Jackson Pollock and Brussel Sprouts

Lovely Readers,

I haven’t shared any recipes of late, have I? My primary intention here was to post a recipe a day.  The purpose, ideally, was to create a repository of recipes into which I could delve and repeat preparing meals we have eaten. The reason for this is that  my memory is that of a May fly: once a dish is cooked and consumed, it is forgotten (by me).

I like to call it spontaneous cooking. I open the fridge, find a couple of pounds of chicken thighs bought on sale, spy an open bottle of a Spanish Rioja sitting on the kitchen counter, next to a basket containing two Fuji apples. I’d stand back, and utter my favorite mantric query: “What if…,?” (I find this mantra to be applicable in a surfeit of situations).

I fancy that my approach to ingredients is similar to a jazz riff or of how an abstract painter approaches tubes of acrylic paints. This is a super fun way to cook, unfortunately, without a record of the schematics, the recipe for what I made often fades into totally obscurity.   DH would look off into the distance and sigh, as if he were remembering a best friend from junior high, “That lamb tajine, it made the whole floor of are apartment building smell like cumin…Make that again…”  This request to me, was as if  upon viewing Pollock’s Number 8, you gushed, “oooh do that again!” Not that my cooking even remotely approaches Pollock’s utter genius… but I’d sit there in an invisible (to DH) panic.

I made that? It smelled like what? The whole floor? (One of the best things, I think, about our apartment building is the food smells: we have neighbors from Thailand, New Dehli and Mississipi…when these people cook, it is an amazing topology of scents: curry, jasmine rice, fried chicken…if I weren’t concerned about being perceived as more than slightly odd, I would go from floor to floor, inhaling deeply as I stood on the transom to the elevator). I would respond to DH’s request with a sigh, totally at a loss as to how I had prepared that dish. Recipe cards? Too domestic.

So, the blog seemed like a good way to record these epicurean experiments…not only that, knowing I had to write the recipe down, compelled me to pay attention to measuring. I actually went out and bought a Pyrex measuring cup…I figured a cup of stock lends a little more credence to a recipe than “one Bordeaux glass full of stock.”

But good intentions…sigh.

In reality, my indolent self overtook the compulsion to adhere to my goal of recording what I cooked coupled with a sort of humility…a platter of Brussels sprouts braised with bacon and balsamic vinegar suddenly seemed like an amazing example of something so prosaic, I couldn’t even bring myself to describe it. Besides, it is so much more fun to talk about other stuff like left wing politics and Armani.

Today, though, as I tippy-tap on the keyboard, I am eating leftovers from last night.  And, dang, these Brussels sprouts rock. This weekend, at Berkeley Bowl we bought a two and a half foot tall stalk of Brussels sprouts—if you have never seen how these little guys grow, check this out:  Brussels sprouts If we ever buy a house with a yard, I am so growing these. (another reason why BB rocks).

Here’s what I did: Brussels sprouts are a lot of work…after I cut them from their stalk, I had roughly 2 pounds of these little guys which translates into about 4 billion little green heads—not really, but it felt that way when I trimmed the final little globe of leaves. So, with a sharp paring knife, cut off the woody bottom of each sprout. Strip off any dried or dark leaves. I then cut each sprout in half (length wise). Fill your sink or a large bowl (for those of us with teeny apartment kitchen sinks) with cold water. Swish the sprouts to allow for any sand to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Drain and pat dry with paper towel. Transfer the sprouts to a rimmed broiling pan—you want it large enough to accommodate the sprouts in one layer. Drizzle the sprouts lightly with olive oil.

HERE’S THE SECRET –>bacon! Cut roughly 4 thick cut slices of bacon into 1 inch pieces, sprinkle the raw, yes, raw pieces over the sprouts. Slip this into a preheated oven 450 for about 15 minutes, or until the sprouts and bacon are commencing to brown.

HERE’S ANOTHER SECRET–>Give the sprouts and bacon a good slosh (about a cup of good chicken stock) return to the oven and cook until the stock is absorbed.

And the FINAL SECRET –>Right before you serve these, toss with Balsamic vinegar.

This, I promise, is the most amazing dish–and NO greasy frying pan to wash(!!)…it almost makes cutting the ends off of 4 billion sprouts worth the time.

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 1:12 AM  Comments (2)  
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Pullet Sperm and Armani Sweaters

In Shakespeare’s, “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” Sir John Falstaff calls for a flagon of wine.  His man asks if he will have it with eggs. To which Falstaff replies,

Simple of itself. I’ll no pullet-sperm in my brewage.”

I learned something today.  Unless a wine is so labeled, it is not vegan.  Of all things!  Don’t get me wrong, I am not vegan, hardly…let’s just say, I never met a pig I didn’t like.  However, I like to keep my options open.  A lot of wine is filtered with egg whites.  There are many good unfiltered wines on the market, notably from Alsace, which, I also learned, is a wine that has a ‘truer expression of the grape.’  Who knew?

How did this pedagogical incursion in the mystical world of wine take place?  Well, blame it on the rain and a building with a parking garage!!

It is amazingly bleak and drippy today.  In fact, I am wearing leggings, boots and a long black skirt and long sleeved turtleneck sweater and am still cold.  As mentioned previously, Sundays are the day we hit the farmers market, canvas bags in hand to gather food stuffs for the coming week…we supplement this by swinging by our neighborhood ’traditional’ corporate chain grocery store on the way home.  As far as corporate chains go, I prefer the Whole Foods up the block from us, but DH starts to develop his nervous twitch when I beg to shop there…tho’ let me FOR.  THE.  LAST.  TIME.  state, it is a myth perpetuated by the other grocery chains that Whole Foods is more expensive. No. No. No.  It is not.  That is, if you are a careful shopper.  I have gone in with my weekly list and came out with a total that was equal to what we spend at our more traditional market.

The thing is I think people are easily seduced by all of the specialty items…the jar of chestnuts from France for $15?  Yum, but if that’s not on your normal shopping list…my weakness is the jars of tuna packed in olive oil from Italy….but if you stick to a list, buy the house brand, you’ll do fine.  Besides, there is the factor of considering the price of buying REAL food vs. paying for a bunch of additives…if you factor in health care that results from eating processed but cheap food…you realize that what most people consider as low-cost, really isn’t.   Consider the associated costs of such things as childhood obesity.  I wonder how many parents who buy groceries at Whole Foods or farmers markets have overweight kids??  In my opinion, parents who feed their kids processed foods should get some sort of citation such as a traffic ticket only for child abuse…

DH cringes when I walk down the cereal aisle of a grocery store…

Dang, don’t even get me started.

Annnnnyway….where was I?  Oh yeah, so it was raining today…DH asked if I wanted to go to the farmers market…I know the hearty souls are out there, huddled in their stalls…selling their goods to even the heartier folk out there shopping.  I applaud such dedication.  However, I am not so inclined.  Besides it’s winter, all we buy is a bag of field greens for our week’s salads, broccoli and bags of root vegetables.  Did I want to get rained upon for that?

Instead, we went to the new  Berkeley Bowl supermarket.  For those of you not blessed with the good sense luck to live in San Francisco or Oakland, call your mayor (BTW did you hear HOUSTON elected a GAY mayor???  Really??  Like. Wow!)  or other city officials and beg them to open a Berkeley Bowl in your city.  Berkeley Bowl is like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s on steroids minus the markup.

This place is awesome.  Kinda organic, kinda hippy, kinda “oh-my-god-it’s–world-market here” place.  Plus it’s a type of co-op (which is a Bay Area thing –I swear, we’re all Trotskyites, (but that’s sooo cool), so the prices are cheap, really cheap.  Also, everything is labeled to say from whence it came—entering the produce section feels like walking into a geography/botany lab.  I found produce I have only seen in books…Malanga, anyone?  I bought a bag of red and white carrots…who eats the orange ones anymore?

And the Asian foods…let me just say, if you have the urge to make miso soup at home, start here…I counted four types of miso, red and white, bonita flakes, kombu, and a literal plethora of soba noodle variations.

Back story:  This is their new store…the old store was much smaller and the parking lot was a veritable postage stamp sized piece of real estate.  Those yoga-loving people in their Prius car are downright nasty when it comes to parking.  The parking lot was legendary for the “No, you butt head, it’s my space!” duels.  We shopped there once, but it took us an hour to park, and once we pulled out of our stall, a fist fight ensued over our spot.  We drove off, clutching our kale in fear…

The new store has a multilevel parking garage.  You simply park, walk to the sleek silver elevator, press the button, DING!  The doors part and you’re in the land of happy.  If you are a foodie who likes to cook, this is truly the place to be.  Everyone seems to be   grinning.  I felt as if we had walked into Toys R Us, but stocked with food not Barbies.  The store is stocked with everything.  No, really, everything.  I know that is hyperbole, but in this case, it is true.  They have everything.  I heard Ruth Reichl speak a few months ago, where she said that she and her friends play a game: they try and name an item not found at the Berkeley Bowl…to date, they haven’t had success.  It almost feels like overkill…walk though the produce and be overwhelmed by the 20 varieties of apples…did you know that there are three types of Fuji?  I meandered down the rice aisle and counted 15 different types of rice…I bought some purple jasmine rice from Thailand.  Purple.  The potato section had about the same number of variations…I never knew that tuber was so colorful…we’ve all had the tiny blue ones, but pink and orange?

The wine selection took up three aisles…three aisles of wine?  The Sake section alone went across an entire wall…just reading labels would turn a shopper into a sake expert.  The knowledge base that was evident by all of the shelf labels was worthy of what one finds inside the covers of Wine Connoisseur—hence, the surprise that all wine is not a vegan product.

What is it that is so exciting about good food?  DH and I love to eat, but that one activity does not a life make.  We were wandering the aisles, as was everyone else, in total awe and wonder.  I had to consciously restrain from touching things, I started to get self-conscious when I started petting the chayote…who wants to buy veggies already stroked by someone else??

I started to think, what else engenders such absolute adoration?  Where else had I felt this giddiness?  When I went to the Louvre, I was totally bedazzled into a similar state of awe.  I walked into the Armani store a week ago and swooned over the white (!) cashmere…the common element here is the artisan craftsmanship that brings me to my knees.

Dedicated craftsmanship is always good, but there is an almost ineffable point at which the crafter’s heart and soul are evinced in their art.  This occurs in something as mundane as an Armani sweater where the stitches are as fine as those woven into the silk webs of spiders, or as sublime as in the narrative filled details David’s Andromache, or something as fundamental as a well-grown bunch of chervil or artisinal cheese.

When I pick up a box of rice grown and harvested by a small family farm in Thailand, or an heirloom tomato grown in the best possible conditions, I feel as if I am receiving a gift that someone has dedicated their hearts to produce for me to consume.  We become partners, wherein my part of this bargain is to go home and create a dish worthy of the effort that went into growing or producing the food.

This understanding is the hallmark of being a foodie:  it’s not just about eating.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 1:36 AM  Comments (4)  
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