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« July 9, 2006 - July 15, 2006 | Main | July 23, 2006 - July 29, 2006 »

July 21, 2006

Smoky joy at Whole Foods

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Last night at the Whole Foods Market on River Street, while waiting for the fishmonger to wrap up my bluefish, I noticed that a whole section of their seafood case is now devoted to products that they're smoking in house. There was some gorgeous Cajun-rubbed salmon, and on skewers beautiful shrimp and bacon-wrapped scallops, all ready to devour. The fishmonger said they've been doing it for about a month. Given what I had just bought, and how much I love it in a pate, I asked, "Aren't you doing any bluefish?" He smiled and said, "Wait right there." He went in the back for a minute, returned with a piece and handed it to me. "We're trying it; see what you think," he said. I tried it. An amazingly moist texture, much more so than a lot of smoked fish, but very little smoke flavor. He agreed: "We're still playing around with the smoker," he said. I, for one, will be watching and trying, because they're on the right track.

July 21, 2006

Slow food for thought

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Fresh on the heels of Michael Pollan, who traced meals from source to plate in "The Omnivore's Dilemma," a New York filmmaker took her family on cross-country journey in search of answers to questions about the nation's food supply. It's called "Food For Thought, A Family's Journey Through the American Food Trail," and you can read more about it here. To see an extended trailer, hear from the filmmaker, and help her raise the money she needs to finish editing the documentary, sign up for Slow Food Boston's event next Tuesday at BU. Nibbles and biodynamic wine will be served. Tickets are $25.

July 21, 2006

Shrimp shooters

This morning at Jim Scherer's photo studio, my co-author Julie Riven and I made shrimp shooters, which are essentially bloody marys topped with shrimp. Both Julie and I were served these little drinks in shot glasses last weekend at two different parties on the Cape (hers was catered by Max Ultimate Food and mine by The Catered Affair).

Cooking shrimp is one of the easiest things to do, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. I buy unshelled uncooked frozen shrimp at Trader Joe's and cook it according to a terrific method taught to me years ago by a Hungarian cook. She adds a bottle of beer to the cooking water, along with a sprinkle of Old Bay Seasoning, and a few pieces of onion and celery. That mixture simmers for 5 minutes, and when you're ready to cook, drop the shrimp into the water and wait for them to turn bright pink (sometimes this happens before the water returns to a boil).

The shrimp go into a big bowl in the center of the table, next to a roll of paper towels. Guests dig in, shell their own shrimp, and have a fine meal.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 12:37 PM
July 21, 2006

Madness about cows

In a summer when food seems fraught -- arguments about what is really organic; dire warnings about national obesity; uneasiness about avian flu -- the notice that the Agriculture Department is cutting back its testing for mad cow disease has slipped quietly into the back pages of the news. This isn't a modest cutback: The current testing level of 1,000 animals a day will be cut back about 90 percent, to about 110 animals a day, starting in late August, says the Associated Press.

It's not as though the USDA had been overboard in testing. Only 1 percent of the 35 million cows slaughtered annually were tested under the current plan. Consumers Union, which puts out Consumer Reports, and is hardly a wild-eyed radical outfit, has for years pushed for every animal to be tested. Cutting severely back on testing, estimated to cost $1 million a day, is especially absurd since of the three cases found in the United States, two cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy were detected in June 2005 and last March.

Does it make sense to have a testing of this deadly disease essentially a shot in the dark? Couldn't some of those Homeland Security funds protecting ice cream parlors and popcorn stands be transferred?

Posted by Alison Arnett at 11:30 AM
July 20, 2006

Make mine pink

My Globe magazine co-author Julie Riven and I were making pork loins last week and as usual when the subject of pork comes up, we were in a muddle about the temperature. We both prefer pink pork. Trichinosis, once a threat, is killed at 137 degrees, according to the bible I keep on my desk, "The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking." Where the old Joy recommended 170 to 180 degrees, the new Joy says 150 to 160 degrees.

Julie was using a new Williams-Sonoma remote thermometer, which means she inserts a prod into the meat (it stays throughout roasting) and sets the timer on the counter. I think the plain old Taylor instant read thermometer, which you poke in from time to time (but withdraw during cooking), works like a charm. We got the pink we were looking for on the second loin.

Temperature? 135 degrees. After the pork sat for 10 minutes in a warm place, the thermometer rose to 140. The meat was juicy, faintly pink, and glorious.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 11:36 AM
July 19, 2006

It really is incredible

The egg, that is. And in the hands of Michel Roux, celebrated Michelin-starred chef of The Waterside Inn in England, eggs are essential to some of the world's best dishes: Spanish tortillas, French baked eggs, or "en cocotte"; and plain old ham and eggs. In "Eggs," a volume devoted entirely to one of my favorite subjects, he explains that eggs taste only as good as the food they are fed.

To that end, I buy eggs at Wilson Farms in Lexington, which have beautiful golden yolks, or at a farmers' market when I see them there.

In Roux's beautifully photographed little book, eggs are turned into crepes, the creamiest scramble, poached and covered with snipped chives, and whisked into leek or lemon tarts. Here's an instant dish of eggs cooked "on a plate." If you're worried about setting a baking dish on a heat diffuser, cook these in a nonstick pan.

Oeufs sur le plat with tomato coulis
Serves 1

Butter (for the dish)
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small clove garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 eggs

1. Brush the inside of a heatproof 6-inch gratin or other baking dish with the butter.
2. In a small skillet, cook the tomato, oil, and garlic over low heat for 10 seconds or just until the tomato softens. In a blender, work the mixture to a puree. Add salt and pepper.
3. Crack each egg into a cup and slide it into the dish. Sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper. Spoon the tomato mixture in at the sides.
4. Set the dish on a heat diffuser and cook the eggs for 3 to 4 minutes or until they are set on top. If you like, slide the dish under a broiler for 20 seconds to cook the eggs a little more.

Adapted from "Eggs"

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 03:01 PM
July 18, 2006

Blackout in the heat wave

When the electricity went off at home late Monday afternoon, I imagined getting there, pulling all the leftovers out, and eating a simple meal without the stove. Well, it was pitch black in the house! And the one thing that did work was the stove. But it was mighty hot inside. We headed straight for Deluxe Town Diner, because I had a hankering for their food.

It wasn't much cooler at the diner, but our waitress was delightful. And the tofu and vegetables on brown rice, with a light soy sauce -- a plateful of zucchini and summer squash, carrots, broccoli, and onions -- is light and filling.

The evening activity? Early to bed, but sleeping was difficult in that heat until a little breeze came through in the middle of the night. I worried about my elderly neighbors. This morning, when NStar finally sent a private contractor to fix the problem (blackouts and brownouts were everywhere), all the neighbors were lined up on the street to watch the guys in the buckets doing their work. It was such a warming sight, that I thought we were all going to go inside one of our houses for coffee and a sweet roll.

Instead, every went inside to turn off radios and all kinds of other things that were on when the lights went out.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 08:32 PM
July 18, 2006

Supersizing the fridge

General Electric is touting its new Monogram "professional" refrigerator, a behemoth 72-inch stainless-steel model. The photos show it with doors open, all its shelves packed to the gills with food. It looks like the entire supermarket filled this one fridge.

As a press release points out, these sorts of mega-sized appliances are necessary to fit the ever-expanding American kitchen -- granite countertops the acreage of a Midwestern state (Iowa, maybe), restaurant-sized dishwashers, 6-burner ranges.

The phenomenon raises several questions. One, of course, is energy -- no matter how efficient, it must take a lot of juice to power these appliances. The next is, in an obesity-wracked society, do we need that much food? And, finally, doesn't stuff get lost in the depths of these vast cold storage units? Plus what does "professional" mean? Restaurants of any size have really big walk-in refrigerators -- maybe that will be the next direction in America's need for appliances to get ever bigger.

Posted by Alison Arnett at 06:04 PM
July 17, 2006

Eating like a king on the Cape

Don't get excited. I'm not sending you to a bunch of restaurants I discovered last weekend. Rather, I attended a luxurious wedding, which began with a rehearsal dinner at Chatham Bars Inn, where we dined on a clambake in an open waterfront building. It was simple and so beautifully done.

The next day, we decided to eat like real folks. In Hyannis, we found a diner and ordered three-egg omelets with really terrific crusty fries and great burgers. Collucci Bros. Diner serves food overflowing on the plates. We heard someone a few tables away say, "Let's make this our only meal today." Well, we did not. We had a pool to check out and afternoon naps to get in. And then another very grand meal.

The wedding, in a private home on the water, looked like a film set. Under a tent that was large enough for the Patriots to use as a practice spot (it was air-conditioned and the arched ceilings had track lighting), we danced to the Tip-Tops from Mobile, Alabama, sipped Taittinger Champagne, and ate The Catered Affair's divine food: crabmeat timbales, black cod with summer vegetables, thick lamb rib chops with a cheesy potato cake, and then two dessert buffets.

When everyone was exhausted from dancing, waiters came around with the tiniest ice cream sandwiches as refreshments. At brunch the next morning (of course we ate more!), The Catered Affair redid the tables with different linens and different bouquets, set them along the water and offered -- among many other things -- dreamy eggs Benedict.

If it's your heart that's going to take you, you might as well have fed it the best of everything.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 07:21 PM
July 17, 2006

Never enough raspberries

It's raspberry season in my front yard. This weekend, I'd planned on a tart, but the thought of making a crust and baking it, then a stove-top custard, all in the extreme heat -- whew -- it seemed too labor-intensive. Besides, I wanted to go to the beach for a couple of hours.

So I pulled out my copy of "The American Baker" by Jim Dodge. His recipes are classically simple, usually rich, and always fail-safe. One for a raspberry creme brulee looked perfect, just a quick mix of egg yolks, cream, and sugar to pour over raspberries in ramekins.

I pulled the big bowl of raspberries I'd picked that morning out of the fridge and it was gone! So that's what my son was polishing off an hour earlier. Back out to pick more berries. Luckily, there's a good supply.

The rest was easy, even though my little torch was out of propane, making it necessary to resort to a broiler. And the brulees, which keep in the fridge for several days, were delicious.

Raspberry creme brulee
Serves 10

9 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 quart whipping cream
1 pint raspberries
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra sugar (for the topping)

1. Set the oven at 325 degrees. Have on hand 10 ramekins or custard cups (4 to 5 ounce capacity each).
2. In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the yolks on low speed until frothy. Add 1/4 cup sugar and mix until smooth. Add cream and mix again until smooth.
3. Divide the raspberries among the ramekins. Pour custard into each one. Set ramekins in a large, shallow baking pan such as a lasagna or sheet cake pan. Pour in 1/2-inch of hot water.
4. Transfer to the oven. Bake the custards for 50 minutes or until they are set but not browned. Cool, then refrigerate until firm.
5. Before serving, spread 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of sugar -- enough to completely cover the custard -- on top of each. Light a propane torch, adjust to medium flame. Move the flame in a circular pattern with tip of the flame touching the sugar, until the top is completely caramelized. Alternatively, place the ramekins under a broiler until sugar caramelizes (watch carefully so they don't burn).

Adapted from "The American Baker"

Posted by Alison Arnett at 12:02 PM
July 17, 2006

Bringing Capri to Boston

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Everybody loves a good Caprese salad, that combination of mozzarella (make mine buffalo, please), fresh basil, and seasonally perfect tomatoes. Yesterday's Table Hopping column in City Weekly spotlights some places around town that do it well. When the tomatoes are at their peak, and I can get my hands on some mozzarella di bufala, I love to throw it together for dinner parties, sometimes tossing it free-form (as in Jamie Oliver's recipe, shown above), and sometimes layering it more elegantly. This season, I'm going to try something I saw on Jacques Pepin's "Fast Food My Way" show. He takes huge tomatoes, makes careful slices that go almost but not all the way through them, top to bottom, and then stuffs slices of cheese in between, tucking in whole basil leaves, and then drizzling with the best olive oil he's got, freshly ground black pepper, and coarse salt. It's gorgeous, and you know it's tasty.

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