce was cooking so I took a wooden spoon to the most stubborn ones as they simmered, and by the end of the 30 minutes I had a very nice sauce — fresh-tasting and just rich enough — that didn't need to be puréed.

Gerald Gooch's recipe for creamy sunflower dressing turned me into the sort of hippie who goes and buys a bottle of Bragg's Aminos (not to be confused with Dr. Bronner's, although both have word-soup packaging). There must be some sort gateway hippie substance among the aminos because I am now also happily drinking a little of their apple cider vinegar every day.

click here to enlarge the recipe if you're wearing socks with your sandals

tofu wrap with creamy sunflower dressing 3

This dressing is GOOD. It's creamy and tangy and the flavor is really well-balanced. In the photo above it was used in a baked tofu wrap; it was terrific on simple green salads too. I was suspicious of the recipe because of the water content and because it doesn't call for much in the way of spices, but I am definitely going to be making it again often. Maybe it's the serotonin produced by the sprouts talking, but I think this dressing is good enough to please even people who claim to hate hippie health-food-store type foods. And possibly even children, though I don't have any to test it on. I didn't even use all the oil the recipe calls for (I ran out after 1 1/3 cups) and it was still delicious. I also had no parsley so I used celery leaves instead, and that didn't hurt it at all. Note, however, that the recipe makes an enormous quantity of dressing, so you might want to try halving it, or inviting all the local beard-wearers and spinners of lumpen pottery over to share it with you.

You can buy sprouted sunflower seeds at many health food stores but us hippies like to sprout our own.

soaking sunflower seeds

I used these instructions and while my first batch didn't sprout nicely — a few seeds did but most were duds — the second batch was a success. I think the problem with the first batch was that I didn't drain them well enough, and I put them in the refrigerator too soon. I drained the second batch really, really well, washed and dried the jar, then returned the seeds to the jar and let them sprout in it overnight (in a relatively cool, dark place) before refrigerating them. I was so excited to see that I finally had home-grown sprouts that I forgot to take a photo before I used them in the dressing, but for your edification you should know that they won't get as long as alfalfa sprouts. Their tails are between 1/4" - 1/2" or so. I still don't have a sprouting lid for my glass jar but cheesecloth is fine  as a substitute.

Gooch's work is worth a look, by the way. There isn't a great deal of it on the internet but there's a sour-faced art critic I'm very fond of, and his Man with a Scarf diptych has its own charms. Here is the man himself posing in front of some palm trees (symbols of "all the pricks in the world").

The most unusual recipe in the book is probably one for escargot à la Cheech and Chong, which includes detailed instructions for building a mesh enclosure to raise healthy snails in one's backyard, and some interesting suggestions on what to feed the captives:

click here to enlarge the image (unless you're a garden narc)

A very close second in the most-unusual category is a recipe called "Imprisoned Eggs for Timothy Leary," which is sort of an IHOP Funny Face for tuned-in adults:

click here to enlarge the recipe and get one step closer to the flowing wet internal cosmos

click here to enlarge the recipe and make eye contact with that plate

The timing is a little odd since Leary had already been released from prison at the time, but maybe cosmic emancipation happens when one is prepared for it to happen.

There's also an unusual recipe for a salmon barbecue buffet. The ingredients and method of preparation aren't very strange — two whole salmon, stuffed with a mixture of mushrooms, bread crumbs, crabmeat and fresh herbs and grilled over hot coals — but the recipe also calls for two small trout to be stuffed and cooked in the same manner as the salmon, and when everything is ready, the fish are to be arranged on large platters in a tableau mort, with the trout clasped in the salmons' mouths, and a cherry tomato in each trout's mouth. An impressive display certain to have any vegetarians at the party clutching their glass of wine just a little more tightly, if they've not already run off into a darkened bedroom to lie down for a while.

As a whole, though, the book features a nice mixture of appealing, very cookable recipes and curiosities that require special plates with eyeballs. Since these were California artists the use of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the book is of particular interest, and I'd really like to try the loquat pie, persimmon pudding, cold yogurt soup with cucumber, mint and walnuts, and Ansel Adams's sorrel soup. The dessert chapter is by far the most extensive (37 recipes) but the meat and fish chapters are a very close second and third. Abstract expressionists are apparently fond of brooding over long-simmering stews and sauces: oxtail ragout, rabbit braised with rosemary, beef tenderloin Bordelaise.

As for the introduction by James Beard, it was surely a coup for the Museum's Modern Art Council to get him to write it, but unless you are a huge fan of him it's probably not of much interest. It was just a few years before he died and there's a very unflattering photo of him looking jolly and liver-spotted; he made a few interesting points about the importance of having "an aesthetic appreciation of what one sees and eats," but it's a brief introduction and this theme is not developed in great detail.

If you think you might like to buy the book, it is available through my bookshop cheap as chips.


Previous posts in this series:

New York Entertains by the Junior League of the City of New York

The Single Girl's Cookbook by Helen Gurley Brown

Eggs I Have Known by Corinne Griffith and Cookbook in Solidarity With the Symbionese Liberation Army by Mona Bazaar

Monday, April 13, 2009

Have you seen this woman?

la doña chipotle la doña chipotle la doña chipotle

la doña chipotle la doña chipotle la doña chipotle

la doña chipotle la doña chipotle la doña chipotle mirror image

If you have ever shopped for chipotle peppers in a NYC grocery, you have very likely seen la doña chipotle on an attractive little orange can, hovering over a sea of peppers. But who is she? Is she a renowned cook or a renowned beauty, or both? Is she the CEO's beloved auntie? The peppers are manufactured by La Morena, and their English-language site offers little in the way of history, explaining only that "La Morena products are made in small batches, so you can trust that each and every product will have the same great taste you [have] always trusted." The Spanish-language site (which can be read in both Spanish and English) is a lot fancier and explains that the company began operations in 1969 (when the current owners apparently bought out their former employer), that its name ("the dark one") honors the Virgin of Guadalupe, and that they have grown to have over 1800 employees. It goes on to say that their motto of "quality and tradition" extends to every aspect of their way of doing business (such as contributing to social and humanitarian projects in the community), and that the fact their products are still, after 40 years in business, hand-made according to unchanged traditional recipes is what allows them to offer the best quality, tradition and flavor. It's very nice to know that some companies still believe in these things, but what about la doña chipotle? She resembles the Virgin of Guadalupe to the extent that she has dark hair and her gaze is cast downward, but they're definitely not twins. She looks a bit like Frida, although somehow less likely to have had an affair with Leon Trotsky.

I wrote to the company to ask whether they might tell me something about her, but I didn't hear back from anyone. In some ways this is preferable because it allows me to conclude that la doña chipotle is a reclusive genius. She is perhaps the JD Salinger of the condiment aisle (and accordingly, capable of thrilling neighbors merely by venturing out to do some shopping), or, if you are very hip, its Connie Converse. And like other reclusive geniuses, she has a special something that her rivals just can't compete with (although those in the know might suspect it has something to do with the judicious use of sesame oil).

I very often have a can of the chipotle chiles in adobo my cabinet, but I'd never seen La Morena's "home made style red Mexican sauce" at the grocery until very recently, and the rustic little molcajete and blocky font and folk-art vegetables were irresistible to me.

la morena red mexican sauce

So irresistible, in fact, that it never occurred to me I was simply buying a little can of salsa.

mediocre salsa

It wasn't as good as I'd hoped, but my method of preparing black bean soup — which so far I've made three times this chilly spring, and will likely make again before the weather improves — is quite flexible, and can easily accommodate a few spoons of salsa.

black bean soup

It's not a pretty soup, particularly without a couple cilantro leaves or a few wisps of pickled red onion as a garnish, but the fact that it can be made when the refrigerator is nearly empty and still be a very satisfying dinner is part of its attraction. The key ingredients are the black beans (which take on an incredibly velvety texture when pureed) and a couple of small tortillas (which thicken the soup without making it too dense).

black bean soup
Serves 2 for dinner + some leftover for lunch for one the next day.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, with a little of the sauce clinging to it (or 2 minced jalapeño peppers if that's what you have)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (preferably freshly ground)
1 generous teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (the one sold by Rancho Gordo is perfect)
2 6" tortillas (preferably corn tortillas, although flour ones work too), sliced in half and then finely sliced into strips
2 to 3 tablespoons salsa (optional)
approximately 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 15.5 oz. can black beans, rinsed well under cold running water
a splash of sherry vinegar
freshly ground black pepper and possibly a pinch of salt

also: a hand blender, food processor or blender to puree the soup

Saute the garlic and onion (and the jalapeño peppers if you're using them) in the olive oil over medium to medium-low heat until softened but not browned. Stir in the cumin and oregano and cook for an additional minute, or just until the mixture is very fragrant. Add the tortillas and stir until thoroughly coated in the spice mixture. Stir in the black beans and add the stock or water (and the chipotle pepper and/or salsa if you're using either of those), and simmer approximately 30 minutes. (I make this soup in a 2.25-quart pot and add just enough stock or water to fill it without any danger of bubbling over). After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes or so, puree it in the pot with a hand blender. (If you are using a food processor or blender instead I trust that you know to be very careful about transferring it there and back, and let it cool for a few minutes first). Add a splash of sherry vinegar and some fresh ground black pepper to the pureed soup and taste it for seasoning. Add salt only if necessary.

quesadilla with daikon greens and goat cheese

As long as you'll be using tortillas you might as well make a quesadilla to go with the soup, and we recently had a very un-Mexican but very tasty one made with chopped daikon greens and goat cheese.


daikon greens and goat cheese

I'd bought daikon for the first time for another recipe and the greens were so nice-looking I didn't want to throw them away. Fortunately they have a great flavor (a little peppery, like watercress) and some health benefits too. You don't need to cook them before using them in a quesadilla; just wash them and chop them into bite-size pieces and mix them with whatever cheese you're using.