Lan Chi Chili Paste with Garlic

Lan Chi Chili Garlic Paste

Lan Chi Chili Paste with Garlic

In retail, there’s Amazon. In Asian condiments, there’s Lee Kum Kee. This maker of good-but-not-great sauces and relishes has been gobbling up shelf space in Oriental markets to the detriment of smaller brands, notably Lan Chi.

Lan Chi used to have a dozen facings at my nearest local source, Asian Supermarket in Albany. Today they’re gone. The greatest loss is Lan Chi Chili Paste with Garlic, a complex and multifaceted product (in addition to potent amount of roasted chili and funky garlic, it also contains fermented black beans) that’s the perfect foil to a Chinese lunch or a dim sum platter. I’m not alone in this preference; ask any knowledgeable chef which Chinese chili sauce they prefer and they’ll say Lan Chi.

When my backup supply finally ran out, I assumed I’d be able to pick up a jar on a trip to San Francisco Chinatown. But no luck in half a dozen establishments. I began to wonder what had happened and of course consulted Facebook, where Lan Chi Foods had last posted in 2012: “Life is good…sleeping in the hammock enjoying #slumvillage, #macallen18 and a full moon!” A couple of people responded to the post by asking where the Chili Garlic Paste had gone, but there were no replies. One guesses the business has passed to a new generation where preserving the brand is not the highest priority.

I did find a few online sources, fortunately, and placed a successful order at Kim’s Asian Market. The shipping was a flat $6.99 so I was able to bring the per-jar cost down by ordering multiples. (If you’re in a hurry, this source will sell it to you via Amazon Prime, but you’ll pay.) I advise you to do the same. A jar lasts me about 3 years, so divide your life expectancy by that number and purchase accordingly before this manna goes away for good.

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Our top 5 (or so) recipes (2017 edition)

Corn Cucumber Salsa

Corn Cucumber Salsa–the winner!

It’s that time again! September is the 6th anniversary of the Burnt My Fingers blog, and as in previous years we look back at the recipes that have generated the most clicks over the last 12 months. Or, not. The Colonel’s KFC Three-Bean Salad, Vincent’s Garlic Cole Slaw and Squash Casserole a la Highland Park Cafeteria always make the list so we’ll give them a bye. With those three taking a victory lap, here’s what’s left in our top five recipes:

  1. Corn Cucumber Salsa. Hijo! This recipe was inspired by the salsa at GDL Taqueria in Glens Falls, NY, which served the best tacos I’ve ever experienced. Sadly, that place is closed but you can still make this prep at home. For maximum pleasure, do take the trouble to pickle the onions and grill the corn. The niblets make it rolly-poly so it’s not ideal for dipping a chip, but it goes almost anywhere else you want a frisson of fresh taste and heat.

  2. Aji Roja (Mild Red Chile Sauce Peruvian-Style). Another surprise! I came up with this tangy mixture, along with a green companion, to serve with the Peruvian grilled heart specialty called anticuchos. But neither the meat nor the verde sauce has gained any traction, while clicks for aji roja are through the roof. I suspect the key is its resemblance to “Tacolicious” sauce, a Bay Area favorite.

  3. Pickled Tripe. The continued success of this offal dish proves its listing last year was no fluke. I can only imagine the reception we will get when we finally figure out the secret of Pennsylvania Dutch tripe in gelée. (I’m working on it; I now have some cleaned but not bleached tripe in the freezer, plus a pig’s foot as a backup source of collagen.)

  4. Fried Calamari Chinese-Style. This ended up in almost exactly the same spot as last year. It’s our home-grown version of General Tso’s Shrimp, only better thanks to a few refinements like making a stock from the shells. And it’s delicious. Try some tonight!

  5. Pita for Jerusalem. Another surprise! We developed this bake to go with the wonderful dishes in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem Cookbook, which oddly contains no pita recipe. And preps for this simple pocket bread seem pretty hard to find in general. I guess everybody assumes you’ll buy your pita, but it’s so easy you might as well make your own.

That’s it! Wonder who will be on top next year?

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Recipe: Leo Y’s Olivie (Russian Potato Salad)

Olivie Russian Potato Sald

Olivie, or Russian potato salad. Note the uniform size of the potato cubes.

My friend Leo Y brought this famous salad, a staple at Russian festive events, to a Yelp potluck. He emphasizes that the cubes of each element must be equal in size for a proper olivie; in fact, according to his wife Jess he sent back the first batch prepared for their wedding because the potatoes were unevenly chopped. I have modified the proportions slightly while keeping his directions intact. Serves 8.

5 medium potatoes (about 2 lbs)
3 medium carrots (about 1 lb)
4 hard boiled eggs
8 oz or more cooked skinless chicken breast* or doctorksaya bologna**, optional
14-oz can peas (not fancy new peas, just regular peas), drained
2 whole dill pickles or equivalent amount of chopped dill pickles, about 8 oz
½ c or more mayonnaise
1 medium onion, finely chopped, about 3/4 c
Sour cream, optional
Small green apple peeled, cored and shredded, optional
Fresh dill for garnish, optional

Method: boil potatoes and carrots in skin (it helps to keep vitamins), then cool them down and peel them. Chop potatoes, carrots, eggs, meat, dill pickles into pea sized squares. Add green peas and salt. Trust your own taste, everything must be in proportion. Stir mayonnaise only for the part of salad you are going to eat. It will be kept better without it. Mix the salad and refrigerate for a while. If you want your salad a little tender, mix a part of mayonnaise with an equal part of sour cream. Bon appetit! Stir in chopped onions [and optional shredded apple] immediately before serving and garnish with fresh dill for additional flavor.

*Adding meat to the basic olivie turns it into a “capital” style salad, with extra cachet.
*Doctorskaya bologna is worth sourcing out if you have an Eastern European deli in your area. It is made from pork and very fine-ground with an appealing waxy texture from generous amount of fat or oil.

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Foor for Thought: My New Roots

I found my way to Sarah Britton’s My New Roots blog because Josey Baker credited her as the inspiration for his Adventure Bread. (She calls it the “Life-Changing Loaf of Bread”.)  Britton is a nutritionist, originally from New York, who has lived in Copenhagen for a number of years. In addition to the blog she seems to have a very successful business running health retreats starting at 3200 Euros for a week.

Britton says she has an eating disorder called “orthorexia” which is an obsession with healthy food—that’s pretty hard core, and not something I expect many Burnt My Fingers share. Nonetheless her recipes are wildly inventive and, if you ever feel like laying off the pickled tripe and try some healthy eating, this would be as good a place to start as any. Case in point: frozen hot chocolate made with a secret ingredient: cauliflower. Like I said, pretty hard core. Check it out.

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Teeny Tiny Spice Company brings big flavor… get some now

Teeny Tiny Spices

My well-used rotation of Teeny Tiny Spice Company blends

Teeny Tiny Spice Company is a semi-local business, right up the road from me in Shelburne, VT. They have not paid me to write this post or given me any free product. I am just here to tell you that you should buy some of their spice blends, stat.

The cans in the photo are now in my regular rotation. The Hot Italian Spice is what it says and makes a great addition to any tomato sauce or Italian-accented vinaigrette. (Your other ingredients should be a 3/1 blend of olive oil and red wine vinegar plus salt and pepper, garlic, and maybe a dash of sugar.) The Persian Adwiya is magical stuff, with rose petals, cinnamon and lemon zest as the first three ingredients; I have been using this in a steak marinade with fish sauce, red wine and olive oil. The Za’atar is a solid rendition of this wonderful blend which leads with sumac, marjoram and thyme.

If you are lucky enough to live near Burlington, VT or Saratoga Springs, NY you can buy Teeny Tiny spice mixtures at Healthy Living Market (which is where we found them). If not, you can buy direct or place a trial order on Amazon Prime for a dollar more. If you order direct you get free shipping at $35 or more, and the tins are $9.95 each so you’ll need to add one more in addition to my three; I would suggest the Berbere.

Each of my tins holds 80 g/2.8 oz and tightly seals so they keep their flavor a long time. They’re certified organic and Kosher and GMO-free. And your bitcoin is welcome when you order online! What’s not to like? Give these good folks a try.

P.S. Hate spice blends on principle? I hear you and in general agree because I would rather mix my own, plus sometimes you come across a nice blend then run out and you can’t replace it. But I make a few exceptions, like Burger House Seasoned Salt and these guys.

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Recipe: Josey Baker’s Everything Bread

Josey Baker Everything Bread

Josey Baker’s Everything Bread with schmear

Everything Bread captures the garlicky, seed-y essence of an everything bagel but with the added tang of Josey Baker’s sourdough. Josey gave me some clues about the preparation; I guessed the rest and think I got pretty close to what he’s selling out of his shop on Divisadero Street. Enjoy a slice with your favorite schmear, as you would an everything bagel. Makes one 1 1/2 lb loaf.

240 g refreshed sourdough starter (about 1 1/4 cup)*
3/4 c sesame seeds
2/3 c poppy seeds
1/2 c hot water for soaker
300 g whole wheat flour**
75 g whole rye flour**
240 g (1 c) water
35 g (1/4 c) dried onion (I used Toné brand)
25 g (2 T) granulated garlic
12 g (2 t) Kosher salt

Josey Baker Everything Bread

Everything Bread made with 80% whole wheat/20% whole rye flour

Method: toast seeds in two sheet pans in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, being careful not to burn them. (I toast 5 minutes, shake the pans to redistribute the seeds, toast 5 more minutes, then turn off the oven for the final 5 minutes.) Combine 1/2 c sesame seeds and 1/3 c poppy seeds, reserving the rest to coat the loaf, and add 1/2 c hot water. Allow the seeds to soak 1 hour to overnight.

Add water to refreshed starter in a large bowl and stir to blend; add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Autolyse 30 minutes or longer then knead the dough using your preferred method (I did 6 stretch-and-folds 15 minutes apart) and allow to rise till risen by half (this will take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours depending on the strength of your starter and ambient temperature). Shape loaf and allow to rest 20 minutes. Evenly distribute remaining sesame and poppy seeds across a damp paper towel and roll the loaf in it to coat all sides, then transfer to banneton or other proofing basket WITHOUT FLOUR; cover with a towel and proof 2 hours or until risen slightly.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees with dutch oven inside. (Use a stone if you prefer.) Sprinkle cornmeal inside the dutch oven and load the bread; slash the top with lame or sharp knife. Cover and bake 20 minutes; remove cover and bake 30 minutes longer. Cool and serve.

P.S. After baking, you will end up with a lot of seeds on the bottom of your dutch oven. If you can’t bear to throw these out, refrigerate and mix into the dough next time you make bred.

*I used a Tartine-style starter made with half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour.
**You can vary these proportions to your preference. I’ll probably use more rye flour and less whole wheat flour next time.

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Salumi perfection at Dancing Ewe Farm

Dancing Ewe Cacciatorini

Dancing Ewe cacciatorini

I first encountered Jody Somer’s cacciatorini, or hunter’s little sausages (or little hunter’s sausages) on a visit to Dancing Ewe Farm several years ago. We were there for a dinner sponsored by Tango Fusion, a local dance studio, on a snowy day typical of winter in Granville, NY where the tiles on slate roofs come from. Inside Jody’s caseficio (cheese house), majestic wheels of pecorino lined the shelves in a setting as still and cold as a tomb.

We proceeded to have a delicious meal focused around the cheeses and pasta sauced with produce from the farm. At some point Jody took me aside to show me his meat curing room where his first batch of sausages were hanging like bats in a cave. There was no possibility of tasting these, he explained to me. He had just been certified by the
Cornell University Agricultural Extension to prepare cured meats, and it would be some time before they would be commercially viable.

Lisa Sciavullo Dancing Ewe

Lisa Scivola of Dancing Ewe Farm, at Saratoga Springs Farmers Market

Today, you can buy those meats at my local Saratoga Farmer’s market and also by mail order, and I think they are as good as anything I have eaten in the way of salami-style sausage. I like to be kicked in the teeth by my charcuterie, and am often disappointed when a glistening, feral-looking slice turns out to have a mild flavor. This will not happen with Dancing Ewe cacciatorini. They reek of wine and garlic and are not shy about sharing their flavor, whether you encounter it sliced on a charcuterie plate or bite into a whole sausage and let the juice squirt onto your tongue.

I said mail order. Even though they are a shoestring operation, Dancing Ewe has made a commitment to selling its cheeses and cured meats on its website. I placed a sample order and paid just $10 for shipping which is surely not a break even proposition. (I’m quite close to the farm; your shipping may be more.) Hand packed by Luisa Scivola, Jody’s wife and partner, the package arrived a few days later and the meats came through just fine. If you’re not local to the Saratoga and Troy farmers’ markets, I urge you to give them a try.

Dancing Ewe Cheese

Cheese assortment from Dancing Ewe

Luisa and Jody seem to be a magical couple, food-wise, who are able to succeed in everything they take on. In addition to the cheese and the cured meats they import wines, sell their own line of olive oil, hold the farm dinners I mentioned (under the stars in the summertime) and in their spare time sponsor a sheepdog competition.

Jody went to Tuscany in the early 2000s to learn traditional Italian cheese making. He met Lisa there and they got to know each other better when she came to the U.S. to work as an au pair. They continue to make annual trips to Tuscany (another enterprise: you can rent their apartment there when they are not using it, via the website) where they refine technique with Raffaella, Lisa’s mother, and Raffaele Giannarini, the local butcher.

Dancing Ewe Mail order

My mail order shipment from Dancing Ewe

The cheeses, made from the milk of sheep on the farm, range from the approachable Ino Fresco, which is aged two months and tastes of the grassy upstate hillsides, to Pecorino Riserva, a two-year-old beast that needs to be savored in small doses. There is also a growing family of cured meats; I highly recommend the basturma. Actually, you can’t go wrong so put together a nice big order. Some things you’ll like, some you will love, and I predict that cacciatorini will change your life.

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Food for Thought: As American as Shoofly Pie

As American as Shoofly Pie is about half history and half recipes, making it a good introduction to Pennsylvania folkways from the leading authority. Wiliam Woyes Weaver has lived in the Pennsylvania Dutch region for much of his life so has quite a bit of inborn perspective. He adds to this knowledge by researching recipes in old church cookbooks (in several instances he has been able to locate and interview the original author, if she is still alive) and by attending church dinners which are a more authentic look at current Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine than you might find at a touristic buffet.

I feel there is a wild card to this approach because of the variability of individual cooks. Among any cohort of home cooks, some are lazy, some incompetent, some instinctive and creative and it is that last group whose recipes will get shared and imitated. So it’s interesting to trace the origins of such foods as “gribble” (an ancient crumbled and dried pasta which was used sort of like breadcrumbs are today) and how they appear in certain Pennsylvania Dutch communities. It’s like a virus that catches and spreads or doesn’t; many cooks were exposed to this dish in the old country, but how many were able to replicate it in a form (sometimes with saffron!) that was interesting enough to share? The presence of this or another dish in a community might indicate a unique node of food heritage, but it also might be the influence of a single gifted cook.

Beyond that quibble, the book is well researched and extensive and I absolutely recommend it if you want to educate yourself about the region prior to making your own exploratory expedition. (Since I didn’t do that, I will have to go back.) The recipes are often esoteric and fascinating and unlikely to be found elsewhere, other than in W3’s other books. Remembering the origin, you might want to apply a reality check before preparing. (Example: it’s suggested that the vinegar brine for Pickled Okra with Summer Sausage might be reused as a starter for sauerkraut, but it seems to me the vinegar would kill the lactobacilli. Of course, I might be wrong about this.) Check it out.

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A cautionary tale of ethnic food tourism

Fishers Main Buffet

Fisher’s buffet in Intercourse, PA. Made by Amish, but not necessarily Amish in origin.

My recent search for gelled tripe drew a rebuke from William Woyes Weaver, founder and director of the Keystone Center and the recognized authority on Pennsylvania foodways. While giving me some sourcing tips which I’m pursuing, he pointed out that pickled tripe is not Amish but Pennsylvania Dutch in origin. He referred me to one of his books, As American as Shoofly Pie, to learn more.

As I should have realized, Amish are but one subset of Pennsylvania Dutch, a population whose ancestors immigrated from Germany. They have become the face of the group because of their customs and distinctive attire, but that doesn’t mean they define it. The Amish persona has been enhanced by popular literature and deliberate promotion chronicled by W3 (as he likes to call himself) which goes back to the mid-1800s. The most notorious Amish myth-maker was Ann Hark, a novelist who employed a chauffeur (with whom she was having an affair) to visit Amish country homes and copied the cover of one of her “Amish” books from a Pennsylvania Dutch (not Amish) kitchen in a museum.

Such are the perils of ethnic food tourism. Any time we eat “ethnic food” whether it is a Mexican taco or Texas barbecue or Amish baked goods, we need to keep in mind that this is not the way our hosts eat on a normal basis. An ethnic cuisine derives from people who live close to the earth, respect the customs of their community, and make the most of the resources available to them. Meat is often a once-a-week food and the presentation of several items on a plate is reserved for funerals, weddings and other special occasions.

In the case of the Pennsylvania Dutch, food traditions were imported from central Europe and adapted to what was available in a new environment. There was a great deal of preserving through fermentation and stretching one-dish soupy meals by crumbling yesterday’s bread into them. Shoofly pie, a partially invented (it was presented at the American centennial in 1776) dish, was a poverty food: a coffee cake made with molasses and flour inside a pie shell, not particularly sweet, useful as a hand food throughout the day and certainly not a dessert. (The specimen shown at the lower left of my seven sweets and seven sours picture*, which I rejected as not tasty enough, was in retrospect closer to this origin than other versions I tried.)

The “Amish” foods I encountered in Lancaster County were influenced by another vector: commercialism. The train and later the automobile brought tourists to the hinterland to enjoy the pastoral scenes and the buggies. They had to eat, and would not be satisfied by soup with bread crumbled into it. So plain foods were dressed up to make them more savory, or generic mass-produced foods were given a Pennsylvania Dutch twist. There were popular roadhouses and resorts which drew thousands with this cuisine as far back as the mid-1870s.

Of the eateries I have visited and written about, Fisher’s is clearly Amish-run: it is staffed by a large family of Amish women ranging from about 10 years of age into the 80s. Dienner’s draws some approval from W3 as a place that Amish do indeed visit when they’re traveling. (Being thrifty folk, they would never thinking of eating out when they’re able to cook at home.) Town Hall is Pennsylvania Dutch, not Amish, and makes no pretense of being so. Shady Maple is an authentic success story that grew from a farm stand operated by a pious family also named Weaver—but Pennsylvania Dutch, not Amish, in spite of their Amish dioramas and the Amish workers they employ.

One might wonder what it is that draws tourists to the region when they could get quicker gratification at the beach or an amusement park. W3 points to a long tradition of yearning for a simpler life driven by basic Christian values. When there was anti-German sentiment during World War I, the Pennsylvania Dutch could be pointed to as “good” Germans. As Hitler was on the rise, the Amish (as well as the Mennonites) were notably pacifist.

On my restaurant visits I noticed a significant cohort of “strict father” tourist families in which an extended family shared a table and deferred to a male authority figure. Going to a place where you find such values permeating daily life must be a satisfying vacation, and you have to eat. Just as Disneyland is not for everyone, deciding whether to eat at Shady Maple or a simpler buffet or restaurant is a matter of personal preference.

I stand by the authenticity of my experience with the Amish I encountered. There’s nothing commercial about the image I posted previously of the woman kick-bicycling her way to her family farm stand, or the produce I bought from sheds backed up by the fields where it had been picked that day. I happened on an estate auction where a young Amish couple had just acquired a used circular saw and were about to ride off with it on their bicycles equipped with cardboard boxes as luggage carriers. They had maybe saved $20 over the price of a new tool and were as happy as could be. I’ll savor such memories, knowing I need to take a fresh look at the food.

*While the Pennsylvania Dutch definitely enjoy sweets, and pickles are a popular item at Amish gatherings because they are easy to transport in a buggy, the specific construct called “seven sweets and seven sours” was created in the 1920s at the Valley House Hotel in Skippack, PA according to W3.

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How Spark Social solves the food truck problem

Spark Social entrance

Near the entrance to Spark Social food truck park in San Francisco

I’ve eaten at a lot of food trucks. Individual roach coaches, of course, but also renowned food truck gardens in Austin, at San Francisco’s Off the Grid and Sundays in the Presidio, and various food truck rodeos in New York’s Capital District. Sometimes the food is good, sometimes not, but the food truck experience brings with it an existential problem: since you’re ordering from a truck, you’re eating in a parking lot. At times there are clever seating solutions; more often or not you’re just standing in the sun with the sauce from your order dripping down your arm.

Spark Social aisle

Aisles are designed so rotating food truck vendors can easily move in and out

Spark Social, a new venue in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district, solves this problem by designing the space around the food trucks. It was built from scratch in a formerly desolate neighborhood which has been innovatively developed in recent years with the UC Mission Bay medical school and related hospitals as a hub. There are various seating areas including a hollowed out two-decker bus, a shed serving bargain beverages and lots of picnic style benches. A rotating assortment of about 20 food trucks roll in and out. All were doing great business at lunchtime and there’s also happy hour and dinner service. (For residents of the spanking new apartments in the area, there’s not a lot else going on in the evening.) There are also special events (like a family ice cream festival this Saturday August 19) and you can rent out one of the dining areas for birthday and other special events.

I’ve got business in the area over the next few days and predict I will be back, often. Spark Social is at the corner of 4th Street and Mission Bay North. The current food truck list and calendar of events can be found on their website.

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