Thursday, December 29, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Good cooking is trouble and the trouble begins when you try to take it seriously, in earnest. Enter the humble tomato the most multifaceted of all summer produce. I wait, patiently all year long for the end of August, longing for the full taste of a local, summer ripe tomato. I don't know anyone who writes better of the tomato than Paul Bertolli, executive chef and co-owner of Oliveto, a restaurant in Oakland CA that I hope to visit someday. Bertolli also wrote my first serious cookbook, the cookbook that began the start from scratch deal around here "Cooking by Hand". It isn't your everyday kind of cookbook, although it does have recipes. It is a collection of essays, reflections on the appreciation of food. It reminds us to stop and think about what we are eating and to appreciate how good food happens.
It was Bertolli who inspired me to start canning, make my own pesto, toast nuts and grind them into nut butters, to make my own mayo, grind sirloin to render hamburger. The list is endless. So you can only imagine my intrigue when realized I could make my own tomato paste. Bertolli calls it Conserva, I call it Gold Paste. A way to spend hours cooking something you can buy at the store. I am so there! Conserva is essentially homemade tomato paste but much better than anything you will find in a can. Conserva's flavor is deep and complex, a tomato reduced to its purest, richest, form.
Most people would consider the endeavor of Conserva short of crazy. I spent $20 on 5 pounds of tomatoes. 8 hours later they have been reduced to about 6 ounces of a very flavorful tomato paste. Two small jars, almost nothing until you taste this stuff. I have done it before, and I will do it again. Nothing makes me happier than a teaspoon of this spread on a piece of toast, blending it with tomato sauce for pasta or simply licking a finger full right out of the jar.
I made a few adjustments to Bertolli's instructions including peeling my tomatoes first and straining the cooked tomatoes to reduce the amount of liquid up front. I may have ended up with a little more if I had not strained the tomatoes.
Making Conserva is easy, but it does takes time at attention, a perfect activity for a fall day.
Cut 5 pounds of ripe tomatoes into small dice; this promotes the most rapid cooking. Warm a little olive oil in a saucepan big enough to hold the tomatoes. Salt them lightly and bring to a rapid boil. Cook the tomatoes until soft about 10-15 minutes. Immediately pass them through the finest plate of a food mill, pushing as much of the tomato pulp through the sieve as you can. The purée should not have any seeds.
Lightly oil a half sheet pan with olive oil. Place the tomatoes in a 300 degree oven for about 3 hours. Use a spatula to turn the paste over on itself every 30 minutes or so. The water will evaporate and you will notice the surface darken and the liquid will thicken. Reduce the over to 250 after 3 hours and continue to evaporate the paste for another few hours until it is thick, shiny and brick-colored. I had some really darkened, burnt areas so I passed the paste through a sieve when it was done to remove the specks of burnt paste. Store in a glass canning jar topped with 1/4 an inch of olive oil. As you use it, make sure you maintain the level of olive oil on top. Bertolli says it can safely be stored at room temperature but I keep my in the fridge.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
I love the end of August and September, shorter days, crisp cool mornings and evenings, the changing color of the leaves. But most of all I love the activities of setting up my fall pantry. The harvest season. I must have been a pioneer or a farmer in my previous life, working the land to make my home and feed my family.
I am wired to wake up at the crack of dawn, even before then on most days. Heading out in the dark early morning to the farmers market to gather my tomatoes, green beans, corn, and basil
I have a fall routine, a ritual if you will of getting our pantry ready for the fall so that all it takes is cracking open a can of roasted tomatoes, opening a bag of fresh corn off the cob, slathering in the pesto, tossing in a can of my own garbanzo, black or pinto beans, adding some roasted red pepper, a dollop of homemade apple sauce, rubbing a roast in my own spice blend. I can, I roast, I toast, and I freeze. I love it
If you were to visit in the cold dark months of December or January you would have a sensory experience and a meal you would never forget. I am likely to make authentic Hungarian Gulyás with my canned fire roasted red peppers, shrimp tossed with pesto, smoked pork butt rubbed with my own Latin spice rub with real black beans and caramelized onions, roasted tomato soup or a cheddar corn chowder, a sandwich on sourdough with homemade pesto, homemade mayo layered with roasted chicken and gouda. And if you liked Indian food you would experience the aroma of complex toasted spice blends that are made in small batches just so they stay fresh. You probably wouldn’t even notice that you were eating gluten-free
It is a major undertaking and consumes my every waking moment for nearly 6 weeks and I have not even mentioned the honey harvest that we hope for every year. It is the only time of year you are likely to find me awake past 10. I occasionally have a gluten-free pizza delivered if the canner is running late into the evening. I pop over to the Minnesota State Fair for safely fried French fries in between canning runs. There is plenty of coffee, fresh squeezed lemonade and tonic water to carry me through the days.
Thabo Lama would have loved these days, so much to do in the kitchen, so much to smell and test. I think he would have been particularly partial to husking 100 ears of corn and removing the kernels from the cob. I miss him dearly but it seems he rubbed off on Ziva Jane. We are only into day two but so far she seems to be keeping her ear to the rattle of the pressure canner and checking it all out. She is easily distracted however and likes to screw up my small kitchen T.V., pressing buttons in such a manner that getting the signal and CNN back is a frustrating undertaking. I am grateful for her company even if she is a little trouble.
My go-to pesto recipe is easy and freezes well. I tried many variations and suggest you do to. Personally I like toasted pine nut but you can use any kind of nut. Regardless of what you choose, toasting is worth the effort. You can back off on the garlic or hold back on the pepper. I freeze small portions in various sized airtight containers and even use ice cube trays for really small portions. I do cover the top with a thin film of olive oil and plastic wrap
4 cups fresh basil, tightly packed
½ cup toasted pine nuts, cooled completely
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 cup freshly grated parm
1/3-cup good olive oil
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade puree the toasted nuts and garlic. Add the basil, salt and pepper and puree for about 30 seconds after the basil has become incorporated. Slowly add the olive oil and then add the cheese, mixing together.
Monday, August 22, 2011
’In the short walk of this life
We have had our share of joy.
Let us hope to meet again
In the youth of our next life’
Sixth Dalia Lama
It started out as an endeavor to boost Tina's spirits after her Sophie died this past Christmas day. Two kittens, Ziva Jane and Thabo Lama, litter mates. They were born on October 24th and joined our family in January. It turned into a kitten, Thabo Lama becoming something to me that I never imagined possible. Tina says I was Thabo's special human, and it is true. I became his special human in no short order.
Perhaps it was the time of year, cold, dark and lots of snow that helped the two us hunker down and forge this special relationship. Perhaps I was finally ready. I don't know. All I know is that I loved him dearly and he filled my days with joy. I love Ziva Jane too but she took to Tina like white on rice. We spent hours in the kitchen and every evening after TIna came home from work the four of us played and cuddled in bed. Tina would put them in their room every night around midnight and I would get them up at 5:00 am. We had long days filled with endless fun. I am grateful to have so many wonderful memories and photos of him and while this one is perhaps not the best, it does portray his character and his enthusiasm for human food. I have written about this little personality of his many times but here he is standing guard of the turkey I roasted. He kept this position for the better part of 6 hours staring at the oven while the turkey roasted and then watching it cool for at least 3 hours, without moving!
I always knew there was something not right about Thabo Lama. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but it went beyond his crazy clamoring for people food and his relentless medical problems that took us to the vet week after week after week. He stayed kitten like for way too long, both physically and developmentally. But it didn't matter, I was completely attached to him just as he was.
Thabo Lama was liberated to his rebirth during the early hours of this morning. I received some unforeseen Karma just before his passing. I spent Sunday evening surrounded by my Tibetan American friends at an event for The Venerable Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan Monk and freedom fighter who spent over 33 years tortured in chinese prison camps. It is only because I saw my friend Nancy that I was able to give Thabo Lama a fitting send off to his new life. Nancy reminded me that I had some Mani Pills which I had received directly from His Holiness The Dalai Lama. She told me I could use them for an easy, swift and auspicious rebirth and good health in his next life. It wasn't easy, but I felt so much better after giving Thabo Lama the Mani Pill and reciting Om Mani Padme Hum. I will be forever grateful for my connection with Nancy the night before Thabo Lama was liberated.
I am grateful too for my loving wife and partner who empowered me in my new found connection to this kitten. We would have never gotten these two kittens were it not for her. Patrick and Trudy, you will never know how much your support has meant to me in the past week. I am imbued with your kindness. So many others that have buoyed me this past week, Sherri, Helen, Kristen. . . And Paula for being with me this morning to help me tend to the logistics of Thabo's death.
We have donated Thabo to Dr. Greene and the University of Minnesota in the hope that he may help them better understand the rare condition of Feline Pituitary Dwarfism. In part because Tina and I are both academics, while Tina is the only practicing academic in our home I have been on the faculty of several colleges in the Twin Cities over the years, teaching nursing. We both value education and research and hope that Thabo Lama can further that endeavor.
We had a great team of people behind us, our breeder Lauri who never left our side and has extended herself way beyond reason, the folks at Grand Ave Vet who loved this little guy as well and especially Dr. Joe Greene, from the University of Minnesota, who was able to diagnose Thabo Lama in a matter of moments and guided us through the last two weeks of his life.
All of you are the best I am grateful to have you in my life and on our team, even if only for a moment.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Year two of beekeeping is now well underway as are the lessons. These bees have so much to offer, not just the products of the hive but in their everyday lessons.
One of the many surprises of this journey for me has been the friendship of my beekeeping partner Paula. When the idea of keeping bees got inside me I didn’t know how physically demanding the work would be. As it turns out, I could not do this without Paula, physically or emotionally. I am thankful each and every day that Paula is on this journey with me. Our partnership is perfect in every way and perhaps for me, it is the lessons of the bees that have allowed me to collaborate in this endeavor.
I am a go at it alone kind-a-gal. I like to be in complete control of my every breath, especially at work. I am not a team player. I never liked group projects at school. In the kitchen, stay clear please. I don’t want anything other than my own efforts to impact the outcome of anything. I am not particularly proud of this characteristic but it is somewhat bittersweet. I am sure it is because of this dominating quality that I am so very successful at managing my Celiac disease. What other significant medical problem can you think of that an individual can actually completely control by what they put in their mouth. I love total control, being in charge of making the plan, executing the plan and getting the results, on my own, just my terms.
Enter the honeybee, or more specifically the colony where the collective efforts of all are completely interdependent. Without the collective work of the socialized colony, nothing would get done. Their engineering miracle is achieved by the collective work of thousands of bees. Building comb, collecting pollen, nectar, tending to the queen, nursing the larva, guarding the hive, all of it completely dependent on the work of the colony. No single bee or handful of bees could make this happen. They are in a constant state of communication with each other, directing forgers to the pollen, water and nectar sources through wing motions and dancing. The hive is made up of 30,000 or more bees, living and working together. There is overwhelming evidence of organization and harmony in the hive that one can hardly look past the lesson of democracy. Collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building, the honeybee has much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision-making. I think beekeeping should be a required hobby for all of our politicians! As for myself, I am watching and learning and I think I have become a slightly better colleague, paying more attention to those around me at work and pitching in when I might otherwise be serving my own purposes. It is a small step and I have a long way to go but these bees have taught me a great deal about working together. I am not saying I am ready for a group project yet but I am less about my own agenda, which is good.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Eating out for me is bittersweet.