Spamalot (or not)

Posted by Anita on 10.22.06 11:49 AM

spam & eggs (c)2006 AECFor years, my family’s observed a rather lowbrow holiday breakfast tradition: Cubed ham and quartered hard-boiled eggs in a cheddar-infused bechamel sauce, served over toast. It’s the kind of impossibly rich dish that should come with the name of a good cardiologist, so it’s best left to the “a couple times a year” section of the recipe box.

I’ll probably lose all foodie cred when I admit that, originally, this concoction was made with both Spam and Velveeta — the ham and cheddar are relatively modern improvements. We still call it Spam ‘n’ Eggs for nostalgia’s sake, even though no actual spams have been harmed for years. At least that’s what I used to be able to say…

It’s not an official holiday, but my sister and I are both visiting my folks, and this morning Dad announced that he had a craving for Spam ‘n’ Eggs. Mom offered to run down to Vons and pick up some ham — we had all the other ingredients on hand — but Dad stopped her short.

“Not ham. Spam.”

“Real SPAM?” we all asked in unison.


So we indulged him. And, you know, it wasn’t bad. Of course, you could put dog kibble in cheese sauce and it would taste pretty good. Still, unless you’re overwhelmed with morbid curiosity, I highly suggest you stick with ham.

Spam ‘n’ Eggs
6T butter
6T flour
5-6 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
pinch of dry mustard
3/4 pound ham (or 12-oz can Spam Lite, if you must)
6-8 hard-boiled eggs
1 loaf English muffin bread (or other good toasting bread)

Cut ham into 1/3-inch dice, and set aside. Quarter eggs vertically, and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, until foaming subsides. Sprinkle with the flour, and whisk well and cook until bubbly and whitened. Add 5 cups of milk, and continue to whisk until just below a boil; reduce heat. Continue to stir until thickened to the consistency of pancake batter. Add cheese and mustard, and stir until cheese melts. Thin with more milk, if desired; you want the sauce to be spoonable, but not runny. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the ham to the sauce, and continue to stir until heated through. Reduce heat to low, and set the egg quarters into the sauce, taking care not to dislodge yolks, if possible. Push eggs down into the sauce, and heat through gently.

Meanwhile, toast the bread and keep warm in a towel-lined basket until all slices are toasted. When ready to serve, place two slices of toast on each plate, and spoon the egg-sauce-ham mixture over the top.

ps: Happy birthday to Rocky, my Spam-loving friend.

breakfast, family, recipes


To market, to market

Posted by Anita on 10.22.06 11:47 AM

prickly pears (c)2006 AECI’ve always loved going to farmers markets, even before they became the trendy (aqnd pricey) scenes they are now. When I lived in Menlo Park, ages ago, there was a farmer there who sold the most wonderful corn I’ve eaten on the West Coast. She admonished anyone within earshot in a nasaly whine: “Don’t cook my corn! Just HEAT IT and EAT IT!” Of course, we have to replay this little scene anytime we’re cooking heating corn, or any other fragile food.

Even after all these years of wandering the asphalt aisles and sniffing out seasonal veggies, I think this is the first year where I really am getting a full understanding of the interleaved seasons of all the produce that’s grown in Northern California. It doesn’t take much of a genius to recognize that tomatoes are summer food, but it’s another thing entirely to see the incremental changes that happen week by week, variety to variety.

In hindsight, I’m incredibly glad that my New Year’s resolutions included getting closer to the source of my food — being at the market each and every week makes a great weekend ritual, and a real eye-opener. I don’t think I ever realized, for example, that many spring crops — favas, artichokes and the like — enjoy a second season in the autumn. It makes sense, when you think about it, but it’s easier to grok when you’re seeing it happen.

I’m going to miss the next two weeks of the market while I’m visiting my family, so I very deliberately soaked up as much of the atmosphere as I could. The weather was spectacular, one of those bright-crisp days we get as the seasons change, and everything looked beautiful. Primavera even made chilaquiles, after two weeks of huevos rancheros and other substitutes… we joked that they must have known I was leaving town, but in all seriousness, it was a lovely way to start my long travel day.

breakfast, farmers markets, shopping
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Friday news nibbles

Posted by Anita on 10.20.06 10:57 PM

punkin doughnuts!Krispy Kreme‘s got a pumpkin spice cake doughnut on offer for the holidays, plus — so cute it’s almost scary — pumpkin-shaped raised glazed with ‘ittle Jack-o-Lantern faces (pictured at right) through the end of the month. Awww!

Hot on the heels of their “$6,000 combo meal” TV spot, the fast-food hucksters at KCE/Hardee’s (that’s Carl’s Jr. to us West Coasters) released a list of suggested wine pairings for their speciality sandwiches. Perhaps monsieur would care for a bottle of Peachy Canyon Incredible Red with his Jalapeño Thickburger?

Or perhaps a bottle of bubbly? Perrier’s launching a new campaign aimed at the younger set, going for that edgy thing in an attempt to ditch its Miami Vice-era aura.

I’m still reeling from their purchase of Sharffen Berger, so please forgive me if I don’t seem happy about Hershey’s buying up Oregon’s Dagoba Organic Chocolate.

News of the wierd: Until last week, the world’s largest curry house was located in West Yorkshire, of all places. Hard to imagine that it’s gone out of business, innit?

Another shocker: The Amish don’t want your flippin’ food stamps!

breakfast, drinks, levity, news, other stuff, shopping, wine & bubbly
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DOTW: Moscow Mule

Posted by Anita on 10.20.06 6:09 AM

moscow mule (c)2006 CTCWanting a little refreshment before dinner, I gave Cameron a list of four or five ginger-beer-based cocktails, and asked him to pick one that sounded appealing. I’m glad I left the decision up to him, because I almost certainly would have chosen one of the drinks that marries a brown liquor with this spicy soda. Which would have been a shame, because the Moscow Mule is a lovely cocktail, a spicy-tart variation on a gin and tonic, but without the bitter aftertaste.

Usually, the drinks dreamed up by PR flacks are gawdawful messes. But the story of the Moscow Mule shows that — just like a million monkeys banging away on a million Smith-Coronas might eventually produce Shakespeare — sometimes these misbegotten concoctions turn out just fine.

A quick Google on “Moscow Mule” turns up a few variations on the story of the drink’s genesis, but most sources agree that representatives of Smirnoff vodka and Cock n’ Bull ginger beer put their heads together and came up with a way to market their slow-moving beverages. Someone designed a cute copper mug to serve it in, and they quickly made their way into mixological history.

As you might expect, much depends on the quality of your ginger beer, so steer clear of the Canada Dry and seek out something with a bit of bite, and not too much sweetness. Locally, our new friends down at City Beer sell Cock n’ Bull’s modern incarnation, and BevMo stocks a surprisingly wide selection of ginger brews.

Moscow Mule
2 ounces vodka
3 ounces good, spicy ginger beer
1 ounce fresh lime juice

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled old-fashioned glass (or, more traditionally, a copper mug). Garnish with a lime wedge.

Drink of the Week, drinks, recipes


Another busy week

Posted by Anita on 10.19.06 7:36 AM

cauliflower (c)2006 AECAck, I hate it when I look up and realize that (a) it’s almost the weekend and (b) I haven’t written anything since the previous weekend. Chalk it up to a busy week, I suppose.

Which is not to say that we haven’t been cooking — and eating — quite a lot. Saturday we did our usual trek to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in the morning. Although the light wasn’t as gorgeous as it was the week before, there were still plenty of gorgeous specimens to photograph… many of which you’ll see in the week’s menus.

Saturday evening, we roasted a little chicken from Hoffman, which made us realize — duh! — that yes, Virgina, there is a huge difference between these coddled birds and even the Rosies and Rockys at Whole Paycheck. Just like the pork and beef from Prather, I’d much rather spend the same money to have a little of this kind of chicken than a lot of the commercial stuff. Anyway, sermon over…

I’d also bought a bagful of broccoli di ciccio and turned it into a tasty side dish with orecchiete and sauteed chickpeas. For such a simple recipe, it was incredibly satisfying — and even better the next day for lunch, with some of the leftover chicken meat shredded into it.

The next morning, I got up early and baked a Red Velvet cake from the Lee Bros. cookbook, in preparation for a dinner that evening with friends. Just like every other recipe I’ve tried from that book, it required a bit of interpolation to make it work, but the end result was pretty good… and definitely red! I realized in the process that I hadn’t done much baking at all, in a very long time. That’s going to change — I really miss it!

There’s nothing we like better than puttering around the house, tidying and cooking and getting things ready for a dinner party. In this case, an impromptu meal with our friends Sean and DPaul, who we hadn’t seen for dinner in far too long. They’d spent the afternoon putting up a truckload of preserves, so by the time they hit our living room, they were well ready for a drink… and to sit down!

We drank our Manhattans and ate a plate of radishes with Irish butter and fleur de sel, and listened enviously to their tales of pear butter and other seasonal spreads. Ah, another thing I haven’t done this year — not even a batch of pickles. Sigh.

Dinner was a salad of marinated roasted beets served with bleu cheese crumbles and rosemary-roasted walnuts; the Zuni Cafe cookbook’s mock porchetta — our old standby — with roasted teeeensy potatoes and chunks of fennel; and, of course, that Red Velvet cake.

Monday night brought a soup-and-sandwich supper: The triumphant return of the cauliflower and Stilton soup from a Soup of the Fortnight of yore, paired with BAT (bacon, avocado, and tomato) sandwiches. Yum! So much fun to take good bacon — this time from Prather Ranch — and pair it with pain de mie and one of the last superripe heirloom tomatoes of the season.

And then Tuesday, we ate a very simple dinner of chorizo tacos and soupy beans. Man, those Fatted Calf boys know how to make tasty sausage — I think theirs is even better than my own! Paired with Rancho Gordo ojo de cabro beans and fresh-masa tortillas, I can’t imagine a better quick-weeknight dinner. Or breakfast! We smashed up some of the beans, tossed in some leftover chorizo, doused it all with good salsa roja, and stirred in some of RG’s chips, and sprinkled with queso… chilaquiles on a weekday, be still my beating heart!

More food later… must go pay the bills.

baking, cookbooks, entertaining, farmers markets, meat, Mexican, shopping, Soup o' the Fortnight


Bread, man

Posted by Cameron on 10.16.06 9:34 PM

BreadWhen I was a kid, my mom made bread. There were years when she only made it once in a while and years when she made it every week. Her baking rhythm was inversely proportional to the sophistication of our surroundings. There was a solid year or two when we lived on a 16-acre farm in rural New Hampshire. During that time, we ate home-churned butter on home-baked bread and washed it down with whole, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk (from whence came the cream that spawned the butter).

Mom’s bread was rustic, and not in any big-bubbled, artisanal, sourdough fashionista sort of way. She used whole grains and honey and god knows what else, and one slice would see you clear through marching up the hill and back down again, especially if that slice was carrying a load of cheddar cheese and had just spent some quality time in the toaster oven. Serious stuff, my friends.

Serious, and for a young lad exposed to all the temptations of a modern industrialized society, all too easy to take for granted. You have no idea how I longed for white bread in those days. I dreamed of Wonder bread, layered with Oscar Meyer bologna and processed American cheese, dressed with Heinz ketchup and yellow mustard.

I never really had a chance at being a baker. One summer, while working at a bistro in Portsmouth, NH, one of the part-owners began to teach me how to make croissants. I stuck with him for a while, but I was soon distracted by being a teenage boy in a seasonal vacation town. Hell, Guns ‘n’ Roses Appetite for Destruction went huge that year, and I could never square getting up at oh-dark-thirty to fold dough with late-night dart games fueled by weed and beer.

These days, we buy our bread. The closest thing that we have to a house loaf is the pain de mie that Acme Bread sells at the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market in SF. Despite the pretentious surroundings and occasional bursts of hipper-than-thou attitude from the purveyors, it’s damn good bread. It’s the sort of white bread that I’d imagine my mom would have made if she’d put her mind to it: a tight, even crumb balanced by a crust that’s chewy without being overbearing.

Note: This post is in honor of

baking, family, farmers markets, shopping


Frittering the day away

Posted by Anita on 10.15.06 6:15 PM

fried green tomatoes (c)2006 AECThere’s nothing sadder than fruit left on the vine at the end of summer, with no prayer of ripening. Our not-terribly-prolific tomato plant on the back porch finally got around to setting fruit just in time for autumn’s chill, so we’ve got an abundance — yea, a vertiable bumper crop — of green tomatoes that will never become red. Luckily, the theme for this month’s installment of Hay Hay It’s Donna Day (hostessed by JenJen at Milk & Cookies) is Fritters, a perfect excuse to sizzle up some fried green tomatoes.

We got an advance review copy of the Lee Brothers’ new cookbook last week, and we’ve been testing out a few recipes. Even though I am (technically) a daughter of the South, I find most Southern cookbooks rather ho-hum. I want to love Frank Stitt, and there’s a warm spot in my heart for Miz Lewis (and her port-roasted pork shoulder, specifically), but every time I test out a new collection of Southern recipes, my response is an unqualified “meh.”

This time, I thought I’d gotten lucky. Flipping through the draft, I noticed a ton of recipes that seem a little more interesting than the norm. Sure, there’s the obligatory receipts for pimento cheese, spiced pecans and whole country ham, but then there’s also a chile relleno stuffed with cheese grits, a smattering of cocktails that breaks out of the julep-and-punch mold, and a mini-section on preserving. More than a handful of recipes boast a Sunday (fancy) and Tuesday (easy) version, and each chapter offers “QKO”s aplenty — quick knockouts that turn out impressive-but-speedy weeknight suppers.

Unfortunately, none of the recipes we’ve tried yet have been out-of-the-ballpark successes. We enjoyed the Pork Loin Chops with Pears and Vidalia Pan Gravy, but it seemed like a lot of prep work for a “quick knockout”. We both agreed we would try the Buttermilk Ice Cream again, although I’d probably add a touch of corn syrup to help with the grainy texture. (Still, if you put Fran’s caramel sauce and some toasted pecans on it, you’ll be so transported that you may not notice the less-than-stellar mouthfeel.) It’s sad that something so elemental as ice cream would need to be tinkered with, though.

Which brings us back to those tomato fritters, aka Fried Green Tomatoes. Now, my mama taught me that if you cain’t say somethin’ nice, keep your mouth shut… but just between you and me, the breading was so incredibly salty that we literally couldn’t eat the tomatoes. Which is a shame, really, as the texture was lovely, and the underlying recipe was very well planned.

It’s even more worrisome, though, that the super-salty “all-purpose dredge” used the coating is a master recipe, called for in fried chicken, fish, oysters and such. The accompanying buttermilk dressing was similarly flawed: oddly flavored and way too runny — as though the ratios were off here, too. I certainly hope that these issues are fixed in the final edition (which just hit the streets).

Here’s my modified version of the recipe:
Green Tomato Fritters
- adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 T stone-ground cornmeal
2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound green (unripe) tomatoes (2-3 medium)
1 large egg, beaten well
1/4 cup whole milk
approximately 1 cup peanut oil
salt, to taste

Whisk all of the dry ingredients together in a flat bowl or pie plate. In a second bowl or pie plate, whisk the egg and milk until well blended.

Cut the stem ends off the tomatoes and slice them 1/4-inch thick with a serrated knife.

Pour the oil into a low skillet to a depth of 1/3 inch, and heat over medium-high. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 225°F, and set a baking rack over a cookie sheet on the top rack.

Place a plate near the stove, lined with a double thickness of paper towels; have more towels handy.

Press a tomato slice into the dredge, once on each side, and shake off any excess. Dip the dredged slice into the egg wash on both sides, shaking off excess, then back into the dredge on both sides. Shake off excess coating and place slice on a clean platter. Repeat with more slices until you have enough to fill your skillet.

With a spatula — not your fingers — transfer the first batch to the hot oil in the skillet. As the first batch cooks, dredge more tomato slices, keeping an eye on the skillet. Once the slices are golden brown on one side (about 2 minutes) flip them carefully and fry for 2 minutes more or until equally brown on both sides. When done, remove to the paper-towel-lined plate, sprinkle with salt as needed, and let sit for 1 minute.

Arrange the cooked slices in a single layer on the rack in the oven, until all slices are cooked. Serve hot, with your favorite creamy buttermilk ranch-style dressing as a dip.
(For more pix, check out our Fried Green Tomatoes photo set.)

cookbooks, cooking, dessert, garden, other blogs, recipes


Caption contest

Posted by Cameron on 10.13.06 10:22 AM

cakedressValentyn Shtefano may be the toast of Uzhhorod, Ukraine, but upstaging a bride on her wedding day is bad form. After seeing this photograph, we wonder if Mr. Shtefano might one day wish he’d chosen a different venue for his food/fashion debut.

Click on the pic to see Viktoriya’s dress made out of cream puffs by her husband Valentyn, take a close look at her expression, and then come back and give us your best photo caption.

dessert, levity


Autumnal abundance

Posted by Anita on 10.13.06 8:37 AM

persimmons & grapes (c)2006 AECIt’s taken me a week to realize that I didn’t (and don’t) have time to write about last Saturday’s highly enjoyable trip to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, which was all the more fun for having been out of town for too many weekends.

The stalls were filled with all manner of picturesque veggies & fruits. I actually ate a red apple that I loved, which shocked me… I usually despise the mealy things, but this one was crisp, tart, and lovely.

The morning’s only (minor) disappointment was the lack of chilaquiles at Primavera… but an order of Huevos Rancheros and a chili verde pork tamal were aceeptable stand-ins.

Plenty of pix on Flickr… the light was downright Flemish. I hope tomorrow’s as nice.

farmers markets, shopping
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DOTW: The Painkiller

Posted by Anita on 10.13.06 8:24 AM

De Loose MongooseMeeta at What’s for Lunch Honey? is hosting this month’s Mixology Monday:

Topic for this event is Exotic Drinks — from the Bahama Mamas you order while on vacation to the ongoing exploration of Grog Log, this event is for the colorful, the relaxing, the vibrant.

Careful observers will note that today’s actually Friday, but DOTW traditions must go on! Just call us slightly ahead of the curve.

Picking our favorite exotic cocktail is easy: We stumbled — perhaps a bit too literally — onto the Painkiller during our first trip to Tortola, ages ago, at a beachfront bar called De Loose Mongoose (pictured above) The running joke as we mixed them up on the guest-house porch of Mermaid Villa was “hey, go easy on the orange juice!”… because the rum was so damned cheap and the OJ was imported by air from Puerto Rico.

MxMo ExoticThe Painkiller
4 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce Coco Lopez coconut cream
2 to 4 ounces dark rum (preferably Pusser’s)
whole nutmeg

Mix all ingredients together, then pour into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with a grating of fresh nutmeg, and garnish with a wedge of pineapple, if desired.

Drink of the Week, drinks, Mixology Monday, other blogs, recipes, travel