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Archive for the ‘Ingredients’ Category

Brioche French toast with maple cranberries (sausages not pictured)

Brioche French toast with maple cranberries (sausages not pictured)

Necessity is the mother of invention, and last weekend, a bag of fresh cranberries the bf had purchased very badly needed to be used. A lightbulb flashed (tsssst….!) over my head while I was making French toast and I grabbed two large handfuls from the little cranberry bog I made for them (that is to say, a bowl of water) into a saucepan and I poured maple syrup (Vermont Grade B Amber) over them. I grated some nutmeg and cinnamon, and cooked the berries down. So perfect were they with some breakfast sausage links from Faicco’s and the rich custardy brioche French toast, I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before and thought it might be nice to have Christmas morning. All the ingredients connected so nicely, from the orange zest and vanilla bean in the custard (I take French toast seriously) to the salty, unctuous sausages that you must liberally bathe in the syrup, now brightened with the sour tang of the cranberries.

The post-prandial downside? You’ll want to beeline for the bed and nap it off. It’s the only fix.

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The way my bf and I experienced the Sechuan button was probably not the right way to go about it. We just popped the whole buds in our mouths and chewed them like cud. I’d highly recommend sharing a bud to start, because my mouth went into shock. “It’s like drinking battery acid,” said my bf, who routinely tests battery life by putting the positive end on his tongue. We were met with an intense lemony and grassy sensation, followed by some tingles I guess people would equate to the Pop Rocks sensation. Then, a torrent. I couldn’t stop salivating. What’s more, I couldn’t stop salivating saltiness. It was a deluge. I got worried at a certain point: When will it stop? “I want this to end RIGHT NOW!” I slurred.

But then I saw the genius of using this in a dish. Salt heightens taste, so it brings another means of delivering the flavor, along with some other interesting dimensions, without actual salt. Ah ha!

More, please.

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Sechuan buttons

Sechuan buttons

Last week, my biz partner/friend brought these Sechuan buttons, which are purported to be unlike anything you’ve ever tasted with results that mimic Altoids and Pop-Rocks and Tellicherries times 200 to the nth power. I haven’t tried them yet, though, mainly because I just don’t know what the heck to do with them. This Washington Post article discusses what some chefs have figured out some ways to treat them (sorbets, drinks, stews, etc.), but I guess I should just try a whole bud by itself first. I did pull a tiny little fleck of it and put it on my tongue, and the sensation matches all the reports: tingly and a little cooling. Complete report on the way.

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Home-grown blueberries

Get in my fruit tart!

Between a quick trip to the beach and a little get-together Saturday night, we stopped by at my bf’s childhood home to feed the cats (his parents are away) and pick some fruit. I knew his mother is a big gardener, and I knew these fruit bushes existed, but it was the first time I helped pick any. For a city slicker, this was pretty exciting.

Blackberries

Not quite ripe blackberries

There were some good big, plump and sweet blueberries for the pickin’, but the figs and the blackberries, as you can see, could use more time to fatten.

Would you like some?

Would you like some?

* * *

Then, off to a friend’s home for some grub and Rock Band night. It was supposed to be a Raclette and Rock Band night (a “Rock-lette” night, har har), but their kiddies got sick, so they warned us that there wouldn’t be fondue and it would be a lo-fi night. Interestingly, this was the “lo-fi” spread we were greeted with.

Classy spread

It was classy all the way, starting from the cocktails to rosemary cashews to these below, made with care by the hostess:

Gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with edible flowers

Gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with edible flowers

Well, almost classy, except for a pitiful rendition of Beastie Boys’ “No sleep til Brooklyn,” when we got booted off the stage 10 seconds into the song. Have you ever tried to rap that? Sure, they can pass it off because they have a three-person posse, but with only one on vocal, you will be doomed to Rock Band ignominy.

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I hadn’t thought of what the June rain spells could do to the berry crops; I just wanted our latitude/longitude coordinates to be un-swapped with London’s. Were they the reason why we haven’t seen any wild strawberries at the market this year? Oh, elusive happiness.

But here‘s a great idea of what to do with this year’s inconsistent strawberries. This recipe doesn’t cut any corners and it takes technique, so I won’t lie to you, it’s going to be a pain in the ass to make. Every time I make classic sponge cake (or buttercream), the kitchen looks like it’s seen the wrath of the Tazmanian Devil. But I’m inspired (i.e., my mouth is watering) by the idea of browned butter, so I’ll report back with results.

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I combed over “The Story of Vanilla,” a little booklet that Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, Inc. put out at the Fancy Food Show. I was looking for the vanilla authority to tell me which type of vanilla is the best: Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian? Ugandan, Costa Rican, Indian? Papua New Guinean (Guinese?)? Head to explode in 5, 4, 3…

I once had a vanilla ice cream at the soft opening of the erstwhile restaurant Archipelago (thanks, S.!), and insofar as vanilla can blow one’s mind, it detonated mine. It tasted nothing like vanilla. What the heck does vanilla taste like, anyway? No one word describes it, and after tasting this Tahitian vanilla ice cream (we later found out), I was convinced Tahitian vanilla is simply ze best. Plus, where I shop for vanilla, you can get two Madagascar pods for $0.80, but two Tahitian pods for $6 and change. So in my head, the more expensive it is, the seemingly better, right?

The booklet highlights the beans Madagascar and Mexico. The final product depends a lot on the curing process and these two places have “the finest curers in the world,” especially Mexico’s Totonaco Indians, according to the author. Also, avoid Indonesian vanillas; the terroir is not as ideal as the soil in other countries, and their curing practices are not quite up to par.

What happened to Tahitian beans? Those, I should’ve known, are a different species—Vanilla Tahitensis, not Vanilla Planifolia. The booklet mentions it only after a lengthy discussion about the beans from Mexico and Madagascar. Vanilla Tahitensis “has a fruity, flowery flavor with hints of heliotrope,” it says. It doesn’t mention whether it’s better or worse than the Vanilla Planifolia—it’s just different—or explain if their curing is any good, so I’ll take that to mean that it’s just as awesome as the best of them. And according to this website, it’s expensive because it’s rare.

So if you’re ever given too many choices in the vanilla aisle, go with Mexico, Madagascar, or Tahiti.

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Those of you who know me pretty well are probably sick of hearing me threaten no one in particular that I’m going to pack up and move to the West Coast again. ‘Christonastick, I thought she let that one go,’ reads the thought bubble from your head right now. “What about Portland?” I ask often these days  to, again, no one in particular. If my bf is within earshot, he’d say, “Againwiththis??!” Interestingly, I’ve never actually been to Portland, Oregon, except to drive away from its airport to Hood River. It’s a weird form of coping mechanism/escapism when you’re forced to deal with the worst aspects of city living, e.g., another stoopid NYC MTA subway fare hike. Arrrrgh it makes my blood boil!

[Deep breath] Anyway, one facet of West Coast life I would find appealing is having fruit trees in your backyard. Last year when I visited my friend H. who lives in San Jose, we plucked lemons from her neighbor’s tree, the limbs of which were heavy with the fruit and hung over the fence into H’s driveway, and we made lemon bars. (The neighbors are cool with it.) I also distinctly remember my friend E.’s oranges from her dad’s backyard in Los Angeles, which she brought back to NYC and shared with me when she lived here: Soft and easy to peel, sweet and bright tasting, home grown. And this story which mentions actor Bill Pullman’s crazy edible Eden this weekend in the Times got me questioning: Why the heck can’t I have a cherimoya or a hybrid grapefruit or a persimmon tree? What in the world is a pitomba?? Why am I so limited by this urban yet barren jungle where the cruel joke is that strawberries at the farmers market cost $7 a quart?

I realize, though, I don’t need to move that far to have a garden. Not too far away in the Jerz, my mother grows some good squash and cukes, barring Bergen County’s hungry deer and bunnies. And NJ is home to many an apple and peach tree, and blueberry bushes, no doubt. We acquired a fig plant last year, which is doing pretty well in this humid weather on the fire escape, though it’ll just take a couple more years to bear fruit. So obviously, there are ways to deal. It’s just that I can’t deny the appeal of an actual lemon tree, always being there, kinda like a kitchen guardian angel. And the right clime for lemon trees means it’s right for other fruits like grapefruit and cherimoyas, which means a lot more baking/eating fun.

Okay, my rant ends…now. But there are huckleberries in Oregon—just sayin’.

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