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Poached quince

Jan. 7th, 2017 06:04 pm
wshaffer: (food)
Safeway has been surprising me by having quinces in there little section of exotic fruit, right between the dragonfruit and the mangoes.

The first time I ever cooked quinces, I bought a couple at a farmers market from a farmer who was surprised that "someone your age" knew what a quince was. They were the size of grapefruit, and hard as rocks. I had to hack them up with a cleaver, and developed blisters on my hands in the process.

The ones I've been getting at Safeway are smaller, about the size of a large apple, and while they're still tough little fruit, they don't require a cleaver.

Here's how I've been cooking them:
2 quinces
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cardamom pods
1/2 cup honey
pomegranate molasses (optional)

Cut the quinces into wedges. Remove the seeds and the woody stuff that encapsulates the seeds.

Put the quinces wedges into a saucepan, and add enough water to just about cover them. Lightly bruise the cardamom pods (I just put them on the counter and squish them a bit with a can or the flat of a knife) and put them and the cinnamon sticks into the water. Add the honey. Drizzle in a little pomegranate molasses.

Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for about 90 minutes.

Remove the quince and set it aside. Fish out the cinnamon and cardamom and discard. Turn the heat up to high and boil the cooking liquid until it's reduced down to a syrup. Strain it and let it cool.

Serve the quince drizzled with the syrup. (The syrup is also nice on plain yogurt and I bet it would be nice on ice cream.)
I threw this together when I had some boneless, skinless chicken thighs that needed to be used up. I've been taking the results to work as part of my lunch for the past few days, and the results are tasty enough that I wanted to make note of this for future reference.

I did not measure anything in this recipe.
What you need: ~1lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, some fresh ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, Sriracha sauce. Some minced fresh garlic probably would not go at all amiss, but I didn't use it.

Grate or mince a thumb-size piece of ginger finely. (I used a microplane grater). Put the ginger in a bowl or dish large enough to hold the chicken. Slosh in about equal parts soy sauce and rice vinger. Dribble in a few drops of sesame oil. Add Sriracha to taste.

Put the chicken in the marinade you've just made, and stash it in the fridge for an hour or so. (Or longer, if you've actually thought to plan in advance.)

Preheat the broiler to high and line a broiler pan with foil. Put the chicken thighs on the pan, drizzle with a little extra marinade, and broil until they're done, flipping them over halfway through.
I was braising some chicken in the oven this afternoon for dinner, which involved having a pot in the oven at 300 degrees F for a couple of hours. I scrubbed a few sweet potatoes, pricked them a few times with a knife, and put them on a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven for 2 hours while the chicken was cooking. They were probably some of the best sweet potatoes I've ever eaten - sweet, slightly smoky, and so tasty that we ate them without any additional toppings. (Although, they'd probably be even more delicious with a bit of butter.)
Tonight I took a shot at replicating a recipe I had at a tapas restaurant not too long ago: sugar snap peas sautéed with garlic, mint, and sherry. My version turned out very tasty, although not quite as amazing as what I'd had in the restaurant. I did something like: sauté 15 oz. of sugar snap peas in butter for about 5 minutes, then toss in 3-4 cloves of sliced garlic and 1/4 cup of sherry, cook until the sherry is reduced down, then stir in 1/3 of a cup of thinly sliced fresh mint. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

I also made home made frozen yogurt by putting 2 cups frozen raspberries and 2 cups greek yogurt into the food processor and blending them with a little sugar-free almond syrup. It was refreshing!
I improvised this to use up some ginger and spinach that needed to be used up:

1 tsp. mustard seeds
thumb-sized piece of minced ginger
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 pound baby spinach
~3/4 cup plain greek yogurt

1. Heat some oil in a pan to medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and the ginger and sauté for a couple of minutes. (I get the impression that you're supposed to cook mustard seeds until they "pop". I never quite manage to get mine to pop, but they seem tasty any way.)
2. Add the other spices and cook and stir for about 30 seconds.
3. Add the spinach and cook until it's done.
4. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool for a bit. Then fold in the yogurt.

It was quite tasty. Next time, I think I'll squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice on it, or, if I can find some, substitute some sorrel for a bit of the spinach.
I don't think asparagus is even properly in season yet, but it looked so lovely when I was at the supermarket that I couldn't resist. Here's what I did with it:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

  2. Break off the woody bottom ends of the asparagus spears. Put them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle liberally with olive oil.

  3. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until they're cooked through and starting to brown a bit. Give the pan a good shake or roll the aparagus around a bit with a spatula to encourage them to brown evenly. (My asparagus always end up more browned on one side than the other. It's fine.)

Make more than you think you need - these get eaten fast.
So, here's the part that everyone really wants to know about: what did I eat while I was in Sofia?

Bulgarian cuisine has two major focal points: salads and dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt. This is possibly my idea of culinary heaven, but your mileage may vary.

Bulgarians really are crazy about salads. The archetypal Bulgarian salad is shopska salata, made with tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and a white feta-like cheese called sireneh. You can also get more ordinary green salads, Caesar salads, and so on. I frequently had some kind of salad at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Shopska salata is even the traditional food to eat when you are drinking rakiya, Bulgarian brandy. (That struck me as a bit odd, considering that in most parts of the world, the traditional boozing-it-up food is usually salty and/or fatty. I suppose a shopska salata can be both if you load it up with enough cheese, but still...)

Besides the salads, some other traditional Bulgarian dishes that I sampled were:

  • Tarator, which is a cold cucumber and yogurt soup. Very refreshing on hot summer days. Many places will also serve it in a mug as a beverage.

  • Katok, which is a sort of dip or spread made with yogurt, sheep's milk cheese, walnuts, and roasted red peppers. You can eat it on its own or spread on bread or slices of raw tomato. I need to learn how to make this - I could happily eat it every day.

  • Moussaka, clearly related to the Greek dish, but in Bulgaria it is most commonly a dish of diced potato and ground pork with paprika and other spices, topped with cheese and baked. It's traditional to pair this with tarator.

  • Kyufteta, sauteed pork meatballs, which I had with a roasted red pepper sauce.

  • Mishmash, this is just scrambled eggs with peppers and onions. But seriously, how can you not love a dish called mishmash?

  • Bob, which is a bean and sausage stew.

For dinner, I frequently had a piece of grilled chicken or fish with some grilled vegetables on the side. Simple, but tasty.
More ramblings on foreign cuisine, sweets, and booze )
A few links related to some of my favorite things: kissing, food, goth rock, Stonehenge, and acoustics.

Same-sex couple share first kiss at Navy homecoming. I just keep looking at that picture and thinking what a short time ago it was that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," was still in effect. It's nice to have a reminder that progress happens.

Fuck Calories (And Other Dietary Heresies)! Krista Scott-Dixon of Stumptuous has written a short e-book about nutrition and eating. From my quick skimming of it, I suppose I'd describe it as being like Michael Pollan's Food Rules only funnier, more foul-mouthed, and with a bit of a Paleo-diet slant. (I remain skeptical of the "grains are evil!" stance taken by this book, although I'd probably agree that they're overabundant in the typical American diet.) Anyway, the book is free (in exchange for your email address), and certainly an entertaining read.

A very Nephilim Christmas? I thought bandfic was a relatively recent phenomenon, but it turns out that Melody Maker was turning out satiric portrayals of the antics of Fields of the Nephilim back in the late 80's. In this early installment (which I'd love to see someone illustrate in the style of Torchwood Babiez), the young Neffs put on a school nativity play. (Warning, link contains crude and infantile humor, mild blasphemy, and disturbing imagery involving Carl McCoy and mashed potato.) While this is a complete fiction, I'm pretty certain that McCoy's lyrics occasionally inspired conversations like this when the Neffs were in the studio:

NOD: I bring you glad tidings - 'ere, Carl, what are "tidings"?

CARL: Never mind. I fink its something to do with the sea.

PAUL: Wot, you mean like seaweed or something? Behold, Mary, I bring you seaweed!

TONY: Yeah, and while we're at it Carl, wots a "manger"? Or "myrrh?" We ain't got none of that down our end!

OTHERS: Yeah! Tell us, Carl!

CARL: Look, I dunno - I mean, its a mystery, right? In olden days, people just said these fings but nobody asked wot they meant cos they were religious mysteries...

Hearing the Past. This Radio 4 documentary looks at (er, listens to?) researchers who are combining archaeology and acoustics to reconstruct what the past would have sounded like. It's all very cool, but my favorite bit is the discovery that Stonehenge has a resonant frequency of about 47Hz, which most likely would have caused it to emit a deep bass hum under appropriate conditions. You can hear a reconstruction in the documentary. (The presenter, bless him, compares it to listening to Depeche Mode. Another goth rock fan!)

Anyway, I'm off to Florida in a little while, so I'd better get back to the serious business of deciding what to load onto my iPod and Kindle for the trip. Wishing you all very happy holidays!
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I've eaten a lot of weird things in my life, since my philosophy on food is that I'll try anything once, but the one that makes the best story is the sheep tripe.

Daniel and I were in Florence, with Daniel's parents, and we went to a Sardinian restaurant. Being a Sardinian restaurant in Florence is not easy, I gather, because the Florentines are firmly convinced of the superiority of Tuscan food, and the tourists don't exactly come to town to eat Sardinian food either. Anyway, I kind of felt like they felt under-appreciated.

See, we get to this restaurant, and I see that they cure their own guanciale (cured pork jowl - it's a lot like bacon). Curing your own pig parts is an activity that I consider worthy of respect, so I said, "Oh, look, they cure their own guanciale. We'll have to order some."

The waiter, on hearing this, became instantly convinced that I was not only a person of surpassing good taste, but a serious connoisseur of Sardinian food. And so he said to me, "And for your main course, if you want to try a real Sardinian specialty, you must have the sheep tripe." (Cow's tripe is the stomach lining of a cow. Sheep's tripe, I believe, is the lining of the small intestine.)

So, here I was, in a bind, because I hadn't really set out that evening intending to eat the intestines of a sheep. On the other hand, I will try anything once. So I ordered the tripe.

It was basically two little coils of white tubing that had been tied with twine, skewered, and either grilled or roasted. I ate it, while my tablemates looked on in amazement. It tasted sort of vaguely lamb-like and gamy. It's not something I would ever go out of my way to order again, but if circumstances resulted in my being served it again, I would not refuse to eat it.

The waiter was so impressed that I'd actually eaten the stuff that he completed our Sardinian dining experience by giving everyone at the table a shot of grappa on the house. Not to be outdone, I actually drank it, but I was the only one at the table to do so.


Apr. 3rd, 2011 08:21 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
I made homemade pizza tonight. Homemade half-wholewheat crust (recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything), homemade tomato sauce (recipe from How to Cook Everything), store bought mozzarella cheese (because there are limits to my mania for homemade).

Making the dough for the crust was easier than I'd anticipated, partly thanks to using a food processor to bring it all together. Shaping the pizza was a bit...interesting. Bittman's instructions said to take a ball of dough and pat it out flat on an oiled baking sheet. So, I take my dough, slap it into kind of an ovoid, plonk it on the baking sheet and pat. Sproing, the dough springs back. Pat. Sproing. Pat. Sproing. Pat, pat, pat, pat, pat, smack, stretch, wallop, pow! (Pause, and survey result.) Ah, screw it, let's throw some sauce on it, maybe it'll come out.

Which accounts for why the finished pizza looked like this... )

Still, it tasted pretty good. I've got some work to do before I can give the local artisanal pizza joint a run for its money, but I've been served worse pizza by people who had better claim to know what they were doing.
So, while I was up at FOGcon* over the weekend, I popped into the local Whole Foods for some fruit, and was greeted by a big stack of citrus fruit labelled as "sumo mandarins". They were billed as "the sweetest orange you'll ever eat!" So I bought a couple.

They're big (a bit bigger than my fist) and look a bit like a tangelo that's been partying late at FOGcon and is looking a bit rumpled and wan. Photo below cut:
Sumo mandarin )

They are the sweetest oranges you'll ever taste, at least in terms of a lack of acidity. I actually find the lack of tartness a bit disconcerting, but there's also an interesting note to the flavor that I can't quite pinpoint, but is quite nice.

I have no idea if this is just a local thing that somebody is test marketing, or if they are generally available, but if you spot them, I recommend giving them a try.

*FOGcon, by the way, was fantastic, and I will try to post some kind of proper summary as soon as my brain recovers.
So, I'm giving Health Month a whirl. For those who aren't familiar with it, Health Month is an interesting attempt to use a social networking game to encourage healthy habits. Basically, you set up some rules that you want to follow for a month, and you gain or lose points depending on whether you follow your rules. I think it's a neat idea, although I'm not sure how it will work out for me in practice. I'm doing the free version, which allows for three rules at a time, so I settled on trying to run more, floss more, and meditate more. If you're curious about how I do, you can check out my profile.

Two of the three people behind the late, lamented Cadmium 2 podcast are back with the Time Vault podcast, covering Hammer films, The Avengers, and Doctor Who. I listened to their first episode, covering Quatermass and the Pit, yesterday and was immensely gratified that they made all same silly "Hammer time!" jokes that I would have done. Ah, to be geeky and thirtysomething.

If you preorder the special leatherbound edition of Rob Shearman's forthcoming short story collection, Everyone's Just So So Special, Rob will write a short encyclopedia entry about a fictional historical figure with your name. Could I resist this? No, I could not.

I cooked amaranth for breakfast yesterday, with cinnamon, ginger, and dried blueberries and cherries. It's texturally interesting - the grains are quite small (smaller than any grain I'm familiar with except teff), so the bulk texture of the porridge is a bit like soft polenta, but the individual grains still retain a bit of crunch. I'm not sure if it will displace my current faves (oatmeal and millet) in the breakfast porridge rankings, but it's definitely a nice variation.

I found a bunch of funny videos about VMware! My favorite is this one, in which muppet-like characters attempt to explain virtualization, but some of the others are good too. I think someone in our marketing department may be having too much fun.

140 things!

Dec. 10th, 2010 01:12 pm
wshaffer: (voyage)
This seems to be a day of my getting linked to long lists of interesting things. A few I'd like to pass along:

  • 20 Obsolete English Words That Should Make a Comeback. Don't be malgrugruous! Freck on over to this list of words and deliciate in it!

  • 20 Great TED Talks for Foodies. I've only heard a couple of the talks on this list, but it looks like an interesting range of topics.

  • 100 ways to cook a sweet potato. I love sweet potatoes, but I usually just cut them into wedges or cubes, toss w/olive oil and spices, and roast them. I'll have to try some of the recipes here. (I'd like to try the sweet potato oatmeal with Okinawan purple sweet potatoes, because I like the idea of purple breakfast.)
...but don't really like grapefruit.

Take 1 medium-sized grapefruit and 2 small-ish oranges. Using a paring knife, remove the peel and pith and cut them into segments. Put the segments into serving bowls, scatter with fresh pomegranate seeds, and drizzle with a bit of almond syrup. (The kind that Torani makes for putting in coffee drinks. I used sugar free because that's what I had.) Serves 2.

Served this way, the bitterness of the grapefruit makes a pleasant counterpoint to the sweet and tart flavors of the other ingredients, rather than being overwhelming. Maybe I do like grapefruit after all.
An amusing juxtaposition of links crossed my twitter feed this morning:
First, I always thought that I cooked meals at home because they were tastier. But, according to this article, it's possible that these meals are tastier because I cook them at home. Apparently food tastes better when you have to work for it. At least if you're a mouse. (Though, the non-mouse people who regularly eat my cooking also seem to think that it is pretty tasty. Does the anticipation of doing the dishes later add savor to one's food? Really, you gotta love how quickly that article goes from "Here is an interesting scientific result," to "ZOMG! This is the reason Americans are fat!". For values of "love" equalling "cringe at".)

Of course, the very next link to cross my twitter stream was yet another article pointing out that strenuous attempts to make Americans eat more fruits and vegetables have had essentially no impact. Which is attributed to the fact that fresh produce is expensive and difficult to prepare.

But wait, according to the first article, that ought to make fresh produce taste especially delicious! Er...

Actually, I think the dietitian who talks about fresh produce spoiling is closer to the mark. Regularly clearing green goo out of your crisper is powerful negative reinforcement. (Really, sometimes my motivation for cooking dinner is thinking about how much happier I'll be eating that spinach than scraping it off the bottom of the fridge next weekend. But for a lot of people, just not buying the spinach in the first place is an equally valid solution.)
Appetite for Profit: How the food industry undermines our health and how to fight backAppetite for Profit: How the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back by Michele Simon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not all of this will be new information if you've read Marion Nestle's Food Politics or if you keep up on food policy news generally. Simon's book is particularly illuminating on the many ways that food companies fight attempts to regulate them, from fake consumer interest groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom to adopting voluntary guidelines that can be disregarded as soon as the political heat is off. (See recent reports about soda vending machines being ubiquitous in elementary schools, despite voluntary soda industry guidelines about not marketing to children.) Simon analyzes how, just as companies engage in greenwashing to make themselves seem more environmentally friendly than they are, food companies engage in "nutriwashing" to make their products seem more nutritious than they really are. It will definitely make you read the next feel-good press release from Pepsi or McDonalds about how they are encouraging "balanced lifestyles" with more skepticism.

View all my reviews
So, apparently a couple of years ago, Ohio passed a law banning milk producers from labeling their milk as free from rbST, a form of synthetic growth hormone given to cows to make them produce more milk. Unsurprisingly, the Sixth Circuit Court just ruled this unconstitutional on free speech grounds. Duh.

What was more interesting to me was that the court went further, and ruled that milk from cows treated with rbST is compositionally different from milk from untreated cows. Which directly contradicts what the FDA said when it approved rbST for use.

Now, I've always taken the FDA statement about rbST at face value. I buy rbST-free milk, but I do so because a) it tends to be the default at most of the places I shop and b) I figure that farmers who pump their cows full of artificial hormones to maximize their milk production probably aren't farmers who prioritize the quality of their products or the well-being and happiness of their cows. I really assumed that the FDA was being absolutely truthful when it said there was no detectable difference. Which actually, given what I know about the FDA and the power of the dairy industry, seems naive.

Of course, there's no reason to take the court's decision as gospel either, given what a contentious subject this is. But it's kind of sad that this kind of question has to be fought out in the courts.

Odds and Ends

Sep. 28th, 2010 10:20 am
wshaffer: (voyage)
So, nixed my first attempt at creating a Doctor Who-themed running shirt, on the grounds that it violated copyright. It's a fair cop, though I thought they might let me get away with it as a one-off. (I really liked the tag line I'd come up with for the back: "Team TARDIS: Running throughout Time and Space since 1963.") I wonder if the BBC has thought about the possibilities of Whovian workout gear.

Speaking of Whovian things, BBC iPlayer is replaying Toby Hadoke's excellent Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. I've been told that even non-Whovians find it funny.

I stumbled across a new food site called Plummelo. It lets you create a personalized online "Recipe Box" and save recipes from other websites (like and to it. Although what I'm really interested in playing with is the ability to create meal plans and shopping lists. I've never been much of a meal planner before, but I'm getting less fond of regularly finding myself leaving work midweek with no idea of what I'm going to make for dinner and the knowledge that I have nothing in the fridge but a block of feta cheese, half a packet of baby spinach, and a jar of natural peanut butter.

Do you plan your meals, or just wing it? And do you use any particular tools to plan?
Daniel and I went to the Plumed Horse in Saratoga for a celebratory birthday dinner. The food was excellent, with the bison steak served with vanilla-scented sweet potato puree and the desserts being particular standout dishes.

However, what really made the evening was that all the restaurant staff really went out of their way to make the evening special. My dessert of peach souffle came out with a little pink birthday candle stuck to the corner of the plate, while my coffee was accompanied by a little plate of petits-fours with "Happy Birthday" written around the rim with chocolate sauce, in a rather gorgeous curlicued script. After dinner, they gave us a tour of their wine cellar. (We admired a huge jeroboam of Chateau d'Yquem sauternes - our server told us that each year, a huge corporate party rents the entire restaurant and buys one of these giant bottles. It's a firm of morticians, so their business hasn't been affected by the recession.) Then they walked us through the kitchen, and we got to chat with the sous-chef for a bit. It was quite an experience.