Life, alas, handed me some lemons last week.
It is difficult for me to overstate just how disruptive it has been to have been without a working oven for a week and more. Oh, in part the disruption has been about the blog. Every summer treat I might want to show you all — from tarts and quiches, to simple roasted vegetables, to fine and fancy eclairs — all requires an insulated box full of fire to transform raw ingredients into food.
I like cherries. I like them a lot. They are, so far as I can tell, the smallest of the stone fruit — miniscule cousins to the plum, peach, apricot, and all those most cherished sweet drupes of summer. They are the harbingers and the advance guard of the season’s coming in earnest, which — as any of you who are regular Twice Cooked readers already know — might actually count as a strike against them in my humble book. But their flavor is so intense, and so explosive when encapsulated in so compact a package, that it is difficult to think of them as other than bearers of the concentrated essence of all that is good in this too-hot season of the year.
There are some classic, really fine cherry desserts out there. Clafoutis may be the most deserving of attention, with its delightful texture — somewhere between a custard and a cake — and whole cherries, unpitted, baked right in. The denizens of Limousin, the region in central France from which the dessert derives, say that the inclusion of the pits enriches the final product, perfuming the whole thing with a scent that is not unlike almonds. And they say (I would assume) that folks concerned about swallowing a pit or cracking a tooth should really be more careful.
Strawberry shortcake is elegant, unpretentious, and simple. Yet so often it goes unbearably awry. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this thing that often lives near the strawberry display in the supermarket. It’s a little bowl-shaped golden cake, encased in plastic packaging, that bills itself as the shortcake component of the dessert, and sometimes makes the claim that it’s ready for reddi-wip, or some such other nonsense.
This is not a shortcake. This is an angel food cake — generously speaking. Or less generously — in Sarah’s words — it is a Twinky without the filling. Shortcake has a technical definition, and what it is is a biscuit. That simple. Sometimes it’s a biscuit of the same sort that you’d serve with fried chicken. Or sometimes it’s sweetened slightly — which it is in this recipe, here.
The rhubarb is a vegetable most often used as a fruit – in much the same way that the tomato is a fruit used as a vegetable. But unlike the ubiquitous tomato, rhubarb sometimes stymies American cooks. What’s to be done with this briefly available, bitter, even poisonous plant?
Well, there’s pie. In the nineteenth century, rhubarb was so strongly associated with pie that it was commonly called pie plant. And then there are the many variants of pie: crisps, crumbles, buckles. Rhubarb is so very assertive that it was not much eaten until and unless it could be sugared; prior to that, it was prized only for its medicinal properties. But other fruits have a mellowing effect on rhubarb’s harshness. Apples, especially, soften it without transforming its flavor. Personally, I believe that it’s a crime against strawberries to pair them with rhubarb – and it’s underselling the rhubarb as well!
I remember — a few years ago, now — having a conversation with a friend on social media about whether it was necessary to soak your fried chicken in buttermilk before dredging it in flour and slipping it into your skillet full of hot oil. At the time, my position was that my mother’s dear friend from Oklahoma — the woman from whom I learned to make the stuff, whose fried chicken we all prized above all else — never soaked. Therefore I don’t either. And my position at the time was that if your chicken is fresh enough, and if it’s in fact a frying bird — young and small — it doesn’t need the extra help anyway.
Well today, I’ve changed my mind. I stand corrected — more or less.
For anyone who has had any contact with me for the last month, the idea of a lemon kefir tart shouldn’t come as a great surprise. I have, after all, spent that time all but obsessed with kefir, stashing mason jars of room-temperature milk all around the house, and watching gleefully as my grains — the live active culture — transform said milk into a thick, sweet, sour, sometimes slightly carbonated beverage.
What has set me down this path is a recent trip to New York, to visit Hana and her husband. Walking into their tiny Manhattan apartment, two things struck me almost at once: the happy, healthy, gigantic kombucha mother gurgling away in a jar on their counter, and the jar of kefir, just about done fermenting.
I feel like it’s been events and announcements and self-promotion all around for the past few weeks, and that I’ve been short changing you all on substantial writing about food.
That will change very soon. Promise.
But in the meantime, if you’re in the Philadelphia area, come out and hear me speak tomorrow night at the Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery in Lafayette Hill — on Germantown pike, not too far from Chestnut Hill. I’ll be reprising the talk that I gave at Science on Tap in April — “Culturing Food: History, Health and Fermentation.” But it will be a new audience, with new questions, and (I hope) some slightly spiffed up visuals.
At any rate, it’s part of an event called Pint of Science — a multi-city, International, three day mini-festival that happens in a bunch of cities. The people who run the Philadelphia chapter are super sharp. The other speakers sound fascinating. And did I mention that there is also going to be beer?
Here’s the relevant information: the Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery is at 646 Germantown Pike; the event goes from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm; mine is the second talk of the night. And though they seem to want you to RSVP here using Eventbrite, registration is in fact free.
Come on out, have a beer, and have a good time. And if you do make it, say hello. I want to meet you!
Update: Here is a link to the complete story, including audio of the broadcast, at WHYY’s Newsworks.org.
Do you remember last month when I gave that talk about fermentation at Philadelphia’s Science on Tap? What I didn’t tell you then was that Lari Robling, reporter from WHYY — our local NPR station — was in attendance. She interviewed me for a piece she was working on about the current popularity of fermented foods, and she taped a little bit of my lecture.
Well this Friday — May 16 — Lari tells me that the piece will finally air.
If you are in Philadelphia, tune into WHYY’s science and technology program, The Pulse, at 9:00AM on Friday or 10:00AM on Saturday to hear what we had talked about.
Or, if you’re not local, check out this page to see the story online. It should be available at the same time as — or perhaps directly after — the story goes live.
So I’ve been looking back at the Twice Cooked archives, folks, and here’s a thing that really surprises me: given just how much chicken I cook — and specifically, given just how many whole chickens come through my house — I am shocked to find that the only thing I’ve ever written about roast chicken comes from way back in 2009, from the Livejournal carry-over prehistory of the blog.
This is a major oversight on my part. And today, I intend to remedy it.
Folks often ask me — Adam, they ask, it’s great that you make all of these lacto-pickles, or fermented vegetables, or whatever. But what do you do with them once you have them? And then they’re disappointed, and they make a face, and their curiosity kind of turns off when I tell them the truth — that mostly what I do is eat them for breakfast. Straight-up. Without any additional preparation at all.
So I’ve been thinking about other things I can do with lacto-pickles — or at least other things that I can tell people that they should do that won’t disappoint them, or weird them out, or abruptly end the conversation. And that’s how I came up with this salad.
A little while ago, as you might recall, I posted this recipe for pickled watermelon radishes. They were the ones that smelled so — well, they stank as they fermented.
They’re delicious — sweet and savory and a little bit piquant — now that they’re done. And diced, and tossed with slices of seedless cucumber, they make a perfect salad. It’s invigorating, and cooling, and — once it finally warms up — it will be a great early-summer treat.
Here are the ingredients:
3 Seedless Cucumbers, sliced into discs
10-12 Slices of Pickled Radish (or other fermented root veg), diced fine
A Pinch of Nutritional Yeast
A Thin-Sliced disc of Lemon, for garnish
No instructions necessary. Just toss, then plate, then eat.