It’s already December and I still have half a jar of preserved lemons from way back in February. That’s okay. They’ve held up well in the back of my refrigerator. Under the soft salty pulp, the rinds are still firm and bright yellow. If I let them be, I could probably store them for another year
If you are literal about preserving, you use preserved lemons in the summer when local lemons are limited to a few green Meyers dangling from a backyard tree. In this case, you use preserved lemons to brighten summer beans or on grilled shrimp. But I’m not that literal. I prefer the flavor of preserved lemons in the fall and winter when they impart vegetables and braised meats the floral notes of lemon without the intensity of fresh-squeezed lemons.
Because I’ll probably make a new batch in a month or two, the preserved-lemon jar is now in the front of the fridge so I remember to use them up. I added minced preserved rind to a pasta made with broccolini and garbanzo beans and I used a whole rind when braising vegetables, pulling it out before serving. Mixing minced rind with minced garlic and chopped parsley is a nice way to finish a rich winter braise, too.
Some review if you’ve never cooked with preserved lemons before: [click to continue…]
Next to chocolate, crunch is my favorite dessert-y element. Heidi Krahling, chef and owner of Insalata’s in San Anselmo, shares my zeal for texture in sweets. She goes for desserts that contain what she calls nuts and chews, those crunchy, chewy, nutty bits. (She is not a cheesecake fan.) One of Insalata’s most popular cookies is a toffee cookie. One day Bruce, the pastry chef, decided to mix cookie batter with pieces of toffee that were too small to serve alongside espresso. Now the toffee cookie sells so well that he makes batches of toffee just to keep up with cookie demand.
Desserts with crunch can be anything from ice cream in a sugar cone to chocolate budino with flakes of sea salt on top.
This week, I wanted make something a tad less involved than making toffee that could be used as a crunchy appendage to dessert. Since I’m posting this recipe the week of Thanksgiving, I wanted to feature something that is easy and quick to make, just the thing to doctor up a dialed-in pumpkin pie or to package up as a hostess gift. I wanted something that didn’t even require an oven—essential if the oven is already stuffed with potatoes, stuffing, turkey, or pie. [click to continue…]
It’s hard to imagine it now, but there once was a time when most people didn’t give a fig about chefs.
I attended Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in 2005. I had worked in commercial kitchens for five years and thought I could leverage what I had learned in the field into a career of reporting and writing about food. During the first quarter of the program, my professors dismissed me as a dabbler. Most did not understand my area of interest. It was so home-ec. One professor confessed that he didn’t have a handle on how to make the subject interesting. It was something that you ate, but how do you describe flavor? Musicians, actors, greedy bankers, corrupt politicians, that’s where the action was. No one seemed to pay much attention to the rising tide of food obsession in America. And I knew better than to argue that chefs were the new rock stars. [click to continue…]
I’m reading Joyce Goldstein’s book Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years that Changed Our Culinary Consciousness. Goldstein has a true insider’s view on the modern California restaurant scene. In 1984, she opened Square One in San Francisco. She was in her fifties, an unusual age to opt for the 80-hour work weeks that come with the opening-a-restaurant package deal. Square One became one of the top restaurants in the city, garnering Goldstein a James Beard award. My dad still talks about a risotto he ate there. He doesn’t like risotto usually—too dense—but he loved how kernels of sweet corn broke up the rich consistency of the rice.
I appreciate how the book includes menus from the early days of iconic restaurants such as Chez Panisse, Zuni Café, and the now-shuttered Square One and Stars. On an October 1981 menu from Chez Panisse Café, I spotted “Pizza Messicana,” a pizza with chorizo, hot and sweet peppers, cilantro, and fresh and dry jack cheese. Immediately I remembered a pizza I had last year at Zuni Café, in which poblano chiles and cilantro commingled with Cowgirl Creamery’s Wagon Wheel cheese. I never had considered putting chiles and cilantro on pizza before, but the combinations worked. [click to continue…]
The devil got loose while I was in Mexico. Apparently this happens every September. To ward off the devil, you need pericón, a small, weedy orange flower. You tie it in the shape of a cross and mount it over your door or window. Omar, the chef of Suz, my family’s restaurant in Oaxtepec, Morelos, brought an armful of the flowers to my aunt Pam. When I arrived, they were propped up in a vase on the dining room table. By the next morning, I had turned into a sneezing mess, which made me wonder who, exactly, these flowers were warding off.
And so began my introduction to Mexico’s mystical, fatalistic side. The timing was perfect for it, too: I was visiting only a month before el Día de los Muertos, the day of the dead, which takes place right after Halloween on the first and second of November. And the spirits were already congregating if the sugary calaveras, skulls, sold the Central de Abasto and calacas, bones, hanging in the Mercado de Coyoacán, were any indication. [click to continue…]
Women with bundles of hierbas de olor, Central de Abasto, Mexico City
In the old days, nearly every commercial transaction in Mexico had to pass through the center of Mexico City—the Centro. La Merced, the public market there, had a grip on the country’s buying and selling. If you owned a grocery store and wanted to stock your shelves, you went to La Merced to buy the goods. You can imagine the traffic.
Every year, my grandmother, Kay, used to drive to the Centro to buy her Christmas cards. Mothers have a way of embarrassing daughters without realizing it, although sometimes I think it’s part of a scheme to toughen them up for the real world. On her annual Christmas card errand, Kay would bring along her youngest daughter, my aunt Pam. “I’ll only be twenty minutes,” Kay would say before parking the car illegally and leave teenage Pam behind, instructing her to be nice to the policia if they asked why in the world she was parked there.
Pam would sit, stricken, until her mother reappeared. But going into the Centro always took longer than planned, and twenty minutes had a habit of turning into an hour. Pam learned how to smile nicely at the policia. [click to continue…]
Before I left for Mexico in late September, I wrote a story about regional Mexican dishes on restaurant menus in America. While interviewing chefs for the piece, I asked them to name a few Mexican ingredients that American chefs habitually overlook.
Jimmy Shaw, the chef and founder of Lotería Grill, a group of restaurants in the L.A. area, quickly said squash blossoms. And then he took it back. While it’s true that not a lot American chefs use squash blossoms in Mexican preparations, it’s hard enough wrestling local supply away from L.A.’s Italian chefs, he explained. So for the sake of the article, he offered me huitlacoche, corn fungus, instead.
In the U.S., squash blossoms are the late spring, early summer flowers that come from zucchini plants. They are often filled with cheese and deep-fried by those same Italian chefs with whom Jimmy competes for supply. I have seen chefs take tweezers to remove the inner bits, handling the blooms with kid gloves.
In Mexico, squash blossoms—flor de calabaza—aren’t the small, delicate zucchini (calabacita) blossoms but the much larger blooms from winter squash vines. They pop up during the rainy season, which starts in the summer, and they were in full force in late September during my visit. [click to continue…]
Clay bowls drying in San Bartolomé, Puebla
My mother’s maiden name is Munro, which sounds about as Latin as single malt Scotch. Yet she and her five siblings spent their formative years in el D.F., “de-effe,” Mexico’s capital city–the Distrito Federal. Outside the city limits, people just call it “Mexico,” like how Americans habitually shorten New York City to New York.
I’ve grown up hearing about my mom’s Mexican childhood, especially the countless parties. “Girls!” my grandmother would bellow, “get your guitars.” The three oldest in the family, my mom and her two sisters, would dutifully pull out their instruments and sing Mexican folk songs to a crowd of diplomats and spies. On my dad’s first visit to the family ranch north of the city, he and my mom saddled up and headed to the nearest dusty town to buy tortillas. My dad’s Converse sneakers hung free of the stirrups, yet he felt himself becoming a character out of one of his beloved spaghetti Westerns.
Yet to me, these stories have always been trapped in sepia photos. I’ve been to Mexico, but I never really saw the country apart from a lukewarm trip to Sanborn’s, a walk through Mexico City’s zona rosa, my uncle’s first (and wild) wedding in Guanajuato, and a few forays to beach areas along the pacific coast. It had been more than 15 years since I spent time in the town where my mom’s youngest sister, Pam, and her family lives.
So last week, my mom and I flew to el D. F. for a long-overdue visit. [click to continue…]
I met Kat Silverstein, the creator of 7 Doors Studio, through mutual friends when I lived in Chicago. Yet the entire time we spent sharing plates of vegetables at Mana or sipping coffee served on silver trays at Julius Meinl, we never talked about art—or, rather, art as applied to kitchenware. [click to continue…]
I had the best intentions of making something new to me and delicious. But new recipes don’t always yield delicious results. And there are so many ways to get distracted. It’s fall, there are deadlines, my mom and I head to Mexico in two weeks for an eating adventure….(more on that later).
There was a vegetable biryani, which was supposed to be redolent with cardamom, ginger, peas, carrots, and onion but came out middling to fair. There are many other delicious ways to prepare vegetables and rice that take far less time. (The dalliance, 2 hours plus cleanup, was not worth it.) Also, I love cardamom, but I had a hard time reconciling its flavor with a myriad of other nuances in the dish.
There was a fig clafoutis (clafouti?), which was delicious, though hardly perfect and maybe a tad dense once it cooled. What were perfect were the mission figs from Knoll Farm. These figs demand to be eaten within a day of purchase, and clafoutis is as good a way as any to show them off. [click to continue…]