scary!

If you’re bummed about really scary things, like unemployment rates in Lane County, or underemployment for people with thousands of dollars with student loans, or the New York subway system flood, or world poverty, or the agro-industrial food complex, you might turn in solace to Red Wagon Creamery’s Gravedigger ice cream.  It’s a milky milk chocolate with gory hunks of red velvet cake and zombie flesh, which is naturally turned into a ghoulish green Italian meringue swirl. What I love about Red Wagon’s novelty flavors is that they actually taste good.  The high concept is matched by good taste.  Would that we were all so lucky.

Opening hours and more creepy flavors on their Facebook page.

Happy Halloween!  Stay warm and dry out there!

pickled ginger for locavores

Amazed to see a big tub of beautiful, pristine young ginger at the Groundwork Organics stand on Saturday morning.  I’ve long been dissatisfied with the preservatives in pale pink Japanese pickled ginger (gari), the Tonto to the Lone Ranger of sushi, so on the rare occasion I can find some new ginger in season, I make my own.  It’s crucial not to use the fibrous, older storage-ready ginger with the beige skin, since it will be too tough (I know from experience).  Instead, use the stuff that appears once a year or so in Japanese markets.  AND NOW IN EUGENE, WOO!

Groundwork should probably still have fresh ginger knobs for another week, judging from what they had left.  Don’t hesitate.  Ginger can be profitably frozen as-is.  You’ll lose the texture, but the taste when grated is just a bit muted, so use a little more.  I usually grate it while still frozen.

The pickling solution for the following recipe is rather mild.  You can use this ginger as you would fresh ginger, too.  I think the salt and vinegar just add a nice mild pop to the flavor.  It’s great in fried rice.

To achieve the pink color one sees in the commercial pickled ginger at sushi restaurants, don’t use red food coloring, as they do.  Instead, add a slice of beet briefly to the pickling solution, or carefully trim the darker pink base of the stem, if you have it left on your knob of ginger, and add the trim to the top of the jar.  The pink stem isn’t really edible because it’s too fibrous, so just be sure to remove it.  That’s what I’m using above.

Pickled Young Ginger

Makes half-pint

  • 1/2 lb. chunk of fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 c. rice vinegar (unseasoned)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • slice of red beet or dark pink outer rim of ginger (optional)

Wash, trim, and rub skin off young ginger with the tip of a spoon. Using a mandoline or Japanese slicer, slice ginger into paper-thin bite-sized pieces.  Salt the slices and let sit on the counter for an hour or so.  Drain off liquid and pack in half-pint canning jar or heat-proof container.  Bring rest of ingredients to a boil, then pour over ginger slices.  Optional: add a slice of dark beet or the layer of dark pink ginger for color to the liquid as it boils, then discard before pouring over ginger.  Let cool, then refrigerate for at least a week before using to develop flavors.  Should keep for several months refrigerated.

halloween came early in vegas, glad to be home

It’s been an intense month, but I’ve got a bit of breathing room.  It’s been a struggle to reorganize my priorities to spend more time strengthening my leg as I learn how to get full range of motion again, but it needs to be done.  I do less in a day so I can spend more time exercising and going to the gym.  But that’s ok for now.

Walking and taking photos has been a pleasure.  Since I’m so slow, I can see a great deal.  Walking downtown has been thrilling, seeing all the new food businesses emerge (a long overdue restaurant post will come soon, I promise). I’m also really excited to have been part of a team studying some possibilities for a food studies program at University of Oregon.  We went up to OSU to meet a number of Oregon scholars interested in a food studies coalition of sorts, then hosted several eminent food studies faculty from other institutions back at home.  I hope something good comes out of it all.

I’ve been planning some events with my food research group on campus, including the visit from Sandor Katz on November 16, too.  Then I spent a half-week in Las Vegas at a literature conference last week.  I’m still haunted by the Strip, where I saw Dora the Explorer and Freddy Kruger mingling among the tourists outside the Flamingo.  And don’t even get me started about what was inside.  Halloween came early!

Creepy, no?  The talking animated tree was at the Bellagio and the talking Neptune posed between the Nike swoosh and a Cheesecake Factory logo was part of an inaudible animatronic show depicting the fall of Atlantis at Caesars Palace.  The eyebrow-raising relief of Roman soldiers raping naked women, also Caesars Palace.  Check it out and its companion piece of Roman soldiers beating men when you enter the slot machine area.  No fucking joke.

I did enjoy seeing colleagues at the conference, where I presented my work on sexual modernity and on modernist food, and the Flamingo wasn’t a bad place to stay at all.  My room was very clean and the hall was absolutely silent.  Couldn’t ask for more, especially in the middle of the decline of Western civilization.  Great meals, too, at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and Lotus of Siam, a hole in the wall place off the Strip in a mini-mall, made famous by Jonathan Gold a few years ago.  I had a noteworthy lamb leg with apples and blanched rutabaga cubes with a wonderful bottle of wine at the former, a pounded Northern Thai jackfruit and pork “dip” and a puffed rice and sausage dish at the latter.

But now I’m home sweet home, and couldn’t be happier to see my friends and neighbors and farmers at the market this weekend.  I walked around on my own for the first time in months, and it was a little hard, but I managed, even in the rain.

I skipped the zombie Thriller in Kesey plaza.  I had seen enough Halloween.  Instead, I reminded myself of how dazzling our fall produce is.  The hard winter squashes in yellows, oranges, reds, and slate blues are gorgeous, especially with the multi-hued peppers that remain, but I more stimulated by baskets of quinces and huckleberries at the gourd guy’s booth, brilliant red and gold flint corn polenta at Lonesome Whistle (their first go at flint corn!), and tiny American persimmons at Grateful Harvest alongside Concord grapes and the rest of the Italian prunes and fall strawberries. The weird weather created a stellar apple crop.  I bought some huge, delicious Pippins from Hentze farm, and drooled over Dave Biancalana’s description of his apple cider pork sausage with rosemary and apples.  There were golden raspberries and juicy Napa cabbage and new ginger (!!) at Groundworks Organics.  My favorite White Russian kale was available at Ruby & Amber’s Organic Oasis (I hope I’m remembering this one correctly). Cider from River Bend farm and roasting peppers were enticing us at the front of the market.  Someone whose name I forgot was selling local sweet potatoes, an important item of note for Thanksgiving.

As for what’s coming:  the mushrooms are sprouting up, especially golden chanterelles.  Beans and grains are being sorted and cleaned right now: expect the new crop very soon.  I’m pretty sure the hazelnut crop got swept up before the rains, too, so that means great plump filberts.  Walnuts should be here soon, and cranberries.  Time for homemade cran-vodkas, my favorite fall drink!

I love this little valley, this great state.  I’m so glad I’m here to share it with you.

chipotles

With the last of my hot chiles a few weeks ago, I experimented with the smoker.  Some of the big fat green jalapenos got smoked for about two hours over a blend of fruit and other woods before putting them in a salty brine to ferment and become smoky hot sauce.  The red jalapenos became light, sweetly smoked chipotles, dried peppers that are usually left whole and smoked until a brittle dark crisp.  I liked the idea of dialing back the smoke so I could use them for a variety of purposes, so I slit them and laid them flat, and only smoked them for a 4-5 hours until they dried.  They’re so pretty; they remind me of the last warm days of our Indian summer, that beautiful bright sad light.

Stay dry and be careful out there!

save the date: sandor katz in eugene!!!!!!!

I’ve now received several excited emails and calls letting me know that someone very special is planning to speak in our town.  I know!  I know!  The cat’s out of the bag, so I guess I shouldn’t wait any longer.  The bubbling, alchemical, activated Sandor Katz is coming to Eugene!

I’m delighted to be hosting him at the Honors College on November 16, 2012, for a free public lecture and book signing at the University of Oregon.  We’ve got posters and publicity on the way, but I wanted to make sure you knew the details:

Friday, November 16, 2012, 5:30-7:00 p.m.
“Fermentation: Coevolution, Culture, and Community”
A free public lecture by Sandor Ellix Katz, Author and Cultural Revivalist
150 Columbia Hall, University of Oregon

A book signing for Katz’s New York Times bestselling book, The Art of Fermentation, will follow the lecture and Q&A from 7:00-7:45, and books will also be on sale 5:30-6:00 before the lecture.  Everyone is welcome and no reservations are needed.  Questions?  Comment here or email honors@uoregon.edu.

If you don’t know Katz’s work, you should.  Called by the New York Times one of the “unlikely rock stars of the American food scene,” he’s a “cultural revivalist,” which is a clever way of defining a food activist who writes about changing the American food system by recovering the lost art of fermentation.  Much of what I’ve written on preservation has been influenced by Katz.  He’s the one who really clued me in on the afterlife of food and role of bacteria in the cycle of life.  Heady stuff, deliciously delivered in a pile of sauerkraut or cup of yogurt.  Simple as being.  Remaining.  Enduring.  Changing.  Emerging. Triumphing.  He’s been featured in every major news outlet and food media, and has given hundreds of lectures and demonstrations all across America and beyond.  This will be well worth your time, I guarantee it.

The talk is made possible by funding from the University of Oregon’s Robert D. Clark Honors College, the Oregon Humanities Center, and the UO Food Studies Program Initiative.  Additional support for a student discussion comes from the Clark Honors College Student Association and the Climate Justice League.

The photo, by the way, is from The Art of Fermentation‘s display at Powell’s Books, where Katz will be speaking on National Pickle Day, November 14, in case you’ll be in Portlandia.  You can pickle that!  Call the store for more details.

thai hot and sour green tomato stirfry

One more green tomato dish, this one a delicious and gorgeous Thai hot and sour stirfry that goes particularly well with fish, shrimp, or pork.  The marinade is delicious on its own, but when you add chopped green tomatoes, it’s really quite something.  Some folks have an issue with eating partially cooked green tomatoes because they can be a bit slimy, but I find chopping them into smaller pieces and using a strong sauce, plus the contrasting textures of soft cherry tomatoes and fleshy fish, make that issue moot.

Whew!  My green tomatoes are done for the year, but here are all my ideas for green tomatoes. Try:

Thai Hot & Sour Green Tomato Stirfry

Serves 4 with another dish.  Great with grilled salmon — pour the sauce on top of cooked salmon and arrange tomatoes around fish for a beautiful presentation.

  • 1 lb. fillet of fresh salmon to grill (fatty Chinook is best; substitute shrimp or pork)
  • 1 lb. or as many green tomatoes as you like, cut into bite-sized chunks (err on the small side)
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes for color and sweetness, halved
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 medium white onion, sliced pole-to-pole thinly
  • A couple of red Italian frying peppers (the long skinny sweet peppers), sliced thinly
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • white pepper to taste

Prepare your ingredients before you start grilling the salmon (or shrimp or pork).  Chop the green tomatoes in bite-sized pieces and halve the cherry tomatoes; mince the garlic; slice the onion and peppers.  Mix together fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl, and use a bit to marinate your salmon.

Grill salmon.  As it is cooking:

Heat wok until very hot on high heat.  Add oil and wait a minute to pre-heat, then sear green tomatoes and onion.  Add garlic and peppers after onions and tomatoes brown a bit, cook a moment longer, then remove from heat.  Add fish sauce mixture and white pepper to taste.  Let sit and marinate while the fish finishes grilling.

Plate the grilled fish, and carefully pour sauce over fish.  Arrange tomatoes around fish and serve with jasmine rice and another dish for a complete meal.

you say green tomato again: green tomato pork ragu with pine nuts and raisins

Whew!  My green tomatoes are done for the year, but here are all my ideas for green tomatoes. Try:

I was inspired by a comment on David Lebovitz’s post about his Indian-influenced spiced green tomato chutney.  The chutney looks delicious in its own right, but the real star was someone named Tia, who shared ideas from Rome for green tomatoes:

Late in the fall, green tomatoes take over the Roman markets. They are good as a salad on their own — especially the ones with a rosey hue — they add body to chicken soup, and they also make a nice, somewhat tangy ragu for pasta: Lightly crisp a small amount of pancetta in olive oil, add a smashed clove or two of garlic and some chopped shallot or onion along with a bay leaf and a bit of fennel seed. If you want a richer sauce, crumble in some mild pork sausage. Cook the sausage until it is no longer pink, but don’t let it brown. Add a lot of roughly chopped green tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cook into a sauce over medium heat. Toss with penne, ziti, orecchiette, or other shaped pasta. Finish with parsely, lemon zest, and black pepper. Drizzle each serving with olive oil and flock with grated pecorino cheese.

Is there any way to improve on this?  Why yes, there is.  It’s a good idea to roast your remaining green tomatoes: slice in half or in chunks, toss in olive oil and salt, and roast on 225 for a few hours before bagging them up and freezing.  They can be used for enchilada verde sauce or this delicious ragu in the middle of winter.  I like the balance of sweet, savory, and tanginess in my adaptation, too, which used up the last of the rosé.  It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it was absolutely delicious.

Roasted Green Tomato Ragu with Pork Sausage, Raisins, and Pine Nuts

Serves 4.

  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 1/2 lbs. green tomatoes (roughly 3 cups cooked down)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup very dry, pale rosé or pinot gris
  • 1 lb. pork sausage meat (sweet Italian with fennel or pork with sage is perfect)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, if pine nuts aren’t in your budget
  • olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, for topping pasta

Mince onion and garlic.  Chop tomatoes.  Plump raisins in the rosé.  Toast pine nuts until just barely colored, and set aside.

Cook onion in some olive oil over medium heat until golden (do not brown).  Add the garlic and sausage meat, continuing to cook over medium heat until cooked through, breaking up large chunks of sausage. Add chopped green tomatoes, either precooked/frozen earlier or raw.  Add wine and raisins.  Let simmer with sausage, pressing against tomatoes with wooden spoon to break into sauce.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper if needed.

As the sauce is simmering, prepare your pasta.  This ragu does best with penne or a similarly large, ridged rolled pasta.  Or a lovely macaroni — kind of like a gardener’s Hamburger Helper, if you think about it.  The sauce is done when the pasta is done.  Add more wine or water if it seems to be too thick.

Integrate the sauce and cooked pasta, leaving just a bit of starchy water in the bottom of the pasta pot, and adding enough sauce to coat well.  Fold in pine nuts just before serving, and top each bowl of pasta with lots of grated parmesan.

you say green tomato: fermented chow chow

I’ve posted a bunch of green tomato recipes for canning in the past, but what if you can’t can?  You’ve come to the right place, you sexy tomato.  I’m going to post several of my favorite green tomato recipes just for you!  The first is a fermented relish called chow chow traditionally made to use up the leftovers of the garden harvest, a beautiful reminder of the passing of summer.

Fermented Chow Chow

This is a delicious fermented version of the southern condiment chow chow, usually sweetened and vinegared, then canned.  I like this fermented version, where the chopped vegetables are set out on a counter for a few days to sour.  It has a complementary combination of flavors that you can make your own by varying the amount of onion, the heat, and the sweet.  Don’t have time to ferment?  It’s delicious fresh, too.  Just substitute a whole grain mustard for the mustard seeds, eliminate the whey/water, and reduce the salt to a tablespoon or less.

Makes about quart and a half.

  • 2 lbs. green tomatoes
  • chunk of very fresh green cabbage
  • 1/2 lb. of a mix of all or some of the following: green peppers, yellow peppers, jalapenos (if you like heat), carrots or red pepper, cauliflower.
  • A few tablespoonsful of sweet white onion (e.g. Walla Walla)
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whey from plain yogurt (the liquid on top) or juice from fresh sauerkraut or other fermented pickles to help along ferment
  • 2 tablespoons water

Chop up all of your green tomatoes into a fine dice.  This is a relish that’s all about texture, so I recommend some deft knife work instead of relying on the food processor.  But heck, if you are busy, do what you can.

Shred the cabbage finely, then chop into 1-inch pieces.  Dice your peppers and/or jalapenos, cauliflower, carrot, etc.  You’ll want to use a ratio of 1/3 green tomatoes, 1/3 green cabbage, and 1/3 other vegetables (plus a few tablespoonsful of minced onion).  Mix all into large bowl with green tomatoes and weigh.

Assess the situation.  Add more cabbage or green tomatoes to add weight, if necessary.  You’ll want 2.5 lbs. per 1.5 tablespoons of sea salt for a good ferment.

Add minced onion, spices, salt, and sugar.  Taste.  It should be a bit too salty, but make sure the onion, jalapeno heat, and sweetness are to your liking.  Add more if necessary.

Using your clean hands, crunch up the vegetables a bit so they start to release a liquid.  Add whey and water.

Pack firmly into two quart jars, dividing evenly.  Press down so the liquid covers the top as much as possible.  Cover jars with cheesecloth and set aside for 1-3 days on the counter, mixing and tasting daily.  When it is sour enough for your liking, refrigerate and eat with anything that needs a relish, like sausages, rice and beans, grilled cheese sandwiches, tuna fish, etc.

Whew!  My green tomatoes are done for the year, but here are all my ideas for green tomatoes. Try:

salted plum caramel sauce

A happy accident.  I bought some overripe greengage plums, and slightly overdid it with the vanilla bean powder while preparing the overnight sugar soak.  Add in not having enough time to make the jam so they sat longer than overnight, and you’ve got a very sugared, very vanilla plummy mass ready to go.  It’s a wonderful caramel sauce if you don’t boil it long enough to jell, and vegan to boot, since there’s no butter or cream in the caramel.  It’s slightly grainy if you press down on the plums while food-milling, but thick and sweet and slightly salty and delicious.  You can fruitfully use any dense plum and overripe ones would work best.  Try it with prune-plums, especially our fleshy Brooks plums. Worried about safe canning?  This recipe is based on a greengage jam recipe developed by Linda Ziedrich, so it’s good to go.

Salted Plum Caramel Sauce

Makes 5-6 half-pints.

  • 5 lbs. dense, late-season plums (e.g., greengages, damsons, prune-plums)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean powder or 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Pit and quarter plums.  Toss with lemon juice, sugar, and vanilla, and let sit 12-24 hours in the refrigerator.  Bring to a rapid boil, add sea salt.  When foam subsides and the sauce starts to turn caramel-colored and thicken (I’ll leave it up to you to decide how thick, but don’t cook so long it reaches the gel point of 220 degrees), remove from heat and let the sauce cool.

Using a food mill, separate the flesh from the skins.  If you want perfectly smooth sauce, don’t press too hard on the solids, and mill twice, once with a coarse disk, once with a fine disk.  I just milled once and pressed, so the sauce is slightly grainy.  I think it maintains the notion of the plum that way.

Can the sauce by bringing it to a boil again and letting it boil for 5 minutes.  Spoon into sterilized half-pint jars, wipe rims, adjust rings and lids, and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.  Serve on crêpes, warmed and tossed in a “salad” of cubes of sharp cheddar and apple with walnuts, hot over ice cream, or atop an apple cake.