Lilac Jelly and a Perfect Fall Lunch

October 05, 2009

Lilac Jelly

Photo by Donna

A friend was coming by midday Thursday to introduce herself.  She comments here often, runs a bakery in Homer, Alaska, and was in Cleveland to visit friends, another author and Alaskan native, whose books I know and admire.  It was a glorious fall day, crisp and bright, but I had a million things to do and had only a short time to spend. In such circs, its being midday and time for a bite, I ran to Baricelli Inn for some of Paul Minnillo's great cheese.  Paul was out of Epoisses, my favorite of the stinky cheeses, but he recommended some Tomme Crayeuse, which had just come in, a rich earthy acidic raw cows' milk cheese from the French Alps. 

That, some Camenbert, a glass of wine and some bread from On the Rise bakery was all we needed for a midday meal.

Our new friend brought something else.  Some lilac jelly she'd made, inspired by the enormously fragrant lilacs that come late in Alaska.  I like to drizzle cheese with some truffled honey that materialized in our kitchen a while back. But Carri's sweet lilac jelly was the perfect condiment for the nicely acidic Tommee and the creamy Camenbert.

The light slanted in on the front porch where we talked and ate. Soon it was time to get on with the day, but the cluttered board so inspired Donna, she had to photograph the remnants of the perfect lunch on a fall weekday afternoon.

And here's Carri's recipe for the lilac jelly, which she posted about on her blog when she made it. It's a great way to use any fragrant petals that may inspire you.

Carri's Lilac Jelly

2 1/2 cups steeping medium, this can be pear juice (what I used) apple juice or white wine (or Champagne!)
2 cups fresh petals
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 ounces of liquid pectin
(I wish the true petal color came out in the steeping liquid, but it did not!  Add a few drops of red wine at the end for color if you wish.)

Bring steeping liquid to scalding and add petals. Take off heat and stir. let cool to room temp. Strain.

Add 2 cups of steeping liquid to sugar and lemon and bring to boil in medium sauce pan over high heat.
When sugar is completely dissolved and mixture has reached a rolling boil, add pectin. Return to boil for one minute.

Ladle into hot jars and put on sterilized lids.

Recent Comments
10:12:40 AM by r4 dsi: Lilac Jelly is my favorite flavor of the jelly.I am always use this jelly in my breakfast as well as in lunch also with bread.I say to you that you ha...
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Baked Buttered Corn

September 30, 2009

Corn blog

Photos by Donna

When the corn gets really fat and starchy and less tender than when it was in its August glory, one of the dishes I look forward to is baked buttered corn.  It’s sweet and rich, almost custardy and hugely comforting.  And it couldn’t be easier.  Even that crusty stuff on the side is like candy. You'll be scraping every morsel.

These are the ingredients for four servings:

- 8 ears of corn
- 4 tablespoons butter, cut in 4 pieces
- salt and pepper to taste

It’s the technique that makes it such a cool dish.

Scrape 6 ears of corn using a corn cutter, so the kernels are opened and all their sweet starchy juices fall into a bowl (you can also slice the kernels with a knife and scrape the ears that way or you could probably use a box grater; but I love my corn scraper, pictured here; it's one of the few unitaskers I’m devoted to).  Cut the corn from the remaining two ears into the same bowl.  Season well with salt and pepper. Pour the corn into a baking dish (choose a dish or individual ramekins that will give you a depth of a couple inches). Push the butter into the corn and bake uncovered at 425 for 30-40 minutes. 

The starch thickens the corn juice into what is nearly a custard holding the whole kernels.  The flavor is pure deep corn, but not light and fresh like quickly boiled corn on the cob—fresh yes, but with deeper muskier notes that come from long cooking and the changes in the sugars.  The taste is unique, and, for me, one of the great pleasures of summer’s segue into fall.I usually just put it all in a baking dish and scatter chunks of butter.  For last night’s dinner, I made individual pots.  If you must garnish this with some green, try a sprinkle of minced tarragon, which is a amazing with corn (though parsley and cilantro also go well).

And don't waste those cobs. They will make an incomparably sweet corn stock that can be used wherever you might be tempted to use that nasty Swanson's "broth." (Sorry if you like that stuff. I can't stand it.  Why?  Taste corn cob stock and you'll know why.)  Save it and use it as the base for a corn chowder.  Make a corn risotto with it. It's fabulous.  You'll quickly rue all the cobs you've thoughtlessly thrown in the garbage over the years.

Another cool thing to do with corn, while I'm at it, is to cook it on the cob, then shock it in ice water.  When it's chilled, cut it off the cob.  Much of the corn will stay connected in sheets.  They make an excellent garnish for soups and salads.

I love corn.  Corn is my favorite time of year.

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08:30:05 AM by cable hdmi: Hi... How wonderful to find I have a foodie friend in you! I would love this item. I am giving a party to my friends this weekend at my farmhouse. I w...
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BLT From Scratch: The Winners!

September 28, 2009


Photo by Jerad Dunnohew

Reviewing the dozens of entries for the BLT From Scratch Challenge, the main emotional response for me was inspiration. You cooks who did this, and entered and the many folks who also posted results on blogs, are truly inspirational, which is what the best food writing and food photography does.

I want to acknowledge everyone personally, but can't possibly do that.  Do know that I gave every single entry attention, and Donna did the same for the photographs.

Here are the categories that emerged (there were two vegetarian/vegan entries, not enough for a category, but I found them both impressive in their ingenuity):

Best Over All BLT (for the combination of writing, photography, and finished sandwich)

Best BLT Photograph (self-explanatory)

Best BLT Interpretation (for most interesting use of bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise)

Most Inspirational BLT (because this contest merits a Hollywood ending)

...envelopes please...

The Winner of the Best Overall BLT From Scratch is Jared Dunnohew, featured above.  Jared is an American cook, sous chef at The Paddington Inn, in Sydney, Australia.  Ironically, he made a BLT almost from scratch before I wrote about it and did three posts on it, starting here, so he kind of had a head start. Here's his post on his BLT but cooler still, and what put him over the top here, is his photographic flow-chart of his BLT.  Awesome work, Jared. This guy harvested his own salt from the ocean!  That's a little out of control; he must have a really patient wife. (FYI, he reports 25 liters of ocean water yielded 1 kilo of salt.)

Winner of Best BLT Photograph is Rich Zanteson, of Altadena, California, an engineering technician for an aerospace/engineering company:


This BLT canape was neck and neck with the following award. Part of cooking is making food look really good, food that makes you think, "Oh, man.  I want some."  I would not hesitate to grab one of these if this plate came by.

There were some great photos, and Donna had a hard time winnowing them down.  She discusses this winner and the runners up on her blog.

Winner Best BLT Interpretation, the BLT Pie, by Maybelle's mom, who blogs from Cleveland at feedingmaybelle.


I love making savory pies, so this is an interpretation dear to my heart. Here's Maybelle's complete post on it.

Finally, the a category I was not expecting.

Winner of The Most Inspiring BLT, Emma Kate Smith and her father Walt, from West Virginia. I could write something about how this is what true cooking is all about, but I'll let the emails that accompanied their BLT pix speak.  Emma Kate, you're a girl after my bacon-loving heart.

I was excited to read the post about your contest and thought it was a brilliant idea.  When I came home from work that day, I told my youngest about it and she wanted to enter herself.  Emma Kate has just recently turned 10 years old.  She's seen me cure bacon many times but this is the first time she has expressed an interest to be involved.  As a celiac, it's important for her to learn both where her food comes from and how it 's prepared.  For this reason I decided not to enter.  Instead, we used the contest as a learning opportunity for Emma Kate and a bonding opportunity for us both.
She took this entire process very seriously and was, I thought, very creative in her approach.  She added ginger to some of the cured bacon (though she didn't want to use it for the sandwich) and it was also her idea to add the lemon thyme to the mayo.
With the exception of the knife work and heating the smoker, Emma Kate created the entire sandwich without help or input from me.  It really is so easy a kid could do it!
Emma Kate typed the message below and chose the pictures that are attached.
Thanks Michael,
Walt Smith

Mr. Ruhlman,
I had fun making my BLT.  First, my dad and me planted a garden in the summer.  Then the tomatoes and lettuce sprouted.  In September I cured the pork belly with some pink salt and put it in the refrigerator for one week.  When it was done curing I put it on the smoker.  When it was done my dad cut it on the slicer.
I can't eat gluten, (wheat, barley, rye) so I had to make Gluten-Free bread.  First, I mixed some egg yolks into some rice flour with milk and yeast.  Then we let it rise and put it in the oven.
I picked the tomatoes and some lettuce that looked like an oak leaf.  My dad and I cooked the bacon then he cut some vegetables while I made mayonnaise in a little red mixer.  I put lemon thyme in it, it's my favorite herb.  I didn't like the mayonnaise but everyone else did.
I made the sandwiches and we had friends over for a dinner party.  Everyone said it was the best BLT they ever had.
Thank you for having the contest,
Emma Kate Smith



Congrats to these winners.  Please email me your mailing address so I can send you a copy of Ratio (or another of my books if you have Ratio) and so that Susanne can send you one of her cool Hero lunch bags.

Again, thank you everyone for your inspiring cooking! Never stop.

Recent Comments
08:22:45 AM by cable hdmi: Great food! The winners entries all look fantastic. I just can stop my self to eat if plates will putted on the table near me. I really want to know h...
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Bourdain and No Rez in Hudson Valley

September 25, 2009


Where's Moe?

Photo by Keith Farris/CIA

The trip began hopefully but slowly turned strange toward, and I don't know that it was entirely Bourdain's fault (as it typically is).  Other forces had to be at work.

I was thrilled to be returning to the Hudson Valley to be a part of another No Reservations episode.  The Hudson Valley is the place where my life changed in an extraordinary way. Also, it's a place of great natural beauty and the food grown and raised there is fantastic. The crew had already begun shooting by the time I arrived but my first stop with Bourdain was the Culinary Institute of America, which I wrote a book about and which is Bourdain's alma mater (he graduated more than thirty years ago, thirty).

We were handed snappy chef coats on which our names were emblazoned and set up in Chef Pardus's Asian kitchen, prepping and preparing a stir-fried squid dish. To our mutual relief, neither of us embarrassed ourselves at the wok—though the students in Pardus's class had our backs the whole time in the event that we made a mess of things.

We had awesome wheels again, a 1965 Lincoln Continental convertible, suicide doors and all, must have weighed three tons and got at best five miles to the gallon, but this was a car with genuine character.



But really what set the tone of my days there was the Mohonk Mountain House, a vast sprawling resort where the crew was staying, the biggest wood structure I've seen in a long time. Tony had heard rumors it was the resort Stephen King had in mind when writing The Shining, even seemed a little creeped out by it, wondering if the crew could fill an elevator with blood for one of the scenes. The family that has owned it from its 19th-century beginnings is named Smiley. Soon Tony was taking to spending inordinate amounts of time in the spa while the crew filled the hours shooting B-roll (even this article in the Times Herald Record, notes the spa business).  He was munching pain killers like breath mints and began to obsess about his cuticles.

The guy's an odd creature with his own inner demons, surely, so I was just rolling with it hoping things didn't get worse (even when he started with Red Rum Red Rum whenever we were in the elevator alone together, trying to make it sound like a joke, but chuckling nervously).

Things got genuinely creepy for me for me, though, when a note was slipped under my door, rousing me from my nap. Tony was inviting me to high tea on the upstairs porch overlooking the lake.  We had high tea together.  Our conversation over cucumber sandwiches and 140-year-old china was strained, at best. It got worse afterward when he suggested we go for a little boat ride after tea.  Was he going Victorian on me?  Would he bring a parasol? Was he going to propose?  Dump me in the lake with a pair of cement clogs? It's not just his kid he talks about now, it's his kitty cat as well.  Was his fame making him go all Michael Jackson on me?  I had no idea.

I honestly think it was Pardus's Asian pork belly and the promise of Hudson Whiskey waiting for us in Pardus's backyard for the final meal of the shoot that kept Tony focused on the road ahead.  It did turn out to be a long late and delicious meal, until the fog rolled in off the river. Last I saw him, Tony was a silhouette, staggering into the misty Hudson Valley night, mumbling, insisting he was heading back up the mountain on foot.

I hear he's in Louisville today for a speaking gig. I trust safely.  If you see him, don't bring up the cuticle business, especially not if he's slurring, and not if you're near an open window—he's sensitive about it.

Recent Comments
11:58:31 AM by gemma: thanks for coming to the west side of the Hudson.i live in new paltz and there is plenty to do on weekends for a short day trip. one need not stay at ...
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My BLT From Scratch

September 21, 2009

BLT Final_2

Photo by Donna (more comment from her here)

I don't think I've had more fun making a sandwich than for the BLT-From-Scratch Challenge.  And it wasn't the from-scratch part.  I do this stuff all the time—the from-scratch fun was sharing it with so many people and hearing your stories.  That I don't do all the time.  But the coolest part of this cooking challenge was how amazing the sandwich turned out to be.

I received dozens of entries in all kinds of forms, classic, reinterpreted, vegetarian.  Every one of them inspiring.  Donna will be reviewing all the photographs this week to choose this winner.  I will be determining the winners of "best overall," "best vegetarian or vegan," and "best reinterpretation." All winners will be announced next Monday.    

Donna and I made and photographed three different sandwiches, and they were all, well, not just fantastic. They were so beyond the realm of what normally stands in for a BLT, it made me want to reconsider every classic for what it might be. That was what was so surprising for me about this whole challenge.

These BLT's were some of the most meaty, delicious sandwiches I've ever eaten.  With the mayo, the explosively juicy tomatoes still warm from the sun, thick succulent tender slabs of cured pork belly—these were BLTs times ten times ten. Pork fat, tomato juices and mayo dripping down the chin.  They were so good and so surprising, had I served one to you, you might not have known you were even eating a BLT.

The key here is that the sandwiches featured the pork belly—the meat was thicker than the bread.  This is really a pork belly sandwich, garnished with L, T and mayo.

Here's the critical cooking point for using bacon this thick in a sandwich.  If you were simply to cook the bacon in a pan, it would be difficult to make it tender enough to eat without yanking it all out of the sandwich.  Belly is a well-worked muscle that need tenderizing.  Traditional bacon is tender because it's sliced so thin. The way to make slabs of bacon tender is through long gentle moist cooking.

I wrapped the slabs in foil drizzling a little water over them to make sure it would be steamy inside the foil, and cooked them in a 200 degree oven for 3 or 4 hours.  I let them cool and reheated them to make the sandwich. Some I reheated on the grill over hot coals to get some smokiness, some I sauteed in a pan.  The belly in the sandwich shown here (n.b. I did not grow the potatoes or harvest the salt for the chips), I braised till tender, then fried.  Slow-cooking, cooling and reheating is a fabulous way to serve belly.

I want to do one more BLT from scratch, featuring not the belly, but the tomato—a green tomato sandwich garnished with strips of bacon, lettuce and a spicy mayo.  I may even dredge the tomato in cornmeal as opposed to my preferred panko.

It turns out the BLT-From-Scratch Challenge has been just as much a thought experiment as a cooking challenge.  And for me that's some of the funnest cooking there is.

Recent Comments
11:01:26 AM by Noni: Ive been looking forward to the BLT reveal all summer! My tomato crop was disappointing to say the least (ever had a tomato more tasteless than one f...
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Butter Poached Lobster and
Pork Belly with Clams

September 18, 2009

Lobster poached in butter

Photos by Donna (commentary here)

Early in the week, I wrote about how beautiful, simply prepared mussels started off a special meal with two of our closest friends.  Herewith the rest of the meal and the thinking and preparation behind it, preparation being key if you want to enjoy your friends and a pre-prandial cocktail and not spend FOREVER in the kitchen away from people.

Peter wanted to do something special, lobsters and clams.  I always like to throw some pork belly in there because the only belly people get when they eat at a friend's house is bacon.  So, the question became how to use these three main items.

Clams make me think of chowder, especially as the cooler weather is setting in.  Salt pork or bacon is the traditional beginning to a chowder, so we know belly and clams go together.  But I wanted to feature the belly, so the day before the dinner, Friday, I braised a block of it with coriander and pepper submerged in chicken stock with some orange juice thrown in (which aligns with the coriander) in a low oven till it was fork tender then cooled it in the cooking liquid. Saturday midday I made what amounted to a clam chowder sauce, sans bacon—the cooking liquor with some garlic and thyme strained twice through cloth, reduced a little to fortify it, then thickened with roux, combined it with roughly chopped clams and set it aside.  Chowder also has potatoes. I'd picked up some fingerlings at the market.  Potatoes can be cooked in advance too (just don't cool them—keep them warm and buttered in a covered pot).  I chopped some chives—the oniony herb would go perfectly.

The lobster course.  Peter and Judy had never had butter poached lobster, a preparation Thomas Keller popularized at The French Laundry, so that was a no brainer.  It's also the perfect way to prepare lobster when you're entertaining.  But what to serve the lobster with? There were corn and limas at the market and those always make me think of succotash, which I knew Peter loved.  But his body is giving him a hard time and corn was out because of its non-digestibility.  Which dismayed me because I'd already bought the corn when he told me he couldn't eat it.  So I decided to puree it to death and strain it.  Pureed strained corn makes an awesome sauce all by itself, and it thickens on its own as the starch expands. When I make succotash, I start by sauteeing bacon, then cooking minced onion in the bacon fat. I'd do the same think here, mincing the bacon finely and cooking it that afternoon (saving the fat for the chowder roux).

So there it was, two fairly elaborate courses—pork belly and fingerlings on clam chowder and butter poached lobster on a succatash sauce—that come together in moments, with Donna able to take the first plate away for a quickie as I plated the remaining three.  Cook, photograph and entertain at the same time.  That's how fast it all came together.  Saute the belly till it's crisp (actually, I'd fried some potatoes the night before and still had the fry oil on the stove, so I wound up deep-frying the pork belly—they didn't suffer for it!), heated the sauce, heated the potatoes, removed the belly to a paper towel, ladled the chunky chowdery sauce onto a plate, centered the pork belly, garnished with fingerlings and chives. Done.

I also had time to heat the butter I'd prepared earlier (beurre monte, butter melted by whisking it into a couple tablespoons of water so that it stays creamy and homogenized) to about 150 degress.  I dropped the lobster tails into the butter and let them finish while we et our belly.

Pork belly with potatoes

To finish the lobster, I poured the cold corn juice over the minced cooked bacon, brought it up to heat till it thickened, adding some butter and lemon juice, salt and pepper, rewarmed the limas (cooked, shocked and peeled that afternoon) in a little butter in the microwave, just enough to warm them.  And it's done.  So easy if you do everything a head.

I don't think I've written about butter poached lobster tail but it's easy and delicious.

How to butterpoach lobster tail:

Bring a big vat of water to a boil. Have a big pot with equal amounts of ice and water nearby.  Boil the lobsters for three minutes. (I don't like to put live lobsters into boiling water so I put a knife straight down through their head—I don't like doing that either, but it's better for the lobster. It shouldn't be easy to put a knife through a lobster's head).

When the lobsters have boiled for three minutes, remove them from the water, twist off their arms.  Plunge the lobsters into the ice water.  Return the arms and claws to the boiling water for another few minutes.  Then put these in the ice bath as well.

When the lobsters are completely chilled, twist off the tails from the bodies (you can do this before or after you shock them).  Using kitchen shears or scissors, snip through the underside covering of the tail, peel the shell back and remove the entire tail. Trim away any strands, remove any roe you might find. (Reserve shells, legs and roe if you wish; if making lobster stock, cut away the feathery fleshy lungs above the legs.)

Cut through the legs and claws to remove the knuckle and claw meat.  Place all the lobster on a paper-towel-lined plate, cover and refrigerate. (I saved four claws and all the knuckle meat to make a lobster salad for me and Donna the next day.  Donna took a shot of the lobster just out of its shell—it looks cooked but it's raw in the middle.  She posted on her blog.)

To prepare the butter, put an ounce of water in a sauce pan.  Cut a pound of butter into big chunks.  Put the pot over medium heat.  When the water is hot, add a chunk of butter and begin whisking the water and shaking the pan.  The butter will emulsify into the water.  Keep adding chunks and whisking continuously until all the butter is melted.  Remove from the heat, cover and keep in a warm spot till ready to use.

To cook the lobster, heat the butter (I like it to be 150 degrees, which I check with a thermometer, but if you don't have one, use your finger—the butter should be hot but not boiling or it will break and overcook the lobster).  Drop your lobster and let it sit in the butter for about ten minutes.  If the butter is between 140 and 150 you can leave it in there for a 20 minutes or longer (it will stay warm but won't over cook).

Finish your sauce with a little of the poaching butter, or, to make it easy, simply use the poaching butter as your sauce and serve with lemon wedges.

There truly is no better lobster than lobster poached in butter.

Recent Comments
09:04:15 AM by Lamar: September starts Spiny Lobster season here in Hawaii. Yesterday I lucked out and happened upon an impromptu roadside lobster sale. The guys selling ...
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Dive In (or try to look busy)(or "fleas")

September 16, 2009

Ocean X3 @72_2

Photo by Donna (photo commentary here)

I do a lot of my writing to Dave Matthews Band. That and Bach (The Well-Tempered Clavier ROCKS!). I don’t know why and I don’t even know if I hear the music anymore. I’ve never written about this because it’s never been germane.  But there’s a song on the new album—fabulous album if you're into this kind of thing—that haunts me and relates directly to what I say pretty much anytime anyone lets me stand up before an audience:

1. We have to PAY ATTENTION to what we are doing to the earth BECAUSE:

2. If we fuck it up, we’re going to have SHITTY food.

3. And having SHITTY food is: No. FUN!

There are other reasons for not fucking up the earth, of course, but right now I’m taking a Dr. Seuss approach: There's fun to be done, and fun is good.

So, I’m working, clicking away on the keyboard and not listening to this song, "Dive In," which opens with a guy on the side of the road holding a sign “Will Work For Food.”  The narrator, stuck in his car at a red light sees the guy with the sign, tries to look busy.  (Why?  You know exactly why.) 

Next scene, the guy’s watching TV, a bear, big old scary polar bear looking sad because all his pals are drowning because all the ice is melting.

But I kind of fade out of the lyrics and into the easy upbeat groove of the happy song….

"Wake up sleepy head, I think the sun's a little brighter today, la la la…summer’s here to stay…la la…smile and watch the icicles melt…la la la...."

My pal DL told me I needed to pay attention to the words. "Mike, pay attention."

How long did it take me to connect the guy in the car (me), ignoring someone who’s hungry, to that same guy (me) watching TEEvee and not paying attention to the drowning bears.

I’m just saying.  It’s a good song.  There’s no single answer. Everyone answers it their own way.  But one thing’s certain, there’s no non-answer.  You can’t not answer.  You can try to look busy till the light turns green (but here, nothing nothing is something).

No, but seriously, smile! Everything will be all right if you just hope for it enough, and of course, as we know, the qualified people will take care of everything.  (Health care, for example.)

What’s so brilliant about the song is that the tune is completely out of line with message of the song.

[i used to have the song embedded here, but it started playing automatically when people using chrome browser came to this site.]

Smile and watch the icicles melt...

Summer’s here to stay

And that sweet summer breeze will blow forever.

On the other hand, I've never been able to forget George Carlin; his words ring in my head: "The Earth is gonna shake us off like a bad case of fleas."

Recent Comments
09:24:48 AM by patchkabel: Hi, Yes,we should stop to harm the earth if we want to live more healthy and happily.I think we become very selfish to get best for us without consi...
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September 14, 2009


Photo by Donna (see her blog for comments on this)

I prepared a special meal for dear friends on Saturday, one of those meals that takes the better part of the day to set up. It's been a long time since I spent all day in the kitchen.  Trip to the farmer's market in the morning, store all the food and shuck the corn (boil and eat half a dozen ears for breakfast, no better late summer breakfast,heaven), then start checking off the list—shuck, boil, shock, peel the lima beans, cook off the clams and strain the stock, make the corn sauce, cook off the bacon, etc.  Kitchen work broken only by the forty minutes to drive my daughter to her friend's to get ready for the homecoming dance that night.  Gorgeous late summer day. Long, meditative, solitary work in the kitchen, a real pleasure.

But of all the courses and the elaborate sauce work that went into the meal, the best part of it was the course that took the least amount of work—from start to finish, the course that was the most fun to eat took all of five minutes prepare, cook and serve, and underscores the supremacy of product over craft and the fact that the most important part of cooking is the shopping.

My dear friend Peter had requested lobster.  Then he said, how about clams?  And I said, How about braised pork belly, and Peter said, "Oooooo, that sounds good." Pork belly and shellfish would be an awesome combination.  So I called my friend Ingrid who lives in Stonington, Maine, and gets the VERY best shellfish in America.  Costs an arm and a leg due to shipping but we wanted the very best.

When the box arrived I found a surprise.  Ingrid had miscounted her mussels orders and found she had an extra sack, which she'd thrown in with my clams and lobsters. Hers are little baby mussels which she refers to as bouchots, after the French method of growing them on ropes attached to poles.  They're about two inches long and their shells are so clean they require no debearding. Best of all though is their flavor—they taste of the sea, like that fresh sea air, but above above all, they're sweet. So sweet.

That's why it's best to do as little as possible to them. They're a gift, don't get in their way, don't put them in a fancy party dress. This method works for any good mussel and the way I recommend preparing them:

Mince a shallot and put them in the bottom of a big cast iron enamel pot with a cup of white wine, a cup of light chicken stock (fresh, otherwise water or nothing), a handful of thyme and half a stick of butter.  Add the mussels, cover and put over high heat.  Just when the pot steams, they're ready.  Serve them in big bowls with plenty of the cooking liquor and warm crusty baguette. If possible serve them outside on a late summer Saturday evening when the sun is low and golden and you are with your best friends.

The morning's fresh corn, boiled for 60 seconds, the mussels finished if a few minutes, a reminder that the best food on earth requires the least amount of effort.

Recent Comments
09:10:37 AM by digiteyes: Mussels in restaurants in Toronto seem to be a hit-and-miss affair. Seldom do I get a plate full that doesnt have at least one tasting like a barn sme...
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Two Elegant Books

Notes on Cooking book

I'm sent a lot of books, more than my shelves can handle, most of them heavy cookbooks.  But last week I recieved two books that are delightful simply to hold. One of the pleasures that our increasingly digital age increasingly denies us is the feel of a book. And it's not just the sensory pleasure, though there is that in the texture of the cover, in the edges of the paper, the weight of it; but there's also the anticipation of what you hold in your hands, the excitement of a new book, the hope that it contains many more pounds of pleasure and thought than its actual ounces. You don't get that sense when you hold a Kindle.

I was reminded of this when these two books arrived back to back, the first at my request, the second sent by the publisher.  Obsessed with the fundamentals, I've been eager to see cook and caterer Lauren Braun Costello and writer Russel Reich's Notes On Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft, published this past spring, and very much in the spirit of my Elements of Cooking, both opinionated guides to the craft of cooking. I love the design of the book and its quirky organization (loosely put together in the stages by which one would proceed in the kitchen, recipe to tools to mise to cooking, etc) and the randomness of the 217 axioms that make this book fun and surprising to read; you never know what's around the next corner ("#16 Use Your Hands and Fingers: Julia Child was fond of saying that a cook's best tool is her hands. As Long as those parts are clean, pick up, grab on, dig in. Connect directly to your ingredients.") I was somewhat dismayed that for all the experience Costello obviously has, she does not recommend using a scale, but rather the scoop-and-scrape method of measuring flour.  For shame.  Otherwise, a splendid, intelligent little volume, perfect for the bedside for those who like to cook in their minds as well as in their kitchens.

I've only just begun Rowan Jacobsen's The Living Shore: Rediscovering a Lost World, a story about oysters, their terrain and how the decimation of that terrain threatens the health of the oceans generally, but it's compelling from the first paragraph and only gets better in both its reportage and its prose and, at 133 pages, will be too quickly polished off.  From the elegance of the voice, I can already highly recommend.  Both these books—hardcovers, but, from Amazon, a very reasonable $15, the cost of some paperbacks—enhance my appreciation for books themselves and the writers and reporters who make them happen (and smart designers who make them so appealing to hold in your hands).

Now, off to butcher hogs with Brian!

Recent Comments
07:35:40 AM by HCG Diet & Weight Loss: I just actually bought one of these as a Christmas gift. Both of them would make excellent presents for the aspiring chef....
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September 08, 2009

Blog banner_3 I'm excited to announce that my wife, Donna, has put together a site to display her work, Donna began her professional life as a newspaper and magazine photographer who loved to do fine art photography on the side. I've asked her to put both skill sets—editorial and art—to work in the service of food and cooking.  Donna is neither cook (though she's able) nor foodie, but she's DTR portraitbeen successful, IMHO, in large part perhaps because she isn't a cook or food obsessed. I'm sure there will always be room for food porn, finished studio dishes that have been heavily worked over by chef and stylist to look glisteningly just, so.  But what she and I find most interesting is the way food really looks when your cooking it at home, or ought to. This is the kind of photography that I believe is most useful to people who cook.  Images that are both compelling to look at and that also convey information.  These shots of pate a choux are a great example of both artfulness and utility.  When these two qualities combine they do the most important thing media can do in the mind of those who want to cook: they inspire.  Many people were inspired to make popovers when they saw this post.  It wasn't because of my uncommon eloquence with words (much as I wish it had been); it was because of the photograph.

Again, the best food photography inspires.

So many commenters here have been so generous in their praise of Donna's work that she's decided to put up a blog of her own, specifically to connect with readers interested in photography and to comment on how particular images were done. She can't promise she'll always discuss an image, but she'll do her best.  Click on the "Photo Info" in the banner menu above or go here.

About it's still not complete—Donna has more images to upload and tag—but it's a good start.  She's including four different "galleries," but she would like people to know that she's happy to give away medium resolution images (the quality used on these pages) for use on blogs or other internet sites for free (she'd love a credit and link if possible), and she's happy to sell prints or high resolution files on a case by case basis (just hit the contact button on the site).

Welcome to the internet, Donna!  And thank you!

Recent Comments
10:00:24 AM by Roxanne Browning: I have been enjoying your photo blog and your emails. Nice Work! Whats better, food and Photography, humm, I dont know, maybe an occasional glass of r...
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  • Michael Ruhlman headshot

    I write about many subjects in magazines and newspapers, but mostly in books and mostly about food, chefs, and cooking—issues also covered in this blog.
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