That’s not to say I’m a star whatsoever. I’ve naught but abandoned this blog; I’ve had several posts in the queue that have gotten the short shrift as I voyage on and do other things. But, faithful readers, I must announce that I’ve started a brand new venture with an associate. It’s vidcast – I guess – on food. The first episode appears below. Enjoy! More are coming soon, I promise.
I’ve come across two instances of totally adorable presentations of food recently that would fit better on Cute Overload if they were actual instances of what they represented. The first are bento boxes for children, which are so painfully precious that you almost dare not eat them. Justin Jorgensen wrote about them, and his post and the Crazy Happy Lunch section of his site lead me the blog of Junko Terashima, who apparently makes incredibly detailed bento boxes for her children nearly every day. She also has the mother lode of links of cute bento boxes in her blogroll.
My other recent discovery is a collection of artfully modified produce that seems to have been taken from a calendar (the hole for hanging is visible in several of the scans). The majority of them were made by simply cutting the produce and adding blackeye peas for the eyes. My personal favorite though, is this absolutely ridiculous picture made with mushrooms, rhubarb, and what appears to be a broccoli stem:
For those who don’t keep track of these things, today is the first day of spring! If you are trying to eat exclusively in season, you’ll be glad to know that soon, if not now, the following will be ready for you to consume:
- English peas
- Fava beans (goes well with liver and a nice Chianti)
- Green beans
- Haas avocados
- New potatoes
- Snap peas
- And of course, spring mix (sorry, it was too easy to throw this in)!
Now is a good a time as any to buy a share from a community supported agriculture group. To get you started, take a look at the CSA page at LocalHarvest.
I apologize for the unexpected silence and lack of blogworthy thoughts, but I was out of town all last week in Athens, Georgia for the code4lib 2007 conference. The week was truly mind-blowing and enjoyable in many ways that extended well beyond the 9 to 5 conference day. Although something edged it out for the top spot, I have no qualms in saying that by far the second best part of the overall conference experience was the meal that I had at a restaurant called Farm 255 with a group of ten other conference attendees. Sylvar, one of the fellow diners, wrote about his experience, which, while also wonderful, was slightly different from mine as he was at the other end of the table and had gotten to try more than a few things that I missed out on.
Although I’d never been there before, I was initially really excited about going to Athens because someone suggested it was a good town for foodies. After being there for three or four days and being mostly unimpressed and eventually entirely grossed out by one meal at a certain Italian restaurant that’ll remain nameless, I was hoping for something better. I wasn’t sure if my “big city ways” were interfering with my ability to find something amazing.
To ensure I wasn’t being a total snob, I fell back on Chowhound, that venerable repository of foodie wisdom, to guide my decision for my final big meal before I skipped town on Friday afternoon. After searching a little bit, I stumbled across a passing mention about Farm 255, and then somewhere else (but I forget where) I mentioned it in glowing praise. “Hungry Ghost,” I said to myself, “I think we’ve just figured out where to go.” I got the word out in person and electronically, but I only think I had spoken to about five people about it directly. By the time I got to the hotel lobby, I realized that there were nearly 12 people ready to go along for the trip. I panicked slightly, and shouted out for everyone to gather together if they were interested in going. The hotel’s concierge heard my creaky voice attempting to herd people together, and he offered to both call ahead to the restaurant and arrange for a shuttle to take us all down together. My responsibility had thus diminished, and I sighed with relief.
They were ready to seat us as soon as we got there, and I worried a little bit about the Hell I know large groups can inflict on restaurants. Our server, Lily, was extremely competent, totally friendly, and made the experience all the better. In fact, I was surprised we didn’t cause her any grief once we started getting rowdy. She seemed to really get a kick out of us, particularly when we told her that we were a bunch of librarians and programmers. Here’s a picture of the group that she ended up taking, as the rest of us were seemingly too incompetent to do so.
So, onto the food – where to begin? We drank our fair share of a wine special they had, a 2004 Rioja, but I’d be hard-pressed to remember the vineyard that produced it. (For those that are eagle-eyed, it’s the bottle that I’m holding.) For starters, house-marinated kalamata olives, spiced pecans, and pickled eggs made their way around the table. These small plates were definitely small, but everyone who wanted some had their crack at them. By far, I was most blown away by the pickled eggs, which are not the type of thing one usually thinks of as being the height of culinary sophistication.
The table also split all the charcuterie (all house-made, if I remember correctly) and cheese options that they had on the menu. The standouts were the finocchiona (salami seasoned with fennel and dressed with cured orange and balsamic vinegar), the Genovese salami (fairly spicy, but tempered by a topping of sunflower seeds and coriander oil), a sottocenere al tartufo served with locally produced honey, and the chevre served with lambrusco jelly.
For our larger plates, fellow code4libertine Wendy and I chose to split some dishes as we’d already had eaten quite a bit. To cleanse our palate, we chose the insalata tartufo, with shaved fennel and celery, Grana Padano (a robust, hard Italian cheese), and assorted lettuces, and for our entrée, we chose shrimp and grits, a Southern standby that was executed absolutely beautifully. The grits were decisively not at all like any other grits I’d had before, save for some overpriced ones I had once upon a time at Zingerman’s Roadhouse whilst still living in Michigan.
To finish off the meal, we chose to split a large French press full of some sort of heavenly fair trade coffee and enjoyed our respective halves of a serving of cocoa bread pudding, topped with chocolate and caramel sauce. When we split the bill as a group, it seemed to be pretty reasonable (and remember, I’m used to DC prices), and Lily was willing to shift things around from person to person to even things out if need be.
All in all, the experience was flawless, even though the weather was terrible and I wasn’t sure if they could even accept a groups as large as ours. If you ever find yourself in Athens, steer clear of some of the other places and go to Farm 255 instead. With any luck, Lily will be your server as well, and if you show her you really appreciate what she and the restaurant are doing, I expect that your experience will be quite similar to mine.
255 W. Washington St., Athens, GA
I know, I know – you’re probably thinking “foams are so over,” regardless which side of the molecular gastronomy fence you sit on. If you’re a fan of the strange powders and physical state changes of food, you might be saying “C’mon, Hungry Ghost! Everybody knows that espuma is the new foam!” Yeah, right – and aire is the new espuma. They’re all pretty much the same thing, and you’ve got to be bullshitting yourself if you think that Adrià and his ilk don’t know this already. If you’re convinced that all this stuff is mumbo jumbo designed to take away from traditional technique, then fine. I don’t particularly care either way. I made a foam that wasn’t really a foam … or was it?
I was bored tonight when I was about to make supper for myself. Yesterday I got a whole bunch of free samples from National Starch, but I haven’t really been able to do anything with them since I’ve left them sitting in my office. (I did try to mix some tapioca maltodextrin with some yogurt at my desk and I ended up making a small mess. Oops.) So there I was, getting hungry, when I decided to make myself some baked eggs to put on a sandwich. “What else should I put on it?” I thought. A few tomatoes sat in a bowl, teetering on the brink of potential rottenness. They glared up at me in desperation. Feeling their need for my mercy, I decided to make some sort of sauce to go on the sandwich. I needed to practice my blanch-shock-peel technique anyhow.
After giving the tomatoes their spa treatment, I put them in a container with a little oil and some salt and ground chipotle and swirled it around using my immersion blender. The tomatoes seemed happier, if not a little lonely. I thought they could use some company, so I slowly added a little bit of flour and blended it together. Seeing bubbles start to form, I worked some more air in and added more flour ever so gradually until I got my first touch of foam. I’d done it – improvisationally, no less! It went well with the sandwich, and I had a bunch left over, so I grabbed a few things out of the refrigerator and came up with:
“Toasted Cheese and Tomato Soup”
Using some cocktail rye that my colleague Babak had brought over for a dinner party I had a few weeks ago and fantastic Dubliner Cheese, I came up with a nice way to finish off the remnants. I could have used a smidgen more cheese as, somewhat surprisingly, the tomato foam really overpowered it. Not bad for something done out for boredom, huh?
Other than a lack of Slavic blood and not growing up in the Midwest, I’m not sure how I spent the better part of my life not knowing about pączki. It was pretty much blissful ignorance, until I came across them my first winter in Michigan during graduate school. Of course, there’s definitely such a thing as too much of a good pączek as I found out when I ate half of a box of them and felt the evil effects soon after on the way to class. The next year I made the trek to Hamtramck on Pączki Day to partake in them when they were as fresh as could be. Given my highly intimate connection to this fried, gooey goodness in the heart of pączki country, you could imagine my surprise when I came across them in the grocery store just two blocks from apartment.
For the uninitiated, pączki are a form of doughnut usually filled with jelly that Poles made to use up lard, flour and fruit before Lent. The real deal are filled with prunes, but lemon, strawberry, and custard are pretty common and have been sampled by this humble gourmand. They’re a whole heck of a lot like sufganiyot, too, which makes sense. (Talk about a treat I haven’t had in ages!) Traditionally, they were made on the Thursday before Lent rather than the ever-so-familiar Fat Tuesday, but Tuesday seems to be more convenient for some bakeries, especially if they’re making other Mardi Gras treats like king cake. While I’ll be abstaining this time around, I suggest you take any and possibly all advantages to sample a pączek. Smacnego!
I left work early yesterday for a doctor’s appointment, which left little time for lunch. On the way there, I snacked on some almonds and raisins to tide me over. By the time I finally got done with the tests and consultation my stomach was making unholy groans that sounded like ghosts were plaguing my GI tract. Since there were a few things I wanted to pick up anyhow, I headed to Whole Foods and stopped by the deli first to get a sandwich. For what it’s worth, I got the “tuna niçoise” sandwich, which wasn’t all that niçoise (it tasted alright, though). Despite warnings of the possibility of olive pits listed on the wrapper, I couldn’t find a single piece of olive anywhere close to it except in another area of the deli case. The sandwich was much larger than the amount of food I’ve become used to eating in one sitting, so I roamed the aisles stuffed to the gills with tuna, bread, green beans, and hardboiled eggs.
I knew that the sandwich would keep me full for hours, so I planned on having a light dinner. I was making my way through the produce ideas when the ideas really started flowing. As I piled the basket full of goodies and a few other things I needed, I came up with the following.
Soba with watermelon radish and blackberry-mint-pepita sauce
Someone could claim I came up with this as some sort of Valentine’s Day scheme to have a post contain red food, but I swear, I didn’t. The combination of blackberry/mint combination just seemed delicious.
Mise en place
- A large saucepan
- A colander
- A citrus juicer
- A food processor with chopping blade
- A rubber spatula
- A chef’s knife and cutting board or mandoline
- A vegetable peeler
- A grater (optional)
Ingredients (for 4 servings)
- 5 ounces uncooked soba
- 2-3 small pieces of dulse or other large-leafed seaweed
- 2 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
- 1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
- 3/4 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 1 Meyer lemon
- 1/2 tablespoon of agave nectar or honey
- 2 watermelon radishes
Fill the saucepan 3/4 full of water and add the dulse. Bring the water to a boil. When boiling, remove as much as the dulse as you can and add the soba. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain the soba and rinse thoroughly with cold water.
Wash and dry the mint and blackberries and place in the food processor with the oil and salt. Pulse the mixture a few times until the berries begin to break apart. Juice the lemon and add the juice, a 1/2 cup of pepitas, and the sweetener. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the food processor occasionally to ensure everything is blended. If assembling the sauce in advance, keep mixture in the refrigerator, but allow to reach just below room temperature before plating.
Wash and peel the radish and slice it into very thin rounds. To plate, add a portion of soba to the plate, topping and surrounding it with the radish slices. Add a generous portion of the sauce on top. Garnish with pepitas, mint leaves, and grated lemon peel if desired.
The combination of flavors and textures in this dish are phenomenal. You have the smooth, slighly nutty texture of the the soba combined with the crispness and tang of the radish and the sweetness and graininess of the sauce. Even though I made this in the dead of winter, this seems like it’d be a nearly perfect summer dish served with a dry Riesling.