essay

Instinctual Evidence

At this point I really should just follow my instincts.

I read a recipe, think, “Well, that’s not going to work;” but, intrigued, try it anyway. And then it doesn’t work.

Last night it was a romanesco-calabaza gratin. Baked “uncovered” for 30 minutes, then topped with cheesy-nutty breadcrumbs and baked for another 30, I was sure the top layer of veg would never soften adequately without covering for the first half of baking to allow a bit of steaming. End result, it was edible–almost delicious–but it could have been softer.

My instincts paid off with the main course for my menu project though. Although I didn’t love the way this dish photographed, the flavor was outstanding. Read the back story here.

Roasted Pork Loin, stuffed with Beer & Vinegar Braised Cabbage
Yield: 8 Servings

For the Pork
3-4 lb. Pork Loin
2 T coarse mustard
S+P
20 g Neutral oil

For the Cabbage Stuffing
200g Vidalia onion, emincer
1 t. caraway seeds
½ t celery seeds
1 small head green cabbage, sliced in ½” strips
1 small head red cabbage, sliced in ½“ strips
100g carrots, julienne
4 oz cider vinegar
12 oz Unibroue Ephemere Ale
Pinch of sugar
20g butter, Salt & pepper

For the Sauce
Pork trimmings (including bacon rind removed from salad lardon)
100 g onions, mirepoix
2 garlic cloves, smashed
400 g tomatoes, quartered
30 g bourbon or rye
1000 g pork stock
5 g Chervil, hacher
5 g Parsley, hacher

For the Gastrique
85 g brown sugar
85 g cider vinegar

For the Pork Stock
6 lbs. pork bones
450 g onions
450 g carrots
3 celery stalks
50 g tomato paste
225 g tomato scraps
100 g mushroom trim
80 g leek greens
½ head garlic
Bouquet garni

For the Stock

  1. Roast the bones in an oven set to 375º until golden, stirring occasionally and making sure sucs don’t brown too quickly.
  2. Add onions and carrots and continue to roast until starting to caramelize.
  3. In a large pot, sauté leek and mushrooms until caramelized, add tomato paste and cook for several minutes. Add tomato scrap & let the juices reduce significantly.
  4. Add roasted veg and bones & cover with water. Add bouquet and bring to a boil. Simmer for 6 hours, adding water as necessary to keep submerged. Skim as needed. Strain and chill.

For the Stuffing & Pork

  1. Sweat onions in neutral oil until translucent and just starting to color.
  2. Add seeds and allow the flavors to bloom for a few seconds
  3. Add carrots and cabbage and sauté briefly.
  4. Add ale, vinegar & sugar and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce to simmer & cook until the cabbage is tender.
  6. If necessary, pour out excess liquid & add butter, sautéing to coat cabbage.
  7. Place in a colander and allow to drain while it cools. Set aside.
  8. Butterfly the pork loin, season both sides with salt and pepper and then brush just the inside with mustard.
  9. Layer the cooked cabbage on the loin, leaving a ½” boarder and roll loin back into shape. Secure with butcher’s string.
  10. Sear all sides of the roast in a pan with neutral oil.
  11. Place in the oven preheated to 375º and roast until a thermometer inserted in the center of the roast reads 145º.
  12. Remove from the oven and let rest before slicing. Deglaze pan with stock and add back to sauce.

For the Sauce

  1. Brown pork trimmings and bacon rind.
  2. Add mirepoix and garlic and caramelize. Degrease and flambé with bourbon.
  3. Add tomatoes and allow them to release their juice and reduce.
  4. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and reinforce for at least 30 minutes. Strain.
  5. In a separate pan, melt brown sugar until it reaches a dark caramel.
  6. Add vinegar to deglaze and cook until combined.
  7. Bring reinforced stock to a boil, reduce to nappant. Add gastrique bit by bit until a balanced flavor is achieved. Add herbs.

 Heirloom Bean Salad with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

4 cups Eye of the Goat beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
15 g Worcestershire
2 bay leaves
1 onion, split in half
400 g plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane
30 g Cider Vinegar
15 g Dark brown sugar
15 g Mustard
85 g Neutral oil, plus more for tomatoes
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered appropriately4 Green onions, sliced on the bias
Salt and black pepper
5 g Chervil, hacher

  1. Rinse the beans and cover with fresh water in a russe along with bay leaves and onion.
  2. Bring to a boil and simmer until the beans are tender, about 2 ½ hours.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare dressing by slicing plum tomatoes in half, tossing with oil, salt and pepper and placing upside down on a sheet tray.
  4. Roast tomatoes in an oven set to 300ºF for about one hour. Remove from oven and allow them to come to room temperature.
  5. Place in a food processor along with garlic, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire, salt and pepper.
  6. Strain and then slowly drizzle in oil, either whisking by hand or returned to the processor on low, to create an emulsion.
  7. When the beans are ready, drain and toss the hot beans in the dressing. Chill.
  8. Add the tomatoes, green onions and chervil, toss, adjust seasoning and chill.

 Pommes Rissolées

 4 Starchy Potatoes
Neutral Oil
Butter

  1. Cut potatoes into spheres with a melon baller.
  2. Just cover with cold water and bring to a boil.
  3. As soon as the water comes to a boil, strain and allow potatoes a few minutes to dry out.
  4. Sauté potatoes in neutral oil until golden. Degrease.
  5. Add butter and finish in an oven set to 375º.

 For Service

  1. Place bean salad in the center of a plate. Lay a few slices of pork atop, nap with the sauce and place a few rissoléed potatoes around the plate.

 Drink Pairing

 Unibroue Ephemere Apple (white ale brewed with green apple must)

Charred & Chilled

ImageI dropped the ball.

I meant to post the entirety of my menu project on subsequent days without pause. Obviously that didn’t happen. I got distracted. There was a storm–you might’ve heard of it–then there was another storm. I was one of the lucky ones. I never lost power, I never lost cable. In fact, I sat through most of the event, watching the happenings from my six-story window until K decided we should close the blinds over concerns of safety. With no trees immediately imminent out of our window, I thought it safer to leave the blinds up, thus in view of the branches hurtling at us rather than being surprised when shards of window were met with the disappointment that we would now need to replace our newly broken blinds….but I digress.

We made it through the week and then on Sunday there was bustle and talk at the farmer’s market. How had families fared? When do you think transit will resume? What did you spend your time making in the kitchen!?

You’d think that I would have spent time testing recipes. Making some dish that takes too long to even consider making on a regular day. But, I did not. I mostly made simple recipes & I didn’t take pictures of any of them. And I’m okay with that. You don’t need to be party to everything that I eat.

I will, however, say that the caramelized onion and fernet steamed mussels were amazing. As was the chicken-sausage and purple cauliflower fried rice. And the bluefish sandwiches. And the cheddar-bacon shortbread cookies, And the baked pumpkin yeast doughnuts. And the puff-pastry with mustard green pesto, blue cheese and concord grape reduction drizzle. Though not so much the homemade tootsie rolls…

One thing I didn’t make was soup. And that’s because even in this time of lost power and cold nights, I’m forced to live with windows open and fans running on high because my apartment is so unbelievably hot–first world problems, y’all. Although, I guess I could have made this soup because it’s chilled. Technically it’s charred and chilled. You can read about why it’s charred and chilled here. Otherwise, make the soup to enjoy in your sweltering apartment (although it’s also good served warm). Either way, it’s delicious.
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Charred & Chilled Green Bean Soup
Yield: 8 Servings

1 medium Vidalia onion, ciseler
2 lbs. Italian green beans, cleaned
2 quarts green vegetable stock
S+P
Neutral oil, for sautéing
Micro-greens, for garnish
Olive oil, for drizzling

For the Cornbread Croutons
1 cup White Lily Self-Rising Buttermilk Cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of sugar
½ t baking powder
Pinch of salt
¼ cup neutral oil
1 ½ cups milk
1 egg
50 g Melted Butter

For the Green Vegetable Stock
100 g onions, mirepoix
200 g celery, mirepoix
200 g white mushrooms, gills removed, halved
1 leek, mirepoix
150 g broccoli stems
1 green garlic stem
100 g carrot greens
Bouquet Garni
4 allspice berries

For the Stock

  1. Sweat each of the vegetables separately, without achieving any color. Too much color in the stock will lend the soup an unappealing color when finished.
  2. Return all veg to the pot along with carrot greens, bouquet and allspice and cover with water. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Skim as needed. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 additional minutes. Strain & chill.

For the Soup

  1. Using a cast iron pan, sweat the onions in a bit of neutral oil until they are translucent and just starting to color.
  2. Add the green beans and briefly sauté until starting to soften.
  3. Add vegetable stock just to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and beans are very soft (add more stock or water if necessary).
  4. Once the liquid has completely evaporated, stir often, allowing them to scorch slightly.
  5. Place in a blender and add enough vegetable stock to make a puree. Add more stock bit by bit until the desired thickness is achieved, keeping in mind that the soup will be served chilled.
  6. Return to the pot and to the heat and bring just to the boil to meld all the flavors. Adjust seasoning
  7. Push through a fine chinois and then chill.

For the CroutonsImage

  1. Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar & salt.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk to combine.
  3. Pour into a greased loaf pan and place in an oven preheated to 425º.
  4. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, until golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature.
  5. Remove cornbread from pan and slice into ½” squares.
  6. Place on a sheet pan and drizzle with melted butter. Toss lightly and place back in the oven til crisp and golden.

For Service

  1. Ladle soup into bowls & top with cornbread croutons, micro-greens and a drizzle of olive oil.

Drink Pairing
Broadbent Vinho Verde – 2011

Unexpected Fame

Photo courtesy of bkgreenmarkets

I entered the annual apple pie bake-off at my local farmer’s market.

After that, everything went wrong.

I decided that I would prep all my pie components on Saturday and then assemble and bake the pie on Sunday, the day of the competition. I’m pretty bad about following that age-old rule of never making something for someone that you haven’t made before–so the pie was basically an experiment.

I started with a pecan crust. Having never made a nut crust, I figured I would just cut some of the flour from my usual pie crust and sub in pecan meal. It all seemed to go fine & after chilling it rolled out well. I left the rolled crust in the fridge to rest overnight.

I made a bourbon-brown sugar apple compote. It tasted awesome. I chilled it and put it too in the fridge.

On Sunday morning I awoke, padded up to the kitchen, noticed my refrigerator had been left ajar, proceeded to freak out, and resolved my mind to make it work. However, my crust was far too warm/soft to roll up or fold up or transfer in any way and fell apart. Thus I proceeded to pat and patch it into the pan–I’d planned to do a rustic edge anyway, so thought this fine. I assembled the rest of the pie–crises mostly averted, I went to rest while my crust set in a 425 oven for 10 minutes.

My fire alarm went off.

Back in the kitchen there was smoke billowing from my oven. No actual fire, thank goodness–I assume something must have spilled onto the oven floor. Convinced my wayward crust and once great compote would now taste like barbecue, I turned the oven down to 350 to finish baking. The smoke stopped.

Upon removal, I let the pie rest. I’d made it in a spring form, so took off the sides, allowing it to cool a little faster. Ready to go, I tried to transfer it from baking dish to serving dish: the crust caved in.

I proceeded to freak out.

Oh well, it’s only one quadrant.

I took the pie anyway since I had a friend coming to enter the contest as well. And I didn’t want to let my market manager down, as she knows me by name…

And then I won.

And now people on the neighborhood blog are asking if they can buy one.

It just goes to show you: figuring out the world is impossible.

Figuring out this salad was pretty easy though. It was the first official course of menu project & you can read all about the inspiration here.

7 Component Salad
Yield: 8 Servings

280 grams baby romaine
8 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and sliced
8 halves deviled eggs
200 grams bacon
150 grams Parmesan Cheese, cut into ½” shards
300 grams green peas
200 grams celery, macedoine
Chives, for garnish

For the Dressing
1 egg yolk
1 T Dijon
¼ t salt
½ t sherry vinegar
½ t lemon juice
1 t granular sugar
Cayenne pepper, to taste
150 g neutral oil
Celery Leaves, hacher
Water, as needed

For the Deviled Eggs
4 hard boiled eggs
bacon fat from the lardon
1T mayonnaise
½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ t cayenne
30 g sweet pickles, brunoise
2 t chives, minced, plus more for garnish
Paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Dressing

  1. Combine egg yolk, mustard, salt, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and pepper in a bowl.
  2. Whisk the oil in gradually to create an emulsion and until you’ve reached the desired consistency (adding water to loosen if necessary). Add celery leaves.

For the Bacon:

  1. Remove the rind and cut the bacon into strips ½” long
  2. Cut the bacon strips into lardons, approximately ½” wide.
  3. Sauté the lardon until they render out most of their fat.
  4. Set aside and reserve bacon fat.

 For the Peas & Celery:

  1. Prepare each, separately, à l’anglaise, refresh in ice water, and then combine and set aside.

 For the Deviled Eggs:

  1. Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Refresh Eggs in ice water for several minutes and then peel.
  3. Slice eggs in half. Set the whites aside and put the yolks into a bowl with mayonnaise, mustard, cayenne and salt. Mash the yolks into a paste and then add rendered bacon fat until it reaches the desired consistency.
  4. Stir in the pickles and 2 t chives.
  5. Put the yolk mixture into a piping bag and pipe into the egg white cavities.
  6. Garnish each egg with paprika and a 1 inch piece of chive.

 For the Water Chestnuts:

  1. Rinse well and peel with a vegetable peeler.
  2. Slice into ¼” rounds.
  3. Rinse again & set aside, in cold water.

 For Service:

  1. Lightly dress lettuce and place a layer on each plate.
  2. Dress the pea and celery mixture and fill a 2” ring mold.
  3. Set 1 egg half atop each mound. And remove ring mold.
  4. Drain water chestnuts & dress. Place 3 slices on each plate.
  5. Place 3 pieces each of the bacon lardons & Parmesan shards around the plate.
  6. Garnish with minced chives.

 

Each course require a beverage pairing, for this one I chose a Rose Spritzer. More on why here.

Drink Pairing

Rosé Spritzer
Yield: 8 drinks

1 bottle Château Tassin Rosé from Wineberry  
4 oz. Cherry Heering Liqueur
Seltzer Water, to taste
1 Lemon
1 Lime
8 Maraschino cherries


For the Maraschino Cherries
1 pint sour cherries
1 cup unrefined sugar
1 cup water
1 cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
3 black peppercorns
1 sprig thyme

For the Maraschino Cherries

  1. Put sugar, water, peppercorns, thyme and a pinch of salt into a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
  2. Add cherries (they can be pitted, but leaving the pits in does lend additional flavor). Return to a boil until they’ve turned bright red.
  3. Pour into a holding vessel and add liqueur. Let rest until they’ve reached room temperature. Chill.

For the Cocktail

  1. Fill cocktail glasses half-way with ice.
  2. Slice both the lemon and the lime thinly. Lightly twist one round of each over 8 glasses to release the essential oils & then drop the round into the glass.
  3. Pour 2 ounces of wine into each glass.
  4. Pour 0.5 ounce of cherry liqueur into each glass.
  5. Top with seltzer, stir gently, garnish with cherry & serve.

Growing Up & Branching Out

As I progressed in the development of my menu project, something seemingly unrelated, yet altogether more important, became apparent to me: that the end of July, 2012—the point at which the project would be due—would mark the end of a near decade living with my sister, as adults, tackling New York as comrades.

I point this out because my menu focused on heightened versions of the foods of our youth. Taking the recipes learned from my mother or grandmother and twisting them into restaurant worthy dishes was a study in reflection. First in reminiscence of the time spent eating those dishes, how they shaped the chef to be. Second, seeing the analogy of how the lessons learned in adolescence mold us into the people we become. And so I hosted a dinner party, to showcase the things I’ve learned in culinary school and, more significantly, to say goodbye to a time that was.

The night started with a last-minute canapé. What else can you do when faced with such gorgeously sweet watermelons at the Greenmarket? A quick Pinterest search revealed a delicious solution: watermelon cubes with a hollowed top, filled with balsamic reduction (1 cup of balsamic + ¼ cup sugar, reduced by a third), and garnished with basil.

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     My mother’s classic 7-Layer Salad

First on the menu: 7-Component Salad. Based on the American classic 7-Layer Salad, I took the elements from the salad specific to my mother’s version—a favorite of my 12 year-old self—and rearranged them into a dish composed of seven elements: baby romaine, pea & celery timbale, bacon lardon, fresh sliced water chestnuts, and parmesan, all crowned with a deviled egg and held together by a mayonnaise-based dressing. To accompany the dish I prepared a cherry-rosé spritzer, complete with a homemade maraschino cherry (adult cherry limeade anyone?). A light and easy way to start the meal, by making this a composed salad, each ingredient was allowed to stand out on the plate. Similarly light, the spritzer didn’t compete with any of the salad’s ingredients and kept the course refreshing.

Next up, soup. A recent conversation with a classmate revealed to me the disparity of feelings toward the green bean. She thought people didn’t like them because they’re so oft overcooked. I feel that people don’t like them because they’re so oft undercooked. I suppose to each his or her own; but, if you want

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Cookin’ up a mess a
beans, circa 1995

some good, Southern green beans you’ll start by caramelizing sweet onions in a cast-iron pan and then braising them, along with the beans, until the liquid has evaporated and the beans are slightly scorched. This method lends the beans an almost grilled flavor. I took this dish a step further by then pureeing the scorched beans with homemade vegetable stock and chilling the resulting soup—after all, I always preferred to eat those beans a day later, straight out of the fridge. The flavor is saturated with green bean unctuousness, a slightly sweet tinge from the onions, spice from copious black pepper and a hint of smokiness from the char. Topped with crunchy, buttery cornbread croutons, the soup is a delectable improvement on such a simple side dish. To pair, Broadbent Vinho Verde. A Portuguese white wine, the nose of citrus is a great complement to the aforementioned unctuousness of the soup and the grassy element pulls out that “green” flavor of the beans. In addition, Vinho Verde’s are infused with a splash of CO2 & the effervescence of the wine lifts the palate out of the deep, creamy soup and washes off the tongue so that you can fully enjoy the next bite.

 The main course of my project was inspired by a true Southern staple: the BBQ platter. While I do enjoy

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Big John’s BBQ Platter: unfortunately, not the original—the new owner got rid of the curly fries!!! At least the BBQ hasn’t changed.

making a faux Memphis pork butt in my NYC apartment, I wanted to create a dish that could stand up to fancier fare, but still lend a similar, satisfying flavor profile. Thus, tangy slaw, baked beans, curly fries and a mess of pulled pork became a pork loin & beer-braised cabbage roulade with cider gastrique, an heirloom bean salad and pommes rissoles, shaped with a melon baller to mimic the curl of those much adored fries of myriad 4th’s of July & uncountable family reunions. The pairing for this course was easy: Unibroue Ephemere Apple, a Canadian white ale brewed with apple must. The nose of this ale gives off a whiff of green apple—a natural pairing with pork—and it has the dry, cleansing sip of a hefeweisen, perfect for a hot summer day and for cutting through the rich porky-tomatoey gastrique.

To finish the meal, a tart. Reminiscent of a particular chain’s strawberry pie, I lifted a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen to create a dessert showcasing my favorite fruit—the one I remember gathering by the bushel—dark, juicy blackberries. While I might have preferred a pâté sucrée for this recipe, I instead made the only crust that could survive a NYC apartment in July, pâté sablée. Like the berries themselves, the pie was both tart and sweet, held together by homemade preserves, just slightly set with

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A tale of two pies: Shoney’s Strawberry is a classic American crust piled high with juicy fresh berries bound by gelatin & cornstarch. My mother’s Lemon Icebox is a “custard” pie set in a graham cracker crust. Two summer staples, millions of memories.

gelatin. As an accompaniment, I made burnt lemon ice cream. The ice cream was meant to invoke another much loved dessert: Lemon Icebox Pie. Made with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, lemon jell-o and fresh lemon juice set in a graham cracker crust, I echoed the pie’s flavor and lightness by first making a caramel of the lemon juice and part of the sugar. Taking this step adds depth to the lemon flavor, but it also evokes the flavor of that graham cracker crust. I then incorporated the dairy and tempered just two egg yolks to add richness but to avoid an ice cream too dense. Left to cure overnight, the next day I whisked in a small amount of gelatin. Meant to prevent any possible iciness, I suppose the gelatin’s main purpose was to pay homage to the dessert’s inspiration. The drink here was a mint julep prepared with a fresh mint tea and Riverboat Rye whiskey. Another light, refreshing drink—with just a bit of tipsy—the bourbon played off the caramel in the ice cream and the toastiness of the pie crust. The mint, of course, provided a new presentation for the much maligned garnish of the dessert plate and kept the refreshment factor flowing.

The evening concluded with toasts of dreams pursued and goals achieved. Memories had snaked their way into conversation and we’d laughed more than once at the expense of our younger selves. But as has been said, “all good things come to an end;” so, once the meal was over and the anecdotes had been told, I hugged my sister as she & her fiancé stepped out the door to head off to their new apartment. This, however, was not an embrace to say goodbye; merely one that said, “Thank you & I’ll see you next weekend.”

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Our second essay assignment: the history of a classic kitchen tool.

Upon penning the first draft of this essay, my computer decided some critical updates were in order. Upon downloading update 3 of 3, my computer decided that an endless loop of rebooting and attempting update 3 of 3 would be tons of fun. It’s being checked out.

In the meantime, I rewrote the essay. I started Classic Kitchen Tool redux at approximately 10pm; it was due the next morning at 9am. Luckily, again, it was only a page. And thus–

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

A cast-iron skillet is the cornerstone of any Southern cook’s arsenal. So too can it prove invaluable in the professional kitchen. With its unparalleled ability to hold and evenly disperse heat, a cast-iron skillet could be a perfect vessel for holding a warm sauce (providing it’s not a gastrique—the high level of acidity could create a toxic reaction) or searing a perfect pork chop. And since a cast iron pan can go straight from the stove top into the oven, if you’re working with an extra-thick specimen, a sear and a quick roast is only a few steps away.

Cast-iron has, of course, been used for centuries—from pagodas in China to cannons in the British Navy—although its turn in the American kitchen is relatively new.  Around 513 BCE, the Chinese invented furnaces hot enough to melt iron; prior to this method, pots had either been made of brass or had been beaten into shape. The casting process—pouring molten iron into sand molds—created a product with a smooth surface and a sturdy structure. Strangely, this process didn’t gain favor in the west until 1100 CE when the benefits of cast-iron finally shone upon the people of Medieval England. Eventually a New World would be established—unfortunately it was a world devoid of cast-iron cookery, as the first ironworks didn’t open in America until 1619.

Cast-iron would prove to be an essential tool for early settlers & frontiersmen alike. Indeed, “in their expedition to the Louisiana territory in 1804, Lewis and Clark indicated that their cast iron Dutch oven was one of their most important pieces of equipment,” (Rayment). And while every serious colonial culinarian surely had a cauldron hanging from the hearth or a spider (a large bowl with a tripod of legs) sitting above their cinders, it was later still before the cast-iron skillet would appear. Those had to wait, first, for another invention to take hold: the stove top.

Certainly I can’t leave off a discussion of the cast-iron skillet without addressing its most intrinsic use. Making a cornbread in any vessel that’s not a cast-iron skillet is an exercise in futility. A Pyrex dish or your grandmother’s ceramic soufflé pan simply won’t impart that delicious, crisp crust necessary at any Southern table. And unlike the Pyrex that exploded when you set it in a bit of water, or your grandmother’s dish that cracked while sitting alone, unused in the china cabinet, your trusty cast-iron will only improve with use— undoubtedly an added benefit when you’re making 200 pork chops a night.

Works Referenced

Rayment, W.J. “History of Cast Iron Cookery.” Cast Iron Cooking, 2012. Web. 15 January 2012. http://www.holidaycook.com/cast-iron/

“Shaping History: Vintage Cast-Iron Baking Pans.” Martha Stewart Living, October 2009. Web. 15 January 2012. http://www.marthastewart.com/272109/shaping-history-vintage-cast-iron-baking

“Equipment and Utensils Required for a Functional Kitchen.” The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine. 2007. Print.

“Cast-Iron Cookware” Wikipedia. Web. 15 January 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cast-iron_cookware

A Lusty Little Pepper

As I said in my last post, occasionally I have to write essays for school. It seems the typical required length will be but a page, so I thought I’d give them a second audience and share them with you. Our first assignment was to research the history and culinary uses of an herb or spice with which we were unfamiliar. Here is the result:

A Lusty Little Pepper

When faced with a recipe requiring a spice I’ve neither seen nor heard of, I have a tendency to first seek out an alternative. Of course I always keep that spice in the back of my mind, hoping that one day I’ll happen upon an epicerie and think to lay down my cash and experience the real thing. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I came across Paula Wolfert’s recipe for Spiced Butternut Squash Soup reliant upon the cubeb pepper.

Although native to Indonesia, and thus nicknamed Java pepper, the cubeb seems most prevalent in Moroccan cuisine and is a star ingredient in the North African spice mix Ras el Hanout, consisting of up to 20 herbs, spices and aphrodisiacs. In fact, cubeb too has been used as an aphrodisiac throughout history. It is mentioned in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights that Shams-al-Din is given an edible paste made from cubeb and other sundry items as an aphrodisiac remedy for infertility. Those attributes are also reflected in South Asian lore; “Unani physicians use a paste of the cubeb berries externally on male and female genitals to intensify sexual pleasure during coitus,” (Wikipedia).  Various other medicinal qualities have been alleged of this wee peppercorn:  physicians of the Tang Dynasty used it for everything from darkening the hair to restoring the appetite, “Sanskrit texts included cubeb in various remedies. Charaka and Sushruta (both ancient Indian physicians) prescribed cubeb paste as a mouthwash, and the use of dried cubebs internally for oral and dental diseases, loss of voice, halitosis, fevers, and cough.” (Wikipedia) Interestingly, more than one culture has also been known to use cubeb as a ward from demons.

Not to be outdone, Western medicine has also recognized the varying effects of cubeb on the humors of the body. In the 17th and early 19th centuries the London Dispensatorie published that cubebs “cleanse the head of flegm and strengthen the brain, they heat the stomach and provoke lust…and are very profitable for cold griefs of the womb,” (Wikipedia). Cubeb’s antiseptic qualities have also proven useful as an ingredient in remedies that treat bronchitis and most medically significant, gonorrhea.

Resembling an engorged black peppercorn with a clove-like stem, the cubeb is said to “have a warm, pleasant aroma, lightly peppery but also allspice-like, with a whiff of eucalypt and turpentine,” and is said to pair well with bay, cardamom, cinnamon, curry leaf, rosemary, sage, thyme and turmeric (Norman 229). When attempting to prepare the soup mentioned above, I was told to substitute equal parts black pepper and allspice. The aroma that emanated from my mortar and pestle was floral, spicy and sweet: a heady and intoxicating scent perfect for high-end cologne, or your next lamb tagine. True cubeb is said to carry a bitterness—one of the reasons it lost favor through the years. However, New American cuisine seems to be taking a turn for the bitter; so, perhaps it’s a time for this lonely spice to find a few new, and perhaps, lusty friends to rediscover the attributes prized by so many cultures before us.

Works Referenced

Donnelly, Kristen. “Paula Wolfert’s Moroccan Recipes.” Food & Wine October 2011. Print.

Norman, Jill. Herbs & Spices: The Cook’s References. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 2002.

Barber, Kimiko, et. al. The Illustrated Cook’s Book of Ingredients. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 2010.

Katzer, Gernot. “Spice Pages: Cubeb Pepper (Piper Cubeba, Cubebs).” Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages. 25 April 1998. 08 January 2012.

“Cubeb.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 2 December 2011. 8 January 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubeb&gt;.