December 30, 2004

truth in advertising

Photogenic, too. This was a leftover photo from my week on the rural homestead, and I was unable to resist it. The pork roll and the Lebanon balogna both came in heavy stitched cloth sleeves like this, printed with a Penna-Dutch device and big block lettering.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2004

coconut bread

Mom & Dad went to a Cuban-themed pig roast in Seattle this past summer, and there they had something called "coconut bread" that was kind of halfway between a dessert bread and an accompaniment to a savory meal. They haven't (or rather, Mom hasn't) shut up about it since then. Mom found a likely-looking recipe on line, and we made it last night to go with some pork steaks and turnip greens and carrots. (Pork steaks, btw, are slices from the roast cuts of pork, and seem to be much more flavorful than the wan fat-free chops we get in supermarkets. Keep your eye out for them. [Update: I saw some today in Whole Foods labeled "pork cutlets". They're the oblong, floppy-looking ones with a more darkish color than the chops.])

Mom's right -- it's awesome. This is a very easy recipe, and has a nice moist crumb and lovely coconut flavor (and a very crunchy crust, at least in the crappy convection oven I baked in). It would be a nice change from the usual sweet tea breads on a dessert plate, and it goes well with Caribbean and Southern dinners of salty spicy savory dishes.

Coconut Bread (Haitian)
(from The Complete Caribbean Cookbook by Pamela Lalbachan, via some website my mother found)
makes 2 loaves

4 cups flour
3.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
pinch salt
2 c grated coconut (sweetened or unsweetened ok)
2 c sugar (use less if using sweetened coconut or it will verge on over-sweet as mine did)
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 c evaporated milk or buttermilk
1/2 c butter, melted (calls for unsalted, I used salted with no ill effect)
1 tbsp water

Sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg & salt in large bowl. Stir in sugar & coconut. Beat in eggs, milk & butter. Add water, stir well. (NB: midway through adding the wet ingredients, beating with a spoon became pointless -- i kneaded & squeezed it with my hands like a pastry crust or dough until everything was well combined. You end up with a very cohesive lump of dough, like a bread dough.) Divide into two equal balls, and press gently into 2 greased loaf pans. Bake 1 hour at 325F. Toothpick in middle should come out clean.

Posted by foodnerd at 02:08 PM | Comments (1)

December 28, 2004


Not to everyone's taste, this spicy meaty mush, but I sure do love it, even if it is primarily composed of, in the immortal words of my grandfather, "snouts and assholes." Probably because I had it when I was small growing up or visiting family outside Philadelphia, but really, this stuff should have a broader appeal if we can all manage to stomach hot dogs. It's a squarish loaf of ground pork, cornmeal and variable amounts of sausage-like spices, and it can vary in texture when cold from fairly smushy to the firm block we had this time from Dietrich's Meats.

It does tend to be a bit tricky to cook, though. You want a nice hard crunchy crust on your slices, but because the inside of the slice gets softer from the heat, it's a little iffy getting them flipped in the pan without undue mangling. The heat seems to be pretty key to success -- you want moderate heat, not too low or it won't cook fast enough not to stick hard to the pan, and not too high or it'll burn before it gets cooked properly. Be patient and let that crust form. And don't use a crappy pan like we did, that seems to have major hot spots despite being made of cast iron. (???) You have to dig hard into the pan with your spatula and get well under the crust to have even a prayer of well-formed scrapple slices hitting your plate. Mom was the only one of us who managed it.

Even if you end up with a jagged pile of crunchy brown & smushy gray crud on your plate, however, it will be delicious: meaty, soft, crunchy, savory. This batch was less highly spiced than some I've had, but rather meatier. I suspect the fine folks at Dietrich's pride themselves on the quality of their meat and the lack of fillers in their scrapple. Fantastic with eggs and ketchup and toast.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:35 PM | Comments (8)

December 27, 2004

easy as, uh, pizza pie

Got the idea from da*xiang to make salami/cheese rollups using Trader Joe's pizza dough, and finally tried it out on the family this week. Works great! Easy as can be, just buy the 99-cent dough, stretch it out on a board into a rectangle, rub with a bit of olive oil, layer in whatever you got in the way of thin sliced cured meat & cheese -- I used oregano salami from Salumi and stanky aged provolone from Tony's Colonial on Federal Hill in Providence, so this was pedigreed pizza roll -- then roll it up the long way, so you get a nice snake of pizza. I layered my fillings closer to one long side than the other, sort of the way you do with makizushi, which worked out well.

I cut mine in half so it fit onto the baking sheet, then rubbed the top with a bit more oil. I tried a bit of shaved cheese on top of part of it, but my parents only have a (seriously crappy) convection oven, so that ended up more burned than useful -- you may have better luck with this approach in a sane oven. However, the rest of it was fabu -- very very crunchy crust, nice soft savory yeasty insides, all in cute tidy little bite size slices. Perfect for a casual gathering or cocktail party. Yum yum.

Posted by foodnerd at 02:02 PM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2004

mutant egg

Imagine my surprise while making devilled eggs for Christmas Eve when I sliced open an egg (remarkably heavy, I'd noticed, but thought nothing of it) and found this. Cool.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:37 PM | Comments (1)

December 25, 2004


In my family, we don't usually cook much for Christmahanukwanzaka. Instead, we hunt and gather for delectable morsels and then graze all day long on smoked fish, spendy cheese, cured meats, and other cocktail-time treats. This year was no exception, and my brother came through with the goods: fabulous fatty smoked sockeye from Washington State, a trio of the finest salumi on earth, and a stash of Pennsylvania Dutch treasures.

The salumi is the handiwork of Armandino Batali, proprietor and genius host of Salumi in Seattle. He makes his own cured meats, both in traditional Italian styles and in creative new flavors like lamb prosciutto and vanilla salami. This year's selection was perennial-favorite oregano salami, mole salami with deep dark choco-mexi-spice, and some spicy paprika sticks. My brother used to work down the street and ate lunch there a few times a week, and every year he brings meat presents from Salumi for us back east. (The restaurant makes the best Italian food I've ever had anywhere, but it's only open for lunch. Plan ahead.)

The Pennsylvania Dutch stash was mailordered from Dietrich's Meats. Left to right in the photo, after the salumi on the far left, there's sweet & spicy stix, Lebanon bologna (a super-smoky beef treat, oh yeah), spicy pickled bologna, mustard bean pickles (really good, on the very short list of best pickles ever), and pork roll fried to a crunchy goodness.

It's been a very happy holiday. Slurp.

Posted by foodnerd at 11:50 PM | Comments (2)

mendiants for xmas!

so we finally made some goodies for Christmas gifts... and merci to Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini for her inspiration: mendiants. My friend M whipped some up for her family in my kitchen (completely unassisted, I might add, since I was off learning to snowboard unexpectedly, woohoo!)... and they came out *gorgeous*. She used candied ginger, dried cherries, dried cranberries, yogurt covered raisins, giant golden raisins, peanuts, pecans, and almonds, and got some really pretty color combinations. Rather delicious, too.

She made Clotilde's truffle recipe too, but I haven't seen the finished product: she made off with the ganache & the coatings to finish them at the last minute. I did taste a bit though, just to be sure it wasn't poison or anything. *grin*

Posted by foodnerd at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2004

best compliment ever

Last night my friend said something in casual conversation that made my whole day, if not my whole life. In her psychology for athletes class they were doing relaxation techniques, and they asked her to visualize something calming, someplace happy. And immediately she visualized my kitchen table, clutter, mess and all, with food (duh) and happy people around. That is so exactly why I cook and futz with my house and do all the goofy domestic foodslut things that I do: to make a place that people feel happy, contented, safe and loved. My kitchen is someone's happy place: I think I'm gonna cry just writing it down.

Posted by foodnerd at 04:32 PM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2004

Wintermelon Soup

I love soup -- broth-based soups in particular. It's a comfort food for me; strange, I suppose, for someone who grew up in the temperate climate of southern California, but I guess it is what it is. Of course, now that I live in New England, I appreciate a bowl of nice hot soup even more so.

Growing up, Mom made two soups that I remember in particular: ham hock soup and wintermelon soup. To be honest, I don't really have a clear idea whether these were actually two distinct soups or if she would just make ham hock soup and put different things into it, wintermelon being one of them. The memories of the warm savory broth and the delicate, semi-translucent chunks of melon go hand in hand. So when I think of one, I always think of the other.

Over the years, I've had cravings for these creations, but never could find the proper ingredients in the local markets. I did find a smoked pork hock at one point, but the resulting soup did not pass muster, let alone reach the warm soupy goodness that I remember. (Frankly, it was just BAD.)

November 2003: Eureka!

Close up: the bounty.

Recently, when we visited my friend DrJ down in Maryland and did a tour of the Baltimore public markets, we came upon hocks that were finally up to the task. We brought a few back with us, and have since had our small freezer cache restocked by her most recent visit.

Wintermelon is also not particularly common, but we haven't had any trouble finding it in most of the markets in Chinatown and have even found them at Russo's, one of the local farmstand markets.

So, with the weather turning cold, we decided it was time to make some ham hock wintermelon soup.

Ingredients (quantities guesstimated):
2 high-quality Hollins Market ham hocks
1-2 Tbsp dried shrimps
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 wedge of wintermelon (1/8 of a whole melon)
napa cabbage
1/4 lb bamboo shoot
chinese cooking wine
vermicelli (mung bean noodles)
white pepper

We started the stock midweek (Thursday, I think), adding two hocks, a handful of dried shrimps (2 Tbsp?) and several (maybe 6-8) largish shiitake mushrooms to a stockpot half-full of water. I brought the water to a boil and then lowered the heat to a simmer. At this stage, you should skim the schmutz that floats to the top, but due to the high-quality nature of our hock supply, there was very little schmutz to be skimmed. We let the stock simmer for a couple of hours and left it outside for the night. (the fridge is always packed and it's cold enough now that the deck serves as an auxiliary cooler. Foodnerd somehow managed to make space in the fridge the next morning. I really have no idea how she does it but I think it involves the access of 4th dimensional space through some kind of invocation to a pantheon of kitchen deities.)

[I should mention now that you will hear no more of the shitake mushrooms. Normally I love shiitakes, but we bought a crummy batch at Costco, and while they do fine in a soup/broth making capacity, they're actually quite nasty to eat. When the soup was done we tried one, and promptly fished the remaining mushrooms out and dumped them. Bah. But having said that, the soup was otherwise a great success -- you'll see.]


Saturday, we headed over to the Super 88 in Brighton to fetch our wintermelon. While we were there, we also picked up some fresh bamboo shoot and some napa cabbage. We could have gotten canned bamboo shoots, but Foodnerd insisted on the fresh. We also purchased some unrelated fat sticks (sweet Chinese sausage) and sauces. (The Foodnerd just can't help herself sometimes. She claims we "needed" them.)

First, I coarsely julienned about 1/4 lb of the bamboo shoot. (I'd say it was about enough to make a full handful. Pretty much everything here can be adjusted to taste.) I pulled about half the leaves off the napa cabbage, rinsed them and then sliced them crosswise into 1" wide strips. (I'm guessing it ended up being about 1/2-1 lb -- basically a heaping pile on the cutting board.)

And then it was on to the wintermelon.

I've now read that you could just eat it raw, like watermelon, I suppose. It's also interesting to discover that if you do a Google search on wintermelon, after asking you whether you're really searching for "watermelon," you'll end up with a lot of pages about wintermelon soup. Foodnerd only found one thread on recipes that didn't result in soup.

Basically, you want vaguely cube-like chunks that are around 1" on a side. I removed the seeds (I hate to waste any melon, so I don't just cut off the seedy section), sliced it into 1" wide, um, slices, and cut off the rind trying to preserve as much of the tender white flesh as possible. (I'm sorry, does that sound dirty?) I then cut the slices into cubes. You don't want them too large so they don't take forever to cook through, but you don't want them too small or they'll just dissolve. (But you probably already knew that.)

[I had a tough time figuring out how much wintermelon we actually needed so we bought two wedges (roughly an eighth of a whole melon each, i.e. cut in half and then quartered), where each wedge probably weighed around a pound or so. After cutting up one of the wedges, I'd say one's probably enough.]

So in went the bamboo shoots, wintermelon and cabbage. The stock (still with hocks) only filled the pot half way, so when I put all the other stuff in, all the wintermelon was submerged, but the cabbage kind of sat above the waterline, an island of vegetable. No worries, though. The volume reduces as the water cooks out of the cabbage, which also increases the volume of the soup. Now that's win-win. At this point I also added the white pepper and salt.

One more thing:

Last year, we tried to make a pork and pickled cabbage soup, but the broth just didn't come out right. We've been looking over some of our Chinese cookbooks, and one of the things we noticed was that some of the recipes added ginger to the stocks. Something clicked, so Foodnerd managed to dig up some ginger root out of the freezer (maybe a 1/2" chunk) and we threw that into the stock too.

We let the ingredients cook up for about an hour. You can generally tell when the wintermelon is done because it takes on this cool semi-translucent appearance. But of course, you gotta do the taste test: it should be really easy to bite through, but still should have a little something to it -- like a perfect al dente pasta, but then it should pretty much melt in your mouth.

At that point, we figured we were done, but when we tried the broth, it still seemed to be missing something. Foodnerd suggested vinegar, but I didn't think that could be right, especially since I think she'd suggest that for just about anything anyway (it's her east-European pickle-lover side). We finally agreed on Chinese cooking wine. (we have a bottle of Shao Hsing rice cooking wine in the fridge for just such an occasion.) We tried a splash, then a few more and it rounded out the flavor nicely. All told it probably worked out to about 1/4 cup, but as with much of this, you should probably just do it to taste.

With everything else done, we finally added the vermicelli, a mung bean thread. Growing up, I used to know it as xi fen (pronounced: she-fun), and I loved the stuff. It was in college when I first heard the term "vermicelli," and since then, I had a bit of confusion as to exactly what it was that I loved so much. I just remember the little bundles of dried noodles that Mom would have in the pantry that she'd put in soups or we'd have for the (infrequent) hot pot dinners. The one time I bought them in college, I found them by pattern-matching the packaging in an Asian food store. I got it right that time, but recently we made the mistake of buying rice noodles and it just didn't cut it. It's gotta be the mung bean.

We now have a pink netting bag of Lungfung brand vermicelli, each bundle of noodles tied off with two pieces of thread, just like I remember it. I threw two bundles in, and gave it about 5 minutes to cook through and then it was serving time.

Hot, savory, rich, and yet...clean. A little crunch of bamboo shoot (and I'm usually not a big fan), cabbage that's barely there, clear noodles and yummy chunks of melt-in-your-mouth wintermelon. Ahhh.

Oh yeah, I love me some wintermelon soup.

Posted by tallasiandude at 03:00 PM | Comments (3)

December 13, 2004

bah, humbug

I am just not cut out for baking and candymaking. I tried to make the cranberry-pear jellies from the November Gourmet, and I followed the instructions EXACTLY and today I find they will stay only vaguely cubeshaped and have an alarming tendency to puddle and smush when you pick them up. To make up for this lack in a gift-package to dear friends tonight, I decided to whip up a batch of my great-uncle's fabulous butter crunch, consisting only of butter & sugar cooked to hard crack & cooled. This of course curdled just as it was starting to color, and though my mother's suggestion to whisk it actually did manage to recombine it, the damned thing had already overcooked, so now I have rather burnt-tasting crunch, also unfit for gift-giving, and possibly unfit even for surreptitious guilty comfort eating later in the privacy of my own darkened kitchen. All this on top of the parade of slumped-over horrid-looking birthday cakes over the past year. BAH.

At least the cheese scones came out okay, even if the cheese did end up mostly on the outside of the scones in crunchy puddles rather than inside. And I managed not to screw up chocolate dipped pretzels too badly, once I figured out that the colored sugar looks better if you let the chocolate cool almost all the way before dipping into the sugar. However, for my money, it's the ones sprinkled with fleur de sel that taste best. My taste for salt is clearly a sign that I should leave the confections to the competent, like spleen & hedge. Sigh.

(Update: Second replacement batch of butter crunch also curdled, and would not be reconstituted by any amount of whisking, but at least I didn't burn it and I was able to salvage it by pouring off the excess butter, then covering its textural deficiencies with chopped nuts & pushing it into the pan by hand. I give up, I swear. Sigh.)

Posted by foodnerd at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2004

hot breads

mmmmmm, we found a good one. In Woburn there's a new store called Hot Breads that sells Indian pastries and sandwiches, along with some standard breads and cakes. What could be better on a cold drizzly Saturday than a buttery croissant filled with keema (spiced minced meat) or an open-face "danish" filled with chicken tikka? The answer is either vada pav or dabeli. Vada pav is a spicy savory mashed potato patty, fried & served on a small soft bun spread with spicy mint chutney & run under a sandwich press to toast, with raw onions & a wedge of lime on the side, both of which are worthy additions. Dabeli is a mixture of chickpeas, tomatoes, potato, spices and wee crunchy noodles, served in the same fashion. Holy mackerel, these sammies are good! Yum! For dessert, there are regular sweet cakes & cookies, but also slightly salty masala cookies and cumin seed cookies (my favorite). And everything is very reasonably priced ($1.75 for the croissants, $3 for a single order of two vada pav). Too bad my office isn't in Woburn anymore. Sigh.

Posted by foodnerd at 09:37 PM | Comments (3)

December 07, 2004

damn, why didn't I think of that?

As soon as this is typed, I am getting up from the chair to make one of these.


Italian (-American) Soda
  • sugar, 1-2 T
  • flavor, e.g., vanilla extract, 1 t
  • water, flat, ca. 1 oz
  • water, fizzy, ca. 11 oz

Add sugar to your favorite glass. Add about an ounce of tap water and swirl to dissolve the sugar. Add the flavor extract to the sugar solution. Then, fill with cold fizzy water. I like mine without ice.

I usually don't care about health or diet, but this drink is quite a bit lighter than a typical soft drink. For instance, when Coke finally oozes out of the can, it has a sugar content around 10% by weight. This version is about 3%.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:26 PM | Comments (5)

December 05, 2004

aha! london indian treasure, retrieved

When in London last November, we ate in a really stupendous Indian restaurant in a northern suburb with a friend, but by the time we got home, we'd lost track of the name of both the restaurant and the suburb. Now maybe we're easily impressed Americans dulled by the sad state of Indian cookery on our shores, but I was licking plates. This place was so much better than the trendy Pakistani place recommended by droves of people on, which was downright disappointing. I could probably dig up the name of that place, but why would I ever bother, when I have found a little paper wrapper in amongst some really tragically overdue paperwork and now can tell you that we got the *real* eats at Raaz Brasserie in Muswell Hill? 176-178 Fortis Green Road, Muswell Hill, London N10 3DU. 020-8442-1320 or 020 8444 8322. Yay!

Posted by foodnerd at 11:42 PM | Comments (1)

December 02, 2004

greater than the sum of the parts

Fried egg, put between two slices pumpernickel with dijon mustard & 2 slices cheddar, and grilled in butter. Yum.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:49 AM | Comments (3)