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.
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.
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.
People! Philadelphia People, especially! Pay attention!
I am pleased to announce that, because it was such a hoot in the fall, I will be rerunning my pickling workshop — Pickling Without Pasteur — this spring. Thanks to the Mount Airy Learning Tree, on Saturday May 3rd from 10am to noon, we will be gathering in the Unitarian Society of Germantown’s kitchen to talk about the biology and methodology of lacto-pickling, and then to make copious quantities of delicious pickles which participants will get to take home in jars.
There’s a moment in Edith Wharton’s piercingly funny, devastatingly beautiful novel, The Age of Innocence, when Mr. Sillerton Jackson — consummate dinner-guest and even more consummate gossip — weighs the relative burdens and benefits of dining in the home of the Archer family. The food, he muses, is inevitably far from good. But the conversation is sure to be fascinating. And at least — luckily, he thinks — the Archer Madeira had gone round the Cape.
I’ve read The Age of Innocence many times over the years, and even taught it. But that comment — that at least the Madeira had gone round the Cape — has always confused me. Because what I’ve always known about Madeira wine is that it is very sweet (sort of like port), and that it is either very bad or very expensive (neither of which holds a whole lot of appeal). And nothing else about it has seemed particularly relevant to my life, or to my tastes.
Pumpkin pie, dear readers, is one of my favorite autumn treats. But suspect squash purée, excavated from a sealed tin can labelled with a happy turkey, or a beaming grandmotherly face, or some other graphic designed to distract from the disturbing vagueness and small print of the tin’s actual ingredient list is a thing I find somewhat less agreeable. I’ve mentioned here before that dairy — like sweetened condensed milk — that is designed to be stored at room temperature disturbs me. And pumpkin glop is another one of those things that fits into the same general category in my mind.
Luckily, there is a way to produce squash purée that does not involve a can opener. And while it admittedly takes more time, it is hardly an arduous task.
I have to admit: I have an ulterior motive in making this particular post at this particular moment. Red hot pepper sauce is yet another pickle — one last ferment in what, one month ago, I called a systematic exploration of the nutritionally rich, biologically diverse, sometimes slightly stinky genre of fermented foods.
I said then that the series was part of the run-up to my pickling workshop. And my pickling workshop, dear readers, is this Saturday, September 28.
Riddle me this, dear readers: what’s the worst thing about making a butternut squash?
It’s not the taste, obviously. Butternut squash is sweet and savory, and delicious. It caramelizes in the oven, lending it a complex smoky flavor that’s a little bit pumpkin on the surface, with a bubbling current of applewood smoked bacon — and maybe maple — somewhere down below. I’d venture to assert that many of the best pumpkin pies are in fact done in butternut squash. And the best pumpkin soups, too. The only problem with them is … is …
Kimchi is extraordinary and complicated and vast, and it would be no less than hubris to imagine that I could do justice to so rich a tradition in one post, or in a whole blog’s worth of posts. When I started thinking about kimchi — quite a while ago, now — I assumed that it would be a little like making sauerkraut — possibly based on something that Sandor Katz had written in The Art of Fermentation (a book I highly recommend!):
“Kraut-chi is a word I made up, a hybrid of sauerkraut and kimchi, the German and Korean words for fermented vegetables that we have adopted into the English language. The English language does not have its own word for fermented vegetables. It would not be inaccurate to describe fermented vegetables as “pickled,” but pickling covers much ground beyond fermentation.”
In the run-up to my pickling workshop, next month, it seems only appropriate that I should do a series of posts about some particularly tasty examples of that nutritionally rich, biologically diverse, sometimes slightly stinky genre of fermented foods. For the past year or so, I’ve scattered lacto-pickles here and there across the blog, with posts about fermented greens, full sours, krauts, and the like. But there’s nothing in my intermittent exploration that has been anything resembling systematic. And if we few, elite culinary pedagogues know anything at all, it’s that without systematicity — without the sort of enforced rigor that drains the brine of joy and fun out of the enterprise entirely — it can hardly be called an education at all.