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Red Up the Room

As Hannah has pointed out, there isn’t much about my childhood that isn’t idyllic. We lived on the mighty Susquehanna River, a two minute walk from a 1930s style movie theatre (kids were $0.50, adults, $2.00 for a night show. $1.50 for a matinee), right next to an immense forest that would defy any child not to play and explore in it, and it was all right in the heart of Pennsylvania.

It’s a beautiful state with a rich and fascinating history (birthplace of the nation, first woman governor of a state, etc etc etc), and it has its very own culture, quite literally. The Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch are the hereditary result of German immigration to Woods of William Penn, and the reason those of us from PA talk different.

It’s a state filled with famous foods, like Shoo-Fly Pie (a pie made to be so sweet that it would attract the flies to the other end of the table at a picnic. It was never intended to be eaten. Until someone tried it), Cole Slaw, Pork and Saurkraut, Scrapple, and of course, the summer staple:

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Pickled Beets.

Ah, the Pickled Beet. Root vegetable, distilled vinegar (we Pennsylvanians are simple folk), a few spices here and there, toss in some eggs and Lord amighty, you have yourself a nice picnic side dish. I love pickled beets. If it were up to me, I would eat a whole batch of these in one sitting and never look back. But that is gluttonous and though I have the heart and mind of a glutton, my stomach just isn’t in it for the long haul.

I needed a recipe for the pickled beets and as I didn’t want to give away my mom’s recipe online, I called my friend JJ, who lives in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch territory: Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This recipe comes from Lancaster, PA. It is the recipe his wife uses and her mother uses. It’s about as authentic as you can get.

And no, I won’t give you my mom’s recipe.

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Pickled Beets & Eggs
Yield: About 2 Quarts (I only made a pint because, well, we didn’t have that many beets)

2lb Beets
2 C White Distilled Vinegar (for true Pennsylvania taste, use Heinz)
3 C Water
2 1/2 C Sugar
3 tbsp Mustard Seeds
3 tbsp Celery Seed
3 tbsp Salt
6 eggs

Hard boil your eggs. Peel. Let rest.

Poil your beets until soft and edible. Peel and slice. Combine vinegar, water and spices and bring to a boil. Add beets and boil for 10 minutes. Place in a big ol jar, with eggs. Cool and refrigerate overnight (until eggs are purple). Eat and enjoy.

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It is going to be another ambitious food weekend in our awkwardly shaped kitchen. Jam-making, pickling (with compromise),  the season’s first cherry tomatoes, and fire-escape grilling with friends are slated.

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Bread and butter pickles (for Hannah)

Pickled beets and eggs (for Matthias)

Blueberry jam

Ice cream sandwiches

Homemade pasta

Modified muhammara

Spiced beef kebabs

Chopped salad

and

Corn on the cob with compound butter

Pictures and a recipe will follow on Monday. Let us know what you’re up to in the kitchen this weekend!

Call it “cliche”, “preaching to the choir”, “screaming from the pulpit”, or any other number of aphorisms, but once again, please let’s hand it to Michael Pollan in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine

As Matthias edits Nom! I can’t help thinking that maybe we can all do this – maybe as food enthusiasts, activists, and brave, young, culinary spirits, we can be the ones to rescue cooking from shopping.

Cutting tagliatelle

This weekend, we’re testing out new recipes and have lots of good things to make. And so, here’s the list of awesome summer things that we’re going to be making in the next two days:

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* Pickles

* Cherry Preserves

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* Sour Cherry Syrup

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* Beignets

homemade tortillas
* Flour Tortillas

* Frozen Peas

homemade lemonade
* Lemonade

CSA corn fritters and greenmarket salad (close)
* Corn Fritters

english breakfast
* English Breakfast (bangers, eggs, toast, roasted tomato)

First up: Breakfast.

You sit and you sit and you wait around for water to boil and for the San Georgio pasta to finish cooking to a point where it’s no longer a moderately hard, possibly still slimy, wholly inedible mess, and you think to yourself, My God, there must be a better way.

You think that when you pour your pasta sauce on top; a thick mess, with the same flavor as last time, with the expected sweetness of King’s Table Syrup and the richness of a penny.  It has an odd greasiness, the source for which you just can’t place and it just sits there on top of your not quite fully cooked pasta and looks back at you.  You’re vaguely reminded of the Nietzsche quote about the abyss looking back at you.

The cheese, for so it is called on the plastic container, is pulverized; a dairy blizzard contained in the petrochemical container.  You shake it onto your pasta with sauce and winter comes to Pastaland.

And then, in a flash, you are transported.  The world is new, your kitchen is bright.  You have in front of you, a pile of flour and a carton of eggs.  You have the makings of a dough, and inexplicably, you begin to put it together:  flour, eggs, elbow grease.  The dough, a thick, plastic substance in a lump, looking at you, expectantly, like an ominous sort of nineteen fifties B-movie monster baby, that looks cute, but will kill you at a moment’s notice!

Relax, that’s not the case!  You don’t need the fire extinguisher, Steve McQueen.  Just let it sit for a bit.  You’ll see.

After it has melded and you’ve finished your drink (because that is important while cooking.  Be sure you’ve gotten some whiskey or some wine), you get up, fire up your pasta press and you run your pasta dough through it, a very zen action.  In.  Through.  Fold.  In.  Through.  Fold.  In.  Through.  Fold.  When it’s smooth enough, you turn it down, to a smaller setting, and smile devilishly, as you begin to consider your pasta as the Chief guard from the Temple of Doom.  He doesn’t have a chance!

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Thinner and thinner the pasta gets.  You have some problems here and there, but it gets easier and it gets smoother and it gets better and better and soon, you have an edible curtain of egg and flour.

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What to do with it though?

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You have fresh, local, organic zucchini and garlic scapes in the refrigerator and a jug of olive oil on the counter.  Some salted water, two minutes and a quick saute of the veggies later, you have an amazing new meal that will fill you up, help you sleep and give you some vegetables.  You shave a bit off the block of Parmesan that materialized on your table and as you take a bite, the crisp scapes snapping under your teeth and the zucchini, soft and a bit salty from the cheese, with a touch of oil to smooth it all out…

Homemade tagliatelle with zucchini and scapes

You wake up and look at your plate of industrially manufactured “pasta sauce.”  It was all a dream, there was no such experience.

But there could be.

Pasta
serves 2 generously

2 cups of flour
2 large eggs

Pour flour into large bowl (if you’re ambitious and have no fear of insane messes on your counter, pile it up on your counter).  Make a well in the center.  Add your eggs.  Use a fork to gradually incorporate eggs into flour.  When it becomes too thick, switch to a wooden spoon or your hands.

Form dough into a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap, rest in fridge for 30 minutes.

Break dough into quarters to run through your pasta maker (note:  if you don’t have a pasta machine or want to be like the Italian mamas, slap that thing on the counter, and use a rolling pin.  That’s called doing it old school.) Be sure to have plenty of flour around, in the event that your dough is a little too sticky.  Thickness and width of noodles should be to your own preference.

Matthias grew up with pancakes the thickness of three sheets of stacked phyllo dough, so light, etheral, and delicate that they made paper snowflakes look clumsy. They were perfectly suited for buttering, stacking, and ever-so-slightly dressing with a thin veil of syrup (though not in the case of his brother who preferred the drowning, to the veiling method). In a word, this cherished breakfast item is: inimitable.

By this, I mean only his mom is capable of making them to perfection. A fact that I wholeheartedly agree with, and see absolutely no reason to challenge. Especially because pancakes at the Brehm house came from a box, and were, at their best, served and then coated in a chemical concentration of agricultural biproducts that came in a plastic container with a bizarre thermometer that would tell you how long you should microwave the “syrup” according to the amount remaining in the vessel.  Yum.

It will suffice to say that at the Brehm-Sundberg house for the reasons outlined above, pancakes rarely grace the menu.

Although, this morning as the sunlight streamed through our windows and we took our time waking up, Matthias looked at me and said, “What is wrong? You have a worried face.” To which I replied, “Oh. Nothing. I was just thinking about how sad I was that we don’t have syrup.”*

I desperately wanted pancakes. But not ones that would melt in my mouth like a flattened tuille, or ones that could actually double as biscuits. They needed to be more than just flour, but not too sweet, not too thick, not too buttery, and somehow be perfectly suited for the beautiful pint of blueberries waiting in our refrigerator.

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We turned to the always superlative A Homemade Life and chose to make Molly Wizenberg’s Buckwheat Pancakes. They called for a standard flour base bolstered by nutty buckwheat flour and laced with sugar to be bound with buttermilk and butter that had been emulsified with the egg yolk to ensure an even distribution of richness and texture throughout the batch.

Cooked on one side until gasping bubbles rise to the surface and distinct edges begin to develop, these generous little cakes suited our blueberries impeccably. Just prior to the crucial flip, I carefully placed 4-6 violet berries on the wet side, slid the silicon spatula between the pan and the cake, and quickly turned my wrist 180 degrees. The sizzle of the batter gave way to the muted popping of the berries, a step i repeated 7 more times until our stack warming on a plate in the oven was complete.

The only problem now was the syrup. Basing the taste off of the classic Breton buckwheat crêpe kissed with lemon, I combined the juice of 1.5 lemons with 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, and mixed with a fork to dissolve the tiny lumps.

Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes

One teaspoon drizzled over each slightly puffed, nubbly pancake was all it took as we cut in, watched the magenta juices from the blueberries puddle on the plate, and ate them with glee. The satisfaction that Matthias could reconcile his relationship with stockier pancakes, and that I could encapsulate a range of flavors and textures in a revised version of the cardboard weekend staple of my childhood made the wait, and the syrup sacrifice, entirely worth it.

Lemon Syrup

Desperation Lemon Syrup

Yield 1/3 cup

Juice from 1-2 freshly squeezed lemons

1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar

Combine ingredients, wisk to combine and dissolve lumps. Adjust sweetness if necessary.

Serve over buckwheat pancakes, pound cake, or to brush the tops of madelienes.

*It has been a long while since we have been able to make it to the Greenmarket. Hence, no syrup. Thank you, L train.

Curiosa Invención

Time was that a fella needed to eat on weekends when he was working a job in a television studio.  Glamorous as that sounds, being a cameraman for a six o’clock and eleven o’clock local news station three days a week with a retired English teacher as your only companion is not the world’s greatest job.  In fact, there is a seriously good chance that it’s the worst job ever.

Point is, a fella needs to eat between seven o’clock and the eight-thirty bumpers.  In Lancaster, PA, you have a few options.  You can go to the grocery store and buy an apple, some cider, a roll of questionable quality, and a hunk of cheddar.  You can bring something sketchy from home that had a good to GREAT chance of being spat in by roommates, or you can go fast food.

Sadly, fast food was the only option within walking distance that was cheap enough to let me afford rent.  Was it burgers?  Was it subs?  Was it chicken?  No.  No, it was Taco Bell.

I would go and order a supreme gordita meal and an apple cinnamon empanada, sit at a table by myself, and read a comic, or a book, or something sad and pathetic, all the while wishing my career path would take a drastic turn.

1 grind it up

Fact of the matter was, the best part of that moment, that time in the Taco Bell, sadly, was the taco sauce, those little mylar packets that you open with your teeth and squirt all over your pseudo-Mexican food.  It comes in Mild (sissy), Medium (perfect for me) and Hot (Hannah).  It had some tang and some heat and was just generally something that made the “food” palatable.  I always wondered how someone would make it.

Five years later, and uncountable packets of taco sauce consumed, I gave it a shot.

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I looked up how to make taco sauce on the internet and there were a whole bunch of things on how to make Taco Bell’s Taco Sauce, but I wasn’t convinced that I really should be making something with Garlic Salt, Onion Powder or The Blood Of Immigrant Children, so I decided with those general ideas and an immersion blender, I would concoct my own.

Feel free to make adjustments and create your own version.  I would recommend even adding a couple splashes of apple cider vinegar at the end for a touch of tang.

5 hot sauce suppertime

Matthias’ Taco Sauce

(yield: 12-15 oz)

  • 1 15oz can diced organic tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
  • 1 medium onion diced (or half a large one)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp freshly ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (or more if you like it hot)
  • Sprinkle of dried oregano
  • Salt to taste
  • Canola Oil

Dice up your onions and throw them in a saucepan with a glug or two of canola oil and a pinch of salt.  Cook over medium heat for about 15 -20 minutes, until they are soft and starting to brown a little.  In a mortar and pestle, finely grind the cumin and coriander. Toss in your garlic and let that cook for a couple minutes (remember, you don’t want that to brown; it’ll get bitter).  Add a couple dashes of oregano and stir it into the garlic/onion mixture, along with your cumin and coriander.

When you’re satisfied that this is all set, pour in your tomatoes.  Add the chili powder and cayenne.  Stir.  It’s going to dry up a little, but that’s ok.  Turn the heat to medium low and let it simmer uncovered for another 10-15 minutes.  When the flavors have all combined, take an immersion blender (or just ladle it into a regular blender, be sure to leave a small gap between the vessel and the the lid, lest you should risk explosion) and zizz it all up until you have a smooth, deep crimson paste.

It will last a little while.  Don’t worry if you don’t use it all at once.