Wednesday, August 31, 2005

E is for Elevenses

A colloquial expression which entered the English language in the late 18th century, meaning a light refreshment taken at about 11 o'clock in the morning. Although the timing is flexible and the extent of the refreshment, especially the food element, has proved to be highly variable, the institution has retained its place in the daily schedule of most British people. Nor are they alone in this. Of the many corresponding institutions in other parts of the world, the most important is probably the Mediterranean merenda or merienda. However, the zweite Fruhstuck (second breakfast) eaten in various German-speaking regions is an important northerly counterpart of this meridional institution.

In Chile there are salas de onces (Spanish for eleven), where empanadas, cakes, and snacks can be bought; and derived from the 'English custom of having tea or coffee and biscuits at eleven in the morning' and has become, 'by some extraordinary transmutation, afternoon tea, so that a is a tea shop'. Under Malta is a description of the refreshments taken by Maltese office workers in mid-morning. These examples could be multiplied, since the need for some refreshment between breakfast (especially if early and/or light) and lunch or its equivalent is wide-spread, although not universal, among human beings.

In this connection, it is necessary to heed the warning given by the expiring Henry King, that elevenses or for that matter other light refreshments punctuating the day should not be allowed to attain the status of meals.
So now I have a name for that mid-morning apple. That makes it all so sophisticated somehow.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Now Serving Hot Links

Yurodivi is cooking up a storm over at his place! Sweet and Sour Pork, The Best Green Beans Ever, Chicken Burritos, and Shrimp Fried Rice await you. He's waiting for someone to report back so give these a try and let him know how you like them.

Tana Ramsay (Gordon's wife) has developed a line of vegetable ice cream flavors that she thinks will make youngsters like vegetables. Hmmmmm. No, it's either gonna turn them off of ice cream forever or make them ask why real veggies taste weird. I think this shows us just how much Gordon Ramsay must love his wife because, judging from what I've seen on various television shows, he would blast anyone else who came up with such a lamebrain idea. Perhaps he would even shove a dish of the pea ice cream in their chests. Via Sigmund, Carl and Alfred.

David Lebovitz takes us on his vacation. If you ever wondered what French highways and rest stops are like, then check this out.

D is for Diner

An important American institution which originally, in the middle of the 19th century, was a railway dining car. However, by extension it came to mean a cheap roadside restaurant which could be either a disused railway dining car, or something built to resemble this, or something else giving the impression of mobility. Although diners, almost by definition, offer modestly priced food of an unsophisticated nature, they offer scope for connoisseurship and even minor cults, and various publications had been devoted to them in the latter part of the 20th century.
I had no idea that diners originated with railroad dining cars or that conveying mobility was essential. Though I'm mourning something I never got to experience, I wish we still had real diners.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


For those who were drooling over Hannah's Birthday Cake, here is the recipe from Time Life Foods of the World: The Cooking of Vienna's Empire. As I mentioned I didn't make the top caramel layer but just frosted it all with the chocolate filling. No one complained. However, I am giving the complete instructions here. This may look daunting but is simple although it does require a candy thermometer ... and enough time to not rush through anything.

The Cake
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugar by beating them together against the side of a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs, then stir in the flour and the vanilla extract. Continue to stir until the mixture becomes a smooth, firm batter.

With a pastry brush or paper towel, butter the underside a 9" layer cake pan, then dust it with flour. (I can never get 7 layers out of the 9" pan so I always use 8" pans.) Strike the pan against the edge of a table to knock off the excess flour. With a metal spatula, spread the batter as evenly as possible over the underside of the pan to a thickness of 1/8". Bake in the middle of the oven 7 to 9 minutes, or until the layer is lightly browned around the edges.

Remove from the oven and scrape off any batter that has dribbled down the sides of the pan. Loosen the layer from the pan with a spatula, put a cake rack over it and invert. Wipe the pan with a paper towel, butter and flour it again and repeat the baking process with more batter. (You may, of course, bake as many layers at a time as you have cake pans.) Continue until all the batter is used. You should have 7 exactly matching layers.

The Filling
1-1/3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2/3 cup water
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter, softened

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, cream of tartar and water. Stir over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then turn the heat to moderately high and boil the syrup without stirring until, if tested, it registers 238 degrees on a candy thermometer, or until a drop of the syrup in cold water forms a soft ball.

Meanwhile, in a mixer, or by hand with a rotary or electric beater, beat the 8 egg yolks for 3 or 4 minutes, or long enough to thicken them and lighten them somewhat in color.

Pour the hot syrup into the eggs, continuing to beat as your pour in the syrup in a slow, steady stream. If you are using a mixer, beat at medium speed until the mixture cools to room temperature and changes to a thick, smooth cream. This usually takes from 10 to 15 minutes. (If you are beating by hand, set the mixing bowl in a pan of cold water to hasten the cooling and add the syrup a little at a time.)

Continue to beat until the cream is cook, thick and smooth, then beat in the cocoa and vanilla extract. Last, beat in the butter, adding it in small pieces until it is all absorbed. Refrigerate while you make the glaze.

The Glaze
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water

First, place the most attractive of the cake layers on a cake rack set on a jelly-roll pan, then mix the sugar and water together in a small heavy saucepan. Without stirring, cook until the sugar dissolves, boils and begins to darken in color. Swirling the pan, continue to boil until the caramel becomes a golden brown, then pour it over the layer. With a buttered knife, quickly mark the glaze into 16 equal wedges, cutting nearly, but not quite, through to the bottom of the glaze. This mirrorlike layer will be the top of the Torte.

Assembling the Torte
Place a cake layer on a serving plate and, with a metal spatula, spread chocolate filling over it to a thickness of 1/8 inch, then top with another cake layer. Continue with the other layers, finishing with a layer of filling and the glazed top. Use the rest of the chocolate filling to cover the sides of the cake, smoothing it on with a spatula and refrigerate. To serve, slice along the lines marked in the glaze.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Wine Tasting

Veronica and her DH very kindly invited Tom and me to a wine tasting they had purchased at an auction. Lucky us! We got to taste twenty wines, learned a lot from the fast talking and charming wine man, and see a buncha people we like very much ... not least of which are Veronica and her DH who we count among some of our favorites.

I was hoping (hoping, hoping) that I wouldn't like any of the wines very much and got about 2/3 of the way through when my mouth was lit up by a sinful Zinfandel (mmm, mmm love Zinfandel - the proper red ones, not the travesty-filled white ones). So we took a case home, along with three extra bottles thrown in for lagniappe (brought the per bottle price down to $17 so it was a great deal overall).

We learned about French oak barrels, American oak barrels, and stainless steel ... and how to sniff them out in the glass. I now know that I am more of an American oak fan although the wines I liked most had done time in both American and French oak. What can I say? I'm complex!

(Tom learned that he truly is a beer guy ... but we knew that all along. Now if it had been a tasting between Mexican, Belgian, German, French, and Czech beer he would have been an especially enthusiastic student.)

Hot Links Served Up

John Stossel talks about the serving size myth. This is something a lot of us know about but it is all too easy to forget. Via Lori Byrd.

Yurodivi remembers that he meant to share his love of cooking with us ... and I'm glad he did because this recipe looks both simple and great!

I head to the refrigerator. Hmmmm, the only milk I have is vanilla flavored soy. Vanilla is good, I like vanilla flavoring. I pick up the carton and realize there isn't much left. Ah no worries, I can improvise. My 8 cups of milk becomes three cups of milk mixed with 5 cups of water. It's like skim milk, right?
Dinner at The Big Yellow House has never been more interesting as the ingredient substitution leads to ... well, I'll let y'all find out for yourselves.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Milk in France

... in France, only children drink glasses of milk, although sometimes adults indulge in the bowls of hot milk they enjoyed as children. But even when a child drinks a glass of milk, it is rarely plain, but instead flavored with chocolate, mint, or strawberry... The hot milk that tiny children drink from their bowls at breakfast usually has two cubes of sugar in it. When French children are ill, they have hot milk and honey as a soothing drink and, for a grown-up feeling under the weather; a bit of rum is added to that.
Hot milk, whether sweetened or not, is one of the few things that makes me seriously question whether the French actually understand food.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hot Links About Tea

All over at A La Cuisine where tea is the subject of interest right now. Get the scoop about anything that even remotely has to do with tea around the world in parts one, two, and three.

Green Tea Vodka (what will they think of next?) highlighted over at World on a Plate.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Mystery of the Rich Tea Biscuit Solved

The Rich Tea presents us straight away with a paradox. If these are 'Rich' Tea, where are the 'Poor' Tea biscuits and what on earth do they taste like? Well, they would have to be fairly ropey old affairs because the Rich Tea itself is not exactly a self-contained one-biscuit flavour festival...

What flavour it does manage to achieve comes from the various sugars in its recipe -- sucrose, maltose and some glucose -- plus a little bit of salt. So what are they good for? Dunking, of course. The Rich Tea can drive even the staunchest anti-dunker to dunk.
Aha! I made the mistake of believing the "rich" part of the name and buying a package of these at Central Market. It was like eating some crunchy cardboard. I couldn't imagine who would buy these or why. The dogs liked them but they made very expensive dog treats and, as we all know, dogs will eat practically anything regardless of the actual flavor. At least now I have the whole picture, although, not being a dunker I will continue abstaining from the Rich Tea biscuit.

Projected Tea Enjoyment

In a well-adjusted family most members enjoy their tea made in the same way: same strength, same temperature, same amount of milk and so forth. This shared family 'tea policy' is most often seen in families that use a teapot. When there is a difference of opinion between parents one or other usually wins out, and the other gradually learns to drink their tea differently. This very act of capitulation only fuels our idea that everyone not only could be made to drink tea as we like it but should drink tea as we like it. There are many common consequences of this:
  • People don't bother asking how you like your tea, assuming you'll drink whatever they give you with relish.
  • They do ask you how you like your tea but then totally ignore anything you tell them, thinking that you're bound to enjoy their tea better.
  • They ask you and then violently disagree, pointing out all the reasons why you are wrong and misguided.
  • They try to make it as you have requested but get it all wrong, either maliciously or through ineptitude.
  • They tell you to make your own tea, not from compassion but because they can't stand to make it in the degenerate way you have suggested.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Mexican Chocolate Cake

I have seen a lot of recipes with chocolate that are spiced up with a bit of cayenne but I have never known anyone brave enough to try one ... until now. My dear friend, Deb, says that anyone who likes the Spicy Ginger Cake is gonna love this. She also gives this indepth recipe feedback, "Yum, yum, yum....."

I'm gonna hafta give it a shot for sure.

From Real Simple

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or ground Mexican chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
6 tablespoons water
10 small fresh strawberries

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat an 8-inch round cake pan with vegetable cooking spray.

Combine all the cake ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until smooth. Pour into the pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely. When the cake has cooled, whisk together the first three glaze ingredients. Dip each strawberry into the glaze and set aside. Pour the remaining glaze over the cake and arrange the strawberries on top. Set aside to dry, about 30 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

CALORIES 450(0% from fat); FAT 12g (sat 2g); PROTEIN 6mg; CHOLESTEROL 0mg; CALCIUM 36mg; SODIUM 312mg; FIBER 6g; CARBOHYDRATE 87g; IRON 4mg

Monday, August 15, 2005

Hoochie Mama! That's a Good Cake!

Hannah picked this Southern Spicy Ginger Cake for her birthday party. She didn't want frosting but it is just plain unAmerican to have a birthday cake with no frosting so I paired it with a never-fail Buttercream Frosting. The first thing that three of the kids said after their first bite was, "This is amazing frosting." You've gotta try this ... it is unexpected and delicious.

From James Beard's American Cookery. This definitely has a zing from all that ginger.

2 eggs
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup melted butter
2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cloves (I used 1/2 t.)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup boiling water

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and then beat in the sugar and molasses until very fluffy (easiest with electric mixer). Stir in the melted butter. Sift the dry ingredients together and stir into the first mixture. Add the boiling water and stir just to mix. Turn into a well-greased sheet pan about 10 x 14 x 2 inches (I used a standard 9 x 13" pan and it worked just fine). Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven about 35 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. Serve hot or cold, plain or topped with a fruit or chocolate sauce, whipped cream, or ice cream.

From The Cake Mix Doctor. There is not a bad frosting recipe in this book. They are all homemade as opposed to the cake recipes which fix up cake mixes. I don't use the cake recipes from this, preferring the texture of home made cake, but I do use it for inspirations on cake/frosting pairings.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter at room temperature
3-3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3-4 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy, 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add the confectioners' sugar, 3 tablespoons of milk, and vanilla. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 1 minutes more. Blend in up to 1 tablespoon milk if the frosting seems too stiff.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Get Your Hot Links Here

This recipe from Too Many Chefs looks just too good. And it's made with things that are easy to get in practically any store.

She's cooking up a storm with a rub for Grilled Pork Chops and wishful thinking for cooler weather with this Adobo Chili recipe.

David Lebovitz's 10 Signs You've Been Blogging Too Much
  1. You buy clothing, not based on style or fashion, but because the texture and color of the fabric will make new and interesting backgrounds for your food shots.

  2. You choose routes through town based on what's to eat or photograph along the way in lieu of the most direct path.

  3. You find the only friends that'll talk to you are other food bloggers...since you don't have anything to talk about but your food blog.

  4. Before heading out to dinner, you make sure you have your camera instead of remembering your wallet or purse.

  5. You find yourself having amazing relationships with people in far-away places like Jakarta, Tasmania, and Scotland, ignoring your friends who live right in the same neighborhood.

  6. You make dinner reservations not according to who has the best food, but which dining room has the best natural lighting.

  7. At the market, the vendors see you coming and instinctively begin re-arranging their produce in anticipation of your arrival.

  8. When foodies talk about Mario, Rachel, Florence, and Alton, you have no idea who they're talking about. But you know instantly who Adam, Heidi, Pim, and The Food Whore are.

  9. You've always been told that normal people should keep "those kinds of thoughts" to themselves. But you ignore it, and hit POST ENTRY anyways.

  10. Dinner isn't ready until it's gone through Photoshop™.

C is for Cheeks

Cheeks of animals, for example of the pig, because they usually yield rich, savory juices, are a good choice to include in stews, pies, and sausages. However, because cheek muscles are exercised constantly, the meat tends to be tough and may need long cooking. Cod cheeks, on the other hand, are tender morsels, perhaps because the cod are not eating all the time and do not exercise their cheeks in making noises.
I must say I never thought of comparing pig's and cod's cheeks ... or that cheeks would tend to be tough.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ranch Dressing

As I have mentioned before, Ranch Dressing is not something that I care about much. This version, however, is quite tasty and easy to vary. It is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Texas Home Cooking.

3/4 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 T minced parsley
2 t. minced onion
1-2 minced cloves garlic
1/2 t. black pepper
1/4 t. salt
splash of white vinegar, optional

Shake all ingredients together in a big jar (or whisk them together in a bowl as I do). Makes appromimately 1-1/2 cups.

Jalapeno Ranch Dressing

Add 1-2 minced fresh or pickled jalapenos

Southwestern Ranch Dressing
Use only the mayonnaise and buttermilk from the recipe above. Combine this with about two cups of fresh pico de gallo or salsa. It will turn slightly pink and have just enough picante flavor to spice it up but not be overwhelming.

B is for Brown Sauce (bottled)

Brown sauce (bottled) of one kind or another is often seen on the tables of most British cafes and has a certain popularity in other countries. It is a commercial descendent of the home-made ketchup of earlier times, and also related to Worcester sauce which is, however, much more concentrated, and a condiment rather than a relish.

Brown sauces come in bottles of various shapes, and bear labels which make interesting reading for connoisseurs of food additives. They combine sweet, vinegary, and spicy elements, and often have a gummy texture.

The best-known variety is HP sauce. HP stands for the Houses of Parliament, in whose members' restaurant it is fact available. Its history is the subject of an interesting book by Landen and Daniel (1985). As this book explains, many other memorably named brands have come and gone, or survive.

The brown sauces (sauces brunes) of French cuisine are an entirely different matter.
It bet it's the gummy texture that makes it so good. That last bit about these being different from any brown sauces in French cuisine didn't even have to be stated, did it? I think we all knew that already.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Now Serving Hot Links

Interesting news from around the blogosphere...

A handy guide to demystifying all those new kinds of diet Coke that have sprouted seemingly overnight. Via KIP Food Blog.

I mentioned this also over at my other blog but just in case you didn't notice it over there, Testosterhome has a sweet Southern tale of love and cheese grits.

Americans love ranch dressing so much it has inspired an article at Slate. I can't count myself among ranch dressing lovers although I have discovered a simple and delicious recipe that I will be posting later, along with a Southwestern variation that kicks ass (there just is no other way to say it folks). Via The Kitchen Review.

Currently Reading ...

... Nicey And Wifey's Nice Cup Of Tea And A Sit Down by (who else?) Nicey and Wifey. You can get a good dose of Nicey and Wifey's love of tea, biscuits and a sit down by visiting their site. For the full hit of that delightfully understated but hilarious British humor, as well as good pointers for tea and biscuits, read their book where it is all pulled together. This excerpt is from their most recent biscuit review on their site and gives you a taste of Nicey's charm.
Now straight away I'll cut to the chase and tell you why we have over looked these biscuits for so long. It was simply their name that put me off. Yes I know that's a poor reason but I'm sure it's true. You see despite the biscuits having obvious qualities, made by Fox's, that golden crunchy biscuit they do so well, chocolate covered and cream up the middle, I couldn't get past the name. Even for Fox's Classic seemed a bit presumptuous. How was it a classic? I thought of classics of fields of human endeavor, such as art, engineering and entertainment and tried to square this with the world of biscuits. Surely the Bourbon or the Rich Tea are classics. This rather complex chocolate bar wannabe was surely too contrived to merit such a name. And so I passed it by time after time, like somebody who frequents the same places as you and yet have never spoken to.
Why buy the book when you can visit the site? That is a good question. It probably helps that Tom's years of London living has made him a connoisseur of British cookies (biscuits) and he has passed that obsession knowledge on to me. In turn, of course, the girls have become addicted knowledgable as well. So I know most of these biscuits personally and enjoy Nicey's writing style (as well as Wifey's little comments along the way). Also it can't be denied that it is very handy having it all put together in one spot where it can easily be read in bed promoting sweet dreams after I drop off to sleep. That's my reason anyway. At the very least drop by and try the website. If you get hooked as I did, then you'll have to come up with your own reason to buy the book.

A is for Aardvark

Orycteropus afer, an animal of southern Africa, which is truly 'one of a kind'; it has no relations, although it can be counted as a member of the category of anteaters.

Dutch colonists gave it its name, which means 'earth pig', because it resembles in some respects the pig and because of the amazing efficiency with which it can burrow into the ground, notably to create the system of tunnels in which it lives. These tunnels have many entrances (or exits) and by retreating into them during daytime the aardvark achieves a fair degree of security against large predators. Its own food consists largely of termites, plus various insects, all of which it catches on its sticky tongue. It may cover a considerable distance during the night, guided by its excellent sense of smell, in search of such sustenance. Although it attains a large size (maximum length 1.8 m/6', maximum weight 100 kg/200 lbs.), it is rarely seen, due to its timorous and nocturnal habits.

The reputation of the aardvark as food for humans is good. It is commonly described as tasting like pork.
Are they sure it doesn't taste like chicken?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Out of Town

So comments are off until we get back. See everyone next week!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hell's Kitchen Finale

It was so great to see Michael's door open! Of course, it was pretty obvious who the best chef was at that point but they built up the suspense pretty well. What a relief! It also was great that Gordon Ramsay offered Michael a job in London so he could really get finished up on his training. After that, he'll be able to open a restaurant with no problems anyway.

Watching the show I really was struck by the fact that the head chef really did have to be very aggressive to make the team pull together. That was made obvious by watching Michael's team. He was so soft-spoken and nice that he had to get pretty upset to start snapping (which was the nicest snapping I've ever seen) ... but that was when they started getting it together.

Altogether a very satisfactory ending to a pretty good show.

Tomato Beef

I wish I knew where this recipe came from but I copied it from a cookbook that I got from the library. (Maybe Ken Hom?) Anyway, it was a crowd pleaser and couldn't be any easier. The sauce is a thick coating for the meat and vegetables. I think that next time I will add a splash of chicken broth to the sauce as I like a thinner sauce but it is delicious no matter what. Serve it with steamed rice or noodles.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons whiskey (I didn't have any so used dry sherry)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 pound flank or tri-tip steak, thinly sliced across the grain.

Marinate the beef: Stir all ingredients but beef together until cornstarch is dissolved. Add beef and toss gently to coat. Let stand 10 minutes.

1/4 cup ketchup
1-1/2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

Stir all together in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch squares
1/2 cup quartered button mushrooms
1 tomato, cut into 8 wedges

Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl to coat the sides. Add the beef and stir-fry until no longer pink, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Scoop the beef from the wok and set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the wok and swirl to coat the sides. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Stir-fry until vegetables arre tender-crisp, about 2 minutes.

Add the sauce and tomato. Bring to a boil, return the beef to the wok, and cook until the meat is coated with the sauce and heated through, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes.