Monthly Archives: June 2007

The prettiest pickles: beets

time to eat pickled beets

I did not grow up eating beets at all–it is a vegetable that has found its way into my life in just the last decade. And beets and I–we have just “clicked.” I love beets. I love it in Iraqi beef stew, and just recently I have discovered and fallen in love with beet pickles.  The firm flesh, with the ever present sweetness just makes me dizzy with pleasure–and I am in love with its bright magenta color.  (though of course I love other variations like golden beets too).

I first had beet pickles at, I think, Oliveto restaurant (or was it Chez Panisse?). It’s hard to remember where I was in the faze of tastebud delight–the tang of pickling combined with the sweetness of the beets was just so heavenly. And so I went on the search for a good pickled beet at the store.

But alas, I could not find pickled beets among the cornichons, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, and other items that can be pickled. Where were–the BEETS?! At one point, I found some pickled beets at the Union Square farmer’s market in Manhattan, but they weren’t the pickled beets that I remembered and the thought of traveling home with them was too daunting at that chaotic moment.

Union Square Farmer's markets

It was, I realized, up to my kitchen to produce some pickled beets. I planted some beets in my garden, misjudging my own patience…and waited for them to grow. They got to about 5 inches high when I couldn’t stand it anymore! I wanted–nay, NEEDED pickled beets now!

Beets

I went to the store and bought some beets. I looked up some pickling recipes. And thus, I began making some homemade pickled beets.

Pickling beets is a bit time consuming, but also fairly simple. You make the pickling marinade, and let that sit over night. The next day, you boil the beets, peel and chop, and then let them sit in the pickling marinade over another night. And then in my case, you have them for breakfast the next morning!

Of course, I’ll break it down into smaller steps for you.

The majority of the “cooking” in, and complexity of, pickled beets, happens in making the pickling marinade.

making the pickling marinade

But even that is quite straightforward–throw everything in a pot and simmer away! The ingredients include pickling spice, which you can buy off the shelf, but something you can also easily assemble yourself. Mine was a combination of cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, whole cloves, allspice, a slice of ginger, coriander seeds, and mustard seeds. I would add fennel seeds and cardamom in the future. You can vary the above ingredients to some extent but basically, throw equal parts of each to create a pickling spice mixture.

Pickle marinade

Of course, pickling spice alone does not a pickling marinade make!

Here are the ingredients as a whole:
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon pickling spice (above)
1/4 onion, halved and sliced into rings
3 bay leaves (not California)
3/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/4 bunch fresh dill (or more)
3 beets (1 lb without tops)

pickled beets in progress!

DIRECTIONS:
Bring all ingredients except beets to a boil in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Cool marinade, then chill, covered, 1 day to allow flavors to develop. Pour through a fine sieve into a bowl.

Cook beets in a saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Drain and cool. Slip off skins and cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

Stir together beets and marinade, then marinate, covered and chilled, 1 day.

pickled beets!

Oompa Loompa Doompadee Doo!

Did you know that here in the East Bay, there are two ultrapremium chocolate factories a stone’s throw from each other that you can view (and sample)?  You’ve probably heard of Scharffen Berger in Berkeley by now, and a few blocks away in Emeryville (in the former Andronico’s location), Charles Chocolates opened its retail store in February this past year.   This Saturday (June  23) marks the official grand opening of its cafe (1st 25 customers get a free gift!).  This evening, I had the honor of attending a behind the scenes tour of the factory floor and a preview of the cafe.

Charles Siegel (“Chuck”), the founder, has been in the chocolate business for twenty years.  He started Charles Chocolates about two and a half years ago to “redefine the world of fine chocolate confections…. us[ing] only the finest ingredients , including some of the world’s best chocolates, organic herbs, fruits and nuts as well as organic cream and butter from Straus Dairy”.  Unlike Scharffen Berger, Charles Chocolates does not produce its own chocolate from cacao pod to bar, but instead, crafts confections such as truffles, bonbons, fruit gelees and chocolate covered nuts. 

Now, Charles Chocolates does not offer a tour to the general public.  Instead, Chuck has decided to open up his kitchen for viewing to the general public with the goal of “demystifying chocolate”.  Modeled on the open kitchens popularized by restaurants in the nineties, the cafe offers seating in front of a wall of windows so that customers can enjoy their treats while watching the chocolatiers mix, cook, mold, enrobe and decorate their candies.   In a few months, the cafe may start offering (non yeasted) breakfast pastries.

That being said,  I was lucky enough to go behind the glass and take a closer look at the factory floor.  Chuck demonstrated some of the equipment used everyday in the factory.

 

This table has cold water piped underneath to chill sheets of chocolate, caramel, molten sugar (eek!), etc. 

This machine actually tempers the chocolate for you!  There was also a really “vacumn super cuisinart” contraption that I was too excited about to take a picture of.

This “guitar cutter” slices ganache, caramel, etc.

The chocolate enrober, straight out of “I Love Lucy”.

 As Chuck talked about the business and chocolate making, it was clear that he was very, very passionate about his craft, but still pretty laid back.  The company isn’t looking to be avant garde (no bacon/blue cheese truffles here) but instead seeks out high quality ingredients for yummy, approachable treats.  One of the most unique offerings is the “chocolate box” – a box of the bonbons inside a decorated all chocolate box!

You can even have the lids customized.  BTW, the only white chocolate they use is for the chocolate box lids.

Their top seller is the chocolate covered almonds, and one of their newest products (created by accident), the chocolate caramel almond sticks, is already their number 3 seller.  Chuck’s favorite bonbons are the bittersweet chocolate peanut butterflies (because they were so difficult to make without tasting like Reese’s, plus they make the peanut butter themselves) and the pistachio lemon clusters.  Their chocolate is kosher, though not certified (an issue with a European supplier).  Chuck says that although he tastes every batch of chocolate, he maintains his weight but just tasting.  Stress also plays an important factor.  “Remember,” he grinned, “chocolate makes you happy, not fat!”

Oh, and through I surreptitiously tried to peek in the corners and behind the shelves and trays, I did not spot a single Oompa Loompa.

 Charles Chocolates

6529 Hollis Street

Emeryville, CA 94608

tel: 510.65.4412

open daily from 11-7

Freak Bird!

 

Last weekend, after reading Anne’s blog post, I picked up a chicken from the Berkeley farmer’s market.  For some time, I’ve been pretty particular about my chickens.  I almost always buy Hoffmans, though I’ve been stalking the Marin Sun Farms booth (yes, I’ve had their eggs) over at the Ferry Plaza farmer’s market (they always sell out before 11).   So when I heard about this unique bird, I decided I had to try it.

Like Anne, I was well, alarmed, when I opened up the cooler to pick out my bird.  The first detail I noticed was the strong odor.  Not rotten or bad, but just barnyardy, for lack of a better word.  Some of the birds had been cut in half, and the giblets were loosely stuffed in what remained of the cavity, along with the feet.   There was nearly no breasts, but the thighs and legs were ginormous!  Plus there were still a few loose feathers here and there.  When I got home, I kept muttering, “freak bird!  freak bird!  we got ourselves a freak bird!” until Zack had to get up and check it out himself.  “Wow!  That’s a really big chicken,” he said.  “Is it a rooster or something?”  Actually, it wasn’t that big.  It was just under three pounds, which is tiny for a fryer/roaster.   That’s how big the thighs were.

 I was unsure of how to prepare it. The odd proportions of dark meat to white meet threw me off, plus it was a very lean bird.  I briefly considered brining it, then decided to fall back on my standard roast chicken preparation, which is cribbed directly from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.  It’s very simple – You dry off the bird, stuff a few sprigs of herbs under the skin and season generously with kosher salt and cracked pepper and let it sit in the refrigerator for 1-3 days.  To roast, you bring it out of refrigeration and let it stand at room temperature for an hour (or less), then throw it on a hot cast iron pan then stick it in the oven (475 degrees) for at least 45 minutes, turning it three time.  It doesn’t get easier than that – no trussing, no additional fat, no basting.  This method has always yielded a tender, juicy bird with perfectly brown, crisp skin.  But there are four things to keep in mind:

1. Get a small bird, preferably under 3.5 pounds.  Smaller birds tolerate high heat pretty well. 

2. Salt generously and salt early

3. Keep the bird as dry as possible, and limit the seasonings to the salt, pepper and the herbs stuffed under the skin.  Anything else will make the bird “steam”, resulting in soggy skin.

4.  Be hyper vigilant about temperature and time.  The guidelines I gave above were just that: guidelines.  Temperature and cooking time will always vary, so pay attention, not just by opening the oven door and peeking (doing that too much is not such a good idea, since it changes the oven temp).  Listen and smell as well.

As an accompaniment, I made panzanella (Tuscan bread salad), also from the Zuni cookbook.  It’s pretty easy as well.  Take a day old loaf of country bread (hit Acme early, and pick up the day olds for half off) and carve off the crusts.  Break up the crumb/white part/mie into a few pieces, brush with olive oil and stick it in the broiler to (carefully) brown all sides.  Trim off any burnt or blacked bits, and break up these pieces into manageable pieces for consumption.  Season with salt and pepper, and toss with about a quarter cup of a tart olive oil and champagne vinegar vinaigrette.  Throw in some warmed pine nuts and dried currants (reconstituted with warm water and red wine vinegar) .  Soften 3-4 scallions and 2-3 chopped cloves of garlic in a frying pan with olive oil and fold into the salad.  If the salad is still dry, dribble a little warm chicken broth or water on top.  As the chicken finishes cooking, cover the salad with foil and place it in the oven for the last few minutes, and leave it in when you’ve removed the bird and turned off the oven.  When it’s ready to serve, toss in a few handfuls of arugula, frisee or watercress, and sprinkle some of the chicken drippings into it.  To serve, nestly the chicken pieces in the salad and pour some of the drippings reduced with wine and mounted with butter on top.

 

So how did my bird turn out?  I daresay it turned out pretty well.   The skin was paper thin, brown and crackly, and the legs were plump, juicy and intensely flavored (the breast meat was nonexistent).  However, I might turn down the temperature a notch and move the bird to a lower rack next time.  The legs were so long, they nearly brushed up against the top of my oven.  Their musculature was really different; even the shape of the bones were different.  You know how eating rabbit is just… different than chicken, though the meat is comparable?  It was that kind of different.  Not a bad thing at all – in fact, I felt like I was eating chicken in the way it was meant to be eaten.  Now, I have to find one of those Marin Sun Farms chickens! 

X-13D

super secret experimental Doritos

While on a late night run to 7-Eleven tonight, I spotted a display of black and white Doritos bags straight in front of us. Doritos has used just about every color of the rainbow in its bag designs, but it has yet to use a stark, black and white color palate.

So I deigned to examine the bags a bit closer. “This is the X-13D Flavor Experiment,” the bag says, volunteering “tasting notes” that said “All-American Classic.” Intriguing. Definitely intriguing enough for me to spend 99 cents on the bag of chips while my husband filled up a slurpee.

We got home and ripped the bag open (yes, I waited to get home to open it because, true to food blogger form, I wanted to take a PICTURE of the bag before I opened and decimated it).

I wanted to know what the chip looked like–it looked like a normal Dorito chip–triangular with orange flavor powder.

“Are you going to taste it?” asked my husband.

“Yes!” I said, handing him a chip.

We each took a bite.

Within one second, we both muttered, mouths full, “Tastes like McDonald’s ketchup.” (Actually, it was more like, “Shtastesh like McDonaldsh ketchup.”) We looked at each other, amazed. And pondered, hands on our hips, staring at the black and white bag.

“Actually,” said my husband. “Tastes like McDonald’s fries and ketchup. Smells like it too.” I nodded vehemently. “Sound like someone purposely decided to emulate McDonald’s over at Doritos.”

So try it. See if it tastes like McDonald’s french fries and ketchup. (I’ve heard elsewhere, as I subsequently searched for other feedback, that it tastes like a McDonald’s cheeseburger).

I also tried submitting the flavor at x13.doritos.com, but they wanted WAY too much personal information, plus all I wanted to type was “McDonald’s french fries and ketchup,” so I gave up. Apparently, you have a shot at naming this X-13D Dorito chip.

Trashy soup

Korean

I cannot eat most Japanese miso soups, even though I do like miso, aka soybean paste. There’s nothing WRONG with Japanese miso soup–it’s just that I love Korean “miso soup” even more, having grown up on its more pungent flavor.

In my mind, miso soup is supposed to be wild and rustic; Japanese miso soup is well mannered and mild, perhaps more refined. And I prefer the imprint of “wild and rustic” in my mind; perhaps for me, it’s just like how ketchup has become synonymous to Heinz. I just think that “wild and rustic” is how miso soup is SUPPOSED to taste like.

Korean “miso soup” (“doen-jang gook”) is based on Korean soybean paste and is a lot more pronounced in miso flavor, even mildly spicy, and the best pastes even have chunks of fermented soybean in them.

Korean soybean paste

When I can get my hands on homemade soybean paste, that’s what I use–otherwise I use the Pulmuone brand or experiment around, like with the above brand. I’m still on a search for a decent (nay, excellent) manufactured brand of soybean paste. I’ll let you know if I run across a lifelong Korean soybean paste mate.

My mother used to make me a soup called “doen-jang shi-rae-gi gook,” which uses soybean paste as a base. The literal translation for the name of “shi-rae-gi gook” is “soybean paste trash soup” or “soybean paste garbage soup” but I’m going to use the moniker, “discards soup” because it sounds just a tad more savoury.

“Discards soup” is very much just that: made up of odds and ends. Because of the soup’s rustic nature, you can just about put any edible green into the recipe, whether it be spinach or dandelion greens…or in this case, Korean chrysanthemum leaves (“sook ggat”) and Korean radish leaves, freshly picked from my garden.

greens from the garden

Likewise, you can add other ingredients as you please, and as they are available (there aren’t that many rules to a “trashy soup”). You can add sliced daikon radish, or sliced tofu cubes. If you have garlic, slice some up and add it. Feel free to improvise–after all, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.

tofu

I love this dish for its utterly simple nature–which begins with its recipe. You boil some water (you can do that, right?)…add several spoonfuls of Korean soybean paste to taste…add sliced garlic and tofu and greens (or any other odds and ends)…and boil.

Korean

In a few minutes you have a proper Discards Soup.

Serve with rice (or not), and enjoy. You can make this soup as hearty (adding more ingredients) or lean (fewer ingredients) as you like. Me? I like to make it as hearty as possible, often loading the soup up with greens and tofu and even red hot pepper flakes for an extra kick.