Archive for November, 2005
This time of year, appetizers are so frequently passed under our noses that we sometimes forget that meals are properly served on china, not paper napkins printed with holly leaves. Last week, it was quite a pleasure to reach for what looked like a stuffed cherry tomato, only to have it virtually explode in my mouth with a flavor at once sweet, sour, and spicy. This little gem, the waiter informed me, was a peppadew.
The peppadew, or sweet piquanté pepper, hails from the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and is a relative of the chile. Pickled or fresh, they’re delicious stuffed with cheese or shrimp, skewered with fish or pork, or dropped into a martini.
We are addicted to the drizzle. Usually it’s a little estate bottled extra virgin olive oil over a bit of pasta or hummus or grilled fish. But lately, we’ve been getting very excited about nut oils.
J. Leblanc has been pressing oils the old fashioned way (no heat, no chemicals, and mere gravity as the engine of extraction) for more than 150 years. His lightly toasted pistachio oil is perfect drizzled over goat cheese, sautéed mushrooms, or a Middle Eastern lamb stew. Walnut, hazelnut, pinenut, and almond are also available, and highly recommended.
You’ll see plenty of grains labeled “wild rice,” but the true wild rice isn’t rice at all. In the rivers and lakes of Minnesota grows a tall grass that drops its seeds when they ripen. Clever native Americans used long sticks to knock these seeds into their canoes, and suddenly their diets weren’t so Atkins-friendly.
The best wild rice is still harvested this way, and is available from a few specialty retailers and Minnesota general stores. It’s nuttier and more pleasing in the teeth than brown rice, and cooks in about half the time. By eating it, we’re also giving economic incentive for these rivers and lakes to remain wild.
Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit, something of a cross between lemon, lime, persimmon, and Godzilla. It’s got flavor — big, maser-radiation-type flavor.
Yuzu juice can be used just about any place you’d use lemon juice but want a little extra kick. Some of the world’s top chefs use it in salad dressings and sauces, or as a quick cure for poke or ceviche. Our favorite substitution is in our Tokyo Key Lime Pie. It’s a shame we don’t get to more county fairs.
We’ve had our share of great desserts in great restaurants around the world, but midnight still sometimes finds us holding a cold glass of milk and huddling over a plastic bag of Oreos. Now, thanks to Wishingfish, we can enjoy Oreos (and even serve them) without the attendant downscale guilt. This box of a dozen of Nabisco’s best is half dark and half milk Belgian chocolate dipped, and every one is hand decorated in gold. We’ll have to do some experimentation to discover the proper vintage of two-percent for the pairing. Via Design Sponge.
That Kobe beef you’ve been ordering probably isn’t actually from Kobe (unless you’re dining at the Japanese embassy, perhaps with an old girlfriend who is now the ambassador’s wife) — it’s Wagyu, and quite possibly farmed in Texas. The cattle undergo the same diet and massage regimen that their Japanese cousins get, but shipping directly to my stateside grill is a heck of a lot easier.
The marbling in Wagyu beef is extraordinary, resulting in amazingly flavorful and tender, almost velvety, steaks. The fat melts at body temperature, which also makes Wagyu the obvious choice for tartare and carpaccio. We’ve got a standing order with Yama Beef for four strip steaks a week.
The Japanese swear by green tea for benefits both medical and meditative. Among the finest is Gyokuro, picked from plants that are specially shaded with bamboo mats to concentrate the chlorophyll. The leaves are picked small and quickly steamed and dried to prevent fermentation, and tea is deep green and soft in the tannins that normally give tea its bitter flavor. The care taken with the process makes the resulting tea rather dear — you’ll find it for upwards of a thousand dollars an ounce from the most legendary producers. For everyday drinking, more common grades go for about $50 an ounce.
Great grandmother’s recipe for shortbread was simple. “A pound, a pound, a pound, and a pinch” were her measurements. Fresh dairy butter, cane sugar, flour from the mill, and sea salt were her ingredients.
The Prince of Wales (who took no notice of this Charles while at Eton) oversees Duchy Originals, a line of organic products that includes an assortment of traditional biscuits (as well as ales, and shampoos). The taste of this shortbread, buttery and crumbly and just salty enough, brings back the ghost of dear Gram, shrouded as ever in the smell of violet water and damp flannel scarves.
Sardina, that charming if rustic island off the coast of Italy, has had the good culinary fortune of being invaded and occupied by several cultures, among them a few Middle East empires. When these Moorish invaders packed up, they left behind a regionalized couscous culture in the form of fregula.
Fregula is a pasta made by rolling semolina flour into tiny balls which are then toasted. Because the balls are larger than those in traditional couscous, they are perfect mixed into hot and cold salads, or dropped into soups. Their amazing ability to hold moisture while maintaining their shape also makes them perfect as a substitute for rice in a traditional risotto (and it’s ready in about half the time).
Scaly and green like the tempting serpent himself, the cherimoya slices open to reveal a creamy flesh with a curious pineapple-mango-papaya flavor. Its texture has earned it the sobriquet “custard apple,” and while it’s delicious simply spooned from its shell, it’s also wonderful as a sorbet for dessert or a palate cleansing amuse-bouche.
We first ran across these delights in Peru, but they may be found at high-end grocers outside of America, or at “Latin” markets throughout the world (and they are almost throughout the world these days). If you don’t mind ordering by the case, visit Melissa’s produce, and ship enough to tempt your friends.