Recipe: Marinated Roasted Red Peppers

Marinated Roasted Red Peppers

Marinated Roasted Red Peppers

Red bell peppers have been showing up at more reasonable prices recently. Which is great, because marinated roasted red peppers are one of the supreme tasty and healthy pleasures of life on earth. If you haven’t made these at home, now is the time to get started. But don’t be tempted to substitute yellow bell peppers which are beautiful, but tasteless, or green bell peppers which have a completely different flavor profile. Serves 4 as a side salad.

Ingredients:
1 lb red bell peppers (usually 3 peppers, though if they weigh a little more that’s fine)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t Kosher salt
1 T capers
1 T balsamic or red wine vinegar
3 T good olive oil

Method: char the peppers, turning until all sides and the ends are evenly blackened. (If the pepper has one of those SKU stickers from the supermarket, remove it first!) If you have a gas stove you can do this right over a burner. If your stove is electric, you’ll have to use the broiler. As the peppers are done, transfer to a paper bag and seal tightly. Allow the peppers to steam until they become cool enough to handle, about an hour. Remove the charred skin with your hands under running water and tear the peppers apart, discarding the stem and seeds and pulling the flesh into strips the width of a fork. Drain thoroughly then mix peppers with the other ingredients. Allow to marinate at least 2 hours, during which the peppers will give off delicious juice* that blends with the other liquids. Serve the peppers as a side dish on their own, not mixed into a salad, so you can enjoy them to the fullest.

*I was once in Roma’s, my fine Italian deli, when an old-school guy ordered a sandwich with (non-marinated) roasted red peppers. Did he want dressing, he was asked? “No… just the juice ‘a the pep.”

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Gun Hill Silvis: why good beer costs more

Gun Hill Silvis

A beckoning pour of Gun Hill Silvis DIPA

The guys at my local beer store finally got me trained. They shoot me a text and I hop in my car like Pavlov’s dog’s chauffeur  to go stand in line half an hour for a rare release, and end up paying more than I swore I ever would for a sackful of cans or the rare growler fill. And you know what? At $54 a 16 oz. can*, it’s totally worth it.

When I think of why Gun Hill Silvis double IPA tastes so good, it’s a matter of breadth. There is that initial hit of the hoppy citrus aroma, the welcome bitterness with the first sip. But then it expands. There’s a lot to chew on, an abundance of depth and flavor nuances. It’s like, instead of making a burger just out of ground chuck, you add in some short rib or brisket, maybe a little finely chopped onion or garlic. Your guests will wonder how you made it so different and complex.

I have never made beer from scratch (though I do have a few bags of home-grown hops mouldering in my freezer) so I have no idea how the Gun Hill folks achieve this magic. They describe Silvus as “a coniferous creation dense with resinous hop aromas and flavor. Miles of pine, musty pineapple, herbaceous earth, and black currant. Sticky. Hops Used: Chinook, Simcoe, Denali, Equinox.” Yeah, I guess that’s it. STICKY.

In researching this beer, I found out the brewery is in the Bronx, which is a lot more convenient for me than Brooklyn where all the other flannel-wearing hipsters are. There may even be street parking. Who’s up for a road trip?

*Turns out the $5/can stuff was from Finback, also excellent. A 4 or growler of Gun Hill was a bargain $15.99.

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Recipe: Morkovcha (Russian-Korean Carrot Salad)

Morkovcha

Morovcha (Russian-Korean Carrot Salad)

This Morkovcha (Russian-Korean Carrot Salad) prep is a hybrid of best practices from the wide variety of home cook recipes I’ve run across. It has a complex, distinctive flavor profile that holds its own on a plate with several other sides. The dish has an interesting pedigree: it originated in Siberia with Korean transplants, but then these immigrants were relocated by Stalin to central Asia, many thousands of miles away. In its current version it makes a frequent appearance on Russian tables and has very little to do with Korea other than the name. Serves 4-8 as a side dish.

Ingredients:
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks*
1 T salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/8 t (a pinch) cayenne
2 T coriander seeds, crushed, or 1 T ground coriander
3 T rice wine vinegar or white vinegar
1/4 c neutral cooking oil (not olive oil or sesame oil)
1 small onion, peeled and sliced into half-moons (about 3/4 c)
Salt to taste (possibly 1/2 t)
Honey to taste (possibly 1 T)

Method: dissolve salt in 2 c water and add carrots; soak for 4 hours or more. Drain and press out excess water. Mix carrots with vinegar, cayenne and garlic. Heat oil to a low simmer and add onion and cook a few minutes until translucent; add coriander for 30 seconds at the end to intensify the flavor. Immediately pour the hot oil/onion mixture over carrots and mix well. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and taste for seasoning; add salt and honey as needed.

Options: rub the carrots with the salt and let them sit until a good amount of liquid is produced, then wash and drain; this will produce a less crisp, more pickle-y carrot. Sauté the garlic with the onions, rather than adding raw. (Actually I did this because my garlic was particularly pungent.) If you want a more Asian flavor profile add 1 t soy sauce and 1 T toasted sesame seeds.

*Several of the home cooks I ran across use a Thai tool called the “Kiwi” to make their carrot matchsticks by hand. It’s also used for making green papaya salad. If you get this (the picture is an Amazon link) be careful not to cut your fingers!

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Food for Thought: Koreafornian Cooking

Koreafornian Cooking is the website of Tammy Quackenbush, a food writer and promoter based in San Francisco. It’s loaded with articles about the fusion of Korean and California culture through California kimchi makers, snack-of-the-month programs for hungry Korean expats and reviews of and articles on restaurants, products and trends.

However, for our purposes the most exciting part of the site is the “Secret Recipe Club” where, as she puts it, “I have this obsession of taking every non-Korean recipe and trying to put a Korean spin on it. When I have a ‘eureka’ moment, the result is published here.” Take a look at Raspberry Ssamjang which is essentially the Melba sauce served in upstate New York taverns modded with Korean spice… who wouldn’t like to dip a fried mozz stick in this stuff? There are also non-secret recipes that work in reverse, hacking Korean dishes with American ingredients. Tuna Kimchi Jjigae is a good example: the comfort-food Korean stew is made with a can of albacore from the supermarket, for an alternative to tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. Check it out.

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What’s wrong with fast food burgers? The lettuce, that’s what!

Dave Single

Dave’s Single from Wendy’s

I have been holed up after foot surgery which for some reason has given me an unnatural desire for fast food burgers. With a bit of scheming I was able to procure the Dave’s Single shown above. It’s not bad, thanks to my wise decision to leave off the mayonnaise (yes, the sandwich comes stock with mayo which can add nothing but grease and heaviness) and replace it with mustard. But while I was eating it, I had a revelation about why so many fast food burgers are so un-foodlike.

Mis En Place Wendys

Mise en place at Wendy’s

But let’s back up a minute, because we need to define fast food burgers. Compton’s and Triangle, two diners in Saratoga Springs, New York, can put an excellent burger on my table faster than my order was filled at Wendy’s on Congress Street. But it’s not fast food because it’s made by an actual short-order cook. Fast food places, by definition, are staffed by employees who don’t need to know how to cook, and in some situations (because of age, for example) may not be allowed to cook. McDonald’s is the most obvious and extreme example that comes to mind, and I do think Wendy’s is a lot better, but hear me out.

Daves Deconstructed

Random, horsey lettuce slice on my Dave’s Single

It does not require any particular skill or artistry to slather dressing on a bun and stack the ingredients (in this case a cheeseburger, slice of onion, pickle and tomato). But then we get to the LETTUCE. I like iceberg lettuce on my burger: it adds loft and crunch. But when we leave it to the untrained counterperson (or someone who does the prep earlier) to make decisions about how to tear up and deploy the lettuce section or sections, splayed over the top of the meat and condiments, disaster can result. The whole sandwich can be thrown off kilter. If there’s an unevenness to the lettuce slice, it can create a lump in the top of the sandwich which causes it to shoot out when you take your first bite or, worse, break open the usually fragile bun.

burger House Shredded Lettuce

Shredded lettuce on a Burger House double cheeseburger*

One has to wonder: why don’t they SHRED their lettuce, like they do at Burger House in Dallas which makes the best burger that I’ve found? Now it becomes a willing partner to the other components, instead of antagonist. And no skill is required other than the ability of the employee to tear open the bag (I’m assuming the shredded lettuce can be made available pre-packaged) and grab a handful of the proper volume.

However, I also know the answer to this question: they use the irregular, messy lettuce leaves precisely because they make the preparation seem more like real food. So this isn’t going to get better. Unless you are able to get to In-N-Out, where they seem to treat their lettuce deployment with the same artistry that applies to everything else.

*Photo by Ewan Macdonald on Serious Eats. Hopefully they will not get mad at me if I link to their review of Burger House.

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Food for Thought: Emily Contois

Thank you internet, for bringing me Emily Contois. (Actually, thank you WordPress, which featured her blog on a showcase page.) Here is a Brown PhD candidate who has written her dissertation on “Dude Food” and blogs about such topics as “Food Themed Protest Posters” (actually that post is an interview with the author of the equally fascinating Food and Resistance site). In short, someone who delves into all aspects of the relationship of food and our social fabric… exactly what we need.

For me, the most interesting stuff is at the bottom of the page, from the blog before she got serious about her graduate studies. That’s where you’ll find such articles as “Tofu & Tapenade? The Unspoken Food Rules of Football” and “Food & Chefs as Sexual Metaphor in Romance Novels” which in turn contains a link to “Porn Sex vs. Real Sex: The Differences Explained with Food” on YouTube. (Be warned, that last is an autoplay… extremely NSFW.) Check it out.

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Hepburn’s Choice is my choice in single malt scotches

Hepburn's Choice

A couple of majestic examples of Hepburn’s Choice bottling. More on the way.

Hepburn’s Choice is a private label bottled by Langside Distillers, which despite the name does not operate its own distillery. It is marketed exclusively in the U.S. by K&L Wines, and the bottles are always cask strength which means somewhere north of 50% alcohol. The buying team seems to go for outstanding specimens of a particular distillery or region which can be sold as an excellent value, especially with the current USD/pound exchange rate.

Since I no longer live in California, I keep my eye out for Hepburn’s Choice releases and order a bottle or two which, now that New York’s liquor police have clamped down*, must be put on hold for me until I can make it back to California. I used to stick to Islays but took a flyer on the Dailuaine at right above, which chief buyer David Driscoll described as “so fruity and delicious that we practically jumped across the negotiating table to get our hands on it.” Now I realize I trust these guys so much that I’ll try any Hepburn’s Choice bottle within my price range ($60 or so tops, a bit more for older casks).

I called K&L (877-KLWines) yesterday to let them know I was going to be past the 90-day deadline in picking up my latest purchase (“no worries,” said the very friendly chap on the phone, “we’re terrible about enforcing it”) and ask if there was any Hepburn’s Choice on the way. By chance, he said, David Driscoll was sitting next to him. A bit of back and forth and it was confirmed a container is on the water right now with new announcements expected very soon.

Notice the numbers on the labels: these really are limited quantities, in the few hundreds for each bottling. If this blog had thousands of daily readers I wouldn’t share this news because there wouldn’t be any left for me. We’ll keep this as our little secret, okay? If you are lucky enough to live near a K&L store, or if you live in a state that accepts liquor shipments, I recommend you bookmark their site then check back often.

*As far as I can determine, if your are the producer of a wine or spirit, you are allowed to ship it to New York but if you are a retailer you are not.

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Food for Thought: No Place Like Kitchen

I was tumbling down a rabbit hole in search of a recipe for morkovcha, which is a Korean-style Uzbek carrot salad, when I landed on the wonderful No Place Like Kitchen website. Not only does Olga provide some of the most accessible Russian home-cook recipes I’ve found, but she writes like Boris and Natasha talked on the old Bullwinkle cartoon show.

Here, for example, is her description of the mysterious “Olivie” which according to my friend Leo always makes an appearance at Russian ex-pat picnics: Salad Olivier was named for a French chef Lucien Olivier [aha!], but this is not his original recipe (it was lost). Soviet cooks simplified the similar recipe and now this is the most popular salad for a exUSSR holiday tables. Variation with chicken meat is called Stolichniy Salad (Capital Salad). Some add onion, fresh cucumber and sour apples, some put on top shrimps or crab leg. Even carrot is latest edition for this plain winter salad. Here are some rules: number of potatoes equal number of eaters, never mix hot and cold foods.

Now you’re in love with Olga, right? And you will like her even more when you see her photo on the About page, where she is inexplicably balancing two small pumpkins above her head like Mickey Mouse ears. And I haven’t even tried the recipes yet. Check it out.

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Food for Thought: Dr. Ludwig’s “Always Hungry?” diet

Shepherds Pie

Always Hungry? Shepherd’s Pie

I needed to lose a few pounds before a surgery and my wife recommended I read Always Hungry? by Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard nutritional researcher. In a nutshell, the eating method (which Ludwig does not call a diet, and which he does not promise will make you lose weight) in this book resets the body’s insulin function so you are less likely to crave foods that are unhealthy for various reasons, including packing on the pounds. The more moderate version of the diet has you limiting (not eliminating) simple carbohydrates such as white sugar, white potatoes, white flour, white rice and alas, alcohol. But there was also a extreme, fast-start version with a two-week meal plan and that’s what I opted for. I wanted to see how these foods tasted as well as how they affected me.

The best thing on the diet (and according to Dr. Ludwig this is a pretty unanimous vote) is the Shepherd’s Pie shown above. Its base is a funky Eastern European melange of chopped onion, fennel and cabbage mixed with ground beef and on top of that, substituting for the potatoes, a poultice of ground cauliflower and cannellini beans. It’s delicious and filling and I would happily eat it on its own merits. Dr. Ludwig’s Frittata is another excellent dish, as the original recipe for the shrimp curry I modded here. In fact, virtually everything I’ve covered on the blog for the past month (since my fruitcake post) would fit into the regimen.

Does it work? I’m now back to regular eating with very few concessions to the plan (I’ll substitute sweet potatoes for white potatoes when I can, for example, a change that’s hardly punishment) and hovering at a good 10 pounds below my starting weight. A key is that the good doctor includes a good amount of treats (dark chocolate! whipped cream!) which keep you from feeling deprived so you’ll stick with it. You can still eat brisket (as long as it’s not sauced, but we would never do that) and Snow’s beans and cole slaw* so there’s reason not to investigate at least. Check it out.

*One minor tweak: you can’t use Hellman’s/Best Foods mayo for the cole slaw because it contains sugar, so you’ll have to find a sugar-free brand or make your own, possibly using Ludwig’s not-bad eggless recipe.

 

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Recipe: Giardinara (Mixed Pickled Vegetables)

Giardinara

Giardinara

Here is a simple Giardinara recipe that uses no oil or sugar so the fresh flavor of the vegetables comes through. Feel free to vary based on what’s on sale/looks good/is on hand. Makes 3 quarts.

Ingredients:
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
2-3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
4 stalks celery, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1 inch pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into 1 inch pieces
1 bulb fennel (optional), peeled and cut on the bias into ½ inch pieces (so you can tell it apart from the celery)
½ c salt
3 c white vinegar
2 c water
2 T dried oregano
2 t salt
1 t crushed red pepper (adjust to taste; this amount will give a nice kick)
1 t celery seed
3 or 4 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic

Method: prep the vegetables and transfer to a large stainless or glass bowl. Add ½ c salt and mix with your hands so all surfaces are well exposed to the salt. Add water to cover and let sit on the counter overnight. Drain and pack into jars (sterilized if you’re going to can it, just clean if you will keep it in the refrigerator).

Bring the water and vinegar to the boil with 2 t salt and spices in a saucepan. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for a few minutes. When it is warm but no longer hot, strain through a fine mesh strainer and pour over the vegetables in the jars. Add more vinegar and water as needed in the same ratio of 3 parts vinegar/2 parts water to completely fill jars. Seal jars and refrigerate, or can using your usual method. Allow giardinara to cure to least 3 days before serving as a condiment or sandwich ingredient.

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