27 February 2007


When we lived in Ann Arbor, I bought my tea at the food co-op. One corner of the store is entirely filled with bulk herbs, spices, flour, sugar, soap, pasta...er, sort of bulk everything. This includes loose tea.

Every time I go back, I end up at the bulk shelves, filling a paper bag with the best assam I've ever had. Then I take it on the plane to California and proceed to drink it daily until gone. Rationing goes into effect when the bag gets down to 1/4 full. My pinches of tea get smaller; my steeping time gets longer; I occasionally drink darjeeling or green tea first thing in the morning. Then I run out of tea.

When we first moved to California, we discovered a huge Asian supermarket called Golden Phoenix within walking distance of our apartment. They had a complete aisle filled with nothing but tea. Granted, the tea was almost 100% bagged--even the tins turned out to contain a stack of tea bags--but this was ok. We could try a hundred brands of Asian tea we'd never seen before! We bought 100-count boxes of oolong and china green for $4 apiece. I drank them every day for months. I may not have had my loose tea, but it was certainly workable.

At Golden Phoenix, remodeling signs went up. They stayed up for several months. Then they disappeared, replaced by huge placards from the leasing agent. Fabulous. We ran out of our tea stash in about a month.

Now what? I wised up the last time I was in Ann Arbor, and bought the biggest bag of tea I'd ever seen. It's currently half full. The time has come to find a new source of tea.

You wouldn't think this was a problem in the famously, stereotypically food-oriented Bay area, but it is. My normal stores here do have some bulk bins, but they're nothing like the food co-op's. At best you can get spices and grains; tea is out of the question. That's what I would prefer: loose, bulk tea that I can shovel into the same tins every time. Whole chamomile heads. Intact leaves. Tea I can inhale before I decide to buy. Yes.

So the only loose tea vendor I know of is at the Stanford Mall. As you might infer from the words "Stanford Mall," however, it's far too expensive to actually patronize. I suppose I should make the effort to get up to the city and explore, or at least find another interesting grocery here in the suburbs. Maybe one of the hundred coffeeshops around has tea for sale as well. In the meantime, I suppose I'll have to have to rely on Twinings, Pompadour, and The Internet.

26 February 2007

Experimental barbecue sauce

We had a slab of tofu sitting around waiting for someone to use it. So tofu is hard to cook well, even hard to cook edibly. I also don't especially like tofu. However, it was there, and demanded to be eaten NOW or else it would rot among the cheese and yogurt. Because leftover tofu belongs in the spot with cheese and yogurt, apparently.

Ok. We'd had dry-fried Indonesian tofu the day before, so we couldn't have it again. We'd failed spectacularly the last time we tried to make sesame tofu. Stirfry isn't that interesting, and tofu never gets a good texture in a stirfry anyway.

I hit on seared marinated tofu. The marinade? Barbecue sauce. So you might assume that we had a bottle of a good sauce lying around, or at least some A1. No. I wanted to make the barbecue sauce myself.

This is not so hard, or so unheard-of. What happens at (or probably before) barbecue cookoffs? The contestants clearly can't use premade sauce--that'd be really generic, and besides, what if the judge recognized it? Impossible! So everyone makes their own secret sauce, swathes their pork belly in a quart of it, and hopes for the best. I can do that, even if there is no pork belly within a mile of my refrigerator, ever. I looked up some sample recipes, made a list of necessary ingredients, and started experimenting. My results were sweet and caramelized, almost raisiny--next time we're certainly going to have to add more hot spices--and quite good on the tofu.

Barbecue sauce

1/4 yellow onion
cooking oil
some mustard powder, black pepper, red pepper flakes
about 3/4 cup ketchup
2 spoonfuls molasses
1/2 spoon white vinegar
couple good glugs of vermouth
1 spoonful spicy brown mustard
maybe a cup of water
pinch salt
a little lemon juice

Mince your onion within an inch of its life. Throw it in a pan--not too wide, like mine, but a little saucepan--with a glug of cooking oil of your choice. Add some mustard powder, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and cook everything on low until the onion is sweet and melty. This will take a while. Go do something else while it's cooking. However, remember to check on it as well--I burned the hell out of my first pan. It was awesome. Spicing: I used only a couple shakes of each spice, but in the future, I'd definitely use more. The mustard was not such an issue, since I added some actually mixed mustard later, but red pepper flakes? I want LOTS of those.

When your onion is sufficiently soft, add all your other ingredients but vermouth and stir to mix. I didn't measure at all here, which was possibly a mistake. Ketchup should predominate the mix, closely followed by water. The rest are all spicing components and should be added according to taste. The problem there is: who knows what your tastes are if you've never made barbecue sauce before? The solution: add spicing components slowly, and taste your results continually. I would also say smell your results continually, but I don't want anyone to end up with a sinusful of vinegar fumes like I did. Do the chemlab thing and waft.

Let things cook on low, with the pan lid on, for a good half-hour at least. You may want to stir occasionally, check on the texture, and let some steam escape. Eventually your mixture will mellow to a raisiny (again) brown-red color, and thicken to a nice saucy consistency. If you have a stick blender, you may want to puree those onions into the rest of the sauce. I don't have one, so I just took things off and let them cool.

So we come to the tofu part.

Seared marinated tofu

slab tofu
barbecue sauce
a little more vermouth
uh, pan and spatula

for presentation:
wheat bread
green onion

Cut the tofu into 1/2 inch thick cutlets and press it, if you haven't done so already. Trim it into 1-person servings and marinate in the cooled sauce for at least an hour. I left mine overnight, as we were getting up to the two in the morning area and I really wanted a quesadilla right then anyway. When you're done marinating, heat a wide saute pan on medium-high. Slap the tofu into the heated pan and sear for a few minutes on each side. Throw in a glug of vermouth and let it steam away.

In the meantime, toast some wheat bread, one piece for each serving of tofu. Chop up the greens of a green onion or two. I love those greens. When everything is done, slide a slab of tofu onto each slice of bread and top with copious onion. Eat with a fork, or top with more toasty bread and eat like a hot sandwich if you are so inclined.

23 February 2007

Sammich time

Today the kitchen was bare, and yet I still had to make and eat a lunch at some point. Often in this situation I end up just eating bread and cheese, but not this time, since we were actually out of cheese! Oh no! Such a thing rarely happens, because we eat all kinds of cheese. So what could I do instead? I rummaged around in the cabinets, becoming more and more horrified by our lack of basic staples (no peanut butter?!), until I came up with this: the mushroom sandwich.

I was kind of dubious here. How could a mushroom sandwich be enough to fuel me through a day of work with highly energetic kids? I thought I'd probably have to go buy some sort of last-minute drugstore supplement, like string cheese or saltines. Then I realized that there was cream cheese in the work refrigerator.

Mushroom sandwich

2 or 3 big button mushrooms
1 green onion's greens
wheat bread
decent mustard
cream cheese
black pepper

Sandwiches are easy. Cut your mushrooms into thick slices and your onion greens into 3-inch strips, so as to fit inside the bread. Mustard up one slice of bread; cream cheese and pepper the other. Layer the mushrooms and onion greens on the bread, top with the other slice, and eat.

Some people may be into toasted sandwiches. I am generally not one of them. I think that the softness of the bread is one of the essential things about a sandwich like this, especially one relying on such a soft filling (cream cheese, although I guess mushrooms are kind of soft...I would call them something else, like "chewy" or "robust"). It's very comforting to eat something so soft, and besides, it doesn't rip the skin off the roof of your mouth like a toasted sandwich would do. There: my major issue with sandwiches, exposed!! ! Gracious. Now it's going to be on the 11 o'clock news. I'm going to have to start wearing horrendous dark sunglasses and drinking eight dollar half-caf lattes, or something.

21 February 2007

Broccoli mushroom butter pasta

Children, this is a butter vehicle.
Broccoli mushroom butter pasta.

1 shallot
3-5 cloves garlic
1 small crown broccoli
at least 6 or 8 mushrooms
2/3 box fusilli pasta
romano cheese
olive oil and butter
salt, pepper, basil, and red pepper flakes

Put on the water for your pasta.

Heat some olive oil in a wide frying pan. Chop up your shallot and garlic, and add them to the oil. Add some basil and some red pepper flakes. Toss and cook on low-medium. Ooh! Delicious! And we haven't even gotten to any substantial anything yet!

Dissect your crown of broccoli into small, pleasing bits. Add some chopped stem if it's edibly tender, or even peel the stalk and use it as well. Chop up your mushrooms into large irregular oblongs. I like a variety of pieces for this business.

In the meantime, put on your pasta. If you're using something less robust than fusilli, wait a little longer to put it on. You know how to cook pasta.

Add your broccoli and mushrooms to your shallot and garlic. By now you may notice that your pan is looking a little dry. Add some more olive oil. Add some butter for good measure. I like butter.

Cook everything on medium to low until tender and voluptuous. Salt a little; pepper a lot. It looks like it needs some more butter. Add some more butter. You want those mushrooms to soak it up into a vast pit of buttery goodness. Butter.

Your pasta should be done at just about the same time as the vegetables. Drain it and toss immediately into the frying pan. Stir everything up to make sure you have enough oil and butter. Not enough? Add a little more butter.

Serve, laced heavily with grated romano cheese.


19 February 2007

A tiny martini

After two weekends of crazy traveling, we spent today in complete collapse. We made tea, played video games, and eventually went downstairs to take a look at the top of the fridge and figure out what to drink. What to drink was a tiny martini.

Normally "a tiny martini" sounds like a ridiculous affectation out of a prewar Britain novel. These, however, were in tiny glasses, and so could take "tiny" as an actual descriptor. Mine could also take the descriptor "dirty," which is how I like my martini as a general rule.

Dirty martini

dry vermouth
olive juice

You know how to make a martini. Put a drop or two of dry vermouth in your glass, top with however much gin you want, and add a fat green cocktail olive. Dirty martinis just require a bit of olive juice along with the olive. No problem. What else could you possibly do with the brine in the olive jar?

John prefers the pink gin, another minor variation. This one seems even more stereotypical: you can just see a bunch of imperialist officers sitting around India with glasses of these, and maybe a few gin and tonics for qood quininic measure, sweating profusely and trying to ignore the thought of potential uprisings.

Pink gin

lemon peel

Shake three or four drops of bitters into your glass. Add gin and lemon peel, twisted to release the oil. The bitters will turn your gin a lovely light salmon pink.

If we weren't such lazy, lazy heathens, we would probably shake our martinis with ice before drinking. But we are lazy, and besides John generally has the cocktail shaker full of water and lime. So we add ice instead. Then we get distracted and forget to drink, and our martinis slowly dilute and condense until we remember them again.

16 February 2007

Potato lentil salad

This week has been all about the exhaustion, and hence about the lazy food. I keep looking around all the various food sites, going "that looks so good...but I'm SO TIRED." Then I end up having toast and a chik patty with brown mustard, which, while fairly tasty, are not so much new, interesting, or otherwise notable. However! Last night I happened upon an excellent and very easy idea: potato salad.

I love potato salad in nearly all its varieties. Maybe not the ones that include sweet pickles, but that's it. Everything else, including tinfoil-capped supermarket 1-serves, are ok with me. I mean, I Prefer actually making my own, but sometimes you're dying at lunch and that's the best you can find.

Normally, my potato salad consists of variations on a basic theme: waxy potatoes, chopped and boiled, mixed with some chopped onion or green onion and dressed with vinaigrette. What? That isn't potato salad! Well. It may not be the mayo-drenched picnic concoction that most people envision when they think potato salad, but it's still potato salad. You can dress the basic boiled potatoes in anything you want, really: olive oil, decent mustard, sour cream (ha ha! that one I haven't tried, but now it sounds great), or whatever else sounds appealing. It is all good.

In this case, I came across a reference to, and interpretation
, a Vegetarian Times recipe for potato and red lentil salad dressed with yogurt. This is new and intriguing! I make red lentil soup with potato chunks quite a lot, but I've never made potato salad with lentil. It seems like an obvious choice when I think of it in more solid than liquid terms: the main problem with potato salad is that it lacks a protein source. In the past, my solution to this problem has been to hardboil an egg along with the potatoes, chop it up, and add it to the salad. This works well, but what if you don't have eggs? What if you're vegan? In that case you need a different source. Lentils are swift-cooking, cheap, and tasty: an obvious solution.

The yogurt dressing was interesting as well; guess what I garnish my lentil soup with? Yes. The original recipe wanted me to use half yogurt and half mayo, but, well, eh. I have plenty of yogurt and a relatively stern aversion to mayo. So I used all yogurt. But to give it a kick, I mixed the yogurt with a crushed and minced clove of raw garlic and let it sit for a half hour, as I sometimes do for topping curries et al. It does have a pretty big kick, but not one you want to try if you have any feeling toward garlic that is not total undying love. I would probably use minced fresh parsley and some green onion as a substitute. Or you could use red onion or shallot. It's all good.

Potato lentil salad yay!

waxy potatoes
red lentils
plain good yogurt/soy yogurt
garlic, or subs to taste
salt and pepper
lemon juice
a couple spinach leaves or other vegetables if you list

You can scale this really easily. I used about six or seven baby yukon gold potatoes, and three handfuls of lentils. Just keep the proportions close to equal and you should be fine.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the potatoes, chunked, and lentils. Bring things to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender. Mine took about 30 minutes, due to tiny potato chunk size. If you have lentil texture issues, you may want to add them a little later than the potatoes. I personally want my lentils mushy, for maximum comfort food value, so I just stuck everything in at once. When tender, drain through a fine wire-mesh sieve, not a colander, or you'll lose half the lentils down the sink.

While these are cooking, flavor your yogurt with garlic, onion, or herbs, if you are inclined to do so. It needs to sit a little while for the flavors to mix. I used a little more than half a 6 oz cup of yogurt, and one clove of garlic. Stick it in the refrigerator while things are cooking.

Let the potato-lentil mixture cool for a few minutes, then mix, still warm, with the yogurt. Add some salt, pepper, and any chopped vegetables that sound good to you. In my case, I used the tiny crisp heart leaves of a bunch of spinach, plus a little more garlic for good measure. Spinach: yet another vegetable that turns up in the red lentil soup. If we'd had a better choice of vegetables, I would have added some sliced radish and fresh (or thawed frozen) corn kernels. Squeeze a hit of good fresh lemon juice over the salad, top with any leftover yogurt, and eat.

If you like the spice, you may want to add a little shake of cayenne; if you like more savor, you could add some mustard powder, or actual decent mustard. In my case, the whole theme was garlic. I even used the baby scapes growing from the sprouted head of garlic hanging out on my rice cooker. Seriously, do not use raw garlic unless you aren't planning to talk to anyone until the next day. It was delicious, but severe.

14 February 2007

Dinner at our house

Fairly often, it looks like this. I don't know about you, but our kitchen is often the barest of the bare. This necessitates drastic action, especially when shopping after work on bikes. The whole "you're limited to one backpack's worth of stuff" quandary doesn't exactly do much for stocking up on staples, which we always mean to but never actually do. Maybe we'll get one or two definite long-term things--rice, lentils, loose tea, more than one head of garlic--but we never seem to get enough.

This is not such a terrible thing. Even when we get home from work at 6:30 we can usually summon the energy to go up the street and get some cheese and bread and wine, and maybe apples. Then we come home in the dark and cut up the bread and arrange it with the cheese on a decent yet cheap wooden cutting board in desperate need of replacement. Then we sit at the table and read books and eat whatever comes to hand. Plenty of things come to hand in such a situation.

These particular cheeses are mimolette and cotswold. We like sharp, hard cheeses best, and so these are sharp, hard cheeses. Mimolette is a French hard aged cheese, with a sharp taste and flaky, er, texture--I initally put "crumb", but we aren't baking a cake here. Cotswold is British double Gloucester with chive and onion bits, so it's extra savory and strong as well as sharp. It's a good bit softer than the mimolette, but obviously not anything in the rich creamy vein. And then we have bread. Also books. Bread books cheese and wine. It is not cooking, but it is a pretty good dinner.

12 February 2007

Sleepy rice

Today I am exhausted. It is the correct time for soporific food. But I am already sleepy! Well. I will be more sleepy after this, I guess.

Mostly I think of starch in this situation. If we had cream I would perhaps be making the effort to make pasta with a cream sauce, steamed spinach, and romano cheese. That would be tasty. However, no cream. I have the unfortunate habit of buying cream with just this intention, then suddenly feeling like something else for dinner. The cream sits in the refrigerator for three or four days. When I decide I do want the cream sauce after all, it is Too Late.

It is much safer to rely on pantry starches. The pasta is obviously fine, but tomato sauce just isn't that interesting, and besides, I like it spicy hot hot hot hello arrabiata! That is not so much soporific as perspiratory. So I go instead to two main categories: 1. potato 2. rice. Today is a rice day.

Rice itself is perhaps not what most people make for dinner. It's generally rice And something: stirfry, curry, ratatouille. I am making a pot of rice. However, it is not plain rice. It is a very tasty, easy, and gradual rice from Nigel Slater's Appetite. I don't do a whole lot of cooking what other people have written down and published in large shiny cookbooks, but Nigel Slater is an exception. The best part is that you can clearly tweak everything to your own kitchen and its array of supplies and other business. I mean, I do this with sort of a lot of recipes anyway, but most cooks don't overtly encourage it. He does. So I am inclined to like his stuff for that reason alone. Then there is the fact that everything I've ever tried turns out GREAT.

We've had this rice at least three or four times so far. It's certainly the only recipe that's ever made us run out of whole spices. We made it often enough to run out of the cinnamon sticks that had been mouldering in the spice cabinet for at least two years! The cloves are still holding out well, but the cardamom is getting a little low. Yes. It is essentially hot, aromatic spice cabinet rice.

Sleepy rice

peanut oil
yellow onion
whole green cardamom
cinnamon stick
a fresh hot pepper

This is easy. Get out a reasonably sized rice pot and heat a little oil on low. Chop up your onion and cook it slowly in the oil until it's good and soft. Today am I using a half an onion, where normally I would use a whole one, because that's what I have left of the onion supply. They get used up a lot more regularly than the spice cabinet, though. Anyway.

When the onion is soft, add maybe 3 or 4 whole cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat of a knife. This gets the skin off the garlic really efficiently, too. Add your spices: 4 cardamom pods, 3 cloves, a cinnamon stick. Let things cook together for a couple minutes, or until the kitchen smells GREAT. Then add maybe 3/4 cup of rice, your whole hot pepper, and 3x as much water as rice to the pan. Season with some salt, if you want. Stir it all up, then bring to a boil. Simmer with the lid on for ten minutes before taking the pan off the heat. Then let it sit, no peeking seriously you guys, for another ten minutes. This lets the rice finish steaming. When the time is up, fluff up your rice, correct any salt and pepper mishaps, fish out the pepper and any whole spices you can be bothered to grab, and eat. If you leave in the spices, watch out! Don't crack your teeth! Although I for one do enjoy a good clove every now and again.

09 February 2007

Fat sammich

After all the vegetables and vegetables and rice and more vegetables my body decided to start yelling HELP HELP FAT I NEED FAT.


Decent avocadoes are one of the few reasons to live in California. On occasion I will eat them for days at a stretch. You can also find tiny varieties, maybe 3 inches high, that can be eaten easily by one person. This is perhaps the most ideal of all ideal ideals: you get avocado, but you don't have the other half rotting overnight in a pool of lemon juice. It is especially fortunate since I like avocado for breakfast. Observe:

Sliced avocado on wheat bread with salt and pepper. The cherries are optional but certainly pretty. They also provide a distinct texture and flavor contrast. It is an excellent breakfast. However, considering cherry season, I can't really have this unless it's summer. And that's how long I've been planning to write this entry.

There is also something we know as "fat sammich." This requires some sort of bread material filled with the tastiest sources of fat I can find. This could be peanut butter, regular butter, egg, cheese: whatever looks tasty and substantial. Avocado is clearly an excellent choice for such a thing. So a few night ago I pulled out said avocado to make a variation: the quesadilla.

Quesadillas are clearly one of the best fat sammiches. The very simple cheese plus tortilla is very easy and almost instantaneous. It's pretty satisfying just by itself. However, if you add avocado, whether in plain sliced, mashed, or guacamole form, the quesadilla's tastiness quotient increases exponentially. It is a great idea.

flour tortillas
cheese of choice (big block sharp cheddar in this case)
hot pepper of some type
avocado, sliced and coated with
lemon juice

These are easy and obvious. Slice or grate some cheese and put it on a tortilla. Add some chopped hot pepper (optional) and cumin (optional) and any other vegetable that requires heating, i.e. not the avocado. Grate a little more cheese over the top. Then fold the tortilla in half or top with a second, and cook on medium in an unoiled frying pan. Flip when golden brown. Once both sides are crispy and nice, take your quesadilla out off the pan. Open it up, layer in the avocado, and close. Eat, possibly with salsa. It is tasty. It is fat. I can eat three on the half-fold before feeling completely glutted. After that, I don't really want any more avocado for a few days.

07 February 2007

Super overabundance of vegetables green curry

THAI CURRY. It is delicious. I love all kinds, particularly panang, but have never really been able to accomplish a decent version at home. In the past we have blamed this on various things, such as overcooking when we had to run out to get some ingredient after starting the vegetables, or using premade curry paste instead of sucking it up and doing it ourselves. Really I've been a little afraid to try. Also, the good Asian market up our street closed down! How can we get actual curry paste ingredients? (We totally can, but we'd have to make some effort.) In conclusion, I am lazy.

So we ate Thai lunch pretty often at this place in downtown Palo Alto called Siam Royal. It's excellent and cheap and within a five minute walk from my office: all key points for me and lunch. However! Right before we went off to vacation, I spied a terrible, terrible sign in their window: on vacation--closed for remodeling. Oh no! Would they be open when we got back from Europe? We were gone for a long time! BUT NO. They are still closed, and we are bereft.

Then, totally by chance, I found Posie's green curry recipe. She has some interesting pictures. I am certainly interested in eating such a curry! So I adapted her recipe and came up with this version. I was still a little skeptical, since I did use premade curry paste, and clearly that is not up to par with Siam Royal. But when John tasted his, he went "ooh!" He then proceeded to eat another few spoonfuls before asking, "Did you make the curry paste?" No, I didn't! It was in a jar! And yet the curry succeeded wildly and well, and we both licked bowls entirely clean.

Super overabundance of vegetables green curry

1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 small eggplant
some green beans
1 green pepper
1 1/2 zucchini (or 1 gigantic one)
the end of a bag of frozen green peas
fresh basil leaves
1 can coconut milk
couple spoonfuls decent green curry paste
peanut oil, salt, pepper

Heat some oil in a wide frying pan or pot. I used a mix of peanut and olive oil, but any oil you want to use (besides plain gack "vegetable oil" oh no!! !) should be fine and workable. I like peanut oil for the flavor, but didn't want everything to just reek of peanut. Mixing oils worked out fine. It generally does.

Dice the onion, mince the garlic, and saute them both in the oil with a little salt and pepper. Cube the eggplant; when things are reasonable and soft, add it to the pan. You may need a bit more oil here, as eggplant sucks it up particularly viciously. While it's softening, chop up the rest of your fresh vegetables. I first put in some green beans, then later added zucchini and green pepper. You can really use whatever you have on hand, and think will taste good; I'm just including my quantities to give an idea of total volume. As a general rule, add hard vegetables (i.e. eggplant) first, and the softer ones (bell pepper, zucchini) later on.

After your last additions have started to soften, add a couple good spoonfuls of green curry paste and the (shaken!) can of coconut milk. Stir to mix it all well, and let it simmer for a few minutes. Taste. Is it good? Do you want spicier curry? Add some more curry paste. I used at least a good tablespoon. Let everything simmer together for a few more minutes, to let the flavors develop. Then add your frozen peas, stir, and bring the curry back to a simmer. You only want to warm the peas; they've been blanched before they were packaged, and if you overcook them, they'll get all shrively and texturally issueous.

At the very last minute, add a handful of torn basil. Stir, let the leaves wilt for a minute or so, and serve over rice. We had short-grain brown.

Drinks: beer. I had Boddington's; John had Beck's. Thai food always goes well with light-colored beer. Otherwise, green or jasmine tea.

05 February 2007


In Venice I couldn't walk very much as I was in the throes of knee joint issues. So we ended up spending a relatively high proportion of time in our hotel room watching Italian MTV. This led to seeing a series of ads featuring Salma Hayek undulating her bejeweled way down a marble hotel corridor, ever closer to the elusive liqueur that is Campari.

On one hand, ads are pretty repulsive; on the other, neither of us had ever had Campari before. The internet said it was bitter. We love bitters! We bought some this weekend.

Campari looks a lot like grenadine, but that is where the similarity stops. More precisely, it hits a brick wall and falls oozing to the pavement. Where grenadine is sickly sweet and viscous, like highly sugared cough syrup, Campari is bitter and thin. The taste changes from very slightly fruity at the front of the mouth to intense and herbal at the back. It makes you realize exactly where the bitter receptors fall on your tongue. Remember how you felt when you first tried white grapefruit as a hyperactive 6-year-old? The experience is pretty similar. Campari is clearly an acquired taste for an adult palate. Let's acquire that taste.

The classic Campari drink is the Negroni. The official recipe: equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari, and gin, with lemon or orange peel. We tried another recipe with different proportions as well: 1 part sweet vermouth, 2 parts Campari, and 3 parts gin. The original recipe won our taste test, as Campari needs some sweetness to stand up to it. Either that, or it needs a dilutant: the Campari and soda, 1.5 oz topped with soda, also works pretty well.

Both these drinks are definite aperitifs; they require slow sipping, and you'll want something else afterward. They're also some of the cherry-reddest drinks of all time, so don't spill them.

What should you eat afterward, or even with them? I certainly wouldn't recommend the Japanese rice crackers I was having. Maybe a good plate of antipasto, with marinated olives and red pepper and strong parmesan chunks, and then a gigantic plate of pasta. That would be tasty. I wouldn't mind.

02 February 2007

Hard wheat berry action

Or: more things you have to start the day before the fact.

Wheat berries are pretty sweet if you are into grains, which I, an eater of oatmeal with plain salt, certainly am. No one seems to think of them as, uh, anything. Few people even seem to be aware that they exist, except maybe in bread. O Brownberry bread, I miss you so, here out on the west coast where you cannot ever possibly be found. Ahem. Ok, so I have to get my fix in some other way. Fortunately, that way is great.

There are apparently two different kinds of wheat berries, soft and hard. The soft ones are relatively easy and take only an hour or two of soaking before you can cook them, or so I hear, as I've never been able to find them. The hard ones, on the other hand, must be soaked at least twelve hours. So whereas with other things there is some level of fudging available, with these you have no choice. You really, really have to leave them overnight if you don't want to end up with a raw-centered mess. That said, the boiling is pretty standard for any hard bean: maybe an hour or two, or until tender. I guess that is the main idea: treat hard wheat berries like a dried bean, not like a grain, and you will be fine. The end result comes up chewy and densely textured, with a mild nutty taste that, well--it's wheat! It tastes like wheat. Wheat tastes awesome.

Official hard wheat berry cooking outline:
Soak berries in twice their depth of water overnight.
Drain, replace water, and boil until tender.
Drain and rinse immediately, or you will get a glutenous skin on the pan (hi, wheat gluten!)

So, once you have your berries cooked, what can you do with them? You can treat them essentially like rice, and just serve them salted as a side. You can leave them plain and whack a mess of hot roasted vegetables or stir-fry over them. You can stick them into a fully-cooked soup, like barley. You can make a salad like this one.

Hard wheat berry salad

cooled cooked wheat berries
red and yellow bell pepper, or any vegetable that sounds good to you
green onion or other onion sub, such as the ideal shallot
fresh basil
salt and pepper

Chop your bell pepper and green onion into pleasing chunks. Tear the basil into bits, or chiffonade it if you are feeling fancy and non-thumb-injured. Mix roughly equal proportions of wheat berries and vegetables in bowls. Grind salt and pepper (pepper!) to taste. Toss it up with a good dressing and eat it with your fork.

You can use your standard vinaigrette for a dressing, as long as it is good. I was about to do this last night, but John decided he was mad jealous of the cooking, and so made our own schmancy original vinaigrette.

good olive oil
white wine vinegar
mustard seeds
salt and pepper

Crush a couple good pinches of mustard seed in a mortar. Transfer it to a bowl or other mixing device. Olive oil and vinegar should be added in careful proportion, about 4 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar, or even less vinegar if that's your taste. Grind in some salt and pepper (again pepper! Lots of pepper is great in dressing). Mix, taste, and use.

I would not say this business is adequate for a full meal as is, but perhaps you have some feta or cubed mozzarella lying around and would like to put it to good use. This would be a good use.