You can call me Al. Albóndigas.

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Believe it or not, the red colour comes mostly from the chorizo, not the tomatoes.

Believe it or not, the red colour comes mostly from the chorizo, not the tomatoes.

One inevitable responsibility after Thanksgiving dinner is the disposal of the turkey carcass. Picked clean for sandwiches and goodness knows what all else — tamales? sliders? pot pie? — there’s still a significant heap of bones and attached bits that deserve a better resting place than the rubbish bin.

Around our house, we generally made turkey and vegetable soup, but it just seemed too… turkey-ish. By the time we’d gotten down to the carcass, believe me, most of the members of our household were all done with turkey. This year, I decided to make some simple turkey stock (something on the order of four liters, as it turned out, because I wasn’t patient enough to let it condense into what Julia Child called a “semi-demi-glace”). But not for turkey soup. No. I figured it would make an excellent base for one of my favourite Mexican dishes, sopa de albóndigas (meatball soup).

While this soup is decidedly Mexican, its roots go back to the times that Arabs ruled Spain. The word “albóndigas” is derived from the Arabic word for hazelnut, “al-bunduq,” because the meatballs of the era were about the size and shape of said nuts. Their preparation was described in one of the great cookbooks of its day (its day being the 13th century), Kitab al- tabikh fi Maghrib wa al-Andalus (An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook). Not too surprisingly, the meatballs emigrated to the New World with the conquistadores (along with smallpox and syphilis, albeit with a happier outcome for the locals). The use of mint in this recipe is almost certainly a descendant from a Middle Eastern predecessor, given the region’s historic proclivity for employing the herb as a seasoning for meats.

Far as I’ve been able to discover, there are two general schools of thought on sopa de albóndigas. One holds that it’s primarily a tomato-based soup, and the broth ought to be more or less jam-packed with tomato-y goodness and coloured fire engine red (PMS 199); the other is that tomatoes play a role, but not the lead. I opted for the latter. After all, I’d gone to some trouble to make the turkey stock, and I didn’t want it completely buried in the mix. The soup ultimately turned out a rich red colour, but that was thanks to the chorizo, not the tomatoes (as you can see in the picture below, when it was just the veggies and stock).

ALBÓNDIGAS SOUP

Carrots, planed on the mini-mandoline. I then cut the "coins" in half.

Carrots, planed on the mini-mandoline. I then cut the “coins” in half.


Ingredients
Broth
12 cups/3 liters turkey stock (or chicken, or vegetable, or beef)
2 carrots, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, diced
1 (14 ounce/411 g) can diced tomatoes (these were fire roasted)
1 (7 ounce/198 g) can diced green chiles, drained
1 cup/150 g cooked rice
2 teaspoons/2 g dried oregano
2 teaspoons/2 g ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 to 3 tablespoons/15-45 ml sauce from a can of Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, to taste
1 seeded Chipotle chile in adobo sauce, optional
Sea salt and pepper to taste (smoked salt works well in this)

Here’s a trick for the rice; just cook 1 cup/180 g of dried rice (I used Brown Jasmine), put 2/3 of it in the soup and reserve 1/3 for the meatballs.

[A NOTE ABOUT CHILES: If you’re seeding Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, wear gloves. Even the sauce is pretty hot, and if you touch your face… well, you won’t do it a second time. For the uninitiated, add the adobo sauce a tablespoon at a time, stir the broth, taste, and decide if you want to add more. If you dump it all in at once, good on you, you brave soul, but remember that this is a bell that can’t be unrung. Also, if you don’t have Chipotles in adobo sauce handy, you can get Chipotle pepper powder; use 1-3 teaspoons/1-3 g, tasting as you go.]

Broth and veggies. Mmmm.

Broth and veggies. Mmmm.

Making the broth is super easy; basically, you just dump it all into a big pot, bring it to a boil, and then back it off to a simmer. I let mine simmer for a couple of hours, because I started making it one evening after dinner. [In fact, I put the broth in the refrigerator overnight and finished the soup the following day.] If, however, you are doing a same-day soup, allow it to simmer for about an hour, so you can soften up the celery and onions and carrots, and give the flavours a chance to blend.

Meatballs (makes about 50 small meatballs)
1 lb/.5 kg lean ground beef
1 lb/.5 kg chorizo sausage, casing removed (not the fully cooked kind)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup/70 g cooked rice
2 garlic cloves, minced
5-10 mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup/25 g cilantro leaf, chopped
1/2 teaspoon/3 g salt
1/4 teaspoon/.5 g freshly ground black pepper

Full disclosure: I had about 100 g of turkey bits that I ran through a food processor and added to the meatballs. It’s not part of the “official” recipe, but it did taste good.

Mint and garlic get all muddled up.

Mint and garlic get all muddled up.

Some people say to make the meatballs first, but there’s really no need; getting the broth together and letting it simmer will afford you more than enough time to make them. The only trick to assembling the meatballs is that you should mash the garlic and the chopped mint into a sort of paste; otherwise, it’s just a matter of mixing it all up and rolling little meatballs (albóndigas) to about 1″/2.5 cm each. Heat up the broth to a low boil and lower the albóndigas — gently — into the broth. Let the meatballs cook at that temp for 5 minutes, then back the heat off, and simmer a further 20 minutes. Remember, at this point, your chief aim is to cook the meatballs through. That’s why smaller is better.

Tiny little soldiers of meat, preparing to parachute into -- quite literally -- the soup.

Tiny little soldiers of meat, preparing to parachute into — quite literally — the soup.

You can serve it straight, or if you want to get extra fancy, you can make corn tortilla ribbons for garnish. Just quarter small corn tortillas, stack the quarters, then slice the edges into ribbons. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan, dump the ribbons inthe pan and stir until slightly browned. Remove them to a paper towel to drain and crisp up. Sprinkle over soup.

With the fried corn tortilla strips; these were spinach corn tortillas, for colour primarily.

With the fried corn tortilla strips; these were spinach corn tortillas, for colour primarily.

Redeeming the world’s least favourite veggie — the Brussels sprout

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They don't have to be your gastronomic enemy. (image courtesy foodrepublic.com)

They don’t have to be your gastronomic enemy. (image courtesy foodrepublic.com)

A quick spin around the Web the other day proved to me that I was not alone in my longtime antipathy to what has been called “cabbage’s evil cousin.” According to a 2008 survey conducted by Heinz, Brussels sprouts are the most hated vegetable in America (and Britain as well). This conclusion was supported by a casual tour of several relevant websites, including ones here and here and here.

For most of my life, I weighed in with the majority opinion. But thanks to a small restaurant in Manhattan Beach, California, my point of view was irrevocably swayed. And while I can’t promise you absolutely that yours will be as well, this may be the best bet to nudge you (and yours) toward a sprout-supporting stature.

First off, part of the reason that you probably hate Brussels sprouts is that, well, they stink. Literally. Brussels sprouts contain chemical compounds called glucosinolates, which have health benefits, but also exhibit the unfortunate tendency to release lots of sulfur the longer they’re cooked. And if you — like me — grew up during a time when vegetables were boiled until grey, you no doubt have been served at least one plate of sprouts that smelled like a skunk with gas. Bad prep = bad rep.

If, however, you roast the little green gems, they caramelize (actually, technically, they undergo a Maillard reaction), and become sort of sweeter and nuttier, free of the sulfur stink, and actually quite palatable.

Here’s how to do it.

Straight from the stalk.

Straight from the stalk.

TIN ROOF BISTRO BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Ingredients

1 lb./.5 kg Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons/45 g butter (or, if you’re dairy-challenged, Earth Balance vegan sticks)
1 teaspoon/5 g minced garlic
1 teaspoon/5 g minced anchovy (optional) — you can substitute cooked bacon, if you prefer
1 tablespoons/15 ml lemon juice
1 teaspoon/5 g capers
1 teaspoon/1 g chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
2 slices of ciabatta bread (optional)
3 tablespoons/15 ml extra virgin olive oil

Sprouts going in.

Sprouts going in.

Directions

Preheat over to 350ºF/175ºC.

Remove ends and rough outer leaves from Brussels sprouts. Cut in half lengthwise. Put in bowl and add 2 tablespoons / 15 ml olive oil. Toss sprouts in oil and then lay out on sheet pan. Roast for 30-40 minutes until lightly “caramelized.” Brown is good.

Sprouts coming out.

Sprouts coming out.

Brush ciabatta with remaining tablespoon / 7.5 ml olive oil. Grill or toast ciabatta.

When Brussels sprouts are roasted/caramelized, heat up small sauté pan. Melt butter (or margarine/non-dairy spread) and add garlic and anchovy (or bacon). Cook for several minutes until garlic turns a golden color. Add lemon juice, capers, parsley, and salt & pepper. Toss sprouts in sauce until thoroughly coated.

Oh, you saucy little devil, you.

Oh, you saucy little devil, you.

Place grilled ciabatta in bottom of bowl. Pour Brussels sprouts over bread, or serve without bread; they’re good either way.

There’s no way of knowing how many sprouts haters there were at Thanksgiving dinner this year, but we made a double batch (as a side dish for 12), and there were no leftovers. That kinda smells like success to me.

Lovely Little Lentils, BBQ- (and Vegan-) Style

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Unlike, say, in Ireland, the orange and the green go very well together here.

Unlike, say, in Ireland, the orange and the green go together very well here.

Much as I once was with beets (which is to say not a fan), The Bride used to be with lentils. I’ve long loved these little legumes, probably had my first infatuation with them as dal in the street food stalls of Mumbai (which was Bombay when I was there), and I brought it home with me. Sadly, it was not shared. Red, orange, green, yellow; I tried making all sorts of lentils for my then-girlfriend (now The Bride) in all sorts of ways, and to no avail. She said they all had an unpleasant aftertaste, and I figured that it must be some genetic thing, like people who find that cilantro has a “soapy” taste.

One evening, we were dining at a now-shuttered, much-missed restaurant, Zax in Brentwood, when they served lentils cooked in duck confit, and I ordered same, prepared to eat them all myself, if necessary. To my way of thinking, one could probably cook the contents of an ashtray in duck confit, and it would be at the least palatable. [I might be stretching the truth a w-e-e bit there.] Long story short, she had them and loved them. Yay! At first I thought that some chemical compound in the confit might have bound itself to whatever was triggering her (thankfully absent) aftertaste. But I also asked the waiter to query the chef (former Top Chef runner-up Brooke Williamson) on whether they had done anything special to prepare the lentils (other than the confit, of course): blanched them first, soaked them in brine overnight, something that I hadn’t thought to do. The answer: “No, nothing at all.” But she did mention that they had used Le Puy lentils.

Le Puy lentils, much like Champagne and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, may only be produced in a specified region, according to national law (and international custom, even though some disreputable sparkling wine producers call their product “Champagne” and some non-Italian cheeses claim – falsely – to be Parmigiano-Reggiano). They’re grown on the mountain plateau around the French town of Le Puy en Velay in the Haute-Loire region, whose climate and volcanic soil impart a particular flavor to the humble legume. In fact, they were the first French foodstuff, apart from wine and cheese, to be awarded the famous “Appellation d’ Origine Contrôlée” designation of quality and assurance of origin.

Above and beyond their terroir, Le Puy lentils are their own species (Lens esculenta puyensis), as distinct from other lentil species as a tasty Portobello mushroom is from the poisonous California Agaricus. Le Puy lentils tend to be comparatively expensive in America (generally $7 – $10 USD per pound/half kilo, though domestically grown versions may go for a little less), but they’re tasty, and The Bride likes them, so what’s a few extra bucks? That said, this recipe can be made with virtually any variety of lentil. Have a care, though; some varieties cook much more quickly, and some don’t hold their shape, turning somewhat mushy (though still tasty).

The original recipe from which this one was inspired came from an excellent cookbook by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine, In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes from Our Year of Cooking in the Real World. It chronicles two twenty-somethings on a tight budget trying to make tasty and inexpensive meals in their tiny kitchens. It’s a great starter cookbook for someone who’s getting their first apartment, but it also has some recipes that really resonated with me as well (I encountered it as part of a piece I wrote for the LA Review of Books a couple of years ago). I haven’t changed it much, although this version makes a double batch and adds kale, because California law requires kale to be an ingredient in every vegetarian recipe (just kidding, but it almost seems true).

If they don't say "Le Puy," they're just not for me.

If they don’t say “Le Puy,” then they’re just not for me.

BARBECUE LENTILS WITH SWEET POTATO AND KALE
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1 cup / 200 g Le Puy lentils
4 teaspoons / 20 ml olive oil
2-3 teaspoons / 11-17 g salt
4 cloves garlic, 2 minced, 2 whole
1 onion, diced
1 small sweet potato or yam, diced
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon / .75 – 1.5 g dried chipotle pepper powder (or cayenne pepper)
1/8 teaspoon / .4 g ground ginger
1/2 cup / 120 ml ketchup
2 teaspoons / 10 ml Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons / 60 g brown sugar
2/3 cup / 160 ml balsamic vinegar
dash or two Worcestershire sauce (optional, leave it out for Vegan version)
1 small bunch kale, shredded

Maybe 6-8 stalks; not a whole lot. Probably 3 cups when chopped.

Maybe 6-8 stalks; not a whole lot. Probably about 2-3 cups when chopped, maybe a little less.

Bring the lentils to a boil with 3 cups (or 700 ml) of water and the two whole garlic cloves. Simmer 30-35 minutes, uncovered, until lentils are soft but still hold their shape. Toward the end of cooking, add 1 teaspoon (5.5 g) salt.

Wash kale, pat dry and shred, removing stems. (If you wish to include chopped stems in the finished dish, you’ll add them at the same time the lentils are added; otherwise, you can discard them.) Set shredded kale aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and minced garlic and sauté until soft and slightly brown. Add the sweet potatoes and cook until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the chipotle pepper and ginger, coating the vegetables, then add the ketchup, mustard, sugar, vinegar, and remaining 1-2 teaspoons (5.5 – 11 g) of salt (taste after adding the first teaspoon!), and bring to a simmer. Drain the lentils, reserving the cooking water, and add them and about 1 cup of cooking water to the pan. [This is also where you add the chopped kale stems, if you are using them.] Simmer until the sauce coats the lentils and is fairly well thickened. Taste for seasoning, adding Worcestershire sauce and sugar or vinegar if necessary. Somewhere around 15-30 minutes prior to serving, stir in the shredded kale, making sure to coat it all; give it time to soften to desired consistency, then serve.

FUN LENTIL FACT: The words “lens” and “lentil” both share the same Latin root, and it’s because a biconvex lens (like the one in your eye or a typical magnifying glass) is shaped like a you-know-what.

A Sweet Spot Between Laura Calder and Martha Stewart

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A beautiful book, in every way.

A beautiful book, in every way.

If you’ve been on this blog before, you’ll know that I’m all over exploring the unknown, from exotic ingredients like lutenitza and sriracha salt, to crazy science stuff, from sous vide to avoiding botulism. But today, let’s take some advice from The Far Side creator Gary Larson’s cow: “Don’t forget to stop and eat the roses.”

First time cookbook author Gwen Rogers is neither a trained chef (like Laura Calder) nor a multi-gazillion-dollar-crafts-and-style marketing juggernaut (like Martha Stewart), but in her new book Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill, she deftly threads the needle between the two, creating simple dishes that are simply gorgeous.

Take, as a for instance, her Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel recipe.

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

This is so simple, an eighth-grader could make it. But it looks, and tastes, delightfully sophisticated (in its rustic way).

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel (adapted from Gwen Rogers’ journal)

FOR THE ALMOND STREUSEL:
¾ cup/150 g granulated sugar, unleveled
12 tbsp/170 g unsalted butter (for the vegan variant, substitute Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)
2 cups/256 g all-purpose flour, scant
¾ cup/115 g finely ground almond meal flour, heaping

FOR THE FILLING:
4 cups/400 g fresh blueberries, washed and dried
½ cup/100 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp/15 ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp/5 ml lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.

FOR THE STREUSEL: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, all-purpose flour, and almond flour and mix thoroughly. Cut in butter until mixture becomes a coarse crumb. Set aside.

FOR THE FILLING: In a medium bowl, use a spatula to gently toss together the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Let mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Place blueberry mixture into a 1.5-quart baking dish (9″ x 9″ x 5″ or 11″ x 11″ x 4″) and cover completely with Almond Streusel. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until top is browned and berry filling is bubbling.

NOTE: This streusel makes enough for 2 (9-inch) pies or 2 blueberry crisps. If you only plan to make one, freeze the remainder for later use on your morning yogurt or evening ice cream. Serves 8.

Simple, elegant, tasty; the host's (or hostess') trifecta. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Simple, elegant, tasty; the host’s (or hostess’) trifecta. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Her Watermelon, Feta, & Mint Kabobs (pictured above) can be assembled in just slightly more time than it took to type this sentence, and yet they are a welcome and refreshing change from more traditional hors d’oeuvres, especially in the summer.

What Rogers brings to the table — quite literally — is a sense of casual elegance that’s all about making life easy on the chef/host/hostess and making life comfortable and welcoming for the guest. Her recipes will remind you that you don’t have to be a CIA grad to put together a menu that will leave your guests feeling happy and impressed, and you don’t need to deploy a squadron of minions to put together a table that looks thought through and stylish.

Ho do you like them yapples (apples stuffed with sweet potato)? (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

How do you like them yapples (Granny Smith apples stuffed with sweet potato)? (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

And when it comes to the book itself, the photography is a visual feast comparable to the actual foodstuffs being described. The printing is voluptuous, replete with pictures of the author and her family that would give Giada De Laurentiis and clan a run for their money. It’s beautiful, inspiring, and empowering, and worth every centime of its $35(USD) price tag.

Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill can be purchased at Gratus, should you find yourself in Beverly Hills, or through the author’s website, http://honeysucklehillbook.com.

Calabaza Rellena con Todo lo Bueno — or — Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

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Four years ago almost to the day, I was listening to National Public Radio (on KPCC in Pasadena, one of the two NPR stations to which I donate). I heard a woman hitherto unknown to me named Dorie Greenspan wax poetic about a French recipe that seemed to be the most delightful non-dessert pumpkin dish imaginable; she simply called it Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. Intrigued by the concept, I purchased her most excellent cookbook (Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours), and I’ve made it a number of times, with great success. [Her version is simpler than this one, because there’s no pre-cooking involved; you just slice and dice and stuff and cook. Or, as the French, say, “Voila!” But hang with me here, and you’ll see where I was going.]

As I walked into the market this past Thursday, a cart piled high with gorgeous sugar pie pumpkins greeted me, and I was inspired to take a shot at reinventing the dish with a Southwest/Mexican flair. This is a fine way to introduce pumpkin into a Thanksgiving meal in some form other than pie, and it’s a remarkably flexible recipe. In many ways, this “recipe” sort of resembles a road map, with a thousand thousand routes that will all lead you from your point of departure (the kitchen) to your destination (the table).

You’ll want to note that all measures are approximate, because the pumpkin sizes will vary widely, but if you have leftover stuffing, you can always wrap it in tin foil (or, if you’re trying for a little more Southwest authenticity, a banana leaf or two), and cook it alongside the pumpkin. Arranging and wrapping the banana leaves in a way that will keep the liquid from seeping out may be something of a challenge, but it’s manageable.

This version is gluten-free; it can easily be “veganized” by substituting your favourite vegan cheeses, and full-fat coconut milk for the cream (the reason I suggest the full-fat coconut milk as opposed to soy-, rice-, or almond milk is that the coconut milk better replicates the creamy mouthfeel).

CALABAZA RELLENA CON TODO LO BUENO
(PUMPKIN STUFFED WITH EVERYTHING GOOD, SOUTHWEST STYLE)

Ingredients:

1 pumpkin (approximately 3 lbs/1.5 kg)
1 can (15.25 oz/432 g) corn, drained
4-6 slices of stale bread, cubed (I used Whole Foods’ Sun-Dried Tomato and Roasted Garlic Gluten-Free Bread)
12 oz/345 g Monterey Pepper Jack cheese, shredded (you could also use Cheddar or Gouda or Manchego)
3 Hatch chile peppers (or Anaheim chile peppers), seeded and diced (or a 4 oz/113 g can of diced green chiles)
6-8 shallots, chopped
6-8 stems fresh cilantro leaf (also known as coriander leaf or Chinese parsley), chopped
2-3 cloves garlic (to taste), peeled, germ removed and coarsely chopped
1 tsp/1.8 g dried oregano
4-6 sliced of crisp bacon, crumbled
2 links chorizo (about 1/2 lb/0.25 kg)* [see note on chorizo below]
1 plantain, diced (optional)
1 small or 1/2 large brown onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup/80 ml heavy cream (or half and half, if you prefer)
2 tbsp/12 g Cotija cheese, crumbled or grated, for garnish (optional)
Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, for garnish (optional)
3-4 banana leaves, optional (available at most Latino grocery stores)

Directions:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350°F/175°C. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, parchment, or a silicone baking mat so that if the pumpkin innards boil over (which they sometimes do, a bit), they don’t soil the inside of your oven.

This pumpkin needs a cleaning out.

This pumpkin needs a cleaning out.

Using a sharp and sturdy knife, carefully cut a cap out of the pumpkin’s top the way you would if making a Jack-o’-lantern. [Ms. Greenspan’s suggestion is to cut at a 45-degree angle. But be careful; the pumpkin rind is tough. I find that a stabbing motion, a la Psycho, is emotionally satisfying, but it’s your call.] The opening should be large enough for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clean the strings and seeds from the cap, and set it aside (we’ll be using it later). Scoop out the loose guts (again, strings and seeds) from the pumpkin’s interior. [The seeds can be cleaned, salted, and roasted later, should you desire, or you can toss them.] Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper, and place it on the baking sheet.

Chorizo and onions and plantains, oh my!

Chorizo and onions and plantains, oh my!

Heat a frying pan and cook the bacon until crispy, then let it drain on a paper towel. Peel the plantain and dice it into quarter-inch cubes. Remove the chorizo from its casing and put it, the chopped plantain, and the chopped onion into the still-warm frying pan (which should still have bacon grease in it, so no need for oil), being careful not to splatter hot grease. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, breaking up the lumps of chorizo, and stirring occasionally. Remove plantain, onion, and chorizo from pan with a slotted spoon (or drain in colander over a ceramic or Pyrex bowl, as you don’t want that grease going down your sink) and place in a large bowl. Add the bacon, bread, peppers, cheeses, scallions, garlic, cilantro, and oregano, then toss. Season with a bit of freshly-ground black pepper, and pack the pumpkin with the mix, leaving enough room for the cap to fit back on. [We’ll come back to what to do with any extra filling a little later.] Pour the cream into the pumpkin, and use your judgement to decide whether you need to use all of it; it’s for moistening the ingredients, not immersing them.

All stuffed up...

All stuffed up…

...and capped for cooking.

…and capped for cooking.

Replace the cap and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check it after 90 minutes — or until the pumpkin filling is bubbling and its flesh is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. You may want to remove the cap for the last 20-30 minutes of cooking to brown the top and evaporate some of the liquid.

Note the colour change on the pumpkin. Gorgeous.

Note the colour change on the pumpkin. Gorgeous.

IF YOU HAVE LEFTOVER PUMPKIN STUFFING…
You can moisten it with a little cream (not too much!) and wrap it in a banana leaf, seal it in tin foil, or even put it in a small covered casserole dish, and roast it alongside the pumpkin on the baking sheet. It can come out after 60-75 minutes (after all, it wasn’t insulated by all that pumpkin flesh), but even if you forget, it should still be plenty moist. Alternatively (as this recipe yielded just about enough for TWO small pumpkins), you can freeze the remainder, making the next pumpkin-stuffing party all that much quicker.

Serving:

When the pumpkin is ready, allow it to rest on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes or so before trying to move it. Then, carefully transfer it to a platter and bring it to table. Remember, it’s hot, and the cooking will have reduced the pumpkin’s structural integrity, so take your time. It can either be cut into wedges with the filling spooned over, or you can scoop out pumpkin flesh and filling together. Garnish with the chopped cilantro leaves and/or Cotija cheese. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, the size of your guest list, and the size of your appetite, it can serve as either a main course, or the perfect accompaniment to a turkey or some other fowl.

A little Cotija, and now the stuffed pumpkin is ready to return the favour and stuff you.

A little Cotija, and now the stuffed pumpkin is ready to return the favour and stuff you.

*A NOTE ABOUT CHORIZO: Depending on where you live, the sausage known as chorizo may come in one of two forms. Typically, in Southern California (where I live), it comes in a loose, uncooked state, sometimes packed in a typical intestinal sausage casing (or a plastic one), but it is also sometimes sold without a casing, much like any spiced ground meat. In many other places, including my homeland of Canada, chorizo is generally sold fully cured and has a texture not unlike a dry salame. Either one of these will work, but it’s entirely unnecessary to fry the dried version of chorizo; it can merely be diced (about 1/4 inch is good), and added to the pumpkin stuffing mix just like any of the other ingredients. [You should, however, peel off the casing before dicing it.]

All Hail the Green Goddess! (plus a godlike potato salad recipe)

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How in the world did we ever get from this…

The late, great George Arliss. (photo courtesy Arliss Archives)

The late, great George Arliss. (photo courtesy Arliss Archives)

to this?

Savory & Vibrant. It even says so.

Savory & Vibrant. It even says so.

Funny story, that. It involves a Scots drama critic’s first play, a British star of stage and screen, and a classically-trained hotel chef. [If you just want to skip ahead to the recipe for Green Goddess Potato Salad, not to worry. Just jump down a page or three.]

In 1920, drama critic William Archer took his own advice (from his 1912 non-fiction book Play-Making: A Manual of Craftsmanship) and wrote his first play, something of a pot-boiler called The Green Goddess. It opened, to some acclaim, on 27 Deceember 1920, at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and starred a gentleman named George Arliss. So popular was it that it opened on Broadway (at the Booth Theatre) less than a month later, and toured America for the better part of three years before opening a highly successful (and lengthy) engagement in London.

Along the way — and by the best triangulation available to me, sometime around March of 1923 — it played in San Francisco. While in The City, Arliss stayed at the Palace Hotel (which is still around, incidentally), and dined at the hotel’s restaurant, which at the time was overseen by Executive Chef Philip Roemer. Depending on which story you want to believe, either the chef decided on his own to honour Arliss with a salad dressing inspired by the play, or Arliss himself put the chef up to it as a publicity stunt. Personally, I would like to think the former.

And, before you could say, “Wow, I wonder if this salad topping will still be around and popular nearly a century later,” Roemer had created the Green Goddess dressing. [Before we get into the actual recipe stuff, a couple of notes. Not only was the play successful, but it was made into a movie twice (both times starring Arliss), once as a silent in 1923, and once as a “talkie” in 1930. It’s worth noting that the goddess was more grey than green, as both films were shot in black and white. Arliss was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for the 1930 version (he had won the previous year for Disraeli), but ultimately lost to Lionel Barrymore, who won his only Oscar for A Free Soul. In fact, Arliss himself presented the Oscar to Barrymore.]

Much like the salad dressing’s creation myth (even the hotel’s own website has gotten it wrong, predating the play’s creation by half a decade), the “official” recipes for Green Goddess dressing vary widely. And while I mean no disrespect to any of the bottled versions’ manufacturers, do have a go at making it yourself. It’s dead simple, and it tastes so much better. As for the potato salad, which calls in the original recipe for green beans, I think asparagus (if available fresh) is better suited to it. Both provide a bit of toothiness, but roasted asparagus and roasted potatoes mesh like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

"Fred, I can't believe he compared us to vegetables! He can't even DANCE!"

“Fred, I can’t believe he compared us to vegetables! He can’t even DANCE!”

GREEN GODDESS POTATO SALAD WITH ASPARAGUS
Ingredients
:
3/4 pound/1/3 kg roasted or grilled asparagus
3 pounds/1.5 kg roasted fingerling or “baby” potatoes, halved or quartered according to size
1/4 cup/60 ml olive oil
sea salt
cracked black pepper
Green Goddess Dressing (recipe below)

For the potatoes:

Teeny taters.

Teeny taters.

Preheat oven to 450°F/230°C Halve or quarter potatoes and place in plastic bag with olive oil; shake until coated and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper over. Roast for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. (About 20 minutes in, turn over with spatula for even roasting.) Remove when done, allow to cool, and place in large mixing bowl.

For the asparagus:

Chopped spears that have nothing to do with Britney.

Chopped spears that have nothing to do with Britney.

Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C Wash and trim and place in plastic bag with olive oil (you can use the bag from the potatoes if you wish, although you may need to add a little olive oil); shake until coated and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper over. Roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until slightly browned, but still with a little snap. Remove when done, allow to cool, chop into 1 inch/2.5 cm pieces, and place in large mixing bowl with potatoes. Mix with Green Goddess dressing and chill for 1-2 hours in refrigerator. Devour unreservedly.

GREEN GODDESS DRESSING (adapted from Gourmet magazine)
Ingredients:
3/4 cup/180 ml mayonnaise
3/4 cup/180 ml sour cream
3 tablespoons/45 ml tarragon vinegar or white-wine vinegar
3 scallions, chopped
3-4 flat anchovy fillets, chopped, or 2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1/4 cup/10 g chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons/2 g chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon/5-6 g sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon/2.5-3 g black pepper

Pulse mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, scallions, anchovies, parsley, tarragon, salt, and pepper in a food processor until dressing is pale green and herbs are finely chopped. Refrigerate until use. Editor’s note: You don’t have to be either green or a goddess to make this salad spectacular. Although either would certainly enhance the presentation.

The finished salad, with wooden fish.

The finished salad, with wooden fish.

Note on metric conversions:
Since American measurements are generally based on volume rather than weight, I’ve had to be a little loose with the metric conversions. For liquids, of course, they are pretty precise, but for dry ingredients, they’re a little more fungible (after all, a tablespoon of salt weighs a lot more than a tablespoon of dried parsley flakes). That said, the Interwebs have some conversion guides that have allowed me to get close, and fortunately, this recipe is pretty forgiving. I suppose in future that I would be wise to use my fabulous OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display to give an accurate measurement. But wisdom was never my long suit.

Iron Chef Canada On The Eve Of Y2K

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The evening's menu.

The evening’s menu.

This is going to be a little odd in comparison to my normal posts, but I hope all y’all can roll with it.

While cleaning out the garage, I came across a menu from a memorable meal from the last millennium. Back in 1999, I was obsessed with Iron Chef. I had started watching it on a local channel, KSCI (Channel 18 in Los Angeles) when it was broadcast in Japanese without subtitles. [Apart from maybe a dozen or two words, I don’t speak or understand Japanese.] And as it turned out, friends of mine (the Carltons, whose residence is mentioned in the photo) were going to be in Barcelona for the New Year, and I was temporarily house- (and cat-) sitting. Well hey, what’s the point of taking care of a house nicer than one’s own if you can’t throw a party there?

When you get past the foliage, it's actually quite a nice place.

When you get past the foliage, it’s actually quite a nice place.

So I decided that I would invite a few select friends to ring in the New Year. As all the intellegentsia know, the new millennium actually was set to begin on 1 January 2001, but I was ready (in Prince parlance) to party like it was 1999, which indeed it was. And while I was unwilling to restrict myself to a single hour’s cooking time, owing to my lack of sous chefs, I wanted to sorta kinda replicate an Iron Chef meal. I chose as my theme “Pear Battle,” given that pears were in abundant supply, and they could be deployed across a variety of courses.

Sometime during the afternoon immediately prior to the meal, I asked The Bride to scavenge for a couple of ingredients that I had neglected to bring, but which were key to the menu’s success. While she was out and about, I began to assemble the shortcakes for the dessert.

The Bride, with our late, much beloved cat Murray, who wasn't keen on photos.

The Bride, with our late, much beloved cat Murray, who wasn’t keen on photos.

In the process of making the shortcake(s), I underwent a moment’s hesitation about how exactly to ensure they were up to spec. I had vaguely remembered something about minimal processing, but I wasn’t really clear as to why, as I hadn’t made shortcakes for something like a decade. It was then that my deceased Canadian paternal grandmother, Nanny Al, decided to drop by to give me some advice. Appearing life-size (and quite surprisingly corporeal) in Bob and Susan’s kitchen, she told me, “Don’t overmix the batter or it will get gluey.”

Fair play. Bizarre, especially since I hadn’t been drinking, but fair play. The shortcake was spectacular. The meal was a success (due, at least in part, to the remarkable beverage options). And Nanny Al beamed up the way she had beamed in, entirely unbidden, a wraith whose apparent sole purpose in (after-) life it was to rescue her grandson from goofing up some baked goods for a party he was (co-)throwing. Well done, Alice. I miss you all the time, and I’m grateful that you jumped in when I needed your expertise as a baker, part of the rich (and possibly, at least to some degree, genetic) inheritance you bequeathed me.

And you’re more than welcome to visit anytime to give me a little advice… even when it’s not at the dawn of a new millennium.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Blood Orange Olive Oil Honey Cake

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At $20 USD, how could I resist?

At $20 USD, how could I resist?

All right. I admit it. I’m a sucker for odd Bundt pans and other cake pans with funny shapes. And when I saw this one on Amazon for twenty bucks, I just had to have it. Had to. It’s like certain women (like the one to whom I’m married) and shoes. The sooner you learn to stop resisting — I’m speaking from personal experience here — the happier your life will be. That said, I’m not interested in becoming the Imelda Marcos of goofy baking tins, so my rule is that if I buy it, I have to use it. After I make 20 cakes in this pan, the price of the bakeware will have added a mere eight bits to the cake’s cost.

As luck would have it, the Internets this evening (24 September in lovely California) yielded a plethora of honey cake recipes, given that sundown marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, and some version of honey cake is a staple of the holiday in many households. While I myself cannot number myself a member of the tribe, many of my dearest friends are, and their cuisine has been a mitzvah in my life.

The main recipe I improvised from can be found at epicurious.com, though I made a couple of modifications that I believe enhanced it significantly. First, instead of using any old vegetable oil, I used Stonehouse extra-virgin blood orange olive oil. Oranges and honey take to one another like Marilyn Monroe’s arm and an elbow-length satin glove. I wasn’t keen on adding a coffee flavour to the mix, but I needed the additional moisture, so I substituted some French vanilla coconut milk “creamer” instead (think orange + vanilla = creamsicle). And I used some stupidly expensive (and largely unavailable) ingredients, such as Manuka honey that a friend hand-carried over from New Zealand (and which sells in America for about $20 USD for a 12 oz. / 350 ml jar), and Green Spot single pot still Irish whiskey, of which only about 500 cases are made per year, making it the Pappy van Winkle of Irish whiskey. I’m sure some of my friends would happly clout me upside the head with a 4×4 for using such an extraordinary spirit in baking, and they might be right. But the batter was excellent, and it was only two tablespoons / 30 ml of the whiskey.

19 little mini-cakes of goodness.

19 little mini-cakes of goodness.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Blood Orange Olive Oil Honey Cake

Ingredients
• 1 3/4 cups / 225 g. Cup4Cup gluten-free flour (or all-purpose flour, if you’re OK with gluten)
• 1 teaspoon / 2.6 g. ground cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon / 4 mg. baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon / 6 g. salt
• 1/2 teaspoon / 2 g. baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon / 1 g. ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon / .75 g. ground cloves
• 1 cup / 237 ml honey (I used Manuka honey that a friend had brought from New Zealand)
• 2/3 cup / 158 ml blood orange olive oil (available from Stonehouse Olive Oil Company)
• 1/2 cup / 125 ml So Delicious French Vanilla coconut milk “creamer” (or freshly brewed strong coffee, cooled)
• 2 large eggs (I used duck eggs, because I had some)
• 1/4 cup / 60 g. packed brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons / 30 ml whiskey or bourbon (I used Green Spot Irish Whiskey)

Preparation
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350˚F / 175˚C. Spray pan with Baker’s Joy, PAM cooking spray with flour, or oil pan well and dust with flour, knocking out excess.
Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, ginger, and cloves in a small bowl. Whisk together honey, oil, and coconut milk in another bowl until well combined.
Beat together eggs and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add honey mixture and whiskey and mix until blended, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Finish mixing batter with a rubber spatula, scraping bottom of bowl.
Pour batter into Nordic Ware honeycomb pan or loaf pan (batter will be thin) and bake 30 minutes. Cover top loosely with foil or parchment and continue to bake until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes more. Cool on a rack 1 hour.
Invert rack over pan and invert cake onto rack. Turn cake right side up and cool completely.
Baker’s note: • Cake keeps, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or in an airtight container, at room temperature 1 week. As if you’ll be able to keep from devouring it for that long. Seriously.

NOTE: When I first posted this, I had some truly wacky cup-to-gram (or -ml) conversions, which I have since revised. [Some of them were computational errors, some mere typos.] I presume my astute audience would have correctly divined that 225 mg. of flour wouldn’t have made a very large cake in the best of scenarios, and given the amounts of the other ingredients, it would have been overwhelmed by, um, just about everything else. Because I am in America, I foolishly tend to continue to use cup/tablespoon/etc. measurements, and while the metric equivalent is printed on my measuring spoons, it’s not printed on my measuring cups. I should probably just measure the stuff on my fabulous kitchen scale, which is bilingual both in metric and the ridiculous and outdated Olde English measurements. Sorry about that.

Back to School — And You Can Too! It’s free. Book before October 1.

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Chemistry and me.

Chemistry and me.

Back before the days of the Internets (and before the love of radio and journalism overtook my love of the lab), I was a chemistry major. [In fact, I studied under the late Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland, who shared the Nobel Prize for co-discovering chlorofluorocarbons as the primary cause of the hole in the polar ozone layer. But I digress.]

The intersection of chemistry and cooking/baking/making food has always fascinated me (as proof, also see He Blinded Me — And Darn Near Crushed Me, Too — With Science). And years ago, my high school chem teacher, the aptly-named Dr. Wiseman, made the direct connection between lab and kitchen for me when he said, “If you’re good in the lab, you’ll do well in the kitchen, because they both involve similar skills: being able to follow a set of instructions in order to bring about reproducible results.” In fact, the process for making a chemical compound is often informally known as a recipe, so I probably should have figured it out sooner, but I was at a lab table toward the back of the class, cracking wise with my lab partner Rick Jacobs, who is now the President of the Union for Reform Judaism. [I have an almost uncanny knack for brushing up against the talented and celebrated while remaining relatively obscure and undistinguished in my own right. Just call me Zelig.]

Over the years, I’ve collected not only Nathan Myhrvold and co.’s Modernist Cuisine, but also works on food and science by Hervé This, Francois Chartier, Robert L. Wolke, and the dean of American food science writers, Harold McGee.

So I was more than delighted to be notified, via UCLA’s Science and Food blog, that a course was being offered — for free, should you just audit it — From Canada’s McGill University via edX. For those of you unfamiliar with edX, it’s a loosely-knit consortium of institutions of higher education that provides courses to the public for free (or a minimal charge, should you wish a certificate of completion from those courses that offer one). And we’re not talking just any old random universities and colleges, either. Among their number are MIT, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, UC Berkeley, Berklee College of Music, The University of Queensland, Harvard, Peking University, Dartmouth, Technische Universität München, The University of Chicago, The University of Hong Kong, Notre Dame, Karolinska Institutet, and Wellesley, just to name a few.

(image courtesy edX)

(image courtesy edX)

For 11 weeks starting October 1, McGill is offering Chem 181x, a “course that offers a scientific framework for understanding food and its impact on health and society from past to present,” through edX. Count me in. The course description claims to require approximately 5 hours per week of effort, and offers students both non-certificated (free) and certificated (pay, but as little as $100 US) versions (which not all edX courses do).

For more info on the course, check out their informative YouTube video, the course overview, and edx. Registering for an edX account is simple and free. They deliver lifelong learning opportunities on subjects ranging from Explaining European Paintings, 1400 to 1800 to Principles of Economics with Calculus to Autonomous Mobile Robots and beyond, so it’s worth investigating even if this particular course is not to your, ahem, taste. [They also maintain an extensive video library of past courses, so if you miss this one, chances are you will be able to view its content, even if you can’t be certificated or participate in any online discussions or experiments.]

There’s never a bad time to make yourself a little smarter. In a future post, I’ll report back on how it was (or is, if I discover something that deserves a more-or-less immediate share).

Fig Onion Rosemary, um… It’s a Jam! It’s a Conserve! It’s a Very Thick Sauce!

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Destemed figs await being destiny.

It’s figgy! It’s oniony! It’s rosemary-y! It’s… Supercondiment!

When it comes to a project like this, seems to me there’s only two ways to go: 1) You can make just enough for yourself, and let’s face it, a little goes a fairly long way, or 2) If you’re going to bother with it at all, you may as well make a bunch, and share it with friends, neighbours, co-workers, etc. After all, you’re committing the same amount of time in either case, and in the latter mode, you can share the wealth. Sure, your cost of ingredients doubles, but by a back-of-the-napkin calculation, that came to about $12 in this case, less if you use red onion rather than Vidalia sweet onions, a cheaper wine, and can find a better deal on fresh figs than Whole Foods‘, all of which are well within pretty much everyone’s reach.

Clostridium botulinum, or Botox in the wild.  (Photo Credit: Dr. Gary Gaugler/Science Photo Library)

Clostridium botulinum, or Botox in the wild.
(Photo Credit: Dr. Gary Gaugler/Science Photo Library)

I’m going to say this up front, because food safety is paramount: THIS MUST BE REFRIGERATED. You can’t really preserve it in a standard water bath as you do other jams, because the pH isn’t low enough (or, put another way, the acidity isn’t high enough) to guarantee that our old pal Clostridium botulinum won’t rush in and ruin the day. The spore that causes botulism — and turns actresses of a certain age into Stepford Wife-looking creatures — is given a perfect home to reproduce in a fairly low-acid foodstuff that has been canned in an anaerobic (air-free) environment. You could get around this by adding a healthy dose of lemon or lime juice (or citric acid powder), but that would muck about with the flavour in a way that I wasn’t aiming for, personally. That said, if you do want to adjust the recipe and can it in the trad fashion, I’d recommend getting a pack of pH test strips and make sure you have the acidity at a pH lower than 4. Then the nasty little beastie is banished from the kingdom.

Now that I’ve frightened you, let me say that this is the same advice you’d get for canning meat, or asparagus, or mushrooms, or wax beans, or pretty much any veg that isn’t a tomato (and yes, I know a tomato is technically a fruit).

If, on the other hand, you have a pressure cooker/canner, you could do this no worries, so long as you get the canning temp above 240° F/115.6° C for a specific period (there are online guides), and it makes sense to err on the side of caution. Otherwise, you’re just going to have to treat it the same way you do pretty much everything else: put it in the fridge, and use it within 10 days or so. [Since it isn’t going to be in an anaerobic environment, botulism isn’t an issue, but as you well know, nothing in the fridge keeps forever… except that box of baking soda that doesn’t really absorb the odors the way it’s advertised to do.]

On to the good stuff.

This jam/conserve/very thick sauce is most excellent when served with stinky cheese, or as a glaze/condiment for a pork tenderloin, chops, or chicken. [Of course, since it’s vegan, it’s also good with crackers and flatbreads, not to mention garden burgers.] I tried to keep the sugar content as low as practicable, favouring the umami as much as possible.

Destemmed figs, awaiting their destiny.

Destemmed figs, awaiting their destiny.

FIG ONION ROSEMARY JAM/CONSERVE/VERY THICK SAUCE
INGREDIENTS:

45ml (3 tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil
3 large Vidalia sweet onions, sliced (about 1kg) (any onion can be substituted here)
5g + 1.25g (1 tsp. + 1/4 tsp.) sea salt or kosher salt
15g + 250g (1 tbsp. + 1 cup) turbinado sugar (white sugar works also)
1.25kg (2.75 lbs.) fresh Kadota figs (or whatever variety is convenient)
30ml (2 tbsp.) fig balsamic vinegar (or other balsamic vinegar or wine vinegar)
500ml (2 cups) red wine (2/3 of a standard bottle)*
15g (1 tbsp.) fresh rosemary, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS:

[Mise en place notes: Slice the onions and set then aside in a bowl; wash and destem the figs, then cut them in half (north/south) and set aside in a separate bowl. Chop the rosemary and set it aside. You can measure out your other moist and dry ingredients at this time if you want to, but nothing here is so time-sensitive that it’s really necessary.]

The only time the Sweet Vidalia onions made me cry was at the checkout counter.

The only time the Sweet Vidalia onions made me cry was at the checkout counter.

Heat pan on high and add the olive oil; when oil begins to shimmer, add the sliced onions, 5g/1 tsp. salt, 15g/1 tbsp. sugar, and stir briskly, to coat onions with the oil and mix in the salt and sugar. Reduce heat to medium high and allow onions to caramelize, about 20 to 30 minutes. [Note: If you haven’t done this before, it’s a little tricky. Stir them too often, and they don’t brown up. Stir them too infrequently, and they can burn. Don’t freak out if a couple of the onions look overdone; not a big deal. Timing is approximate depending on the amount of onions, your pan, and the heat of your cooktop.]

Onions, rosemary, and figs! Oh my!

Onions, rosemary, and figs! Oh my!

When the onions are browned, add the balsamic vinegar and wine to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape any brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. Add figs and simmer until tender, about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally and pressing the figs against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon to break them up. Add the remaining turbinado sugar and salt (to taste) and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. If jam/conserve/very thick sauce gets too thick, add more liquid (either wine or water) as needed until the desired consistency is reached.

Jam, condiment, or very thick sauce? We report, you decide.

Jam, conserve, or very thick sauce? We report, you decide.

Allow to cool until it is safe to handle, then spoon into clean jars and refrigerate. Makes approximately 1.5 liters/just over 6 cups. Should be just fine for at least 7-10 days.

Fancier than it needs to be?

Fancier than it needs to be?

* A note on wine: I used Kendall-Jackson 2010 Vintner’s Reserve Summation Red, a blend of 28% Zinfandel, 27% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petite Sirah, 3% Grenache, and 2% Petit Verdot. Why? I’d like to tell you that I did because it was the perfect match for the Brix (sweetness) level of the figs, but in fact it was around, I wasn’t particularly interested in drinking it at the time, and it wasn’t so expensive that I’d feel bad about having used it for making jam/conserve/very thick sauce. Any dry red will do; I may try a Pinot Noir or some other wine for the next batch, just to see how that works. You’ve probably heard this before, but you should avoid using any wine in cooking that you wouldn’t drink. So-called “cooking wines” are about as appetizing as Drāno®.

ADDENDUM:
I gave away a pint of the you-know-what to my pal Lisa Jane Persky, who is an actress, writer, artist, and a damn fine cook in her own right; here’s the chop she made with it. Nice.

Mmmmmm.

Mmmmmm.

ADDENDUM #2:
The other week, I attended a food festival at which restaurateur/radio host/generally cool individual Evan Kleiman was speaking about preserving tomatoes, and she said that (given the comparatively high pH of some newer varieties of tomato), she sometimes adds straight citric acid (which can be purchased either online or at many fine markets) to acidify the solution rather than adding lemon or some other citrus juice. The reason is that, while citric acid will make your jam/conserve/really thick sauce lower in pH (and hence, more sour-tasting), it won’t introduce any new flavour. You can buy pH strips or litmus paper to check to see if its pH is below 4. Alternatively, as noted above, you can pressure can the conserve/jam/really thick sauce. Or just stick it in the fridge. You’ll probably go through it faster than you thought.