Thursday, August 16, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Flavor!

Oh blessed Epicurus, my ability to taste has returned! I know it's silly, but whenever I'm sick, there's a part of me that genuinely fears that, just maybe, I will never taste again. Who knows, it could always be some new neurodegenerative disease. Right?
Hypochondria and delusions aside, I am overjoyed to be able to appreciate more than texture and calories again. Hallelujah!

+Mom and I adventured about Chinatown, picking up fun kitchen toys at the now-famous Wok Shop (thanks to an article Saveur ran last November). I also found one of my Quest Locations (Golden Gate Bakery, home of SF's best egg custard tart). But alas! They're on vacation till September 1st. Oh well, absence makes the heart (stomach?) grow fonder...

+I decided to make the kid's last summer science lesson "fun," so I put together a workshop on the science of flavor. After a chat about the sensory system, psychology of perception, and cultural culinary traditions, I set them loose on a "flavor lab." We played with everything from measuring taste bud density to the effect of temperature on complexity of cheese flavor to sampling "unusual" flavor combinations from varied cultures (rose-saffon ice cream, spicy dark chocolate, and crema de abacate). The kids were extremely positive about the assignment, and several expressed complete surprise at what they enjoyed. The girl who claimed not to like spicy foods begged for extra pieces of the capsaicin chocolate sample. Even the rose-saffron ice cream had a following. Hurrah!

+I'm this close to splurging on one of these: i-Roast2

+I'm going to help cook for the Ferry Plaza Sunday Supper! Of course, I won't be doing anything glamorous -- probably washing bowls and peeling onions. However, there's a neat lineup of chefs preparing the meal, and I'm excited to be a part of the kerfuffle.

+Tomorrow, I'm meeting a friend for dinner at Range. Their online sample menu makes me salivate -- so my hopes are high.

Okay, I have a real job and I need to be rested for it. Till next time,

Monica

Fresh Peach Frozen Yogurt

Millions of peaches, peaches for me.

On a whim, I added Thai basil for garnish since I have an abundance in the garden. Wow! The heady ripeness of the peaches was enlivened by the complex herb, reminiscent of pineapple basil curry or basil-lemongrass soup. That's a good thing, by the way. I chopped up an extra tablespoon to stir in. I bet a coconut milk-peach sorbet with Thai basil would be delicious too.

Ingredients:
3lbs extremely ripe peaches
1/2 c. sugar
1/3-1/2 c. full fat plain yogurt
Fresh peaches and basil for garnish (optional)

Blend till smooth before freezing in an ice cream machine. Garnish with fresh peaches and basil, if you're adventurous.

Also, amounts are estimates. I blend, taste, and tweak, remembering that the frozen product will be less sweet than its liquid form. Play around!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

MISERY

I have been sick for days and cannot taste. Life is hollow.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Oompa Loompas and Reusable Mugs

+Adventures: Saturday wine-n-cheese soiree. Sunday brunch at the Berkeley Thai Buddhist temple, followed by a Sharffen Berger factory tour and spectacular coffee at Guerrilla Cafe. Failed to locate oompa loompas, but developed 60% crush on our attractive, snarky tour guide.

+Conquests: replicated Curried Coconut Soup from Cafe Gratitude. Success!

+Musings: Ideas for sustainability contest -
*reduce car use (which is already low). I enjoy walking, biking, and public transportation; I haven't yet biked to work as I am still adjusting to being anywhere by 8am, but I think I am up to the challenge. My goal is to walk anywhere within 1 mile, bike anywhere within 5, and public transport anywhere further. When all else fails, carpool.
*carry my portable coffee mug.
*set up recycle bin in room.
*use Julia's compost bin.
*caulk windows/doors in house to reduce heat loss.
*switch to rechargable batteries.
*reduce consumption of new goods (recycle goods via thrift store, freestore, or craiglist, or make own)
These are a good start. If I can incorporate one lifestyle switch a month, it'd be easy to make each of these a long-term habit.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Greens, Sustainability Marathon, and other Gustations

+I sous cheffed at the farmer's market cooking demo again, this time with Annie Somerville of Greens Restaurant! We made a tasty poly-bean salad as well as crostini with marinated goat cheese (Adante dairy), roasted red peppers, and basil. Yum! Annie is a strikingly warm and bubbly person -- especially since many cooks go stoic during "kitchen mode." (I always sent out a preemptive apology to my kitchen staff before a Head Cook.) Two of the other sous chefs were culinary-academy bound, and they hoped openly for future executive chefs as pleasant.

+Julia B. revealed to me that she and her sister Gracie are undertaking a Sustainability Competition for 2007-2008. Julia lives in our 9-person cooperative where we buy goods at the farmer's market, line-dry our clothes, and don't own a TV...one might guess she has the upper hand. But no! The goal of their project is to see who can make the most relative improvements to their current lifestyle. Clever, no? Anyway, I might join in on the sustainability-awareness adventure, so I'm going to brainstorm eco-friendly life adjustments.

+Fraiche! For months, I walked by the empty hollow of their soon-to-be fro-yo store, rolling my eyes at what I expected to be a post-workout hive of diet-conscious yoga-mommas. (To my defense, their decor smacks of Starbucks-chic.) But soon after their opening, I began to question my snub. Enough friends had advocated the little dessert stop, I decided to have a taste. Wow! Fraiche cultures their own yogurt (daily!), uses only organic ingredients (local when possible), and brews only Blue Bottle Coffee. Plus, their fresh frozen yogurt with dark chocolate shavings and raspberry coulis is delicious. They ARE expensive for yogurt, and they still look like a Starbucks, but their values (and flavor) I can get behind. So there you have it. Thanks for un-snobbing me, little local fro-yo stand.

+I won't go into much detail yet, but there may be a movement at my school to make our curriculum agro-centric. I'm so excited, I could pop.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fried Squash Blossoms with Basil Fromage Blanc

Mmm. Fried. Zucchini flowers must be healthy, right?

I've never cooked with squash blossoms before, but when I spied them at the Ferry Building this Saturday, my quest was clear. A brief consultation with The Google yielded several recipes, which I tinkered to accommodate the contents of my shelf. The result: yum.

The Batter

1 cup all-purpose white flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup-ish beer (I used a touch more...depends on the humidity. You want the batter smooth but not thin.)

The Stuffing

1/4 cup fresh cheese (I used Bodega Goat Cheese fromage blanc, but ricotta would work too)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon-ish each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh basil (Aside: I suddenly have a ton of basil in sweet Italian, Thai, and lemon varieties. Help me eat them.)
16ish large squash blossoms, washed
Canola or peanut oil for frying

Prepare the batter. Sift together dry ingredients, then whisk in beer or cold water until smooth. Cover and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Leftover batter can be stored for up to two days.

In a bowl combine cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, and basil. Open the blossoms and spoon about one 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into the center of each. Twist the top of each blossom together to close. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Pour the oil into a skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat over high heat until a small cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown within seconds.

Dip each stuffed blossom into the batter, then carefully slip into the hot oil. Cook until golden on all sides, about three minutes total cooking time. Transfer with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain briefly. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

These are wicked tasty even without the filling, if you wish to veganize the recipe. Orion tells me they made these in his cooking class in Italy, but that he liked this recipe better. :-)