birthday pleasures

It’s my birthday, and not only am I pleased to announce I received a Serge Gainsbourg jazz compilation, circa 1958-64, but also — more of interest to you, certainly — that my very first article in the Chow! quarterly food supplement of the Eugene Weekly, our local alternative paper, appeared today!  You can read more about the Master Food Preserver funding crisis by clicking here:

You can learn more about Serge Gainsbourg here:

Or you can eat free, delicious Hermiston watermelon that you got out in Umatilla County at the great watermelon giveaway of 2008 (tomorrow).  Or read my article AND eat Hermiston watermelon AND listen to Serge Gainsbourg.  This birthday girl is very easy to please.

i really like your peaches fruit salad

It’s a fruit salad. It’s an aphrodisiac. Does summer get any better than this?

I invented this fruit salad after reading a chapter in Iwan Bloch’s Sex Life in England (1934) entitled “Curious Sexual Instruments.” Bloch was an old-school German sexologist — indeed, he is credited for being one of the founders of that branch of study — who wrote comprehensive books on large chunks of sexual life, including a biography of the Marquis de Sade and books on prostitution, erotic literature, and sexual odors.

In “Curious Sexual Instruments,” we find not only what you would expect, but also a few paragraphs on aphrodisiacs identified by experts. A certain M. Venette, author of De la Generation de l’Homme ou Tableau de l’Amour Conjugal, singles out foods such as egg whites, “sweet strong wine,” and milk. Another gentleman named Ryan adds these to the list: fish, turtles, oysters, crabs, lobsters, eggs, artichokes, truffles, mushrooms, celery, cocoa, onions, cinnamon, pepper, apricots, strawberries and peaches.

Bloch’s third source, the pornographic novel The Amatory Experience of a Surgeon (1881), is perhaps the least credible of the lot, but I believe everyone should try once what it recommends: making your move on the ladies with a cinnamon-dusted hand.

Or you could try this fruit salad instead. Capitalize on the local peaches coming into season, and the apricots in full swing.  It seems too decadent for breakfast to me, but you have your own morals.  You might perhaps decide to enjoy it after eating some of the other ingredients on the list: begin with raw oysters and chilled artichokes in a truffle mayonnaise, then tuck into a bouillabaisse of fish, shellfish, celery and onions, perhaps.

Whatever you do, save some room for dessert, because this is the best fruit salad I’ve ever tasted. If they don’t like your peaches after this concoction, heaven help you.

I Really Like Your Peaches Fruit Salad

Serves 2

  • 2 ripe peaches, cubed
  • 2 ripe apricots, cubed
  • strawberries in some form, either fresh (everbearing from your garden?) or frozen, chopped, or a scoop of homemade strawberry preserves or syrup
  • a few shakes of cinnamon
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 2 T. “strong, sweet wine” such as Port or Madeira
  • 1 pint whipping cream

Mix together all ingredients but the whipping cream. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes. Adjust sweetening by adding a bit more Port, if necessary or pleasurable.

While fruit is macerating, whip cream until very stiff, even lumpy, and add a bit of sugar while whipping. An alternative is to use slightly sweetened ricotta or crème fraîche. Serve in individual bowls with a dollop of whipped cream on top and a drizzle of Port.

keeping cool with sour cherry and apricot soup

I should dedicate this, the second summer appetizer in my series of summer appetizers with obscure ingredients, to the folks at Hentze farm, where I bought the blushing, lovely apricots and the already-pitted sour cherries, submerged in their juice.  It made my life so easy, and easy livin’ is what summer is supposed to be about, right?

Sour cherries and apricots whisper Hungary to me.  My trip to Budapest in 2006 for a conference was one of the highlights of my life.  If my soul had a foreign home, it would be Hungary.  Of course, I’d soon die and have to be buried in a piano box because I would eat so much, but I’d die happy.  At one restaurant, I ordered sour cherry soup (meggy leves), thinking it would be a light starter.  Of course, being Hungary, it was thickened with sour cream and topped with whipped cream.  And every bite was delicious.

My version of the soup is lighter and appropriate for a July grilled meal.  The soup is still rich, but unless you want to serve it as a dessert (which you absolutely can), forgo the whipped cream and replace the sour cream with thinner, lighter crème fraîche.  Noris Dairy makes a delicious, slightly runny “sour cream” that is basically crème fraîche, so I use that.  You might try lightening up your sour cream with a bit of heavy cream if you can’t find crème fraîche.  If you can’t find that, you certainly won’t be able to find Hungarian apricot brandy, which is not imported much in the States, so substitute cherry brandy.  Or make your own apricot liqueur!

Using fresh sour cherries and apricots make this soup extraordinary.  It’s better to substitute fresh Bing or other cherries than to use frozen or canned sour cherries, since this is all about fresh summer produce.  I don’t bother peeling the apricots, but it might make the texture more elegant.

Sour Cherry Apricot Soup

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or dessert

2 cups pitted sour cherries
3 cups cherry juice
½ cup fruity red wine, such as Merlot
1 cup quartered fresh apricots
1 T. sugar
½ cup crème fraîche
1 T. powdered sugar
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3-4 whole cloves
1 T. apricot brandy (Hungarian barack palinka) or cherry brandy

Pour juice and wine into pot, add cherries, apricots, and sugar.  Place spices in small cheesecloth bag and tie with kitchen twine.  Submerge in juice.

Simmer cherries and apricots just long enough to soften them up, about 5-10 minutes.

Mix crème fraîche and powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Remove soup from heat and remove spice bag.

Scoop out about half of the cherries and apricots and puree in the food processor, then return to soup pot.

Quickly whisk in crème fraîche until thoroughly mixed, and add brandy.

Pour into small serving bowls and chill for several hours before serving.

dining niblets

(1) Whoever invented the term “niblets” is a marketing genius or a wizard or something.

(2)  Sushi-ya.  Try Sushi-no.  It opened a short while ago in the space formerly known as Misako on Willamette at 8th.  Poor quality — poor quality — tuna, soggy, tasteless and mushy.  The snapper, which I should have known was bad (given it was offered as a special with lemon and ginger) was almost dangerous.  I did like the Hawaii roll, and speaking as someone who is disgusted by most American kitchen-sink-type sushi rolls, this is high praise.  They keep that one simple, with tuna, chives, and hot peppers.  Wormy little bean sprout salad as a free starter, no thanks.  The food took forever to arrive and was disappointing when it did.  Young white men manning the sushi station: never a good sign.  Probably the worst sushi I’ve had in a very long time.

But a serious, serious problem, and one I can’t believe no health inspector has noticed, is that the sushi is served on old wooden boards that were once food-grade, but now the varnish is peeling from the corners and the wood has cracked.  We ate from one with a big hairline crack down the middle, and another one that had two significant flaws in the wood — the knots and divots that create pretty patterns on your hardwood floors, but a health hazard when on service items in a commercial kitchen.  And one featuring SUSHI?  Ugh. Two wasabi-green thumbs down.  (No, the picture isn’t the board we ate on.  It’s a used BBQ cedar plank from our woodpile.  But evocative, no?)

(3)  And a delight, for balance.  The late-night Lebanese hummus plate at Café Soriah.  Simple, fresh sliced broiled lamb, seasoned with mint and sumac, atop a big mound of delicious, creamy hummus, with pretty green marinated olives and some hot pink pickled onions on the side.  Want.

(4)  And oh heck, more delight.  Ish.  The prosciutto and fresh arugula pizza at La Perla.  The restaurant itself could use some fine tuning, but the pizza oven rocks.  The first night we went was during the Olympic Trials, and we were seated on the south side of the pizzeria, which is acoustically flawed (I fear for good) and we could hear the other tables better than our own dinner companions.  The second time was much better, with fewer kids running around and more adult noise levels on the north side.   The service was less snotty Barbie doll high school girl with attitude, too.  (Jesus, give me a fuckin’ BREAK.)

Eschew the expensive, prepackaged desserts and the pedestrian salads, and get your pizza topped with a big handful of arugula leaves.  Do salad like the Italians do.  Well, pick off the bruised and yellowing arugula leaves (La Perla, shame on you), then do it like the Italians do.  The peppery, greeny, crunchy arugula is a perfect match, dare I say synergy, with the cheese and the salty prosciutto and the blackened bits on the pizza dough.  I’ve been looking for a pizza like this since my trip to Italy in 2002.  Yum.

(5)  The laab beef salad at Aiyara Café in Springfield (in a sad little strip mall at Harlow Road and Gateway).  Finally, a Thai restaurant in the area that doesn’t over-sugar its food, gah.  This is one of my favorite Thai dishes, featuring rare beef slices, mint, cilantro, onions and fresh lettuce, tomato and cucumbers in sour and spicy lime dressing texturized with roasted rice powder, and Aiyara makes it well.

(6)  From another car on the arugula train, Midtown Bistro‘s bacon, arugula and tomato sandwich with homemade mayo is really quite delicious.  Thick, chewy bacon, great bread, and a summer tomato —  ah, I’m drooling just thinking about it.  Take a hint from me and order a green salad on the side, though, to supplement the skimpy serving of arugula on the sandwich.  Or just tell them to add more.  I guess you could be less passive-aggressive.

(7)  Belly.  I haven’t been.  But a little bird told me very good things.

testing pressure canner gauges — the life you save could be your own

Hear ye, hear ye.  The Lane County Extension Family Food Education/Master Food Preserver volunteers are testing pressure canner gauges on two more dates at the Eugene office, 950 West 13th Avenue, next to the Fairgrounds. Bring in your canner lid (it’s ok to remove the little weight) between 10:45 and 12 noon on August 12, August 26, September 9, September 23, and October 14.  You may also drop it off a day or two earlier, if those times aren’t convenient, and pick it up after noon on the specified date. Please call the hotline (details on the right) for more information.

We test the gauges on a machine designated for that purpose at 6, 11, and 16 pounds of pressure.  Any gauge more than a pound off should be replaced.  There is no charge for the service, but donations to keep the MFP program alive past September are gratefully accepted.

By the way, it’s really worthwhile to talk to the volunteers while you’re dropping off or waiting for your gauge to be tested.  Yesterday, we found out that a local green bean enthusiast had been canning her beans for many years with salt pork.  The problem with this recipe (her grandma’s) is that you need a much longer time to can meat safely than you do with vegetables, and by the time the salt pork would be shelf-stable, the beans would be mush.  The individual in question had been putting her family at risk for botulism poisoning for years, including her elderly father.

Pené Ballini, a 16-year veteran volunteer, was working the testing machine and training me.  Why, she quizzed me, hadn’t her family died yet?

I had no idea, other than luck.

She reminded me that people used to cook beans to death, and since the woman was cooking for elderly people, she may very well have been boiling them for 10-15 minutes out of the jar.  Boiling vegetables for at least 10 minutes will kill botulism.  The problem arises with modern technology: people nuke their home-canned beans just for a minute or so to warm them up…

…and then they keel over.

I’m being flippant about this story, but it’s actually really important to know contemporary safety guidelines for canning.  A grandma killed her grandkids with canned green beans a few years ago in Oregon, and I listened to a gruesome tape about someone who survived botulism.  Let me just say that throat paralysis, nerve damage, surgery without anaesthetic, months in excruciating pain in the hospital and years in pain thereafter, losing one’s voice and hearing, etc., is not a pretty way to live.

Please — if you have any questions about older recipes or suspicious new ones — give the MFP hotline a call.

blogger craves tunafish, details at 11

On Sunday, it was hot and we were moping around the house, looking for entertainment.  When that failed, we turned to food.  I didn’t feel like cooking, and I especially didn’t feel like eating the salad greens, carrots or radishes populating the crisper.  And we didn’t want to go out, either.  So I did what any reasonable foodie would do: turned over her kitchen to the creative wiles of her husband.

Retrogrouch loves sandwiches.  I couldn’t care less about sandwiches.  Undaunted, he opened a can of tuna, drained off the juice carefully.

“Give this to deserving individuals,” he pronounced solemnly.  “Of your choosing.”

One deserving individual happened to be begging at my feet.  I put the bowl o’ juice on the floor.

He dumped the tuna in my food processor.  A healthy scoop of the dill relish I had made that morning joined the party.  A few fat blurbs of mayonnaise invited themselves, too.

I looked pained.  “You’re going to blend that?  How about some green onions,” I asked, “or some herbs or vinegar or tomatoes?”

Retrogrouch brushed off my anxieties.  “Nope,” he said, and hit pulse.

A few seconds later, we had a creamy, dilly tuna spread that we slathered liberally on toasted wheat bread.  I don’t really like sliced wheat bread, either.  But it was so damn good I am drooling over it and I want his tunafish for breakfast now and for every meal for the rest of my life.  So I’m going to make an effort to do sandwiches for dinner more often, or better yet, make him do them!  Yay!

tayberries at lone pine farm

If you can find tayberries, this cross between an Aurora blackberry cultivar (an Oregon varietal, thank you very much) and a raspberry, by all means buy them immediately.  In my neck of the woods, Lone Pine Farm in Junction City had them for sale yesterday, so I snapped some up to make delicious jam.  The tayberry is an exquisitely beautiful fruit, and it’s a bit tarter and muskier than a boysenberry (which you can see pictured in my masthead above).  Dark red and elongated, the tayberry tastes far more complex than either of its parents, almost like a raspberry on steriods, dreaming dark dreams.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

And some are born to jam their plight.

fastest pickle in the west

I once had a boyfriend who was so desperate for pickles, he’d even drink a jar of pickle juice.  I still haven’t quite forgiven him for scarfing down my expensive, hand-crafted practically Kobe-beef-fussiness-quality Japanese pickles that were carefully stowed away in my tiny apartment refrigerator in Tokyo.  Bonzai, cried he, and shinkansened out of town before I could beat him with a keisaku.  Thanks to his quick escape, we are still friends today, and I feed him pickles when I can.

So this post is for him.

It’s also for anyone who likes new dill pickles, the ones you get for free in New York delis, the half-sour ones.  Sometimes called refrigerator pickles, mine are much better (she said, humbly) because they have the spirit of half-sours but take less than half the time of than regular refrigerator pickles.  I developed the recipe while making real new dill pickles, a dubious wild fermentation preparation of whey, brine, and sitting on a counter for a couple days.  (The Master Food Preserver in me says no, the mouth is saying let’s go.)  When they work, they’re wonderful, slightly fermented, bright lime green, crisp, lovely.  When they don’t, well, you could die of botulism.

But the pickles I’m touting here are absolutely safe, and while not as good as real, fermented new dills, they are an excellent substitution and they only take a few hours to make.  Having a BBQ this weekend?  Try making these in the morning and serving them with your ribs in the evening.  The pickles last about a day, but the quality starts to deteriorate after that, so plan accordingly.

The preparation is inspired by Japanese cucumber salad, and also by my great-grandmother’s recipe for sweet and sour vinegar cucumber salad.  In both of these salads, the cucumbers are sliced, salted, and left to sit in a seasoned vinegar and water solution.  The Japanese sometimes add seaweed or sesame seeds; my great-grandma added thinly sliced white onion.  I was making my regular new dill pickles, as I mentioned, and I ran out of the requisite whey before I ran out of anything else, so I was inspired to turn a long wait into something fresh and salad-like, but with dill flavor.  I thought it might be an amenable idea to add pickling spices, garlic, and a couple heads of fresh dill to a brine and serve the cucumber “pickles” that night as a salad.  And sure enough, it worked.

Can you tell I’m super pleased by this one?  I am.  I have pickle addicts to feed.

Fastest Pickle in the West

  • 4 cups sliced pickling cucumbers (1/2-inch slices)
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 1 T. sea salt
  • 1 t. white vinegar
  • 1 T. pickling spices
  • 1 t. brown mustard seeds
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 fresh dill heads, or substitute 2 t. dill seeds (not weed)

Wash pickling cucumbers well and slice.  Make brine of water, salt and vinegar.  Mix well, then pour over cucumbers in bowl or plastic container for marinating.  Add pickling spices, mustard seeds, garlic and dill.  Cover container and refrigerate at least 4 and up to 12 hours.  Does not keep for longer than a day or two.

ab ovo: tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 400 AD with eggs and lovage

We’re still struggling through over temperatures well into the 90s, and the last thing I feel like doing is cooking; even starting up the grill is fatiguing.  So I’ve been thinking about summer appetizers, those light, fresh, simple nibbles that highlight one or two ingredients and delight the eye and tongue with something unusual, and thought I’d feature a few of these beauties in the upcoming weeks.

These recipes will contain some ingredients which aren’t available widely, but they are fun to play with if you can get your hands on them.  I’ll suggest substitutes when I can.  What’s most important is to experiment consciously and purposefully with just one or two flavor combinations.

The first in my series of summer appetizers is an adaptation from the Culinaria Italy cookbook. Inspired by the fabled gourmand of ancient Rome, Apicius, who was likely a composite figure that is credited with creating the world’s first cookbook, this recipe takes what was originally a sauce for soft-boiled eggs and returns it to the egg — in a deviled-egg-type sweet and sour stuffing of pinenuts and lovage.

I love the idea of lounging about in white togas with broad purple edging, and eating beautifully prepared, local stuffed eggs, with, say, peacocks strutting to and fro and slaves to refresh your gin-n-tonics (which were not Roman, but the British have Roman blood, and well, it’s *my* fantasy, ok?).

The fish sauce might be the strangest item in this recipe, but it approximates the popular Roman fermented fish condiment, garum or liquamen.  If it wigs you out, just use salt, and in all cases, use it sparingly.

Lovage is one of those perennial herbs that takes a while to get started but then stubbornly persists on little water and filtered light, year after year.  It has the taste of strong, sweet, lemony celery. It can easily overwhelm a dish with its perfumey, vegetal bitterness.  In short, we don’t see it much in American recipes except for the occasional soup.  But as a main attraction in a simple small dish, it can be refreshing.  You might choose to substitute celery leaves, or even tarragon, which would work well but change the character of the dish.

To make the perfect hardboiled eggs, follow my recipe below.  You won’t get the hard, dry yolks or the greenish cast that comes from overcooking the eggs.

Pinenut and Lovage-Stuffed Eggs

In ovis hapalis: piper, ligusticum, nucleos infusos. Suffundes mel, acetum, liquamine temperabis. (Original recipe in Latin)

  • 12 hard boiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, soaked in verjus, or a sweet wine such as Riesling, for 15-20 minutes
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped lovage, or substitute equal amounts celery and parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • Several dashes Thai fish sauce or salt to taste

Prepare hard boiled eggs by placing eggs in cold water and turn heat on medium high.  When water starts to boil vigorously, remove eggs from heat and place in bowl of cool water to stop cooking.  Cool eggs and peel.

Slice eggs in half lengthwise and carefully remove egg yolks to bowl, reserving egg whites for stuffing.  Combine pine nuts, lovage, honey and egg yolks.  Using a mortar and pestle (or, less satisfactorily, a food processor), crush the mixture until pine nuts are mostly smashed and have released their oils into the yolks.  Add pepper, vinegar and fish sauce or salt to taste, mix well, and stuff the eggs.  Garnish each egg with a lovage leaf or a few reserved pinenuts that you have roasted until light brown.  Refrigerate eggs until serving.

AND…for your picnicking pleasure…

Bonus Potato Salad with Eggs, Pinenuts and Lovage

This preparation also makes a great potato salad, according to Retrogrouch, who ate it all as I was cleaning up the kitchen.

Boil 2-3 medium waxy potatoes. Cool potatoes and slice or cube while still warm.   Combine potatoes with the crushed pinenut and herb preparation above, then add 3-4 chopped hardboiled eggs.  Add a handful of parsley and more lovage, if you have it.  Blend with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, or to taste, and salt and pepper.  Chill for a couple of hours before serving and keep cold in cooler if you plan to serve it outdoors or after a Roman orgy, since it is highly perishable.