Sunday, April 25, 2010

further deliberations by our fritter subcommittee

I wasn't going to write about ramps this year, despite the risk that keeping quiet about them might lead to trouble with the food blog police. (I'm sure I'm already on some sort of watch-list for being insufficiently bacon-crazed and for only ever baking breads that get kneaded, among other things). I wasn't going to mention them but then I remembered that around this time last year I made ramp bhajis, loved them, and never got around to posting about them before the season ended. It seems particularly appropriate to call your attention to the recipe now because fritters of all varieties have been on my mind lately.

Ramps seem relatively pricey this year, and I'm assuming it's because more and more people know what they are and wish to take some home and not because growing conditions were unfavorable. Last year they were $3/bundle at the Union Square greenmarket (and the same the year before, if my memory is correct); I haven't priced them there this year but this morning I noticed them at my local (the Tompkins Square Park greenmarket) for $6/bundle. Six dollars! Have any of you taken on seasonal work this year to support your ramp-munching habit? Or tried smoking them?

greenmarket ramps

Berried Treasures ramps

There's no blue light special; those are yesteryear's ramps above.

Obviously it's preferable to gather your own ramps for free. I spotted plenty of them growing in the woods last weekend in Connecticut, particularly very close to the stream we crossed on our hike. If you're planning to forage your own be sure to bring something spoon-like; their little bulbs can be difficult to dislodge even if you're willing to get your fingers dirty.


ramps growing in the woods

On to the recipe. It comes from the always-reliable (in my experience) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and it's got chickpea flour in it (besan), which is reliably one of my favorite ingredients. The resulting fritters have plenty of exciting crisp wispy bits around the edges, and it's a nice change of pace to have ramps getting along with rather bold spices rather than dominating a dish. I'm not going to cut-and-paste the recipe because I didn't change anything about it apart from using ramps in place of the spring onions, so go have a look at it here. Ramps are more pungent than spring onions so you'll want them daintier than the "chunky slices" he calls for.

ramp bhajis

ramp bhajjis

Hugh F-W (even the Grauniad calls him that) gave a recipe for a radish goats' cheese raita to accompany his bhajis. It sounds great but I improvised one made with just yogurt, chopped cilantro, chopped mint, and a pinch of salt:

ingredients for raita

I don't have any measurements for the raita, sorry, but if you're confident enough in the kitchen to make ramp bhajis I'm sure you won't screw it up.

I've been thinking of them as bhajis, but the throat-clearing sounds coming from the direction of my fritter subcommittee remind me that you might look at them and see bhujia (or bhujiya) or pakoras. I've only been to northern India and these would be pakoras there. At the Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurant near Tiny Banquet HQ they'd probably be bhujia (though they also have bhajees on the menu) and from what I understand they'd be bhujia in southern India. I don't want to make any enemies among the barons of the Big Bhujia industry so I'm open to calling these whatever seems most reasonable. We all agree they're fritters, correct?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

feeling slightly clammy

Is it possible you've been so preoccupied with ramps and other spring vegetables that you've neglected to think about clam cakes? I suppose you could make your own at home whenever you like, especially if you're willing to use frozen clams, but if you are the type to set off on a spontaneous road trip to Maine to eat them in their native habitat you've got to mind the calendar. My stepfather was doing just that and so a planned weekend visit to his place in CT recently turned into a relatively-unplanned visit to southern Maine instead.

To Ken's, specifically. A fried seafood joint in Scarborough, Maine. I am still officially not in the habit of blogging about eating sentient beings, and yet I feel obligated to tell you that Ken's is open for the season. Voila, clam cakes. There are lots of other things on the menu — fried clams, lobster rolls, etc. — but we went for clam cakes and did not regret it.

clam cakes clam cake innards

They're available in sandwich form (on hamburger buns) or all by themselves in little wax paper sacks. Most in our party eat them as pictured above, with crisp but otherwise utterly indifferent french fries, perfectly acceptable cole slaw, squishy rolls of the variety that would be disappointing elsewhere but become palatable in salty New England seaside air, and homemade tartar sauce (not on the menu, I think, but now you know to ask for it). Note the bloody mary in the background, although beer is fine too. I'm entirely convinced that as a meal this is more than the sum of its parts, but the seasonal habits of migratory eaters are hard to break. If you're in search of new habits or have yet to acquire any, my stepsister reports that clam cakes are pretty good dipped into lobster stew. I also noted two white-haired guys at a nearby table looked rather convincing eating theirs with a thin smear of yellow mustard.

As for what differentiates clam cakes from fritters, I can only tell you that I have never personally known them as fritters but have little reason to believe they are not, in fact, fritters on some basic level. Wikipedia says they are typically made with chopped clams in a batter of flour, milk, clam juice, eggs and baking powder. Very fritter-ish, no? I've never made them at home but were I to try, this recipe for clam fritters would be the one I would reach for; it looks appropriate and trustworthy and the results . . . look more or less like clam cakes to me.* I am almost — only almost — willing to hazard a guess that what's called a fritter on Long Island and in Massachusetts is called a cake in Maine and Rhode Island (e.g.). A few hungry minutes of research reveal plenty of exceptions, though I'm not sure it's fair to call them "exceptions" when there don't seem to be any firm rules.

As for whether clams are sentient beings, I am willing to say yes I think they are. At least, I don't see why they're not. They don't have a central nervous system but they do have sensations, responses to their surroundings, and a way of life. They have hearts, feet and gonads and varying degrees of interest in opening and shutting their homes. I don't know much about them but the pictures of their various features here seem helpful.

Anyhow, if you want to digest your first clam cakes of the season while walking on a chilly, deserted beach and photographing shuttered motels, you'd better hurry.

IMG_1687 1974

IMG_1684 1974

IMG_1664 magazine

IMG_1659 1974 off-season anchors

off-season galaxy


And if you want to take a few clam cakes for a ride back to NYC or other points south, Ken's will sell you uncooked ones. Don't freeze them or they'll turn gummy! In fact I think you might be better off getting cooked ones and re-heating them on a baking sheet. I'm pretty sure the ones at the restaurant are deep-fried and you won't get the same results pan-frying them at home.

If you are looking for a place to stop for a snack on your way up to Ken's, you might try Reilly's bakery in Biddeford, which has been in business since 1910. My stepfather is fond of their cream horns filled with buttercream frosting but they close around 1 o'clock on Saturdays, and apparently much of their supply sells out well before then. By the time we got there (maybe 1:15?) the door was locked and the display cases were bare. This stung a bit. As a kid I found rainy-day drives to Reilly's agonizing because they were inevitably preceded by awkward visits to distant relatives, and because I was always too full of blueberry pancake breakfasts to have any interest in baked goods. This time I was interested and not full of pancakes. Alas. Someday, Reilly's.

* I have a suspicion that many of the people who cook summer clam cakes for a living would go cross-eyed about Mr. Claiborne's fresh parsley, but if you want to experiment with it behind closed kitchen doors I'm not going to discourage you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

the potato eaters

I was going to try to get this recipe posted before St. Patrick's Day because it's Irish in origin and you might want to include it in your holiday menu . . . but then I thought it might be more fun to wait until the day itself, with the idea that some of you might be drunk already by the time you read this and it won't make any sense whatsoever. It's dessert but it's made with potatoes. And whiskey. And it's not too late for you to whip up at the last minute after all because there's not much else in it. You've got some potatoes and half a dozen eggs, right?

mysterious dessert

potato-whiskey cake

It's good! I wasn't sure what to expect but it works and I'd happily make it again. The alcohol doesn't taste as cooked-off as you might expect and if you like whiskey you'll probably like this dessert. I was wary of using all the sugar the recipe calls for but went ahead with it because I was afraid to change the texture, and thankfully it ended up being not particularly sweet. I meant to buy some crème fraiche to serve with it but forgot and it was tasty enough on its own. A dusting of powdered sugar might be nice on it, as would a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, or you could make it very festive with both of those plus more whiskey.

The recipe comes from here. I didn't make any major changes to it but I did make some notes in brackets.

Carrigaline Whiskey Pie (Sweet Whiskey and Potato Soufflé)

The source says this serves 6 but I think you can probably get at least 8 servings out of it. You'll want to have some leftover for breakfast, though, because it's nice and boozy the next morning and good with coffee. The texture changes as it spends time in the refrigerator — the first day mine had two layers, with the top one more cake-y and the bottom more moist, even though I baked it a bit longer than the recipe called for. A day or two later it was more uniformly like a cold soufflé. I think it's pleasant at every stage but let me know what you think.

A note about the almonds: the source calls for 3 almonds, pounded, period. I decided to use 3 tablespoons (ground rather finely in a food processor) because I've tried a few other cake recipes that call for 4 tablespoons and that seems to be about the right amount to do something for the texture without making the cake identifiably nutty. I didn't regret using the three tablespoons and I'm reasonably sure three almonds wouldn't do fuck-all except give you a squishy dessert.

1/2 lb boiled potatoes (approximately 1 1/4 cups) [I used German Butterball variety; any flavorful type that's not waxy ought to be ok]
1/4 lb butter, melted [I used Irish butter because I didn't want to make the leprechauns cry]
3/4 lb sugar
3 [tablespoons] pounded almonds
1 tablespoon orange extract or two tablespoons fresh bitter Seville orange juice [I used 2 tablespoons of marmalade]
6 eggs, separated
4 fluid ounces Irish whiskey

Butter and flour a 21-cm springform pan. Cut a piece of greaseproof paper / baking parchment to fit the bottom of the pan, butter it well, and put it in the pan. [I used a silicone springform pan with a ceramic bottom, buttered it well and skipped the parchment paper]. Alternately, if you don't have a springform pan, or just prefer to do it this way, prepare two 9-inch pie pans with a bottom crust only.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Mash the potatoes until smooth and lump-free. Separate the yolks and whites of the eggs. Beat the egg yolks until lemon-colored. Then beat in the sugar, adding it a little at a time until the mixture becomes fluffy.

Now beat in the potatoes. Once they're completely combined with the egg and sugar mixture, add the melted butter, pounded almonds, orange extract or orange juice [or marmalade, and finally the whiskey. Mix well: then pour into a large bowl and set aside.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, Carefully fold them into the egg mixture in the large bowl until they're completely incorporated. Make sure your oven is up to heat when you start this procedure.

When the egg whites are completely folded into the yolk mixture, pour immediately into the springform pan (or pie crusts) and put the pie(s) carefully into the oven. Close the oven door with as little vibration as possible, as any soufflé is vulnerable at this point.

Bake at 375° F for 40-45 minutes. Remove carefully from the oven and set aside to cool. The soufflés / pies will immediately fall at this point. This is normal, so don't panic! [Actually mine didn't fall much . . .].

potato-whiskey cake potato-whiskey cake

The pie can be eaten while warm if you like, though (if you've made it in a springform pan, without crusts) it's somewhat fragile at this point and will tend to fall apart. You may prefer to let it cool to at least room temperature, or (better still) chill in the refrigerator overnight, after which it will slice a lot more easily.

Serve with unsweetened whipped cream or double cream, and perhaps with a grind of nutmeg on top. Serves approximately six. [No, eight, I think].

Sunday, March 14, 2010

hurry up, spring

It's definitely not white wine weather yet in NYC but I want to put an idea in your head (even if, like me, you're not really a white wine person). It's a very, very simple idea and I wish I could take credit for it but it comes from Maxime de la Falaise's Food in Vogue: two teaspoons of cracked black peppercorns in a bottle of Vouvray. Leave them in there for three days and you have "a drink that exalts virile powers." Whether it gives your boyfriend Loire Valley wood or not it's spicy and delicious, and the peppercorns turn a visually-uninteresting straw-colored wine a beautiful shade of honey. It's very refreshing in warm weather but I've been thinking about it lately and I suspect it might also be appropriate in miserable old March, just the thing for clearing away sniffles and the scent of damp wooly sweaters.

Vouvray with peppercorns

Vouvray with peppercorns

I'm sure it's meant to be served as an apéritif and it's terrific with cheese and olives and other foods that traditionally accompany apéritifs, but if you like pepper you may find yourself drinking it right through dinner. For that reason I can't tell you what happens if you leave the peppercorns in the wine for a very long time — I prepared several bottles this way late last summer and none lasted more than a couple days.

The Vouvray I used most often was this one (a 2008 Domaine de Vaufuget). Falaise says you can also use a Saumur. Both Saumur and Vouvray are made from Chenin Blanc grapes; generally Saumur is dry and Vouvray is off-dry.

Food in Vogue title page
Falaise credits this concoction to André Lemaire's Les Secrets du Docteur and gives instructions for several of his other "love philters." I'm intrigued by the one that calls for adding a few drops of ginseng essence to tomato juice ("[a] Tarzan trick for vegetarians") but haven't tried it yet. I'm planning to write about Food in Vogue as the next book in my series of reviews of out-of-print cookbooks and if I've made a Bloody Mary with priapic powers by the time I do, I'll be sure to tell you about it.

You probably won't need to bother straining the wine until you get to the last glass. I've seen pre-cracked peppercorns for sale but wouldn't recommend buying them unless you plan to use them all quite soon; it's easy enough to crack whole peppercorns as needed. Just put them on a clean dishtowel, fold half the towel over them, and give them a few whacks with a hammer or a rolling pin.

Friday, March 12, 2010


a little something for my pagan readers

If you enjoyed my post about Valentine's Day candy, you might like one about Wicker Man-inspired pagan candy-making I just posted on my other blog. In it I take a close look at the contents of May Morrison's sweet shop (that's her selection of hares pictured above) and inquire into how to go about re-creating them.

Monday, March 01, 2010

walnuts x 3

Considering that my gas is STILL off it's a good time to post a few recipes I tried long ago and never got around to telling you about. Here are three I found lurking in my files, all of which use walnuts and all of which I'd happily make again. I don't recommend making all three during the same week unless you're making a serious effort to fatten up, but individually you can walk them off, sweat them off in a dimly-lit bathhouse, or do whatever it is you people do.

pasta with walnut sauce

Long before I bothered to learn anything about cooking, I learned that I could "cook" (i.e. stir together) a relatively unusual and impressive pasta dinner at home with the help of a little tub of walnut sauce (salsa di noci) from Balducci's on Sixth Ave. I wish I'd scrutinized the list of ingredients more closely because other walnut sauces seem to use more ingredients and I don't enjoy them as much. In my memory Balducci's version was a dead-simple pesto-like preparation of finely chopped walnuts, olive oil, probably more salt than I would have dared to use on my own at the time, maybe a little garlic, and possibly some finely grated Parmesan (but not enough to be a dominant flavor).

Some cursory poking around the internet reveals that walnut sauce is Ligurian in origin and that there is little consensus about what goes into it besides the nuts. Most versions I've come across so far have cream in them and I can't quite bring myself to endorse the use of more than a tablespoon or two of it; my idea of a walnut sauce is that it's a little rough around the edges, and cream smooths out flavors as well as texture. Many are thickened with a slice of bread soaked in milk, which I don't think is necessary; it's already a very rich and thick sauce due to the nuts, and hardly needs any help to cling to pasta. Many contain a little fresh marjoram, which sounds nice but is at odds with my fond memories of eating herb-less walnut sauce in a slightly-creepy unheated loft in Williamsburg.

The last time I made my own walnut sauce I decided to give cream a try and I intended to use this recipe, but I just couldn't see adding Vin Santo or Moscato, both of which are sweet wines. Creamy, ok; sweet, absolutely not. Likewise, I was open to using a little fresh grated nutmeg but cinnamon seemed like it would take the sauce in a vaguely medieval direction and I didn't want to go there.

pasta with walnut sauce + green beans

So, the preparation that follows is a compromise, and it's more of a sketch than a proper recipe. Further experimentation is needed, advice is welcome, and the subject will be revisited here as soon as it's revisited in my kitchen. As much as I like wine it doesn't belong in my ideal walnut sauce. The version in the Silver Spoon is closer to what I have in mind as definitive — it consists only of skinned walnuts, olive oil, a little cream (2 tablespoons), salt and white pepper — but I know I won't be happy until I work out a cream-less one for myself.

pasta with walnut sauce

Loosely adapted from here. You'll end up with more sauce than you need for 1 lb. of pasta, so stir it in gradually until you're satisfied with the way it coats the pasta and refrigerate the leftover sauce to use in assembling weird and unrepeatable sandwiches later in the week.

People who get emotional about garlic will roll their eyes at my use of one measly clove but I don't like using a lot of it; I like using a little that was grown by some happy-eyed hippie farmer who plants 20 or 30 varieties of it. Try to find someone like that reasonably close to where you live and see if their good shit doesn't change your outlook. I don't know enough about the various varieties to recommend one by name (and you probably wouldn't be able to shop that way even if I did) but I seem to have good results with ones that have very pink or very purple-streaked skin.

2 handfuls of walnuts
1 clove of garlic, green shoot removed if it's got one
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
a little freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine (Chardonnay or white Burgundy are good choices, nothing too oaky or too acidic)
2 tablespoons heavy cream, or more if you're into it
1 lb. pasta of your choice

Lightly toast the walnuts in a moderately hot oven or toaster oven and while they're still warm, rub them together in a clean dishcloth to remove as much of their skin as possible. (Don't worry if they crumble a bit because they're going into the food processor anyhow, but the larger the pieces, the easier it will be to get them out of the pile of skin). Coarsely chop the garlic, then pulse the walnuts and the garlic in a food processor until they are mealy in texture. The mixture should look more pesto than nut butter. Add the spices and the liquids and pulse or process just until everything comes together and begins to look like a sauce. It's not attractive. It'll look a little better when it's on the pasta so don't dwell on it.

Cook the pasta in salted water until it's done to your liking, drain it, and stir in spoonfuls of the walnut sauce until it's evenly but lightly coated.

Steamed green beans are very nice on the side. If you are thoughtful about pasta shapes, note that the Silver Spoon specifies fresh fettuccine (or boiled turnips!) for walnut sauce. Several other recipes suggest pairing it with meatless ravioli, either cheese or pumpkin. The pasta pictured above is maccheroni al torchio. No particular reason; it was there and needed to be used up.

slightly-buzzed oatmeal cookies

If your tastes shift with the seasons there's a relatively narrow window for cookies between the months after Christmas (when cranking out pan after pan of them feels appropriate but rapidly exhausts one's interest in them) and the months in which baking them becomes uninteresting (due to warm weather, the arrival of asparagus, other distractions). I was attracted to this recipe because I had a craving for oatmeal cookies and it looked suitably classic, but I couldn't resist fiddling with it a little. I only made one significant change to it but it gave the cookies a grown-up and slightly savory taste I really loved: I soaked the raisins in warm sherry until they had absorbed all they could. I forgot to write down which variety I used but I almost always buy Amontillado unless I have some particular reason to use another because I like it for both drinking and cooking. For this recipe I think you'd be fine with anything other than a very pale Fino, which would be too dry and probably too subtle to pair with the walnuts and spices. If you happen to have some cognac it might be worth a try in place of the sherry. Sorry about not taking a photo; somehow all the cookies got eaten before that could happen.

slightly-buzzed oatmeal cookies

The following recipe is very slightly adapted from the Oct. 2004 one from Real Simple linked to above. (I shifted the order of ingredients so that you don't forget to soak the raisins before proceeding with the rest, and I made a few notes in brackets). Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

1/2 cup raisins [I used golden raisins]
[enough sherry to cover the raisins, approx. 1/2 cup; see comments above as to which variety]
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened [I used salted because I like salt, and I used a little extra for the pan rather than the cooking spray called for in the instructions below]
1 1/4 cups oatmeal [rolled oats are perfect]
1 egg
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves [I ground whole cloves in a spice grinder; unless you cook with cloves a lot your pre-ground ones probably aren't very fresh, and it only takes a minute to grind them]
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped [I used a bit more]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

[Heat the sherry in a saucepan until it's warm but not simmering and pour it over the raisins. You can do this in the morning and leave them to soak until you're ready to bake. If you forget, try to let them soak at least 30 minutes before you start baking.] Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray [or softened butter]. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar and butter until well blended. Add the oatmeal, egg, and milk, stirring well. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Gradually add to the oatmeal mixture, stirring well. Stir in the walnuts, raisins, and vanilla. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls, spaced about 1 inch apart, onto the baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. [I baked the cookies an additional 5 minutes or so and didn't regret it. I think this was necessary because I had two pans in the oven at once, and opened the door mid-way through the first 10 minutes to reverse their positions.]

walnut, fennel seed and raisin scones

I made this recipe years ago and never got around to writing about it, but it's really good and I pause whenever I scroll past it in my recipe collection. I don't buy scones often because they're usually too sweet and I don't make them often because they don't do enough for me taste-wise to earn their calories, but these have a nice herbal edge courtesy of fennel seeds. They're especially good warm.

walnut, fennel seed and raisin scone

walnut, fennel seed and raisin scone

The recipe below is from Bon Appétit here. It makes 12 scones.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup golden raisins [other dried fruits could work too, or maybe fresh diced apple]
1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 large egg beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water (for glaze)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter large baking sheet. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using fingertips, blend mixture until coarse meal forms. Whisk egg yolks and buttermilk in small bowl to blend. Slowly stir egg mixture into flour mixture. Gently stir in raisins, walnuts, and fennel seeds. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead gently just until smooth, about 4 turns. Divide dough in half; pat each half into 6-inch round. Cut each round into 6 wedges. Transfer scones to prepared baking sheet. Brush with egg glaze. Bake until scones are light brown, about 17 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. [No, serve them warm! Unless you have a scone every morning there's no reason to be blasé about this.]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

recommended reading

I don't write much about food-related ethical issues here, largely because I suspect I'd be preaching to the converted — if you're a regular reader you're not coming here for tips on how to fancy up frozen factory-farm chicken fingers, and you are probably well aware that self-actualized chickens do not in fact have fingers. If you are a NYC reader we may have even unknowingly elbowed each other at a farmers' market while reaching for the same bundle of local greens. Another reason is that I think these issues are better served when they're covered by people dedicated to news-gathering and to journalistic writing, people like the ones who contribute to The Ethicurean. Nonetheless I want to urge you to read this extract from Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals in today's Guardian.

click here to go to the article

It's about fish (both factory farmed and wild-caught) and fish tend to get overlooked when people talk about how or why they do or do not eat animals. Lots of people say they are "basically vegetarian but eat fish." Sometimes I've been one of those people. Increasing numbers of meat-eaters seem to be paying attention to which varieties of fish they prefer in terms of sustainability, but the yes or no decision whether to eat any fish at all seldom gets discussed in newspapers. It's worth reading and thinking about, and this concise extract is a great place to start.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

exactly what you've been looking for

Even when this blog is dormant, there is a small but steady stream of new readers: people who've gone searching for something else entirely and ended up here. StatCounter tells me so.  I always enjoy seeing what brought them here and which particular page they landed on, and wondering how they may have responded to what they found. Sometimes I've written about just what they were looking for, but to my frustration some of the most common search terms lead people to things I wrote back when hardly anyone was reading and I was still sorting out what I was doing. (What to do with a cast iron cookie mold is always popular, for example, which makes me wish I'd been more thorough at the time; I've always wanted this site to be more of a cook's journal than an instruction manual, but I think I'm capable of striking a better balance now). Anyhow, some of my favorite internet discoveries have been the things I stumbled over on my way to something else, and I like to think some of these people enjoyed and/or were completely bewildered by their rest stop here. The following are some of the search terms that led readers here:

  • "why are there more snails on rainy days": Poor kid, just wanted to know why snails like rain and instead found some vintage cookbook instructions on how to get them good and stoned in advance of killing and eating them. For the record, my guess is that snails like rain because it keeps their slimy parts slimy. Twice now I have found tiny snails in my farmers' market lettuce, and I kept them in a dish with some damp lettuce to munch or hide under until I could take them down to the community garden and liberate them. They seemed happy with these arrangements. 

  • "how to pronounce deviled eggs":  Dee-viled eggs. No matter what the other picnic-goers tell you, the -viled sounds just like wild, but with a v. You're welcome. 

  • "what did the Aztecs eat": In addition to the Aztec hot chocolate pudding I once wrote about, they also ate lots of maize and peyote, and they chewed on the noses of their enemies, which they stored in vessels like this after all the flavor had gone out:

    little round man

    If you use this information or the photo in your report, be sure to credit me. Your teacher will want to know where it came from. 

  • "man-pleasing recipes": Oh, lady! You are invited to come over and listen to Patti Smith records with me. I'll bake some special brownies just for the occasion and you can take the leftovers back to your men-folk. 

  • "how to season canned corn": I was trying to be light-hearted and here we are in a dark place. I haven't eaten canned corn since I was a child and I can't understand why anyone who has any say about what's set in front of them (i.e., anyone but prisoners, children, and the infirm) would eat it voluntarily. If my memory is correct, no matter what you season it with it's still going to taste like the can it came out of, with notes of the dingy-looking water that it sat soaking in for months. Frozen costs about the same and the texture is much better. Somewhere in my archives there's a great Madhur Jaffrey recipe for corn but it's so easy you don't even really need it: sauté the corn with grated fresh ginger (at least a rounded teaspoon, more if you like) and minced green chile pepper (to taste) in a little butter or oil, just until it's starting to brown in spots. Then salt & pepper to taste. If you've got cumin seeds, sizzle a teaspoon or so of those in the butter or oil just before you add the other ingredients. I've only ever made this with fresh corn but I'm sure frozen would be ok. Sort of ok. More ok than canned, definitely. 

  • "where does the world's skinniest cow live": This seeker ended up on my post about pancakes for the skinniest skinnies. I'd never thought about the world's skinniest cow and now it worries me a little. Wherever it lives, I really hope it is not subject to the lurid gaze of too many admirers. I also hope it's not feeling faint due to some silly crash diet or other deprivation. 

  • "walker brothers blueberry pancake recipe": This person ended up on that same post because I mentioned Scott Walker in it. I would LOVE to have a pancake recipe from him and I would politely feign interest in John and Gary's too. (They probably all have different ones because they weren't really brothers, you know . . . ). In the meantime I use the recipe I wrote about here. 

  • "tiny bookshops cooking": I, too, would like to know what the people who run tiny bookshops cook to fortify themselves for doing battle with Amazon. I would even buy a cookbook on the subject. My favorite neighborhood bookshop is St. Mark's Bookshop, which isn't exactly tiny but it's not very big. The people who work there probably cook up some interesting stuff because there are two Japanese grocery stores very close by and East Village Cheese is right across the street. I am guessing that a lot of tiny bookshop cooking is inspired by the shop's surroundings that way. 

  • "chance of receiving rare tiny plastic from lucky surprise eggs": The odds are probably against you, so it would be interesting to know how many you've opened thus far.

  • "why won't my pie crust recipe work anymore": I haven't written about pie crust much. I'm pretty content to not reinvent the wheel with the basics so I turn to my cookbooks when I want to make some. Tamasin Day-Lewis is particularly good, so check out her books on both pies and tarts. Maybe your wrists and fingers are to blame?

    Handling pie crust too much will toughen it but that's all the more reason to be mindful of dexterity and remain limber. Is it possible that you mixed up your flour and used bread or cake flour rather than all-purpose flour? Different flours have different levels of protein in them and some even have leaveners already added. Even the same type of flour can vary depending on where it's grown, when the wheat was harvested, etc. If you are buying store-brand flour, local preferences might be something to think about too. It's possible that the flour you're using lately doesn't have the same properties as the ones you've used in the past. Take your reading glasses when you go shopping for flour and do the finger and wrist exercises above while you are reading the labels, and again when you're ready to make pie. People will think you are a very serious baker, to the point that they might even overlook the flaws in your pie crust.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

a question about Valentine candy

Which is more exciting, cheap n' nasty or luxurious and tasteful? The more expensive stuff tastes better, of course, and its ingredients won't make a lab rat of you, but that doesn't stop the cheapest of the cheap from being a vulgar little thrill every once in a while, highly unnatural colors, acrid tastes, crinkly wrappers and all. Here's to a heap of candy hearts and daft dimestore lips.

Clicking on these photos will take you right to the goods.

wax lips Bluestocking Bonbons Raspberries de Pizan

red wax lips vs. Bluestocking Bonbons Rasperries de Pizan (made with NY State raspberries, organic fair trade chocolate and other great stuff, named after a 15th century Venetian feminist);

squishy Peeps hearts Woodhouse Chocolate Hearts & Domes Box

squishy Peeps hearts vs. Woodhouse Chocolate Hearts & Domes Box (which includes, among other things, hearts flavored with saffron, rose-water and cinnamon and domes flavored with passionfruit);

ring pop Ladurée Langues de Chat cookies

ring pop vs. Ladurée Langues de Chat cookies;

Pop Rocks Payard Pop Rocks truffles

Pop Rocks vs. Payard Pop Rocks chocolate truffles (which also have champagne in them, so you can go out with a bang Mikey-style);

Valentine Pez Vosges Haut-Chocolat Gatsby Collection

Pez vs. Vosges Haut-Chocolat's Gatsby Collection (things didn't go very well for him and Daisy but let's not dwell on that...);

candy straws for candy snortin' Bond Street Chocolate tequila ganache bonbons

candy straws for candy snortin' (although who knows what generic Pixy Stix are cut with these days...) vs. Bond Street Chocolate tequila ganache bonbons (infused with Herradura Blanco);

choco lips Maison du Chocolat heart-shaped box

cheapo choco lips vs. Maison du Chocolat's heart-shaped box (dibs on the Bacchus piece, which is dark chocolate ganache, flambé grapes and rum);

grape/strawberry Nerds Bluestocking Bonbons pink box

grape/strawberry Nerds vs. Bluestocking Bonbons pink box (raspberry-balsamic chocolate truffles, also coriander-beet, fennel-apple, and pomegranate-rose petal... like the other pick from this chocolatier, vegan and impeccably sourced);

rainbow heart lollies Mast Brothers Chocolate bars

rainbow heart lollies vs. Mast Brothers Chocolate bars (a variety of flavors available individually via the link above, or a lovely stack of all flavors directly from the chocolate-makers here)

Smarties hearts Woodhouse Chocolate filled hearts

Smarties hearts vs. Woodhouse filled chocolate hearts (how to choose among red ones of milk or dark chocolate with caramel and fleur de sel, Claddagh ones with dark chocolate truffle, and floral ones of milk or dark chocolate with elderflower, orange blossom or jasmine tea?)

Chupa Chupa pops strawberry swirl pop

Chupa Chupa pops vs. handmade strawberry swirl pop.

{Minor update: I re-arranged the contents of this post a bit after I published it. My apologies if it shows up in your in-box or your feed reader with twice twice the candy candy.}