Monday, May 26, 2008

Unbaked Beans

It's the end of a three-day weekend, when Americans have laid wreaths, vegged out by lakes and lawns, and finally, finally worn white again -- but I worked all day today and I worked all day Saturday and I didn't even notice what I put on either day. Don't cry for me, though. I spent a lovely Sunday blowin' around Soho and the Lower East Side, capped off with a nighttime walk across the Brooklyn Bridge lit with undulating colored lights in honor of its 125th birthday, a view so magical that it reduced me to childlike skipping, wonder, and glee.

And sure, the weather was postcard-perfect while I was chained to my laptop, but really, it's not so bad: while I worked today, I did a little cooking in honor of the holiday. Leaving aside a World War retrospective, what's more Memorial Day than a big pot of baked beans? We didn't have the barbecued meat to go with it but we did have something even better: my roommate Andrea just came back from a weekend at the Cape (you know, the Cod one) lugging a bag of live mussels. She prepared them to her mother's recipe, with white wine, butter, celery, carrots, and herbs, and you know we mopped the fragrant broth up with buckets of toasted bread.

The baked beans recipe I was working with -- published in 1963 in John Gould's Monstrous Depravity -- called for night-long soaking and day-long baking. Not wanting to turn on my oven for so long on such a warm day (and not having planned ahead for dried beans), I grabbed 4 cans of black-eyed peas and cooked them in the Crock-Pot.

Gould recommends a number of what are now considered heritage beans: yellow eyes, Jacob's Cattle, Soldier (or Johnson), as well as the common kidney bean. I found none of them except the latter, so decided to go with black-eyed peas because they, not surprisingly, resemble yellow eyes, and because they're lucky, and despite what I've said before, I feel like I could use some good fortune right now.

Mussels and baked beans: an odd combination, perhaps, but both honor New England (Gould was from Rockland, Maine), so why not? I more or less followed his recipe, though I upped the fresh ginger -- and if I were doing it again, I think I'd add even more. But then, I'm a known ginger lover.

May you enjoy them all summer long ... but not with white pants.

Slow-Cooker "Baked" Black-Eyed Peas

2-3 slices thick-cut bacon
1/2 cup white onion, diced
4 (15 & 1/2 ounce) cans of black-eyed peas
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

Fry the bacon slices to just-crisp in a skillet over medium-low heat. Remove bacon and allow to cool slightly. Add onion and saute in bacon fat for 5 minutes. Slice the bacon into thin strips.
Empty the canned peas, including liquid, into the bowl of a slow-cooker. Add bacon, onion, bacon fat, and all other ingredients. Cover but leave a crack for steam to escape. Cook on medium for 5-6 hours, until liquid is reduced to a thick gravy.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Go East, Young Taco

Faced with a 1945 recipe for Fried Scallion Cake, I thought, Fun! Easy! Let's up the ante. Make the cakes into tortilla-like wrappers for Chinese tacos.

Turns out the tacos were a very good idea. But I was wrong about the Fun! and Easy! part. The recipe, published by Buwei Yang Chao in How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, should have been a dead giveaway, particularly the bit where it instructs you to
roll up each cake (as you would roll a carpet) and then twist into a standing spiral, like a fattened water-heater. With the rolling pin, flatten the spiral from the top down...
Huh? Well, it made for an adventure. Take a look...

The moral? DO surprise your friends and family with a Chinese taco night ... but DON'T use Chao's recipe! Unless you know how to roll a sticky gob of dough into the shape of a fattened water-heater.

These Scallion Cilantro Pancakes look tasty and much thinner than the naan-like cakes I was able to make -- the better to roll up all the yummy fillings. The cilantro would be a welcome addition to the happy hodgepodge of filling flavors.

And speaking of those fillings, I suggest five-spice pork (or turkey? or firm, crumbled tofu?), Chinese pico de gallo, Napa cabbage with a light dressing (or plain), bottled black bean sauce (I heated mine just before serving) or hoisin sauce. You could also toss in some very thinly sliced red peppers, chopped sugar snap peas, or crushed, toasted almonds.

Now, doesn't it feel good to know you've got your menus set for Chinese New Year and Cinco de Mayo?

食飯 and ¡Buen provecho!

Five-Spice Pork

1 pound lean ground pork
2 heaping tablespoons five-spice powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (optional)
A little bit of oil for cooking
1/2 cup scallions, chopped

About 2 hours before serving, combine the pork, five-spice powder, soy sauce, and fresh ginger. Chill until ready to cook. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl just a teensy bit of oil in there. Add pork and scallions and cook, stirring often, until pork is cooked through and not a speck of pink remains, about 10 minutes.

Chinese Pico de Gallo

1/2 cup finely chopped boy choy
1/4 cup finely chopped crunchy bean spouts
2 tablespoons minced scallions
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons hot sesame oil, or to taste

About 2 hours before serving, combine all ingredients. Taste and add more hot sesame oil if desired. Chill until 20 minutes before serving.

Napa Cabbage with a Light Mirin Dressing

3 cups shredded Napa cabbage
1 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Mirin (rice cooking wine)
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Just before serving, combine all ingredients and toss.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Chartreuse

We're getting to the point in this project where the remaining "to do" recipes are those that, for whatever reason, still ... remain.

There's Philadelphia Pepperpot Soup. Starring role: tripe. For those of you not well versed in bovine anatomy, that's stomach. It's not that I'm faint of heart. It's just that one can find any number of reasons not to make cow tum-tum soup. And I have. But now that it's nearly summer, I'm regretting having avoided it all these months. Here's hoping for one more chilly Sunday.

And then there's Potted Lobster: essentially, lobster terrine. Sounds delicious, yes? And it's an economical way of stretching one lobster to feed many. But the thought of picking apart a lobster and not getting to immediately dunk that sweet flesh in a pool of melted butter -- heartbreaking. I'll have to make that sacrifice soon, just not yet.

Fortunately, the results of a dish I once feared -- Chicken Chartreuse -- are encouraging. The recipe, published by Mary Lincoln in her 1884 work, Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cookbook, put me off, if only for the cooking method. We are to "put [the mold] on a trivet in a kettle and steam for three hours" (or one hour if the sausage and chicken is pre-cooked.) I mean, kettle? Trivet?

But with two months to go 'til I complete my year of cooking historically, I had to do like the Puritans and carpe diem -- with or without kettles and trivets.

I made Chicken Chartreuse for an informal drinks party with my New York posse. Also on the menu: my most-requested feta dip and a big ol' pot full of sangria.

**Hot food blogger tip: if you fear disaster, serve plenty of drink!**

But I needn't have worried. The Chartreuse had a texture that calls to mind a slightly looser paté, with flavors that are as familiar as matzo ball soup. On crackers, it made light and satisfying party fare. The concept -- bits of tasty stuff mushed together and steamed -- accommodates interpretations and improvisations galore. Just be mindful of maintaining the proportion of wet-to-dry ingredients.

I'm providing both the chartreuse and sangria recipes -- but you could definitely get away with serving just the former. No booze required! Now that Pepperpot Soup may be another story....

Chicken Chartreuse

I used truffle-flecked sausage links, but perhaps a rosemary or a red pepper flavor would suit you? Also consider substituting other types of cooked meat, and vinegar instead of lemon juice.

You can set up an impromptu kettle-and-trivet steaming combination with a deep baking dish and a couple inches of water.

9 ounces (1 heaping cup) of cold cooked chicken, minced
2 chicken sausage links, minced
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped capers
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Butter a two-cup mold. Press the chicken mixture into the mold and cover. Fill a baking dish with about 2 inches of water. Place the mold in the water and bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool completely in the mold. To remove the chartreuse from the mold, dip the mold briefly in hot water,and slip a thin, sharp knife around the edge of the chicken to loosen. Serve chilled with crackers.

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.

Saving-Face Sangria

1 bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rioja, Zinfandel, Shiraz)
1 lemon cut into thin slices
1 lime cut into thin slices
1 orange, peeled and cut into wedges
1 & 1/2 cups rum
2 cups grapefruit juice

Combine all ingredients, chill, and serve.

Serves 4.