outsourcing latkes

Well, Hanukkah starts tomorrow night (Dec. 1), but Retrogrouch has sworn off potatoes and fried foods in general.  I have a nice bag of turnips, and we both like that delicious Chinese turnip cake that’s part of many dim sum spreads, but meh.  I eat latkes once a year and a turnip cake just isn’t gonna cut it.  I could provide you with my (rather stellar, if I do say so myself) latke recipe that features purely, freshly squoze potato starch and microplaned juicy onion, but it’s too depressing.

But wait, The Humble Beagle to the rescue!  From their Facebook page:

If the thought of stinking up your kitchen doesn’t appeal, come to The Beagle for homemade latkes (potato pancakes) every night of Chanuka, starting tomorrow! There’ll also be a hanukkiah on the bar, just like home.

Our hanukkiah (a.k.a. menorah) is buried in the Christmas decoration boxes (yeah, yeah, I know), so it won’t be like home.  But I bet their latkes are good.  Unless there’s too much onion.  Bah humbug.  I need an injection of holiday spirit, since these Candy Cane Joe-Joes aren’t cutting it.

gifts from the kitchen class dec. 1 — don’t delay!

I’m very pleased to announce a fledgling non-profit organization, the Food Preservation Associates.  We’re a new group of former Lane County Extension Master Food Preservers working to (1) provide food safety and preservation education to our community, and (2) help the effort to bring Extension back.  And you can help by showing your support…and learning!  Our first class, Gifts from the Kitchen, is headed by talented craftswoman and baker Barbara Biggs and assisted by the FPAs, whom I am sure would be happy to answer your questions about food preservation and other holiday cooking.

  • What: Gifts from the Kitchen class
  • When:  Wednesday, December 1 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
  • Where:  First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive, Eugene
  • RSVP:  541-747-3915
  • Cost:  $20.

We’ll be doing baked goods, spiced nuts and brittle, gifts in a jar, and an impressive range of wrapping and packaging with cost-efficient materials.  This has been historically one of our most popular classes, so please join us!

Please call and reserve your spot.  Send your checks, made to Food Preservation Associates, to P.O. Box 370, Walterville, 97489.

I have more news and will be providing an update after the class with everything I’m allowed to say…but I’ll just tell you know that I’m thrilled by the efforts of Laura Hindrichs and all the amazing MFP volunteers I’ve grown to love over the past few years, and the community backing we’ve already been receiving from supporters like Adam Bernstein of Adam’s Sustainable Table.

thanksgiving action shots

Since I’m not furiously cleaning the house for guests for the first time in a while, I’m very happily available for photo opportunities, so I thought I’d share some of my No Turkey But None of that Vegetarian Crap Thanksgiving For Two preparations.

This blog, unlike my kitchen, is a no schmaltz zone.

Brining chicken with lemon and herbs de Provence that are actually de Langedoc (thanks, Rama!)

My counter after the brine bag opened and spilled all over it, necessitating an emergency clear and bleach and reoiling of the cutting board (o what tasks can be tasked if you aren’t having guests on Thanksgiving!).  Hm, maybe we should consider a vegetarian No-Turkey Day after all…

Freezer yields reserves for the gravy stock.

Counter back in business, guest-starring two ruby pears picked and delivered by my neighbor, who requested only a sheet of parchment paper, four cloves, and 1/2 cup of corn oil in return.  Vinaigrette by Retrogrouch.  Defrosting fresh cranberry juice for my Thanksgiving vodka-cran…come to Mama.

Oven in action: wild rice stuffing with wild mushrooms, chicken leg confit, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and wild mushrooms; bratwurst that I am pretending is kielbasa, and butternut squash with truffle butter.

Eating kabocha wild rice soup for lunch.

Spinning mesclun mix.

Masses of Brussels sprouts yearning to be free.

Bread and wild rice stuffing with local dried cranberries, chicken confit, and leeks waiting for the oven.

Testing pumpkin pie.

Thank you for your participation in our Thanksgiving meal, and hope yours was delightful!

eugene restaurants open on thanksgiving 2010

Can’t face cooking on Thanksgiving 2010?  Venture out to one of the restaurants open on Thanksgiving while the rest of the town shuts down and the wild turkeys roam free in gangs up and down Willamette.

Try one of the spicy tofu soups or my favorite beef short ribs soup at Café Arirang. Korean on Thanksgiving sounds great to me.

Check out the special Thanksgiving menu at newly-relocated and newly-omnivorized Ratatouille. This might be a great option for vegan friends, too.

What else is open?  Please pimp your favorite venue in the comments below.

squash and parsnip soup for the chill in the air

Elin England, Eugene author of the locavore cookbook, Eating Close to Home: A Guide to Local Seasonal Sustenance in the Pacific Northwest, requested a recipe for a soup I mentioned a while ago, a thick, hearthy vegetarian winter squash, parsnip, and barley potage served at a friend’s Halloween party.  It would be a welcome addition to the Thanksgiving table (or perhaps an after-Thanksgiving detox?) and good for any day that threatens snowflakes.

We ate the soup with a grating of romano cheese and some black pepper, while munching on nutty pumpkin seeds.  The cheese adds umami, the savory “fifth taste” that balances out vegetarian one-pot suppers.  As an alternative to cheese, I’d  suggest adding bacon or a drizzle of smoked paprika oil or truffle salt. I might even dry-roast the barley before adding it to the soup by warming it up on a cast iron pan until just very ever-so-slightly browned.

If you can’t find pomegranate vinegar, a good substitute is apple cider vinegar or a slightly sweeter vinegar, such as Riesling vinegar.

Stay warm; eat soup!

Squash-Parsnip Soup

Serves 6-8.

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 heaping cup leeks, sliced thinly
  • 2.5-3 lb. buttercup squash, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
  • 4 medium-large parsnips, peeled, sliced, and cut into small chunks
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 6 cups stock or water
  • 1/3 cup barley (I prefer dehulled to pearled)
  • juice from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate vinegar or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: parsley, chile powder, crème fraîche, grated romano, etc.

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot on medium heat, and add leeks.  Sweat leeks (cook slow and low, without browning) until soft.

Add squash and parsnips and cook 2-3 minutes.*  If using finely chopped ginger, add 1 tsp or to taste now.  Add thyme.

Add liquid and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add barley.  Cook 30-40 minutes or until vegetables have softened and barley is cooked.

Mash with potato masher until soup’s texture is uniform but still slightly chunky.

Add lemon and vinegar, aromatics (parsley, chile powder, etc.) if desired, and salt and pepper to taste.  Adjust as needed.  Garnish as desired with spice, creme fraiche, and/or cheese.

*I add salt late and I like less than other people.  Conventional cooks [Ed: including yours truly, Culinaria Eugenius] would add some salt at the beginning, say 1/4-1/2 tsp, to help break down the vegetables.

cranburied: juice of the gods

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was the delighted recipient of 20 lbs. of freshly harvested Oregon cranberries this year.  At a dollar a pound, plus a few bucks for gas, how could I resist?

But cranberries are nothing but ill-timed for the academic.  I am plumb out of energy at the end of the term.  This is the first year in many we won’t be having a big Thanksgiving party, and my husband’s new diet means he won’t be wanting his favorite stuffing and mashed potatoes, so the chances of me making a Thanksgivingish dinner for us are slim.  Yes, a lean year chez Levin.

This means my old standby, punchy cranberry sauce, a long-cooked version treasured by me, myself, and I, may not make it to the table this year.

Going into my crazy cranberry glut, I had figured on that.  I planned to turn most of the little darlings into dried cranberries for year-round use in salads and sweets.   Which I did, making a holy mess in the process.  They stubbornly refused to dehydrate and I stubbornly refused to cut each of them in half, so we battled for several days until some were sort of dry, then I boiled me up some simple syrup (a 1.5:1 ratio of sugar:water) and plunged the Rebels in to meet their sweet maker.  I had received the advice from someone who had achieved “perfect Craisins” from this method, but whomever she was, she forgot to tell me that it also made sticky, drippy, half-smushed berries that had to be pried off the drying mats not once but twice.  And I am almost positive she hadn’t battled with 10 lbs. of cranberries when achieving such perfection.  My stove looked like something alive had exploded all over it.  Something syrupy and gluey and alive.  Bah.

And you can see from the above picture that my judgment was seriously off when I decided to make cranberry juice out of another 4 lbs. of berries.  It would be a tight squeeze, I had thought, but I could make a double recipe of kissel, a Russian cranberry juice inspired by that made by Vitaly Paley’s grandma, in my biggest stockpot. I was so taken by the lovely image of kissel in a crystal pitcher nestled among bottles of vodka on the Paley family holiday table, I didn’t calculate the volume properly.

One of those tactical mistakes that you realize immediately after it’s done: cranberries float.

Cue more red, dribbly juice all over everything.

But the juice is absolutely wonderful: dense and crisp and crimson and silky.  The pectin in the berries and unfiltered pulp make it slightly thick and filling.  I doctored my juice with a couple of cups of unsweetened quince juice (frozen last year) and a healthy sprig of rose geranium.  There was enough to freeze (or can, had I not fled town for that conference immediately after making the juice).  I highly recommend making cranberry juice if you have never done it.  Just use a big enough pot.

The recipe below was inspired by The Paley’s Place Cookbook recipe and another in the Ball Blue Book.  It is so safe to can the BBB doesn’t even bother with exact measurements over a 1:1 ratio of cranberries:water, noting you can add sugar if you like.  Cranberries are highly acidic little monsters, so no need to worry about botulism.

And because the juice is so lovely and pectin-rich from the cranberries and quince, I may just make a cranberry jelly after all.  I think my stovetop still has a couple of clean places left.  And if I hit the vodka-cran hard enough, the bloodshed won’t bother me a bit!

Important note: you might want to add more sugar to the recipe below.  I wanted to keep it as low sugar as possible for my husband’s diet and flexibility with cocktails.  You also might choose to add a few teaspoons of simple syrup to the juice before drinking if you like it sweeter.  Serve it ice-cold, preferably with vodka and a thick slice of orange peel whose oils have been urged along with a quick flame from a match.

Fresh Cranberry Juice (Kissel) with Quince and Rose Geranium

(makes 2.5-3 quarts)

  • 2 lbs. fresh cranberries (9-10 cups), sorted
  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 2 cups unsweetened quince juice (optional, substitute orange juice)
  • 1 sprig rose geranium leaves (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar (original recipe has 1.5 cups)
In a very large, non-reactive stockpot, combine all ingredients and bring to boil.  Decrease heat to medium low and simmer about 30 minutes until berries burst and release their juicy goodness into the liquid.* (You might use a potato masher to extract more pulp, but beware: this will prevent any possibility of having a clear, thin juice later.)

Strain juice through a colander to remove the pulp. Discard rose geranium sprig, if using.  Solids can be frozen, turned into a cranberry sauce of sorts, and/or spread thickly on a drying sheet with your drying cranberries, dripping juice all over the dehydrator and making even more of a mess that will result in a delicious cranberry fruit rollup to eat with cheese.

Taste juice and add more sugar as necessary.

Strain again (and yet again depending on your patience) through double-layered cheesecloth or a jelly bag to remove remaining solids.

If you have hopes of clear juice, place juice in refrigerator overnight and let sediment settle to the bottom of the bowl.  Carefully ladle only the top layers from the bowl.

Juice will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks or frozen for 12 months.

To can juice instead of freezing:  prepare pint or quart jars and lids and heat jars.   Heat juice for 5 minutes at 190 degrees (don’t boil).  Ladle hot juice into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Wipe rims carefully and adjust lids and rings, turning rings until finger-tight.  Process pints/quarts 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

*I had a note about the possibility of gelling, but I haven’t successfully boiled the juice to a gel set, so took it out. I have canned quarts of the finished product, and did not achieve a gel in 15 minutes, so perhaps this instruction was too cautious or relied on using more sugar.

culinaria eugenius in victoria: two teas

I’m at a literature conference in Victoria, B. C., experiencing the fruits of colonialism.  No, that’s not me and my friends.  It’s an old tea mechanical puppet box from Murchie’s.  But I’m in a lovely old hotel and a town that has been properly British Empired. Irish woolen stores, tea shops, Scottish bars, Indian curry buffets. If it’s colonial, they’ve got it.

I thought I’d give you an image of the real life of a professor drinking tea in Victoria.

Is this the tea she drinks? Out of a samovar? In a porcelain cup? Reclining on pillows and draped in chintz, soft classical music playing as she chooses a single delicacy from a silver platter?

It is not. She drinks a nice assam out of an Ikea mug with a plump currant scone with cream and jam, though, while she grades papers on a break from conferencing. Perfectly happy with plastic cups, paper napkin, stainless steel tray, $4.25.  Because she can’t afford an afternoon tea that costs $60. Egads.

And that is the life of a professor drinking tea in Victoria, B.C.

simmered kabocha squash

I recently enjoyed a squash soup with barley at a friend’s house.  She had purchased a squash that was being sold as kabocha, a Japanese winter pumpkin with hard green skin and vivid dark orange flesh.  Since I cook often with kabocha, I immediately recognized that she had been a victim of mislabeling.  The soup was still quite good (the barley an inspired addition), but it didn’t have the characteristic denseness and sweetness of my favorite winter squash.

If you haven’t tried kabocha, get thee to an Asian market and pick one up.  Buttercup squash is rather more light and fluffy, with a more subtle taste.  Its relative, kabocha, has drier flesh, and it isn’t at all stringy.  Another tip-off is the seeds — kabocha seeds have very thick skin and can’t really be eaten with pleasure like buttercup squash seeds can.  They look very similar, like squat green, striped/speckled pumpkins, but the buttercup sometimes (not always!) has a protrusion on the top that looks like an overturned cup.  Both are a pain to prepare, as they are rock hard and solid.

We grow more buttercup than kabocha in the Willamette Valley, but sometimes you can find some at a market stand.  It’s worth growing your own or finding a local vendor, as home-grown kabocha is particularly delicious.  And I would know, because my squirrels ate all of mine last year while they were still on the vine.

Next recipe: squirrel stew.

Although kabocha makes a wonderful soup and the best, creamy, rich, deeply flavored pumpkin pie in the world, I most often simmer my kabocha as “nimono,” a class of Japanese dishes often translated as “boiled things.”  I will often add ground pork and just eat the kabocha with a bowl of rice, as generations of Japanese home cooks do.  Sometimes I add a bit of miso to the broth, as Japanese home cooks don’t.  When I was living in Japan, I’d make what I termed “fortified miso,” which was a big pot of miso soup with kabocha chunks and tofu in it. Yum.

With any boiled preparation, kabocha is filling, low-fat, nutrient-dense, and delicious.  It’s not the most beautiful thing in the world, but looks aren’t everything.  Often, the skin is partially sliced off prior to cooking, creating a mottled effect, but it’s also left intact to help keep the chunks together and add more fiber.

Kabocha Nimono (Simmered Japanese Pumpkin)

Serves 4-6 with other dishes.

  • 1 small to medium kabocha
  • 1/3 lb. ground pork (optional)
  • 2 cups dashi*
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • finely chopped green onion as garnish (optional)

Wash the kabocha well.  Peel the kabocha in an irregular pattern with a sharp, sturdy vegetable peeler. Kabocha are very hard, so be careful with your peeler and knife.

Using a cleaver or other thick, sturdy chef’s knife, maneuver a good slice off the bottom of the squash.  This will steady it for the next step. Next, keeping your fingers well out of the way, whack the kabocha in half with a confident blow to the middle of the squash.  Wriggle and saw your knife down into the middle, and crack open the squash to reveal seeds.

Remove seeds and discard.  They’re too tough for roasting.  Scrape inside of cavity with large serving spoon to smooth out jagged bits of flesh.

Cut the kabocha into wedges, then into two-bite-sized pieces.  Don’t cut them too small, or they will fall apart when simmering.

If you are using it, fry the ground pork in a medium-sized pot on medium-high heat with a bit of vegetable oil.  When the pieces are browned, add dashi and bring to a gentle boil.

If you are not using pork, bring dashi to a boil.  Turn the heat down to medium, and add mirin, sugar and soy.  Taste liquid with spoon — if it tastes too much like washwater, add a bit more salt and/or sugar.  Do not add more soy, as it will darken the squash too much.

Add the kabocha pieces, skin side down.  Bring to a gentle boil, then turn heat down to low.  Cover pot with lid (or if you have one, a Japanese wooden drop lid or other disk-like lid that can submerge the squash down into the liquid).

Let simmer for about 20 minutes, allowing the liquid to soak in to the kabocha until it is less than half the original amount.  Poke with a sharp knife.  The pieces should yield easily.  When simmered properly, the squash will not be falling apart, but will be soft and cooked throughout.

Place in small bowls (2-3 pieces per serving as a side dish), garnish with green onion slices, and serve with rice and other dishes.  Pieces of leftover kabocha can be cut into smaller pieces and added to miso soup with leftover liquid the next day, or added to a bento lunchbox.  Keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, and it is good at room temperature as well as hot.

*Dashi soup stock is traditionally made of flaked, dried bonito fish and kelp, but is usually purchased as a powder (dashi-no-moto) to add to water (like a bouillon cube, I suppose).  There are also liquid dashi-no-moto.  Both may contain preservatives, so choose wisely, and follow the instructions on the package.  You can substitute chicken broth or water, but it won’t have the same flavor.  Dashi provides umami and depth to the dish.

abu-jaber reading on nov. 10

I’d like to invite you all to join me at a reading by Diana Abu-Jaber, 7 pm on November 10, 2010, on the UO campus.  I was introduced to her work through Crescent last summer, a novel set in a Lebanese restaurant, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying The Language of Baklava, a memoir, and her latest novel, a detective story called Origin.  The reading will be from one of these books, I believe, and perhaps some of her new work, Birds of Paradise.

The Knight library recently acquired Professor Abu-Jaber’s papers on her food and novel writing, and she has longstanding UO ties, having taught in the English Department for many years.  The Clark Honors College is a co-sponsor for this public talk, along with the Oregon Humanities Center.  I’ll have the pleasure of introducing the reading.

behold the pippin

The Newtown Green Pippin is an apple variety older than our union, and has resurfaced with much hullabaloo in New York in the past few years.  Better yet, it was found growing on a street in Portland (or so the internets tell me) and we now have it in Oregon.  If you’re looking for the piney, crisp, tart eating variety of apple, Pippin’s your gal.  Retrogrouch decreed that I must go back to the farm immediately and buy more.

These were the first Pippins I’ve ever had, and I’m a big fan.  Grown at Monticello and once shipped over the Atlantic to Queen Victoria’s palace, they ripen in storage. The flavor mellows, but I like the green taste.  Good for pies and eating out of hand.  The apple is identified by its russeting, lopsided top (this example doesn’t have much of either, but look at the examples in the Ark of Taste for russeting and in Adam’s Apples (a blog of apple varieties) for the hunchback, if you need to see them for identifying purposes.

So where can you get these beauties?  Hentze Farm has lugs full.  I went down there to grab some veggies and my 2o lbs. (!) of cranberries, which Gordon and crew were storing for those of us who went in on the order.  These apples called to me.