Everything Old is New Again

I've been working - finally - on my memoir of the Gourmet days, and the other day I found myself trolling through the magazine's very first issue.  

Mostly it's a testament to how much things have changed.  But then I came upon this.....

"Food Flashes" by Clementine Paddleford

“Come the last, mad midnight of 1940, when the bells are belling and the crowds are yelling, let smoke snacks bombard the senses.  America has gone smoke crazy.  Deep within us all persists a natural craving for the taste of wood smoke, That yearning is a heritage harkening back millions of generations, perhaps, to some dim memory from the paleolithic age when the first true men ate meat roasted over a forest fire. Now the craving is easily satisfied. That leathery smokehouse smell is getting its dark perfume into every kind of food. 

For the holiday party may we suggest a smoked suckling pig.  Serve his brown majesty kneeling on a parsley bed.  His quizzical eyebrows are of lemon peel, his eyes are slices of stuffed olive, the apple in his mouth, a rosy lady apple.  Ornamental is the word for this hickory-smoked sweet morsel, the average weight seven pods for around $5 at R.H. Macy’s. 

Then smoked turkeys, smoked oysters, smoked Wisconsin cheese, smoked salt.. 

 

I like the idea of the smokehouse smell being "leathery."  And I very much like the price: all you can hold for five bucks. 

 

 

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Aromatic Project for a Rainy Afternoon

  Peaches

Caramel Bourbon Peaches 

Peel two ripe peaches by blanching them in boiling water for about 15 seconds and then running them under cold water; the skins should slip right off.  Cut each one into eighths and put them into a bowl. Pour in a couple of tablespoons of good bourbon and swish them around.

Put a half cup of sugar in a heavy skillet and cook over low heat until it begins to liquify.  Cook it, without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, until it turns a deep golden color - about 5 minutes.  Add the bourbon-soaked peaches and a couple tablespoons of cream and watch it hiss angrily, spitting at you and seizing up.  Don’t worry; this fit will end, and if you stir it once in a while it will all soften in about 5 minutes, leaving you with tender caramelized peaches.  

Spooned hot, over cold vanilla ice cream, this will make you very happy. 

 

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Things I Love

 

Catalogv1_evo

I've been looking for one of these for a while now.  I love the idea of spraying olive oil onto pans - or spraying neutral oil onto cake pans - but every time I think of using an aerosol spray, I think about the ozone layer. Besides, I like to control the quality of the oil I use.

I've bought regular spray bottles, but they all have problems. Most are made for water, and they tend to clog. And this one is BPA-free, which becomes more important to me the more I read. 

This swell new oil sprayer is from Michael Graves design. You fill it with your own oil, and when you pull the trigger it gives you a measured blast of oil.

It's not cheap - $20 - but when you consider the price of good olive oil, and how much you waste when slicking a pan, it pays for itself in a very short time.  

All I can think is - why did it take so long for someone to come up with this? 

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How To Cook a Perfect Piece of Salmon

  Emily's salmon

Diane Johnson’s Salmon Cooked on Salt (from the Gourmet Cookbook)

This is just about the easiest way I know to perfectly cook salmon.  If you’re using wild Alaska salmon, you’ll end up with a piece of fish that’s tender, moist, incredibly delicious - and completely sustainable.

Get out your 10-inch cast iron skillet and fill it with 2 cups of Kosher or coarse sea salt.  Put it on the stove, over moderate heat, and  let it warm up for about 4 minutes, until the salt is hot when you touch it.  

Thoroughly dry a 1 1/4 pound center cut filet of salmon and season it with salt and pepper.  Put it, skin side down, on the salt, cover the pan (aluminum foil makes a perfectly adequate cover), and cook for about ten minutes without turning, until it’s almost cooked through.  Remove from the heat and let it stand for another minute.

Take it off the salt, leaving the skin behind; the skin will be too salty to eat, but the fish will be everything you wish a piece of salmon could be. 

Serves 4

 

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Big Fish and Endless Roe: More from Alaska

Wake

The Adventure Continues

Five days in Alaska has left me with an extraordinary respect for the last wild food we eat - the people who catch it - and the way this fishery is managed.

And a new understanding of just how difficult fishing can be. I managed to catch a rockfish, but the big fish, the one that might have been a fairly large halibut - got away.  I struggled with that fish for what seemed like forever, fighting the mysterious unseen creature, feeling his strength, trying desperately to haul him from the water.  And then, suddenly, the line went slack; I pulled my line out of the ocean to find nothing but an empty hook.

Fishing, for those who choose it, is more than a  job.  It's a mission, a calling, a way of life. We met entire families who live on ships, the children helping out as soon as they can toddle. And we began, slowly, to learn the mysterious hierarchy of fishermen.

Trollers put out hooked lines, catch the highest quality fish - but get the least respect. Their small boats require the least capital outlay.  Gill netters are next up the food chain - they set long nets into the ocean, hauling them out 6, 7 or 8 times in a day, counting the catch.  

Net
They pull the salmon quickly from the nets, counting as they go, throwing them into icy holds filled with chilled saltwater (salt water does not freeze).  

Luke
Then the nets go out again.  And again. Tenders- big storage boats, under contract to the fish processors - come by periodically to collect the fish, allowing the fishermen to continue fishing. It's light here, this time of year, from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.  The days are long.  (One fisherman told me he makes enough in 2 months to support his family through the year. But these are long days. Summer's not for sleeping.)

 

Luke2

Gill

Meanwhile fish and game people are carefully counting the catch, ensuring sustainability. The King Salmon catch was so abundant this week that the season closed early; they'd caught enough, and the fish got a break.

We did a little fishing ourselves. This is Francis Lam with his gorgeous rockfish.  (I caught one too, but it was smaller, and not nearly as pretty.)

Francis

Meanwhile, I learned a few things about cooking fish.

1. Be patient; don't cook it too soon.  You want the fish to go into rigor mortis, and then out, before it sees heat. We cooked this rockfish the day Francis caught it.  It was mushy. We cooked a just-caught ling cod too, and it was bouncy.  It would have been smarter to wait a day, rest the fish; they would have tasted better.

2. Spot prawns are awesome!

This is a spot prawn trap.  We set out three.

Shrimp pot

Although the catch was disappointingly small, it made great eating.

Spots

The wonderful Renee Erickson (Boat Street Cafe, The Whale Wins, etc.) was in charge of this. She served the bodies raw, then quickly crisped the heads - my favorite part.  I could have eaten these forever.

3. And then there's roe. It turns out that a great deal of the salmon - and most of the herring - caught in Alaska is prized for the roe.  Almost all of it goes to Europe or Japan.  What a shame!

Roe

This is salmon roe being processed. The sacs are pulled apart, the roe swirled in a brine bath, then sorted. 

Big roe

In Japan they like soft roe; Europeans tend to like the more mature roe, later in the year, which has a harder shell.  Me?  I like roe of any kind.  We took the roe from the salmon we caught, and I combed through it, removing the outer casing.  Then - having absolutely no idea what I was doing - I briefly brined it in a salt water bath, strained it, then cooked it in butter in a double boiler.  I added some rice vinegar, a splash of soy, and served it over scrambled eggs.  I think it was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten.

Eggs and eggs

A few more Alaska moments....

Cove

Imagine this cove beneath the moonlight, mist hugging the mountains, whales cavorting through the water. Imagine the sound of their spouts, the low moan as they converse, the splash as they leap, tails waving, into the night air.  I can't remember a more magical evening. 

The next day we landed at Elfin Cove, an improbable settlement straight out of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Strolling the boardwalk that curves through town, their version of a sidewalk, you hear the plash of water, continually encountering these small, enchanting waterfalls.

Waterfall

 

This is the longest zip line in the world, in Hoonah.  Completely exhilarating, zooming through the air.

Zip
 

And this is the one must-have Alaska souvenir. People were trying to buy them off our feet. They're the epitome of Northern Chic.

Boots

 

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Best Meal in Juneau

Gorgeous

But first, a little scenery.  We flew up to Taku Lodge on a seaplane, soaring over five massive glaciers. It's wild, empty, so beautiful....

Ice

All ice and water, green and blue.

Landscape

Soaring eagles, goats... and at the lodge, a bear in a tree

Bear

And then, back to Juneau, and dinner at the Rookery.  A casual, ambitious and fascinating restaurant.

We had a plate of cheese, with the most wonderful homemade kimchi and pickles (those pickled cherries were especially impressive)...

Cheese

And what may be the most delicious scallops I've ever had.  They were poached in coconut, just barely, and served with a scallion-scattered quid ink adobo sauce.  Black and white...

Scallops

And then this bibimbap, spicy with kimchi, crunchy with the well-cooked rice on the bottom, rich with egg...

Bibim

Lots of other fascinating foods on this menu, including a crisp salmon collar and king salmon glazed with lemongrass and served over a salmon chorizo.  Can't wait to come back.

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Notes from Juneau

Glaciar

The air here is so invigorating that you gulp it down like food.  Crisp, cool, completely refreshing. 

There's a waterfall next to the glacier just outside of town, and the rushing sound, the calling birds, the ice melting beneath your feet becomes a natural symphony.

Ice

Then there's the food....

Cooking

Tracy's Crab Shack, where you sit on the water, a huge cruise ship rising out of the water behind you, looming like some nightmare urban vision, as you crack crabs and drink beer.

 Platter

The giant crabs are regal, tender, and so sweet you find yourself cracking one claw and then another, eager for more of this amazing flavor, knowing you're not likely to encounter anything so delicious soon again.  The snow crab are wonderful too. The Dungeness, oddly golden here, can't hold a candle to the big guys.  And still....

Tall crab

They serve the crabs with melted butter and lemon.  You don't need either. This is fantastic food, all by itself.

It's good to be here.....

 

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Crunch Crunch Crunch

I was at a party last night, and a friend reminded me that I'd given him this recipe years ago.  I'd forgotten all about it.

"You served them at your house," he said.  "You said it was stupid to buy crackers when they're so easy to make.  And then you gave me the recipe.  I've been making them ever since."

I haven't made these crackers in a while - but I will now. Kind of perfect for this holiday weekend.

Mustard Comte Crackers 

Grate enough Comte or Gruyere on a box grater to make 2 cups. Put it into a food processor with a stick of sweet butter, cut into cubes, and pulse until fairly smooth. Add a cup of flour, 2 teaspoons dry mustard, 2 teaspoons mustard seeds, a teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard and an egg yolk and pulse to combine.

Turn out onto two sheets of wax paper and roll each into a log about 8 inches long.  Freeze for a couple of hours, until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut each roll into quarter inch slices, put onto buttered baking sheets and bake about 15 minutes until golden.  Cool on a rack.

 

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Seductive Little Shrimp Cakes from Tacolicious

Taco

Got this book the other day, and decided to try the shrimp cakes as a little snack last night, when a group of friends were standing around the kitchen, drinking wine.  Straight out of the pan, the shrimpcakes were an enormous hit. There was one left over, and I ate it cold this morning. Better warm - but still completely irresistible. Definitely a recipe I'll do again.

 

Shrimp Cakes with Corn-Tomato Salsa

(very slightly adapted from Tacolicious by Sara Deseran)

Shell a pound and a half of wild shrimp and pulse them very quickly in a food processor so that there are still a few chunks. Stir in an egg and 3 teaspoons of lime juice.

Chop a stalk of celery very fine.

Chop 3 scallions very finely.

Chop enough parsley to make a third of a cup.

Stir the vegetables into the minced shrimp mixture.  Add 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon of adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce), 2 teaspoons of salt, a good grind of black pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons of paprika and a half teaspoon of celery salt.  Stir in 1 cup of panko.  The mixture should be loose.

Pile some panko into a plate.  Scoop up about a twelfth of the mixture and pat into a loose little cake about 2 inches in diameter and a half inch thick.  Plop it into the panko and quickly coat each side. Set on a wax paper lined baking sheet; repeat until you have 12 to 14 little cakes. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator for at least half an hour (and up to a day).

Just before serving, heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large skillet and cook over medium heat about 3 minutes on each side, just until lightly browned.  

Serve with this salsa.

Tomato-Corn Salsa

Scrape the kernels from 3 ears of corn (you should have a cup and a half) into a bowl.

Chop one medium tomato (again, a cup and a half), and add to the corn.

Add a cup of diced Armenian cucumber, a half cup of finely chopped red onion and a diced jalapeno chile.  Stir in a couple teaspoons of salt and the juice of half a lime.  Allow the flavors to marry for at least a half hour, then taste for seasoning. 

This will seem like too much for the shrimp cakes; it is, in fact, the perfect amount. 

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Things I Love: Peanut Oil

When you think of peanut oil, you think Asia, right?  Turns out that's wrong.  Peanut oil is a red, white and blue product - and a legacy of World War II.

Dairy products were scarce during the war, and patriotic people replaced butter with margarine. But making margarine the traditional way proved problematic. The classic oil for margarine had been coconut oil, which came from the Philippines. With the war raging in that part of the Pacific, manufacturers seeking a replacement came up with the notion of using peanut oil in its place.  A plus: peanuts were a domestic product that were both abundant and inexpensive. The Planters people, noting its high burning point, began promoting the oil as a ration-friendly replacement for other fats.  (Lulu, the heroine of Delicious!, surely would have used it in her cooking.)

The heyday of peanut oil proved short-lived. Once trade routes between the US and the Philippines re-opened in 1945, coconut oil re-flooded the market, and peanut oil production waned. Undaunted, the peanut people began promoting another product: next time you celebrate National Peanut Butter day (January 24th), remember that peanut butter was not a ubiquitous American food until coconut oil returned to our shores, and food manufacturers needed to find another way to market peanuts. 

But the great interest in Asian cooking has been a boon to peanut oil.  It not only has a high burning point, but its fragrance adds new notes to stir fries.  You could make fried rice with other oils, but I can't think why you'd want to.

 

 

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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.